Book Review for Evicted, by Matthew Desmond

Matthew Desmond, a sociologist and professor at Princeton and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, moved into a trailer park in Milwaukee for five months to chronicle the stories of four white families for his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. He spent another ten months in a rooming house in inner city Milwaukee in a mainly African American section of town. The main purpose of embedding himself in these communities was to learn more about the connection between housing and poverty.

Through brilliant story-telling, Desmond spotlights the exploitation and discrimination of eight families. The initial reading is a bit difficult to follow because of all the different stories, but after the first fourth of the book, the story lines become clearer. Desmond not only reports on the lives of tenants, but shares the stories of landlords as well, revealing the many motivations involved in their decisions to evict tenants.

Those of us who have jobs and stable housing may find it easy to judge those living in poverty, but this book humanizes the poor through descriptions, names and details. It evokes compassion in the reader as you discover that those living in squalor do so because they have to–not because they want to. In fact, landlords often exploit those who can’t afford down payments in exchange for not keeping buildings up to code.

Through Evicted, Desmond raises a platform to elevate the stories of the voiceless. More often than not, evictions impacted the lives of women and children, forcing them to continue scrambling for affordable housing and stable jobs in spite of huge setbacks. If you are interested in putting faces, names and stories to “the poor” in America, and desire to understand more about the nuances of a complex web of poverty, then I highly recommend reading Evicted.

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If you don’t have time to read the book or would like a supplement to reading it, you can watch an hour-long talk by Matthew Desmond here.

**I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this honest review.

**Includes Amazon affiliate links

Advent in Spite of Christmas (Christmas with Littles Edition)

Christmas is meant to be magical, right? Starry nights, mistletoe, crackling fireplaces and soft snow falling outside while we are snuggled up under blankets with tea inside, watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the 80th time. And it still is—magical, that is– except that for this “brief” (10 year) blip in time, we have a child in our home under five years old. As a mom, perhaps this is what Christmas looks like for you:

1. Pull out the decorations. Unload and figure out where to them put so the kids can’t pull them down and smash every one. Wish you had cleaned the house before decorating on top of the clutter.

2. Set up the nativity set, Advent wreath, Advent calendar, and Advent book and wonder if you are over-doing it in an attempt to be a Good Christian Mother.

3. Give the kids the Little People nativity set to keep them busy while you put brightly colored lights on the tree (you like white lights, but your five year old won the battle this year). You glance over and see that Mary is in the back of a dump truck with the angels in hot pursuit.

4. Day 3 of decorating: allow the kids to “help” you put ornaments on the tree. Eighty percent of the ornaments end up on the bottom fourth of the tree, though you know that by December 23rd, there will be NO ornaments there.

5. Curse whoever thought it was a good idea to decorate trees with toys that kids aren’t supposed to touch.

6. Advent day 1. Begin the Advent ritual: light a candle, read page one of the Advent Book, move the first figure out of a felt envelope and Velcro precariously onto the manger scene at the top (swatting at hands that try to grab all the other figures tucked into other day’s pockets). Tell kids to stop picking their noses, hitting each other and grab the one year old who is throwing ornaments down the stairs because he likes the sound.

7. Figure out how to answer a tiny person who has no concept of time when they ask you, “When is Christmas?”

8. Do all shopping online from the comfort of your own home while drinking a glass of Merlot in the evenings. You forget about the steep shipping and handling fees, but decide it is still worth it not to schlep three children to stores to shop. Your brothers will get one less candle because of this.

9. Advent day 2 : You try and untangle the theology that mashes up Santa, Bethlehem, the North Pole and frosty the snowman, yet this doesn’t stop you from showing your kids the Christmas cartoons you loved as a kid.

10. You decide not to send Christmas cards this year and feel like a Bad Person. You wonder if you should ask people for their address when they ask you for yours, making them believe they’ll get a card in return.

You reflect on how nutty Christmas with small children is. And yet you remember loving being around kids at Christmas time when you were single. The excitement, energy and wonder is beyond what most adults are capable of exuding. And kids take this ridiculous Christmas story of a young woman getting pregnant with God and they BELIEVE it. They dig into the darker parts of the story we hadn’t thought of excavating. And they draw magic out of the dust, the grit and the grime.

So, yes, this is exhausting, but seeing this season through the prism of small people gives you a unique perspective on a familiar story. It forces you to audibly speak what you believe and why you believe it.

Children escort us through the story of Christmas straight back to Jesus.

 Because after another year of appointments and disappointments, moves, job changes, politics, personal and world tragedies, decisions, new friends, old friends and ordinary life, we are ready for a reset.

Advent whets the appetites of our souls for the Jesus who was born in squalor and later turned water to wine, then thundered from the grave. Advent is the pixie dust we sprinkle on our normal lives to remind us that God was there all along.

Life is not as it seems: a teenage girl isn’t a teenage girl, a star isn’t a star and a baby isn’t a baby. Something within us aches for more and Advent reminds us our ache is not for nothing. There is more–and Advent uses the most childlike among us to bring us back to the sacred ordinary of God-as- squealing-baby lying in a stable.

Ethical Gift Guide to Help People & Love Our Planet

 

Christmas has started to feel icky to me. The more I read, watch and learn, the more the Christmas spirit is eclipsed by guilt over the amount of money we spend on junk that often comes at the cost of exploiting those in poverty or negatively impacting our planet. But what if our gifts had the dual purpose of celebrating one another AND providing opportunities to empower vulnerable men, women and children to get out of poverty? This seems like a better reflection of a sacred and joyful holiday.

