Let’s Give Differently This Holiday Season | 3 Ways to Change Christmas

Last week I had lunch with two women from Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, but oppressive country situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

They have heartbreaking, but hopeful stories and use their testimonies to work with women who are escaping violence and oppression in the Middle East. We talked about partnering together.

It was humbling to sit with these former Muslim women who daily risk their lives to follow Jesus.

It made me want to live differently, so I can give differently. 

With the gift-giving season around the corner, I want to encourage you to think and shop differently this year. Dad doesn’t want another tie and mom has enough cardigans. For the same amount of money, you can give a unique gift and change someone’s world.

Here are three ways to give differently this season:

1. Give a gift in someone’s name:

Rehema House Gift Catalog-Mercy House supports impoverished moms and babies at Rehema House in Kenya. Not only can you impact lives in Kenya, you can also do so in someone’s name. For every gift you give, you can have an e-card sent to the person of your choice. [Gift options start at $10. For example, you can gift this for $10 in  your teen daughter’s name and this for $50 in your grandma’s name.]  It’s an easy way to change the world. Check out the Gift Catalog here.

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Compassion Gift Catalog-I love Compassion and I believe in what they do. I have seen their work behind the scenes in Kenya and elsewhere and they change lives.

2. Give a gift twice:

Fair Trade Friday-Fair Trade Friday is a fun monthly subscription club (with more than 500 members) that delivers 3-4 fair trade items to your door. The items are created by impoverished women all over the world who are supported by your purchase. Join the Club or give a Fair Trade Friday Gift Box to someone who’s been extra good on your list. Get $5 off a one-time Fair Trade Friday gift box with this code:  5off 

The Refugee Project-Gorgeous hand knitted and crochet items are always on everyone’s list! Every purchase benefits a refugee who has been relocated to the USA from a refugee camp, struggling to make ends meet in their new home. I spend my Friday’s with these beautiful ladies.

the refugee project

No. 41-When you buy a lovely sewn burlap and kitenge bag from Rwanda, it not only supports the young lady who created it after she’s aged out of an orphanage, it also feeds one child, one meal, every day for one year.

Zambia Soap Company -THE PERFECT STOCKING STUFFER -Scented Organic Handmade Soaps and Lipbalms (Families harvest organically grown herbs. Workers distill the herbs to make essential oils for soap, while women widowed by the AIDS epidemic weave gift baskets and attach labels.all overseen by local Zambian churches)

3. Give a gift that provides for a future:

The Mercy Shop-A large percentage of every purchase from the Mercy Shop goes into an account for each of the Rehema House residents who created the items. After graduation, she will be able to use that money to provide school fees for her baby (while Mercy House continues to pay her school fees). So, every purchase helps provide for the future of the babies that Mercy House supports!

the mercy shop

Caring for Korah- We believe in child sponsorship. We just added our 11th child to the family (besides 3 of our own). Our dear friends are saving lives in Ethiopia and you can give a child a future this Christmas.

Let’s change Christmas this year.

WFMW: Saying Yes When It Means Going Backwards

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I’m happy to introduce you to this week’s guest poster, Christy for my Wednesday series Yes, Works For Me! Please welcome her and be encouraged by her yes to God and continue to link up what works for you.

It’s been almost a year since God started tugging at our hearts. A year since He started whispering this huge change in our life. God was asking us to say yes, in the midst of our mess, in a big way; to move, to uproot, to go backwards, and to say yes to Him.

My husband and I were in ministry together, with our 3 kids for about 6 years. Titles changed, our apartment changed a lot, but the Church and people remained the same. We were doing God’s work in a place that needed it a lot, New England. We loved our life and felt that God was moving us forward.

However, in the midst God began to tug at our hearts that things were about to change. Within a few months things became clearer that He had a new assignment for us, a new place He was calling us to. God was making it clear He wanted us to go back to our home state, to my alma mater, Valley Forge Christian College. Not to teach, or to be on staff, but to go back as students, for my husband to finish.

