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.

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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 

Overdressed

Have you signed up for my newsletter yet? I’ll be announcing some exciting changes in my next post, so be sure you don’t miss it!

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This post contains Amazon affiliate links. Anytime you click on a link and make a purchase, you will pay the same amount, but I will receive a minimal commission.

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

 

 

My Children are Not Just “Little Sinners”

I have a confession that may or may not shock you. As much as I once longed to be a mom, I spend the majority of my days looking over the shoulders of my constant companions—my three tiny children—wishing I were anywhere but here. Highly educated, I feel largely unqualified and wholly unprepared to be a mother to tots and preschoolers. I often fall into the “just wait it out and survive” camp instead of the “thrive and delight in your circumstances” camp.

But the Holy Spirit snagged me in a few traps recently as I randomly opened the Bible. Not once or twice, but three times in ten minutes, I turned to passages where Jesus talked about children. In each one, he gently stood a child in front of his listeners as an object lesson and bade them look and listen.

“Welcome this child, and you welcome me,” he said in Luke 9:48.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven,” Jesus said in Matthew 18:10.

And the kicker: “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” he said in Matthew 18:3.

Sitting in the last quiet moments of the dark morning before my three year old would crack open my door, climb into my lap and ask to watch a show, I cocked my head, thinking about my children. Surely God wasn’t talking about my children?  Didn’t he know how selfish, loud, ornery, hyperactive, rude, irrational, impulsive and sinful they are?

I studied culture in college. Other cultures often followed strange social rules, communicated differently, and could even hold an alternate moral code. We were taught to enter new cultures as learners, asking questions instead of bringing solutions. One class assignment led us to laundry mats, train compartments, and third grade classrooms to simply sit, watch, and take copious notes in order to learn how to do ethnographies and prepare us for our six-month long internships in developing countries.  We were taught to approach new people and places with a holy curiosity. Our professors urged us: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen.

As I read Jesus’ words that morning, something shifted and stirred in me, challenging me with these questions,

What if I became a student of my children, studying them as I would study a foreign culture? What if I stopped seeing them as little sinners, and started seeing them as little Christs?

As mothers, we are journalists and anthropologists embedded in the country of children. And if we take the posture of a student, what will we learn there? Assuming Jesus didn’t mean for us to take on the negative characteristics of children, what did he mean?

Seeing is not a new concept, but seeing—truly seeing, appreciating, and even revering—my children is a new concept to me. Barbara Brown Taylor makes the distinction between the “language of belief” and the “language of beholding.” We have our beliefs, but are we ready to see God trying to tap into all of life as we “behold” our children?

This year, my goal is to take advantage of the privilege of spending day and night in the company of the little people Jesus commanded us to emulate. I want to enter the country of children with the posture of a person who does not have all the answers, but suspends belief in order to behold.

What can our children teach us about kingdom living?

Children dwell in imagination land and conjure up mystical, magical worlds. They believe in a jolly, bearded man who flies around to houses delivering presents made by elves just as easily as they believe there are monsters in their closets. The lines between sacred and secular are marvelously blurred in the eyes of a child. They notice everything and model holy astonishment with hundreds of questions a day. They give extravagantly of their emotions—both good and bad. They love to be loved. They are silly and squirrely and come programed with giggle buttons.

Their little hands thrive on creating—cutting, gluing, weaving, drawing, sculpting and painting. They are novice artists, uninhibited by criticism or fear of failure. No one expects them to be “good” at anything yet, so they create with the wild abandon of the unshackled and unafraid. And they are utterly and unashamedly dependent.

It’s no mistake Jesus came to earth as a baby. In the Bible, small rarely equals insignificant. Instead, small represents latent power, potential and promise. Manna, mustard seeds, yeast, fish, and bread were divine symbols in ordinary form. The majesty, splendor and radiance of God hide in an infant nursing at the breast of a low class woman.

Incarnation chooses small, ordinary objects in which to veil the divine.

So when Jesus grabs a child and says, “see him,” “see her”—“welcome this little one and you welcome me,” he is pointing to the majesty of God hiding out in our tiny children.

Studying my children will take intentionality on my part. I am usually more intent on molding them into my image than seeing how they already reflect the image of God. I rarely consider them as the tiny priests and priestesses they are, with a direct line to God, unencumbered by adult burdens. Their air is still clean and unpolluted by sin and all the shame it delivers. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Does this mean I will stop teaching, guiding and modeling what it means to be a rational, god-fearing adult to my children? Of course not. But instead of seeing my children as a nuisance or as soiled and in need of cleansing, I will welcome, respect and revere them as little Christs. I’ll take the posture of one who enters other cultures to learn: before judging, observe; before speaking, ask; before asserting, listen. I may just see more of Jesus than I have ever seen before.

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I plan on delving more into this topic in the new year, so sign up for my newsletter to be sure you don’t miss the discussion!

Great Expectations {guest post by Nikki Wuu}

By Nikki Wuu

It happens every December 25th. The buildup, the anticipation, the climax. The disappointment. I wish I were talking about something else–like a vacation, my birthday, (I’m NOT talking about sex) or even the sugar cookies I always burn. Because you’d think I should know better. (Yeah, about the cookies–parchment paper …)

But at the end of the day, every ounce of adrenaline that surged through my veins the past four weeks has completely dried up and is replaced by dirty dishes, shredded wrapping paper, and an empty feeling in the pit of my soul. Once again, I realize nothing about Christmas has exceeded, or even met, my expectations. Disappointment sets in, so I reach for another burnt cookie.

It’s taken me nearly 40 years to realize the problem lies with my expectations. Stay with me while I go deeper.

Starting November 1st, Hallmark Channel Christmas movies are my default. My husband thinks I’ve gone to the dark side. He smirks every time he catches me in the act. He wonders what I see in their formulaic plots that go something like this:

  • Opening: Upbeat Christmas music, with (usually New York) city skyline.
  • Main Character: Good-looking, likable, but overworked person, who has forgotten what Christmas is all about.
  • Plot thickens: Protagonist somehow finds self transported to a rural setting, complete with small-town charms and fake snow. There is some important task to accomplish here. All the while, our hero encounters townspeople who have chosen the tranquil, meaningful life over big city buzz.
  • Protagonist gets reluctantly paired with a charming counterpart of the opposite sex, where there is simultaneously relationship chemistry AND animosity. This counterpart is ALWAYS involved in helping underprivileged children in the community.
  • The two, despite their differences, manage to get coffee, fall in love, and complete the important task (that usually involves the children mentioned above) in 10-12 minutes.
  • Next, an old flame–a lesser romantic interest with flawed character traits, usually materialism– surfaces, because, there isn’t enough Christmas drama yet, but …
  • True love eventually prevails, and all of the deep, previously unmet Christmas dreams are realized, as the smiling, needy children exclaim, “This is the greatest Christmas ever!”
  • Cue digital snow and a winking, bell-ringing Santa.

Christmas, happily ever after, with only a few incontinence commercials thrown in.

I think I’ve figured it out. I crave these movies because of their predictably happy endings: all hopes realized, all dreams fulfilled. The best, most beautiful Christmas ever. And shouldn’t it always be that way?

After all, wasn’t this how it happened that first night? Beautiful angels, dazzling the skies, with shepherds and sheep marveling. A star, camel-riding kings from the East bearing the first extravagant Christmas gifts. A stable, snug and warm with accommodating animals gently looking on, as a baby is born “silently” because “no crying He makes”. Joseph huddles around Mary as she holds a glowing child, possibly with a halo. “All is calm, all is bright.” Unsurpassable beauty is the backdrop to tranquility, warmth, and deep, personal fulfillment.

That’s how I’ve always pictured it.

But as I crack open my Bible this December, I am experiencing some cognitive dissonance. Here, I see brutal reality, pain, confusion, and a million untied loose ends:

  • Terrified shepherds are paid a visit. (Think powerful, mighty messengers of God instead of winged ballerinas with tights.) (Luke 2:9)
  • Ancient astrologers, tracking a star they hoped would lead them to the political King of the Jews. This is no easy journey, with no certain destination. Along the way, they meet, and later avert, a power-hungry, murderous king. (Luke 2:1-12)
  • A previously disgraced, single mom gives birth to a baby, and lays him in a feeding trough. (Luke 2:7). It’s not written here, but I’m just guessing (and any mom who’s delivered can confirm) this birth was NOT “silent.” And since He was born alive, we can safely conclude, some “crying He makes.” No halo on record.

It turns out a King did come that day. But it wasn’t the arrival anyone expected.

Maybe it’s just years and years of staring at elegant nativity sets and beautifully illustrated picture books. Or my viewing of countless, adorable Christmas pageants. Or maybe it’s just something inside of me wants my expectations met. I want beautiful predictability, not this story. THIS story makes me uneasy.  I’ll take the Hallmark version instead.

I was born into a “my” society. So were you, if you are alive right now, and are a card-carrying member of the American middle-class. This is NOT to say that life is easy. I’m just saying that by growing up here, you inherit a me-centric, consumer- driven mentality. It’s almost unavoidable.

Have you noticed that, here in America, we’ve made just about every calendar holiday about us? (Ok, maybe not Arbor Day, not yet.)

This is especially true of me at Christmas. Somewhere, among all of those Christmas’s past, I’ve managed to turn a celebration of the “Dawn of Redeeming Grace” into, well, my own birthday, because Christmas morning I still wake up wondering, “Where are my presents, my celebratory decorations, my delicious desserts?”

My.

And even if my (poor husband) manages to nail it, and get exactly what my heart desires, I’m good for about an hour. Because almost everything about “my” is temporary. It is, at best, a bottomless pit that I unsuccessfully try to fill. And I can’t. No matter how I try, I fall short.

I’m learning that “expectations” are not the problem. It’s when I add the “my” in front (literally and figuratively).

But what if I inserted “Great” here, instead?

As in “His Greatness,” realizing that this definition defies almost anything my 21st century, western paradigm can imagine.

Great exchanged the glories of heaven to become the dust of earth. Great emptied Himself, so we could be filled. Great chose death on a cross to give us life. Great failed to meet human expectations, but instead redeemed humanity.

This is infinitely greater than my version of great.

Embracing this great means shedding all of my preconceived notions about what great really is. It’s trusting them instead to the Great One, because in all of His greatness, He still chose to come near.

About Nikki:

Despite a deep desire to belong, Nikki Woo often finds life nudging her to the margins. She’s been the only girl on the team, the only public speaking teacher afraid of public speaking, the only Caucasian in the extended family photo, and the only mom who lets her kids drink Fanta. She calls the Rockies home, often pretending to be a Colorado native in spite of her flatland origins.

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