I curated this list by asking my online friends for recommendations of sites they know to have high standards for quality as well as a commitment to maintaining ethical business standards. In addition to these key requirements, I also wanted to list companies that are in my price range, which tends to be closer to the $50 or below range for Christmas gifts.

For each site, I’ve picked at least one item either I or a father, husband, friend, family member, teacher or child might like to receive (each is less than $50 unless noted otherwise). I noticed many of the sites offer either free shipping or 10 or 15 percent off of your first order if you sign up for their newsletter. I am not receiving any kind of payment for sharing this, though I hope you all buy from here so that your gifts will empower others and promote a prettier planet. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section!

Here are the amazing companies I found. I confess some made me cry as I read the “My Story” section of their websites. Beautiful things are happening in this world in spite of it all–lives are being transformed and people are creating. And we get to be a part of it!

Happy giving;-)

Branded Collective

EMPOWERS: Survivors of human trafficking in the U.S.

From their site: “We exist to empower survivors of human trafficking through meaningful employment and economic independence.” You can also find their jewelry in shops around the U.S.–check here to see if there are any near you. This company has a really cool story: “Each BRANDED item is stamped with an initial and a number. The initial belongs to the survivor who made your cuff. You can read her story on our website. The number is your unique number in the Collective. You can register this number and send a Message of Hope to our survivors.” Love the redemption in this. These earrings are really beautiful:

Copper & Torch

PROMOTES: Buying handmade items from small businesses

This company is run by my sister-in-law out of Marietta, GA. She creates jewelry, trays for display, and home décor. From her site: “Her mission is to preserve beautiful specimens from lace, botanicals and papers in glass as an archive of the past in a clean, minimal and modern way using traditional stained glass processes.” I love these little vases/terrariums:

Divine Chocolate

EMPOWERS: Farmers in Ghana

I can certainly help a sister out through eating more chocolate. From their site: “Divine Chocolate is co-owned by the 85,000 farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa for each bar of Divine. As owners, they get a share in the profits, a say in the company, and a voice in the global marketplace.” AND they sell chocolate–and the site has some fun chocolate recipes, too! You can buy a variety of bars of chocolate for stockings (or anytime, really) or order bars in a 10-pack. This is what I’m eyeing…

Do Good Shop

EMPOWERS: A variety of artisans around the world

In addition to jewelry, accessories and clothing for women, this site actually has many gifts for men! From their site: “Do Good Shop runs like a business, but is actually a nonprofit organization. This means that not only does each purchase create jobs for vulnerable artisans, but also ALL of our net proceeds go directly back into supporting the artisans and their communities, and educating others about this great need.” My hubby would really dig this journal (as would I):

Evergreen Cards

EMPOWERS: Women in China

This company was recommended to me by a friend from when I lived in China. From their site: “Evergreen Cards is a rural economic development project that was founded by Evergreen team members to provide women with a source of supplemental income and to touch their lives in a tangible way with the love of God.” These would make a great hostess gift or gift for a teacher:

Green Toys

PROMOTES: Local manufacturing using recycled materials

This site has a wide range of toys for children. Though they are plastic, they are much sturdier than your typical plastic toy and they use recycled materials. From their site: “From our 100% recycled materials to our US-based manufacturing, we’re raising awareness about sustainability while delivering unquestionably safe products.” This would be a winner in our house:

Imagine Goods

EMPOWERS: Trafficking survivors in Cambodia, disadvantaged in Haiti, and those coming out of homelessness in Pennsylvania

This site includes a ton of information about the artisans involved and each product has a symbol indicating who made it. From their site: “We are creating products that care for the human race—giving opportunity for individuals to care for their children, families, and health. . . so that a new generation has a fighting chance to break the cycle of poverty.” They also lead trips abroad for people to learn about poverty and the garment industry.This company has some gorgeous clothing, men and women’s aprons, bags, and even dress shirts and neckties for men! (It is very difficult to find reasonably-priced, ethical clothing for men.)

My favorite from this site would be this wristlet:

Karama Collection

EMPOWERS: Women in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania

They sell very classy leather bags, skin products, journals, scarves, jewelry and bags. From their site: “Karama alleviates poverty by restoring dignity through creative, purposeful work for artisans, beginning in Africa.”

I love this scarf:

Krochet Kids

EMPOWERS:  Women in Peru, Uganda and other countries

This site sells men’s and women’s clothing, bags, headware and accessories and some kid items as well. I liked a lot of the kids’ and  men’s knit hats.  From this site: “Our products, our partners, and our community work in unison to help people break the cycle of poverty, forever. We provide life-changing job opportunities to women in need. With each purchase you make we introduce you to the woman who made your product and invite you to visit her online profile to learn more about her.” Love that.

It’s so hard to find gifts for men! This site has a great scarf for guys:

 

Mercy House

EMPOWERS: Artisans in Africa and refugees in the U.S.

From the site: “The artisans who make the lovely items in our shop are some of the most oppressed and impoverished in the world, from Kenya to Ethiopia to refugees relocated to the United States. They are paid more than a fair wage and empowered by your purchase.” They also have a “charitable gift catalogue” where you can donate to practical needs of real women such as: “provide a mosquito net, food for one mom and child, an academic scholarship, fund literacy classes for women, provide a sewing machine, or rescue a pregnant girl.” Wow.

I’m in the market for Christmas decorations, so I loved this set:

But I also loved this because it is the tagline for my blog (and also Micah 6:8…):

Mustang Road

PROMOTES: Sustainable consumption and production

A friend of mine recommended this Scandinavian company that has beautiful gifts. From their site: “We believe in responsible and sustainable consumption and production. We have selected brands and designers who believe in those same values. We choose products that are made of natural materials; produced with minimal impact on the environment, and that are safe and healthy for the consumers and to those who are part of the manufacturing process.” They sell jewelry, dish towels, blankets, napkins, glassware, and mugs. Though the dish towels are a bit pricier than I would usually pay at the $20 range for one, there are some really cute ones if you don’t mind the price.

