Thursday, December 20, 2012

Blessed, Bewildered, Brokenhearted

Have you ever been so blown away by something God has done, so in awe at the way He has worked in your life, but also really, really hurt by it at the same time? I don't mean hurt as in, "God's out to vindictively cause me pain," but more of a, "God has moved in my life, but the results have caused life to hurt a little more than it did before" kind of way.

Well, I am completely living that emotional oxymoron right now in regards our upcoming move. If you read part one and two of the story behind why we are moving to Colorado, then you know that God answered a lot of specific prayers for us. I am stunned by how God has worked out detail after detail. Details that were completely out of our control and that we prayed about, and for some reason, God chose to answer in unbelievably precise ways. 

For example, we found out in October that there would be a possible opening in Colorado Springs for Devin's job transfer. But the timing was such that he might have to start the job before Thanksgiving and not be able to come back for the twins and I until after Christmas. Obviously, this would have been really difficult - I'd be caring for the twins on my own while trying to pack up our apartment by myself, plus having to spend Christmas away from my husband. Really not what we wanted. But the alternative - Devin not getting this transfer and hoping another job would open up again in a few months - was bad too because we were entering into a month-by-month lease in our apartment and it was really, really expensive. 

So we prayed about it. We prayed that Devin would get the job, but that somehow God would work it out that he didn't have to start until after Christmas (even though the start date for the job posting said November 25th). And oh yeah God, one more little thing - that we won't have to pay more that one month's rent on our exorbitant month-by-month agreement. 

Friends, that is exactly what happened. 

Devin found out on November 27th that he got the position at FedEx in Colorado Spring and that he didn't have to start until January 8th (giving us a perfect window to move right when our first month-by-month lease was up). It was a huge deal to us and I just felt so overwhelmed that God worked out these details. 

But at the same time, the move is real now. We have a date that we are leaving and the reality of it makes me so sad. Someone asked me the other day how I was doing and my answer was, "I've got good moments and bad days." I get these swells of excitement about this new chapter in our lives but it's the kind of excitement that comes when anticipating a fun vacation. Then I remember that it isn't a vacation. This is long-term, possibly forever. And even in light of the great things we will have in Colorado, it hurts to think of leaving my amazing group of girl friends and our incredible families. 

And to be honest, there are many days that I have not handled this change well. Fighting against bitter, negative thoughts is a daily struggle for me. I'm grateful and grumbling at the same time - which as you might imagine is very counter-productive. I don't want to leave, but I know God has shown us we are to go. I'm like the Israelites in the desert - complaining about the manna that God has provided because it's not exactly what I wanted. But God has provided and I have to reminded myself of this even though the results are painful.

Good thing is that one of the ways I deal with stress, anger, and upsetting emotions is to busy myself with a task and I've got plenty of tasks to occupy me as we try to pack up our apartment while still enjoying Christmastime activities with our friends and families. Many a box has been packed while I was sifting though my emotions. So while our apartment is a disaster, there are boxes everywhere, our schedule is jam-packed, and my emotions are topsy-turvy - amidst all this - I remind myself that God is in control. He has provided and He is in control.

My sister-in-law has a quote in her house that I've really loved during this season: "Life is not about waiting for the storm to passits about learning how to dance in the rain."

I'm not quite dancing yet, but I am learning to take His hand and let Him lead. Lead on Lord and please forgive me for my grumbling heart. You have provided and for that I am so grateful. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deadline: Project 101 in 1001

Welcome December 5th, 2012. You came so much faster than I anticipated when writing out my Project 101 in 1001 goals. Well, that's not exactly true. You arrived just as you always should have - with the normal passing of time. I just did not expect life to throw so much at me during the 1001 days of the project. Things like, a surprise pregnancy with twins, quitting my job to stay home with the twins, and planning a move to another state. You know, little things such as these that slightly hindered my ability to complete all 101 goals in the alloted 1001 days. 

But that is life. I completed 59 of my 101 goals and while that would be a failing grade in school (which makes my summa cum laude self shutter), I do not look at the non-completion of the project as a failure. I made the goals to help give my life some direction and the direction life took on its own did not line up with many of the goals. And that's okay.

Though I failed to complete the project, I look back on the past 1001 days with triumph and a feeling of achievement. Here are some things that were not on my list that I feel were great successes:

  1. I have two beautiful, happy, and energetic sons that bring a smile to my face every day. 
  2. I have a wonderful marriage to a hard-working man who love me well and appreciates me deeply.
  3. I have a that job I love, and while it is exhausting, I get paid in hugs and smiles and adoring looks from the most precious little guys in the world and that makes all the diapers and laundry and tears and weariness and frustration completely worth the work. Motherhood: The hardest job you'll ever love.
  4. God has given Devin and I amazing comfort and direction as we embark on this new adventure of moving to Colorado (more on that soon - some really awesome stuff to share).
  5. Through all of this, I have learned to trust God so much deeper.
When I compare the list above with the list from Project 101 in 1001, I can't help but feel that, while fun, so many of the goals I gave myself were trivial in comparison to the tasks life handed me. There are still goals from the project that I would like to eventually complete, but I have learned through all of this that while "man plans his course, the Lord directs his steps," (Proverbs 16:9).  

As I move forward with life - planning, but eagerly watching for God's direction - I have been focusing on this passage: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." (Phil 1:27). That is a goal worth pursuing wouldn't you agree?

Here's to the "Whatever Happens" of this crazy, unpredictable life... 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lil Monsters Birthday Party

Being that I'm quickly become the most inconsistent blogger ever, I thought I would post a fun little update. And what is more fun (or more cute) than the first birthday party of twins? I submit - very little. 

The theme "Lil Monsters" seemed appropriate as both boys are walking now and into everything. And Weston's favorite activity is running around the living room with his arms in the air screaming like he just don't care. That kid is a ball of energy and then some. And both boys think it's hilarious to let Weston playfully bite Isaac's fingers and for Weston to grab Isaac's hand and hit himself with it. Lil Monsters indeed. Those two are constant entertainment, I tell you.

All five of the boys' aunts helped out with the party (much to my eternal gratitude). Aunt 'B' helped make the cupcakes and cake pops, Aunt Kristin made the monster cakes, Aunt Julia and Aunt Katie (my little sisters) made all the monster cups, and Aunt Shannon took me shopping to pick out special birthday outfits. And Grama and Papa hosted one amazing backyard bbq (complete with a homemade corn hole toss game) and Grandma (my mom) made the best beans in the entire world. We have an awesome family. 

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what being parents to twin boys does to you... at least, that is our excuse.

(Oh and a quick little update on the whole "moving to Colorado" thing: there is nothing new to report. We are still planning on going, but don't know exactly when. Good talk.)

This party was awarded "Best Decorations" by (which is pretty awesome since I designed all the decorations myself).

Friday, September 28, 2012

And God Said Go (part two)

(you can read yesterday's part one post here)

While I was all but ignoring the subject of moving (God bless my husband for his patience!!), I started reading The Hole in Our Gospel and learning more and more about how much the Bible has to say about loving the poor. I got crazy fired-up about it (and happily distracted from thoughts of Colorado). What I was learning even got me motivated to start a little business venture with the purpose of helping working mothers in Uganda

One morning after reading more of this great book, I was praying earnestly that God would show me how my little family could love the poor and serve others better and I got an answer that I was not looking for or expecting. 

I asked God, "How can I live the whole gospel with my life? What do you want us to do??" And very clearly, in a inner voice I've never heard before (and I mentally talk to myself a lot), I heard the thought, "Go with your husband and I'll show you."

Whoa. I actually shook my head in a sort-of mental double take. I was like, "Um, excuse me? I wasn't even praying about Colorado - what's up with that answer??"

Now let me tell you, I am about the most skeptical Christian I know when it comes to stories about hearing from God. I've had too many bad experiences with people playing the "God told me" card for those words to hold much sway over me. So when I, of all people, am willing to say that I think this thought was God speaking to me, you know I'm not playing around (not to mention it was so not the answer I was hoping for). 

After a little mental debate between me, myself and I, I finally forced myself to write what I had heard in my journal. In pen. Indebly. Because it would be too easy to pretend I didn't hear it and move on with my fingers-crossed-hopefully-not-moving-let's-just-not-talk-about-it existence. However, if it was God I had heard (and I was pretty sure by that point that it was) then ignoring His direction would be deliberate disobedience. So I wrote it down and set it aside. And then the pestering started...

God: You need to tell Devin what I told you.
Inner Me: Please no. Because then we'll definitely have to move...
God: Tell him.
Inner Me: ... But ...
Other Inner Me: Do it Jen. Tell him, tell him, tell him, tell him!! 
(Other Inner Me is super annoying by the way. And very persistent.)

You get the idea. This went on for days until finally, one evening, I blurted out to Devin, "After we put the twins to bed, you need to make me tell you something that I don't want to tell you!!" 

Poor Devin, I can only imagine the awful news he was imagining I might be about to drop on him.

When I finished telling Devin about my prayer and the answer I got, he looked completely awestruck. "Jen," he said in disbelief, "for the past week, I've been praying that I wouldn't make this decision based on my own reasons. I told God that I didn't want to be selfish and I wanted to do what was best for our family and if He wanted us to go, then He would have to speak through you or I was staying put." 

Double Whoa. 

From that point on, the decision seemed pretty clear. It was going to happen. We were going to move. The hard part was that there wasn't a "real" reason to uproot our family and move 800 miles away. We didn't have a job opportunity. We didn't have a ministry we were joining. It appeared on the surface level that we were making this decision on a casual whim. Which just wasn't the case. We simply felt like this was where God was guiding us and personally I felt that it was the right thing for me to do to trust my husband's leadership and go. But those reasons are really intangible and were really difficult to try and explain to our local loved ones. Those reasons are still difficult for even me to grasp at times. 

As we shared the news with our families, I was surprised to discover that despite the answered prayers, despite feeling confident that this was the right decision, I still felt heartbroken at the thought of leaving. I guess I just expected that because I'd received direction from God, He would change my heart to feel all warm and fuzzy about the move. But that didn't happen. I still felt so sad. I still sobbed myself to sleep some nights. And then I got angry about it. I got mad that God was leading me to do something that hurt so badly and caused so much pain to those I loved. 

After a couple days of telling God how mad I was at Him (I'm thankful He's so patient with my honesty), I started looking back at my journal entries and seeing how many specific prayers on the subject of Colorado that God had faithfully answered. I realized that had the warm fuzzies come, had the idea of moving been easy and not hurtful, then my faith would not have been stretched. I would not have depended on God so deeply for comfort and direction. Devin and I wouldn't have leaned on each other so much as we discussed such a huge change for our family's future. 

This decision, the start of this journey, has been unbelievably hard. However -  my faith has been incredibly strengthen through all this. My trust in my husband's leadership has been strengthen. And those things will only grow stronger as we work through the process of moving and settling into a new city, in a new part of the country. That in and of itself is a "real" reason worth pursuing. And I have to have faith that this reason is enough and that God will in time show us what He has for us to do. For now, perhaps he is just building our faith and our marriage in order to prepare us for the task He has created us for. 

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:10 (emphasis mine)

Pray for us will you? Thank you friends.  

P.S. I don't want to sound all gloom-and-doom. While I am sad about leaving, there are some really great things I am looking forward to about moving. Plus we've got some super-awesome family members in The Springs (hey there Shannon, Dustin, Shane and Gavin!) that will help make the move so much easier and fun. This is an emotional time for sure, but I feel so blessed at all God has done. And more and more frequently (slowly but surely) my anticipation is beginning to sooth my fears. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

And God Said Go (part one)

I've been struggling for several weeks to finally write about the one subject that has dominated my thoughts and my prayers since March. It has been a point of tension and tenderness, both for me and for our families, so I've kept it off the blog until now. And since it's been "off limits", I've written practically nothing since March, because most of what I've been processing, learning, doing, thinking, praying, and talking about has to do with this subject.

