10 Social Experiments to Slow Down, Save Money & Live Simply in 2018

Everything around the college campus got a bit wonky when the sociology classes would do their social experiments on the rest of us. One girl started randomly holding hands with her guy friends. Another guy sat down with total strangers in the cafeteria during each meal. And another boy barked at people as he walked behind them on the way to class.

I’m not asking you to do any of those things. Most of the experiments I have in mind can be quietly conducted with little evidence at all that you are attempting to buck social norms. But they will require you to step out of what might be most comfortable for you.

Are you ready to be weird with me?

I’ve tried out most of the ideas in this list, but a few are new goals for a new year. Each of these ideas will help you to slow down, save money or live more simply. As you read, consider joining me in a few of these experiments this year. Here we go.

1. Stop buying cheap/new clothes

Kick off this social experiment by watching the documentary The True Cost on Netflix. Or read this book about fast fashion for an overview of how the clothing industry of cheap, disposable clothing (like Forever 21) not only exploits cheap labor in other countries, but fills our landfills.

Many larger cities have Once Upon a Child for good, quality used children’s clothing, 29 states have the adult version of this, called Clothes Mentor. I’ve had a lot of luck at our local thrift stores, though you can’t necessarily go with a single item in mind.

I’ve been doing this for nearly two years and have managed to buy all used clothing for myself and my family apart from shoes, underwear, socks and boy’s 4T and 5T pants (they wear out too quickly!) When we haven’t gotten used, we’ve tried to at least buy American-made, though that can get pricey.

If you’re like me and don’t want to schlep a bunch of kids with you to a thrift store, then there are a ton of online options for you. One is called ThredUp and has a great referral program where you get $10 to spend and the person you refer gets $10 to shop after they place their first order (this link includes my referral code–no extra cost to you!).

Later this month, I’ll be publishing a long list of places to buy used clothing, so stay tuned.

2. Don’t throw food away–ever

As much as 40% of our food goes uneaten in the United States, according to a Harvard study. Another article from USA Today says, “if we were able to recover all of our wasted food, we could provide a 2,000-calorie diet to 84% of the population, said Dr. Roni Neff, a Johns Hopkins University researcher who led a first-ever study examining the nutrients we’re tossing in the trash.”

I think it comes from my years living in China on a missionary’s salary, but I live like someone who went through the Great Depression. Throwing food away is a mortal sin in our household.

Most expiration dates have several days or even weeks of leeway added in, so stretch your food a little farther. Another way to waste less is to meal plan. When each vegetable in your fridge is bought for a purpose, you are less likely to throw wilted, unused veggies away at the end of the week.

Now that I live in Colorado, it’s time to join the masses here who compost. I haven’t purchased one yet, but I’m considering buying either this small composter you keep in your kitchen, or a larger one that goes right in your backyard. Both have really good reviews on Amazon. Have you composted? I’d love to hear some tips!

3. Do a phone detox

I’ve only done this once, for a week, but it was magical. I heard birds, I saw butterflies and I talked to old ladies on benches. But I haven’t done it again. So by writing this, I’m building in a bit of accountability for myself. I plan to stay off my phone during my Sabbath times (see #8) and take a more extended break from my phone one or two weeks during the year. I also plan to remove all social media and email apps from my phone except Instagram (I just can’t). The book Glow Kids has some terrifying data about how screens are affecting us and our children if you need some convincing that this might be a good idea.

In 2017, a bunch of high schoolers in Colorado pledged to stay off social media during the month of October, which sounds like something I might like to try. Otherwise, I’m thinking Lent would be a good time to go off my phone or at least off some or all social media (can you tell this is a problem for me?)

What about you? What kind of phone detox would work for you this year?

4. Invite a non-family member to your home every week

With an introverted husband, once a week may be a bit much, but since plans often get cancelled, we are shooting to invite someone over to our home for a meal or to play games at least once a week. Whatever we do often enough becomes habit, so we want to make this a priority this year. I’ve found that asking is the hardest part, but after that, I rarely regret having people into my home. Many of us attend churches and small groups, so it is easy to get caught in the Christian bubble. But who did Jesus eat with? We want to share our table with people who are like us, but also those who are very different from us this year. The books The Art of Neighboring and Making Room have revolutionized the way I now practice hospitality. If you’re interested in learning more about hospitality, check out the Facebook group called “Sorta Hospitable” that I started in December.