To the outside world, to those around us, it seemed crazy. Why would we leave good paying, stable jobs, surrounded by dear friends, immersed in needed ministry to go back to school? Why would we take our family of 5 and leave a decent duplex to go to a 645 square foot apartment in a dorm? Why would we take a huge step back in our careers, in our ministry, at the peak of our lives?

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Why? Because God asked. Because He called us too. Because God opened up every door we needed Him to and walked us through all the way. Was it backwards? Technically yes, not many 30 year olds who have been married for 8 years with 3 kids willingly move their family back into their old college so their husband can be a student again. But for us, it was actually a step forward.

God revealed so much to us. That our steps are not our own, they belong to Him. That our future plans don’t mean as much as His ultimate plan. That God can pull us backward to launch us even farther forward. That sometimes we to be like the military, to retreat to eventually take the high ground.

What may be a step backwards to us, may not be that to God. When we say yes to God in our own mess, we learn things. We learn to give up the titles, to change our view point, to be humble. If God is calling you to step backwards for a season, don’t be scared, embrace it, say yes. The direction on the ladder is not as important as God’s place on your personal ladder.

Our family of 5 is now immersed back into college life. But through it God has opened up a whole new village for us to share life with. My husband is studying late at night. But through it God has given him opportunities to encourage the other students around him. I’m juggling a family in a small space while working full time. But God has opened up doors for more family time and new ministries, all beyond what I imagined. I never wanted to go backwards. But God is faithful!

In “Rhinestone Jesus” Kristen says “Saying yes is more about courage and faith than opportunity and success.” Going back to college may open up opportunity and success later, but it may not. But for right now, when there is none of that, only courage and faith remain. So does the reminder that when God asks and you say yes, you are not alone. Do not fear the backwards steps God may call you to, they will be hard and they will be scary, but they are not by accident and you are not alone.

Bio: Danielle Christy is a Christian, pastor, pastor’s wife, mom to 3, and writer. She chronicles Life in Ministry, Life with Kids, Life with Jesus over at www.christyswithkids.blogspot.com

Maybe It’s Time We Lay Down Our Rocks And Open Our Hands

My husband and I worked at a church the first 10 years we were married. They were good years.

But they were hard.

And it wasn’t the sinners that made our work and life challenging.

It was the saints.

We lived in a glass house. It’s sort of a given in a job where the people you serve also pay your salary. Not only could people see in, they would sometimes question how we spent our money and lived our lives: You can afford to drive that car? Oh, your child takes ballet. Must be nice. What do you do all day long? I wish I could do whatever I wanted with my time, but I have a real job.

If you throw a rock at a glass house, it will shatter and it could leave the occupants wounded. I promised I’d never live in one again.

We didn’t plan to start a non-profit. If you’ve been reading here long, you know the story. For the first 4 years of Mercy House, we worked nearly round the clock building something from nothing. We spent hours nearly every evening and every weekend (after our day jobs) working so we could help poor mothers in another country. In that time, we’ve raised more than a million dollars to do just that and many of you have been a part of it. We didn’t take a dime for ourselves as we led a volunteer movement to empower women.

Back in 2010 on that first life-changing, eye-opening trip to Africa, I never thought my husband would end up quitting his corporate America job to become the CEO of the small organization we would start as a result of that trip.

Hand holding a stone. Sky at the background. Sunset

But he did. Two months ago. It was another huge leap for us, a financial risk, an act of obedience and a pay cut. And the first month in, I realized we were back in a glass house with emails from people wondering about his salary. It’s funny since no one questioned us not being paid all those years as volunteers.

And my inbox has had a recent onslaught of complaints about me putting ads on my blog and using affiliate links for eBooks I’ve written. Really, because this is my job? Hosting my blog costs hundreds of dollars a month and it makes me wonder if the same people are offended by commercials in-between their favorite TV shows. Words are free, but not cheap.

I’m not opposed to disclosure and authenticity, if you ask, I will probably tell you what my husband makes (or you can check out Mercy House’s public 990 in a few months). And I won’t take down blog ads because they help our family to do what we do. I’ve been authentic and transparent for years in this space to invite readers into the glass house in hopes they would see really regular people. I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I say. And most days, I really don’t care about the negativity. It’s just part of it.

