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Friday Five – If I Had $100, I Would…

10 Feb

photo from ohashleylove on tumblr

There are so many amazing causes out there, so much justice to be done, so many poor and downtrodden that need to be served, so many lost that need to know God’s grace. I can think of, oh, about 100 things I could spend $100 on for myself. But to be honest, when a friend asked me that question the other day – if I was freely given $100, not earned, not budgeted for, not having to talk to A to decide how to spend it, but given free and clear what would I do? – the only thing I wanted to do was give it away.

Now before you think I’m tooting my own philanthropic horn, I’m not. I grew up with the concept of giving back. My father, though he had no boundaries and often gave to the point of endangering our family, did teach me to hold onto things loosely, and to give with an open hand and open heart. As I’ve grown in my faith, I can’t help but feel that we who are so richly blessed have a responsibility to give back and not only support our church, but to help further the cause of justice world-wide. We have more access to more need than any other generation before us, thanks to a little thing we call the internet. Need is literally staring us in the face, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and shut down in the face of so much hurt. But it’s just as easy to give. Every little bit counts, and I believe that every little bit given freely is honored by God. So I give, not for self-aggrandisement, but because I, who have been so richly blessed, am compelled to give back that which I’ve been put in charge of.

So here are five organizations, in order of those that tug on my heart the most, that I would gladly give an unplanned-for $100 to in a heartbeat:

International Justice Mission

International Justice Mission is, in my opinion, one of the most important organizations out there today. IJM is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local officials to secure immediate victim rescue and aftercare, to prosecute perpetrators and to ensure that public justice systems – police, courts and laws – effectively protect the poor.

From their website:
Through individual casework, IJM confronts aggressive human violence: violence that strips widows and orphans of their property and livelihoods, violence that steals dignity and health from children trafficked into forced prostitution, violence that denies freedom and security to families trapped in slavery.

Violence against the poor is not driven by the overwhelming power of the perpetrators – it is driven by the vulnerability of the victims. This violence can be stopped when the power of the law is brought to bear on behalf of those who need it, and when people of good will contribute their financial and professional resources to insisting it stop.  IJM’s casework model combats victimization and violence on the level of the individual, and supports functioning public justice systems where the poor urgently need an advocate.

 In the tradition of heroic Christian leaders like abolitionist William Wilberforce and transformational leaders like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., IJM’s staff stand against violent oppression in response to the Bible’s call to justice (Isaiah 1:17): Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. As a feminist and human rights advocate, IJM is everything I care about, and is directly fighting the oppression that I believe greaves God’s heart.

To Write Love on Her Arms

I came across this organization years ago, and many of my high school students have taken it upon themselves over the years to host fundraisers to contribute to TWLOHA’s mission. They deal with the broken, the hurting, the ones so wracked with pain that they turn on their own bodies, which makes this non-profit is very dear to my heart.

From their website:
To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.

The vision is that we actually believe these things…
You were created to love and be loved.  You were meant to live life in relationship with other people, to know and be known. You need to know that your story is important and that you’re part of a bigger story.  You need to know that your life matters.

Made In the Streets

Made in the streets is an orginization my church has supported for longer than I’ve been attending. Charles & Darlene Coulston, former members of our church, went to Kenya on a short missions trip and were so moved by the plight of the street kids in Nairobi that they came back to the US only to raise funds so they could go back and get to work. They started with a small facility, rescuing kids who want a life off of the streets and out of the slums. Many street kids in Nairobi are addicted to glue-sniffing, and almost all of the girls have been victims of sexual assault. MITS offers them a new life, and offers a safe place, biblical study, and training in real-world skills.

From their website:
Our ministry begins in the streets of Eastleigh. We go to the streets to find kids just as they are, and offer them a new life. Our team is trained to take first aid, friendship, Bible study, food, sports, counseling, and the opportunity to go to a skills training school – all the things needed by children who are sleeping on the streets. On the streets, we are looking for boys and girls who are 13-14 years old and ready for a new life free from glue, drugs, stealing and hunger. We also look for young girls who are pregnant or have babies.

He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, and seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best.  Psalm 113:7-8

MITS has been going on so long that some of their early street kids have ‘graduated’ from the program and are working as staff members. Our church has personally committed to providing the monthly salary for two former street kid staff members. Other kids have moved on, taking the real-life trade skills they gained while at MITS and gotten jobs or started their own business. Others have started families that are forging a new path of health and prosperity in their family tree.

Living Water International

When Jesus went out and met people with real needs, He didn’t start by preaching a sermon at them. He met their needs first, showed them that He understood them and loved them, and by doing so He changed their lives forever. Living Water International has a vision to bring the gospel to underdeveloped nations, and they start by meeting one of humanities most basic needs: the need for water.

From their website:
Living Water International exists to demonstrate the love of God by helping communities acquire desperately needed clean water, and to experience “living water”—the gospel of Jesus Christ—which alone satisfies the deepest thirst.

 Nearly 21 years ago, we set out to help the church in North America be the hands and feet of Jesus by serving the poorest of the poor. More than a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day. 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water. For all practical purposes, these statistics refer to the same people; around the world, communities are trapped in debilitating poverty because they constantly suffer from water-related diseases and parasites, and/or because they spend long stretches of their time carrying water over long distances.

In response to this need, we implement participatory, community-based water solutions in developing countries. Since we started, we’ve completed more than 10,000 water projects (and counting!) for communities in 26 countries.

I don’t know what it’s like to not have access to clean water. The closest I’ve ever come was having my water heater break a few weeks ago, or the time we had a pipe burst when I was a kid and we had to shut our water off. I can’t imagine walking with my kids dozens of miles to get to a dirty water source, just so I could fill a jug with brown water and carry it back home. I heard a comedian once say that “it’s no wonder other countries hate America. Most countries don’t have access to clean water, and here we have whole parks dedicated to playing in it.” I said as much to my high school kids on a group trip to Water World – jokingly, because I have a morbid sense of humor – and my justice minded, soft-hearted kids decided to host a charity lunch and raised enough money to build a well. I was humbled by their passion, and LWI remains one of my favorite charities. My mom makes a donation in my name for Christmas each year, and it’s the best present I could ask for.

New Life Live

I’ve listened to this humble call-in talk show since 2003. I’ve been to counseling, I’ve received mentoring, I’ve experienced healing, and I can say unequivocally that this talk show has been a major force in shaping me into the person I am today. It helped me through my family falling apart and having to carry a burden that no teenager should have to bear. It helped me learn to communicate in a healthy way, when my family of origin’s style of communicating was screaming at each other until someone left the room. It helped me identify the areas in my life where I was broken, and needed healing.

From their website:
Mission Statement:
To transform lives through God’s truth by reaching out compassionately to those who seek healing and restoration.
Core Values:
Connection, Truth, Transformation
Statement of Faith:
As a professional organization, we set forth the following beliefs which have been agreed to by the professional and support staff of New Life Ministries.  These beliefs are essential to our treatment philosophy and ministry.

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, inerrant, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He has revealed Himself in creation, history, and in Jesus Christ.
  • We believe in God’s creation of the world and humankind and in humanity’s rebellion and subsequent depravity.
  • We believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including His deity, His virgin birth, His sinless life, His true humanity, His miracles, His substitutionary death, His bodily resurrection, His ascension to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father, and in His coming personal return in power and in glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of the lost, sinful man, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.  We believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ as one’s Savior.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life and to grow in the knowledge of God and Christian obedience.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost—the saved unto the resurrection of life and the lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the importance of the church for worship, service and missions.
  • We believe all human life is a sacred gift from God and is to be protected and defended from conception to natural death. We will uphold the sanctity of life and bring the grace and compassion of Christ to those who face the realities of previous abortion, unwanted pregnancy, and end-of-life illness.
  • We believe in the importance of marriage.  Specifically, that marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24), and that a person’s sex (male or female) is determined by God in the womb (Psalm 139:13) and revealed at birth.
  • We further believe that marriage is a covenant relationship that is mirrored in the relationship between Christ and His Church (Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 21:9).  And although the Bible states that divorce is permissible in two unusual circumstances (adultery as described in Matthew 5:31, and abandonment of a Christian by a non-Christian as described in I Corinthians 7:15), we will do all we can to preserve marriage.
  • We believe that all psychological principles should be thoroughly evaluated through the grid of Scripture, and that Scripture always holds the final authority.

The wisdom you receive through listening to this show every day is priceless. I can never listen when it’s live, but I subscribe to their podcast and listen on my commute. Around my birthday I often ask friends and family to donate to New Life in lieu of giving me a gift, because in my life, New Life is truly a gift that keep giving.

Do you have any organizations you love to support? Give them a plug in the comment section below; I’d love to check them out!

Friday Five – My Life According to Nidhi

3 Feb

In case you couldn’t tell from my header, I love the art of Nidhi Chanani. So many of you have asked where I got my headers that I thought I’d share a few of my current favorite pieces, as well as giving her a much deserved plug. She is letting me use her art just because I emailed her and told her how awesome I think she is, after all. Her work embodies the exuberant spirit, the sense of freedom, and the appreciation of quiet moments I wanted to bring to life in BiRL. It also pays homage to my heart-home city and my heritage. I so love everything she makes, and really want some Nidhi art to be part of redecorating our bedroom one day.

As I was going through some of her latest creations, I was struck by how well a few of her prints illustrated my life right now. For those of you who don’t know, A is an accountant. He ceases to exist from January through April 15th. This year it’s been more like October through April 15th. He gets home late and works on weekends, and I miss him. This year he’s really laying down some boundaries and just saying no to working on Sundays, so we can still go to church and have the rest of the day together. So this Friday Five has a double purpose: to celebrate my favorite parts of my day with my man, and to share some truly great art.

We set the alarm clock at least half an hour before the earliest of us has to get up so we can cuddle up and spoon. Usually A. hits the alarm and whispers to a sleepy wife to turn over so he can hold me. We spend every morning in each other’s arms, dozing, hitting snooze, until the reality of the day forces us up. It is, without a doubt, my favorite part of the day.

Especially now, A usually leaves the house before I do, planting kiss after kiss on my sleepy lips. Half the time I have to call him when I wake up to confirm his ‘notes’ to me before he left. He always tells me when he’s going to be home and if he fed the dogs, but in my sleep-addled state I never can remember. I remember the “I love you’s” though, and the “I’ll miss you, have a good day’s.” (I think the girl kind of looks like me, too. Yes?)

This is so how I feel when A comes home. I don’t always show it – I’m usually up to my elbows in dinner prep – but the thrill, the joy, the peace that’s in this piece is there. Oh, and sub two over-exuberant dogs for the cats.

Ok, this one is a bit of a stretch. We do this sort of thing – eating in bed – when we’re on vacation and I absolutely love it. But by the time we get under the covers we’re both in the  mood for quiet down-time, not a snack. But we often have the late night snack in our living room, just before bed. So bad, I know, but these nights A gets home so late so we end up staying up talking or watching a show, and a snack just helps sometimes.

This is absolutely us, every night I don’t have trouble sleeping. We both love to read before bed. It sets A at peace, it calms my mind. This piece shows us one light-click away from dreamland. And the next day we get to start all over again, in each other’s arms.

Thanks to Nidhi  Chanani for sharing her art with Bigger in Real Life. You can view Nidhi’s etsy shop here, or click on any of the images to view their listings.

If someone drew a picture of your life today, what would it look like?

Friday Five: Best Shows on TV Right Now

27 Jan

A and I don’t have regular TV. We’ve been watching on the internet since we were married, before it was a thing and TV’s came with internet-ready hookups. (The day A figured our how to jerry-rig his old computer to our TV…that was a proud moment in the Aylesworth house, my friends.) Anyhoo, we made the decision to not have regular TV because I hated the advertising and we figured that newlyweds had more important things to do than watch TV all evening…like get to know each other as newley-marrieds! Minds out of the gutter, folks. But that didn’t work out so well in the long run. With internet TV becoming a major thing, we watch all the shows (for the most part) other people do, just a day later. So I thought I’d share the five shows A and I wait for the other to watch. The best current shows on television (that we can see on Hulu or Netflix, that is, since not all networks put their shows up yet), according to Bigger in Real Life are:

1. Modern Family

I feel almost trite putting this up here after the sweep I heard it did, once again, at the Golden Globes, but it’s the truth. This show rocks. There isn’t a better ensemble cast on TV right now, and unlike my perennial favorite Friends I can’t think of a character I dislike. I love the patriarch in Jay and how he’s softened by the comic genius in Gloria. I love the whole dynamic of the Dunphys. And Cam is my absolute favorite. So soft and lovable, yet so hard-core. Awesome.

2. Castle

This show had us since we heard the two magic words: “Nathan Fillion.” Sure the plots are semi-formulaic, and A and I usually figure out whodunnit before Beckett and Castle do, but shaddup, it makes us feel smart. There’s no better combo of lighthearted fun and dramatic twists than Castle. And the almost there love dynamic between Kate and Castle? Television gold. Listen up, writers of Castle: if you ever let Castle and Beckett get together it will ruin the show. I know you’ll be tempted if you ever have to end things, but trust me, the almost-there is what makes the show. Although it would help a lot if NF could go back to looking like the dashing hero if the first season. He’s starting to look more like Kate’s older and less attractive uncle than a serious love interest.

