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.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Day 5 of Giving that Gives Back: Connected in Hope


I am so excited today to have the opportunity to introduce you all to a wonderful opportunity to give in a way that gives back. Today, I am highlighting  Connected in Hope, a wonderful enterprise founded by my friend Ryane as a way to "empower women and strengthen families" in Ethiopia. The vision for this enterprise began when Ryane traveled to Ethiopia to adopt and fell in love with more than a child. Ryane has been very generous and supportive to me as I have worked to launch our Mercy Covers enterprise, so I am excited to share Connected in Hope with you today.

Connected in Hope supports the Former Women Fuel Carriers Association in Ethiopia as they work to transition women out of this difficult and often enslaving work into dignified and meaningful artisan crafting.
From the web site:

Subsequent trips to Ethiopia brought us face-to-face with women burdened the job of with carrying enormous bundles of fuel wood. They seemed to almost run as they rushed down the mountains around Addis Ababa to sell their bundles for less than $1. We learned about the enormous challenges they faced every day in an effort to provide even the basics of food and shelter for their families.   We saw the sadness in their eyes as they talked about leaving their sleeping children in the hours before dawn to gather fuel wood in the forest  Wild animals, harassment, rape were part of their daily lives.  We met children forced to quit school and work when the complications of HIV/AIDS left their mothers too ill to support the family.   We saw the realities of their lives – poverty, unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, not enough food.  The faces of the women fuel wood carriers and their children were imprinted on our hearts and left us forever changed- and committed!

I love that Connected in Hope is supporting and empowering local leadership in their efforts to accomplish this for their women. And Connected in Hope not only provides income development for their women, but also is improving education for their children, working to keep families together and prevent children from being orphaned, and addressing the difficult health care crisis in Ethiopia. This is amazing work, you guys!

Women are released from the back breaking and dangerous work of a fuel wood carrier to become artisans and the mothers they hope to be!

Not to mention that they make some of the most lovely scarves you have ever seen! Check out the darling Sarah from Amongst Lovely Things sporting hers. Here's what she has to say about these beautiful products: 

I love that I can wear a beautiful well-made scarf and connect with women and families across the globe. I feel like I'm wearing hope when I wear a CIH piece. And it's one of my favorite gifts to give!

Sarah rocking this whole mom of newborn twins thing in her Connected in Hope scarf.

Connected in Hope gives you a great step-by-step guide as to how you can help. Start with praying. Then go purchase a scarf or two because:

And remember yesterday when we talked about having a different kind of Christmas party? Why not host a Connected in Hope trunk show? 

You know what else is cool? When you make a purchase at Connected in Hope, the item comes signed by the artisan! So you can go find her and see her face and know her story, truly connecting yourself to the hope you are bringing into her life. 

You know what else is cool? Ryane has generously offered us a coupon code for free shipping for any purchases you make from the site! Just plug in GIVEHOPE2 at checkout for free shipping in the online store.

So let's build some hope in Ethiopia today while purchasing high quality, meaningful gifts for the Christmas season. And share this post with your friends and readers too so they can get connected in hope and enjoy our coupon!

Just coming on board today? Follow and share the links to the whole series

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Day 4 of Giving that Gives Back: How Not to Be the Grinch

One of the things that's hard about tackling this issue on a personal level is others' reaction to it. I do not know a single person who would try to become a more intentional consumer for the sake of making others feel bad about themselves. And yet that seems to be the general reaction.

People feel the need to defend themselves or declare us a saint. It's hard not feel pressured to stop talking about this at this point. No one wants to ruin someone else's merry. I am hardly here to try to make another mom feel badly about herself for sticking a candy-cane shaped tube of Hershey's Kisses in someone's stocking. And yet, judging by the comments in my friend Sarah's post at the NC Register today, it seems that this is exactly what happens when we go there.

Here's the thing, I am convinced it is better to do something rather nothing. I know my efforts will never be perfect and I will likely never get the opportunity to physically rescue someone from slavery. I know my best attempts may fail me and I might find out the ethically sourced chocolate I purchased was mailed in bubble wrapped that spreads cancer to workers in a developing nation. It's just unavoidable.

