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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

In case my child is gay or transgender...

I've been thinking about my children lately and what I would say if one came to me and said he/she is gay or transgender. I've thought about this A LOT.  And here's what I've come up with so far:

"Sweet child of mine. I love you. It's okay. God made you to be this amazing, thoughtful, smart, kind kid. Whether you love boys or girls and whether you are a boy or a girl is is just part of that big ole package. I'm glad we have our lives together to figure out how to do this crazy thing called life.

But you know, some people might not be nice to you or to our family because of who you are or what we believe. I don't have all the answers for why that is. I wish I did and I wish I could protect you from every inch of it. The truth is, I can't. But I want you to know that your family loves you, your God loves you, and I don't want to change one single thing about you.

In fact, as your family, we are going to work to love each other so hard and so well that we have extra love to give to those people who don't like us or tell us that we're wrong or bad because of how our family looks. Our family believes in Jesus. We believe he died for everyone and loves us so much that he can fill us up with enough love even for people who don't love us back. But we promise to keep our home a safe place for you, for times when the hurt outside is just too much. We'll shout & fight for you when you need it and we'll whisper when you need that too.

My expectation for you as your mom is that you be kind and do your best. That's about it. I hope you fall in love with Jesus the way I have but that's a journey you'll have to embark upon on your own. So keep praying and find ways to be kind and make a difference for others.

Now go do your homework and then we'll go get ice cream."


And as I wrote this, I realized this is what I want to tell my kids anyway. So I just might write this out three times and make a delivery tonight. Win-win (plus that means we get to go get ice cream!)

This one's nine now. Excuse me while I cry into my ice cream.

Update: I read my letter to the kids this afternoon. Definitely a win!

Friday, April 1, 2016

America is not the Kingdom

I've been thinking a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven lately. I recently learned that Jesus actually talked about his Kingdom more than he talked about salvation. Jesus calls it "Kingdom of God" sometimes too. I also learned that as Jesus uses the Greek word for kingdom,"βασιλεία," he refers to a Kingdom that has already started. It's not something we have to wait for death to be a part of. The Kingdom of Heaven is here.

And this Kingdom Jesus talks about is one where dreams come true: the lowly are honored, the oppressed have a voice, no one is hungry, no one is sick, no one is harmed.  Protections are established to take care of widows and children (the most vulnerable & marginalized). But it doesn't happen magically: Jesus describes a people who intentionally put their own desires aside in order to take care of one another, especially those who are outcasts. It's a kingdom in which everyone belongs to each other, one where each individual is truly valued. In this Kingdom, the way to be "great" (just like Jesus is great) is to put yourself last.

Y'all, America is not God's Kingdom. Our government is not God's design. If it were, it would look entirely different. Our politicians are certainly not the embodiment of "putting oneself last in order to be great" and I don't see a lot of value placed in our culture on putting our own desires aside in order to take care of one another or establish protections for the most vulnerable. We are the land of individualism, of "raise yourself up by your bootstraps!" of "take care of me and mine first." America values obtaining & hoarding wealth and our politicians peddle the idea of opportunities to get rich.  I'm not saying it's all bad. It's just clearly NOT the Kingdom Jesus describes. Just look at how much money our candidates are willing to spend on themselves to gain power (and how much money people are willing to donate in order to protect their own interests). During our 2012 election, candidates spent $7 billion dollars trying to be elected. And Bloomberg  estimates that this year's election spending will top ten billion. TEN BILLION DOLLARS. And that's just presidential candidates. I'm guessing you could join me in making a list of better ways that money could have been spent, huh?

So here's the thing, Christians: We are invited to be part of this Kingdom Jesus said he started when he came. It's already going on, this Kingdom of Jesus's.  Maybe it's just in our hearts right now, but maybe we are supposed to be part of bringing this Kingdom to Earth. What if acting like we are members of that Kingdom is the best way to share the love of Jesus? It certainly seems to align with Jesus' posture during his life...

So maybe, in America, we do have a right to demand some things for ourselves. Maybe, if you don't believe God would bless a gay marriage, you have a right, using our system of government, to demand that you not have to participate in it, even to the point of not baking a cake or providing any kind of goods for a wedding.  Maybe I have every right as an American to amass wealth and privilege and hoard it for me and my family. Maybe within our governmental structure, it's not my responsibility to take care of the poor & powerless.  But here's the problem: our government isn't God's Kingdom. Jesus called us to be a Kingdom of people who put ourselves last in order to lift up others. What if our LGBTQ population is part of that group of most vulnerable people (the "widows & orphans") who need some protection?  What if we are supposed to use our energy getting to know people who are different from us like the poor and working poor instead of characterizing them as lazy & shiftless and undeserving of assistance?  What if we are supposed to be reaching out across racial lines and befriending people of different races instead of continuing the status quo?  I don't know about you, but I only have so much energy in a day. I'd rather use it on something that reflects the Kingdom of Jesus and shows people just how wide Jesus' love is. The gospel of Jesus can't be good news for only one group of people, can it?

