Sunday, December 22, 2013

On Being a Brat, And a Bit of a Pharisee

So, it's been a bit of a stressful week around here in the mission field. We had some crazy unexpected moments when our bank (thankfully) noticed some fraudulent charges on our account and blocked our debit card, which is our only way to make purchases and access cash here. Then the notice from our landlord that they want to sell our house, so we need to be out by the end of January. Our oldest returning to Costa Rica after a time in the States, traveling alone internationally, through icy and snowy Detroit with threats of cancellations. And then, a twelve year old who required an emergency appendectomy and a three day hospital stay.

Ironically, this kid was a total champ and never complained once. Clearly, he has learned not follow my example.

And I am admitting that by the time I found myself shivering next to hospital bed at 4:00 am working on 20 minutes of sleep, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

You see, living life overseas, you get a glimpse of the way the rest of the world sees Americans. And sometimes you get a glimpse of where their impression of us as a bit pushy and bratty comes from. I have come to self-righteously applaud myself for learning to blend in to another culture. To speak their language and do things their way and not get my feathers ruffled when it makes no sense to me. (Okay, I get them ruffled, but I keep it between me and my husband.) I do not think most Americans are at heart spoiled people who intend to be single-minded culturally. I think we do not quite realize how the fierce individualism that is a core value of our culture makes it easy for us to off as having a sense of entitlement in cultures where that kind of individualism does not have high value, where what is valued is an inherent understanding of cultural norms and rules and a willingness to quietly do what is expected.

I thought I had become pretty willing. I mean, I've gotten used to sweeping and mopping my front porch because it is a rule, and have instilled in my kids the fear of ever walking barefoot, and the habit of not showering at night because it is bad for you, and I even remember to have three forms of identification and documentation on me at all times.  I was a pretty proud little peacock, all right. Until our hospital stay revealed me for what I am, still a bit of a brat, and because of my pride, a bit of a pharisee too.

You see, when your child is sick, your comfort reactors go into overdrive, right? You want to mother and nest and make everything just so for him. In the States, our hospitals and doctor's offices tend to reflect that. There is an attempt to make things feel cozy and homey and give you some sense of control over the circumstances and environment. Here? Not so much?

We have discussed the reality of medical emergencies here before, theoretically. And agreed, theoretically, that the medical system is adequate to handle most situations that would occur and that the $70 a month we pay for total medical coverage made any small sacrifices we had to adjust to worth it. I was SO above the American bratiness that demanded everything be just so for my kids. And me.

Until I wasn't. Which happened when theory became reality.

I am embarrassed by how that ugly sense of entitlement reared its head. Never once was worried about my child's actual medical care. First of all, it was an appendectomy, not a brain tumor. Secondly, we were in the highest rated hospital in the country, where preemies are treated in intensive care, and kids are cured of cancer. I was totally confident in the actual medical care Gabriel received.

What made me uncomfortable and left me feeling like this was not good enough for my child (and if I'm being honest, me) was all purely environmental...ambience, people, the place lacked ambience. And there were so. many. rules. And it made me feel stupid and humiliated that I had no inherent understanding of those rules and had to be corrected to the not so understanding nurse supervisor. I felt like a child out of his element, and raw with emotions. And when a child in that situation gets corrected, how does he respond? Well, by pouting publicly on Facebook like a true brat, of course.

And pout I did. About the uncomfortable chairs and not being allowed to put my feet up. About not being allowed to charge my phone. Or eat my Hershey's kisses. And on the inside? I pouted about a whole host of other things. About only one of us being allowed to enter the hospital at a time. About the dumb card that has to get whole punched when you change care takers so you don't exceed your limit of three changes per day. About iron beds and three public showers and toilets for a ward of at least 50 kids. About nurses who talked loudly and flipped on light switches every fifteen minutes all. night. long.

I tried to convince myself it was just sleep deprivation, but when I started to have obsessive thoughts about Starbucks peppermint mocha cappuccinos and shopping for shoes, I had to admit the truth. I am still a bit of an individualistic, entitlement minded brat, and a bit of a pharisee for the way I've judged others with those tendencies.

Yeah. I bought shoes and new outfit to celebrate his release. Long way to go, I tell you.

I spent a long night repenting and ask God to show me how to be like the Virgin of the Manger, who laid her little down in less than perfect conditions and humbly accepted that God chooses to be Emmanuel in humble places, where there is room for Him because He is not crowded out by what was there before Him, where there is need for Him because the need is not met by self-sufficiency, and where a world cries out for Him the silent darkness because it has not lit its own way.

Yes, I was humbled by my confrontation with my inner brat and pharisee. But perhaps it was just what I need to bring me deep into the spirit of Advent. Seeing how far I have to go to truly be Christ-like. And seeing that on my own, I am just a pouting, broken little mess.

When we arrived at our hotel after Gabriel was released, the maid came to make the extra roll-away bed and was inquiring about how he was. She smiled wide and declared, "That hospital is the BEST. The nurses are so wonderful. My four year old son died of cancer there two years ago. But they helped him so, so much and were so kind to me." Apparently. not being able to put her feet up wasn't that big of a deal.

