Archive | sacred life

how to be the fairest of them all

I open the box the mailman just delivered and begin to grin. I pull out a beautiful bronze necklace and hold it up for my sisters to see. I think it’s charming, so I plan tomorrow’s outfit around it. I wear my new necklace to the office, post it on Instagram. necklace from FTFThe jewelry, along with the tote bag, are all handmade by women in developing countries. They create these accessories as a way to support themselves and their families. In 2007, The Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the presence of over three million female sex workers in India. 35.47 of these “workers” are thought to enter the trade before the age of eighteen. An estimated 1.2 million children are kept as sex slaves in India, though all prostitution is technically illegal there. Dignified work is hard to come by.

New jewelry complements my nice outfit, including the t-shirt I bought at Forever21 before I knew that Forever21 knowingly uses slave labor to manufacture their merchandise. Something new to wear can make you feel like “the fairest of them all,” but when I look at the dimly-lit image of my torso, toting those three pendants, my heart begins to beat a little harder. I think of the tawny hands, pressing those clasps together. The pendant reminds me of coins dropping into a worn palm, being carried to the market to buy food for her babies, her elderly mother, herself.

Sam Levenson Quote

Fair Trade Friday isn’t a gimmick, because 100% of the profits go straight to the hands of the artisans. If you believe in teaching a man to fish, do you also believe in teaching a woman to sew? Most of these women do not have a man in their life to support them in anyway, some of them were sold as slaves as children, all of them face extreme sexual discrimination, and those are the girls who survive the “gendercide.”

I’ve talked before about what fair trade means to me, and I still lie awake at night, shaking my metaphorical fist in the air, complaining that “life is not fair!” But what is fair? Paying for what we’re getting is fair. Being paid for your work is fair. Being able to use your wages to support yourself and your family is fair. There is a great shadow over our planet, but there are sunspots on the path, little spots of hope, little spots of justice, little spots of fairness.

FTF club tags

My fair-skinned hands hold the same cords that were crafted in the hands of my Indian sisters, Hem Lata, Yogesh and Karma, and didn’t Solomon say that a threefold cord is not quickly broken? So how about you become part of the cord? The three folds can be you, the Fair Trade Friday Club and a hardworking woman across the ocean like Hem Lata, Yogesh or Karma.

Does that sound fair? 

The Fair Trade Friday Club exists to empower the women at Mercy House Kenya, as well as women in Ethiopia, Zambia, Costa Rica, India, Uganda, Rwanda, Honduras, Bangladesh, Haiti, Swaziland and Nicaragua. 

When someone says, “where is that necklace from?” we answer with the name of a store, and maybe a quick mention of what a great deal we got on it. But that’s not where your necklace is from. We’ve long-been wearing slavery around our necks, donning oppression and adorning ourselves with exploitation. We have bought the poor for a pair of sandals, not stopping to ask how those sandals could cost us so little. The truth is, we aren’t paying full price.

The single mom in India is paying your share. The nine-year-old slave in Bangladesh is paying your share. The woman with AIDS, the woman who is pregnant again because her customers refuse to use condoms, the woman who just buried her fifth child—she is paying your share, and that isn’t becoming. It doesn’t wear well. It doesn’t flatter.

It’s time we paid for our products. Next time you see a great deal, think of Proverbs 22:16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” And when you see the true price of the product you want to buy, don’t balk. Think about Proverbs 14:31, “But whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

A beautiful hand is one that reaches out and gives to the poor, a beautiful eye is one that sees the dignity in another, a beautiful body wears justice and the woman who doesn’t cheat and steal for the things she wears, she is the fairest of them all. 

Audrey Hepburn Quote

Would you consider partnering with us in this three-fold cord? The Fair Trade Friday Club is run by a handful of folks, so please forgive the fact that a waiting list is currently in use. Sign up now, and you’ll be notified when you can be accommodated. Also consider joining our Earring of the Month Club or donating to the empowering work being done at Mercy House Kenya

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in which I discover a super weapon against racism

While I’m voraciously reading about the Ferguson issue (and all the issues that have spawned from it,) Sam is reading To Kill a Mockingbird for school. The irony is a little much.

It’s his first time, so I try to warn him, but when he closes the book he says he still wasn’t prepared. And yet, he says it’s his favorite book he’s read for school so far. Considering the fact that he and three of our other siblings are black and my parents, four of our other siblings and I are white, race isn’t a topic that gets brought up too often at Eyrie Park. It’s become a bit of a nonissue because of the community we are a part of. When I say “school” I mean Classical Conversations, and our campus is about as diverse and accepting as they come. Our newest little sister would be “caucasian” on a census, but she comes from a country where she, as a Roma, was considered a racial minority among white people. As a matter of fact, Romas have been greatly discriminated against in Latvia and the “token” black person is usually met with a readymade fan base, they’re such a novelty!

My friend Diane is a white mom to black children. She recently shared a Youtube video with me of Jane Elliot’s “Angry Eyes” experiment conducted at a college. Basically, students are split into two groups, those with brown eyes and those with any other eye color. The brown-eyed students are instructed on how to treat the “blueys” when they enter the classroom. There is to be no respect toward them. They are to assume certain things about them and blame it on their eye color. The experiment is well worth watching (to the very end!) and left me with lots to think about. I found myself wondering how the experiment changed those particular students. Was that group more likely to marry outside of their race? Were they more understanding of others, even later in life?

Then I started thinking about my siblings and I. What sort of changes could we bring to the world based on our unique upbringing and family situation? Sam and I both get a little choked up talking about the last chapter of To Kill a Mockingbird. We feel mutual feelings about the ending. I get the sense we’re better prepared for a diverse world than the average teenager and twenty-something, but it’s not because of Harper Lee’s excellent novel. It’s not because we’ve had so many conversations about race. It’s because we live with each other, we’re used to each other and we love each other very much.

"love and diversity" two sisters walking to school

If we can be comfortable with each other in our own home, why couldn’t we be comfortable with…anyone?

I was recently in line for about four score and seven years at the utilities office. There were two ancient black ladies in line behind me and they shared their entire life stories with each other while they stood there. They never spoke to me and I never spoke to them. To be honest, we had little in common. They had both lost children to cancer. They went to the same church. They were about a hundred years older than me. And still, I had the urge to turn around and put my hands on their wrinkly arms and say, “Just so you know, I am not intimidated and I am not trying to intimidate you. I’m just a quiet person and I don’t need to butt into your conversation. But I’d be happy to talk to you. I actually love old black ladies.” You will all be happy to know that I did not say these things. There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to be seen as a lunatic.

The only time I’ve lived in a place where I was the minority was in Haiti. Though white people were seen as important, rich and arrogant, we were definitely judged but the color of skin. It was like we had a special place at the top of the food chain in their eyes and yet they weren’t afraid to mock us. I was often referred to as “ti blanc” (“little white,”) and gawked at. However, we literally lived at the orphanage. I had about ninety black friends all of the sudden (and zero white friends.) Though we were “missionaries” and they were “orphans,” I still got to experience being the odd one out. I remember keenly a time when I was about eleven, sitting on the cement playing “jacks” with little pieces of chicken bones with a large group of Haitian girls, thinking, “Wait, wasn’t there something different about y’all when I first came?” I could recollect the uncomfortable feeling of stepping out of the van and being a white girl surrounded by black people, but the feeling had gone away. I will never teach kids to be colorblind. It’s a silly concept born from white privilege that indicates we need to overlook something about black people in order to accept them. However, when you’re a kid, colorblindness (even to yourself) can sometimes occur naturally. It might have helped that I had no mirror and literally did not see my own white face for months at a time!

I tell these two stories to admit one thing: I have been ignorant. Jane Elliot said,

“White people’s number one freedom in the USA is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white… And our number two freedom is to deny that we’re ignorant.”

