4 Relationships Every Child Needs

He was about the size of my 7-month-old son, but my Food for the Hungry guide told me he was a 5-year-old. His engaging smile drew me in to his shy handshake. He curled into a laughing ball as the orphanage director tickled him. I thought his contagious giggle must have resembled the singing of God’s angels in heaven.

Then I learned he would soon die from an incurable lung infection. He had contracted the disease on a desperate trek across a Somali desert in search for food. His parents didn’t survive the trip.

That moment—my heart broken and my understanding of the world turned upside down—forever changed me. I wanted to fix my new friend. My guide told me to let go, return home and encourage Americans to help others like him by funding projects and sponsoring children.

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Food for the Hungry empowers some of the world’s most vulnerable mothers to better care for their children’s physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional needs.

In that short encounter, God began using Food for the Hungry to teach me (and, ultimately, my son) that poverty—whether physical, spiritual, emotional or intellectual—is caused by broken relationships in four areas. No human is whole without these potent bonds, so it’s important that we parents help our children develop them. Here are some ideas about how you can nurture them in your children. [Tweet this]

1 – Model a healthy relationship with God.

People who are poor in spirit usually will be poor in other ways. God designed the relationship with Him to be our most important link.

Deuteronomy 6 and 11 tell us to love the Lord, obey his commands and teach our children about His teachings by: “Talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
Tell your kids that God made all of creation. Talk about His beneficial instructions for staying healthy–and model that behavior in your own life. Help them notice and appreciate how God has blessed them. Let them see you studying the Bible, praying, journaling, appropriately confessing your sins.

2 – Show your children how to love and respect others.

Caring people often exude generosity and compassion.

Romans 12:10 says to: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

The American culture has moved away from this teaching, evidenced daily on television sitcoms and news stories. As a parent, you can counteract negative cultural teachings by insisting that your children follow your lead in your behavior toward others.

Don’t allow your children to insult others, teach them about the power of their words, recognize and praise the people around you for how God has made them without suggesting that one person is better than another. Teach your children to manage conflict and give kudos for positive conduct.

3 – Teach your children to care for God’s creation.

People exhibit biblical stewardship when they correctly care for wildlife and the environment.

The book of Genesis tells us that God put humans in charge of caring for creation. Yet, the soil in many areas of the world is so depleted that it no longer can produce nutritious crops. Water is so polluted that it makes children sick.

Teach your children that God created everything and manifests through all of creation. Get them used to being around and properly treating animals. Model biblical stewardship by picking up trash and conserving water. Take your children along when you recycle harmful chemicals—unused medications and used engine oil, for example—at appropriate facilities.

4 – Create an atmosphere where self-confidence can flourish.

A child with a healthy self-esteem is less likely to fall victim to cultural lies. Children gain self-esteem by knowing they are made in God’s image and individually loved and respected by Him and you.

In his book, Have a New Kid by Friday, noted psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman outlined the ABCs of cultivating a healthy self-esteem in children: Acceptance (listen and ask questions to show you care about their interests and concerns rather than criticizing), Belonging (allowing them to take part in decisions, supporting their involvement in activities such as sports and music) and Competence (resist the urge to be over protective or do things that children can do themselves).

foodforthe hungry2Food for the Hungry has seen the profound impact of people reconciling these four relationships. Whether you live in a Nairobi slum, a Beverly Hills mansion or a middle-class neighborhood anywhere, we want to help you bring these connections into harmony in your life, to equip you to better instruct and nurture your children. We’ve created a free Bible study to get you started. You can use it in a group or on your own. Download 4 Relationships That Will Make You Whole right now. [Tweet this]

Download the Bible Study Now!

Karen Randau works at Food for the Hungry is Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion is to help the world’s most vulnerable children to thrive and reach the potential that God designed for them. Her Africa encounter set her on a path to raising a generous and caring son, who is now a young father.

Thanks to Food for the Hungry for partnering to share this post with my community.