And so I find myself at the foot of the empty manger and begging Him to come. Emmanuel, come. And save me from myself. Because I am far from you. And I cannot raise myself up. I need you to come down and rescue me. Free me from by inner brat and my inner Pharisee. Let love burn away my messiness and bring me liberty. And make me happy in the stables where the Jesus-lovers belong.

So grateful that being a brat doesn't exempt you from having awesome kids.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Most Posts" of 2013 Link Up

So sweet Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a Most Posts of 2013 link-up and I have decided to play.

Sarah chose some categories and bloggers are sharing the posts that fit them. And I love this idea and want to go click around a bit as life allows. Although I admit I have cuteness envy after seeing how all of Sarah have their own pretty picture attached. But I'll never be done with this post if I let that stop me, so here goes:

Most clicked on : This one about Pope Francis clearly struck a bit of a cord across the web. It was my most clicked on post by a mile.

Most comments: Everyone assuring me they would want to be my friend on this post about how not to make new friends. Although I am not really sure this is accurate because a lot of the commenting happens on Facebook and there is no measure for that. But still, I'm glad so many people wanted to be friends.

Post with the best picture: I love these photos from January of our time with the youth from Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Franciscan Brothers Minor. Something about beards, bare feet, brown robes, big smiles and good memories that just makes my heart happy.

Post that was the hardest to write: Hands down, this one. I process the hard stuff in life through writing. It is as exhausting not to write as it is to write sometimes. This was one of the posts that had to come out. My heart could not keep these words, these thoughts, these experiences shut up inside any more. But gosh was it hard to see them there on the screen, pushing home the reality that my beautiful brother indeed had left us. Beautiful. But oh so hard.

Post that was your personal favorite: I really loved writing my two letters to Emma. I need to make that a priority next year. A lot of people have asked me who Emma is. She is a real girl. A beautiful young soul who I am blessed to know. But she is also so many young ladies I know and love. My own nieces. Daughters of dear friends. And she is me. Much of what is in those letters is a message to my own soul. A moment of self-teaching to bring clarity and focus to a life that can often be overwhelming to process. I am going to try to make Letters to Emma a more regular writing exercise for me next year. It is good for my soul.

So there it is. I enjoyed this little review of the year and thank Sarah for coming up with the idea. Although, I will say, I still have absolutely NO IDEA how we got to the end of 2013 and find it all very confusing. But I am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for 2014. I hope you'll be here to follow along.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Day 17 of Giving That Gives Back: Lovely Links From Friends

So have I ever mentioned that I have been blessed to know and meet some really super cool people? God seems to just know who to bring in to my life to keep me inspired and buoyed with hope that we can use our gifts to shine His light into the world and transform lives.

Back at Idea Camp in September, I spent a very hysterical and enlightening few hours with some amazing women. Today I want to share with you links to some of the causes they are passionate about and some of the things they are doing to change lives.

First, let me introduce you to my friend Britany. She and her family are waiting for God to add a precious person to their family from Ethiopia. If you have followed an adoptive family through the wait for a referral, it can be agonizingly difficult and easily lead to listless despondency. But that is not how Britany and her family are doing this waiting thing. They instead have launched a campaign of love in Ethiopia, to take care of vulnerable children and make sure they are cared for. Just look at these faces. They started out with 155 kids needing sponsorship. But because THEY TOTALLY ROCKED IT, half those kids are now sponsored. But there are still 88 waiting. And 100 more kids they have not yet profiled because this first batch was priority. So if someone would please go get sweet Mimi and then tell me what her letters say when you get them, that would make my world. Or Bethlehem? Because, seriously? That is some Christmas joy right there.

Now, let's talk about another cool chick I know, Lindsey. She is mama to two beautiful kiddos from Ethiopia too. And so part of her heart is in Ethiopia. And she has some pretty awesome talents she's using to bring transformation to families there. Like writing a book about a little boy's search for water in Africa to teach, inspire and engage kids about the global water crisis. I Walk For Water is lovely to look at, fun to read, and every child I've shared it with has enjoyed it and begun thoughtful discussion immediately afterwards. And every book purchased provides clean drinking water for one person in Africa for seven years. Double awesome. Lindsey shared this link today to the Children's HopeChest shop on Story Company. I'll take one of these flower cuffs in every color, please. And the chevron necklace made by deaf artisans in Kenya? Need it for sure. Lindsey also introduced me to LOPA Art which promotes and sell original art by Ethiopian artists and some amazing leather bracelets as well. Poke around their photos. Beautiful.

Are you starting to see why I loved hanging with these ladies? Just wait. There's more.

Erika came along on our taco and guacamole adventure as well. She and a friend just began an amazing project called Somebody's Mama that is linking women up to learn and engage with global women's issues. That tribe recently rallied to provide a mom from our St. Francis Emmaus Center with a year's worth of formula for her baby. It's a great tribe and I highly recommend you jump in! Somebody's Mama is in partnership with 4 H. I. M. Just go check out this video about their poultry project at a school in Togo. Amazing. We are hoping to learn more from them as we develop our Chicken Run project in the future.

And then there was Jen. She's responsible for the partnerships behind the beautiful products that are turning up in the (in)courage marketplace. She led the development of the lovely new tableware line from Dayspring. And she recently went to India to hang out with the team from JOYN India and meet their artists. Because she's awesome like that. I love JOYN's products and was so happy when they were featured in the new TOMS marketplace. Don't you love that TOMS page? You could make a homeschooling day out of following all the graphics there!

So, yeah, it was a pretty cool lunch. Did I mention we got lost, invited ourselves through the back door and traipsed through the kitchen to get there? Yeah. Because awesome is as awesome does. I hope you learn as much from these ladies as I have. And I am so grateful God brought each of you into my life!\

Monday, December 9, 2013

Day 16 of Giving That Gives Back: A Gift For You

 *Edited on January 6, 2014 to link up at the lovely Sarah's place.

I have a little quiet gift for you today. It has been seeping in to the dry corners of my heart. It is the voice of the One I am leaning hard in to these days. It is rich and deep and lyrical and lovely.

Maybe there is someone you want to share it with? Print out verses and frame them for gifts? Add a verse to your Christmas cards of letters. I don't know. Just let it move you toward Him.

The Nativity

“For unto us a child is born.” — Isaiah
The thatch of the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
Though barren and blowing and cold:
The mother’s hair was a glory,
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming –
A child was born.
O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
That God shaketh broadest his best,
That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
In the first days created and blest:
Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
Thick mellows the corn,
A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened –
A child is born.
With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth;
Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
The first skin was worn,
Before code, before creed, before conscience –
A child was born.
What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
Dread epics of glory and woe?
This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them –
“A child is born.”
And to us, though we pore and unravel
Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
Bleak reasoners scorn,
To us too, as of old, to us also –
A child is born.
Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
The tings of the shadow of love.
Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
Their splendour unshorn;
The secret, the symbol, the promise –
A child is born.
Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered –
A child is born.
In the time of dead things it is living,
In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
The life that is new may redeem.
Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes –
A child is born.
More than legions that toss and that trample,
More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
Than the sword in the hands of the King,
More strong against Evil than judges
That smite and that scorn,
The greatest, the last, and the sternest –
A child is born.
And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is throned of a nation –
A child is born.
And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things;
Still feels that high moment unfurling,
Red glories of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, annointed –
A child is born.
To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
To the struggle for life and the din,
Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
The Kingdom of God enters in.
To the daughters of patience that labour
That weep and are worn,
One moment of love and of laughter –
A child is born.
To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
Comes yet hope’s obscure crucifixion,
The birth fire that quickens and bites,
To the daughters of fame that are idle,
That smile and that scorn,
One moment of darkness and travail –
A child is born.
And till man and his riddle be answered,
While earth shall remain and desire,
While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
The soul of a man as a fire,
While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
The moon with its horn,
It shall rest with us that which is written –
“A child is born.”
And for him that shall dream that the martyr
Is banished, and love but a toy,
That life lives not through pain and surrender,
Living only through self and its joy,
Shall the Lord God erase from the body
The oath he has sworn?
Bend back to thy work, saying only –
“A child is born.”
And Thou that art still in the cradle,
The sun being crown for Thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
Say whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
To train or to warn?
Hush! How may we know, knowing only –
A child is born?
– c.1893

Our friends the Rees family, who are the band known as L'Angelus have the most lovely shortened version of the poem in song form on their Christmas album. It is by far my favorite Christmas song to listen to when I want to set a quiet meditative tone. You can find it on Amazon here. I highly recommend the rest of the album too. But seriously, get that song. And give it as gift to someone you know needs a hand out of a hard or dark place this Christmas.

P.S. We are still trying to gain some momentum for our quilt raffle featured in the widget there on the sidebar. Someone is going to win a lovely quilt and all the proceeds are going to get our artists the materials they need so we can cover the homeless in mercy this winter. If you want to take chances or make donations in someone else's name, we can help with that. Just let us know.

Follow the wholes series here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Day 15 of Giving That Gives Back: Riding Their Coat Tails

So, while I was unapologetically not blogging about places to shop that give back, a lot of other really cool, smart ladies were. I know many of you maybe trying to wrap up this whole shopping business, and it may be getting late for reading all these posts and discovering new links, but I think it will be nice to have them all archived in the series and you'll have some things to bookmark for the next time you need to give a gift, so I am going to just keep building our list, all right? There's no way any of us will make a purchase at every one of these places, this year, or ever, but being conscious of the empowering work being done and the relative ease with which you can make conscientious purchases helps inspire and encourage us to keep seeking intention in the way we consume and buy and shop, and that is important.

So here some great lists to browse through. If you are done your shopping, maybe you can find a little treat to congratulate yourself with. If you're stuck on one gift, maybe you'll find inspiration. Choose your five favorites and book mark them for the future. Oh, and poke around a bit at these blogs if you don't know them already. So worth following these ladies.

Tsh Oxenreider's Ethical Shopping Guide at the Art of Simple is comprehensive and inspiring. I found lots of new inspiration there and I know you will too. I am especially loving these new finds: Solo EyewearThe Giving Keys, and the kids' section at Come Together Trading?  Precious.

Sarah Bessey's guide to shopping that empowers women is another great resource for getting to know businesses and enterprises that empower and support women on a global level. Economic stability for women is one of the best tools we have to fight trafficking as well as just about every other factor contributing to global poverty. Research shows that empowering women is the fastest, most sustainable and widely effective way to transform communities. The effect ripples out in waves and is invested into families, schools, children and other women. So take a look around at her links and give a woman an opportunity to affect change in her community. Hands down my favorite discovery there is Global Mothers. Love, love, love this. If I had a daughter, she would, without a doubt, be getting the mom + baby doll for Christmas.  But I don't, so you've got to go buy it, okay?

Kristen Howerton's guide to gifts that give back (catchy title...great minds) is so pretty and fun to click through. Like everything else on her lovely blog. Make a cup of cocoa and give yourself a few quiet minutes to soak up these beautiful images and do a bit of browsing. It will fill you with the true spirit of Christmas, I promise. I am especially excited to shop around at a couple of the stores that are working directly with sustainability options for trafficking survivors. Like the Not For Sale shop.  And seriously? Punjammies? Pajamas made in after care facilities with discarded saris? Genious. You hear that, Santa? Genius. So bring some this way, jolly old elf. P.S. They had me at the name International Princess Project. Whatever they're selling, I'm buying. Theoretically speaking, of course.

So, enjoy. Go do some good with your dollars. Or save some links for later. But do click around and find a new business to love that does good in this world. It will make your season brighter, I promise.

Follow the whole series here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Day 14 of Giving That Gives Back: Why I Am Not That Sorry I Bailed On You

So, in case you haven't noticed, I kind of bailed on you guys in the last couple of weeks. I wanted to start this post with an apology and an explanation, but when I began to think about the factors that explain my disappearance, the truth is, I really can't be all that sorry.

First of all, there was a practical factor involved. We had a short term mission to lead in one of our most remote outposts and were away from reliable internet. It was a wonderful week. And it made me realize a few things. I needed to unplug a bit and be present here. I was grasping at community in this wide internet world and ignoring very real relationships. I was pushing toward the future so hard, I was missing the joy of the present. I had lost the simple joy of just loving well and walking in mercy right here, right now. And on the inside, I was having a bit a soul melt down that needed immediate triage.

I can't say I know exactly why I found myself frazzled, feeling deeply broken and unfixable and unwilling to lean in to the one Answer I know is all I need. I know the instability and dependence required by this life I live had something to with it. I know some difficult personal griefs I was facing had a lot to do with it. And I know that getting caught up in how I wish things were instead of doing what I can with what I have was a lot of it. But there was also another component, and it has to do with the reason I started this series in the first place. It was to speak in to the injustice of modern day slavery. And I think I have not done that as well as I would have liked.

The reason is because sometimes I get caught up in talking about an ISSUE. I get fired up about INJUSTICE. I want to become an advocate for change for the WORLD AT LARGE. And then something happens to make me realize this is real. It is not metaphorical justice for an ambiguous world that we are advocating.

It is freedom from slavery. For real people. With names. And mothers who don't know what happened to their babies who were stolen. Who are locked away behind walls and can't even remember how long they've been there. Girls who are daily being ravaged mind, body and soul for the sake of another's perversion.

Last week, one of The Exodus Road's teams raided a "dance bar" in India. They were finally able to successfully execute the raid after a number of tip offs had thwarted their efforts. They raided, made the arrests, and began to process the victims on site. After seven hours of processing victims, they began to hear sounds coming from behind a wall. When they broke through a portion of that wall, they found 22 women and girls trapped there, in a confined space without food, water, or air to breathe. You can read the account for yourself here. And see real video footage of the space where these women were trapped here.

You guys. Not a day has passed that this reality has not stung me at my core. Real women, 18 of them minors, CHILDREN, walled up in a hole by slave traders. Clawing and scratching, desperate for release. Robbed of the very right to breathe the air around them. In utter, desolate darkness. And freedom came. Release came. And I am so, so grateful.

But I am stuck. I cannot figure out how I am supposed to make mashed potatoes for dinner and order sweet gifts for people knowing there are millions more still trapped. MILLIONS. If this is not rocking our humanity like an earthquake, friends, what will?

And then there is this aspect of my life that is breaking me wide open too. It is caring for moms. Real moms. Who have the same hopes and dreams that you and I do as we welcome a baby into the world. They want labor to go well. They want a safe delivery. Even though they will be alone, with no one at their side, they want access to medical care that will keep them and their baby alive in the case of an emergency. They hope they will make enough milk to breastfeed and that the baby is healthy. They hope that baby will grow up and be able to go to school and have opportunities for a good and productive future.

Moms watch their babies die at an alarming rate because of premature births that could be prevented. Because of a FREAKING MOSQUITO BITE. Because of Strep B infections that can be detected by a simple test. You all probably know that I am a mom who has held my child, not breathing, in my arms. Handed him over to paramedics. Placed him in the ground and had to figure out how to walk away. You may not know that I have suffered four subsequent miscarriages, two in the last six months. I cannot compartmentalize the reality that while there may have been nothing I could have done for my own son, there are moms who are holding dying babies in their arms who can be saved by our help. I can't pretend that it is not a really hard thing that God has chosen to redeem my suffering by asking me to love moms and help save their babies while my own have not been saved. I will not pretend that this is easy for me all the time. But I will not back away from the chance to keep one more mama's arms full, one more little one alive and well and with a hope for the future.

And I break sometimes under the weight of needing to figure this out. How do we fix these things? What is our Savior asking of me? of you? of us as the Body of Christ?

