Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are My Purchases Making the Problems Worse?

While hanging up my coat at work today, I noticed that the tag said "Made in Guatemala."  I haven't been exposed to any of the working conditions in factories during either of my trips.  I assume that the conditions are not very sanitary or well paid.

I went to Google to explore a little more about what it is like to work in a factory in Guatemala.  Amazingly enough, there wasn't the endless amount of articles that I expected to find.  What I discovered was a confusing web of international laws and regulations that allow for foreign owners to build factories in third world countries in a manner that allows them to be exempt from local employment laws. 

Prominent American retailers like JC Penney, Kohl's, and the Gap have all used contractors who operate factories in Guatemala.  These factories, called maquilas, only create products for export.  Raw materials are imported, the garments are assembled, and then the finished products are exported to first world consumers.  The factories fall into a no man's land of regulatory compliance.  Foreign companies own and operate the factories with little oversight by the local government. 

Most of the employees in these factories are women, who are happy to find a small bit of financial stability and independence.  Several reports indicate that workers are paid less than $2.00 per hour and forced to work unpaid overtime.  The conditions can be inhumane--as in no breaks, no toilet paper, and a lack of safe drinking water. 

The question remains, how much of my purchase price goes to the workers who made it?  An amazingly small amount I am sure!  The really hard question is whether or not I would be willing to pay more for my clothes if I knew that it would provide better working conditions for the workers who manufacture the garments.  I would like to believe that I would pay more or at least buy from companies who don't exploit workers.  The truth is that I don't even look at the tags when I buy clothes to see where they came from.  I don't even know where to shop to buy clothes that aren't produced in maquilas.  Even if I paid more for my clothes, who will regulate the companies to make sure that the working conditions improve and are maintained?

I have no answers to these questions but I can tell you that just seeing that tag makes me think about the people that make my clothes.  I also wonder in what way I can make a positive impact in their lives.  This situation is a long term problem that I don't know how to fix.  For now, I'll start by being more aware.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Fantasy of Reality TV

During college, the Real World seemed like a guilty pleasure--people my own age indulging in a life of excess and debauchery.  Those earliest seasons of the Real World may just be tame compared to what is scripted as "reality" tv now. 

There seems to be two options in reality tv today--Real/Informative and Dramatized.  The basic tenents of a television show make some scripting necessary.  You will have a shooting schedule and you will edit the tape to make the episode interesting.  I mean, no one wants to watch even 30 minutes of caulking or sod installation.  So even the programs that are real, have been pieced together to accentuate the entertainment value.

And then there are the overly dramatic, not real shows.  If looking at these shows individually, the argument could be made that they are harmless because they are just like scripted dramas or comedies.  The problem is that when anything is presented as reality, it becomes a standard by which we can measure ourselves.  We want more money, more things, better things, a different lifestyle.  We begin to long for the indulgences of others without regard to our own lives.  It's a Cinderella complex--magically we transform ourselves into a made-for-tv lifestyle. 

Why do we need to watch the lives of self-proclaimed desperate housewives, those who may or may not have been Amish but certainly have a closet full of secrets, or best of all a series devoted to a so-called Amish mafia?  We have become a society that seeks to tear down any aspect of our society that may have redeeming qualities.  Every aspect of society has problems but glamorizing them does not help to move our society forward and certainly not closer to God.

These glamorized lives can have devastating consequences. Broken marriages, suicide, criminal charges, emotionally damaged children, lost jobs, and drained finances are just the beginning.  I'm not suggesting that we all watch home improvement and cooking shows only.  Why not start by leaving the drama and scripting to the writers who create real dramas and comedies? 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankfulness all the Year Through

Unlike retailers would have us believe, Thanksgiving is more than a day to overindulge in food, watch football, and then rush stores in a state of hysteria without regard for decency.  Anymore, it seems like even the notion of truly stopping to acknowledge our blessings is convenient merely as a delay to allow for the end displays, sale signs, and check-out lines to be erected before the Black Friday sales. 

Thanksgiving is treated like a hangover from Halloween with clearance priced costumes and orange-foiled candy wedged tightly against the avalanche of Christmas overindulgence.  I like to treat Thanksgiving as its own day, a day without the shadows of other holidays. 

If we all stopped for just one day to count our blessings and be truly thankful, imagine the difference.  What if that thankfulness seeped into Friday?  Or Saturday?  Or December?  Or the dreary month of March?  Would we all be just a little bit more content?  Would we be more compassionate to those who have less?  Would we be more willing to acknowledge the injustices of this world?

James 1:27 " Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

As Christmas nears, we will see the idyllic manger scenes with the adorable baby.  Although Jesus' birth should be celebrated, his death should be exalted.  The picture of a baby is not offensive but his mere birth did not bring about our greatest blessing.  His torturous death is the greatest blessing he could have given anyone. 

Today, I am thankful that knowing what would occur--the pain and abandonment--Jesus chose to fulfill his role as the Savior. 

Luke 22:42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

He could have saved himself from death but instead chose to endure torture and die the most painful form of death so that he could bear the burden of a world's sins.  Through his death anyone who believes and trusts has the opportunity to be redeemed and find eternal peace in Heaven.

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

I will never be good enough to earn my way into Heaven.  I fail every day.  My thoughts stray to sarcasm and judgment.  Sometimes I yell.  Every once in a while, I give some no-good inanimate object that isn't doing its job a good pitch, usually into the field.  But nonetheless, my eternal home is secure because Christ died for my sins so that I can be forgiven for everything that I've done and all that I do in the future.

This isn't a free pass to sin, it's the promise of redemption for our humanness when we're trying to take the narrow path.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Life of Excess

I know that we are blessed.  I have never felt the pains of starvation or thirst.  Even that month when we were newlyweds and the checkbook read just $27 at the end of the month, we had our own home, reliable vehicles, a closet full of clothes, and a fridge full of food.  It was a good experience to learn how to survive on one paycheck, paying a mortgage and car payment, all while I was finishing college.

Traveling to Guatemala opened my eyes to true poverty.  I was able to meet families who truly live by faith.  During my days at home, my mind often wanders to the families I met.  I think about how much effort they spend just to exist and then I look around.  My house is full of stuff.  We don't need anything.  The Christmas season actually makes me uncomfortable.  I dread the on slot of things that come.  We long for a balance between the gift giving expression of love and controlling our material possessions.  I won't deny that I want things and enjoy receiving gifts just like everyone else.  Enjoying life must balance with our responsible to those who are less fortunate.

Isaiah 1:17 "Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow."

That very issue sent me into a cleaning spree.  Much to the dismay of those who live in our home, nothing was off limits.  I started with the girls' bedroom.  The closet was updated--small clothes out and bigger clothes in.  Toys they didn't love--out.  Just in time for the clothing drive at school, they each took a bag of clothes every day.  Even after packing a tote of clothes for a friend, we still had two garbage bags of clothes for the rescue mission. 

Onward to the kitchen.  By just cleaning out what I don't use, I amassed a stack that included a waffle iron, several travel mugs, garlic press, pastry blender, checkerboard cake pans, and a whole collection of other items that filled a large tote.

I'm not quite finished the whole house but the stacks are getting larger.  If we aren't using it or don't love it, it's out of here.  So many items on to the rescue mission to find a new home and help further their outreach.  Cleaning out our house makes room for what God has planned for us and all the blessings that we are given.

Matthew 6:19-21 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful for 12 Years of Marriage

For the last four days, I have been a deer hunting widow.  Although the rational portion of my mind knows that my husband deeply enjoys time at the cabin with his friends each year, I still hate when he goes.  I know that he needs time away where he can really relax but that doesn't make me miss him any less.  I imagine that some wives may find a week alone to be a gift but I would much rather have him home with us.  I guess I'm just jealous like that. 

These few days every year give me a small glimpse of what a single parent endures.  Meeting every one's needs while maintaining our household and still working makes me appreciate even more the contributions that my husband makes to our family.  Our family operates best when we are all here. 

I know that he is the one that God chose for me.  We often joke that no one else would put up with either of us.  My marriage is the best gift that I have ever received, apart from Christ's gift of salvation.  While we were engaged we made the commitment to each other that divorce was not an option for our marriage.  I realize that seems like a hopeful and naive statement to be made by two young people but it is what we believed then and still stand by today.  The choice to honor our covenant means that we choose every day to live in a way that honors each other.  We make choices that put each other first because we are greater as a couple than as individuals.  Marriage isn't easy, sometimes it's just plan hard but the benefits are exponentially greater than any bad day.

Today and every day I am thankful for a husband who not only leads our family but stands beside me at the same time.  He manages to be my friend, business partner, and the devoted father to our awesome children simultaneously. 

