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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: