Friday, November 20, 2015

The Homeless Vets Argument

I might step on some toes here. I'm not calling out anyone in particular. I've seen the "Homeless Vets" argument again & again on social media. And trust me, I wholeheartedly believe we should help homeless veterans. I often find myself sitting across from a veteran when I'm volunteering at our local day center for people experiencing homelessness right here in my city.

But here's the problem with the argument: Unless you are one of the few who are already actually working to help homeless veterans, this argument falls really flat.  Intended or not, this is a distraction tactic. Life is complicated, economics are complicated. We can, in fact, help both homeless veterans AND continue to accept the 10,000 refugees from Syria that our country had pledged to accept.  (Side note: there are an estimated 3 million refugees... the US pledged to accept 0.3% of  them. France, by comparison, is about the size of Texas and has just increased their pledge from 24,000 to 30,000. Just so you know.)

Why can do we both? Because right now, this is a made-up issue. There is no organization saying, "Hmmm... should we help refugees OR should we house homeless vets? What to do? What to do?" There's no government committee right now agonizing over a decision, or even being forced to choose between those two groups of people. The tension between refugees and homeless veterans exists NOWHERE outside of Facebook right now.  The reality now is that we do need help with better programming and resources for homeless veterans AND we also should be part of what's going on in the world and do our part to help refugees. Because we would hope that other countries would help us, should we ever need to flee our country, right?

In addition, this sentiment places value on American lives over the lives of those born elsewhere. Maybe you are okay with that. I'm not. And, I'm speaking to Christians here: God clearly doesn't do that. Our Bible never says, "America first!"  Nowhere. The message of Jesus was never "Take care of you & your own first, then consider others." It's just not there. I've looked.

But guess what. If YOU want to choose, you can! Want to do more? Here you go:

Are you concerned about our veterans who are currently experiencing homelessness? I am SO glad. Go get involved. Did you know there is a staff member at the Interactive Resource Center here in Greensboro dedicated to working with our veterans? Call him up & see how you could help. Maybe the gift you want to give someone for Christmas is a donation (or even better, a recurring donation) to help our homeless veterans or to eradicate homelessness in general. They sorely need it.  Check out

Or maybe you are an advocate - get involved in the cause and connect with the VA here to see what they are working on to help end homelessness for our veterans:

Are you wanting to be more involved with refugees? Let me tell you, the organizations working with refugees need some serious support right now. They are fighting crazy amounts of misinformation (tossed out by some of our trusted elected officials, sadly), they are dealing with threats, they are comforting refugees who are already here who have been targeted in the past week. If you live locally, go check out World Relief of High PointChurch World Service, and North Carolina African Services Coalition.

You can advocate for Syrian refugees as well - tell Congress to welcome them here:

There are so many ways to get involved and be of service. I promise you, any hour you spend helping your fellow man (or woman!), is an hour well-spent. I have yet to regret any minute of time I've spent voluntering, even on the frustrating days.

And if you aren't going to do either of those things, please at least educate yourself on the topic. Most of us know nothing about refugees, or asylum seekers, or even the reality of homelessness for our veterans right now. I get it - it's easy to share a photo or a meme or a link. But it really helps if you get the facts straight first.

Here's a link to an admittedly very long Facebook post from World Relief of High Point. Please take the five minutes it would take you to read it. It will make your life better than a puppy video, I promise:

So let's do this, folks! Go DO something. Help out our homeless veterans - they need you to stand with them.  Help our refugees - they are citizens of the very same world we live in.  Go be the change, my friends. We can do hard things.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Advent Conspiracy - a CHALLENGE!

I have a hard-and-fast rule: no Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving is over BUT that doesn't mean we aren't already getting ready for Christmas. Our church participates in Advent Conspiracy every year and we have found that it s a really meaningful way to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas instead of getting bogged down with materialism and holiday stress.

You can learn a little more about the Advent Conspiracy here: (I seriously can't watch this without tearing up!)

Advent Conspiracy is summed up in four parts:

1. Worship fully -Christmas should be the seasons when love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. When we let go of the materialism and the stress, we can focus on the true meaning of Christmas... and truly celebrate!

