Thursday, April 28, 2011

Alternative Gifting-Share Your Story {Meet Sara S.}

What do the following have in common? Birthday parties, BBQs, weddings, vacationing at a friend's house, and graduations. If you guessed events that happen in the summer, you are correct. If you guessed events you are expected to buy a gift for, you are correct again.

In today's Share Your Story, we meet the author of Confessions of a Pastor's Wife, my friend, Sara. Sara's post reminds me of the many reasons I love Share Your Story. Read on to hear about some fun ideas and meet a new, bloggy friend.

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When I first agreed to write a piece about giving for Amy’s blog, the thought that went through my head was, “You hypocrite!” I have many good intentions when it comes to graciously giving, but they often seem to fall just short of action. However, just as I was thinking these thoughts, the following memory came to me…

It was shortly before Christmas. The air was cold, the skies were dreary and we were tired of being shut up inside. Opting for some indoor exercise, my husband and I loaded up our two boys and the strollers to drive the 30 miles to the mall for some window shopping and playtime. Hidden in the back of the mall was a delightful little play area for kids, complete with a clubhouse, slide and lots of things to climb and clamber on. My husband and I let the kids have at it while we sat back and shared a soda. I’m a big fan of people watching, and it came to my attention as I was looking around at the shoppers rushing by that the only people who truly seemed to be enjoying the mall experience were the people in the play area. Everyone else seemed to be so caught up in gift-buying that the joy of the holiday was lost. Smiling, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m so glad we aren’t Christmas shopping.”

You see, for the past five years, my husband and I have been participating in alternative gift-giving for Christmas and other holidays. Instead of spending tons of money on objects that mean very little, we try to find gifts that mean a great deal to others. For Christmas, we usually buy animals for Heifer International in honor of our families. We weren’t sure how our families would take it the first year, but they loved it. One year we gave our parents stuffed animals that represented the animals given in their name. My parents named their goat Pedro and found a little sombrero for his head. Pedro had a place of honor for quite awhile atop their fireplace mantle! This past year, I stole all of my mother’s recipes and made her a cookbook, filled with anecdotes surrounding the family favorite foods represented. We’ve given to Nothing but Nets for a high school graduation gift and I donated a flock of geese for a friend’s birthday who is absolutely terrified of the animal!

Our family has found that there is a lot of freedom in alternative gift giving—freedom from stressing over gifts, freedom from over-spending, freedom to truly celebrate, and freedom to truly show God’s love to a world in need. Jesus said to his disciples, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 I don’t know that I live this out everyday, but for me, alternative gift giving is a start in that direction.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

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Thanks, Sara. Comments are closed today in hopes that you take a minute and bounce over to Sara's to introduce yourself and read more of her work. Also, if you like the ideas Sara shared about alternative gifting, check out some of these sites:

Nothing But Nets, Gifts of Compassion,

Create My Cookbook, Heifer International

Happy gifting!

*Image credit.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Feeling Undone and Prayer


In the days to come, when your heart feels undone, may you always find an open hand. Deb Talan

Let’s pray for each other today.

Not the obligatory two sentence request, or the kind of prayer that smarty, Brother Lawrence, called “petty, everyday, and mechanical”, but real prayer.

Prayer that flows like a conversation with your best friend.

Prayer that rocks your small, but growing world.

Prayer that cultivates praise and comfort.

And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:7.

Me first: Please pray my courage outweighs my fear.

Now you. Really, go. I'm not a girl who flippantly throws out an "I'll pray for you". I'd love for you to share today.

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Linking with Jen at Finding Heaven and Michelle at Graceful.
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Paper Lanterns and Waiting for Perfect Conditions


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The instructions on the package didn't exactly encourage use.

Always have water or fire extinguishers handy, and wear gloves and fireproof clothes. Never use near airports, roads, dry standing crops, or in places where lantern could be interpreted as a distress signal. Make sure flight path is clear of trees, power lines, and buildings. Remember each lantern is a potential fire hazard, and has to land somewhere. Enjoy!

Enjoy?

We worried about all the objects the green, paper lantern could drift into: trees, homes, the near-by fire station. We worried the wind was too strong or maybe not strong enough, and were the manufacturers serious about fireproof clothing?

But finally, we released.

Over Interstate 55, the lantern climbed, wiggling and wobbling until the black sky gobbled it up.

Worry is powerful and perfect conditions rarely arise. The wind blows, but not always the right direction, and often we miss out because we chose to wait.

Today I think about the conditions we need in place before we act, even in small ways.

I waited two months to introduce myself to a new neighbor, a neighbor who mothered a child my own child’s age. I observed this little fact as I sped by her house daily. Busy, busy.

What about you? Is there something you want to do, but you are waiting for the perfect conditions to arise? Let's hear it!


Monday, April 18, 2011

Oh, I Heard. . .


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I stopped at a gas station on the edge of the Navajo reservation. For the first time in my life, I looked different than those around me, and I understood the word minority.

Whispering voices and tiny footsteps shuffled and followed me out of the building and towards my car. I looked over my shoulder and saw four, young boys.

One set of dirty sneakers kicked rocks. The others stood in a cluster. All stared at the ground.

“We heard you were coming.”

More rock kicking.

I nodded. I bet they heard. I heard about them too.

I heard many refused their culture and dismissed their history.

I heard their parents drank anything containing alcohol, even hairspray.

I heard little joy resounded in such an empty place.

I heard education held little value here.

“My mom bought me a shirt to wear on the first day. It says Reebok. You can see it at school.”

The rock kicking stopped as four sets of dark, brown eyes glanced up.

Could a thirty second conversation about a new Reebok shirt challenge everything I heard? Maybe now I would do more than hear. Maybe now I'd start to learn.

Have you ever been in the minority due to your race, gender, class, or religion? How did you feel? I'd love to hear about your experience.

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Today I'm joining others from The High Calling in a community writing project focused on crossing cultures. Click here to get the details, read some posts from writers you may not know, and oh, it's not too late to share your story!

Also, linking with the weekly Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Steak Knives and Ziploc Baggies


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I spy on them through the study window. Tiny, dirt-caked legs racing. They search for worms and rocks and treasures. One pantless and the other clothed in mismatched pajamas.

The tiny one carries a Ziploc baggy full of water, and the oldest totes a steak knife. Hmm. They place both objects on the red, lawn chair (whew!) and board the swings.

Little legs pump and loud voices screech out round after round of “Happy Birthday”.

Excellent song, even if your birthday is seven months away.

The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest. —Thomas More

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Celebrating the simple with Cheryl, and reminding myself to listen when I hear the good stuff with Michelle.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

One Summer I Stole Nine Bathing Suits

One summer I stole nine bathing suits. Swimwear proved easy to slip off hangers and shove in overstuffed shopping bags. I swiped swimsuits but refused to wear them. I deemed my thirteen-year-old body stick-figure-like, and the patterned beachwear lined my bottom dresser drawer.

Later, I decided if I was going to risk punishment, it should be for something I actually wanted. So, I stole jewelry, not fancy jewelry but plastic jewelry. However, instead of feeling sparkly, I felt cheap. No one really wants a green, rhinestone, studded bracelet, and I’m certain, no one wants five of them.

Tapes were next. Music moved me, and surely music would make me feel better. Into the bag went Poison, in went Great White, in went Cinderella, in went Rob Base. Out came nothing but more emptiness.

Objects glittered, but the more I crammed into the overflowing bags, the worse I felt.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed a quarter for a mall locker. My stolen goods were too heavy to lug. I locked up my loot and started again. I knew something was missing from my life, and maybe, if I continued my search, I might discover the mysterious key to teenage happiness.

Of course, I’ve changed since my long-ago thieving sprees, but how often do I wander about filling the hurt of my heart with meaningless stuff?

Today busyness, distractions, and indifference replace bathing suits, tapes, and bad jewelry. However, the theme of throwing stuff at hurt continues, and the idea of letting hurt sit scares me.

Instead of running to Him, I run, and I keep running until my muscles burn and sweat drips, and I’m hunched over sucking air.

Unable to take another step and exhausted, I lift my head.

And there He stands, arms outstretched, waiting to carry the junk that’s too heavy to lug around, and the stuff a mall locker just can’t hold.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Reasons to Blog


Why do I blog? Well, I blog because I read work that inspires.

"A story is told about a young boy who lived in a quiet village. On the edge of the village was a grassy knoll where the boy would go to sit, relax and look at a rock formation in the distance which strangely resembled an old man—complete with oversized nostrils and deep wrinkles around the eyes and lips. As the boy grew into a man, he often returned to sit and gaze at the rock carving. One day, while passing through the village, a tourist stopped and asked him, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look like the face on the side of the mountain? Whatever we love the most will eventually shape our lives. We become what we focus on."Margret Feinberg, Deeper Walk Newsletter, April 8, 2011.

I blog because I see art that moves me.

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"In our fast-paced, busy lives, sometimes it seems like there is no time to savor anything...relationships, art, beauty, God. But what if we made the time? What if we just decided, Today, I'm going to make it a point to stand at the well and drink. Not just a sip. I choose to drink until I can't fit any more water anywhere."Katie, author and artist of above mixed media from One Polka Dot Day.

I blog because I hear stories of hurt and healing.

I blog because I learn sleepovers can change a community.

And I decide art, inspiration, stories of strength and world-changing tweens are worthy reasons to stay in the blogosphere.

What about you? What keeps you blogging?

*Linking up with the girls at Finding Heaven.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Almost Sleepover and a Way Cool Idea

Think back to childhood slumber parties. Yes, think way back.

What stands out most about those glorious first nights away from home?

I remember an enormous amount of pop, late night movies, stories, secrets, and maybe a little sleep, but just a little.

I remember Geni Budden and I decided my parents may have forgotten to celebrate my birthday because I acted much more like a nine-year-old than an eight-year-old.