These mugs and towels would make a good gift for a teacher, family member or friend:

And this (because we live in Colorado and actually have moose;-) )

Noonday Collection

EMPOWERS: Artisans around the world

This company partners with 29 artisan businesses in 12 countries around the world to create beautiful jewelry, bags, scarves, and ornaments. From their site: “We develop these artisan businesses through fair trade, connecting them to a global market and empowering them to grow sustainably.”

You can shop for gifts under $50 here. My pick would be these earrings:

Papillon Marketplace

EMPOWERS: Artistans from Haiti

This company empowers Haitians who create the bags, jewelry, home décor, toys and T-shirts for sale on the site. From the site: “Our mission is orphan prevention and we do that through job creation. Papillon is providing hope to Haitian Artisans with the dignity of a job, training, and the ability to create something new out of something discarded and seemingly unusable. We use metal, cardboard, aluminum, dirt, and paper to make jewelry and other beautiful things.” As soon as I get out of the baby stage and start wearing jewelry again, I would love a necklace like this (and it comes in many different colors!):

Preemptive Love

EMPOWERS: Refugees in Iraq, Syria and the U.S.

I met the CEO and founder of this organization two summers ago at a conference. This is an incredible organization, and this site is just one small part of what they are doing. In addition to soap and candles, you can buy chickens for a displaced family, medical treatment for a war survivor or water for families in conflict zones in Iraq. This is their mission: “We’re a coalition stretching across Iraq, Syria, the United States, and beyond, working together to unmake violence and create the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” These candles are really pretty:

Re:New

EMPOWERS: Refugees in Chicago

From their site: “We engage, equip and employ refugee women in the Chicagoland area. It is our greatest desire to provide a space for refugee women to thrive as they rebuild their hopes and dreams in the United States.” They sell purses, wallets, eyeglass cases and journals from upcycled materials.

I like this journal:

Sak Saum

EMPOWERS: Exploited men and women in Cambodia

This company came highly recommended from a friend. They sell accessories, apparel, bags, wallets, and cosmetic bags at a really reasonable price. From their site: “Located in Phnom Penh and the Saang District of Cambodia, Sak Saum is a ministry dedicated to the rescue, restoration, transformation and rehabilitation of vulnberable and exploited women and men.”

This is a great bag for a mom with more than one kid because it has a backpack option (and it’s only $35)!

Soap Hope

EMPOWERS: Women in poverty

“Each time you shop at soaphope.com, 100% of the profits – yes, every dollar – goes to empower women to lift their lives, families, and communities from extreme poverty.” You can find gifts from $25 to $50 here. They also have collections for men, like this one for the man with a beard in your life:

 

 

Sseko Designs

EMPOWERS: Women in Uganda

From the site: “Sseko Designs uses fashion to create opportunity for women globally. We provide employment and scholarship opportunities to women in Uganda who are working to pursue their dreams and overcome poverty. To date, we’ve enabled 87 women to continue on to University! We also provide employment (along with access to a comprehensive social impact program) to our team of 50 women in Uganda.” They have really cute sandals, so I’ll need to bookmark this site for next summer;-) Most of the items were a bit out of our price range, but these earrings were cute and very reasonably priced:

Starfish Project

EMPOWERS: Women coming out of trafficking in Asia

This company provides shelter, counseling, employment and education to women coming out of trafficking in Asia. From their site: “We provide life-changing opportunities through our Holistic Care Programs and our social enterprise where women create beautiful jewelry and become managers, accountants, graphic designers, and photographers.” They have some very affordable, classic pieces of jewelry like this one:

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

I would be remiss to not include coffee on this list. Travel with my husband always includes visits to multiple used bookstores accompanied by drinking coffee in local coffee shops that offer freshly roasted coffee and pour overs. So the Oregon-based Stumptown is “Adam Verner Approved” in addition to practicing ethical business. A great gift for a coffee lover would be to buy a coffee subscription and have a 12 oz. bag of coffee delievered every two weeks. But since this gets pricey if you want to drink more coffee, just a nice gift of a bag or two would make a nice gift. Ethiopian roasts are always good, so I’d probably pick this one on their site.  Last year I bought my hubby his first coffee roaster from Sweet Maria’s and we eventually upgraded to this one and we now buy green beans and my husband roasts our coffee (only $6 a pound verses $20 a pound for good, freshly roasted beans!)

Sudara

EMPOWERS: Women escaping trafficking in India

This is a company that partners with women in India to end sex trafficking. From their site: “Donations made during checkout at sudara.org go towards Sudara Freedom Fund and have helped fund safe housing for women escaping trafficking, equipment for new or growing sewing centers, microloans and back-to-school programs. One of our most recent opportunities, the Sunetha Home, is supporting long-term, systemic change by directly addressing issues that lead to generational sex work.”

These”punjammies” are a bit pricier than I would normally pay for loungewear at $54.00 each, but perhaps for a gift–and a worthy cause–they might be worth it. I liked these:

Ten Thousand Villages

EMPOWERS: Artisans around the world

Although there are several actual brick and mortar shops, you can also find gifts online. This company works together with over 20,000 makers in 30 developing countries to give them an opportunity to sell their work in the global marketplace. From their site: “We are a non-profit social enterprise that partners with independent small-scale artisan groups, co-ops and workshops to bring their wares to our markets.” They sell jewelry, home décor, stationary, baskets, candles, cosmetics, kitchenware and more. They have so many cool nativity sets–we have this small one made of olive wood and really love it:

Thistle Farms

EMPOWERS: Women survivors of trafficking and addiction in the U.S.