3. How I Meet Your Mother

This one almost was #2 for me, as the show neatly fills the hole Friends left behind, but while the HIMYM gang makes you wish you could have a beer with them, Castle just makes me feel good about life. So it’s in at #3. And why is that? Oh, I’ll give you six reasons, in three words or less: Robin Sparkles. Slap bet. Suit Up. Legend-waitforit-Dary! Theme Songs. Neil. Patrick. Harris.

4. 30 Rock

Honestly, this show is so freaking good it could have usurped any of the ones listed above. I only ranked it lower because the non-linear plot line makes this show closer to sketch comedy than something where you can really invest in the characters. But oh my goodness, I love everything Tina Fey does. And prior to 30 Rock I never thought I’d say this, but Alec Baldwin really makes the show. First time in his career I’ve been laughing because of him, not at him.

5. Community

This show has been a bit of a sleeper on the acclimation scale, but I’m here to tell you that it deserves a place on any top five list, with a bullet. This show has served up paintball wars, a claymation Christmas Special, anime foosball, Dawn of the Dead-type plots, blatant fun-making of Glee, alternate timelines, and Troy and Abed in the Morning. You don’t have to have attended a community college to love this show, you just have to be able to recognize greatness when you see it.

Runner up in the drama category: Parenthood

I felt bad that all my top picks were comedies lasting half an hour, so had to throw this one in as an honorable mention to show that I don’t only like the funny shows, and that I have an attention span longer than a goldfish. Because really, could Parenthood have won over any of the above? I don’t think so.
A doesn’t like to admit it, but when he’s up in the loft playing computer games he totally pays attention to the plot-lines of this oh-so-well-written show. Do I agree with every decision the writers make? No. Do I think some of the things they write intending to be heartwarming are stupid and shallow? Yes. But I love this show for the way it portrays families. I come from a crazy large family, and we all talk over each other, just like the characters in Parenthood. I’ve been every teenager on that show at some point in my life, and have had friends like all of the Bravermans. I love how they have problems and make choices for better or worse, but in the end family trumps all. I will say one thing, though. I still don’t know the name of Lauren Graham’s character, because to A and I she’s still Lorelei Gilmore.

Potential List Addition in the Future: Alcatraz

This is the first show in a long time A and I have been really excited about. I’m a straight-up sucker for any show set in California (another reason I love Parenthood. Watching them take a road trip down Hwy 5 was like taking a trip home for me. But I digress.) but set it in my favorite city in the world and I’m in. This show is full of intrigue and secrecy, and we can’t tell yet if Sam Neil is a good guy or a bad guy. Plus, they have Hurley, who I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to call by his new character name either.

And in case you were wondering, here are some shows that would have made the cut, had circumstances been different:

Best show if it was three years ago:

Best show if I wanted to admit to loving a dressed-up soap opera:
Private Practice

Best show if I was over 50 and wanting to still feel like I’ve got it:
Desperate Housewives

Best show as long as Steve Carrell stayed on:
The Office

Best show if I wasn’t burned out on the mockumentary-style filming thanks to The Office:
Parks and Recreation

Best concept turned disappointment by uninspired writing:
Once Upon a Time

Best case of a supporting cast totally being better than the name-brand star they got to play the lead character:
New Girl

Best show if there wasn’t something about Christina Applegate that makes me want to punch her in the face:
Up All Night. Love. Me. Some Maya.

So that’s my list. Do you agree? Disagree? What are your picks for best shows on TV right now?

Friday Five – A Week in Gratitude: Frugality, Food, Free Time, and Fire

13 Jan

Five things from this week that I’m grateful for:

freshly baked cookies await upon check in

1. (Frugal) Time Away With My Husband

A few weeks ago A called me at work, saying he got an email from one of our favorite Inns in Carmel offering rooms at 60% off. He asked if I’d like to go away for a weekend before tax season got started. My response? “Are you kidding me?!? Of course I want to go! How soon can we get a room?”

a little wine, sipped in a garden, with an artisinal cheese plate at georis

2. Good Food and Good Wine

We go to Carmel a lot, so this trip we wanted to do something different. It was unseasonably sunny and warm (mid-60’s all weekend) so we decided to explore Carmel Valley instead of doing our usual downtown/beach routine. We sampled offerings from local wineries and ate an amazing lunch crafted to pair with the wines in the area. Food in Carmel never disappoints, and I am always grateful to God that not only are we so richly blessed to have food to eat, but that it’s good food, our choice of food, prepared with care.

