24 November 2014

multiply your spending power

In my National Adoption Month post, I promised to make a list of places you can shop + see your purchase multiplied as it benefits children in crisis.  Christmas feels like a great time to spread some of that purchase power around.  I know its not always practical to purchase items like this for people on your list, so don't really consider this as a gift-buying guide, although it would be nice if it works out that way for you!

I feel like I might first need to let you know something important.  There are a lot of children in orphanages with living parents. They are called 'poverty orphans' by some.  The children are placed in an orphanage because the birth mother/family feel like they cannot provide for their basic needs.  The parent(s) believe the child has a better chance to survive in an orphanage rather than in their arms. This is unimaginable for a North American birth mother, I know, but before you throw your rocks - open up your heart. These parents make an excruciatingly difficult decision because they feel like there is no other option. By spending your money differently, you can help provide some options.

I am passionate about this and over the course of a few years we have slowly been making changes in our purchase patterns.  We are still slowly making changes, even if you just choose to buy one thing from an alternate source this year, it matters.   Most of the time, these items cost a bit more than if you just picked something up at Wal-mart -- which is why it has been a long, slow process for us to make changes.  However, an added benefit of shopping with intention is that you whittle away some of that constant feeling of not having enough.  When you carefully shop and select products that benefit someone's entire family, it reminds you of how much you truly have. Honestly, even those of us on tight budgets have fairly fat closets compared to most of the world.

For us, it started with coffee.  I have written about it here before, so I won't go in to too much detail.  We drink coffee every single day, so we felt it was important to know that the people that grow our coffee are given a fair wage. When farmers receive a fair wage, they are able to provide for their families safely and with dignity.  This is a small change that makes a big difference. {and I am certain the coffee is better!}  Currently, we buy our coffee from Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co which provides life-changing work for communities in Rwanda.  That is a pretty big benefit just from switching coffees!

Land of a Thousand Hills slogan sticker
From there, it moved to accessories.  There are so many options for purchasing accessories.  I have a few scarves from fashionABLE and I love them.  Of course, they cost more than a scarf you'll find at Wal-Mart or Target, but they come with a handwritten note from the woman that made them.  I am OK with having fewer scarf options, knowing that the scarves I wear have made a big difference in the life of someone else.  It is the same with jewelry and handbags. I have a bag from Freeset and a bag from JOYN, they are well-made and I get compliments on them.  They aren't cheap, but the money I spent on them helps a mother provide for her family or helps a victim regain dignity through work.  That matters.  I have jewelry from 147Million Orphans, Bead For Life, and the ApParent Project.  All of it has been worn for years and I always get compliments on it. Always. It is unique and often one-of-a-kind.  It reminds me every time I wear it that my small choice can make a big difference. 
cuff bracelet from 147 million orphans
One of my favorite make-a-difference-purchases has been my Sseko sandals.  I really adore this company and their passion for empowering women in Uganda.  Every graduate from their classes has gone on to university.  That is huge in their country.  Once when I posted a link for Sseko Tie Sandals on FB someone commented that they were "pricey."  And I get it, I do.  They are the most expensive sandals I have ever bought myself - {a clue to our budget}.  They are so worth it, though.  I have had them for two years and they show no signs of falling apart.  Plus I can purchase new ribbons and accessories quite inexpensively.  They are the absolute best shoe to pack on trips {in the summer!}  They are comfortable enough to wear all day and can be styled to wear to a wedding or a day at the park.

ssekos in the family pic!
Recently, I signed up for a monthly box from Fair Trade Friday - a perk of ditching my iPhone and its expensive contract!  You can also purchase one-time boxes which I think would make awesome gifts!  100% of the proceeds from each box goes to the empowerment of impoverished women as an avenue to introduce them to the Gospel. Pretty great return on investment there!  Everything in the boxes comes with a tag stating where it was made, and often has the artisan's name on it.  Also the items are packaged in such a way that they could easily be re-gifted.  Win, win!

see all the awesome in one box??
Unfortunately, I am not super smart with tech stuff, so I only know how to add links through words.  Someday I might learn how to embed them right into the post, but for now, I thought a link to my pinterest board with all of the above websites (as well as a few others) would be the easiest way to allow you to browse around.  You can click on it, and it will take you right to it.   If you ever have any questions whatsoever, please do not hesitate to ask!     Follow Amanda's board shop with a purpose on Pinterest.