Why We Need Rest & Solitude {And What That Looks Like For Me}

“Solitude and stillness create space for the spirit of God to speak.”

As soon as my pastor said the words, I started squirming.

I’m terrible at resting, being still and seeking solitude. I like to go and do, rather than stay and be.

I’m an expert multi-tasker and I tend to overload my plate. Most days I rock my To Do List but it’s totally the boss of me. I tend to run on less than half a tank and I feel weary often.

Yeah, so resting makes me restless.

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Yet something about his words made me long for quiet and solitude. And I kept feeling pulled toward the small inner voice saying, “Come to me, you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Because doers can only do so much.

He went on to talk about Jesus’ need for solitude, so much so that he separated himself and spent time alone with His Father. And if the Son of Man needed to create this space, how much more do we?

I took a good long look at my life and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d rested well, completely unplugged from the noise and got alone for hours–days–just me and Jesus. It’s time most of us can’t afford, but if I’m honest with myself, I know this is mostly an excuse. If I can squeeze in a girl’s weekend once a year, I can surely make time to be alone a couple of days with God.

By that point during the sermon, I was begging for a quiet corner to confess. Why is it that we think we can give to others without first receiving what is freely given to us?

se, I have to be still and quiet.

Before I made it to the car that Sunday afternoon, I answered that email and said, “Please, let me come and rest.” Honestly, three days alone on a solitude retreat intimidates me. But it also excites me. I can’t wait to create the space for God to renew and speak to my soul.

How are you resting? Do you carve out times of solitude to be alone with God?

Continue reading over at (in)courage. . .

Longing For Paris

December 2013: Our family was on the way home from working in Kenya and we had a short layover in Paris. I will never forget walking up the steps from the underground train, icy winter wind hitting our jet-lagged faces and getting that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. My entire family gasped. It was magical. 

And it was as romantic as it could be–with three kids arguing over who got to hold the mini Eiffel Tower replica we’d bought off a street vendor. Sometimes we don’t realize the real thing is right in front of us. Life is a lot like this…we dream about something we don’t have when something better is right in front of us. I think that’s why I love Sarah’s Mae’s new book, Longing for Paris so much. I know you will, too.

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Guest Post By Sarah Mae

We all know that Paris holds the title for most romantic city in the world.

But, for me, in the fall of 2002, State College, Pennsylvania, had the chance to take the title when a very romantic almost-first kiss happened with my now husband.

It was a rainy day. We were at Penn State University’s Movin’ On festival on the HUB lawn. Mud was everywhere. Jesse, my “we’re-not-dating-we’re-just-friends-but-we-like- each-other” guy was visiting, and we just “so happened” to run into each other. We also happened to spend the whole afternoon together, listening to the different bands, sumo wrestling in inflatable costumes, jousting on a balance beam, and running around in the mud, as college students do. At one point during our running and flirting, I slipped and fell down, and he fell right on top of me.

My back was in the mud, and we were face-to-face. Our eyes were locked on each other, until he broke the stare and looked at my lips.

Here it comes; he’s going to kiss me.

Suddenly, he got up. He chickened out! Can you believe it? It would have been a perfect first kiss. Instead he helped me up, awkwardness ensued, and we said our good-byes. I had to be somewhere that evening, but we promised we would try to catch up after. You know, as just-friends do.

To this day my husband and I still laugh about that moment and our almost-first kiss. But he says he didn’t make the move because we weren’t dating, and we were supposed to be praying about whether or not to date. We decided to wait on dating.

A year later we were married.

And then we almost got divorced.

I kid. Mostly.
We made the mistake of driving from Pennsylvania to

Florida for our honeymoon. (I was afraid to fly because of 9/11 so I insisted that we drive.) My advice now? NEVER EVER attempt this when you’re newly married.