I remember Shaundra Sumpter and I played game after game of Go Fish on her canopy bed.

I remember Kristin Gilbert and I created dances and watched ourselves groove out in front of her full length, mirrored closet doors.

But serving others at slumber parties? Nope. I don’t remember that one.

USA Weekend ran a story today about two sisters, Addie and Delaney Kenney, who invited 38 of their closest friends to an almost sleepover—a party in which guests hang out and have fun, but don’t actually stay the night.

Admission to this night of giggles and treats? One new pair of pajamas to be donated to children at Life Haven, a temporary shelter for homeless pregnant women and women with young children in Connecticut.

In addition to donating 70 pairs of new pajamas, the girls also earned one of ten $10,000 Make A Difference Day Awards, in which they also donated to New Haven.

Amazed? Me too.

Click over to hear more from the Kenney sisters.

Click here to learn about this year's Almost Sleepover which is being celebrated in all 50 states on October 22, 2011.

As for me, I'm excited to say I just signed-up to host a party in North Carolina. Get your nail polish ready!

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Simplify by DeStuffing

Attention all treasures outgrown or unused: please find your way into the donation box.

I teach part-time. My husband works as guidance counselor at a public high school. My husband also works a second job. I tell you this so when I rattle off the following list, you won’t think the green stuff drips from our wallets.

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Electronic devices owned by my eight-year-old: 12

Baby dolls and stuffed animals lining my girls' room: 77

Board games stacked in our closet: 44

Pairs of shoes owned by yours truly: 35

Button-up shirts owned by the love of my life: 65

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The numbers make me dizzy, and honestly, the numbers embarrass me. Who needs this much?

But today we de-stuffed. We cleared. We cleaned out, and we committed to buy less.

As my family works on developing giving attitudes, we've started to evaluate the excess in our lives, how it made its way into our house, and what we want to do about it.

However, sometimes even small attempts to give away don't come easily, especially for my girl.

Let’s hear it, friends. When you look around your house, what do you see? How does your family battle excess in your home and life?

Joining Cheryl on her Simplifying Journey.


The Simplify Journey


Monday, April 4, 2011

Get That Shovel Away From Your Talents

Talent.

Long ago, a talent meant a unit of weight. Later, a talent constituted a group of coins worth more than a thousand dollars. Today, talent means ability.

Let’s get to the story.

Matthew 25:14-30

A master gave talents to three different servants, the cold, hard, moolah-kind-of-talents.

The first two servants doubled their talents and wisely invested what their master gave them. However, the third servant threw his talent in the ground and buried it.

Dig, dig, dig.

Plop.

Cover, cover, cover.

When the master returned, he celebrated the two servants who used their talents to create more, and the master gave those two servants wealth and responsibility. Then, the master condemned the third servant who foolishly buried the gift he received, and gave him a shove out the door.

Now, let’s discuss our talents, the ability-kind-of-talents.

You know what I’m talking about, the gifts that make you, well, you.

Are you gifted with people? Finances?

Are you an encourager? A dedicated petitioner of prayers?

Do you build relationships or do you build art?

And now the big question: Do you use the talents God gives you, or are you like that shovel-carrying third servant?

Linking up with the girls at Finding Heaven and Michelle at Graceful.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Get Your Dancing Shoes On, It's a Party!

Today I’m joining the Ultimate Blog Party 2011.

How do you participate? Tell about yourself and your blog.

About me first.

I am Amy, Amy Lauren, but my birth certificate says Amy Loraine, a mishap my parents find completely normal.

I moved constantly throughout my childhood, and today I fight the itch to pack-up and go.

I adore words, and they often fly around my head and clog up my heart.

I cherish the smell of my eight-year-old’s head, and I find it difficult to restrain from biting my two-year-old’s thighs.

I married my high school prom date, even though he showed up an hour and a half late for the dance.

I traded the Rocky Mountains for the Blue Ridge Mountains three years ago.

I sneak spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter from the jar when no one is looking.

I praise God for the Navajo medicine man He put in my life.

I struggle with being overly focused on me, me, me.

Now about my blog.

I write about my family’s attempt to notice the needs of others more, want less, and find God-sized ways to give in the everyday.

I am thrilled you found yourself here today.


Ultimate Blog Party 2011

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Do You Have Plans This Weekend?



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Are April showers or snow (eek!) making it difficult for your family to get outdoors this weekend?

Why not try one of these at-home, service ideas?

Paper cranes. When I told you two weeks ago about creating paper cranes to raise money for reconstruction efforts in Japan, I thought it was a great idea, but I hadn’t exactly tried it. Since that time, Students Rebuild has raised over $53,000, and I have created cranes. Try a little origami this weekend with your kids and raise money and awareness. Unsure how all those tiny, little folds produce a bird? Watch the video.

Make A Child Smile. This is a fave. Make A Child Smile features kids with life threatening illnesses and asks strangers to send them encouraging cards. Click over and read accounts of strength and courage, and then create a card of support.

Thanks for reading, sharing, and creating a community here. You are appreciated!

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