22 November 2014

National Adoption Month

National Adoption Month.

By now, surely you know this is a thing.  Right?

Remember I wrote it about it here?  And reposted it last year.

I wanted to refresh the post a bit today.  There is a big push this year to #FlipTheScript for National Adoption Month.  In some ways, I get it; but in other ways I just want to get people to know there is a script at all.  I am desperate for folks to know there are ways to be involved in the arena of adoption and orphan care without ever adopting.  My agenda will never ever involve convincing someone to adopt.  Never ever.  {And I know they say never say never and songs have been written about it but still, I think its safe to say that is not my job.}  [I found this article yesterday after writing this part of the post.  I think it is lovely.  Warning, there are some curse words so if that will turn you off to the whole thing do not click through.  It is honest and true and touches on the variables of adoption and the discussions around it so very well. Click here to read it.]

So I'll start with this. . . Technically, National Adoption Month began as a campaign to recruit folks to adopt via foster care, I think.  However, it has become a much bigger conversation starter. There is so much more to orphan care than just adoption.  Obviously adoption is an important part of it, but adoption alone leaves gaping holes in the lives of vulnerable children.  And every adoption story begins with great loss, and that great loss can be carried for a lifetime. Keep that in mind always.

So what can you do?  Here are some ideas:

1.  Pray for an adoptive family/foster family.  Do you have friends that are adopting?  Do you know someone that is waiting?  Pray for them.  Often.   Pray that their hearts would be encouraged as their soon-to-be child(ren) wait.  Pray for hope in the heart of that waiting child.  Maybe take it a step further and send them a note telling them you are praying?

2.  Encourage an adoptive family/foster family.  This could work either pre- or post-adoption.  Send a gift card for dinner out.  Celebrate with them! Throw a shower! One friend handed me a wordless book at PWOC one week for "our child," this was months before we got 'the call.'  This simple gesture reminded me that I wasn't waiting alone. 

3.  Pray for a waiting child.  This will require bravery.  Look at your state's photolisting.  Find a child with whatever parameters you choose and pray hard.  The children listed here are legally-free for adoption which means the parental rights of their birth parents have been terminated.  You can find the listing by clicking here.  Pray for the just-right family to open their home to him/her.

4.  Support family preservation by sponsoring a child.  This is critical.  We can change things dramatically by starting here.  There are many places that do this well.  We sponsor through Compassion International.  They are just one of many that do this effectively within the local communities via local leaders. Sponsoring a child allows that child and his family to have basic needs met.  This alleviates some of the tension these families face which then allows the children to get an education. An education opens doors that wouldn't normally be opened for these children. Sponsorship is a long-term commitment with long-range outcomes. Research an organization to ensure you want to partner with them for the long haul.

5. Pray for foster care programs that are starting in other countries.  Yes, our foster care system needs work, but when done well it serves a good purpose.  Some parts of the world are just starting to build foster care programs.  Pray earnestly for them. I have friends on the ground in Guatemala that are ministering alongside a foster care start up.  You can click here to learn more about it.

6. Help your local foster care office.  We had an 'in' with our local office so I was able to find out quickly how we could help.  Their immediate need was getting that emergency clothing closet up and running.  Other offices may have other needs.  I surely appreciate every single thing that has been sent to us for our local office.  But if you have been itching to do something local - now is the the time. If nobody calls you back (because they might not, they are busy folks) then you march down there with a Wal-mart gift card and a few backpacks or warm hats or something.  Attach a note that says you want to help support their office, tell them you bought the gift card so the caseworkers could get things for children that come into care.  Ask them to contact you about how else you can help. Also, maybe mention that you appreciate their hard work on behalf of children.  They will call you back or email you shortly.

