9 last-minute, do-good gifts

I have this friend whose name is, uh, Zara.  And although Christmas is only five days away, she realizes she probably needs to get on the holiday shopping – but she doesn’t just want to give her loved ones more stuff.  In the spirit of giving, she desires to double her giving quotient and help someone in need; therefore, she’s jumping on the giving do-good wagon.

In case you, too, are in need of some last-minute, do-good gifts, consider supporting the goods of these organizations:

1.  A bracelet from Starfish: The Starfish Project helps to support exploited women in Asia.

Starfish supports exploited women in Asia.
The Blake wooden stretch bracelet, Starfish Project.

2. A necklace from TOM’S.  K, I’m stoked – the company that kick-started the movement has added “Marketplace” to their website; now, you can browse by Cause, Region or Brand.  This necklace, for instance, is multi-region, and helps in nutrition efforts for children.  Brilliant!

The Citrine Balboa Necklace, Tom's.
The Citrine Balboa Necklace, Tom’s.

3.  Give a goat.  I’ve long loved the idea of giving a goat, of buying a buck, of Christmas-ing a cow – you get the idea.  Check out Heifer International’s famous guide, “The Most Important Gift Catalog in the World.”  (World Vision does the same).  

4.  Give the gift of KIVA – this is for that someone who really doesn’t need another coffee table book.  Why not instead give a loan to someone around the world in need, through their name?

5.  Get your Noonday on and help a family adopt their little one – Noonday Collection supports artisans around the world, and various independent ambassadors also receive a portion of the profit.  So, in buying (for instance) a pair of Annie’s Feathered Earrings, not only will you help a woman like Sidhama, but you’ll also help Katie and Mike bring home their little one.  Win-win, I say!

Noonday Collection.
Noonday Collection.

6.  Give a year-end gift (…or two, or three) to your favorite organization.  This time of year is crucial for the non-profit community, so help send a kid to camp, or help in the empowerment of women who need it most.  And, like KIVA, this is a fabulous idea to give in someone else’s name.

7. Be hiip!  K, y’all: this is one of my favorites, because hiip’s founder, Nicole, is one of my favorites!  By buying a hiip little fanny pack, a second pack, filled with essentials for the homeless, is given to our friends on the streets of San Francisco.  And, you automatically can look as cool as this:

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 9.03.17 AM
Pacific Heights, hiip.

8.  Help fight human trafficking – While there are so many organizations now doing incredible world in the fight against human trafficking, IJM and Not for Sale are two of the forerunners.  Give a gift in someone else’s name, and help change a life!   

9. Wear a hat!  Finally, Krochet Kids seeks to help empower people to rise above poverty.  And from their website, “We desire holistic freedom for our people to grow and enrich their lives physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”  Yes, yes, yes!  So, don your kid’s head in hoots of hilariousness with this hat:

the hoot, Krochet Kids.
the hoot, Krochet Kids.

Well, I think we’ve officially given Zara some good ideas of gifts that give back.  I know I’m encouraged!

Love Always, Cara “Who’s Zara?” Meredith*

What about you?  What organizations that give back would you add to the list?  And otherwise, how in LOVE with those feathered earrings are you?  Ugh.  

*None of these organizations paid me to promote their products.  I just think they’re great.  And there’s also no guarantee the lovely gifts will reach doorsteps by December 25th – but tis the season for a week-long Christmas celebration!

i’m a jesus feminist because…

The lovely Sarah Bessey‘s book, Jesus Feminist, officially hit the book store stands yesterday, and friends, it’s the real deal, mostly because she’s the real, authentic deal.  Some of you might be wondering how “Jesus” and “Feminist” can sit side by side, but as Bessey so beautifully puts it in this article, “I’m a feminist because I love Jesus so much…” – and friends, that’s Truth right there.  So without further adieu, I’m a Jesus Feminist because…

Photo cred: Altra Point.
Photo cred: Altra Point.

women modeled leadership in the church I grew up in.  Mylinda and Pam preached on various Sundays, Linda gave the announcements, and different women served communion, took the offering and served as elders and deacons.  Sure, they were also standing in the back burping babies and teaching children’s classes and setting up the punch for the social hour, but all were free to use their gifts accordingly.  I never questioned whether there was even another way within the church.

my parents instilled a confidence within me that nothing was outside of my abilities or bounds – of all things, my sex certainly was not a limiting factor.

Young Life believes in women in leadership.  I saw this as a high school student when I saw both males and females given equal opportunities, and I experienced this on staff when I was not limited by my gender, but all the more encouraged to assume leadership roles.

I was given opportunities to use my gifts and passions and talents – though young, different organizations and camps and churches offered me a platform to open my mouth and speak.  (Thank you, Young Life, Frontier Ranch and Mount Hermon, to name a few).

I read and I questioned and I let myself feel angry if something didn’t make sense, if a verse or a statement or an implied belief didn’t sit right with me.  Though certainly not academic, I remember reading Traveling Mercies for the first time in my early twenties, when Lamott’s words encouraged me to truly be me, to believe what I wanted to believe and still love Jesus all the same. Permission had been granted through mere print.

I read the writings of various feminist theologians, and found my heart thumping along with a good number of these men and women.

I realized that it’s so important for the next generation to have modeled.  Our girls need to see and hear and experience leadership from both men and women in the school and in the church, at home and in play.

But there’s a “but” to it as well; I’m a Jesus Feminist because…

I was silenced.  It was assumed that I would conform to conservative biblical gender roles, because this was the right and the only way.

I didn’t see women up front.  Because I didn’t hear women preach and lead and use their gifts accordingly.

I was looked down upon solely because of my gender.  I was excused and looked over.  I was disregarded and stereotyped.

I was called a Jezebel.

...the misunderstood words of Paul and Timothy infuriated me, past, present and future.  For years, my face would grow red with anger, my emotions overwhelmed; I tried to piece together a response, because I couldn’t understand why the Jesus who was so for women would seem so opposite from those whose words followed the writings of his life.  I couldn’t understand why if it was for freedom Christ had set us free that I was still limited, solely because of my sex.

But mostly, I’m a Jesus Feminist because…

Jesus loves me so much.  

It’s not so much about my response to him, as it is his response to me.  It’s his response to the widows and the orphans, to slaves and women and children, to the marginalized and the poor, and to my own heart, today, here and now, regardless of my reply.

And that’s why I’m a Jesus Feminist.

What about you?  Why are you a Jesus Feminist, and/or why does the combination of these two words together send shivers up your spine?  But more importantly, aren’t you glad that, as adults, we can still love each other even if we disagree?  

when we were on fire.


I was a junior in high school, and I was on fire.

The mangled, dirty red “WWJD” bracelet wrapped around my wrist, next to beaded hemp friendship bracelets from summer camp, its worn strings another reminder of my faith.  It was Monday morning, so I showed up to my English teacher’s classroom before school to grab a stack of flyers: I was now, officially, a junior leader for Young Life, and it was part of my duty to help get everyone who “needed” to be there, there.  I, of course, didn’t need to be there: I’d already accepted Jesus into my heart, I already called myself a Christian.

I was friends with everybody, or so I claimed, so I passed those flyers out without regard: to the jocks and the partiers, to the band geeks and the preps, to the nerds and the loners.  With joy and without apology, my zeal could not be contained; I dodged couples making out, tangled bodies pushed up against lockers, and freshmen running as to not be late.  I shoved flyers into the hands of anyone I made eye contact with or shouted hello to – after all, since everyone was my friend, this was not only my right, it was my duty.

That night, I’d show up to club: I’d scope the front door for newcomers, piously claiming  ownership: He came because of me!  I’d scan the room for my current crush, hopeful that he already knew Jesus so that I wouldn’t have to Date to Save.  My Campaigners leader had told me it was wrong to be “unequally yoked,” and I didn’t want to destroy my standing with her.  I’d laugh at the jokes, and cross my fingers that they’d call me up for a game – but as the now-Christian kid, I was old news to play Make a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich With Just Your Feet.  Instead, I’d sing “Sweet Home Alabama,” fists merrily pumping on bama, bama, bama! and when it was time for the slow songs, I’d sit up just a little bit straighter from my seat on the floor, my own voice loudly carrying the melody for all the newcomers.  I’d cheer for the leader giving the talk that week, although deep down inside, I knew the fluffy, story-filled talks weren’t actually for me – they were for those who didn’t quite get it yet.  The Outsiders.

Since I was already in, I filled the rest of the week with other, deeper moments with other Christians.

I’d show up 45 minutes early to school the next morning, and head to that same, now- abandoned English classroom.  Tim, the new senior transfer, had started TFC, Time For Change, but it was much more selective than Young Life.  You had to be a Christian, a committed Christian who would sacrifice sleep for Jesus, to be there; we wanted to show the rest of our school that it really was time for a change, because it mattered, He mattered.  We were taking McNary High School over for Jesus.  Tim would lead us in songs, and we’d belt out “Light the Fire” and “Shout to the Lord” and “I Exalt Thee,” each voice competing for the loudest, holiest, most angelic spot.  We’d leave the door wide open so that others would hear how much we loved Jesus, and maybe, just maybe, realize  Truth.

Maybe we’d even let them in.

I’d visit various youth groups when I didn’t have to work on a Wednesday night, and come Sunday morning, I had my list of churches I could visit to get fed, and get right with Jesus, and repent from Friday and Saturday nights.

Because the truth was this: although I really, really loved Jesus, and although I really, really wanted everyone to know it, I also wanted to keep my options open.

I wanted to get invited to that party, to the one that everyone was going to be at.  I wanted to drink wine coolers and smoke the pack of cloves hidden in the glove compartment of my car; I wanted to kiss my crush, and tell Kristen and Sarah and Jessica the whole story the next week at school.  I didn’t want to be too Christian, because being Too Christian was boring, and I was above that label, I was fun.  

Besides, how else was I going to have a good three-minute testimony?

So with one foot in and one foot out, my Doc Martens tottered precariously on the fence of Evangelicalism, on the brink of Christianity.  I was the older son, but I yearned to be the younger son.  I’d wear my Young Life sweatshirt on Mondays, but as for one of those youth group t-shirts that boasted verses, a la “The Lord’s Gym,” I would have none of that – because I wasn’t that much of a Jesus Freak.

I was a Jesus Freak when it mattered – and, as for me and my testimony, that was enough.


Although I write quite frequently on faith, I haven’t necessarily spent very much time musing over the more Evangelical, “On Fire” times of my spiritual journey.  But it felt appropriate, as fellow blogger and writer Addie Zierman‘s book, When We Were on Fire, makes its publishing debut today.  But in the meantime, what has your spiritual journey been like?  What, if any, parts of my story did you resonate with?   

celebrating summer: oh that 4th.

Really, I stole my love of Independence Day from old roommate, Lola.

With pride and giggles and glistening smile she’d parade across our Scotts Valley living room, belting out “America the Beautiful” while inviting those in the crowded living room to do the same.  Americana stars and stripes bed sheet hugged her curves like a dress, her hand held an unlit sparkler while in her hair a tinseled crown rested in celebratory wait.

Photo cred: Marshwalk.
Photo cred: Marshwalk.

Truthfully, she’s just one of those charismatic people who invites others in to join the party, to drop their grilled chicken and steak and tofu pups, to put the Blue Moon aside for a moment, and to climb up on the roof to watch the fireworks show.

Because we can.

Because it’s important to remember to live.

Because it’s necessary to suck the marrow out of life for just one night.  

So even though the 4th has come and gone, and apparently this hailed holiday post is at best a week late, it’s still worth celebrating.  It’s still worth the memory.

It’s worth remembering block parties as a child – of marshmallow-mayonnaise-nutty jello salad, and dripping slices of watermelon, and Dad bloodying his eye out with his own homemade slingshot.

It’s worth thinking about how the evening was the epitome of togetherness on our hometown block; barricading off each end of the street with sawhorses, we’d run in the streets, in childlike glee and play, free to be for just for a few hours.

And it’s worth a magical reflection to wonder how it never seemed to rain in Oregon that whole day or night.  Then, bundling up in blankets and Dad’s oversized flannel shirts, we’d huddle in lawn chairs in the driveway, writing our names in the air with sparklers while the daddies braved the fire in the middle of the street.

Fast-forward a few years, and it’s worth a “remember” or two to think about those many summers at camp.