But here's the thing. If I never try to change my actions based on what I know, nothing will change. Not in me and not in the world. Bianca Olthoff, who is fighting trafficking on the front lines with the A21 campaign said something when I heard her speak recently. She summed up perfectly our purpose here with this short phrase: "Awareness should lead to advocacy should lead to action". We cannot be paralyzed by fear or guilt or being simply overwhelmed. We have to live in the tension that we can try and never get it totally right. But if we are aware there is an injustice as grave as modern day slavery rising to epidemic proportions in our time, we must use our voice to advocate for solving it and we must take what action is available to us. Tweaking Christmas is one way we can start.

But we can also find ways to do it without being the Grinch to those around us who would feel indicted by our action. One way is invite them to make merry with you in this. My friend Audrey hosted "A Different Kind of Christmas Party" this weekend.

Nickie's table representing St. Bryce Missions at
Audrey's "Different Kind of Christmas Party"
She invited friends to represent causes they were passionate about with tables set up in her living room. Then her guests made merry with holiday cheer and goodies while they had a chance to get to know the opportunities to give a different kind of gift this Christmas. She had children to sponsor in Ethiopia and items made by social enterprise initiatives. And my dear friend Nickie invited guests to purchase chickens for our St. Bryce Missions Chicken Run Project which provides chickens to families with undernourished children in our area.
A festive little chicken gift bag to bring her gifts home on
She made it lovely and fun and festive for the guests. Just look at those photos! They even took home little gift bags with gift cards in them to give to whomever they had purchased the chicken in honor of.  After the party, Audrey sent all her guests links to the groups that were represented at the party.

Rather than try hard to make changes and end up feeling like the Grinch this Christmas, why not find a way to creatively celebrate your efforts at change? And look, don't freak out about how your baked goods are contributing to slavery while you have a party to help stop it. Just relax. Breathe a little.

Find some friends around you who are passionate about a certain organization or group, invite them to advocate for that group. Don't know anyone to ask? Do a virtual one. Invite your guests to bring their favorite gadgets and introduce them to the links we are sharing here or your personal favorites. Bookmark and pin in holiday style. Encourage them to think not only about products to purchase, but encourage them to choose a non-consumer option or a charity gift for at least three of their gifts this Christmas. Give them permission for it to be yours. Have festive round up friends. Play some Christmas tunes. And change the world without anyone having to feel badly about herself. We have to start somewhere. Why not with a party?

Don't forget that you can find all the posts in this series linked in the original post.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 3 of Giving That Gives Back: Lovely Linens

I was stressing a little over getting this post out today. My mom load, life load, laundry load, home educator load has me full to the brim and short on time.

But God is good to us when we are trying to be faithful, isn't He? So He sent the lovely Amy Welborn to do my job for me today. She kindly referred to this series in today's post on her blog, and by happy providence shared a lovely little tidbit about her weekend that led me to discover a wonderful ethical shopping opportunity to share with you today.

Nansu Home provides gorgeous home linens that are made from organic color-grown or naturally died cotton that is hand-woven my Maya women in Guatemala who are paid a fair trade wage for their work. Really, what more could you ask for? Oh, wait, there is more. They have a product called monk's belt towels! I love it! It makes me think of these guys. And that makes me happy. Because they are coming to visit again right after Christmas. That will be my Christmas joy.

These would be lovely to wrap a recipe and some yummy baked goodness in and deliver to your pastor, neighbor, or favorite missionary. Just joking. Kind of.

Tomorrow let's talk about ways to get the people in your life on board with non-consumer options for Christmas. I promise to get up before the day attacks with reality and get it done! In the mean time, let's all thank Amy for serendipitously keeping us on track today!

Don't forget you can find all the links to the posts in this series in the introduction post here.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 2 of Giving that Gives Back


Today, the Christian family is invited by the Christian Alliance for Orphans to place our focus on the many orphaned children around the world and our responsibility as Christians and as Church to care for them and to be family for them. They call it Orphan Sunday.

When we talk about our consumer habits in light of our slavery footprint, it is important remember that the world's orphans are the faces and names that we seek to protect. Orphans are one of the most vulnerable populations to become victims of traffickers, cheap labor markets, domestic servitude and other forms of modern day slavery, particularly teens who age our of orphanage systems in developing nations. 

Statistics tell us that more than 90% of orphans in the Ukraine will end up in prostitution or in jail for other reasons. Up to 15% of kids who age out of orphanages will commit suicide during their eighteenth year.

There has been a bit of debate in the last months about what the Christian response to the world's orphans should be, if we are driving a market for orphans with our desire to save them. If we are responsible for encouraging adoption while ignoring ethics, failing to look at ways to care for families and prevent children from being orphaned, and by failing to make an overall impact for these vulnerable children who remain in orphanages alongside our efforts at adoption. This is important. If you want to advocate for orphans publicly, do a quick Google search and read the bevy of posts available on adoption ethics. 

But today, let's take this in a different direction. This series' purpose is not to encourage adoption or educate you on the ethics. But just is case the Holy Spirit wants to tell you something today, go ahead and read this. 

But for our purposes, can we commemorate today in our hearts and minds by making a commitment to give one gift this year that advocates and educates on behalf of the world's countless orphans? Here are some ideas:

Ornaments4Orphans is an organization that sells some of the most lovely hand-crafted ornaments and nativity scenes made in East Africa. The proceeds from the sales benefit children in Uganda. From their web site:

Ornaments4Orphans’ mission is to provide American Christians with a seasonal opportunity to support God’s growing kingdom work in East Africa. When individuals purchase an ornament from Ornaments4Orphans the funds are directed toward annual operational costs and development projects of gospel-centered orphan and children’s ministries in Uganda. As the ornament hangs on your Christmas tree, it serves as a reminder to you and your family to pray for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of the children of Uganda. Ornaments also make meaningful Christmas gifts for your family members, colleagues, and friends. All ornaments come specially packaged with information about the ministries and the children the proceeds benefit.

100Cameras is an amazing organization that empowers vulnerable kids through photography. From their web site: 

100cameras empowers kids to create tangible change in their communities by teaching them to capture their lives through photography. We then sell their photographs and give 100% of purchases back to the community allowing kids to participate in the 100cameras program and to fund local lifeline, education, and healthcare needs.

One of their projects is using photography to provide lifeline services to the 118 kids at St. Bertholomew's orphanage in South Sudan. 

They have some lovely Christmas cards available in their shop. And personally, I would be so, so happy if someone sent me this Sudan card set this Christmas.

For a completely non-consumer option, how cool would it be to adopt a camera in honor of your favorite photography buff?

This link offers you a list of ways to purchase gifts that help orphans. I have not had time to research all the organizations they are linking to, so I encourage you to look closely before you purchase. Know who you are buying from and why. Also, there are a number of options on the linked sites to give gifts to orphans. We so often talk about the perfect gift for the person who has everything. If you need a gift for a person who already has everything this year, how about giving a gift to a child who has nothing in his/her name? 

Lastly, I would encourage to think about child sponsorship as an option this Christmas. It is a lovely way to honor someone who has made a difference in the lives of your children or family. It is giving the gift of friendship with another child to your child. As a mom who has suffered the loss of multiple children, I think it would be a lovely way to honor their memories. If someone in your life has suffered a difficult loss this year, giving life to a child in need would be a lovely way to offer them healing and hope. There are so many ways you could make sponsoring a child in another's name a beautiful gift. 

There are no shortage of sponsorship programs out there and I have no doubt that many of you already have your favorites. I invite you to link them in the comments. There is no way I can highlight them all here. 

Here are two I would encourage you to consider:

So now it's your turn to teach me something. Share your favorite Orphan Sunday posts, videos, your favorite orphan advocacy or child sponsorship program in the links below.

Today, I have some friends gathering in the Austin, Texas area for "A Different Kind of Christmas Party". A little holiday cheer focused on giving that gives back. This week I'll share more with you about how to plan a gathering that gives back. And we'll talk coffee. And there might be a coupon code or two for beautiful gifts that give back.

Don't forget that you can find all the posts in this series linked in the initial post. And grab the button below to share the series on your blog.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Day 1 of 31 Days of Giving that Gives Back

I'm the kind of girl who would much rather address the proverbial elephant in the living room than skirt around an issue we all know is affecting what we are trying to talk about but we don't want to admit it. So as we begin to talk about how to change our consumer habits for the sake of others' freedom, can we just be real for today and say the hard thing we all know is true?

The best way for any of us to reduce our slavery footprint is for us to intentionally consume less. Whew. There I said it. This is the hardest part for us to tackle honestly. We all have our reasons why it just won't work to change the way we do Christmas...grandparents who will be angry, family who expects our participation, a husband who thinks we've gone a bit off the deep end. 

And I get that. This process is most effective if it is an opportunity to educate and thus affect those around us. If we alienate and anger everyone around us from our perceived soapbox, well, that's not exactly the point. Nor does it feel very much about the true spirit of Christmas.

And if our goal is renounce consumer craziness and reclaim some of Christmas' earliest message that love is born in humble places we have to be brave about making intentional changes, but we have to find ways to do it that are lavish in love and generous in grace. After all, shepherds and kings both showed up bearing their gifts for the Christ Child and they were all welcomed.

But if we are to begin, we have to begin somewhere. Here are my thoughts on how we can begin to address the hardest part of this process of giving freedom instead of consuming this Christmas.

1. Pray. I do believe that at its heart, this is a spiritual matter for all of us. Christmas and what it means. Our consumption habits and where they come from. Our expectations of ourselves and others. The way we respond to others' expectations of us. This all has to do with the state of our souls and the state of our sin and our relationship with the Lord whose coming we celebrate in the great feast of Christmas. 

When we begin to feel a stirring inside us to change, we can become just as manic about needing to get it right RIGHT NOW as we are tempted to be about consumption. We have to remember the goal here is to slow down and be more intentional about what we are doing. Not to raze Christmas to the ground with a moral wrecking ball. 

That balance is only going to come through prayer. Let's start there. Immerse ourselves in the Word and the mysteries of Christ's birth. Ask ourselves what it means to live those mysteries this season. Make room for the Holy Spirit to inspire and inform our consciences. Confess our consumer sins and willful ignorance of the past. Clean out our hearts with the same vigor we clean out the toy shelves and the kitchen cupboard to make room for Christmas' newness. 

Start living a spiritual advent now, before the consumer craziness hijacks your opportunity. Advent in its more secular form can mean a change or development. The birth of something new. Let's start now so we can make it so.
AND let's resist the temptation to turn Advent into its own consumer frenzy in order to get it right. You and I are both already thinking about just the books we can buy and the cute pinteresty things we can do to live Advent and get it right RIGHT NOW. Again. Sigh. See how insidious that urge to consume more is? 

Look, here's the November supply list:
1. a bag of fair trade coffee or tea
2. a Bible you already have
3. a pen you already have (dig it out from the couch cushions if you must and forget about whether it is colored gel ink in Christmas colors with glittery sparkles. Manger. Food trough. Barn cave. Any pen will do.)
4. Some type of paper bound together in one place. A half stack of Post It notes from the junk drawer will do. You DO NOT need a new prayer journal. Use the last twenty pages of one of the ten you already have.

(I say these things because I love you. And I get you. I am talking to myself. If you were not tempted to do any of those things above, props to you. You're one step ahead of me on this journey.)

Now. Here's where you can have a little fun. Make a space to pray and plan for this Christmas. Choose a space in your home, rearrange a bit, make it feel new and welcoming and waiting. Just like Christmas. Use things you already have as intentional visual reminders in the space about what your goal and purpose is here But your supplies from above there at there at the ready. 

And for the next 30 Days, let's go there together. Every day. And together let's seek the heart of Christmas. And ask God how He would have us change our practices. Let's ask His forgiveness for the ways our need to consume has enslaved His children. Let's beg for their freedom and for ours. Let's pray for those who fight this very real battle on the ground. And those who perpetrate this evil. Let's pray for change. And let us give Him permission to begin with us.

All posts will be linked in the introductory post for the series 
so you can follow along easily if you like