see that sink on the right? next to the microwave? saved our lives

3. An Opportunely Placed Sink

Our last night at the Inn, we decided to have a classic Aylesworth night in after dinner and enjoy champagne and popcorn while watching a movie. Except the microwave was faulty. And burned our popcorn. And when I say burned, I mean burned, as in caught fire. Thank the Lord I was standing right there and saw the bag ignite. I had a split second’s hesitation of “holy crap, what do I do?!?”  before I glanced down and remembered that because we were in the deluxe suite there was a deep metal sink right next to the microwave. One faucet blast later and we were staring down in shock at the charred, soggy mess that was our popcorn. We chose to use the stove to pop the corn after that.

buy local, eat local

4. Living in California, Where Good Local Produce is Always Available

While we were driving to Carmel Valley from Carmel-By-the-Sea (yes, it’s actually named that. Because it’s not a place, it’s a lifestyle.) we drove past a lot of farm land. As we came upon a sign for one of the farms, A and I pointed to it at the same time, because we recognized the logo as our preferred brand of leafy greens for salads. I try to buy local as much as possible, so I’d known that this farm was near our hometown, but actually seeing the sign pop up on our weekend getaway made it all so much more real. Not only does my food not have to make the trek across state lines, (using up fuel, oil, and being harvested prematurely so that it will survive the trip) but when I buy from this company I’m putting money back into the pockets on people in a community I love. It was a great reminder of the importance of buying locally, and a wonderful edification of my goal to live intentionally this year. I’m so grateful that it’s so easy to buy local in California, where we can grow fruits and veggies year round because our state freakin’ rocks.

give us a place by the sea, and we'll be happy

5. A Well-rested Hubby

A is an accountant. He works very hard all year round, but never more so than between January and April. Those months take the work load from steady to extreme. This year, he’s been working near-tax season hours since October, and it’s been really tough on him and on us. Right before he got the offer from the Inn in Carmel, he decided that despite the work piling up, despite the busyness, despite the crazy pace he and his co-workers were keeping, he was going to take the first week in January off. He’s taken some time to rest and renew, sleep in, gotten some housework done (but not too much!) and spent a lot of time conquering the universe on his games. He’s taken care of dinner the last few nights, letting me have time to fit in a run, and turned into the extra-wife-pampering husband he always becomes when he has some time off. I’m so grateful he has a job, especially one that recognizes the value of rest and let him get away before he burned out.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday Five – Hard Cover Titles I Want Right Now

6 Jan

My mom got me a Kindle for my birthday, and as much as I preach the pleasure of cracking open a new book, I’m slightly addicted to it. It’s so amazingly convienient; press a button and a book appears as if by magic! No waiting until I have time to go to the bookstore, no exchanging of actual money (because virtual money doesn’t count, right???), just good books that I want, when I want them. It’s dangerous on my pocketbook, to say the least.

Anyhoo, I stand by my claim that (eventhoughtIlovemyKindleandneverwanttobewithoutit) real books will always be better. The thrill of browsing the shelves and picking up the perfect book, like rediscovering an old friend. The sound of the spine cracking as you open it for the first time, the sound that promises unlocking adventure. I love the romance of books – their promise, their ability to take you to places you never imagined, the way they sit on your shelves so patiently while you read newer, flashier titles, knowing that you’ll love them just as much when you finally come back and read them again. I even love their smell, that’s how much I love a tactile, tangible, real-life book. To this day, one of the most romantic things A can say to me (and he often does, good man) is “how about we go to the bookstore tonight, grab a cup of coffee, and buy you a good book.”

So even with my newfound Kindle-love, there are more than a few books I would die to have right now. I’d love the Kindle version, goodness knows they’d be cheaper, but I’ve wanted these titles long enough that I’d love to have them grace my shelves in hardback. Heck, I’d take them in softcover, but nothin’ says lovin’ like a hardback book. So here, in no particular order, are the top five books I’d love to have in real-print editions right now:

1. Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe, etided by Bernard Comment

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey

3. The Bitch in the House by Cathi Hanauer

4. Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets by Deborah Madison

5. Amphigorey: Fifteen Books by Edward Gorey

Love. Edward. Gorey.

Do you still die for hardback books, or do you prefer the downloadable version? What’s on your must-own book list right now?

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