It’s worth remembering Fruitworks: how Lenny Kravitz’ “American Woman” blared in the background while Americana-clad superheroes threw watermelons and cantaloupes while flying across the air on a zip line.  It’s worth stealing such a lovely idea from a month at Young Life camp to eventually find its cozy home in the world of Covenant camping just a few summers later.

(And that’s when I say a simultaneous Thank you and You’re welcome).  

It’s worth remembering how we for-the-love-of-all-county-fire-laws weren’t allowed to shoot off fireworks – but for the love of camp, could plant ourselves in the branches of the trees and flash our flashlights to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner.”  We could give those kids the best damn campy 4th of July they’d ever experienced.

So this summer, Cancan and I found ourselves away from the HBH, but with family nonetheless.  Sister did what she creatively does best: she magically looks at food, and then delectably dreams it into being – so although we didn’t have the marshmallow-mayonnaise-nutty jello salad of our youth, we did have potato salad and deviled eggs and gooey, cheesy burgers on the grill.

We watched our almost-toddler babies interact, and we played lawn games, and then we surveyed the trees overhead, mindful of the many Smoky the Bear lessons instilled within our northwest minds as children – for, only YOU can prevent fire fires!  

And then we went to bed early, because babies make us tired and sun wears us out and we’re grown-ups now, so we can go to bed whenever we want.

But the end result was the same: like the many summers before it, whether at home or at camp, the day was surrounded by family and friends, by smiles and laughter and memories and togetherness.

And, with that rare, perfect bit of Washington sunshine as well, made it just altogether lovely.  

What about you?  How was your 4th of July?  What are your Independence Day memories made of?  …And remember, I’d love to hear your Celebrating Summer stories – submit an essay today!

on community: something new.

I’ve known today’s writer since 1996, which, by the way, is the beginnings of a long time if you actually do the math.  Kristalyn was my work crew boss, which in Young Life-speak, means intentional, fabulous, Call You On Your Crap and walk-alongside mentor for three weeks while volunteering laborious hours at a summer camp.  But now we’re grown-up friends, cheering each other on in our own writing endeavors – so without further adieu, be inspired and head on over to Something New today!  

Proof that not only did the 90's exist, but that work crew bosses serve their guts out.  (Craig, Christopher, Gretchen and Kristalyn)
Proof that not only did the 90’s exist, but that work crew bosses serve their guts out. (Craig, Christopher, Gretchen and Kristalyn)

Something New everyday, yes everyday.

And you know why I do it?

To create community.

To connect community.

To know my community.

It’s a connection point with old friends, “Let’s meet at the new coffee shop.”

It’s a meeting ground for new acquaintances: “Come here often?”

It’s a new worldview, whether a book, a cultural fest or going somewhere where blog readers don’t usually go. To see a side of life through the eyes of someone I may not have ever run into if I stick to a daily routine.

It’s to take me off my bum, away from the computer and into the world of real people. (I am a writer so I have a lot of conversations with imaginary people!)

Because community consists of real people – hurting, helpless, happy, hungry – sometimes doing Something New is super easy, enjoyable and I get a feeling like “I belong here.  I could do this again.”

Other times it’s like, “Holy heck, get me out of here now!”

Sometimes it’s no big deal.

Sometimes it takes five minutes.

Other times it’s life-changing.

Whatever the outcome may be of doing Something New, it’s a conversation starter, a touch point, a story to be told later, an opportunity to make someone else the expert, time to share with those known and unknown.

Sometimes it’s not necessarily the doing Something New that affects me, it’s the being with while doing the Something New that affects me.

And that is what being in community is all about.

Do Something New today AND take someone with you –

– to see the world anew – for adventure – to be delighted – because it’s okay to be uncomfortable – because there is so much to behold, taste, see, smell, hear, touch – to discover – for fun – to be surprised – to observe – to appreciate – to understand – to love – to learn – to question – to realize – to seek truth – to live life to the fullest – to try a new ice cream flavor – to be together – to be a part of community.

When was the last time you did Something New?

Want to try Something New together?!