The first 12 years have been an adventure, here's to the next 12!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making Time for Simple Pleasures

On Monday evening, we tried to have one last s'mores campfire but the wind wouldn't cooperate.  So we set a date for Friday.  All seemed well until the call that the shipment would be here at 8:00 and we needed to come back to receive it.  So many times, work trumps fun in our lives.  This is the second Friday night in a row that we have gone back to work to unload a shipment, the kids are real troopers during the process.

This promise was one that we could not break.  It was too important to everyone.  With a little planning, we managed pizza for supper (Special Treat #1) and a campfire with s'mores (Special Treat #2) all before the call came from the driver.

Bundled up and ready to head outside

Toasted Goodness!
It didn't take much time. We already had all the supplies. We just needed to make the effort. Best of all we made some good memories!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

If I Had a Hobby, it Would Be???

While reading a blog this afternoon, I was intrigued by the author's truthfulness about how she had let her life take over and had lost the time for hobbies.  As she described her life and circumstances, it was as though she had been spying on me.

The ambitious, responsible, serious adult has completely devoured the fun Kelly.  Not that I was the over the top, life of the party in an earlier life, but I faintly remember that we used to have fun.  There was a time when we were able to spend time doing activities that didn't involve working and not feel guilty about the amount of productive time lost. 

When I try to remember what we did to have fun, it is becoming more difficult to remember how to enjoy life.  It's like going over the cliff with no way back.  If you do something for so long, it becomes you.  We have spent so many years focusing on work that we have forgotten how to be carefree and relax. 

If I want to enjoy free time again, I need to deliberately take time to do activities that aren't work-related.  That sounds like an easy task but it will be extremely hard for me.  I will need to find a way to address my guilt for taking time away from my responsibilities.  I will need to allow myself to do something I enjoy.  I will need to accept that everything might not get done.  Maybe most difficult, I will need to find a way to lower my guard. 

So, if I had a hobby, I'm not sure what it would be.  Maybe I'll try to start running again.  I would like to find more time to write.  Maybe I'll just try to do more fun activities with the kids. 

We'll just have to see what happens...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Vote?

Our omniscient God already knows what the outcome of this election will be. He will not be waiting up for the news agencies to project the winner. He knew the name of the winner before the first person announced his candidacy.  Even if your chosen candidate doesn't win, we must remember that this is all a part of God's greater plan for all of mankind.

"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." Romans 13:1

Earlier this afternoon, my son and I headed to a local school and cast our ballot for the General Election.  In recent weeks, I have heard several people say that they weren't going to vote because it didn't matter.  As we were recording my choices and opinions about the future I thought about what voting really means to me.  I don't live in a battleground state, my single vote will not sway a full state's electoral college votes, but my opinions are still important.

If we all chose to forgo voting because our single vote didn't matter, entire segments of the population could be forgotten.  My vote is a public statement about my beliefs, my vision for my county, my state, and my country.  My vote is my chance to take a stand for biblical truths in this world of wavering convictions.  My vote is just one of a segment that needs to be quantifiable so that we are not forgotten and not excluded. 

When the results are tallied, we must remember to first and foremost pray for those who are elected, no matter the party affiliation. 


"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1Thessalonians 5: 16-18
I had the grand illusion of doing one post each day in November centering on thankfulness.  That ship has long since sailed as it is already the 6th but the awareness has not.  Lately, I have been noticing the blessings in my life.

On a recent afternoon, I was sitting at the end of the lane, waiting on the bus, admiring the field of corn blowing in the breeze.  Growing up on a farm, I knew that I wanted to live on a farm.  I wanted the space, the freedom, and the beauty of a farm.  Life has taken over and for the last several years, I just speed in and out of the lane, not slowing down to see the beauty that literally surrounds me.  Friends from the city have come to visit and they are amazed by the tranquility.  I take it for granted.  Some days I couldn't even tell you how tall the corn was and I had just walked right past it to get in my car.  How could I have become so removed from a lifestyle and industry that had been fundamental to my childhood and early career? 

When I slow down I can see the peace and refuge that I have been longing for.  I need to make sure this home and farm is a refuge for our family-- a place to be safe and free away from the world.  Even in the midst of life, God provides for our needs--in all circumstances, there is joy if you look.  Sometimes, it even shows up as a corn field that reminds you of who you really are...