Before you send me pictures of mutilated fetuses…

Being a “millennial” is difficult. Every day, thanks to the ease of public expression, we battle the urge to spew our opinions as soon as they pop into our heads toward those who may or may not be interested, and we struggle to learn which things need to be spoken and which things should be kept. And we fail miserably.

As a reward for voicing my own opinions, I’ve had the privilege of some great conversations with those who feel differently about things. I’ve had the great experience of engaging in educational dialogue that opens a door to seeing the other side more clearly and having my own side strengthened and informed as a result. And I hope those on the other side of that issue feel the same way. I’ve also had the misfortune of being cruelly badgered about my opinions by people with no desire to truly understand how I feel.

And then all the woes of social media are forgiven because of the “block” option.

I am pro-life, and I want all babies to be born. I also, at this time, am against legislating that all babies be born.

I want to explain how my faith informs these feelings.

When I imagine humanity in its original form, in its original purpose, I imagine a close and intimate communion with God. When I imagine the cursed humanity, I imagine a spectrum that pushed us to a far end away from God. So when God works to restore humanity, to bring us back to our original purpose – closeness with God – I imagine a long, arduous, and grueling journey of change in cultural consciousness.

Humanity does not travel the length of this spectrum overnight. In fact, it takes entire generations to simply move one step. And God knows this. So God gives us small steps to take.

One of my favorite examples of this is in Deuteronomy 22: 28-29, “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”

In our 21st century context, we look at this as abuse. It is brutal to subject a victim to this. Why would God ordain such a gruesome law that puts a woman through a lifetime of having to see her abuser every day, and even worse, have sex with him? And my answer is that perhaps it was the best God could do with what God had at the time. In the Ancient Near East, women were property. Men literally paid their fathers to marry them. Their value was entirely bound in their virginity and their ability to have children. If a woman was no longer a virgin, whether or not by choice, she would never be wanted by another man. To never marry would mean to never have children. She would essentially be destined for destitution. Her remaining options would be to sell herself into slavery or prostitution.

She would have no protection, no chance for a decent life, no hope.

Why couldn’t God just make a law against rape? Because society wasn’t there yet. Society wasn’t at a point where women were valued enough to consider such an act as atrocious as it was.

So what does it do in this context to demand that a man make his victim his wife? It puts the responsibility of her well-being on him. It puts the responsibility of her life on him. And though divorce was allowed, in this circumstance it would not be allowed. For the rest of her life, he must provide her with shelter, food, children, and protection. His “punishment” was that he would have to provide for her what no one else would because of what he did.

It’s a small step that, by our standards today, is barbaric. But by the standards of that time, it was highly revolutionary.

Small steps.

So why can’t we just make abortion illegal? Aside from the fact that laws against abortion have no effect whatsoever on abortion rates in other countries, simply put, society isn’t there yet.

We’ve just now (sort of) gotten to the point where women are considered people, so it’s possible we’ve got a long way to go before unborn babies are considered people too.

I don’t think that means we should give up the fight. But I do think it means we need to exchange our weapons. And in order to arm ourselves with the best weapons, we need to do better research into what we’re fighting.

Why are women seeking pregnancy termination? A whopping 88% worldwide seek abortion for financial reasons. Yes, for many women, there are multiple reasons for choosing that, but the primary reason is because of finances. A law against abortion is not going to eliminate these reasons. Women who are required to continue their pregnancies until birth will lose jobs because they can’t afford childcare or to take leave. Of course, adoption is always an option, but do I even need to go into the brutal experience of a mother having to separate herself from the child she carried for 40 weeks? Many women do take that route, and for people like my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, that sacrifice fulfills their dreams for children, but to force that as the only option for a pregnant mother who doesn’t feel that she can provide for her baby is not good. Yes, we should champion adoption. We should also champion family-preservation. And we do that by providing a community that makes women feel secure enough to provide for her children and supported enough to do that for the long haul.