But it's difficult to even know where to start. The past few months have been an emotional cocktail of sadness, excitement, anger, joy, bitterness, grace, faith, growth, failure, and fear. And it's hard to take all that down in one swig. So I'll probably sprinkle the story throughout the next few posts, because there are some really neat things God has done in my heart that I'd like to share. But for now, I guess I'd just better start somewhere, so here goes.

We are planning to move to Colorado Springs in January/February of next year.

This might sound like sheer insanity to anyone who knows how close we are to our Arizona-dwelling family members and how amazing our parents have been in helping us survive this first year of being first-time parents to twins. Or to anyone who knows how much I hate moving, or change. And how routine, security, and sameness is something that I cling (too tightly) to. These are all reasons why, when I was dating this amazing, adventurous guy named Devin back in 2008, I told him I would never, ever move away from Arizona. And he told me it had always been his dream to move to Colorado Springs and that he had never planned on staying in Arizona. Dilemma.

But we took that highly emotional conversation off the table, got hitched, and enjoyed a fun-filled first year of marriage and then a twin-filled second year of marriage (too much fun in the first year perhaps...). Though Colorado would come up occasionally, our differing feelings on the subject had not changed. We were happy, but truth be told, a little discontented and very stagnant in our faith, service, and community involvement. Devin especially felt restless in his spirit and try as we might, we never seemed to find our niche in a church or ministry.

Around March of this year, I was minding my own business and reading The Power of a Praying Wife as part of my morning devotions when this statement caught my attention:

"If your husband is a hard worker, make sure he has times of rest and enjoyment - to do things that entertain him and give him reprieve from the weight of a lifetime of supporting a family."

(A little insight on my husband: Devin is a very hard worker. Devin finds deep rest for his soul when he has time in nature, alone with his thoughts and with God. Devin finds enjoyment in activities like hiking, camping, fishing, running, biking and ultimate frisbee. It's awful hard to make a habit of that kind of rest and enjoyment when you live in the middle of a huge city, which is situated in the middle of the dessert, which hits temperatures over 95 degrees about three-forths of the year.) 

Without a second thought (I think my hand had been possessed), I wrote in the margin next to the quote above: "Colorado?" In pen. Indelibly. I did a double-take at what I had written and somehow I knew that I needed to consider this deeper. I couldn't brush the subject aside any longer and I knew it. So for the first time, I began to really pray about it and journal about it and pray about it some more. I knew I didn't want to go, but I also felt like God had opened my eyes to something: that my husband could perhaps find - in a place like Colorado - the refreshment that he needed in order to lead and support our family without total burnout. So I prayed that God would bring our hearts together on the subject - that I would either be wiling to move to Colorado, or that Devin would be able to find passion and refreshment living in Arizona (I was secretly hoping for the latter).

It took me a little while, but I finally mentioned my ponderings to Devin. I told him that while I didn't want to move, I was willing to discuss it as a possibility, pray about it together, and consider it as something that could (or couldn't... please God make it "couldn't") be a good choice for our family. 

So we did just that. And the more we talked about, and the more I prayed about it, I began to notice that my heart was softening towards the idea (though I still cried at the thought of leaving) and that anytime we discussed it, Devin lit up like a firefly. During this time of really sharing our thoughts, dreams and hopes for the future, we grew closer than we had been for a while (unexpectedly having twins kinda side-tracked us from really sharing our hearts, or even knowing what our dreams for the future looked like anymore). It was really, really good for our marriage and even allowed us to heal some past wounds we didn't know were barriers between us. 

God was drawing our hearts together, just as I had prayed He would. Only thing was, there still didn't seem to be a definite direction as to where to live. Both Devin and I felt that when we prayed, "Arizona or Colorado?" the answer seemed to be, "Either." And that lined up with our reality - there were great things about staying put (mainly our close-by families and friends), and there were great things about moving to Colorado (mainly being able to have the active, reviving, outdoor lifestyle we envisioned for our little family, along with some great potential to grow our photography business). 

We were also faced with another decision-delaying dilemma: while I still didn't want to leave, I was finally willing to go and while Devin still wanted to go, he was not willing to uproot our family simply for his own desires (which I greatly appreciated). God had moved in our hearts and removed so much selfishness regarding this decision, but our new selfless attitudes had brought us to another stand-still. And in the process, life here took on an even greater feeling of being stagnant as we lived in this strange "should we stay, or should we go?" limbo. 

By this point, I was frankly pretty sick and tired of praying about Colorado (and kinda imagined that God was tired of hearing about it). Plus, I had just gone through a very difficult conversation with my parents about the possibility of moving and my emotions on the subject were to-the-bone raw. I was just worn out over the whole thing. So I stopped talking about it (even to Devin). And I stopped praying about it. However, God didn't let me ignore the subject that had taken Him nearly three years to get my attention on.

(part two tomorrow)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Living in Poverty While Filthy Rich

If you’ve been peeking in on these parts long, you know that my little family of four tries to live pretty frugally. We choose to do this for a number of reasons. We don’t want to have debt, we don’t want to be wasteful, we want to be able to live generously, we want to differentiate between wants and needs, and we personally hold to the belief that our money is not our own, but given to us by God and therefore we have a responsibility to Him to spend and give wisely.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret – we also live frugally because we have to. When I quit my job to stay home with the twins, our already frugal budget had its belt strap tightened quite a bit. According to the U.S. government, we are now living below the poverty line.

Through this financial adjustment, I'm learning quite a lot. I’m discovering creative ways to make rice and beans taste delicious (well, palatable at least … because I’m really not that great of a cook). I’m learning to live with the A.C. set just shy of comfortable. I’m learning to really differentiate between wants and needs. I’m also learning to appreciate the little things (like strolling the twins through the air conditioned mall while sharing a smoothie with Devin - this is now high-end family entertainment for us). And I’m developing a more thankful heart for all the things I do have. Like constant access to clean water, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, a loving family, and a never-gone-hungry belly.

I’ll let you in on another little secret – even living below the poverty line, my family is still wealthier that 80% of the world’s population*. That is a lot and some days, like when I have to put back an item in the grocery store because it just isn’t in the budget for the week, I certainly don’t feel rich. I feel poor. And I feel sorry for myself.

But then I remember that today I woke up in a comfy bed, in a two bed/two bath apartment, took a hot shower, walked into my closet and had an abundance of clothes to choose from, I greeted my loving husband and my healthy children. Later, I got into my air-conditioned car, drove to the aforementioned grocery store where I was accosted by the sheer number of choices available to me, and I bought enough food to keep my family well-fed. So I had to put back an item or two? I have in this short, daily, oft-overlooked series of events, more than most people in the world could ever hope for. 

The life most of us live in American is not normative, which is hard to remember when your culture is seeped in choices, opportunities and material possessions (even in a “down” economy). Maybe that’s why it is so easy to ignore the poor sometimes. We generally don’t run across them in our daily, American lives and/or we don’t realize how much we truly have in comparison to most of the world. A world where millions are dying because they don't have clean water. Where the poorest of the poor are living on one dollar a day. Where, in the most impoverished countries, one-in-five children die before their fifth birthday. One-in-five. That is insane.

So, when I treat myself to the occasional Starbucks latte as a "please get me out of the apartment and give me a break from the kids before I go crazy" mental breathier, from the perspective of someone living on one dollar a day, I have just spent about four days wages. My family lives on around $54.00 per day**, so if I were to apply the same math, to the eyes of those living in extreme poverty, my tall toffee nut latte cost $216.00. Wait what??? Talk about living extravagantly. 