But maybe we should ask ourselves if we should be asking? Should we criticize our pastor for the car he drives, the expensive shoes his wife wears, the way his kids behave? Is this our right as believers? Should we criticize each other because we don’t agree with everything said or done?

I’ve lived in both kinds of houses and I’ve tossed my fair share of rocks. But I’ve learned that if I trust the people I support, even though I may have a right to ask, that doesn’t always mean I should. And if we sincerely question or disagree with the way someone lives or spends money or whatever, than maybe we should pray for them. And if we still don’t like it, maybe we should stop attending the church, supporting the cause, or reading the blog.

The thing about glass houses is we don’t always see the full picture. We don’t always know the personal sacrifices, the hardships, the long nights, the unspoken spiritual warfare.

Recently, Peter Greer, founder of HOPE International and respected author and leader, put a picture on Facebook of his kids holding hands as a form of discipline for sibling arguing. It went viral and not because everyone thought it was darling. There was a lot of personal attacking. Why? Because people put people on pedestals.  Several years ago, a blog reader and Mercy House donor, stopped reading and supporting because I wrote a post and admitted struggles. She emailed me with some very harsh words and said, “I just can’t support someone as human as you.” Just because the Internet makes us feel anonymous, it doesn’t make it right.

The next time we feel tempted to judge someone who does something differently than we do, let’s remember they are just people. Whether they are Christian leaders, pastors, small non-profit leaders or neighbors down the street, they all have marriage problems, parenting issues, financial crisis and weaknesses, too.

There’s only One worthy of being glorified. Everyone else is just like us.

Glass houses aren’t all bad. They helps us remember we aren’t alone and gives us courage to do something good together. It’s a place where I can show you my weakness and learn from your strength and vice versa. Glass houses allow for vulnerable community and authentic relationships.

It’s hard to hold rocks and also hold hands.

10 Ways to Incorporate Gratitude in Our Kids’ Every Day Lives

Ice cream for dinner.

This weekend my kids were overcome with gratitude when I said those four magical words.  I think I shocked them. They couldn’t stop saying thank you.

The next day I reminded them to do their chores and the huffing and puffing didn’t sound much like the thanks giving from the day before.

It’s easy to be grateful when we get what we want.

It’s a lot harder to be thankful when we get what we don’t want.

I want my kids to see the two are connected. One without the other makes us entitled.

But teaching our kids thanks giving doesn’t happen because we eat turkey and watch football on one day of the year. It is a lifestyle. It’s thanksliving. Here are 10 ways to create an atmosphere of gratitude in your home.

Aerial Pumpkin Table

1.  Create a Space for Thankfulness | DIY Thank You Bank

Make room for teaching gratitude in your home by putting a jar in a high traffic area as a constant reminder to be kind and grateful.

Gratitude Jar

2.  Create a Habit of Gratitude | Family Gratitude Jar

Focus on gratitude daily by putting a gratitude jar on the kitchen table and writing down your highs of the day. It’s great reading material later.

GratitudePinterest

3.  Create a Place for Appreciation |Printable Thank You Notes

Keep a stack of cute thank you notes in an obvious place and take time to write them to people in your lives.

printable thank you notes

4.  Create an Opportunity for Perspective

Sponsor a child and display their photo on your refrigerator.Frame a picture of a child and pray for them as a family.  Fill a shoebox for a child through Operation Christmas Child. This practical, tangible way to give will start a great conversation.  Sometimes it’s just the reminder we need to give us perspective. You won’t just be helping a child in need, you’ll be helping your own.

Operation Christmas Child

5.  Create Room for Reflection |Faith-Based Books on Thankfulness

Ages 2-5 The Blessings Jar: A Story About Being Thankful by Colleen Coble *affiliate link

The Blessings Jar

Ages 6-10 |Every Day a Blessing: A Year of God’s Love (one year of devotions on gratitude) *affiliate link

Every Day A Blessing

Ages tween-teen | Make Every Day Count – Teen Editionby Max Lucado *affiliate link

Make Every Day Count

6.  Create an Environment for Gratitude | A Thankful Heart Activity

Sometimes the best way to teach thankfulness is to exercise thanks giving.