But ultimately, there is one method that has been proven to lower abortion rates – and that is pregnancy prevention. It is well-documented that cultures that lack access to contraception on a worldwide scale have higher infant-mortality rates and higher maternal death rates. Women who are not educated in family planning and voluntary use of contraceptives, and who also are at the sexual disposal of their husbands, lacking a choice in whether or not they will have intercourse, are getting pregnant and having babies almost every year.

It is not healthy for a woman’s body to endure that. Basically, she is getting pregnant before her body has healed, which poses high risks for the pregnancy. Her newborn will lack the care and attention he or she needs when another baby is quickly added to the family, and worst of all, when adequate prenatal care is also absent in a culture, the mother’s likelihood of survival throughout all these pregnancies so close together is low. Babies are more likely to die when the mother is not around.

Contraceptives are a necessity for the health of women and for a lower abortion rate. Women who are empowered to make decisions about their family plans and who are empowered to space and time their pregnancies in a way that is most healthy for her body, will be empowered to raise her children with confidence and security and thus continue her pregnancies.

Now, there are some familiar voices in my life that I already know may be reading this and thinking that the best way to prevent pregnancy is to not have sex. Abstinence-only education is a documented failure, and I am grieved to say that the response to single women who get pregnant and seek help is simply, ‘well you shouldn’t have had sex to begin with.’

There are several issues I have with this sentiment.

  • On a worldwide scale, married women terminate pregnancies at a far higher rate than unmarried women. So assuming that women just shouldn’t have sex doesn’t really do anything to address the issue considering the number of married women seeking abortions.
  • As Christians, to offer this response is to make yourself like the unmerciful servant who was forgiven his debt of ten thousand bags of gold by the king and then turns around to have the man who owes him 100 silver coins thrown in jail. How would you feel if God’s response to your search for help through the messes you’ve made was to say, ‘well you shouldn’t have done that in the first place,’ and then shut the door in your face?
  • This enforces the perspective of the pregnancy as a punishment. Instead of celebrating the life that is developing and doing everything we can to help provide for that life, we tell the mother that she is being punished for her sins. That is as inhuman as anything. You think taking the life of an unborn baby is dehumanizing, so is lowering that baby’s status to a punishment.
  • And finally, I’d like to think that if your own child were in this situation, and for whatever reason you weren’t around to provide for her, you would die at the thought of the church or society turning their backs on her because of her circumstance.

Fact: people are going to have sex, married or not, and just like my mother showed me the right way to push the chair up to the counter so I’d have a smaller chance of falling down at my insistence to climb that counter, we can provide society with methods to lower the chance of something unintended to happen at their insistence of having sex.

Yes, I do think that society’s perception of sex needs to change. Yes, I do think that sex should be reserved for committed relationships. But again, let’s look at what has been ineffective and what has been effective, and let’s exchange what ineffective tools we have to the ones that make a difference. If it’s likely to achieve the same end that we want, we have to be willing to give it a try. The consequences of mortality rates of babies and mothers far outweigh the consequences of protected premarital sex, so let’s be wise about what a real emergency is.

So when I receive a passive-aggressive text message from a distant family member telling me that 3,000 babies will die today, I want to say:

No, actually, far more than that will die today because of starvation, dead mothers, malnutrition, inadequate medical care, and disease.

I want to say: and what are you going to do about it today? Are you going to pay for medical appointments that the mothers can’t afford? Are you going to buy groceries that those babies’ families can’t afford? Are you going to take in that pregnant teenager who’s been kicked out by her parents? Are you going to help coordinate childcare so that mother can keep her job and continue providing for her baby?

But I didn’t say any of those things. Because sometimes it’s just wiser to block people.

……………………………………………………………

For some excellent resources on the topic, please check out the following links:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/surprising-new-findings-could-re-shape-pro-life-movement

http://www.hopethroughhealinghands.org/faith-based-coalition

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/pro-life-voting-for-hillary-clinton

http://www.shannondingle.com/blog//im-pro-life-and-im-voting-for-hillary-heres-why

http://sarahbessey.com/a-voice-for-the-voiceless/

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questions

In my lifelong journey of soul-searching, I’ve recently become intentional about being sensitive to narrative. What is the overarching theme of connection in various situations, various people, and various events?

Unfortunately, we as humans neglect the narrative, and in many of our interactions, we zero in on the immediate circumstance and form all our judgments based off of that.

I live my life by questions. I ask why and how and where and when and what do you think and I wonder and I ponder and I look and I inquire about anything and everything. I may regret this at times, but I hope my children are the same way.

Recently, I made the foolish decision to ask a question to the Facebook world about how people’s faith in Jesus influences their decision to vote for a particular candidate. Most people just liked the question, probably because those who feel the same as I are the only ones who haven’t hidden me from their feeds. Two women, however, were deeply offended. And nobody, absolutely nobody, answered my question.

I want to interrupt this story to say that I know how text alone can be very misunderstood. With internet communication, we have no tone, no body language, and no facial expression, so with that in mind, I measured and analyzed each word placement carefully before I hit “post.” I wanted to be as clear as I could that this was no more than a question to this candidate’s voters that was formed based off of observations of this candidate and nothing more. No judgments about them, no assumptions about them, just questions for them.

These women were offended that I was questioning their faith, and I was confused by that. Why is it offensive to question someone’s faith? Shouldn’t we take it as a compliment that we have an opportunity to explain how and why our faith influences the choices we make? A question is, at its core, a search for knowledge, a “quest” to know more (hence the root of the word, duh). And yes, many times when a question is asked, there are assumptions and agendas as the motive, but is it fair to assume that in response to a question that is asked of us? I don’t think so, and even if that is the case, the fact that you have been asked a question is your chance to dispel those assumptions if they aren’t true or inaccurate in some way. If they thought that I doubted their faith, I could understand being offended, but since when were doubts and questions the same thing? At what point did a question go from a quest for knowledge to doubting what we already knew?

The fact that someone was offended by my search for knowledge was deeply troubling to me. And what was more, in their responses, they still couldn’t answer my question. They reversed the question, which I answered, proceeded to tell me I was wrong, and still neglected to answer my original question.

I tell this story for three reasons. First, when you know you’re about to do something stupid, don’t do it. Asking a question on social media in the hopes of having a serious, intelligent, and informative dialogue rarely works, so just follow your gut when it says “this isn’t going to work” next time you want to do that.

Second, the “block” option is wonderful.

Third, I was given another insight into the narrative of faith and politics in our country in the 21st century which I would like to discuss here.

These women were offended because somehow, a judgment of this candidate was a judgment on them. By criticizing a candidate, I was criticizing them. I realize that a vote is a personal thing, but I didn’t realize that for some people it was that personal. We bind our choices to our values, and our choices do define who we are, but at some point, there needs to be a separation between the person we choose and the choice we made for them. Stating the obvious here, but that candidate is not me. My choice for his or her policies is me, but that person is not. And my observations about a candidate embodying everything that is the opposite of my faith should not be perceived as an observation about his or her voter’s faith. In fact, I’m giving you an opportunity to show me how your faith is honored by supporting a particular candidate. I will tell you how my faith is honored by voting a particular way, if you ask me, and I will gladly engage in our disagreements in hopes that we can educate each other and become more empathetic to different views. But I don’t take personal offense when someone disagrees with me. My views don’t have to be validated by everyone, nor do I want them to be. But what I realized by this interaction is that we are becoming less and less interested in gaining knowledge for ourselves through good discussions and we are playing into the divided system that wishes to divide us. We forget that you can have unity without uniformity.

Instead of taking my question as an opportunity to explain how their faith promoted one candidate, these women wanted to explain how they were against something.

And I get that. Sadly, the polls reflect that the majority of Americans will be casting a vote against instead of for.