5. Make awkward small talk

I’ve written a bit about this, but I’m trying to be intentional about noticing the people around me. By attempting to talk to the grocery cashier, server at the restaurant or neighbor walking his dog, I can learn to appreciate people made in the image of God. Even though I’m an extrovert, I would rather have a one-on-one heart-to-heart any day than try and shoot the breeze with someone. But sometimes awkward small talk is the gateway to relationship. I met one of my best friends from the last two years at the park, so I know it’s possible.

6. Own less toys

The book Simplicity Parenting influenced many of my opinions on the stuff our kids have. Kim John Payne writes: “Nothing in the middle of a heap can be truly valued. The attention that a child could and would devote to a toy is shortened, and eclipsed by having too many…Ironically, this glut of goods may deprive a child of a genuine creativity builder: the gift of their own boredom.”

Simply put, “As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play.” (p. 62)

My friends and family have given me a hard time about this, but we have a “no gift” rule for birthday parties. Fortunately, my oldest is still pretty young (5), so he hasn’t been to a ton of birthday parties, but I’m usually able to convince him that gifts from his parents and grandparents are sufficient. We also tell him that the party itself and all his friends being there are his gift (which he believes for now).

And while we do purchase some new toys for our kids (these have been a HUGE HIT), we encourage the grandparents to contribute money to pay for experiences like museum passes or gymnastics lessons instead of buying them new toys. The toys we do have, we keep in the garage and switch out when the ones inside aren’t being played with as often.

7. Have someone live with you

Have you ever thought of having someone live with you? We unexpectedly had a Saudi Arabian girl live with us from 2012 to 2013 and it was such a positive experience that we bought our new house with that in mind. Several of my friends have had exchange students live with them or housed an international student like we did. Yes, it’s challenging to have someone in your space, but the deep relationships, cultural learning, and authentic living that come out of it is so worth it. We just found out we’ll be having a girl from India live with us until May, so we are excited and nervous about sharing our space again.

8. Observe the Sabbath

Out of all of these, this is the hardest for me. My main problem is that so many of the activities I enjoy doing–writing, running, and spending time with people, which some might consider Sabbath activities, often just serve to make me busy. My husband and I are also puzzled about observing the Sabbath when we have three children, age five and under. I need to revisit some of the posts I wrote for Seven Days of Soul Rest back in December of 2015… It may finally be time to read the book Rhythms of Rest. For my personality type (ENTJ), I know I need structure of some kind, but I also kind of hate rigid rules. Help.

9. Have your kids share a room

I plan on smooshing our kids together until my daughter is grossed out by her older brother. I’m guessing I have another three years … Right now, she is equal to the task. I want to do this is so we can have a guest room available for people who need a place to crash. St. John Chrsystom called this the “Christ room,” referring to the passage in Matthew 25 where Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you took me in.” Because we still have little kids in our home, I don’t think we’ll be hosting homeless or those coming straight out of prison (though I’m conflicted about that, honestly), but we are open to hosting strangers and have already had some opportunities to use our home in that way.

10. Read a book every month that takes you out of your comfort zone

Personally, along with reading more fiction and poetry (I’m a non-fiction girl), I’m aiming to read at least six books written by people of color this year. I only average about two books per month, so that’s a book every other month by a person of color. I have several books that will stretch you on this and this list. I’ve found that book clubs are a great place to challenge yourself as a reader and read books you wouldn’t choose otherwise.


So that’s it! Not too weird, really, and maybe you already do many of these things. What are some of your goals for 2018 that will help you to slow down, save money and live simply in the new year? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this list or on your own plans!