This is their mission: “Thistle Farms’ mission is to HEAL, EMPOWER, AND EMPLOY women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. We do this by providing safe and supportive housing, the opportunity for economic independence, and a strong community of advocates and partners.” An online friend recommended their non-toxic bug spray, lip balm, lotions, and pretty much everything else. They have some bath sets and smaller items for stocking stuffers that would make great gifts. Someone please buy me this bath soak set for Christmas…;-)

Trades of Hope

EMPOWERS: Disadvantaged women around the world

This site has a variety of beautiful jewelry, bags, journals and scarves for a really reasonable price. From their site: “We work with the artisans themselves and organizations that are helping women in difficult circumstances. Some women have been rescued from sex slavery. Others are raising handicapped children alone. Some are in war torn countries and others have HIV/AIDS and leprosy.”

Jewelry, bags, journalsThey have some very pretty, affordable jewelry–you can find all their gifts under $50 here. I liked this piece, called the Golden Kenyan Necklace:

They also have some really pretty scarves, like this one:

Uncle Goose

I feel like kids of every age love blocks. From their site: “Uncle Goose makes wooden blocks. We handcraft every set in Grand Rapids, Michigan, using choice materials from around the Great Lakes. And yes, we are 100% made in the USA.” In addition to letters and numbers, you can also find these kinds of blocks: constellations, sight words, birds, planets and famous women! We have an older version of this set of blocks with Chinese characters, but I love these, too:

U.S.E.D. (Unlimited Supplies from Everyone’s Discards)

PROMOTES: Reusing materials and leaving a smaller footprint

This is a great site if you have a hipster-type family member, teenager or college student you need to buy a gift for. I love their bags made from old seatbelts and a friend of mine says she’s had hers for 7 years and it’s not even ragged around the edges! These products are all handmade in Canada, though they ship worldwide. They sell bags, men’s wallets and even dog collars. I think my 15 year old niece might like this one

Useful Gifts

A friend of mine who lives in Australia recommended this site. Want to skip buying more “stuff” altogether? At this site you can provide for basic needs of those in need such as: preschool classes, a veggie garden, a goat, well, and even a toilet! From their site: “Every item in TEAR’s Gift Catalogue represents a contribution to a long-term poverty-fighting project run by one of TEAR Australia’s Christian partners. Each project is tailored to that community’s needs, helping people gain the skills and resources they need to address local problems and come up with sustainable solutions.”

 

Other sites related to ethical shopping:

The Good Trade–a gorgeous site offering lots of articles and resources related to minimalism and being an ethical consumer.

Slavery Footprint–you can take a quick quiz to find out how where you live and what you buy impacts the world.

 

Please leave links to other ethical sites you love. There were so many more that I couldn’t include. And share this post to spread the word on these amazing companies.

If you like posts like this, sign up for my newsletter so you won’t miss a post!

 

Ethical Gift Guide to Help People and Love Our Planet: Christmas gifts that empower those in poverty and promote sustainable, ethical business practices. Over 20 companies listed! * Images from various shops

**THIS POST WAS UPDATED 11/16/17

The Last Church Service at Sutherland Springs

On Sunday, a man opened fire in a Texas church, killing 26 people–half of them children. The news has been harrowing: a woman who was eight months pregnant and three of her children, kids as young as 18 months old, fathers, mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. One news site posted a YouTube video of the entire church service from the Sunday just one week before. I watched it throughout the day as I nursed my own baby, between preparing meals for my little ones and as they napped in the afternoon.

In the video, tiny heads peek over pews as the congregation sings. It is a country Baptist church with an oversized Bible open on a wooden table, guitars and amps plugged in up front, a four-foot wooden cross with a crown of thorns stands to the right and a woman doing sign language stands to the left, a little girl fiddling with the table cloth on the altar next to her.

They sing “Happiness is the Lord,” then walk around greeting one another with handshakes and hugs as the band sings again and again, “Through the darkest night, His love will shine. God is good, all the time.” I think I recognize some faces I’ve seen flash on my computer screen over the past few days.

The service appears to only have about 50 people in it, sitting in seven pews on either side of a center aisle. The children stay with their parents throughout the service. Yellow flowers stretch in front of the pulpit and a man, “Brother Bob,” walks up to the small stage to read Psalm 33. He prays for the service, “Continue to bless this church and this community and our nation and our leaders … be with Pastor Frank. Touch each person here and let them feel your presence.”

On my computer, I skip the singing to hear what the pastor preached the week before the death of the majority of his congregation.

He, who I now know is Pastor Frank, is a large man with a handlebar mustache. He preaches on Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding …” A motorcycle is in the front of the church—he is using this as an object lesson, focusing especially on that part of the verse that says, “lean not on your own understanding.” He begins by saying, “This message that God laid on my heart—even if it doesn’t make sense to you, when you start to lean on your own understanding, that’s when you start to have problems.” He goes on to say, “Though it may not make sense in our finite mind—like leaning into a turn on a motorcycle– leaning in to God is the way to go.”

He describes riding the motorcycle to church at sunrise that morning with his daughter, Belle, who snuggled up to him in the cold, tensing on the turns because she is not used to trusting the bike to keep her upright. I have seen her picture. She is 14 and did not survive the attack, though her father and mother, who were out of town for the weekend, were not present at the shooting.

Later in the message, Pastor Frank seems to go off message as he talks about life’s hardships, “We get stuck in that rut … stuck in that valley. Bryan taught a little while ago in Psalm 23: as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I walk through it because my God watches over me.”

Pastor Bryan preached the morning the gunman entered the church. He and his wife, as well as 6 of his other family members were murdered.

The pastor concludes his message, “Continue to focus on Him. Give it to Him. Trust Him to work in your life today.”

I slide the mouse arrow across the computer screen, going back to the singing. I want to know what songs this congregation sang together the week before they were killed. I am unashamedly searching for hidden hope, eerie coincidences, fingerprints of a God who knew this would happen.

I find the place where I left off. The band continues leading the church in song:

“Give thanks to the Lord, our God and king, his love endures forever, for he is good and is above all things, his love endures forever. Sing praise … Forever God is faithful, forever God is strong. Forever God is with us, Forever. Forever.” Then, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, worship his holy name. Sing like never before, o my soul. Worship your holy name.”

The three men and one woman begin the final song before Pastor Frank takes the pulpit and I gasp as the lyrics flash up on the screen.

I once heard Joni Eareckson Tada, a paraplegic, speak about how she met God. She writes about it on her website:

“It was dark, depressing night when I was in the hospital. I had broken my neck only a few months earlier, and now, I was long out of ICU and out on the floor in a six-bed ward with five other young women who also suffered spinal cord injuries. The doctors told me that my paralysis was permanent, and that night I kept turning that fact over and over in my head. I tried hard to understand what it might mean, but my mind just wouldn’t go there. Total and permanent paralysis was just too horrific.

… I felt very afraid, very alone, and very far from the Lord. Little did I know, though, that even then, Jesus was very, very near. Because later that night when visiting hours were over and the nurses at the station were on break, I turned my head on the pillow and saw a silhouetted figure in the doorframe of our ward. At first, it startled me. This figure got down on its hands and knees and began inching its way toward my bed in the corner.

When it got close, I saw it was Jacquie, my high school girlfriend. And as high school girlfriends at pajama sleepovers often do, she crawled up into bed with me, even snuggled her head on my pillow. Then, so as not to awaken my roommates, she started softly singing, “Man of Sorrows. What a name For the Son of God who came. Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah! What a Savior” I don’t know, but something she did changed me. My questions about God certainly didn’t get answered that night, but Jacquie gave me something far more poignant and powerful than answers. She helped me encounter Jesus — The Man of Sorrows — and all His compassion toward me, His very hurt child. Jacquie may have come that night to visit me, sneaking up the back stairs of the hospital, but Jesus also came to visit me.”

“Man of Sorrows” is a lament for a crucified king. An irrational reason for hallelujah.

So I am shocked when the congregation sings this last song together:

“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Stand unclean, no one else could;
In my place condemned He stood;
Now His nearness is my good;
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

CHORUS:

Hallelujah, praise to the one

who’s blood has pardoned me

What a savior

Redeemer and king,

Your love has rescued me.)

Lifted up was He to die,
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high;
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All his ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What Not to Pack in Your Operation Christmas Child Boxes

A woman stood in front of the church auditorium of moms and explained how to pack the shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. “Fill them up as much as you can. You don’t need to buy anything fancy,” she said. Our mom’s group was sending gifts to help needy children in other countries for Christmas. “I usually just go to the dollar store and get stuff there.” I shifted uneasily in my padded chair, thinking about those children receiving a box full of dollar store trinkets.

I have no problem with the dollar store. It is great for cheap birthday decorations, pregnancy tests and disposable lasagna pans. But I would never buy a birthday gift for my child or my child’s friend there. Because of that, something told me a child in Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea or Uganda doesn’t want that stuff either.

The day we stuffed boxes, the tables overflowed with chintzy plastic cars, blond knock-off Barbie dolls and thin jump ropes. I imagined how the children, excited about receiving a gift from such a rich country, would feel when their toys broke the day they received them.

What does it say about us when we give others what we would never buy for ourselves or our own children?

A long-time reporter on school integration, Nikole Hannah-Jones purposely placed her daughter in a low-income school. Through her research, she changed her personal narrative from “It’s good enough for them” to “If it’s not good enough for my child, then why are we putting any children in those schools?”

Our sense of privilege and superiority (and dare I say supremacy) is glaringly evident when we can–in good conscious–give others what we would never want for ourselves or our children. We claim to want equality, but cringe when equality might require us to put our own children on the line.

What if we stopped giving our leftovers, excess and junk to those in need and started giving our best? What if we used our own children as the litmus test for honoring human dignity?

Would I give this to my child? Would I treat my own child this way? Would I clothe my child with this outfit, prepare my child this food, or send my child to this school?

If my answer is “no,” then I need to rethink whether it is good enough for any human being.

I am just as guilty as anyone of handing my leftover enchiladas to a panhandler or dropping off my stained clothing at a thrift store. But Jesus calls us to more. He calls us not only to offer one cloak, but two. He calls us to not just give out of our excess, but—like the poor widow who put in her two mites—give until we wince with the loss.

In Jesus’ first miracle, He turned water into wine. Though the wedding guests were most likely drunk and wouldn’t have known the difference, those who were sober enough commented that the host had saved the best wine for last.

Jesus calls Christians to view every human being as created in the image of God Himself. That includes the drunk homeless man, the woman trapped in sex trafficking, the belligerent teenager, the snotty child throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, the terrorist plotting revenge and the rapist in prison. God loves each person regardless of what they give back to society. Do we?

How would it transform our neighborhoods, schools and cities if we started giving our best instead of our leftovers? If we started meeting needs as we would meet the needs of our own children?

What if this Christmas we packed boxes full of quality toys that would give our own children delight to open? What if we thought about the dark-skinned little girl opening the box that might love to have a doll that looks just like her? Yes, it will cost more, but it will also speak dignity to the child across the world waiting to see how the western church gives. It will reflect the God who doesn’t hold back love, but gives without measure. Let’s be that kind of witness to the world.