2. Spend less - It's just that: We spend less! Don't buy something for the sake of buying. Stop buying crap for your people. And don't spend so much. The dollar sign on the gift you bought says very little about you, your life, or how much you love the recipient.

3. Give More - Give of yourself. Give your time. Give an experience together instead of a thing. Spend time making a gift instead of purchasing something. Or it could look like the opposite of #2 - spend more on a gift because it's fair-trade, making your purchase benefit someone else.

4. Love all - That money you saved by spending less and giving more? Give it to organizations that make a difference (our church gives to people experiencing homelessness and to Heart for Africa). We can use our resources to give gifts that truly honor Jesus.

Simple. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, friends. This has made our past three Christmases pretty amazing.

And here are the new things the Cassells are doing this year. I challenge y'all to join us!

1. All Christmas shopping done by Dec 1st. Figure out what you need to buy now and spend the next three weeks making your purchases. Then you are free to truly enjoy the Christmas season in December.

2. For your kids, stick to this little rhyme and buy them only four things!

Something you want, 
something you need, 
something to wear, 
and something to read.  

We try SO hard every year to keep Christmas day under control. The last thing I want to do is to teach my kids that Christmas is about all the stuff they get and unfortunately I think that is exactly what we do. I understand that Christmas is fun... I enjoy buying cool stuff for my kids and love seeing their faces when they open a much-desired gift. But at the end of the day, I want them to learn that Christmas is about celebrating the gift that is Jesus and focusing on what it means to truly follow him. There's no room in there for ridiculous amounts of toys. Especially when I know come February they won't even remember what they got for Christmas and probably can't find all the pieces if they do.
Confession: we still do Santa, so those four things will be from us and Santa will bring one more thing per kid. I still think five gifts per child under our tree is MORE than we need. Our Santa has only been bringing one gift in the past, so I didn't want to suddenly have him bringing more! Plus, I kinda hate giving Santa all the credit for the cool stuff. Santa at our house tends to bring the less-desired toy. Heh.

What about you? I'd love to hear the ways that you've made Christmas less about stuff and stress and MORE about Jesus.

And because I love to be crafty, I made up a few fun tags for your four gifts! Feel free to print these out & use them!
You can download them here:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Better Boo - Third Edition

I post a variation of this post every year and watching this information spread, seeing my friends DO something about it, has been one of the most amazing blessings of my life. Truly.

Confession: I used to buy the big bag of Halloween candy as soon as it shows up in the grocery store and hide it from my family. I pretended that I was hiding it for Halloween... but then I'd sneak a piece every once in a while a few times a day and long before Halloween arrived, I'd have to buy another bag.

And, of course, I had to buy the "good candy." None of that cheapo chocolate for us. I insisted upon buying the bag that had Twix, Kit Kats, and Reece cups. Oh and then the other bag because it has Almond Joys in it.  Because, you know, I really care about the children in my neighborhood and I wanted to be remembered as a house that had good candy. Plus... see above paragraph.

And then a few years ago, I was shocked to learn that the vast majority of American chocolate was farmed by children.  In slavery or close-to-slavery conditions. I thought to myself, "The companies must not know!"

I'm naive sometimes.

Turns out, the major chocolate companies here in America are fully aware that the farms where they buy their cocoa use child slave labor. They were told back in 2001. And they've done very little about it, other than to rally together to prevent legislation that would have required a label to tell consumers which chocolate was produced without slave labor (you can read more about this here). A few, including Nestle and Mars, signed something saying they'll work towards total eradication of child slave labor by 2008. That was SEVEN years ago and it's still happening. I think Mars at least has signed a new one with the new goal of 2020. And Nestle plans to buy 150,000 metric tons of sustainably produced cocoa by 2017. While that's great, the global harvest is 5 million metric tons... so this is a drop in the bucket of overall harvested cocoa. Supposedly there are some fair trade Kit Kats out there right now somewhere... I need to go check! Let me know if you have seen one!
Photo from The Dark Side of Chocolate

Our children's Halloween chocolate comes at the expense of another child.  This is happening y'all. 

This is happening so that we can dress our kids up in fun costumes and eat yummy chocolate.