Here are the books mentioned in this post:

Simplicity Parenting

Glow Kids

Rhythms of Rest

The Art of Neighboring

Making Room 


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10 Social Experiments to Slow Down, Save Money & Live Simply in 2018



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:


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!)


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.

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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


Day 22: Following Nikole Hannah-Jones Down the Integration Rabbit Hole (Part 2) {31 Days of #WOKE}

Nikole Hannah-Jones is my hero. Haven’t heard of her? Well, do any Google search including the words “school segregation” or “school integration” and you will likely find an article written by her.

The first time I heard of Nikole was on a This American Life Podcast called “The Problem We All Live With,” a two part-er about the benefits of school integration. (If you haven’t listened to it, please download it right now). Having grown up in an aggressive desegregation program in the public school system in Tampa, Florida, then teaching in the city of Chicago, I felt like someone finally outfitted my blurry eyes with the correct prescription glasses for my horrible vision.

I could see.

Since listening to that podcast and a few others, I have been on my own journey towards sight. But I recently heard her on another NPR podcast, Fresh Air, this time talking about intentionally sending her own daughter to a segregated school.

I surprised my family the day I heard that podcast. I listened while chopping apples for oatmeal while my husband got the children dressed.

“YES!” I yelled out. “YES!” ‘

“What?” my husband said, coming down the stairs with our two-year-old on his hip.

“This.” I said, pointing to the voice on my phone. “Her.” I pushed pause and hit rewind for the fourth time. You have to hear this,” I said. Nikole’s voice rang into the kitchen.

“And I say this — and it always feels weird when I say it as a parent, because a lot of other parents look at you a little like you’re maybe not as good of a parent — I don’t think she’s deserving of more than other kids. I just don’t. I think that we can’t say “This school is not good enough for my child” and then sustain that system. I think that that’s just morally wrong. If it’s not good enough for my child, then why are we putting any children in those schools?”

My husband looked at me quizzically. “That last part,” I said. “Listen again.”

If it’s not good enough for my child, then WHY are we putting ANY children in those schools?


My first year teaching, in 2002, I taught in a school that was 100 percent African American. The students there had no memory of a white student ever attending. When I taught there, I drove from the diverse north side of the city to the west side of Chicago, a neighborhood called North Lawndale with very few white residents. You can read about my first year teaching back on day two, but I ended up substitute teaching in a different school in the north side every day for two months after teaching in Lawndale. I eventually taught for four years in another north side school in a mainly white area.

Though I’d hardly call the north side schools flashy, I could see a marked difference in the amount of resources available to the schools who had majority white populations. Parents were more involved, more demanding and had a say in the governance of the school. They knew how to pull strings.

As a teacher, you feel trapped in the system. You work hard, love the faces in front of you and fight for justice in your small square. But as a (white) parent, I feel I am holding more of the cards. Now I can choose. Where do I want to send my children? How involved do I want to be in the school? What “rights” do I want to fight for?

I have the power to stay or go.

But I am not only a (former) teacher and current parent, I am also a follower of Christ. So in that way, shouldn’t my demands be different? Shouldn’t my view of my neighbor shift? Shouldn’t my faith move mountains and my love destroy walls?

Deep down, do I believe my children deserve more than other children? And if I find that voice whispering deep in my subconscious, do I have the courage to confront it and ask where it is coming from?

Things get real when it comes to our kids.

Here are some questions I’ve been grappling with lately:

Would I be willing to send my children to a failing school, trusting that they would get enough of what’s lacking from the ways our family would supplement their education?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school where they would be the minority (which will remain hypothetical in my case right now, since the city where we live is majority white)?

Would I be willing to send my children to a school in an unsafe neighborhood?

And if I answer “no,” to any of these, would I be willing to back up my answer with the Bible? Would I have the courage to ask “why” I wouldn’t be willing–from a Jesus-loving/following point of view?

I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective on all of this, so join the conversation in the comments section. I may attempt to address these questions in the days and weeks to come.


Here are some other articles by Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, for The New York Times Magazine (June 9, 2016)

Segregation Now, for ProPublica (fall down the ultimate rabbit hole and get lost in the comments on this one!)