What Not to Pack in Your Operation Christmas Child Boxes: "What if we stopped giving our leftovers, excess and junk to those in need and started giving our best? What if we used our own children as the litmus test for honoring human dignity?"

Our Library Stash: Diversity, Gorgeous Writing and Strong Females

Part of our “preschool gap year” is trying to get to the library once a week either for story time or at least to walk out with a stack of library books (that I end up having exorbitant fines for–I’m convinced there’s a direct correlation between how many children you have and how large your library fine is).

Here are five of our faves this month:

 

We Came to America, by Faith Ringgold. This book was a very simple, but honest depiction of immigration in America. Ringgold uses the refrain, “”We came to America, every color, race, and religion, from every country in the world” throughout the book. There is a picture of enslaved Africans, so be prepared to discuss that with your littles.

 

Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora. This is a book about a little girl who greets neighbors and friends in a variety of languages in her urban neighborhood. It has vibrant illustrations and gives kids a chance to discuss how different people speak different languages.

 

Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, by Julia Rawlinson. My children loved this book about a little fox who doesn’t understand about fall and tries to put leaves back on a tree. This simple, sweet story is told in gorgeous prose, capturing the rhythm and beauty of language.

 

Girls, A to Z, by Eve Bunting. This was a fun book featuring diverse girls acting out what they want to be when they grow up.

 

 

Where’s the Party? by Ruth Chan. I must have read this book 20 times in one week, my children liked it so much. It is the clever story of a little cat who walks around town, inviting his friends to his party. What he doesn’t realize is that they are preparing a surprise for him.

 

Which books are you enjoying with your little ones?

*Contains Amazon affiliate links

 

 

A Bite Out of the Sun: An Eclipse Story {for SheLoves}

We were among the fools who drove hours to put ourselves in the Path of Totality for the eclipse. At the risk of ramping up the sense of FOMO for those of you who skipped it, I have to say the experience ranks among one of the most inspiring of my life.

We spread out our ratty quilt next to the river, claiming our spot in the RV site that claimed to be a “resort,” but was really just several hundred campers smashed into tiny gravel lots charging $120 a night. But since hotels in Casper, Wyoming, were $399 a night and my parents had the foresight to reserve a spot nine months ago, we pitched a tent for our family of five on the rocks behind their camper.

Mostly, we waited. The kids became instant best friends with the family across the gravel path who had driven overnight from Vegas. We tried on our opaque eclipse glasses, gazing at the burning dot, then checking our phones again for the time. A man set up a mammoth telescope and let people look through it, for the small price of having to hear him marvel about the wonders of a divine creator, to the great irritation of my parents’ atheist friends.

We settled on the blanket to the whining of our three-year-old, demanding that she have her hot pink camping chair. My husband darted back to the site to get the chair, with just two minutes to totality. The temperature was dropping, the sky darkening to twilight. Terrified my children would stare at the sun and go blind, I yelled at my daughter to put on her glasses, panicking that I myself had looked at the sun, now just a sliver of light, without my glasses. I was glad our baby was fast asleep in my parents’ camper so I wouldn’t have to obsess over him not ogling at the sun.

My husband returned just in time. The girl next to me suddenly shouted, “Take off your glasses!” After so many minutes of stressing over wearing the glasses, we finally yanked them off and found ourselves frozen, trance-like in the horrific wonder of a modern-day science fiction film.

The campsite erupted with noise and motion. The adults shrieked wildly and the children spun in circles–pirouetting, twirling, cartwheeling and hugging one another in the eerie light. We were Frodo, our vision transfixed on the eye in the fires of Mordor. The moon was a smooth black orb, framed by the most brilliant shock of light I have ever seen. Touching my cheek, I realized I was crying.

The trees, grass and river glowed with the light of dusk—or perhaps dawn. A pinpoint of light pierced the darkness and the diamond glinted off the side of the burning ring. This was the end–the finale that left us speechless except we suddenly knew that we were small and nature and space could drastically dwarf our overinflated sense of self. We knew light and dark could dance together and we’d survive the harrowing nightmare.

Totality lasted two minutes and twenty-two seconds. In that short span, the supernatural peeled away reality to reveal life in all its wildness and God in all His glory… CONTINUE READING AT SHELOVES

12 of My Favorite Books on Parenthood (with a cross-cultural spin)

Though mentioning “parenting book” sometimes elicits groans and eye-rolling from many in society these days, I am the type of over-achieving ex-teacher who tried to read every book I could on parenting BEFORE I even gave birth. Needless to say, there are many books that did not make the cut.  The books below are less practical, more spiritual, less “do do do” and more about learning to have grace with yourself.

Many of the parenting books also have a cross-cultural element. One of the most freeing revelations I have had in my four years of parenting is: They do it differently in other countries. Several of the books on this list give a glimpse into how other cultures tackle some of the major parenting issues in ways that are often overlooked or even criticized in the western world.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting (now with Bébé Day by Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting), by Pamela Druckerman  
From Amazon: “When American journalist Pamela Druckerman had a baby in Paris, she didn’t aspire to become a “French parent.” But she noticed that French children slept through the night by two or three months old. They ate braised leeks. They played by themselves while their parents sipped coffee. And yet French kids were still boisterous, curious, and creative. Why? How?”

Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Fit to Burst is a book of parenting “field notes” written by a mom in the thick of it all. It is chock-full of humorous examples and fresh advice covering issues familiar to moms, such as guilt cycles, temptations to be ungrateful or bitter, enjoying your kids, and learning how to honor Jesus by giving even in the mundane stuff. But this book also addresses less familiar topics, including the impact moms have on the relationships between dads and kids, the importance of knowing when to laugh at kid-sized sin, and more. A thoughtful follow-up to Loving the Little Years, Rachel’s first book.”