My husband told me long ago that the best way to share Jesus with someone is to listen: people will tell me exactly what it is they need to know about Jesus if I just listen to their stories. Are we so busy focusing on our own agenda that we haven't stopped to listen?

If we are in the majority in this country (I'm talking about us, white Christians), we need to ask ourselves: am I working to support things for "me and mine"? Am I more fired up about gaining more protections for myself & my own group than I am for people who are vulnerable or unprotected? Is the gospel I'm peddling good news just for people who look & live like me or is it the gospel of Jesus: good news for the marginalized, for the downtrodden, for the forgotten,for everyone?

America isn't the Kingdom of Heaven and we can't force it to be. But we have opportunities within this crazy, flawed governmental structure to be a force for Jesus. It's up to use to take them.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What you need to know... and what I need to know.

Lots of silence. I've heard precious little about Tamir Rice from people in my community. Back when he was shot and killed last November, I didn't hear much. And now that we've learned that the people responsible for his death won't be indicted, I still haven't heard much.

I understand that white people aren't always equipped to discuss matters of race. People fear saying the wrong thing, many of us aren't raised with any level of comfort around talking about race. I get that. And maybe people aren't watching the news. Maybe you really don't know about what happened to 12 year-old Tamir and his family.

So here's what you need to know:

Last November, a 12 year-old boy named Tamir was shot and killed by police for having a toy gun on a playground.  The 911 call indicated that it was likely a toy and that he was a juvenile. That important information wasn't relayed to police and he was shot by a police officer within two seconds of police arrival. And there's a video of the entire incident. This week we learned that the two police officers involved in shooting 12 year-old Tamir Rice will not be indicted.

You need to know that although Tamir didn't die until the next day, no one offered him any aid for 4 minutes. Police officers stood around a 12 year-old boy they had just shot and did nothing for four minutes.

You need to know that when his 14 year-old sister came running over to help him, she was thrown to the ground, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a police car to watch her brother die. The same police officers who stood around and failed to render aid to the 12 year-old they had just shot, handcuffed his big sister. Audio from the scene reports that she was saying "He's moving! He's still alive."

You need to know that the the police officer who shot him had been identified by a former police force as having had a "dangerous loss of composure" during firearms training. He had been labelled as not being emotionally equipped to handle the stresses of the job.

You need to know that this happened in an open-carry state. So even if Tamir had been a grown man with a gun on the playground, there was nothing he was doing that was illegal.

You need to watch the video. I normally don't advocate watching violence. But this happened here. In our country. To a child. You need to see for yourself how quickly Tamir was shot, how his sister (also a child) was treated, and how long it took for anyone to provide any aid.  Citizens and all of our good police officers deserve better than this: no indictment means no accountability for police officers who act like this.

And then there are some things I need to know. Why would we stay silent when something like this happens? I don't understand how any of this is acceptable, how any of us could not be moved to tears, to anger, to frustration, to SOMETHING, to know that this has happened. Police officers, people we trust to protect us, not only killed this boy but the system isn't going to even try to hold them accountable for their actions. Supporting our police means holding them accountable when they go awry. Good officers know this. Good officers want this. This isn't anti-police by any means.

Christians... Jesus gave us the tall order to love our neighbor as ourselves. He said that's how we can show how much we love God. There's a mother out there who not only lost her little boy, but whose daughter was traumatized by seeing it happen. A mama who's daughter was thrown to the ground and handcuffed when she ran to help her little brother as he lay dying on the ground, shot by the people who were supposed to keep her safe. She is our neighbor. We need to stand with her and call for justice.

Christians... that same tall order calls for us to love those police officers. I don't know what has happened to them in their lives that brought them to the point that they could shoot a child and then stand around not helping him. But they deserve to be held accountable. Saying that their actions that day were acceptable is enabling a broken system and is no way to love them. We need to call for justice for them as well. They are our neighbors too. Give them justice and a chance to change, a chance to provide some kind of restitution.