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

A Fellow Failed Missionary {a review of ‘Assimilate or Go Home’}

As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance.Missionaries are the elite. Sometimes assumed to have the “highest calling” a Christian can have, they are asked to speak at the pulpit, gather small groups in crowded living rooms, share color-saturated slides of exotic peoples and lands, put out glossy monthly newsletters and receive money from well-wishers. They are the darlings of the church—proof that those sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings do, in fact, care about the lost. And at the very least, the pew-sitters go themselves for a week or two to sidle up to and admire the work these long-term warriors are doing on the front lines.

I should know.

I’m a recovering missionary myself.

So when I came across the work of D.L. Mayfield recently, I felt an instant bond and got my hands on her new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith as quickly as I could. I was not disappointed.

Having written for McSweeney’s, Christianity Today, Relevant, Geez, The Toast, and Conspire!, among others, Mayfield is an experienced story-teller. This, her first book, is a collection of candid, wry essays that illustrate her lofty aspirations to save communities of refugees she entrenched herself among in America. Though she does not berate herself per se, she humbly concludes each snapshot of her do-gooder attempts by admitting that the results were rarely as she hoped.  As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance. Instead of making converts, she was reminded of the impoverishment of her own soul. 

Through heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, stories, she begins to internalize the truth that Henri Nouwen proclaimed, that “When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs.”[1] Ministry as she knows it is turned on its head as she discovers that the person who most needs saving is herself.


As a person who was also “called to missions,” I lived six months in Uganda, taught in an inner city school in Chicago and served five years in China. I can relate to many of the struggles Danielle wrestles with in her book. Like her, as a teenager I drank from a steady stream of missionary biographies, impassioned sermons and pleas to be “sold out and radical” for Jesus (which always meant selling everything, rejecting white picket fences and secretly judging anyone else who didn’t feel similarly called). I did the Christian college thing, went to the hard places and tried to live the radical life. But then I was called somewhere I never intended to be: right back where I started.

It wasn’t until I returned to the “normal” life of the “uncalled” that I began to understand the extent of my own poverty as I no longer embodied the shiny Christian label of “missionary.” I was just me.


In a recent interview on the podcast, Relief, put out by The Englewood Review of Books, Mayfield states that her new goal in life is no longer to save the world, but is now “to save her own people, the evangelical do-gooders.” While the book spotlights her own misplaced motives, she indirectly points out the deficiencies in white evangelical Christianity that seek to be generous without the commitment of long-term relationship, hospitable without being willing to live among the poor or bold in evangelism without regard for the culture, language or background of those they are trying to serve.  

Assimilate or Go Home is a necessary read for any and all who aspire to be the “do-gooders” and world changers. Similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s fictional work about a bumbling missionary family in Africa, The Poisonwood Bible, I would venture to say that this should be in every do-gooder’s library as a study in humility and even, at times, a study in what NOT to do.

So in Mayfield, I’ve found a kindred spirit. She is another bent, broken, humbled and slowly maturing follower of Jesus who is realizing that the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way backward, and the way to life is through death–to herself, her dreams and her propensity to make herself the hero of her story.


“The Way of Jesus is radically different.
It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.
It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place.”[2]
~Henri Nouwen


[1] Nouwen, Henri. “August 19.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins, 1997. Print.
[2] Nouwen, Henri. “June 28.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins. Print.


Buy the book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and check out Danielle’s blog!


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21 Ways to Live Counter-culturally

After living in China five years, I came back to the U.S. drinking hot water, line-drying all my clothes, and being shocked that I was expected to wait in lines instead of moving as a mob as we did in China. But living abroad changed me at the soul level as well, so I didn’t want to jump right back into the same life I lived before.

 Lately, I’ve been brainstorming ways to live counter-culturally in our western culture of excess and materialism.

The following list is not meant to cast judgment (because the last thing we need is more guilt over not “doing” enough). But in grace, I want to invite you to intentionally consider ways that we can live more counter-culturally. I personally want to live according to the ideals of Jesus instead of just floating along in culture’s stream.