And my hope was that in these discussions, we could all take a step back and look at the overarching narrative we are allowing our government to tell us. My hope was that we could take a step back and look at the ways we are letting ourselves, our lives, and our choices be molded by this narrative of a two-party system that does not represent the people anymore. And we can take responsibility for the way we contribute to a narrative that we don’t like anymore.

That was my hope.

motherhood is (three months)

Motherhood Is is a series of ponderings that I am writing as I figure out how to mother. It will include things I expected, things no one told me, things I learn about myself, about the world, about God, and about life through the lens of parenthood. 

i did not love motherhood upon first introduction.

nursing was painful.
sleep eluded.
and many of my days were spent on edge constantly trying to hold off his crying.
the sudden changes overwhelmed, and in the midst of joy for what we now had was grief for what we no longer had. sleeping in. staying out late. getting to do whatever we wanted, when we wanted to do it. spending too much money eating out. not having to schedule every minute around someone needing to eat every two hours.
it was a wonderful time and a confusing time. it was rough and it was grand. it was beautiful and it was terrible. anything that shakes up our lives is just so.
i loved him, and he needed me. and that was our relationship.
the love-at-first-sight that parents are supposed to have once their babies are born is not the same kind of love one has after getting to know someone. the love for a newborn is instinctual, an awareness that “this is mine to protect because i will die if he dies.” but that love stops there, and in many ways, is one-sided.
it took a while. but that love turned into a deeper affection. the kind that makes my heart physically ache because i can’t bear the full force of what i feel for my child when i look at him. the kind that melts me into nothing when he looks up at me while latched onto my breast.
every mother is different. and some may be fortunate enough to have that immediately. but for many of us, it takes time. the sweetest love for us is one that evolves slowly, one that crawls up to your side through quiet ways. one that swells ever so gently until there is nothing but that.
it worried me. all of the expectations i had, though i swore i was making none, were not happening right away. why didn’t i immediately feel like this was the most amazing thing that ever happened to me? why was it taking so long for this love to grow in me?
it’s hard to love someone when there is no overt form of loving you back. when you feel like you’re just a host to another organism. my mother has a theory that babies don’t become real people until three months, that pregnancy should last for a year. and while it’s all just jokes and fun, i see what she means. he only now really knows who i am. like really knows who i am. he’s always sensed me, i think. always known my voice, my skin, my smell. but now he can look into my eyes and smile. now he reacts to things. now he sees things. now, i know that perhaps he really does love me back.
and now i cry nearly every sunday night when our time together is ending again, and i have to go back to work.
now, i melt when all he wants is for me to hold him. (i also get deeply frustrated because i got other stuff to do that require two hands, like eat and pee and stuff, make no mistake about that.)
there’s a quote at the end of Anne of Avonlea that describes a love and romance that take time. the most beautiful kinds of love are the ones that are aged.
i get a little annoyed when people say things like, “you just wait,” mostly because they’re talking about a bunch of terrible things that await me as a parent. but there are also those who say, “you just wait,” because the love that is felt now is nothing compared to what will be had with each passing moment and each passing year.
as the lifeline that holds me to my child becomes even more intricate and complex, it will thicken and strengthen. and that takes time. and i’m okay with that.

motherhood is (two months)

 Motherhood Is is a series of ponderings that I am writing as I figure out how to mother. It will include things I expected, things no one told me, things I learn about myself, about the world, about God, and about life through the lens of parenthood.