And I need to know: if you don't care about this now, what will you say to me when it happens to my child? Will you speak up then? Because by then I'll have lost my baby. What Tamir did wrong on the playground that day was have the wrong color skin. The system that is failing to provide justice for Tamir is sending me a message: the life of one of my children is much less valuable than that of the other two.

Silence about this sends that same message.

I need to know if you understand how harmful your silence is.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Calling All Elf Parents!

from huffingtonpost.com 
Are you an Elf Mom? Or an Elf Dad? Welcome! We need to have a little pep talk!

If you are anything like me, you have a love/hate relationship with your Elf. Our Elf's name is Clark. And I love how much my kids love Clark. I love their excitement when they find him in a new spot. I dislike, however, that I never seem to remember that Clark exists until AFTER I've gotten into bed. If I had a penny for every time I said, "Dangit! I forgot to move Clark!" I could probably fund Christmas for everyone. I also dislike the crazy weirdness that Elfhood somehow sparks in parents when we compare ourselves to one another based on our Elf-selves.

My challenge to all of us, Elf Moms & Dads, is to remember the cool stuff about the Elf tradition. Elves, much like the moms & dads behind them, have different personalities, different energy levels and differing amounts of buy-in to this whole ordeal. I love that every family does their Elf-thing differently. In my family, although we do believe in Santa, we don't teach our kids that Santa only brings toys to good kids. It just doesn't jam with our parenting style to use Santa for behavior modification. And it's so nice that our Elf falls in line: we don't read the book, and Clark has become more like a liason between Santa & my kids. They send Santa notes through Clark sometimes but there's nothing about being good or reporting on behavior. It works for us.

All this diversity in the Elf community also means that some Elves will be a little more lazy. Some will insist upon good behavior. Some will be over-the-top. Some will be creative and some, like Clark, will never intend to move every single day anyway. And all of that is okay.

We love to hate each other on the internet, don't we? I admit I have gotten a little eye-rolley over some particularly fabulous Elf photos I've seen on social media. And I've nodded along as I've read articles about how parents need to keep their Elf-mania in check.

But you know what? Someone else's fabulous Elf-skills really aren't hurting me and my family. That comparison & judging is all in my own head. My kids have come home and said, "So & so's Elf brought them money!" Or "So & so's Elf had elf-sized donuts for breakfast and has a new outfit every day!" It's tempting to think that the Elf Mom or Dad behind Super-Elf is making me look bad. But they really aren't. I can calmly say, "Hmmm... why don't you leave some of your cereal out for Clark for tomorrow?" or I can even just say, "How cool!" and leave it at that.  It's okay for kids to see that life looks different for different people sometimes. It might even build character or something crazy like that.

So let's stop judging and comparing one another through our Elf-selves. If you have pheomenal Elf-skills and have decided that it's worth your time to do amazing Elf-antics, I applaud you! I'm glad there are fun people like you out there in the world. I do actually enjoy seeing the pictures of the over-the-top stuff you do.  And I promise not to roll my eyes at you this year. Are you a lazy Elf or a forgetful Elf? Have you decided that amazing Elf-scenes just aren't worth your time? No worries. Solidarity, friend - I'm in this camp. And I bet the amazing Elf Parents will promise not to roll their eyes at our lackluster attempts at Elfhood.

And I have a Christmas present for you: some Elf Printables! Just print these cards & cut 'em out. Now you have a fun little card to stick in your Elf at 2 am when you've woken up out of a deep sleep haunted by the sudden realization that you forgot to move the damn Elf. I always plan for my Elf to stay in the same spot a few times so that it doesn't seem weird on the days I forget (planned laziness: it's an acquired skill). I also included our "Minivan Express" tickets. I have our Elf bring them every year on the morning that we were already planning to go drive around & look at Christmas lights. And, of course, feel free to use these cards to create a flawless Elf scene involving your children's toys and some flour. Or something.

I love y'all. Parenting is hard. Our Elves don't have to make it harder. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.





Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Buying Guide

A few weeks ago, I posted a challenge to get all your Christmas shopping done by December 1. That's tomorrow. Are you done? I'm not. But I'm close!

So if you aren't done yet, here's your rescue! Finish up your holiday shopping at these amazing places!

For Kids:

Kiva Loan -

Give your kids a Kiva Loan! www.kiva.org. This is a loan based on the Grameen bank principle (learn more about this Nobel Prize Winning idea here) to give people in poverty a loan so that they can buy what they need to start up their business - this empowers them to be self-sustaining. The way Kiva works is really cool: your kiddo gets the gift card (minimum of $25) and then he/she gets to go online and look at all the people/projects to invest in. Kiddos pick who they want to lend their money to and they will receive regular updates on how that individual is doing! The loan is then paid back and your kids can choose to take the money for themselves (it has to go into a paypal account) OR they can choose roll it over again to invest in another person.