Here are 21 ways to live more counter-culturally with a few resources listed below some of the topics (not in any particular order). I’ll be expanding on many of these in the months to come, so be sure to subscribe to emails or follow me on Facebook or Twitter so you don’t miss out on the discussion!

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Buy second-hand clothes, cars, toys and furniture.

The True Cost, a documentary now on Netflix, revolutionized the way I think about my clothes.  Now I’m attempting to buy as much as possible second-hand. Here are some ways to do that (besides Craigslist or Ebay):

Clothing consignment stores (buy & sell): Once Upon a Child (kids), Clothes Mentor (women)

Online used clothing (buy & sell): ThredUp (women & children), Kidizen (children)

Article: 35 Fair Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands that are Betting Against Fast Fashion

2. Prioritize getting out of debt.

Financial Peace University has many resources to help with this.

3. Have significantly less (or no!) toys.

Book: Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, has a great section on kids’ toys.


“Why Fewer Toys Will Actually Benefit Your Kids,” by Joshua Becker

“Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (And Why They Won’t Get Them Back,” by Ruth Soukup (and her follow-up post one year later)

4. Live in a smaller home (and have kids share bedrooms).

Cheaper to buy, less to clean and maintain.

“Why parents are choosing to have kids share rooms even when there’s space, by Danielle Braff for The Chicago Tribune

5. Have just one car.

Not possible for everyone, but certainly for many!

6. Don’t just give out of your surplus (if you go to church, why stop at a 10% tithe?).

Ask yourself: Does my breath catch a bit when I give?

7. (Especially if you’re white) Educate yourself about the race problems in the United States.

As a very basic start:

PodcastBlack & White: Racism in America, The Liturgists

Book: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson

Article: How White Privilege Affects 8 People of Color on a Day-to-Day Basis

8. Use your credit card like a debit card (don’t spend money you don’t have).

SNL skit: “Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford” (with Steve Martin & Amy Poehler)


20 Ways Americans Are Blowing Their Money (2014, USA Today)

2015 American Household Credit Card Debt Study (referenced by Huffington post)

9. Have a routine of rest and Sabbath.

Scraping Raisins blog post: Sabbath Rhythms

10. Purge/declutter frequently.

Book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (you can read my review here)

11. Avoid cable T.V. (especially commercials!)–or don’t have a T.V. at all.

12. Seek actual friendships with people who are different from you.

Scraping Raisins post: The Ugly Truth about Diversity

13. Read more books.

Podcast: What Should I Read Next? (Anne Bogel)

Blog: Modern Mrs. Darcy (Anne Bogel)

Site: Goodreads

14. Have personal and house rules about technology.

Scraping Raisins post: Overcoming Smartphone Addiction

15. Have an exchange student or international student live with you.

Here’s a post about our experience: When the Nations Come to You

16. Think about what you’re putting in landfills. Buy in bulk. Use reusable containers.

40 Ways to Go Greener at Home…Besides Just Recycling, by Tsh Oxenreider

17. Prioritize people.

Scraping Raisins posts: When I Forget to Notice People and White People are Boring

18. Be a front yard person instead of an inside or backyard person (get to know your neighbors).

Blogger Kristin Schlle set up a turquoise table in her front yard to build community in her neighborhood. You can check out her story here.

19. Be open to adopt a child, be a foster parent or join Safe Families.

Safe Families is a program some of my friends have done where kids live with you temporarily so they don’t have to go into the foster care system.

20. Sponsor a child internationally.

I’ve participated in Compassion International before, so I can vouch that they are legit. I also have relationships with an organization in Uganda called Focus that is doing really great work with college students and slum children in Kampala.

21. Practice hospitality and opening your home to others (even if it isn’t always pretty).

Check out If Gathering


Additional Resources:


The Minimalists, The Art of Simple, Becoming Minimalist


The Minimalists, The Simple Show (The Art of Simple), Shalom in the City


Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne; 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker


Which of these would you like to read more about? 

I have some ideas and research in the works, but would love to hear your opinions! 


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