It’s accepting that for a good while, six hours will be your new and rare full night of sleep

It’s feeling ugly because your clothes and wedding rings still don’t fit, and regardless of the fact that everyone told you this doesn’t happen that quickly, you still hoped you were one of the exceptions

It’s learning that you can love your child all the time without liking him all the time

It’s feeling like you’re alone because your husband has to work long hours to make up for the pay you’re not getting while you’re on leave

It’s gushing in the feeling that all your baby wants is for you to hold him

It’s pretending that you can still function as you always have, even though your body is going batshit crazy trying to recover from the mental, physical, and emotional trauma of splitting your body open to give birth

It’s having your heart melted every day because of one smile

And having it ripped out every time you leave him

It’s feeling isolated because your baby has to eat, so your dinner has to get cold while everyone else enjoys theirs and each other’s company (but not yours)

It’s being constantly tied to your baby’s physical well-being while everyone else gets to stay out until 2:00 in the morning with no consequences

It’s learning that sometimes (maybe all the time), it’s okay to need drugs

It’s accepting the truth that your marriage is not and cannot stay the same, and you have to do the hard work of deciding what new story you’re going to tell

It’s learning that everyone seems to know better than you how to take care of your child

It is accepting that for the rest of your life, your heart will live in someone else’s body

It is learning how to give until there is nothing left, and then give some more

It’s learning that there is such a thing as a shortage of patience, and no such thing as a shortage of grace

It’s an awful lot of crying as you navigate and accommodate the intense swelling of your heart, the jealousy of your husband not having to breastfeed, the loneliness of being stuck at home all the time, watching everyone else’s life move on and resume like normal while you wait on him to grow, the pain of cracked and sore nipples, the torture of sleep deprivation, the somber weight of being responsible for the life of another, missing the body you will never get back, trying not to take every single opinion as a person’s way of saying you suck and aren’t doing a good job, the fear of not having control of your life anymore, the uncertainty of how you’re going to pay for everything, and watching everything else in your life shrink as this new little one expands to consume every bit of your thoughts, your conversations, and your own well-being

It’s learning that you can’t really say “it’s just hormones,” because saying “it’s just hormones,” belittles the experience of all the above things that happen because “it’s just hormones”

It’s seeing for the first time how terrible the world is and wanting to shield your child from all of it.

It’s seeing for the first time how beautiful the world is and waiting impatiently to show him how to embrace life in it.

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Dear September

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We always wait for you impatiently, as we do each season. Like the first flairs of green each March, we anticipate the first scent of that something we can’t quite name. You are special to us. Your early days bring us the last moments of grilled veggies and homemade ice cream. Scuppernong picking and jelly making. Your winding days bring us the first dry breezes that chill beautifully to our bones. You coax us into waning sunlight by allowing us a few more warm afternoons for our tender goodbyes to Southern summers. And the transition of feeling warmth by sun to feeling warmth by fleece becomes easy, natural, as we find ourselves moving our bodies in rhythm to earth’s seasonal dances.

If I think about you too long, what you bring, why you come, it’s all too easy to become saddened by the truth of why you’re here. Let’s just call it what it is: death.

You come to bring an end.

Last year, you preceded one of the harshest seasons I think I’ve ever known.

And yet, we are all still so excited to see you when you come. Why is that?

What is it about the giant, round, orange squash and the brittle, fragile leaves surrendering that thrills us? Autumn is in many ways synonymous with change, and much of the time, we are not so apt to accept change, especially when it involves leaving a splendid season of sun to journey into the dark, the cold, the lifeless (figuratively speaking). But for some reason, the literal leaving of seasons of sun fills us with excitement.

I know this to be true because I feel it. I just don’t understand why.

But in my own experiences, September, as I said before, you come gently. We know that your teasing, playful winds will soon give way to biting us raw, but we also know that you come with warmth of your own.

The color – when we lose the fire of our star, you bring the fire of color – the burnt golds a blend of orange, red, and brown. The blazes of bright apples and ciders.

And in this season, we preserve more than our harvest. We seal in our jars the scents of hay and burning wood, the greetings of mums and spider lilies, and the naps after full bellies of roasted stews and root vegetables.

We love you because we know you bring rest. Our youth expands seemingly endlessly before us to fill the years with labor. While our hands are still agile, we work them and blister them. Our shoulders carry the long days of sunlight, one on top of the other, and our feet faithfully support us even though they are always forgotten until day’s end when they have finally to say – we will have no more of this, good night.

Perhaps, September, you know our tendency to stay busy at all hours, neglecting Sabbath, and pushing our will to its edge. Perhaps, you bring the moon earlier to send us inside sooner to make up for the rest we lost summertide. Our bodies need you, for we will not take rest until it is forced upon us, and you gently push it consistently each year.

Perhaps thoughts into the end you bring would not have to be so sad. Death is, after all, just another form of rest. A temporary separation from those of us who still labor and those who have arrived at their endless harvest banquet.

I do love you, September. If only we could view all ends and changes through you. We would take comfort in life as a cycle, comfort in each season knowing there really is no end, only a rest.

Dear Columbus

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All my life, I couldn’t wait to leave you behind. As soon as I turned eighteen, I would find a great school (definitely NOT MUW) and would find all my happiness in Nashville, Tennessee as a renowned pianist or something. And then I went to MUW. And then I officially moved downtown, into the heart of you. I could walk to Fred’s for eggs & milk, to Le Gourmet (RIP) for chocolate truffles, and to The Front Door for chicken salad. I remember my first apartment, mere steps away from Painter Hall and the winter evenings I would take my neighborhood walks just as dusk was grasping the town once again. I remember (and I’m about to reveal one of my creepy traits) my favorite thing was looking in the windows of the houses as families were setting out their fall/Christmas decorations. I loved looking in the windows of the houses along my walks (from the street, mind you, with the drapes clearly wide open and bright lights shining out into the street), but my gaze was always in desire for my own home with light in the window. I remember walking up and down these numbered streets and praying that I too would one day have a home that had light always in the windows. I wanted anyone who would drive or walk by to feel warmth and love from such light as a signal that this place was a safe place, a welcoming place for anyone who needed it. You planted those seeds of desire in my heart.

You wooed me with your haunts and river stories, with your quiet ways and dedication to tradition. And like two new lovers learning to live together, I saw firsthand all your many flaws. The old money that chokes your progress at times. The turned-up noses of privileged Air Force wives because you have the audacity to lack a Target and not be Italy. The unfortunate complacency of your more popular young citizens who stayed, not necessarily because they could make it better, but because being a big fish in a small pond was better than moving away where they might be a nobody. Or the twisted and conniving ways that the personal inflicts business, thus sabotaging a person’s chances for reasons having nothing to do with business.  And then there are the even deeper wounds intertwined with race, poverty, and privilege – the dividing lines we know are there but never talk about save the hushed tones and snide glances.

But I know you, and I know you are meant for great things. I know your cracks in your sidewalks and your vacant, lonely buildings. I know don’t have an Olive Garden, but that’s okay, because Olive Garden sucks. I have the recipe for that chicken & gnocchi soup, so I don’t need them anyway. And I know you ache with passion for life and movement as you dodge the blows of “the old ways” and “this is how we’ve always done it.”

I did leave you, but I return to you every once in a while because you keep drawing me back (and because people won’t stop getting married). And you still fit like a glove. You still know my ways and dreams, and you always find the real me when she threatens to slip away, yanking the roots from her beloved first to become too big for herself in “the city.” But the city grows on me each day, and I still hear you call me by name to keep me humble.

I don’t know if I’ll ever return for good, and I don’t know whether I want to or not. But I remember how you raised me. I know better than to fall for the mustaches and jorts and snooty coffee shops and FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE get a job you trust-fund, white-privileged, freelance-writing/photographing/blogging/designing hipster! I’m from Mississippi and I work in nonprofits, I KNOW what real poor people look like, quit pretending you can’t afford more than a two dollar T-shirt while you pay $100 for your hair. I don’t fall for that because I only pay $50 for my hair.

But it’s home now. And if I ever walk into a shop or restaurant and not be treated with the utmost hospitality, it’ll be rare. They do you proud here. And while the rest of the world has decided to move here too, they haven’t forgotten they’re in the South. If someone’s rude to me, I know it’s because they’re a transplant and they just don’t have their mama to sit them right down and say mind your manners. Someone will teach them how we do things eventually.