7. Read. I still highly recommend Orphan Justice and Adopted for Life as good starting points.

8. Shop Smarter. This is huge.  The dollars we spend at this time of year can potentially multiply if we spend wisely.  I am going to make a list of places to shop in the next day or two.  I will link to it from here when I finish.  Promise.  Here it is! Click here.

Thanks for reading this far, I know it is a lot of information.  And really just the very tip of the iceberg.  Adoption has forever changed me, but not because it is a real-life fairy tale.  My faith has been stretched in the waiting and in the loving and in the day-to-day.  My heart has been softened to the struggles of children that carry so much weight on their shoulders.  My perspective has changed about our government agencies that have been tasked to play the role of 'guardian' for children.  I am burdened for the Church to know the many ways they can support children in crisis and then to act.

If you aren't sure about how you can get involved, feel free to ask.  I would love to chat with you more about it.  The need is great, the opportunities are vast, and our God is able.

21 November 2014

For the love of Christmas

So I am working on a National Adoption Month post that is morphing into a big, long link list that will need to be broken into separate organized posts. . .which cannot be done while the dudes are awake.  So it will wait.

But this, I feel cannot wait.

I stumbled upon a bunch of lists for "Elf Alternatives" yesterday.  And the absurdity of it just hasn't left me.  The online Christmas wars give me a lump in my stomach.

There are a million ways to celebrate Christmas.  Can we just be confident that the way our friends choose to do it is best for their family?  Can we trust that our decisions for our own family are good and not feel defensive about them?

I really do not care if you elf or not.  I don't think 'elfing' makes you a more fun parent nor do I think 'not elfing' makes you a better Christian. {Yes, I made 'elfing' a verb.} If you copy and paste someone else's elf ideas I do not criticize you for not being creative.  If you dream up 25 over-the-top-out-of-the-box elf schemes I will not accuse you of having too much time on your hands. Promise.

Let's give space for our friends to do Christmas the way that works for them + their people and not throw rocks if it looks radically different from our own Christmas traditions.

If a friend laments about needing to find one-more-gift for her sister-in-law, rather than launch into the story of how your family just draws names, look her in the eye and tell her you hope she finds the just-right-gift-in-her-budget + without a lot of stress. This will be a gift to her.

While in the check-out line, turn off your cell phone.  Put it in your pocket or your purse and make eye contact. If the store clerk tells you "Happy Holidays," you smile warmly and tell him that you hope his shift is full of the kindest customers.  This will be a gift to him.

If you hear someone say that they hate Christmas music. Don't shut them down by telling them about how you listen to it year round. Ask them why.  There might be a whole lot of heaviness behind that statement and finding a safe place to unload it might just be the best thing for this person. It will likely be a gift.

While scrolling through FB, if you see a picture of a child with Santa, tell them how precious that child is rather than mentioning that you choose to keep Christ in Christmas and therefore lock Santa out. Also, if a friend shows her nativity set online, please refrain from criticizing how many wise men she has there - or the fact that they are there.  {Believe it or not a lot of us have FB friends that aren't Christians and the online bickering about our differences is weird + confusing.  And also ugly.} Be kind, this will be a gift to your FB friends' friends. 

Now hear me on this, if your friends are posting about all the Random Acts of Kindness they are doing, or if you see pictures of these advent activities that make you whither a little inside because of their grand scale, break out some Taylor Swift and 'shake it off.'  Decide not to judge the people that choose more elaborate plans than you, rather give yourself grace and trust that you are choosing just-right for your people.

Of the millions of ways to do Christmas, the most important one is to see people where they are and give them some love.  Celebrate the ways that we do it differently.  Make eye contact, linger long in conversation. Ask about your friends' traditions. Pray for the things that stress your friends out - even if you have chosen to unload those things so you won't be stressed. Look for ways to be a gift to someone else.  Refrain from posting articles that condemn other people's Christmas traditions. {Please for the love, refrain!}

It isn't as complicated as we tend to make it. Love God. Love people. Especially at Christmas.

