Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is…

We are all busy preparing for the holidays, for me that means Christmas lists and carefully planning the season so that I don’t overdo it too much. Because of my health, it is so important to prioritize how I spend my time. This only increases in importance when we enter busy seasons. (A little overdoing is par for the course. My goal is not to run out of energy and have a complete breakdown.)

Along with scheduling and planning, I have some shopping to do. We have a strict limit for gifts whether for Christmas or birthday. We want it to be enough to have a few gifts, but not so much that we will get pulled into the sensational items of the season. Budgeting is key, but we also want those gifts to reflect our values.

The source of the gift is important. I care about slavery and exploited workers. I care about the environment and want to be a good steward of my resources. How do I hang on to those core values when it is so easy to walk into a convenience mega store and buy the first five cheap gifts I come across?

Also high on my priority list is spending time with my family. My kids are growing and it is so important for me to spend time with them so that they know I love them. I need to impress on them just how important they are to me. It is hard to do that when meetings, events, and appointments fill every free evening and Saturday. How do I honor my family when my schedule is packed to overflowing?

I wrote a question to help me examine my choices this season, as I shop or plan my schedule, so that I don’t walk away with a holiday guilt hangover. It is too tempting to make the quick choice, the easy choice instead of the right choice–the one that reflects my values.

Here is the question I use: Does this reflect my heart?

Before I buy, does this reflect my heart?

Before I schedule, does this reflect my heart?

Is this gift or purchase necessary, is it ethically sourced, how far did it travel?

Is this event or appointment vital for me to attend, will I be missed, does it help me make a difference?

One thing we did this year as a family was drive to a fair trade store and shop together. We have a budget and allocated about half of the budget for each person to gifts from this store. It helped us to spend time together away from home and distractions. Shopping this way also guaranteed that the items we purchased were in line with our core values.

Now, I can tell you that I am not perfect. I am still learning and it takes a lot of effort and intentionality to remind myself at every intersection to stick to my priorities. I am a people pleaser, and it is hard to say no! I also don’t relish shopping, so the temptation is definitely there to compromise.

But my heart’s cry cannot be ignored for long. If I don’t listen now, I will be hearing from my hurting heart later!

Staying true to my values at Christmas.
Truly ReFreshing!

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Support without judgment, Doulas at their best!

Ever get the feeling that everyone has an opinion about everything that you do? Exercise, eating choices, your job, parenting, and yes even how you give birth are up for public criticism. I have good news, there are people out there who will listen to your thoughts, concerns and help you make the best informed choices for you!

I am speaking of course about Doulas! Doulas are not people to tell you how you should do what you do. We are there to help you explore all of your options and can help you find resources with good information, and evidence-based conclusions. When it comes to birth or postpartum care we can help you figure out what is right for you and how to have the best chance of achieving your goals!

Do you want to give birth with little to no intervention? We can help you find coping mechanisms like meditation, movement, water and positioning to reduce pain without medication.

Do you want to plug in to an epidural with the first contraction? We can help you answer questions like: how early is too early? will an epidural slow down my labor? should I try narcotics first? what other options are out there?

Are you scared about some aspects of labor and delivery? We can help you find information so you know what to expect and how to cope.

Using a midwife? We are cool with that.

Giving birth in a hospital? We think that’s great.

Home birth? More power to you.

Sometimes people think a doula will push the partner out of the picture, but a trained doula knows better. We are there to support the partner and help them be involved to the extent that they are comfortable. Some partners want to be in there, holding hands, chanting mantras, full-on coaching. Other partners need to be involved in less intense ways. Some moms don’t have partners, or their partners are not going to be present for the birth. Whatever the partner involvement, doulas can help make the experience more satisfying for both mom and partner.

You can find a doula to help you, regardless of your hopes and dreams regarding birth.

We believe that every woman should be supported in labor so that she can make informed decisions that are right for her, increasing satisfaction and reducing the risk of trauma.

Support without judgment.
How ReFreshing!

Thanksgiving Survival Guide: 5 ways to evade conversation meltdowns!

Thanksgiving is coming! I hope you all are looking forward to this time of family togetherness and bliss as much as I am, but just in case you are not here are some tried and true ways to avoid World War III at your family table.

1. Ask a question that leads to a more positive tone.
When your loved one is ranting about what they hate, why not ask a question that nudges them toward their hopes and dreams. Here are just a few examples.
“What do you hope for?”
“How do you see that unfolding?”
“How can we work toward that together?”

Who doesn’t like to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future? Let them keep talking, but asking these questions gives them something good to talk about. Making specific plans is also a good way to engage logical brain function when the lizard brain wants to take over. Whether they are looking forward to college, vacation, or the new world order, at least it will put a nice twinkle in their eye.

2. Change the subject altogether.
Uncle raving about politics? Auntie griping about the election? When you asked about their hopes they mentioned the destruction of an entire demographic? Here’s some topics to divert the maelstrom.
“What an amazing, miraculous World Series!”
“Do you have any recent pictures of your kids/dogs/grand-kids/cats?”
“Who made this delicious dish? You have to tell me all about the recipe!”

I don’t ever watch sports, but even I know about the Cubs and their history smashing victory! So you don’t know the players’ names or numbers or the final score, let your relative fill in the relevant details while you “ooh” and “aah.” Same goes for the precious pictures. They may be overly enthusiastic, but I bet Trump/Clinton/Obama isn’t in the frame. Oh, Junior dressed up as one of them for Halloween? On to the food, people love to gush over their special contribution to the meal.