Keep your charm. Keep local. Keep growing. You don’t have to be anybody else but yourself.

The story of my things

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I talk a great deal about the story of our stuff – mostly in the context of the guilt I feel every time I buy a t-shirt made in China. It’s not news that much of the stuff we purchase in any Target, Walmart, or department store is very likely at the hands of unjust systems where these stores trade with companies overseas that have been known to employ children, pay their workers an incredibly low wage, and treat their workers with hostility. Now, it is also likely that this isn’t the case with all companies, but the thing is – we don’t really know whether or not that is the case with any particular item, and that scares me just as much. It’s unsettling to think that every time I buy new sheets or towels or even coffee or chocolate, I might be buying into our modern-day slave trade. It’s true that I don’t know for sure whether or not the individual in Pakistan who hemmed the selvage on my jeans was paid a fair wage, but if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better to spend my money on items of which I do have certainty?

It is also not news that our economy is being hollowed out as companies are moving overseas more and more in order to save money – and in the process, take jobs away from our own people. But like I said, I talk a great deal about that, and the reason for my thoughts tonight is that I want to talk about the stuff of mine that I know has a good story, and also to share with my friends some wonderful makers I know of who make quality goods both for practicality and for pleasure.

I think the first step toward being a conscious consumer is to realize that we don’t need stuff, really. When I say that I didn’t want to register for my wedding, I meant it. And I still stand by the principles that guided that desire in the first place. We did eventually cave in and we got a lot of nice things, but you see, we already had an abundance through the generosity of friends and the thoughtfulness of family in heirlooms.

I will begin in the kitchen. My dinner set is a hand-me-down from my great aunt who needed to purge her house of a few things. It is nothing special outside of that, and probably not worth much were I to sell it, but these plates and bowls have stories. They’re durable, they cost me nothing, and they serve their purpose of beautifully dressing a simple meal to provide us the nourishment we need. My mugs are many. A set of four, handmade by MUW art instructor Ian Childers, bought at our local Arts Council where they were featured in a ceramics exhibit, and given to me by my sister, his student. Another set of four, brown sturdy things, found in my grandmother’s cabinets. My glasses, a set of four, old hand-me-downs from a friend that I also happen to find featured in a good many food blogs for their style and antiquity, so that makes me feel super-cool. Another set of four soon-to-be(?) hand-cut out of old syrup bottles from my talented sister. And above my cabinets, a set of wooden salad bowls, also foraged from my grandparents’ treasure chest of a home. Smiling at me next to those are George, John, Paul, and Ringo burned into a set of wooden spoons as a gift from my sister, and behind those, a message from those same men regarding all we need in a wood-burned piece made by my dad.

Above my mantle, the porcelain magnolia that I always remember centered among my grandparents’ portraits of our family and their beloved grandchildren. Beneath my mantle, a basket of blankets – one hand-crocheted by our dear friend Anna as a wedding gift, one hand-quilted my dear aunt Ann as a wedding gift, one Mexican blanket purchased as a honeymoon souvenir, and one hand knitted by our dear aunt Wanda. Beneath the foot of my bed, a cedar chest from (you guessed it!) My grandparents’ house which holds a blanket sewn by my mother when I was still a child and an afghan made by my grandma.

An aloe plant rests in a handmade, hand painted ceramic jug given to me by my friend visiting South Korea. And I absolutely have to mention these two most amazing pieces of furniture I will probably ever own. These Asian cabinets belonged to our cousin who passed away a few years ago, and left everything to us, as she had no children of her own. They are the personality of every room I’ve had them in, and if I get rid of anything else I own, I should never be parted from these.

You see, I believe there is a safe balance with our things. Things are temporary, but they are necessary. If we must have a cup from which to drink, let that cup sustain our needs as long as it may. Let that cup be lovingly formed by hands that will reap the full reward for their work. If we are to eat, let us eat from a bounty we toiled for, let us eat from a bounty close-to-home.

Please do not mistake my words for saying that people overseas do not need our support. I’m not advocating for pulling support from nations that need it. But at the same time, I’ve heard all to many times justification for poor working situations in sweatshops with the excuse of “well it’s better that anything else they could find” to which all I can say is REALLY?!?! First of all, we have no right to assume that as we have never been in such a situation, and second of all, is it really better? There is a right way to do that as well. There are companies and organizations springing up all over the place that support the local economy of other nations by providing quality goods to anyone in the world who wishes to sport a lovely bag or piece of jewelry. And I believe those are worthy causes because the money you spend on those goods go directly to the folks who made them. By purchasing a pair of shoes from Old Navy, you can bet that the makers of those items barely receive a dollar off the thirty that you paid the store. I do advocate for buying local as much as you can, but I also believe there can be a balance in that as well. We know we have plenty here, in spite of the economy, so I absolutely also advocate for supporting global causes that are bettering individuals as opposed to corporations.

Below, I’ve put together a list of my favorite makers that produce items 100% American made as well as some international companies that support their own local economies, and before you gasp at the prices, let me mention the next step in becoming a conscious consumer which is that you are not only paying for a product, you are paying for a service. Those boots may be $300, but they will last you far longer than any pair you find at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

So here are the makers:

Paper & Clay is a studio in Memphis, TN whose maker, Brit McDaniel has the master hands behind some of the most gorgeous ceramic mugs, bowls, pitchers, planters, and so much more.

Frostbeard is a candle company for book nerds and other nerds. They have candles scented for old books, Sherlock’s study, The Shire, all four Hogwarts houses, Dumbledore’s office, Oxford Library, and I’m going to stop now before I buy all of them.

Bourbon French Parfums is a perfumery that has resided in the French Quarter for over 100 years! All their perfumes are mixed in small batches by hand and smell positively divine. I’m completely satisfied with my Lilac & Lace.

Golden Apothecary is Nashville-based and creates all kinds of all-natural body products from beard oil to lip balm to muscle salve to deodorants.

Camellia Fiber Company is also Nashville based and run by Rebekka Seale who sources her fibers locally and spins and dyes the most beautiful and softest yarns you’ve ever seen. And just to give you a heads-up – her products sell out VERY quickly, so make sure you get on her mailing list so you’ll know when to expect the next batch.

Wheat & Co. is another Nashville Store that provides American-made goods and is dedicated to providing products whose makers maintain a close relationship with them. I’m currently salivating over the boots.

Thistle Farms is by far my personal favorite. It is a social enterprise that was started by Becca Stevens, who also founded Magdalene, a residential recovery program for victims of prostitution and addiction in Nashville. The company was begun out of a necessity to provide the women with jobs when no other organization would want to take them on. Zero work history + hundreds of arrests on your record don’t make for a good resume. These women are completely in charge of the company that makes body products and candles and also sells the healing oils that they use in their products. Each item you buy from the lavender soap to the sage & lemon-grass candle were handmade by a survivor of prostitution. And another great aspect is that this company partners with other organizations in other countries that serve the same purpose in their own communities.

And finally, I leave you with a hub of makers. The Just Giving Guide by Sojourners is a collection of resources for fair trade giving options. You can shop for home goods, clothing, food and beverages, and jewelry.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are some companies that are a good place to start. We’ve got a long way to go before we would be able to find everything we need with certainty that the products were sustainably and ethically made. But I believe we’ve got to start somewhere. It’s hard to find a garden hose that wasn’t made in Taiwan or a phone that wasn’t assembled in China, but it’s not all that hard to buy secondhand, it’s not all that hard to find at least SOME locally grown produce, and it’s not all that hard to learn to make some of our own things. The world can’t change overnight, but it can change in the small steps we take every day as we think twice about the way we consume things and how much we really need the things we do consume. And if we do find that we really do need these things, let there be a good story behind them.