Globally speaking – I am filthy stinkin’ rich (which is an interesting term isn’t it?). I’ve got it good. Like, really, super, unbelievably good. I often ask myself (and God), “Why me? Why did I luck out? Why do I have enough? Why are my children not the ones dying of hunger and disease?” These are hard, painful questions for me to consider. On one hand, I am so grateful that my life is what it is, yet I feel a strong sense of “survivor’s guilt” sometimes at my wonderful circumstances and that they are not available to everyone. The only answer that has ever satisfied those questions is this: I have been blessed so that I can bless others. That is the only way I can to reconcile in my own heart and mind the vast, unfair, and growing chasm between the world’s rich and the world’s poor.

I’ll admit, this idea itself can seem unfair. After all, my husband works hard to provide for us - we earned that money. We deserve it and we need it. Why should we give it away to others?

Because many others don’t have the opportunities that we have. They work hard from dawn-to-dusk and still can’t afford to put food in the bellies of their children. Progress in their lives is destroyed by war, disease, corruption, lack of education, the ever-present need to simply survive… the list goes on. These are not things they have chosen and often things they cannot change on their own. And if our circumstances were reversed, if I had been born into a war-torn county with little hope or opportunity to rise above the life-ending poverty I found myself in, I sure as heck would pray that they would choose to help me. It’s that whole, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” thing.

Helping the poor and making a difference in the world is not difficult. We can all do something. Plus, there are numerous organization already established that have make this process easy and accessible for us. Giving up a little (or a lot) of what is “ours” so that others can have a better life is likely not going to destroy us. Choosing to adjust our lifestyle, thought-process, spending habits and hearts in order to joyfully give more (of our time, money, talents and other resources) can be hard (at first), but it can also be so rewarding. And - I will warn you upfront - a little bit addicting (and totally, 100%, you-won’t-regret-it, worth it).

*See how globally wealthy you are here: 
** That number is based on our family's total annual income.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Give-Away and Interview

I'm being interviewed tomorrow about my Uganda Mamas and Me venture over at author Marla Taviano's blog - come over and say hi? Oh and while you're there, you can enter to win one of my beaded crosses (winner's choice) and find a coupon code for my online boutique

Marla is doing a give-away every day in September, so keep an eye on her blog in the coming weeks, there is just so many awesome things to win and all of the items have a cool story behind them. Check it out and good luck!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ugandan Mamas and Me

Truth be told, my spirit has been a little stir-crazy since traveling to Uganda and getting all pumped about loving the poor through action, then coming home and having twins and realizing the "loving the poor" thing might need to take a back seat for a little bit as I care for my babies. Well, not a back seat exactly. I still sponsor two sweet girls in Uganda through Compassion International and we still give to a number of organizations that are doing some amazing things to help make a lasting change for the poor. So I guess I'm not taking a backseat, I'm just not as hands-on as I would like to be because I've got both hands full with the two little ones God has blessed me with. Maybe it should be easy for me to let that be enough right now. But it just isn't. There is too much suffering going on around the world and too much comfort in my own life and it just doesn't sit well with me. I have to do something more.

As I study my Bible, I'm finding again and again that for someone who claims to love Jesus, loving others - especially the poor - is a huge, non-negotiable response. A natural, overwhelming desire from a heart changed by Christ (don't believe me? check out this verse). 

I don't get (or want) a "veto" card on the caring for the poor thing just because I'm a mom with young babes. Motherhood is a huge calling, a lot of work and a precious responsibly, don't get me wrong, but even the "Proverbs 31 Woman" cared for the poor while caring for her own family ("She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy" - verse 20). But there is no denying that it's hard right now with the twins being so young. 

I find myself dreaming of the day when I can involve my kiddos in loving-the-poor-projects and use those opportunities to teach them about the love God has for the world and how we can show His love to others through the way we live. Those will be incredible moments that I will cherish and that I eagerly look forward to, but those times are still a few years out. 

So I started thinking - what talents/abilities/opportunities do I have right now that I could leverage to love the poor? Where can I start right now? And after a little planning, I am super excited to share with you what I've come up with.