And so I find myself a bit quieter these days, because I have got to seek the voice of the only Answer. The only voice that saves. The only one who can heal this brokenness and bring light to the darkness, the one who sets captives free. And me, I am feeling a little bit broken, dark and held captive. And I need an advent. A new beginning. A waiting. A settling into the very real reality of darkness so I can hold fast to the Light when it breaks upon us at Christmas.

I need to read stories to my guys and spend the afternoons with my neighbors. I need to bump along dusty roads and watch a seventeen year old expectant mom change her plastic tarp roof out for a tin one thanks to generous friends. I need to rock baby orphans on my lap and deck the halls of their home and scoop rice and beans into their hungry mouths and love. I need to remember that love conquers all, my friends. And for that, I need to be here. Where I love and am loved.

So, I am going to go ahead and proceed here for what it's worth to those of you following along. But I am not going to force the happy holiday joy of the world. I am going to write the things that are pressing on my heart. And I am going to do so without much fanfare. Without hoping you'll see it as worthy of sharing or applauding or commenting. Just me. Real. In my space. With my heart open and broken and bleeding and waiting for the dawn of something new.

So, I bailed on you guys. But I am not sorry. And I hope you understand why.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Day 13 of Giving that Gives Back: What She Said

I'm sure it doesn't come as any surprise to anyone who has been hanging around here for any length of time that my friend Ann has been a huge influence on my wanting to turn Christmas upside down.

So don't miss this from her, okay? Really. So much good to dig into there.

How did Christmas get to be more about cheap stuff than a lavish Savior?
What makes us scared to do Christmas counter-culture —  when it’s about God upending everything?
When a twelve-year-old girl was brave enough to bear down and birth God in a barn? When one man resolutely stood beside his pregnant girlfriend – big with a baby she confessed wasn’t his? When the God of the universe pulls on flesh and curls his deity into the helpness of a baby’s groping fingers? When the whole story flies straight in the face of the expected, cultural norms?
So go on over and read every single word, okay?
And don't forget to tune in tomorrow at noon for the special Christmas on the Farm web cast. I know it will be brimming with goodness for making your Christmas simple and sacred. Get all the details here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Day 12 of Giving That Gives Back: Coffee Talk

Did you notice that I stepped away for a few days? I didn't forget that I promised 31 days. Life dirty laundry growing mold because of rainy season and bathrooms I cannot even describe happened and required my attention. And, y'all, I was tired. I am battling a little burnout here on a lot of levels and the resulting exhaustion is getting the better of me. I have loved blogging these posts, but in all honesty, I did not have the mental or emotional energy to think any great big thoughts the last couple of days.

But, I'm back now, trying to start the week out on the right foot. And to make up for my absence and keep life going around here, I'm going to be relying on coffee and grace. So while we're on the subject of coffee, let me introduce you today to a coffee company I recently discovered that is a great model for making ethical purchases that give back:

Three Story Coffee. I am sure it is no surprise to any of you that there are ethical and sustainable ways to source coffee and pay fair wages to its growers and there are means that are just the opposite of those things. Since I live in a community of coffee growers and harvesters, this is something that I hope more people will consider when purchasing coffee. Did you know that in many parts of the world, including mine, that summer vacation from school coincides with coffee harvest time so that kids can go with their parents to work in the fields? Did you know that much of the world's commercial coffee supply is harvested by marginalized indigenous populations that can be paid very low wages for their work, which may well be the only work they will find that year? Some of this is simply cultural. But it is possible to make a purchasing shift and support independent family farms who do their work themselves, farm cooperatively with their community, or pay their helpers (usually extended family members) fair wages for their work. The more we move our consumer dollars over to coffee that is purchased through a direct relationship with tits growers, the more we can protect some level of ethical sustainability and employment for farmers and families in developing nations. For this reason, whenever it is possible, it is important to look for coffee products that you know are ethically sourced.

Now there are a lot of labels attached to products that can get confusing. Fair trade especially. Let's make sure we realize that anyone can call anything fair trade if they choose. There is no guarantee that a seller simply calling a product fair trade guarantees fair trade practices were followed in the sourcing of the product. To ensure that a product you purchase is actually sourced using fair trade practices, you want to look for a third party fair trade certification. Usually in the form a logo like the one here:

But an even better approach would be to look for a coffee company that has a direct purchasing relationship with its growers. This means they know the farmers they are purchasing their coffee beans from personally and they have a commitment to those farmers to produce coffee that benefits everyone in the relationship. That is Three Story Coffee's motive. And then, besides making their business good for the farmers, they purpose to make it good for others too, investing in the care of widows and orphans, education and missionary support. Plus I love that each coffee's name tells its story. So head on over and learn more about their amazing business and fill your holiday cuppa with coffee you can feel good about drinking.

One other little favor. Can I ask you to take a look at the quilt raffle widget there on the sidebar? Would you mind clicking over and doing what you can to make the raffle a success? This will allow us to get much needed materials and skills training and extend the reach of our Mercy Covers social enterprise. And someone is going to win a fabulous one of a kind quilt! 100% of the raffle proceeds will benefit the artisans of Mercy Covers. It would help us out a lot of you would share the raffle blogs and social media outlets for us. Thanks in advance!

Find all the posts in the series linked here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Day 11 of Giving that Gives Back: Old Fashioned Fun

I was wanting to write a post about gift ideas for kids that are not things. Ways to make memories and give shared experiences to your kids or other family members this Christmas instead of stuff. You know, create some old-fashioned Christmas fun for your family. I was feeling tired and almost skipped today because I wanted to do a good job with this one. Well, God provides.

Because, look! I found this post over at Ordinary Lovely linked in Sarah's sidebar. And she has done all the work for me! So head on over there and be inspired. And come back and leave your favorite take-away in the comments here. I'd love to let her know how she inspired you all.

This link has some fun ideas for celebrating a more old-fashioned Christmas.

This post has tons of ideas for free activities for kids.

We love to make a paper chain for Advent or the twelve days of Christmas with one activity written inside each link. The kids pull the link that day and find out what the days' activity is. You could secretly invite family members or friends to join you and surprise the kids with someone to share their memory making with. It is a great way to take the focus of your celebration off stuff and on to people. Have fun, be creative, and share your ideas with the rest of us below.

Happy memory making, friends. I am calling tea time and early to bed tonight.

Links here for all the posts in this series.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Day 10 of Giving that Gives Back: Funding Freedom

So the initial impetus behind this series was a commitment to use Christmas and our consumer power to reduce our slavery footprint and fight the modern day human slavery and trafficking that is one of the greatest evils of our time.

End it Infographic

Surely one of the best ways we can do that is to invest in freedom itself. One of the organizations I have supported in their efforts to free slaves is The Exodus Road . I love what they do for a number of reasons.
  1. They are forming a a coalition of existing organizations to maximize the opportunities to free slaves and influence local police and power systems. At the root of the evil of slavery are its perpetrators. Getting to them and making their crimes dangerous and unprofitable is the fastest way to drive them out of the "industry". That takes collaborative efforts across the board. That is the philosophy The Exodus Road has espoused and their success is proof that it works.
  2. They are a tireless voice for not only raising awareness but empowering advocacy among normal folks like us who want to do something. There are always opportunities to engage with what they are doing from where you are and they value that engagement. Their relationship with their supporters is unique and refreshing. 
  3. They are transparent and honest about statistics, the logistics of their work, exactly what they can and cannot do for victims, and how very, very hard and brutal this work is. We need that kind of honesty if we are going to take a broader group of people from advocacy to action.
  4. They maintain a near continuous presence on the ground. One part of the investigative coalition is their own team. In addition, you can follow founder Matt Parker on many of his trips to the field, hear from supporters they have taken with them on missions, follow raids in real time. You know that they know what the investigators they work with are doing. Because they are there with them often enough to know. If an organization seeks to empower a certain group of people, they need to know their work inside and out, listen to their struggles, hear their needs, and encourage them personally. This is something unique to The Exodus Road.
So what you can do RIGHT NOW to fund freedom as part of your living Christmas? There are a few things.

  1. The Exodus Road is trying to fund a new camera for one of its investigative teams on Pure Charity right now. Can you help them reach their goal and fully fund that equipment? This is the state of the art answer that allows their investigators to gather the evidence they need to free slaves and persecute the criminals who buy and sell them.
  2. Buy the book that tells their story. Laura Parker's writing is honest and inspiring at the same time. I learned about The Exodus Road following her blog. This is a read that will show you the realities of modern day slavery as well as inspire you as to how we can actively engage in the fight to end this evil.
  3. Become part of a Search and Rescue team. It takes about $35 to fund one night of an investigator's work. By joining a team, you commit to monthly support that allows the team of your choice to send one of their investigators to work. You can read through the page and choose a team to support. There are two teams working in Asia, one in India and one newly formed team in States. 
  4. Can't give at this time but love what they are doing? Why not write a note of encouragement to one of their investigators? This post contains a sample of a letter I wrote last Christmas. You can post the note in the comments or e-mail it to me and I will send it along to The Exodus Road staff. Also, you write them a message on Facebook and help share their work with your friends. 
  5. Alex quote 2
All post in the series linked here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day 9 of Giving that Gives Back: Mercy Covers for Martinmas

Photo: So excited to reveal our new brand name and logo for the shop and products of our social enterprise. Mercy Covers will remain our Facebook page because we are fortunate to have too many followers to change it. Logo design by Marie at Autumns Creek Design on Etsy. Highly recommended.

I am going to take one more day today to highlight our Mercy Goods enterprise and the Mercy Covers our ladies make because we have a couple of important opportunities for giving that gives back going on right now.

The first, as I mentioned yesterday, is to take a look through the photo albums on Facebook page and check out the items our artisans currently have for sale.

The next is something we are really excited about. Jillian Grant, the super talented quilter behind The Quilt Orchard, has been a faithful champion of our enterprise since our launch, acquiring sewing machines, fabric and other materials to help us grow and support our artisans. Now, she has created a one of a kind quilt design and is raffling the quilt to help Mercy Goods grow! The funds will go towards getting more machines and other necessary materials into our artists hands and to launching two new communities of women into production. We really hope you'll join in the fun of the raffle for this beautiful quilt and know every chance you take is really a win that supports our Mercy Goods artists. The raffle is here! And if you would share it for us, we would greatly appreciate that!

Lastly, we are opening donations for our Christmas Mercy Covers project here today! Our artists will be creating their hand made quilts to gift the local homeless community in the city here as well the homeless community of Fort Wayne, Indiana. They will create their custom quilt tops as usual from reclaimed materials, and we will use the feed sacks common in our area to create a second water proof side to the quilt. One side will provide warmth and the other protection from the elements. We are working a way to give each quilt a hood that can be stuffed to use as a pillow and elastic strap for folding and carrying. The quilts will be distributed by us at St. Bryce here in Costa Rica and by our friends at Catholics on a Mission in Fort Wayne.

A $30 donation on your part provides the gift of work to our artists, valuable income for their families, and the gift of warmth and protection from the elements to a homeless brother or sister. This is how mercy covers. This is good that transforms.

I have offered you three ways today to give in a way that gives back to something about which I personally am very passionate, to transform the lives of women and families I live among daily, people I call neighbor and friend. If you could do one, two, three or all four of these things for us, it would mean the world to these families and to me personally as I work on their behalf.

  1. Browse the items for sale on our Facebook page. Make a purchase if you find something you like. Share the page on your social media outlets and introduce us to your friends.
  2. Take a look at the gorgeous raffle quilt.Take as many chances as you can to win it and get our artists the materials they need. Share it for us. If you are a blogger, we would greatly appreciate if you would send your readers our way. It is a great opportunity to introduce them to the work our social enterprise is doing to transform lives.
  3. Contract our artists to offer a gift of mercy this Christmas season. A $30 donation enables our artists to join you and participate in a cycle of giving that gives back that truly transforms lives. You can use the Paypal button below to make your donation. Comment if you would like me to send you info on other methods of payment. 

Today, in the church, we celebrate Martinmas, or the feast of St. Martin of Tours. One well-known story relates St. Martin ripping his own cloak in half to cover a street beggar in warmth. It has become customary throughout Europe to celebrate this day by giving a gift of warmth to someone else. What better way than to model St. Martin's kindness than these opportunities?

All posts in the series linked here.

P.S. Our new logo design was created by Autumns Creek on Etsy. I highly recommend her!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Day 8 of Giving that Gives Back: Meet Mercy Goods

Mercy Goods
Good That Transforms

From early on in our time working as St.Bryce Missions here in Costa Rica, one of the things God began to build a passion and a vision for was job creation, skills training and meaningful work in our area. The area in we live and minister is one of the most rural regions of Costa Rica. It also has one of the lowest rate of family income in the country. For women, access to work outside the domestic arena is limited. If it is available, it is often located an hour or more away in the city. For single moms or moms with young children, it is nearly impossible to work in the city without having to pay for additional child care. And if a woman can't leave home to work for reasons such as being the primary care taker of an elderly or disables relative, her options for finding income for her family are non-existent.

After much prayer, conversation, and research, we began an outreach providing skills training and meaningful work opportunities to women in our area. We are in the process of rebranding and designing our shop right now, but the title above is the name of our social enterprise: Mercy Goods. If you click under my archives tab on "meaningful work", you can follow along much for the process as I brainstormed my way through to getting the enterprise off the ground. 

Our ladies produce hand made quilts and other items from reclaimed clothing that we source locally. We reduce our consumer footprint by turning bags of clothes that were headed to the landfill into usable, sellable craft items. We create a cycle of giving that gives back by first contracting our ladies to make quilts for a current partner that we choose to "cover in mercy". Sponsors donate the price of the quilt and the ladies are then paid to produce them. We at St. Bryce Missions deliver them to the partner. We have to date covered our local orphanage, the first licensed safe house for trafficking victims here in Costa Rica, and the Gleason House for ALS patients in our Mercy Covers quilts.

Tomorrow, we will open  the opportunity to contract our artists to create a waterproof quilt for the homeless this Christmas. Our goal will be to cover the local homeless community in the nearby city of Turrialba in mercy, as well as the community being served by our friends in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. This will mean contracting a total of 70 quilts. I do hope you will come back tomorrow and give this special gift that gives back three-fold: to the recipient of the quilt, to the artist and her family who are employed and empowered by your donation, and to you the donor who does to do good that transforms.

In addition to the quilts. we then give our artists the opportunity to take ownership over the materials and skills we provide them and create other items for sale. While we are waiting for our shop front to be ready, you can view the items available to purchase on our Facebook page. So today, would you stop and take a look around? Perhaps find an item or two you might like? And share this post or the page with your social media connections?

Building this kind of enterprise is way more challenging than I ever expected and much slower going than I thought it would be. Your help and encouragement keeps me and our artists pushing forward through the obstacles seeking to transform lives and families and communities. We truly appreciate that more than you will ever know.

P.S. I had all these great photos to add to this post. But blogger is all, "Hey, Lady, day of rest. Get it?" Bu they are all on our Facebook albums, so that just means you HAVE to head over and click around, right?

All posts in this series can be found linked here.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Day 7 of Giving that Gives Back: The Philippines

A many of you know, in the last couple of days, a monster typhoon has wreaked devastation on parts of the Philippines. The death toll is rising by the minute and news is heartbreaking. The typhoon is now headed for Vietnam where it could do even more extensive damage. It is hard for us to understand the magnitude of this kind of event in a developing nation. The death tolls are higher, the recovery is endlessly more difficult and many areas that are hit in an event like this never fully recover before another disaster strikes. The people live in an endless cycle of crisis, poverty and fear.

So today, why not stop where you are and think of a way you could intentionally scale back a bit this Christmas in order to be able to help in this disaster response. There are a number of reputable organizations already mobilizing their existing forces on the ground there to get food, water and shelter to the victims.

What if you skipped stocking stuffing this year for the chance to get a family into safe shelter? Or didn't give gifts to one another as a couple and instead helped provide meals to the victims? What if you offered your kids the chance choose something to forego in order to be able to help? Like a trip to the movies that might have been on the schedule or one gift they might have been expecting. In my experience, kids are simple and heroic in their responses when offered an opportunity to help the hurting. Let your kids' be heroes.So often, we try to shield our kids from the sacrifice necessary to make a difference. We don't want them to "suffer" for the choices we want to make. But you know what? I think if we really want to change the world, the direct impact most readily available to us is our kids. If we can give them the outlook that they have the power to bring hope to a hurting world rather than trying to shield them from it, we are going to launch young adults into this world with vision and passion for justice.

Ask them what they would do if they were in charge of the response. What are their ideas on how to help? You'll be surprised at how innovative and pragmatic they are. Then introduce them to organizations doing the things they have proposed. Ask them how they might support that work. Give them the chance to think big, hope long and be heroic.

It won't be hard for you to find a group to help in the response efforts. I'm sure many of your favorite organizations would be a very worthy choice. I am going to link a few here for those who might be unsure of how to help. These organizations are groups that are already established in the Philippines and have the infrastructure in place to respond immediately to the needs that have resulted from Typhoon Yolanda. That is the one thing I would look for in choosing an organization. You want someone who has the ability to respond immediately and then sustain long-term recovery.

Here a few groups I know meet those criteria:

Feed My Starving Children

Food For The Hungry

Caritas International

Let's see what we can do this weekend to slow ourselves down, model care and compassion to our kids, encourage them to see the needs of a broken and hurting world and respond to them. However you decide to respond, I encourage you to make it a conversation with your kids. Let yourselves be surprised and moved by their hearts for their brothers and sisters and their creative problem solving skills. Give them a change to show you their inner hero.

All posts in this 31 day series are linked here.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 6 of Giving that Gives Back: Christmas Clothes

It's late, but I am sneaking this one in at the wire. It's a pretty simple concept today and I didn't have time to make it all pretty. Here you go.

Let's tackle one quick and easy way you can commit to curbing your Christmas consumer footprint this year. Commit now to putting forth your very best effort not to purchase any new clothing items this Christmas. Look, I know I might have just killed a little piece of Christmas joy in some mamas' hearts. Because this is a really hard one for me too. I am a Southern girl. Fresh red baby corduroy and monograms say Christmas to me louder than any tree ever did. But let's face it, there are already enough clothes in existence in the world, maybe even in our own closets, to clothe us all for the next twenty Christmases.

And, this doesn't have to be a bore or a drain. You already know that shopping thrift or second-hand stores would be one way to tackle this challenge. And I am sure there are some people who just want to cocoon at that thought which for them equals dragging highly unmotivated and thus easily tempted children into an unorganized mess to go on a treasure hunt that may or may not yield result and will very likely end with threats to cancel Christmas altogether. I feel you, moms.

Now, there are some of us who love this kind of shopping. In the right circumstances. And are blessed that life aligns itself to those circumstances. If that is the case, by all means, girls, get your thrift on. But if it isn't the case for you, don't break out in hives yet. I have some ideas.

First, did you know you can now thrift shop online!? ThredUp gives you a fairly organized online shopping experience for high-quality retail clothing. And I have heard really good things from satisfied customers. I love this concept. You're freed from the guilt of liking the bright lights and color coordination of your favorite store better than the dinge of the thrift store and the not-so-Christmas-y fun of sifting through unorganized racks of hidden treasures with your kids not-so-compliantly in tow. Win for you. Win for the world.

And what about tapping in to your local resources and that festive fun concept we've been talking about? Why not invite your neighborhood moms, bible study or homeschooling group over for a kids' Christmas clothes swap? Or an accessory swap? How many of us buy new baubles at Christmas just because we to flash some new bling? Why not trade your old for someone else's and both feel new bran sparkly new without the guilt? If you can't imagine how you could have people in your house right now, meet up somewhere neutral for breakfast and swap.

And don't forget to take advantage of social media. Make a Christmas clothes swap page for your neighborhood and spread the word on Facebook. Create an Instagram thread of photos of clothes up for swap with a shared hashtag. Do some other cool techy thing I know nothing about. Show me up with your creativity.

If getting new clothes is hands down part of your Christmas tradition that you can't bear to change, don't sweat it. Instead, consider paying a local seamstress to make handmade clothes or purchasing from a mom's small enterprise. There are tons on Etsy and Facebook with really precious options.

More than anything, take some time to think. Clothes are some of the biggest contributor to our slavery footprints. Surely, there is at least some small habit we can change this year with the intention of consuming less. Make a choice on what it may be and plan accordingly so you don't get sucked in to the frenzy. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. It's a little hackneyed, that phrase, but it really is the simplest way to become more intentional stewards. Let's challenge ourselves to form one new holiday clothes shopping habit that reduces our overall consumption significantly this year.

All posts in the series are linked here.