This is happening because we just really love Kit Kats (and I really do love them - I get it.)

This is happening because our chocolate companies are continuing to use forced child labor.

It's happening because we are letting it happen.

Americans buy more chocolate for Halloween than we do for Christmas and Valentine's Day. Over 90 million pounds of chocolate. 90 million pounds of chocolate, mostly harvested by children who are beaten and starved, not allowed to go to school. Whose still-growing bodies are suffering because of the hard physical labor forced upon them before their little bodies can handle it. Many who were stolen from their communities and trafficked. All this for my chocolate fix. All this for "trick or treat!"

I want to blame the chocolate companies. Okay, I do blame the chocolate companies. But you know what? They sell chocolate because someone is buying chocolate.  If we refused to buy it, the companies would be in a pickle, wouldn't they? 

What if we supported fair-trade companies? What if this year for Halloween, we gave out responsibly-sourced chocolates? I don't know about you, but I would feel a million times better about Halloween candy if  I knew families were choosing not to give out chocolate that was produced by child slave-labor. As much as I love chocolate, it just no longer tastes good to me when I know that children the same age as my kids had to farm it in horrific conditions. That takes the sweet right out of my beloved Almond Joy.

And I've told my kids. Not all the gory details, but I want them to know. Riley loves Twix (since we only buy fair-trade, he's had just a few when he's gotten them at school!). I don't blame him. But when I told him about how Twix are made, he was pretty upset.  And he and I have searched the internet to find our own Twix recipe so we can make our own using fair-trade chocolate. He's happy we can do something to rectify the situation (and still have our sweet treat, of course).

Want to join us and do something about it this Halloween? Oh, good - I knew you would! :)

Here are some ideas:

Order your Halloween chocolate this year from Equal Exchange. I've gotten their chocolate minis to hand out and have ordered baking chocolate from them. They have fabulous stuff! And there's usually some kind of free shipping or coupon closer to Halloween. I'll update if I hear about it.

Go Chocolate Free. Be part of the Teal Pumpkin Project this year. Find something else to hand out: stickers, pencils, tattoos. And put a teal pumpkin by your front door to indicate that you are handing out something other than food (SUCH a treat for kids with food allergies).

So now you know... and you can DO something. Be the change. Let's teach our children about chocolate and let them help us decide what we want to do differently this year.  I've seen this happen in my family and my friends' families as this information spreads.

We can have a Halloween that wasn't produced by child slavery.

Good news! We don't have to give up chocolate! You just need a list of slave-free chocolate companies. And I aim to please:

Friday, September 18, 2015


Deep breath. I've been trying to get up the courage to post this.

Okay, folks. I need to tell y'all something.

I'm healthy. And I don't look like this:

Funny: I googled "healthy woman midriff" and this was the first image that came up.

I am pretty sure I'm healthy. I exercise regularly. I finally managed to get in an eight mile run this week (although if you are friends with me on FB, you know it didn't quite go how I planned). The physical health benefits are nice, but I honestly exercise for my mental health. I finally found the thing that helps me fight depression, feel good about myself, and spend time doing something I enjoy that's just for me.

And I think I eat pretty healthily too. We eat real foods most of the time. But I eat chocolate when I want to need to. And I drink wine with my friends. I don't count calories or even know how much I weigh. I'm not saying those things are bad. But I know myself and I know that, right now, I don't need any extra pressure or standards to try to measure up to. I get enough of that from external sources without doing it to myself.

So I'm healthy. And here's why: I'm taking care of myself: physically and emotionally. I think I'm beautiful. Not physically - I still find myself fighting the battle against our society's standards of beauty. But I love my heart. I fell in love with Jesus and am doing my darndest to be more like him and I know my inner beauty comes from God. Life has given me so many opportunities to act like a beautiful person. I am so thankful for the times I've actually followed through. And more thankful for grace for the times I haven't. When I look around me, I realize my friends are amazing. They push and challenge me when I need it and help me pick up the pieces when I need that too, all while living their own beautiful lives... I figure if they want to be friends with me, there must be something to that, right?