You may (or may not) know that I make and sell beaded crosses. One of them (the one pictured on the upper left of my blog) is made with recycled magazine beads from Uganda and each time that cross sells, I give 50% of the proceeds to Amazima Ministries which provides approximately sixty meals for a child living in the slums of Uganda. But I also have many other styles of crosses, so I thought, why not use those crosses to help the poor as well? So I've opened an online boutique through Etsy (which is something I've been dragging my feet on until I got inspired by this idea) and 25% of all of my profits will be donated to Kiva - an organization that provides small, low-interest loans to help those living in extreme poverty start a business. (By the way, the repayment rate of these loans is incredibly high: 99% of those receiving a loan pay in back in full.)

One unfortunate misconception about the poor is that they are poor because they are lazy. However, more often than not, the poor are extremely hard-working. They simply lack the hope and opportunity to lift their family out of poverty. A micro-loan of just $100 would give someone living in extreme poverty the capital needed to start a business and begin using their talents and abilities to provide for their family. Giving them not only sustainable income, but confidence, empowerment, a sense of achievement and HOPE. All things that can break the cycle of poverty and be a catalyst for lasting change for the poor. Not a temporary hand-out, but a life-altering hand-up.

Here's my favorite part of this venture: I'll be providing loans specifically to working mothers in Uganda. As a working-from-home mother myself, who also happens to love the people and country of Uganda, it is a perfect match. (My heart just fluttered a little bit even thinking about it.) 

Another reason I chose mothers specifically is this: I love adoption (I have two adopted sisters whom I adore), but I would love even more for a mama to be able to keep and provide for her babies instead of having to give them up for adoption because she can't make enough money to feed them. I would love for kids not to be orphaned by AIDS because the only available way for their mother to make a living was to sell her body. A Kiva loan can change these things and keep babies the arms of their mamas. Be still my mother's heart. And my poor-loving heart for that matter. ::flutter flutter::

If you are interested in what I'm doing, here's the link to my Etsy shop:

And here's a little peek of a few of the crosses I have available:

Thanks for listening to my excited ramblings. Creativity, helping the poor, mamas and their kids, Uganda:  this kind of stuff just gets my heart pumping!!  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Raising a Herd of Chicken Lovers

Devin and I love great food. Especially when it's free. We love an integrity-filled business. Especially when said business is known for giving away free food. And we love any excuse to dress up in a fun, creative costumes. Especially when it means we'll be rewarded with free food. All reasons that make Chick-fil-A's Cow Appreciation Day the perfect annual event for our frugal, creative, food-lovin' family. Dress like a cow - get free chicken. Don't mind if I do.

Devin and I have been participating in this event since the first year of our marriage. We even camped out overnight in a parking lot to snag ourselves a year's worth of free Chick-fil-A. And this year, our children got to join our crazy Chick-fil-A antics. Well, technically the twins participated last year too:

Weston and Isaac happily kept their outfits on the whole time, were hailed as the event's cutest customers by the employees and both boys loved sampling Chick-fil-A chicken for the first time (but trust me, it was hard for mom and dad to share).

Aren't they just the cutest little calves you ever did see? My dairy-farmer grandparents would have been proud. We entered the boys' photo in the Cow Appreication Day Photo Contest and if you'd like, you can vote for them here. We'd love to have your vote and we'd love to win some more free Chick-fil-A. You can vote once per computer, so if you have a desktop and a lap top (or blackberry, smart phone, access to a large network of computers...) go and vote for our boys as many times as you can! Okay, I'm kidding about the computer network thing... sorta.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Extreme Hoarders Aren't Completely Crazy

The other day, I was viewing with morbid fascination TLC's Hoarders: Buried Alive. I'm watching these people who are literally being consumed by their possessions and all the while dishing out an unfair dose of judgment and pity on these pour strangers (which I cringe to admit after my previous post about judgement).

One guy was a compulsive shopper in addition to being a chronic hoarder (bad combo as you might imagine). The other lady featured was an extreme hoarder whose house was stuffed to the brim with things that she had dug out of trash bins, saved from roadside pick-up and snatched from thrift store cast-offs in hopes that she could give the items to someone who might be able to use them. As you might imagine, she did not fine people to give the items to and they have been collecting dust in her house for years. She couldn't even have her grandchildren come visit because her home was so unsafe due to the piles and piles of stuff.