Our first year in one word? Rough. So rough that on our first wedding anniversary, I wanted to do something special to make up for our hard times. Jesse was due home from work at five o’clock, so I prepared a candlelit dinner. I also donned my wedding dress as an added surprise. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t zip it up.) Jesse was delayed at work for hours, so when he finally walked in the door, the candles had burned down to nubs. But when he saw me in my dress (I was facing him in order to hide the zipper problem), he fell to his knees and began to cry.

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“You really love me?” he asked.
“Of course I do!”

He didn’t know.

He thought that because I was such a wretch much of that first year that I didn’t love him.
 Oh, but I did. It was a tough road in the years ahead, because marriage is this constant working out of two people coming together and figuring out how to stretch into this thing called love that isn’t always romantic or happy or good. After three babies and the stuff of life, I felt like it was just too much.

Seven years in, I was done. I actually cried on the floor of my mother-in-law’s laundry room telling her I couldn’t do it anymore. She just listened and was so kind to me, saying she understood.

Bottom line? Marriage is hard. I mean, it’s two sinners trying to walk through life together while occupying a shared space, where you have to see the other person every day. Even when you don’t want to.

I always tell my kids, “Listen. You guys have to learn how to love each other because when you get married, at some point, your husband or wife is going to annoy you just like your brothers and sisters do now. And you’re going to have to learn how to love and be kind and be friends with that person. Even though you didn’t choose your siblings and you probably will choose your husband or wife, it doesn’t matter. Everybody has quirks. Everybody has sin issues. Living with another human is hard. Period.”

Sibling relationships, if stewarded toward love and friendship and grace, are such good preparation for marriage.

I’ve learned over the years that if hearts are tender, there’s a settling in. My settling in with Jesse came at ten years. It came with an understanding of who we were, loads of grace in the midst of struggle so that shame and darkness didn’t own us, letting go of outside pressure about what our marriage should look like, super honest discussions about hard things, and late nights with barbecued wings and a good movie. These are the keys that have helped Jesse and me get to where we are now—heading into our twelfth year together.

And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

The other night my husband came home late from work. I was tired and the kids were sick, but I thought, It’s a moment. I played a love song, and I walked over to him and snuck into his chest. He took my hand in his, put his arm around my waist, and we danced.

The kids giggled and tried to break in, but we just stead- ied ourselves together.

Later that night we argued about something, and life moved past the romance, but for that moment we brought Paris into our living room. And it was tender and lovely.

Paris is in the details. Taking my husband’s hand when I could easily just be content without touching him. Choosing to kiss him a little longer than usual. Playing footsie with him at the movie theater or at dinner. Savoring the food when we’re out, and laughing just a little too loud at his jokes. Letting him know that even though life and marriage can be frustrating as anything, it is still ours, and that matters.

Paris is taking the time to let imperfect love still matter. And when every walk, every dance, every hand-hold, every kiss, every footsie, and every bite of delectable food, just as we do at home. Yeah, it’s ugly sometimes in my house, and I’m selfish, and stretching into love with a sinner you have to sleep next to is such a crazy, ridiculous thing. But that crazy thing is God’s idea, and so it matters.
 So we celebrate.
We dance.
 And once in a while, we even let the kids break in.

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This is an excerpt from Sarah Mae’s new book, Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Beauty, Joy, and Adventure…Right Where She is.

 

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5 Ways To Change America From The Dinner Table

We were on the 3rd hour of the trip and somehow the youngest convinced the other two to watch a scratched version of Shrek the Third on the DVD player in the backseat.

As we drove, my husband looked over at me and said, “Why do we own this movie?”

I shrugged and pointed to the old album of discs we keep in the car for moments of travel desperation.

At one point, I guess we were both tuning in because we heard our soon-to-be third grader ask why one of the princesses was a man dressed like a woman with heavy stubble.

“Because someone thought it would be funny,” a sibling answered.

Subtle, Hollywood.

Terrell and I talked about the way kids movies, TV shows and teen books are filled with innuendoes, edgy subject matter and an obvious effort to normalize alternative lifestyles to the next generation.

“It’s easy to ignore, laugh or shrug it off, but we need to point this desensitizing out to our kids when we see or hear it. And turn it off,” he said.

It’s part of teaching our kids what we believe is right and wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I cringe at the world I’m raising my kids in.  My online feed is a battleground of opinion and the daily news is like a horror show.

It’s not just that our culture vies for an anthing-goes-lifestyle, it’s that we don’t understand the value of life. We live in a world where a lion’s death trumps a human’s life. We live in a world where the senseless death of an animal causes more outcry than the brutal dismembering and selling of unborn babies.

Yes, both are wrong, but one we abhor, and the other we make possible through legislation.

Recently, I ran across an old quote from my favorite President and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head:

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I’m not political. I don’t jump on every bandwagon or issue.  I don’t engage on Facebook when someone says something I don’t agree with and I honestly try not to jump into controversy (although occasionally I stumble into it here). I’m a wife and mom and writer and most days between those big jobs and saying yes to God, there’s not much left when I fall into bed.

But I can see that America is changing. And I can see that American needs to change.

And I have to agree with The Gipper-great change for our country starts in the center of our home at the table.

It’s the place we communicate with one another, care about each other, celebrate and challenge each other. The table is the place we teach our children right from wrong, it’s our lectern. It brings us together, so together we can change the world.

When we intentionally tackle tough issues, cultural shifts and trends, and communicate truth to our kids over a meal, we are giving them something secure to come home to in a world that is balancing precariously on a sandy foundation.

When we turn our table into a tool, our home becomes a classroom, and our children world changers.

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5 Ways to Change America From the Dinner Table:

1. The Table Creates a Healthier Family  | It might sound too simple, but simply having dinner together makes an impact on the family and eventually the world. It’s far too easy to let the busyness of schedules, sports, school and society interrupt dinner. Research shows the long term emotional and educational benefits to families is monumental. It’s the best time to connect and communicate, to check-in with each other. There are countless health benefits of eating dinner together, but the “parental engagement fostered at the dinner table can be a simple, effective tool to help prevent bad choices and addictions later,” research says. So, basically, we are better when we eat dinner together.

2. The Table is Where We Break Open Both Kinds of Bread | Food is a great opportunity to introduce culture and new countries to our family. What better way to learn about oppressed people groups or impoverished areas or intriguing cultures than by getting a small taste of how other people eat and maybe live? Food opens the door to the rest of the world and makes room for perspective, one of the best gifts we can offer our family. Our dinner table can become a pulpit where we open God’s Word and compare and contrast and consider truth with a verse here and Bible story there. It’s not about quantity (and with kids, it’s often not about quality), it’s about consistency. Breaking Holy Bread at the table is a significant way to say to our children–this matters as much as eating. It’s imperfect and messy, and it’s important. It’s life.

3. The Table is Where We Talk About Current Issues (or the latest kid’s movie) | Gathering around the table affords us the chance to talk. Sometimes it’s goofy and silly and seemingly insignificant. (Don’t believe that.) But some nights, it’s family communion where we connect with each other and God on a deep level. When we make this time a priority, we make room for this to happen. Talking about our day at school and work one day leads into praying about the bully on the playground and the stress of a tough boss on another.  When we linger at the table and lay our thoughts and opinions on it, it becomes the perfect place to talk about what’s going on in our world.

4. The Table is Where We Teach Absolute Truth | Truth has become a bad word in our culture where nothing is absolute and standards are doubled and everything is subjective.  Murder is okay inside the womb, but not out. We have freedom to live however we want, unless our religious convictions make someone uncomfortable.  “God’s word is truth.” (John 17:17) If we explain to our children what the Bible says about right from wrong, we are teaching them truth that doesn’t change.

5. The Table is Where We Learn to Love | The table is where we model manners to our children. It’s where we teach babies basic communication and toddlers courtesy. The table is a place of comfort with favorite foods that remind us of home and fond memories we carry with us as adults. It’s the place we learn to take care of and love other people.  When absolute truth is taught and love isn’t, judgmental and pious Christians are fostered. But when we teach and exemplify love of God and others (especially to those we don’t agree with), over our own opinions and desires, we raise kids who change the world.