3. Excuse yourself to go…elsewhere.
When you don’t achieve success with numbers 1 or 2, find a way to leave the room. Now is the time to:
Help cook or clean
Go to the restroom
Take a walk

Don’t you have something in the oven you need to check on? Always have something in the oven! No? Perhaps the dishes need doing. You can always go to the restroom. Yes, you can go every 15 minutes! Who cares if they think you have a virus. Maybe they’ll leave you alone if you are sick. This looks like a good time for a walk. On a day of over-indulgence whether you’ve had too much turkey, or just to make room for pie, no one will fault you for getting some fresh air.

4. Eat something! Drink something!
If you are afraid of returning fire with your words, stuff something in your mouth! Why else did we get everyone together anyway? Have a piece of pie…or three. Get up and refill your glass. Offer to get them a cup of coffee while you are up. Coffee builds bridges, and it might make you need to visit the restroom again soon, so it’s a win-win.

5. Fall asleep.
When all else fails, take a nap. Not sleepy? Pulse racing? You can always just pretend to fall asleep on the couch, or the chair, or on your plate. Trust me, cousins talking about your narcolepsy may not be pleasant, but it’s better than turning this Rockwell moment into a red-faced brawl!

BONUS! Turn on the game–no talking during football!

No unclean thing

This year I decided to read through the Bible in a year. I regularly read and study scripture to preach and teach, but It had been a while since I read straight through. Sometimes I read the portions, and other times it is more convenient to listen to the audio version. This practice really helps me to keep the words and stories of scripture in their broader context.

A few months in to the daily readings I had reached the stories of the Exodus and entering the Promised Land. I typically like to read these stories. They tend to be full of adventure although at times the numbers and counting of people and animals gets tedious. I found myself sighing and wondering why it was important to know that there were 54,400 descendants of Issachar among the other numbers of other tribes in the Desert of Sinai? I saw that in part it is important because each of those lives is celebrated as a gift and blessing from God.

Later, as I read through the book of Numbers, I came across a passage with more accounting and it stopped me in my tracks.

The half share of those who fought in the battle was:
337,500 sheep, of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;
36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;
30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;
16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the Lord was 32.
Numbers 31:36-40

Did you read that?!?!?!

I dropped my Bible and literally said out loud “What the heck, God?”

How could God accept human captives as tribute? How is it that the descendants of the 12 tribes were celebrated and these lives were treated like cattle? I was completely gob-smacked! Understanding the cultural setting, I know that these were warring people who battled here, there, and everywhere on their way to and through Canaan. I get that it was a violent age with different norms and expectations. But I also believe that God is the same then, and now. So, seriously, “What the heck, God?”

Sitting in my discomfort and pondering this God whom I serve with my life and career, I came to a realization. Words so clear and distinct, God could have said them out loud, in a calm, flat tone. “There is no untainted offering.”

I really don’t know about you, but I was offended. Of course there are untainted offerings! My offerings are untainted! Mine come from a pure heart, clean hands, and a desire to glorify God alone. How dare God say that my offerings are not pure.

Then I stopped and pondered for a moment, are they? Are my offerings pure? My money comes from the church, I give it back to the Lord in multiple ways by supporting other ministries, missionaries, and feeding the poor. That money comes from the hands of people who work hard in our community, in businesses and service professions. When I though deeper, I wondered: do I really know all the threads that support those earnings? Could there be anyone in those businesses cutting corners, or defaulting on loans, or choosing inferior products, possibly made by slave labor? I have no control over who gives to the church or where their gifts come from.

Well, maybe my financial gifts can’t be entirely accounted for, but surely my service can. I love on people, it is kind of my specialty. Listening, gently nudging at times, but mostly delighting in the people God has made fuels my ministry. I do it all for God, right? But I love it, too. Maybe sometimes I relish people’s dependence on me. It might even feed a little bit of pride.

Oh, and speaking of pride, sometimes I obsess over my sermons and musical offerings, or get worried when people might not be responding to me in the way I want…Ok, so maybe my offerings aren’t 100% pure. But are they really comparable to human trafficking?

When I buy cheap clothes made by underpaid or forced labor.
When I drink coffee picked by today’s equivalent of serfs.
When I eat chocolate most likely from cacao harvested by children.

Can I really claim to be exempt or superior?

And here we are, back to why would God accept our dirty, scratched, and broken offerings. Grace.

God knows we are dust. God knows we don’t have anything else to offer. God knows our inability to produce holiness, righteousness, and purity on our own.

The only untainted offering is God stepping out of eternity to dwell among human beings as a human being. The only untainted offering is God smiling at the child, the leper, the outcast, the prostitute through the eyes of Jesus. The only untainted offering is God still loving as humanity sentenced him to the death penalty, carried out by the hands of the state. The only untainted offering is God returning to those who had fled from his side for fear of their own safety. Building the church with imperfect people. Sustaining it through millennia using lives and resources also bearing the marks of sin.

Accepting my gifts. Accepting yours. Seeing us for all we are, and loving us. God’s grace is the only untainted offering, and it is something He offers to Us.

These thoughts are humbling, but hopeful. For me, knowing that God will continue to be the giver of every good and perfect gift sets me free from the chains of perfection. The only gift I have to offer is myself, and God himself can take this imperfect gift and make it whole. I am a work in progress, but even now at times God’s grace moves through me to pour into the lives of others.

Next time I am tempted to judge the offering of another, I will remember: the remarkable event I am witnessing is not one of a gift being offered to God, but that God in his grace and mercy accepts that gift–scuffs, stains and all.

Acceptance & Grace
What could be more ReFreshing?