Thank you again, Kristalyn.  I’m certainly inspired to step out of my own comfort zones and do and be and try something new!  If you’re just stopping by here for the first time, consider continuing to cheer Cara on in her writing by becoming a Facebook fan of be, mama. be, or better yet, by subscribing to receive each email in your inbox by heading to the Home Page and clicking on the “subscribe” button in the left-hand column.  It matters – thank you!

lessons from a bike.

Wild Oak.  (Photo credit: Mr. Ryan Miller)
Wild Oak. (Photo credit: Mr. Ryan Miller)

A few years’ back, I spent four weeks of my summer working at a small camp in the Santa Cruz mountains, a luxury and heartache we signed up for as Young Life staff. Each week a new crew of campers would arrive, and we’d then spend the week building relationships and talking about Jesus, in the midst of various activities: kayaking at Elkhorn Slough, surfing in the Pacific Ocean, mountain biking in the forest, along with cliff-jumping and hiking and skateboarding, if one pleased.

Now, I spent some time at a campsite or two growing up, and certainly have a fondness for burnt marshmallows and late-night philosophical discussions that happen best while staring at a bed of glowing embers. I’ve even been known to go a day or two […or three – then I had a kid. Shower? Who has time for that?] without a shower – but to seemingly live like this for four weeks?

Total first-world problem.

I want said shower.

And a glass of wine.

And an outfit besides the same two t-shirts I’ve been alternating off and on for the past seven days.

I mean, a girl can dream, right?

But of that time spent at camp, this I loved: even if we weren’t exactly the sportiest of Sporty Spice’s, there was a place for us. There was a place, even for me.

Case in point: mountain biking.

Dear Lord, whoever invented the bicycle obviously didn’t intend for sticks and twigs and branches and mud puddles (for crying out loud) to be part of its intended course. But apparently, at camp, we did.

So I donned my sportiest outfit and running shoes, filled up my water bottle and secured my bicycle helmet. Safety first! Like a sacrificial lamb, I humbly offered to ride last, “…you know just in case some slow campers needed a friend.”

I’m pretty sure the camp director and property manager saw right through me, but nevertheless, they obliged, and week after week, Miss Cara took up the rear.

And week after week, I had to traverse a bike path quite unlike the well-paved sidewalks of my childhood (of which I was a bike-riding expert).

I remember my friend James (not to be confused with the HBH) finally pulling me aside one day, and telling me this: “Don’t look down. Stare straight ahead – because wherever you look, your bike is going to follow.”

And he was right, of course. I stopped staring at the ominous, narrowing three-inch path before me, and instead looked 10, 20, 30 feet down the path. I found myself going a little faster, not slamming on the brakes so much, and soon teaching the back-of-the-line bikers a thing or two about mountain biking professionalism. I also bought a bike after that summer, but never mind that it hasn’t exactly been ridden since, um, 2009 or so.

So, why this story today?

There’s a great fear that lurks within many of us, so deep and so big that we don’t even know it’s there until we hop on the bike and start riding. It’s scary to keep hopping on that bike, and to start at the trail head again, when you know that your heart’s going to pound like a big, bad drum, and you’re supposed to have everything together, along with apparent fearlessness. And my natural tendency is to look down, because that’s all I’ve ever known, but in doing so, I get tripped up.

I loved what Seth Godin had to say yesterday (on entrepreneurship):

“The cost of setting up a lemonade stand (or whatever metaphorical equivalent you dream up) is almost 100% internal. Until you confront the fear and discomfort of being in the world and saying, “here, I made this,” it’s impossible to understand anything at all about what it means to be a entrepreneur. Or an artist.”

For me, it’s scary putting my writing out there, because it’s what I haven’t known. I’ve always loved writing, but it’s never been my job of sorts – and now, it’s real and new and different. It’s the unknown.

It’s scary publishing a post or submitting an article or asking for real, genuine, bonafide feedback from other writers. I wonder if I’ve said too much or too little or the wrong thing entirely, and then feelings of self-doubt creep in when I haven’t heard back after an hour or two. [For the love of instant gratification, enough already!]

I want to be liked and acknowledged and understood, and I flounder between then dismissing the unimportant (like the aforementioned triplet of verbs), and continuing to write, because I need to, even if not a soul says something about it.

It’s like I’m presenting my own little offering before the altar, and I’m hoping that it’s enough.

And you know what? I think it is.