"He said to him, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." Matthew 22:37-39

16 November 2014


Have you ever watched a child with a helium balloon?  Sometimes I forget how much bang you get for your buck with balloons.  My boys love them.  They potentially bring delight for hours (days if you pay for that extra stuff they spray in them!)

I have to say 'potentially' though, because there is a little bit of a dance we need to do when we get balloons.  It involves trust and what seems a bit like loss of control.  If the boys let Brad and I tie the ribbon around their wrists, the potential for fun increases dramatically.  There have been a handful of times that one of our sons has refused to have his balloon tied to his wrist.  This usually leads to wailing and gnashing of teeth moments later when the balloon floats away to the clouds.  Usually that same son will be the first one to have his balloon tied to his wrist the next time balloons are around.  Sometimes, though, he'll still be afraid of losing his balloon so he'll hold the ribbon tightly anyway.  Or worse, he'll clutch it tightly to his body, which greatly decreases the fun potential.  This strategy can backfire instantly when the balloon pops under pressure.  Again with the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

If our boys trust us to tie their balloons to their wrists - and also trust that the knots we tie will hold - then they can fully enjoy their balloons.  They run freely across the yard and watch their balloon dance behind them.  The balloon can follow along on a bike ride or up the steps at the playground and zoom down the slide.  Sometimes they'll just sit and watch their balloon float lightly above them swaying in the breeze.  It is crazy how much delight this brings the boys.  Of course, when they are delighted so are we.  It might be as fun to watch them play as it is for them to actually play.

It starts with trust though.  And what feels a bit like loss of control.

Isn't that the way it is with us too?  When God gives us a gift, something He knows will bring us delight?  If we cling tightly to it and don't trust Him with it, we risk losing it immediately.  Sometimes we trust Him a little bit, we tell Him we trust Him but our actions don't send the same message.  We smother our gift for fear of losing it.  Or we hold it so close that we aren't really free to enjoy it.   But if we really trust Him?  If we allow both hands to be open and believe the way He gives it and the way He secures it is best?  Then we are wide open to delight, to run free and laugh and climb high and sit still.  Whatever we choose, if we have trusted Him freely, we are free to delight.  Not only does this bring delight to our Father, but those around us can't help but smile at the scene too.

13 November 2014


The fall colors in Ga-Bama this year are breath-taking.  I am certain they are the best I have seen since living here.  Brad said it too, and he is not one to throw around "best ever."  That's more my thing.

In the past I would see one or two trees worth noting and then a handful of leaves scattered here and there that are colorful.  But this year I am wanting to snap little pics everywhere I look.  Its a fun surprise.  God is such a creative artist.  {And we are made in His image, so what does that make us?}

One morning as I was running I thought to myself how great it would be to collect a bunch of these leaves for decorations for our fall retreat.  Of course, Brad pointed out that the colors won't last because the leaves are dying. 

And I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

The colors are so vivid right before they die. Their brilliance is most radiant proceeding death.

And this year even more so.  I am not a chemist but I think it has to do with the cold snap that rushed in over night.  Since then we've had cooler-nights combined with still-hot-days. 

I know I am not a leaf or a tree, but here's the thing, I want to live a vivid life.  As we shift in different seasons of our life, I don't want to slowly fade away like the leaves usually do around here.  Even if that means circumstances have to jolt me to brilliance, like the cold-snap that snuck in.  I want to be OK with the unpredictable -- if that is what makes my life brilliant so be it. 

Of course, there is more at stake than dressing in layers to accommodate for the cool starts and the high-heat afternoons.  Much more at stake.  But the brilliance I long for is infinitely better too.  This brilliance is the kind that lights up and points out God's glory.  I shine because of His work in me.  I am most brilliant when I allow Him to work creatively through my circumstances, unpredictably and without barriers.