So maybe today your Facebook or Instagram has a "motivational" picture of some perfect abs (along with beautifully styled hair & makeup).  Here's my contribution. This isn't a BEFORE picture. It's not an AFTER either. It's just ME.  No makeup. Hair how it decided to be this morning. This is what healthy looks like. This is a body that's almost 37 (eek!). This is a body that can run. This is a body that eats well, runs around with kids, grocery shops, volunteers in the community. See the stretch marks? This body birthed two babies, one with an epidural, one without any pain meds; both good choices. See those arms? They carried a frightened, sick toddler out of an orphanage in Ethiopia. See the wrinkles? Laugh lines from laughing with friends over glasses of wine. Or maybe a little from caring about politics and frowning at the internet. The bags under my eyes? Oh man, I stressed over that part of this picture almost more than anything else. I just don't get enough sleep, I guess. Right now, motherhood is winning over pretty eyes. Messy hair? I got to snuggle with my husband for a few moments before the kids woke up this morning instead of jumping up and taking a shower. And, you know... hair. Maya Angelou said it's our glory. I'm not always sure.

Social media gives us the chance to put forward only our "best selves" or sometimes our "imagined best selves." It's pretty easy to create a perfect persona. I'm guilty of it too. We all do it.  So here's some REAL for today. I didn't even know how to take a selfie in a mirror - this was an almost impossible task (what's the secret, folks?). And I had to clean the mirror first- see the cleaner bottle in the corner? I kept that in there for y'all. Oh and the scar on my belly-button from that great decision to pierce it when I was 18... lovely.We make such good choices as teenagers, don't we? Keepin' it real, mamas.

So be YOU today. Do something that makes you happy. Love that body of yours - I know it has done great things. Find the opportunity today to be a beautiful person AND find grace for the opportunities you've missed. Beauty has lots of shapes and sizes. But mostly, it's about the shape of our hearts. We've got this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

I didn't want to write about gay marriage anymore

I kinda thought I wasn't going to write about gay marriage anymore. I thought, naively, that once the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal, we were done.

But I was wrong.

Today, a clerk in Kentucky is refusing to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. She's saying it's a religious freedom issue, she's saying she's refusing on "God's authority."

I no longer believe same-sex relationships are a sin. I can no longer say with confidence that the Bible is clear in condemning gay marriage. But I know and respect lots of folks who disagree. I'm not asking anyone to change his or her mind. This has nothing to do with that.

But I do wish we could agree on this: We need to choose people over theology. We need to choose actions that display the love of Christ, that bring people closer to him. God is in charge of the judgment part. We can trust that he'll be fair - he can see our hearts, our true intentions, all the things that others can't see. Jesus didn't come and die on the cross so that we could take God's place as the Decider of What's Right. Part of the problem when Adam & Eve chose that infamous apple was that mankind no longer trusted God, saying instead, "we want to decide for ourselves the difference between Good and Evil!"

The clerk in Kentucky does not need to believe that same-sex marriage is okay. I would tell her she can absolutely hold that conviction. She can hold it near and dear to her heart. But I would also tell her that she's free. She's free from having to decide what others should do. She's free from having to worry about whether she participated in someone's sin. She can make sure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, even if she holds a different belief. She holds an elected office in our government - her job is to uphold the law of the land. She can even do so in a way that glorifies Christ, with grace and humility.

As Christians, we have a unique opportunity to bless all those who come across our paths. God is gracious. He is the God of second chances, he loves us. Nowhere does he say "change first, then come follow me." As a Christian, I can listen to others, I can support them, I can tell them "God is FOR you." And I can even tell my friends when they are doing something unhealthy, harmful, or destructive... but I must first to earn the right to speak that way to them. We can't just do it willy-nilly to folks if we aren't actively involved in their lives, actively loving them.

Think about it this way: good things won't bear bad fruit, right? And we've seen that the strategy of refusal, the strategy of keeping people out, of declaring that we have to "stand on the Bible" or "stand on the side of God," has pushed people away from Jesus. I know of zero stories of people deciding that they want to know more about Jesus when his followers have pushed them away, called them an "abomination," and refused to acknowledge (or denied access to) their civil rights. The Kentucky clerk believes she's doing the right thing. I know she does. But as a follower of Jesus, I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that the nation is seeing her actions, that the nation is seeing that following Jesus means pushing people out, that it means a religious conviction is more important that a person. Her job isn't to define marriage or even approve of it.  If she knows and loves a gay couple and she wants to be involved in their life together and earn the right to tell them what she believes the Bible says about their relationship, I respect that much more.