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When God Makes Us Uncomfortable (It’s Often To Bring Others Comfort )

My husband spent 11 years in a job he sometimes hated.

During those long years, we constantly reminded ourselves to choose joy! to be grateful! to love what we’d be given!

But working to live instead of living to work can be draining.

Especially when you dream of doing something that matters.

We had countless conversations about his sweet spot–that place where passions and skills collide (you know, once we crossed Nascar Driver off the list.) The same words surfaced again and again in our long talks–words like helping people, traveling, discipleship, serving others. We had a big picture dream without a map to get there.

But he kept on doing the last thing God told him to. . . which brings us back to that job.

I’ve always marveled at my husband’s patience. Because his faithful and often unfulfilling work all those years not only provided for our family, but created space for me to pursue life-giving work through writing that resulted in starting Mercy House.

Sometimes it’s hard to see where the road is leading. But God still leads us into the unknown.

God rarely does things the way we think he should.

God is doing something important in us

While we’re waiting to do something important, God is doing something important in us.

He is refining us. He is making us uncomfortable. Dependent. He is revealing His strength in our weakness.

It’s a truth that’s hard to grasp in the middle of the waiting. But it’s truth our heart needs to hear.

Most of Jesus’ life was spent doing what he wasn’t sent to do. He was preparing Himself. And if Jesus needed time to prepare, we do, too.

Story after story in the Bible reminds us how God impositioned his people, only to position them. He made Joseph uncomfortable in a prison to position him on a throne. He made Daniel lion’s food, only to proclaim His glory in the fire. He made Esther prepare her body and heart to be queen, only to position her to save an oppressed people.

And He will do the same with you.

Because it very well might be that the job you hate or the one you can’t find is part of His great plan for your life. He may just use your discomfort to comfort others.

God often impositions us in our work, our health, our lives because he is preparing us to position us to reveal His glory.

I will never forget the day, my husband and I said the words outloud, the dreaming kind that make your heart pound. “What if somehow God made a way for me to quit my job and lead Mercy House?” I cried at his audacity because the weight of the burden was crushing me. We asked it and then we waited a long time for the answer.

It came nearly a year ago, when my husband left his well-paying, tenured position to travel, disciple, and help people in our work to remind women around the world God has not forgotten them.

Don’t think for a minute He has forgotten you either.

We can see now that all those years of being uncomfortable were making a way for us to comfort women around the world.

That uncomfortable place you’re in today? Offer it to Him. Ask God to use it for the comfort of others, for His glory.

He doesn’t waste anything. Even our discomfort.

When We Can Call Our Pain A Gift

When I got my husband’s text, I was walking thru a store and I stopped right there in the middle of the aisle and gripped the shopping cart for balance.

His caption under the picture of a dear friend we love, read, “this makes me so sad.”

It took me a second to recognize our emaciated friend in the picture. Cancer had literally changed the way he looked in just a matter of weeks.

Oh, God.

I thought of the ongoing pain his family is enduring and the fresh pain my 13 year old son would experience when he saw the picture of his mentor and hero.

And then I thought of this dear man’s strong character, unshakable faith, and death-defying love of God and others that has shined Jesus even in the worst times.

Pain. Sorrow. Joy. Healing. All mingled and mixed in our lives. We know one because of the other.

My thoughts turned to the 25th miracle baby- born against all odds- this month in Kenya.

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Margaret’s story is like so many other impoverished girls in Africa. She’s just a little girl- a pastor’s daughter, living in a remote village, in a mud one-room home with a thatched roof with her siblings.  She suffered at the hands of an abuser and got pregnant against her will. She has known more physical and emotional pain in her short life than most of us can imagine.

When we started Mercy House in 2010, we wanted to help oppressed pregnant girls. We had no idea what that would mean or where it would take us. We had no idea how hard or how amazing the journey would be.