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7.   Create an Example of Thanks

Without a doubt, the best way to teach gratitude is to consistently give thanks in front of your kids. Let them catch you writing thank you notes to friends, adding your blessings to a jar or journal. In the classroom of gratitude, there is no greater teach than you.

Be the example

8.  Create a Memory of  Gratitude | Thanksgiving Time Capsule

It’s too easy to forget the simple daily gifts in our lives. Write them down.

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9. Create a Viral Thanks Giving Lifesyle |Random Acts of Kindness

Gratitude is contagious. When you give thanks to others and show kindness to someone, the natural response is to pass it on.

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10. Create Time for Service | 100+ Ways to Make a Difference As a Family

Gratitude is born in service to others. We were created to share what we have-whether time or money or both. Nothing creates a grateful heart like doing something for someone else.

The Life-Changing Price of Gratitude

The musty room was stifling, a mixture of sweaty bodies and uncirculated air. I could hardly breathe.

The women were waiting their turn patiently, but the line was out the door. They pressed in closely towards the back of the room where we were buying.

It was Friday.

We were purchasing (super cute) items for our upcoming December Fair Trade Friday boxes (we provide the supplies for free for those who attend classes). My friend Taylor and I always carefully calculate how much money to bring so we can buy something from every lady in the room. There are now 65 ladies in our class, so it’s a lot of math. And even more money.

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Once we get thru the line, the room fills up again and the women hold up their creations and Taylor buys items for the The Refugee Project Store. And no matter how well we plan, we always run out of money. The women bring bags of beautiful items and are eager to sell so they can buy necessities like diapers and toilet paper for their families since most of their factory incomes go towards government housing.

I finally opened a window to let the breeze in and I took a deep breath. The money bag was nearly empty and there were still more than ten ladies in line, mostly women from Burma. I quickly did some figuring and realized for the first time since we started this class almost a year ago, we would run out of money before we were able to buy something from everyone. There is a lot of racial division in the class among the different people groups and I knew this wouldn’t help. Taylor and I looked at each other and tried to figure out what went wrong with our calculations. We asked the remaining women to wait on one side of the room, while the other side filled up with women who wanted to sell extra things they had brought.

The language barrier is huge and it’s hard to explain that you have enough for some and not for others.

We didn’t have time to get to a bank and we still needed $220 to buy from those still in line.

It was tense.

We asked the volunteers with us if they had money and we collected $222 from those serving in the room. I took a deep sigh of relief when we paid the last lady –with $2 to spare.

Taylor wouldn’t be able to buy extra items and so we told the group of ladies with all their gorgeous scarves and practical dish cloths we were out of money and encouraged them to bring their stuff back to the next class.  By that point, I had a splitting headache and Taylor was crying.

Because changing the world for another person is a hard kind of beautiful. And some days the burden is overwhelming.

This is an Art Business Class. It’s an opportunity for refugee women to learn a skill for free and earn a little extra money. It’s education and business.

It’s also community. And most importantly, it’s an entry point for The Gospel. And we are beginning to see some beautiful testimonies of that.

But something unexpected happened in that stuffy room last Friday.

Usually at the end of the class, when we are out of money, everyone says their goodbyes.

But many of the refugee ladies sensed our stress, saw our tears, and watched us borrow money from our friends. And they responded. Not as customers or students, but as sisters.

One by one, the women took the beautiful scarves out of their bags and walked up to each of us–and placed them around our necks and hugged us, faces shining.

They had purchased the yarn and supplies with their own money and instead of waiting the next week to sell their creations, they turned them into gifts.

Multiple language barriers, racism, economic divides and am empty bank bag can’t stop gratitude.

Taylor asked me later, “Do you think the women know that my husband and I spend hours each week winding yarn balls and selling their products? Do you think the young moms in Kenya and all the women empowered through Fair Trade Friday know how hard you and your volunteerswork?”

Probably not, I said.  God knows and that’s what matters.

But with a lovely new scarf around my neck, I think I will change my answer.

Serving cost us something.

But the life-changing price of gratitude is worth it.

And even though none of us left with extra money that day, we were all a little richer.