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and everywhere in between)), by Mei-Ling Hopgood
From Amazon: “A tour of global practices that will inspire American parents to expand their horizons (and geographical borders) and learn that there’s more than one way to diaper a baby. Mei-Ling Hopgood, a first-time mom from suburban Michigan, now living in Buenos Aires, was shocked that Argentine parents allow their children to stay up until all hours of the night. Could there really be social and developmental advantages to this custom? Driven by a journalist’s curiosity and a new mother’s desperation for answers, Hopgood embarked on a journey to learn how other cultures approach the challenges all parents face: bedtimes, potty training, feeding, teaching, and more.”


Instant Mom, by Nia Vardalos
From Amazon: “In Instant Mom, Nia Vardalos, writer and star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, tells her hilarious and poignant road-to-parenting story that eventually leads to her daughter and prompts her to become a major advocate for adoption.”

Long Days of Small Things, by Catherine McNeil

You can read my review of this book here, but here is an excerpt: “If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.”


Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovich
From Amazon: “Loving the Little Years is a bestselling book of thoughts for mothering young children. It’s written by a mom, for you moms — for when you are motivated, for when you are discouraged, for the times when discipline seems fruitless, and for when you are just plain old tired.”

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope, by Desiring God authors
From Amazon: “Are you mom enough? The cover of a popular magazine asked this haunting question in bold red letters that hung over the startling image of a young mother nursing her four-year-old. When the issue hit newsstands, it re-ignited a longstanding mommy war in American culture. But it turns out this was the wrong question, pointing in the wrong direction. There is a higher and more essential question faced by mothers: Is he God enough? This short book with twenty-four short contributions from seven young mothers, explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood. In the trenches, they have learned how to treasure God and depend on his grace. The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes as a result of answering the burning question above with a firm no.”

The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope, compiled by Seth Haines
From Amazon: “After his wife Amber had given birth to three boys in three years, Seth Haines saw that she needed encouragement in the day-to-day drama and details of motherhood. Secretly collecting nearly six hundred wise, honest, and sometimes hilarious letters from other mothers across the world, Seth compiled these “mother letters” as a gift for her. Amber and Seth have chosen the best of those letters–including letters from some of the most influential writers and bloggers online today–to include in a beautiful book perfect for the mother in your life.”

The Mystery of Children: What Our Kids Teach Us about Childlike Faith, by Mike Mason
From Amazon: “Just as Mike Mason’s best-selling The Mystery of Marriage explored the parallels between marriage and our relationship with God, so does The Mystery of Children illuminate key spiritual truths modeled in the complex parent-child relationship. More than a manual on parenting, this book is for everyone who wishes to become childlike in heart or to be closer to children-two desires that are intimately and wondrously entwined.”

(The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason is my husband and my favorite marriage book, though it is definitely more abstract and spiritual than practical.)

Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, by Christine Gross-Loh, Ph.D
From Amazon: “Research reveals that American kids lag behind in academic achievement, happiness, and wellness. Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not? This book takes us across the globe and examines how parents successfully foster resilience, creativity, independence, and academic excellence in their children”

Sacred Parenting: How Raising Children Shapes Our Souls, by Gary L. Thomas
From Amazon: “Parenting is a school for spiritual formation, says author Gary Thomas, and our children are our teachers. The journey of caring for, rearing, training, and loving our children profoundly alters us forever…even when the journey is sometimes a rough one. Sacred Parenting is unlike any other parenting book on the market. This is not a “how-to” book that teaches readers the ways to discipline their kids or help them achieve their full potential. Instead of a discussion about how parents change their children, Sacred Parenting turns the tables and demonstrates how God uses children to change their parents.”

(Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas is another one of my favorite marriage books)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne
From Amazon: “Today’s busier, faster society is waging an undeclared war on childhood. With too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time, children can become anxious, have trouble with friends and school, or even be diagnosed with behavioral problems. Now internationally renowned family consultant Kim John Payne helps parents reclaim for their children the space and freedom that all kids need for their attention to deepen and their individuality to flourish. Simplicity Parenting offers inspiration, ideas, and a blueprint for change.”


Plus one documentary:  

Babies
From the film’s website: “Babies simultaneously follows four babies around the world – from birth to first steps. The children are, respectively, in order of on-screen introduction: Ponijao, who lives with her family near Opuwo, Namibia; Bayarjargal, who resides with his family in Mongolia, near Bayanchandmani; Mari, who lives with her family in Tokyo, Japan; and Hattie, who resides with her family in the United States, in San Francisco.”

What are your favorite books on marriage or parenting? 

**This post contains affiliate links.

The People Who Write Books

The crazy people write books, that’s who. Trying to write a book after spending two years as a writer of 800 to 1000 word blog posts is like running a marathon after training to be a sprinter.

I’ve been attempting to wake up and write at 5 am. Giving up our usual method of grinding beans and waiting for French press coffee, I pulled out the 12-cup automatic drip coffee maker. The smell of coffee yanks me out of bed, down the stairs and into my chair.

But as a mom to three young children, the time is too short. Just as I begin to swim away from the shore, out of the shallow end into the deeps, and finally start writing something real, it is 6:30 am. The children whine for breakfast, the baby needs to be nursed, it’s time to go out on a short run, or the laundry needs to be transferred from the washing machine to the dryer. I struggle to break out of the writing trance to get back to life as usual.