We had no idea that the world’s pain would become our own.

When Margaret delivered her son, conceived in heartache, to this brutiful world a few weeks ago, she named him Gift.

I had to read the email message from Kenya twice to grasp it. Because if anything shows us what God can do-it’s this: He turns our brokenness into joy and makes it possible for us to name our pain a gift.

That’s when we know that our sorrow, our grief, our unknown, even our pain, can glorify God.

That’s when we’re reminded that if anything good is seen in us or happens through us, it’s because of God.

That’s when we know that our lives–how we live, how we die, and how we love people in-between– is an act of worship to God.

Nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.

He redeems it all.

Even our pain.

He makes joy, even in our deepest sorrow, our strength. And His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Standing in the store, I whispered another prayer of miraculous healing for our friend. I blinked back tears and reminded myself that God can still do the impossible, the improbable.

And when I looked closer at the picture of a man our family loves withering away in a hospital bed, it wasn’t pain I saw etched in his thin face.

It was joy.

How to Wake Up From The American Dream

You don’t always know you’re asleep—until you wake up.

And then you see the world in a completely new way.

Two years after that first life-changing trip to Kenya, I brought Maureen, Compassion-sponsored-child-turned- fearless-Kenyan-leader who rescues girls from unthinkable situations to America for strategic planning and fundraising.

I will never forget the moment we pulled into the driveway of my nice two-story brick house and I saw my home from her perspective.

I will never forget the first question she asked as the garage door opened and she got a first look at my life in America.

“Oh, do you also sell bikes?” she asked innocently after seeing the five bikes hanging from my garage for my family of five.

Y’all.

Waking up from the American Dream

That one question has haunted me.

Because sometimes we don’t always see how much we have until someone who doesn’t have as much sees into our lives.

Do we sell bicycles? Because there isn’t another reason why we would HAVE SO MANY if not. Because in her country one bike is a luxury. One bike is shared by dozens. Five bikes is a bike store.

But I think we all know this isn’t really about bikes. It’s not even about wealth and the world’s poverty.

It’s about waking up from a dream that is never satisfied. About being grateful for what we have and about sharing some of it with others.

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Hey.

I know it’s not easy to talk about waking up from the American Dream. I know reading this might be uncomfortable. I understand it’s more fun to read new recipes or how to’s on rearranging furniture or encouraging mom words.

I get that. I know clicking here requires something of you. I know buying my book about trading in safe comfortable faith for something more authentic and dangerous will cost you more than the $12 price tag.

I know because waking up has been hard for me. I still struggle.

I like the idea of the . A·mer·i·can dream

-the idea that everyone in the United States has the chance to achieve success and prosperity

What could possibly be wrong with wanting success and prosperity? We all deserve it, right? We are entitled to it.

No.

It doesn’t take more than a long look at how 3/4 of the world lives to realize, we are not the norm and the only real difference between the poorest of the poor and the guy driving the $100,000 car is where they were born.

“I think with the way we have unprecedented material blessing, with the way we have a culture built on self, self-esteem, self-confidence. All of these things we begin to twist the gospel into something that it is not. We make it look like us and fit into our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to the gospel. In the process we make following Jesus more American than it is biblical. As a result there seems to be a major disconnect between what it means to follow Christ in the first century and what it means to follow Christ in our definition in the 21st century,” David Platt.

To be honest, for every yes I’ve said, there have been at least a hundred reasons to say no.

It is too risky.

What will people think?

I like living this way.

I deserve nice things.

I’ll give to someone in need as soon as I finish building my dream home.

“Believing in the Jesus of the Bible makes life risky on a lot of levels because it is absolute surrender of every decision we make, every dollar we spend, our lives belong to another. And so that is relinquishing control in a culture that prioritizes control and doing what you need to do in order to advance yourself.  The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ,” David Platt.

So, how do we wake up from the American Dream? I often feel myself being lulled back to sleep by it.