I'm staring aghast at the way these people are living and raging in my head against the ridiculousness of being so attached to stuff. The Horders literally required psychiatric help in order to remove stuff from their homes without having a complete nervous breakdown. (Please know that I do understand that extreme hoarding stems in part from a phyicatric condition and is usually a symtom of a deeper issue. I do not intend to make light of that fact.) I was angry to see this addiction to stuff while knowing there are millions of people in the world living without even their basic needs met.

Then I realized my hypocrisy and that in some way, most ALL of us are too attached to our stuff. Stuff we don't really need. Stuff we want just because we want something new. Stuff we don't use, but won't get rid of. Stuff we buy to fit in. Stuff we buy to make ourselves feel better. The likelihood is, that if you live in a first-world culture, you have a stuff addiction on some level. 

Then I started looking at the hoarders a little differently and got really irritated at all the "stuff" and why it exists in the first place and why it's available for hoarding at all.

Let's look at the compulsive shopper gentleman, who shopped to have something to do and to make himself feel better. Yes, the level of his actions are extreme, but the "shop to feel better about yourself" is an advertising gimmick that companies rope us in with over and over again. And this man has fallen prey to the mindset that possessions equals happiness. (If you're interested, you can read my post, The Dark Lie of Happiness, that covers this topic.)

Then there is the grandma who can't have her family visit because her house is overtaken by stuff. But really, should I be completely appalled by her actions? She is having a hard time throwing away things because she knows they are in good condition and useful. Maybe not useful to her, but they ARE useful and wasting them by tossing them in the dumpster is giving her a panic attack. It suddenly hit me that in some ways she is totally right to feel that way. Those mounds of possessions ARE useful but people have just thrown them away. Perhaps this lady's "problem" isn't hoarding at the core, but it is seeing the wastefulness of others and not knowing how to try and stop it. Her "crazy" compulsion to save these items has its roots in the consumer habits of others. Those who buy more than they need. Who toss things they could still use in order to replace it with something "better", "cooler", or just "newer" for the sake of having something new. People like me. People like you. The amount of stuff our culture purchases, tosses and replaces should be giving us all panic attacks. Especially if we compare it to the shocking lack of stuff most people of the world live with (40% of the world's population lives on less than $2.00 a day).

The more days of my life that tick by, the more I find that stuff means increasingly less and less to me. I'm slowly but surely learning to live with less, or take better care of the useful things I already have, and in the process, I'm loving it. This change was kick-started a few years ago -  after coming face-to-face with extreme poverty during my two trips to Uganda, Africa. It's hard after something like that to justify having an excess of things when others around the world (some whom I've met personally) are living without even the basic necessities (clean water, shelter, food, clothing). Though I still have more than I need, and still fall prey to marketing gimmicks, I'm finding I really enjoy the simplicity and lack of clutter. I'm a "recovering consumer" trying to bring my materialist habits under control - for my benefit and the benefit of those in need.

Yes, I will (likely) always have stuff, and stuff in itself isn't always bad. Too little stuff (as in, "I don't have food on the table or cloths on our backs") is bad and too much stuff (as in, wasteful, exploitive consumerism) is bad. Somewhere in between (but I would argue on the  frugal, generous side of the spectrum) would seem to be a good place to land for most of us.

I'm reading an interesting book right now called, Consumer Detox and the author takes a really balanced approach on the whole consumerism issue. One (of many) points he makes that I really liked was this: "Freedom [from consumerism] isn't when our possessions mean nothing to us. We are physical beings - we will always express ourselves using physical things. But the way we use our possessions can become something different."

Some simple ideas for how to "use our possessions for something different": 

  • Fix things instead of throwing them away and take better care of the items you already have (allowing you to produce less waste, slow down the consumer machine, and give the money you save to help someone in need)
  • Buy used or repurposed items (thrift stores can provide an incredible supply of used clothing and items that are just calling out for a little loving creativity to make them awesome again)

Any other ideas you'd care to add? I'd love to hear about them!