I do not have much experience with diversity or racism. Ninety percent of my friends are white. However, I have had the unique opportunity to grow up in a multi-racial family. Just as I wondered hopefully about those students in Jane Elliot’s experiment, I wonder about my siblings and I. Will we be the minority in the world by seeing everyone as truly equal? Will we be the ones who see color and don’t discriminate? You see, ending racism isn’t about stopping the hate (though that does indeed need to happen.) It’s very much about realizing how ignorant we are about other people and seeing ourselves as they see us. It’s very much about equal opportunity, not just to vote and work and run for offices, but to interact with folks of other races as we do with folks of our own race. For the white girl to sit next to the black girl at the dentist’s office. For the black guy to be able to ask the white girl out on a date without feeling like a joke. For children’s books featuring hispanic kids to not have to have their own section at the bookstore. For Asian actors to be the star in movies, not just a supporting role.

The reasons why many adopted kids are black and many adoptive parents are white are sad ones, which I won’t go into right now. But the power of this possibility is a strong one. As is the power of any other race combination, whether through adoption or marriage. The same power is possible for anyone who lives their day-to-day life with someone of another color. When we truly accept someone of another race without having to “overlook” our differences, but actually celebrate them, we create a super weapon against racism.

I used to think ignoring racism was the best way to snuff it out. There are definitely times when “disengagement” is the best policy. However, I’ve learned that racism isn’t a candle that merely needs the oxygen of conversation to live on. It’s a cancer that feeds on people’s minds. Now I realize that intentionality is necessary. I never thought I’d be quoting Chris Rock, but in a recent interview the comedian said something very poignant.

“But the thing is, we treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.”

Though I wouldn’t make Mr. Rock my role model, I agree with him on this point. Racism is an age-old problem, but that doesn’t make it “okay.” And his proposed solution isn’t a passive one. It cannot be passive because racism itself is not passive. It isn’t a fad. It’s not Kim Kardashian’s latest photo or Jennifer Lawrence’s latest tweet. It’s not something that will naturally blow over.

But with an unnatural intentionality, with a persistent effort, I believe in us. I believe we can do it. In your home, in your school, in your office. In your city, county, state and in the U.S.A. and then, perhaps, the world.

My newest little sister with the hazel eyes looks up at me and says, “If I marry a brown man, I gonna have brown babies?” I explain that her children would look a little like her and a little like him. “Oh, then I want to marry a brown man!” She exclaims. “I love it, brown people!”

 

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choosing to love {already}

ultrasound picture

Last Wednesday, my sister and her husband took my family and I completely by surprise and announced that they’re expecting their first child this summer! I was astonished that I hadn’t already caught on, seeing as they currently live with us and “sister vibes” are totally scientific. The family erupted in tears of joy, shouts of excitement, hugs and questions. It was a truly wonderful day.

I can hardly express how excited I am! For one thing, I get to become an aunt. It’s not every day you get a new title. I can’t wait to dote on a baby in our own family! I don’t remember any of  my siblings’ births (weird, right?) so I’m still intrigued by the process. I am also thrilled for the expectant parents who have wanted to start a family for a while now. When the baby is born, four people will become grandparents. Three people will become uncles and five people will become aunts. Two people will become parents. Wow.

It feels kind of crazy to already love the baby so much. I mean, Caitlin’s not even showing yet. Though I know the baby’s DNA is already determined, we don’t yet know it’s sex. We don’t know if he or she will have brown hair or blond…or red! We don’t know much about the baby at all. And yet I love it.

Funny thing is, there’s only one thing we can really know about Wee One: we will all love it and we will love it until it hurts. And he or she will hurt us. Will will call him or her “perfect,” but they will make mistakes. We talk about spoiling and coddling the baby-and we will!-but the baby will at some point fall and scrape a knee or bust a lip or make a choice that makes us cringe. We know that, and yet we choose to love. Already.

This morning while I read in The Book of James, something triggered a thought about an old friend. It hurts my heart to remember her because I thought I’d have her forever, but I don’t. I sometimes wonder if there a lot of people I was supposed to grieve for a long time ago, but moved on instead. Why do we have to lose people? Why do we all hurt each other so much? I ask God. For a moment, I don’t ever want to introduce myself to someone again. That could lead to a relationship and a relationship could lead to more pain.