  • We stop comparing ourselves to other people. I often don’t know I want something until I see someone else enjoying it. If I’m going to compare myself to someone who has something I don’t, then I also must compare myself to someone who has less than I have.
  • We commit to doing what God tells us to–when He says it. That prompting to give isn’t from you. It goes against our nature to take care of someone else’s needs before meeting our wants.
  • We become wildly generous. Give your life away. It’s easy to give when we have a lot. But when we give and it costs us something–that is true generosity. I’ll say it again: There is nothing more gratifying than giving someone something they need instead of buying something we want.

A generous person is always ready to spontaneously give to those in need. It’s usually inconvenient and unplanned. It will probably cost us comfort, even pride. It won’t be easy or bring us fame.

This is Christianity.

It’s easier to keep sleeping. Living different than the world will cost us something.

But my life is proof that waking up is an open door to living wide awake. And that’s so much better than a dream.

 

edited repost

Maybe We Are Just Spoiled

We stood in the hair care aisle and her eyes were as big as the moon.

“Go ahead, choose one,” I urged her.

She stood still- looking half afraid, half helpless. I put my hand on her shoulder and urged her to choose a shampoo.

I had mistaken bewilderment for humility.

My friend visiting America for the first time whispered with tears in her eyes, “There are so many bottles…and so many choices.”

I was ashamed of my ignorance. She was overwhelmed by the opportunity to choose.

We were standing in the first Walmart she had ever visited. I brought her there to bless her, but in my haste, I didn’t prepare her.

“Americans have so many things,” she said. “But it’s the freedom to choose I would cherish the most.”

Her words felt like a stone around my neck. For the first time, I saw the rows and rows of conditioners, sprays and creams through the eyes of someone being exposed to our first world. There are 20 brands of toothpaste, toilet paper and tissues and the freedom to choose whichever we want.

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I’ve taken this experience with me into every country and culture I’ve visited. When I help an artisan group create a fair trade product or choose a color for a fabric, I think of this story. And I try to explain what they are up against. “You see, in America, women have so many choices of earrings and tablecloths and headbands and necklaces. They can choose from an entire room of throw pillows in a hundred different colors. We have a lot of choices and so we have to create something they will buy.” And every time I say these words, and watch minds try to comprehend what I’m saying, I’m embarrassed by all we have and all we take for granted.

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Maybe we are just spoiled, the words tumble around in my mind.

It’s hard to explain freedom of choice when you have no choice at all.

It’s hard to explain picky shoppers to someone who doesn’t have enough food for their family.

It’s hard to imagine someone crying because there are so many shampoos to choose from.

Maybe that’s why when I see an email complaining about the color of a product from The Mercy Shop, I am irritated. Maybe that’s why it bothers me when someone cancels their Fair Trade Friday membership because they can’t choose what goes into their box each month. Or they don’t have anyone else to give the product away they don’t want or like…

But as soon as these emotions hit me, I’m that ignorant mom back in that hair care aisle at Walmart discovering that North Americans have the first world privilege of choice. Impoverished and marginalized women don’t.

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When we purchase something fairly traded, we trade our choice to give them a chance. More than anything, these marginalized women want us to love what they create. They want us to wear their story or give it away (if we don’t like the color). They are desperate for us to keep buying, to give them a second and third chance. They work hard, against all odds, to create beauty from nothing. They want us to look past a color that might not be our favorite or a style we might regift, and they want us to choose them. Because that’s really the gift we buy: hope.

In our culture, perspective is fleeting, while comfort and excess are much easier to cling to.   That’s why we have to work so hard to remember how the rest of the world lives.

And that’s why we have to look past the money we donate or the products we buy and remember there is a mom or dad or child, much like us, who doesn’t have the freedom to choose anything–including life.

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Yeah, so maybe we are spoiled. But we can’t stop buying and supporting women around the globe. That necklace we really don’t need and that scarf that isn’t our favorite color might just be food for another day for a family with no choice at all.

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