When I lay down my boundary lines and I let loose of conditional agreements then I am able to freely shine His light as He accomplishes His good work in me. There will be struggles, there will be set-backs and there will be trials.  The brilliance will shine all the brighter as a result.

"The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.  We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up." 2 Corinthians 4:6-8 CEV

08 November 2014


One of my friends ran a half marathon today and stopped at mile 7 to nurse her baby.

Let that settle in a minute.

This is just one succinct snapshot that captures the level of awesomeness that my friends embody.

I was thinking today about how grateful I am to have these amazing women in my life.  They are bold and brave and real.  Here's a wider glimpse into the circle of friends I have around me: One friend believed God would bless her with a baby when the doctors told her it was impossible - she chronicles the joy of being the mom of 2 boys almost daily in facebook status updates.  Another friend is a skilled cook, and she has taken her talent and invites other women to her home for freezer cooking so they too can feed their families home-cooked meals.  My friend, Alyssa, is daily teaching me lessons about living life with hope.  Another friend is fighting hard for her marriage, believing God can restore the broken places.  And still another has recently completed classes to become a foster mom even though she thought she would be married before she became a parent.  I have friends that are adopting from far-off shores, and other friends that are figuring out the best strategies for helping their special-needs children.  One friend is balancing momming seven kiddos while also finishing her college degree.

These women, these risk-takers and faith-walkers, they inspire me.  My friendships with each of them make me braver and bolder.  I grow from seeing them grow.  I celebrate their wins as if they are my own because, in a way, they are.  I have had the great privilege of praying with my friends through their struggles and triumphs.  Part of what makes them such excellent friends is that they ask for prayer.

There is a tendency in female relationships for competition and comparison to take-over.  We build walls and put on masks, pretending all is well and good and easy.   I can honestly say that I don't see this with my girlfriends.  And I was thinking today about what a gift that is.  Truly.

Don't get me wrong, I struggle sometimes with not feeling adequate and all that business, but its not because my friends make me feel "less than."  When I saw the mile-7-breastfeeding-pit-stop-picture today, I got tears in my eyes because I am so proud of my friend.  I didn't for a minute think, "I could never do that." {Although there is a real good chance that I never will breastfeed a child whilst running a half marathon.} Nor did I assume my friend was posting that picture to brag [or any other ugly-ulterior-motive that folks like to attach to things that make them feel less-than.]  I just celebrated her awesome accomplishment with joy.

Friends that inspire do it naturally, not by convincing me to do what they do, but by living their calling fully + freely alongside me.  Our callings don't match, and the way we walk out our faith looks differently at times too.  Celebrating our individual gifts and talents is the best way to encourage one another.

I was listening to TobyMac the other day in the car and the song "Thankful For You" came on, and I think I may have played it three times in a row.  While belting it out.  And car-dancing.

Have you seen the video of the anchor man dancing and his co-host shooting a side-eyed glare.  That is basically what happens if Brad and I are in the car together and a TobyMac song comes on {or any pop song from the 90's} Of course, our roles are reversed, I am the anchor man and Brad is the annoyed co-host.  (Click here if you haven't seen it yet.)
----resume topic----

I love this part of the song:

They say you become who you hang out with
Well I can tell you for sure
You make me a better man

And I can say without a doubt
I never had it figured out
Lord you've opened every door
I've stepped through yea
And I try to keep my head about me
So thankful for the friends around me
I'm thankful for You yeah
I'm thankful for You yeah
I'm thankful for You

 One of my greatest hopes is that I will be the kind of friend that inspires my friends too.  I want to always be ready to pray them through a challenge - even if it is unlike any challenge I have faced.  I want to always be ready to celebrate a win -- even if I'll never have that same victory.  I want to be ready to offer wisdom based on truth; not advice based on my preferences.  I want to speak the Truth wrapped up in love and I want to love so much louder than my words.  Because I have had such excellent role models, its easier for me to know what this kind of friend looks like.

Friends, I am so thankful for you.