Christians, we are free from judgment and free from being the Judge. God sees our insides. He sees our hearts. If you believe that he would condemn a same-sex marriage, yet you provide a marriage license for a couple because your job is to uphold the law, he's not going to smite you. He never placed us here to be the Moral Police. He never told us to force others to believe as we do or to follow the same creeds. We get to be free from that. And imagine if we engaged with gay people. If we invited them to dinner, got to know them as individuals, brought them chicken soup when they were sick or a margarita to celebrate a job promotion? What if we laid this "issue" aside and made it about people, about humans, about souls? That couple in Kentucky wants to be married... those are two people, two precious souls. Two men who love one another, who want to commit to spending a lifetime together. I remember my excitement going downtown to get my marriage license with my husband. I remember the giddiness, the love, the respect I had for the institution of marriage and how excited I was to make such a strong commitment to the person I loved.  And it breaks my heart that this couple's experience has been so tainted.

God loves people. I know he does. I believe he loves people more than he loves rules. I believe he'll judge us fairly. I trust him that way. Let's trust in that too and not let our differences divide us.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How we disagree...

This little blog started as a way for me to keep close family and friends updated on our adoption process. I still don't know how it turned into a real(ish) blog where I write about things I'm passionate about. Somewhere along the way, it happened.

And I honestly don't know who all reads it. I see the stats and I know about how many "hits" it gets but I'm pretty sure I don't actually know all of you. I'm sure thankful for those of you who read my words.

Most of the time, I get sweet comments on FB or nice words when someone sees me in person from folks who agree with me. It makes me feel less alone when I hear from people who say, "me too!"  But something else happens: I also get to have wonderful, amazing conversations with open-hearted friends and strangers who disagree with me or who are struggling along with me. We find ways to hear one another, to challenge one another, and sometimes even change each others' minds or point out a different point of view. And, of course, I get the occasional hateful comment. No worries - I've developed a much thicker skin in recent years.

Honestly, it's those conversations that keep me blogging. Those of you who have engaged with me when we differ, the ones who pray for and with me, the ones who say, "I respect you and I love you and let's have this hard conversation together." You've taught me that we CAN have tough conversations, that we CAN love someone when we don't see eye-to-eye, that we CAN find unity within our Christian faith when we disagree on an aspect of what it looks like to follow Jesus. It's the most beautiful thing when we humbly say to one another "we're both working this out... let's do it together." And so many of those conversations have happened on Facebook, a place I typically throw under the bus as the worst place for reasonable civil discourse ever. (Sorry, Facebook, I owe you an apology.)

I wanted to write about it. I want to testify to the fact that in this polarized society, as we head into an election year when everything will be about THE GOOD GUYS (insert name of your political party) versus THE BAD GUYS (insert name of the other political party), true conversation is still happening. We are reaching out to one another, we are talking. We are looking at things from different points of view, we are doing the hard work of understanding each other. Sometimes it results in the realization that we agree on more than we thought. Sometimes it means we find a way to disagree yet still really love each other and encourage one another as we try to be more like Jesus. It's amazing. Y'all are doing that. Thank you.

And over the years, I've come up with some "rules" for myself for disagreeing with someone. These are just my rules, but maybe you'll find them helpful.

1. I don't make assumptions. Just because someone feels a certain way about one issue doesn't mean they'll feel a certain way about something else. If someone is member of a particular political party, that actually means NOTHING about the character of their heart. I don't assume that someone who disagrees with me is my enemy. I don't assume that I know everything there is to know about what it means to follow Jesus.

2. I make assumptions (ha- see what I did there?). I assume the best about others. I assume someone is coming from a solid place, that they are good-hearted. I assume that everyone has a story, a background, an experience that heavily influences the way they see the controversial, divisive issues. And I assume that those experiences are valid (I won't dismiss someone's experience just because it doesn't align with my own).

These are my tried-and-true rules for keeping hate from creeping in. It works. Does it mean that every hard conversation I've had has been beautiful? Nope. I've had some that were fairly disastrous.  But when I keep my focus, when I remember that we are all on different parts of this journey, I'm encouraged, even by the tough experiences. I pray all the time that I will retain a teachable spirit. I love working out the hard stuff with y'all. So thank you, thanks for reading, thanks for talking, thanks for doing the hard, heart-work of being vulnerable and talking about the big stuff. Y'all rock.

And here's a teeny tiny plug for my church for those of you who live in Greensboro: this is the stuff missio dei is all about. If you are looking for a place that keeps Jesus as the center and encourages you (and challenges you) to figure out exactly what that looks like to follow him, to impact our community for him, come visit us! We are a place where the hard conversations can happen. We don't all agree on every tiny thing but we love each other, we honor each other, and we encourage one another to be more like Jesus. We're trying to do the hard things and have the tough conversations. I am so thankful for our little church!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lessons from my 8 year-old: How to follow Jesus.

I have a new favorite activity with my oldest child: running together. He ran his second 5K back in May and has been wanting to run another. So we have another one coming up in a few weeks and he's been getting up early to run with me before school.

Early-morning, post-2-mile selfie in which I discover there are no filters in Instagram that
will make my skin look good next to his perfect baby-skin. sigh

Yesterday on our run, I asked him, "How do you think you can serve Jesus in your class this year?"

And then this conversation happened:

R: I'm not always sure what it means to serve Jesus.
Me: Well, what do you think it means?
R: I think it's doing things that help other people. Because since I can't give God a hug, I can give a hug to someone he loves.

Um, YES.

Sometimes I think we make "being a Christian" too complicated. It really boils down to two things:
1. Love God
2. Love others.

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22: 36-40

I love this. How do we know we are loving God with all our heart and understanding and strength? Look at how we are loving others. Because Jesus said the second greatest commandment is just LIKE THE FIRST ONE! That's how we can tell. The Bible says we are to be set apart, to be holy... this is how. This is it. That's supposed to be our "calling card," our mark. It's how people are supposed to be able to tell we are followers of Jesus (John 13:35).

And you know what? This is actually harder than following a set of rules. It's messier. Christians aren't meant to be defined by what causes we are for or against. We aren't to be identified by the signs we hold, the politicians for whom we vote, or the radio station set in our cars. We love others because we love God. We love other Christians, above and through our differences over exactly what the Bible says. We love non-Christians, we see that they are image-bearers of God, that they are precious and beloved. All that isn't easy, it's deep-down, heart-level hard work.

There's nothing about loving others that means we need to be so concerned about making others behave like us. I can love you in all your weird quirkiness that looks nothing like my weird quirkiness. I can love you when we agree and I can love you when we disagree. I can love you when you are on-track and all is well and I can love you when you lose it and scream at your kids and  hide in the closet and eat chocolate chips. Jesus didn't come for behavior modification. His whole purpose was not to turn us in to moral enforcers. He came to show us how to love sacrificially. And besides, what he's working on in my heart might not be what he's working on in yours at the moment. That's okay. This might be why I'm so drawn to loving the gay community. I think good-hearted, sincere Christians have been thinking we were loving them but in ways that hurt them instead.

So there you go. We can't give God a hug, but we can hug someone God loves. We don't need to work to bring down systems that keep God impoverished, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. We don't need to identify and eradicate systemic racism that keeps God oppressed, but we can sure do that for the people God loves. And on a person-to-person level, we can love each other. Really, actually, dirty-messy-there-for-the-good-and-the-bad love each other. And there might be times we need to be concerned about the behavior of someone we love and we need to say something... but only after we've earned that solid place in their lives. Think about who has traction in your life, who has been there for you in the good times and the bad. Those folks love you. They have the right to speak truth to you, even when it's words that might be hard for you to hear, right? Well, we need to be those people. Want to speak truth into someone's life? Be there - love them. Until I truly love someone, I really have no right to make any comments about their behavior or their beliefs. And you know, once I love them, I just might find I no longer need to.