There was the baby who was meant to be my sister and was taken way too early. My friend’s little one who never left the hospital. The painful memories and awful possibilities are endless. However, there is no doubt in my mind that love is worth it. That’s all I came here to say today. Whether your loving a person who hasn’t even been born or a child who was born to someone else and now needs you to parent them, LOVE. Whether it’s your spouse who isn’t quite as charming as the day you wed or the sister whose words sting worse than the words of an enemy ever could, LOVE. Whether they’re in a womb at 8 weeks old or on their deathbed at 104, today is a great day to start loving and never stopping.

That’s what God does for us, right? Loves us starting before time, knowing how much we will hurt Him, and prepares a place in eternity to continue loving, loving, loving us.

Come on, Wee One! We’re all ready to welcome you with open arms, no matter what you look like, no matter what you do. See you this summer!

-Aunt Everly

 

 

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7 Stories that Helped Me Relate to the Poor

EP 7 Stories

I am a very privileged person. Growing up, we may not have had everything we could’ve wanted, but we were never hungry or in need. Poverty was just something I read about in my many, many books. I recently had a conversation with my eleven-year-old sister about why certain people act the way they do. We talked about how much we have to be thankful for and how “hurting people hurt people.” We wound up referencing “The Hundred Dresses” by Eleanor Estes, a wonderful book about a little girl who wears the same dress to school every day, but claims quite brazenly that she has a hundred dresses at home. This gave me the idea for the post you’re reading. Which stories have helped me relate to and understand the poor? I’m sharing seven that come to mind.

1. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

This winner of the 1945 Newberry Honor is a timeless short chapter book for kids. It is one of those stories which perhaps couldn’t be written for adults, but is easily taken in by children. The story revolves around Polish immigrant, Wanda Petronski, who is ridiculed by her classmates for wearing the same faded blue dress to school every day. To avoid bullying, Wanda claims she has a hundred dresses at home. This story doesn’t not necessarily have a happy ending, but an important lesson is learned by the other girls in Wanda’s class and by generations of readers.

2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

After falling in love with the 2005 BBC miniseries, I read this novel during a road trip. Several years later, I still think back on it often. I never expected to find such themes of generosity, fair trading practices and social justice in a book written in 1855. The book itself is fascinating, romantic and well written, but the plight of the factory workers during England’s industrial revolution will stick with me forever.

3. A Christmas Carol (or anything by Charles Dickens!)

While Austen was writing about ballrooms and bustles, Dickens was writing about the grim and grimy lives of those below the poverty line. You’ll see yourself reflecting in the amazing characters in his novels and your heart will go out to every orphan, widow, drifter and pickpocket he concocts.

4. The Rich Family in Church a true story by Eddie Ogan

This story has had a great impact on me personally, ever since I read Eddie’s real-life account online. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this short tale will touch your heart. What happens when a widow and her teenage daughters try to raise money for a poor family in their church during The Great Depression? You’ll never forget it.

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Well, the reason this book taught me about poverty is probably that this book taught me about everything. I consider this to be my favorite fictional book of all time. The March family is struggling to make ends meet while Mr. March is serving in the Civil War, and yet they are remarkably and realistically generous. I just love it. It will make you want to give your butter away on Christmas. (The movie is also excellent.)

6. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Though I haven’t read the assumably wonderful book, I adore both the 1998 and 2012 film adaptations. In what I consider to be one of the most incredible stories ever written, you’ll follow the plights of the pure-hearted prostitute, the honest thief who has broken parole, the innocent daughter of swindlers, the once-rich rebel fighter who is willing to lose everything in the name of liberty and an orphan who, against all odds, becomes an heiress. Just. So. Good.

7. George Muller the true biography

A missionary to Bristol’s orphans, George Muller has taught me more about trusting God for financial provision than any other hero I’ve read about. I loved his biography by Janet and Geoff Benge, but I know his autobiography is said to be great as well. Don’t believe in miracles? Read this account.

What stories have impacted how you think about poverty?

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who is my neighbor?

"The Broken Pitcher" by William Adolphe Bouguereau (reimagined via picmonkey by everly pleasant)

“The Broken Pitcher” by William Adolphe Bouguereau (reimagined via picmonkey by everly pleasant)

She’s seven, she has brown eyes and blond hair and precocious mind. She’s been at my house all day, playing with Jubilee and eating fruit snacks and watching musicals and now it’s the worst part of the week. I tell her it’s time to go home and the whining starts. And then the tears. And then the clinging and the “I wish I could live with you forever.” Pulling into the trailer park, my stomach is in knots. I leave her with her grandmother until next week.

Clare* is hilarious, adorable and hungry for attention. She just so happens to be my neighbor, at least in a general sense. She and her guardian live five minutes away from us. She thinks my house is a mansion.

When I was a young teen, I invented a philosophy called The Roast Beef Life. The premise was a devotion to a full and rich life, no matter the cost. The metaphor was, to put it simply, never settle for a Happy Meal when you could go home and prepare a delicious roast beef dinner with just a little extra effort. I have been thinking about that lately because my life has been very “roasty” this summer, but not in the way I prefer. Things have not gone the way we’ve prayed they would. As a matter of fact, every time we think we might get some good news, we get bad news. And yet, my life is rich and full and savory. Why?

Meggie is still not home and we have no idea when she ever will be. But we have a very real connection to Meggie that will never snap. We miss her strongly. We love her deeply. We pray fervently. We will be gloriously overwhelmed by joy when she finally comes home. Life is rich.

One of the unexpected riches of this summer has been found in keeping Clare on the weekends. By a strange series of events, we became connected to her situation and offered to help out. Clare has provided us with many opportunities to learn patience, but she has also stolen our hearts. We wish it was Meggie in our car, singing along to 50’s music and in our lap watching princess movies and at the end of the table eating or refusing to eat whatever has been served. But it’s not our faraway Meggie, it’s our right here Clare. 

Because, as much as we love Meggie, Clare is my neighbor and I must love her “as myself.” The smart-alec scholar was hoping to trip Jesus with a follow up question when he asked, “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” Is there a detailed list, a specific geographic requirement to qualify as a neighbor?

Jesus replied with a story of a man who was beat to a pulp and left to die on the side of the road. You probably know how the story goes. A priest passes him by, a Levite passes him by and then, a “despised Samaritan” stops and helps him onto his own donkey, binds his wounds and pays for all of his medical bills. The point Jesus is making is that this bloody and forgotten man on the road to Jericho was neighbor to the priest. He was neighbor to the Levite. He was neighbor to the cursed Samaritan. And yet, only the Samaritan loved.

With all that is going on in Iraq and Israel, with the Ebola and the violence and the hatred, I cannot help but think that the solution is very simple. If we all loved our neighbor, every neighborhood would be safe. If we all loved our neighbor, there would be no war, no genocide, no need for gun control. If we all loved our neighbor, the whole world would be taken care of.

Today, we were all saddened to learn of the sudden death (almost certainly by suicide) of the talented actor, Robin Williams. I have just recently watched The Dead Poets Soceity, Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire and so the irony is strong and painful. I have just recently remarked to my family that he is so gifted. Now we can only say that he was gifted. It’s a terrible shock to find someone you admire is suddenly not on this earth.

With this terrible news, my thoughts on loving our neighbors came full circle and I suddenly knew what I’d been trying to say here for weeks, if not months. We’ve all been posting on Twitter and Facebook about how much we loved Robin Williams. I say I loved him, you say you loved him. Celebrities tweets will be retweeted and favorited as they share about their own love of Robin Williams. And yet, Robin Williams killed himself. He killed himself, no doubt, because he felt useless, depressed and unloved.

I don’t know who truly knew this man or whose responsibility it was, until today, to show him love, but I cannot help but feel that we are not loving our own neighbors. We can say we love Robin Williams whom we’ve never met, who has never personally done anything for you or I, who is now gone, and yet we cannot love our own, physically near neighbors?

The folks in your own home and to the right and left of it? The folks across the way, five minutes down the road? The girl who makes your coffee, the man who takes your promotion, the child who ruins your vacation, the crossing guard out in the sun? The beggar, the salesman, the woman at the deli who calls you by name? The pregnant teen, the dependent senior citizen, the unplanned baby? I could go on and on, but I think you’re getting my drift. Your neighbors are all around you and you only have so long to love them.

Will you? Will you love them? Or will you just tweet about them when they’re dead?

-everly

*Name changed to respect privacy

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