Waving the White Flag

To the broken, the hurting, the control-freak, and those on the edge of brilliance, these words are for you. May you find peace, joy, and rest for your souls.

Surrender is something we view with suspicion.  It is the action of defeat, perhaps even seen as the action of self-defeat.
“He fought the good fight, he almost made it, but the battle was too much and he surrendered.”
“She tried, but I guess she wasn’t strong enough to see it through. She didn’t lose, she just surrendered.”

Only in cheesy romance novels is surrender portrayed as a good thing. But here is the truth that so few understand: surrender is necessary for life.

DSC00935In labor, a woman must surrender to the process of childbirth. This is something I learned first-hand in three deliveries with no pain medication. I had to not only surrender to the contractions, I had to embrace them. This is not an easy thing to do when those waves come on top of each other instead of arriving one at a time, peaking and then receding for a time before the next one politely, and in turn, begins.

Surrender is necessary in facing loss and grief as well. I learned this truth during the first of three miscarriages. I could have chosen to fight the pain and sorrow. I could have buried the tears deep inside. I started to, it is my natural reaction to pain, but I realized that to refuse to grieve would be to say that I had lost nothing. I would have robbed that experience of any meaning and value.

Purple CrocusI have sat at the bedsides of people who knew that surrendering to death would bring peace to themselves and loved ones in their final days. Others waged a ragged battle until their final breath. Believe me when I say there is a time to fight, but, when the end comes, surrender brings relief.

Forgiveness is another act of surrender; giving up our burden of anger and releasing ourselves from seeking revenge. Cancelling the debt of repayment for wrongs committed whether we were the victim or the wrongdoer. Surrender is the key.

When I talk about surrender I no longer see it as an act of fatalistic defeat. Instead it is often the most active and engaged response to forces beyond our control, the best response to life, death, loss, pain, and woundedness. If we are to create, heal, find peace, and move forward, we must learn how to surrender.


How refreshing.


Careful Consumerism

Recently I became aware of a company that claims to use business to help the impoverished by providing a market for their hand-made items. They are a big company with a nice website using home parties to sell jewelry and other accessories. It is all marketed very nicely, with a section on their artists, and their terminology makes you feel good just considering buying their products.

I always ask a company about their product price breakdown when they claim to be doing humanitarian business. Because there is not an agency that certifies handmade goods as Fair Trade, there is nothing to stop someone from opening a company that is just as exploitative as some of the major sweatshop producers and claiming to run a business concerned with justice and based on “fair trade principles.”

This company refused to give me a price breakdown. They won’t tell me how much an artist gets paid for their work and how much of their price is profit. The reason this matters to me is that they are building their business on the theme that buying from them helps women in poverty to rise above. If I pay $60 for a necklace, I want to know that a good chunk of that goes to pay the person who spent hours crafting it. All sales businesses worth their salt know their price breakdown, it is how they know they are making money. At the bare minimum there is a base item cost, shipping, overhead, profit, and commission for those who use a home party model.

In the case of the company above, their consultants receive 20%, their own profit margin is at least another 30% because their consultants can buy at half price. That leaves $30 of my $60 to cover overhead (which includes their offices, marketing, salaries for their employees, and all other business costs), shipping, and finally something for the artist. I think if they were as justice-minded as they claim they would be proud to tell me how low they keep their overhead and how much their artists make. Since they will not, I will give them a generous benefit of the doubt and assume that their artists receive 10%.

From that $6, the artist must pay for all of their materials, as well as provide themselves with enough to invest in the next item they will make, and pay themselves for the labor. All on half of what a consultant who attends a party for 2 hours receives for the work of their hands. I don’t have a problem with businesses making a profit. But if they are making a killing and the people whose art they are selling are still struggling, then I cannot in good conscience support them.

In an email exchange with their customer service people, the responses I received from my direct questions ranged from quotes from their website to “we are a business, not a charity,”  “we share your passion for justice,” and “we just don’t track those numbers.”

The difficulty is that I am sure this company is staffed with good people. I am sure that they care about justice. My big problem is that without voluntary transparency, there is no one holding them accountable. In a publicly traded company, there would be published reports with profit and loss columns. In a non-profit company, they would have to provide the numbers. In private business there is no requirement for reporting to anyone.

So I am careful about buying the carefully laid out marketing setup.

I won’t be buying from the company I mentioned above. I will stick with others who are truly concerned with empowering the impoverished, particularly women.

Asking questions that lead to conscientious consumption, that is a refreshing way to buy.

**Check out Shona Congo for a transparent, justice-oriented business! http://www.shonacongostore.com


Approval or Acceptance

I recently came across a discussion on acceptance in relationships. The premise was being made that what we want from people is approval, but what we really need is acceptance. At first I balked at this statement.

I like approval.

I think we all do on some level. Getting those “atta’ girl” and “way to go champ” pats on the back give us a thrill. We want people to like us and think we are awesome. Why is that so wrong?

It is difficult for me to let go of my desire for approval, after all it means I have been judged and found to be good, decent, and superior. But that is where the weakness of approval lies. It requires one to sit in judgement of another. In order to approve, I have to examine and consider everything about you and decide whether or not it is good, or bad. It makes me the judge of you, and it makes you the judge of me. Approval must be won, earned and kept. It gives the one offering approval great power over your life.

If you doubt, just think of how great it feels when people “like” or “favorite” or “retweet” your posts. Think of how anxiety-ridden you are when you share something vulnerable or possibly life-changing with someone new. Will they approve, or will they find you wanting?

Acceptance, on the other hand, trades judgement for even ground. When we accept others it is not because they meet our standards or because we agree about everything. Rather, we accept others based on the fact that we hold equal worth. When I accept you, I see that you are inherently valuable. You do not have to earn my acceptance.

This is a distinction that has been lost in our culture as a whole. It is difficult to find acceptance anywhere. In families? In churches? In the political sphere? Certainly not.

Losing the ability to accept others based on their inherent value means that we give ourselves power to sit in judgement over everyone else. It gives us the power to reject others based on differences of opinion or different values. It allows us to not only set aside individuals, but entire groups of people. And then, once we have rejected them, we don’t have to listen to anything they have to say. We get to toss aside everyone and everything that does not fall into our “approved” categories.

Living in a culture of approval divides us. It makes us into insecure yes-men who will do or say anything to stay in the “in” group. It keeps us from genuine discussion, deep connection, and it kills trust.

If I am worried that my standing is in jeopardy, I will never admit that I sometimes yell at my children. I can never tell you that my house is a mess, most of the time. I will never let you into the broken places in my life, because you will judge and reject me.

We hear a lot about finding the common ground, and seeking to be more tolerant. I believe this goes way beyond tolerance. Tolerance seems more and more like grudging acknowledgement of others. We give them space to exist.

Acceptance means embrace.

Acceptance is me seeing you in the middle of your biggest mess and loving you. Acceptance is you disagreeing with what I write on my blog and not un-friending me on Facebook. Acceptance is the love that drives out fear, because what we fear is retribution when our thoughts, actions, and values don’t line up.

To me, acceptance is a picture of grace. It is what I really long for. It is what I long to extend to others.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that approval-seeking is really tense, whereas  being completely accepted is refreshing.

So may you embrace acceptance as one key to your refreshing life.