But on my run today, I thought about the small work that gets us to the end. Every morning that I wake up and pound out my 500 words, is like a notch in the wall, a foothold taking me higher up to the summit. Some weeks I feel depressed. Self-doubt and loathing threaten my resolve. My inner accusers challenge me, critiquing my every word, every sentence, every groggy minute spent away from my family, friends, or hobbies. Why are you wasting your time? they say.

But then God inevitably gives me a sign. Like the sun bursting through the spruce tree branches into the window over my kitchen sink in the morning, he creates a constellation out of the ordinary.

This autumn, Colorado experienced an uncharacteristic three weeks of dreary cloud cover and rain, which eats away at my soul more than other people since I suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It didn’t help that my three children, five and under, seemed bewitched.

So one night last week, I escaped the house at dusk, abandoning my husband to stories about talking animals, tooth-brushing, toileting, singing and prayers. I wandered the streets of our suburb, which was probably very attractive in 1979, gazing into windows and wondering how I got here.

I considered quitting writing.

I passed a yard with a small, green wooden box constructed on top of a pole–one of many little free libraries that have sprung up across the nation that invite the free exchange of magazines, literature, and trashy novels. Rifling through, I found a book. A strange, slim stranger among ordinary friends, it was a book so niche that I wondered if my husband had slipped in it in the box. It was exactly the book I needed for the next notch in the wall I am climbing towards writing this book proposal. I took it as a sign that I am on the right road.

Lately, my three year old daughter has been flapping her arms, running round and round the kitchen island, singing, “I fly through the sky and land on the ground!” over and over and over again. It is the mantra of a writer. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying through the sky, with words and images elevating me almost effortlessly, but most times I just feel like I’m walking with my feet firmly on the ground. I crunch dying leaves, get hit in the face by stray branches, act as referee for my children at the park and wipe oatmeal up off the floor that my daughter has dumped out.

“Look! Look at those geese!” my five year old son said earlier this week, pointing into the grey sky. Turning like he does to mansplain to my three year old daughter, he said, “They spell out words in the sky, like our last name, ‘Verner.'” I imagined all the things the geese would write if they could spell out messages for those of us on the ground to read.

I keep trying to quit, but God keeps sending new North Stars to guide me along my way. I am caught in the river current and swimming back is impossible. Earlier this week, Annie Dillard pushed me along, with these words:

“Why do you never find anything written about that idosynratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands?

Because it is up to you.

There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin.

You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.” —The Writing Life (p. 68)

So I’m showing up. I’m writing what only I can write. I’m giving voice to my own astonishment every morning at 5 am–even if it means I only end up with one decent paragraph. I’m walking with my feet on the ground, but trusting God to lift me up every once in a while and set my ordinary words to flight. Perhaps my words will speak to someone on the ground.

When Your Kid is the Bully

I watched with horror from a distance as my 5 year old son stalked two children much younger than he was and poured water on them—and their mother. For thirty seconds, I actually pretended he wasn’t my son. The museum was crowded and I had my other child with me. Maybe the mom would never know that little boy was my son. But when he started throwing wet straw on them, I knew I needed to intervene.

Another day, I looked across the park to find my son throwing mulch at two boys probably three years older than him. The boys had sticks taller than they were, and the boys were creeping closer to my son.

“WHAT was that all about?” I demanded, marching him away from the park.

“I told them I wanted to fight,” he said.

Shaking my head, I inwardly vowed to never go to the park again.

A few months ago, my two year old daughter pushed another girl off of the play structure that was higher than I am tall. I happened to not be on my phone, cooing at my baby or gabbing away with another mom and I caught the girl by her dress—just one foot off the ground.

What’s worse than having your child get bullied at the playground? When your child IS the bully.

The best advice I have received as a parent happened one day as my kid was losing it at the grocery store. I don’t remember which child, though it could have been any one of the three. A woman pulled her cart up to mine, looked me in the eye and said this,

“Just remember, it’s their age, not their personality.”

Thank God, because at this rate my children will be horrible, selfish, out-of-control human beings. OR they are acting exactly their age.

Growing up, we must have watched the movie Overboard a hundred times. In it, Goldie Hawn’s children are especially terrible. But when the teacher at school begins to complain about them, her character, Annie, jumps to their defense. “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE,” she says.

A bad week of feeling like a failure as a mother demands that I spin this story towards the spiritual. Because for my sanity, I sometimes just need to dig around in the mud for meaning in mundane life. Here’s what I got:

As unruly, loud, obnoxious, disobedient, frustrating and obstinate as my children can (often) be, God has just as much a right to label me as “rotten” to my core. And yet just as I cannot really walk away from my children (though I’m tempted to pretend they aren’t mine), God doesn’t disown us just because of bad behavior. Again, thank God.

God loves bullies just as much as he loves the bullied. The Bible says it is his kindness that leads us to repentance. To all who condemn God’s children, he responds, “They may be rotten, but they’re MINE!”

Perhaps my children acting out is forcing me to wrestle my own perfectionism to the ground. Because sometimes I care more about other people thinking I’m a good mother than I do about actually being a good mother. And God won’t let me get away with that attitude.

So while I am tempted to confine my children at home for the remainder of their days as children, staying in our safe playground in our private backyard, I will continue to risk badness at our neighborhood park. My children leave me open to attack by other bystanders who have their phones out, ready to mom shame. Or, more likely, out of the ashes of my smoldering pride, a new friendship may be born out of the many “me, too” moments shared only by parents who have been there.

So, yes, my child just hit your child. I am sorry and I am doing the best that I can to teach them to be decent human beings. But before we label them, let’s wait and see what the next twenty years will do for their impulse control. God knows I’m still a work in progress, so I’m trusting my children are, too.

When Your Kid is the Bully