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!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

When the Sweet Potatoes Hit the Fan

You know those days when so much goes haywire, you can't really do anything but be flexible and try to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all? Yeah, that was my Tuesday.

Here's what my day was supposed to look like: My mom and siblings were scheduled to arrive from Tucson for a day visit at 10:00am. Devin was at work with our one-and-only car, so I would borrowed Mom's van in order to visit my friend Jamie (who just had a sweet baby girl and also has a cute little man who is 18-months-old). Obviously, arriving with my twins in-tow would severely impede my ability to assist Jamie, so my eager-to-babysit family gave me the perfect opportunity for a visit and for some snuggle time with the wee newborn babe. After Jamie's, I would return home and enjoy dinner with my mom and siblings before they headed back to Tucson. Sounds nice and neat don't it?

This is what happened instead: Mom calls at ten-til-ten to inform me that due to my siblings' (ages 15, 10, and 9) ineptitude at getting ready on time, they would now be forty-five minutes late. Which doesn't seem like a lot, but when you are trying to catch the twins while they are happy and awake, there is only a two-hour window in the mid-morning, and my family would now miss forty-five minutes of that time. Mom is livid.

Mom calls back ten minutes later in tears. She has a flat tire on the side of the highway, cars are speeding by like bats out of you-know-where and no one is even slowing down to a reasonable, "I'll try not to kill you" speed, let alone stopping to help. She'll call me back.

When she does, forty-five minutes have passed and she is now on the side of the road again with a second flat tire. You've got to be kidding me. She's waiting for a tow truck and will keep me updated.

Meanwhile, the twins are ready for lunch. Isaac, who is our champion eater but has refused baby food for the past few days, is finally chowing down on his sweet potatoes. After lunch, I set the twins down to play while I make a long-over-due meal for myself. Just as I take the first delicious bite of my sandwich, I hear Isaac throwing up. Great. Sandwich down, I go to Isaac and discover piles and piles of sweet potato chunks where he was playing. Super.

However, as I grab him up from the mess, I realize that the sweet potatoes are all over his legs and in fact coming out of his diaper. Oh crap. Literally - I've got a major poop-spolsion on my hands (and I do mean on my hands), all over my baby and all over my carpet. Then it dawns on me - I heard him throw up. Oh sweet mercy, did the baby eat his own poop??!! A quick examination of his month confirms that he did not. Well thank goodness - that's something.

I rush to the bathroom to hose down the poopy mess that is my child, but then remember that I have twins and the other one is crawling around unattended in the next room.  Still holding Isaac, I shut off the water, rush back to the living room and spin around in a confused circle between the twins as I try to decide what to do. Finally, I set Isaac back down on the floor- far enough away from the poop that he won't get a second chance to ingest it, but still on the carpet, which left more droppings to clean up and still made a feces feast available to my child (fortunately, he did not take advantage of the poop buffet before him). Plop goes Weston goes into the exersaucer, and I awkwardly scoop up Isaac while trying not to get any more infant excreta on my person.

I strip down the odorous culprit and put him in the bathtub. He happily plays, oblivious to my plight. Pulling out the diaper sprayer, I rinse out the unbelievably nasty cloth diaper into the toilet and seriously question my choice to cloth diaper. I wash up the baby, dry him off, re-clothe him and bring him back to the living room to play with his brother.

With a sigh, I spy my sandwich across the room - perfectly poised on the plate with one bite removed  and beckoning me to partake in its deliciousness once more. And then I remember - there are still piles of baby poop to clean up. Six piles to be exact. Piles that look like chunky sweet potatoes and smell like death. Terrific.

Out come the rags, the baking soda, the vinegar and the scrub brush, and I turn another round of confused circles as I hesitantly try to figure out the best way to clean up the filth. I'll spare you more details about that process, but suffice to say it was disgusting.

I grab the sordid rags, the soiled towel and sullied baby clothes and toss them onto the washing machine to deal with later. Ironically, today is laundry day and I have completed this chore just moments before the catastrophe. Fantastic.

Baby cleaned, mess cleaned, Mom and siblings on their way via tow truck, and stomach still empty, I call my friend to cancel my visit. Disappointingly, there is no way that's happening now. I finally get to eat my sandwich (which is considerably less appetizing after all the mess). I shrug and think to myself, Well that's life...and it's only 12:30.

Follow Up: It's the next day, and the Forth of July. We are on our way to our friends' house for a party and fireworks. Isaac projectile vomits in the car which results in Devin cleaning up the car seat with baby wipes in the Wendy's parking lot while Weston screams like a banshee and I attempt to clean Isaac up in the Wendy's bathroom were there are no paper towels and no baby changing station. Yeah, that was fun. But, at least I managed to snap a twin picture before Isaac's half of the patriotic paraphernalia was sabotaged (I say "sabotaged" because it seems that a good majority of the days which I dress the twins alike, one of them protests the wearing of matching outfits by whatever means available to him. Usually in the form of spit up, vomit, explosive poop or impressively wet diapers.)

And that's life.