Connected in Hope - www.connectedinhope.org or check them out on FB: www.facebook.com/ConnectedinHope


Connected in Hope has two adorable kid-sized scarf options. See their Kid Collection here! A fair-trade scarf that helps a mama in Ethiopia earn a sustainable wage, free from the abuse, stigma, and trauma of carrying heavy loads down Mt Entoto. They also have a super-cute scarf & book bundle - you get "My first book of Amharic words" with a pronunciation sheet and a scarf!


Self-promotion alert:
My fundraiser tosend Rob to Swaziland next year is still going on! I have some great kid stuff on my Facebook Album: personalized ornaments, paint-your-own-canvas kit, bag tags for backpacks, bracelets & earrings for girls. You can check it out here!








Jewelry & Accessories:
oh so many amazing options!

Heart for Africa - if you live here in Greensboro, I have a box full of Heart for Africa jewelry you can check out! 100% of the proceeds go to support Heart for Africa. While HfA has a Children's Home for abandoned or relinquished children, they also work to support moms who want to keep their children. Khutsala Artisans can live on the farm, receive training to learn how to make the jewelry and then work in the Khutsala shop to earn a sustainable wage. And their children get to attend school at Project Canaan Academy for free while they live & work on Project Canaan. Amazing.
Not local? Check out their online shop here (free shipping Monday & Tuesday too!): https://squareup.com/market/heart-for-africa



Connected in Hope - looking for the perfect leather bag this Christmas? Ethiopian leather is among the finest in the world and Connected in Hope has fair-trade leather bags. Y'all - they are gorgeous! Connected in Hope also has amazing jewelry and scarves (I own a lot of their stuff and I get compliments EVERY TIME I wear something of theirs): http://www.connectedinhope.org/shop/.  Not only are their products fair-trade (providing a sustainable wage for their workers so that they can provide for their families), but they provide free education for the children & grandchildren of their Artisans. Our family sponsors one of their preschoolers and it has been such a blessing for us to get updates on that sweet boy and his family!



Clothing
One of my favorite places to buy clothing is Elegantees. They have fair-trade clothing, sewn by women who were rescued out of the sex trade in Nepal. I know buying clothes for others can be tricky, so I'm so excited to see that they offer gift cards. I have LOVED everything I've ever bought from them - it's all comfy (a requirement for me) and cute. And I've found that their sizing runs true-to-size
http://elegantees.com/products/gift-card



Stocking Stuffers 
I love buying stocking stuffers from Thistle Farms. They are based here in the US - in Nashville, TN, with women from hard places. Women survivors of trafficking, addiction, and prostitution can live in their therapeutic residential program and then find employment in one of their storefronts or in making the lovely bath & body products!


Ten Thousand Villages is another fabulous place to find gifts & stocking stuffers. And if you check out their website before midnight tonight, they have 12 items on sale for 70% off! And the Artisans still are paid their full-wage.


Donations:
What do you give the person who has everything? A donation in their honor. The gifts I remember most are the times when someone has donated in my name to an organization that I care about and then given me a small token to remind me of the gift (for example, one year I someone donated a flock of chicks to heifer.org and gave me a little chick beanie baby).  Looking for great places to donate? I gotcha covered:

Did you know there are an estimated 30 million people entrapped in slavery today? Say that out loud: "TODAY, there are THIRTY MILLION people in slavery." That's insane. Slavery isn't part of our history - it's part of our present.  I'm participating in Dressember this year - I'll be wearing a dress every day for the entire month to raise awareness about human trafficking. You can donate to the International Justice Mission and A21 - two amazing organizations that fight human trafficking both here in the US and internationally through my Dressember page:
https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraise/team?ftid=62329
A donation to Dressember along with an ornament in the shape of a dress would be a fantastic gift!


Consider a donation to a local organization. My favorite agency in my city is the Interactive Resource Center. They work to fight against homelessness in so many ways: empowering individuals AND advocating for better services for people experiencing homelessness. How to make this a gift? Donate in the name of your loved one and give them something small & cozy as a token (mittens, a small blanket): a reminder that your gift will help keep them warm AND keep someone warm who is experiencing homelessness this winter.

So there you go... happy shopping!

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 http://gsodaycenter.org/.

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: http://www.va.gov/homeless/.

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: http://bit.ly/1WZxoqB.

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:
https://www.facebook.com/WorldReliefHighPoint/posts/10153225113733803

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: