Shopping advice? From me?

No one—and I mean no one—comes to me for Christmas shopping advice.

I’m not a good shopper at any time of the year. As my husband and older daughter say, “You start grumpy and just get worse.” They generally refuse to go with me—especially if they know the stores will be crowded.

Despite this, though, I’m actually going to share some shopping tips in this blog entry.

If you like the idea of giving gifts that give back, then you might be interested in some of these very cool businesses and nonprofits that allow you to do just that. Giving these items won’t help you to buy more with less money, but you’ll know that every purchase enables an organization to do more for someone who desperately needs hope.


Check out This company, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets and necklaces. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 8, 12, 13, and 15) ALL love them. doesn’t have a whole lot of items for sale, but I love the heart behind this small nonprofit, which was started by some young friends of ours. They have African-made bracelets and necklaces made out of rolled paper. If you haven’t seen these, don’t think, “Paper? Tacky.” They’re NOT. Plus, each one purchased helps support two children’s homes in Africa: Jerusalem Children’s ministry and Springs of Hope.

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work!


If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States. has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”


Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one near me in Glen Ellyn, IL). You can find a shop locater on the website.


Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories at


My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story.


Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to or and look under “ways to give.” The gift catalog has items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish.


If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear your ideas.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

Great numbers of the least

Joseph Stalin reportedly said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” and there’s a lot of truth to that statement. In the last week I’ve been reminded of a lot of numbers. I’m going to spout a few of them at you in the next couple of paragraphs but please know that the numbers are not the focus.

On Saturday I attended a training seminar at our local World Relief center ( Did you know there are 43.7 MILLION refugees in the world? Eighty percent of them are women and children.

On the radio last week I listened to an interview with Kathi Macias, an author who has written a fiction series on sex slave trafficking around the globe. More than 27 million slaves live in our world now. Two million of them are children exploited in the sex slave trade. This trade touches nearly every single country in the world and has a very real presence in the United States—not just in cities but in small towns as well ( (

On Saturday night—and again on Sunday—I spent time with Wilfred Rugumba, who is very special to our family. Wilfred is the director of the orphanage where Patrick, our youngest, lived before becoming an Underwood ( Wilfred reminded me that there are between 143 and 210 million orphans in the world. The number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa is greater than the total number of children in Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Canada, and Sweden.

Those are overwhelming statistics! Obviously they overlap—a lot. Many of those refugees are also orphans. Many orphans are the ones abducted into the slave trade. But regardless of how you slice and dice it, it adds up to a lot of people. A lot of hurting people.

Sometimes I can forget these numbers. I can go for a few days, a week, maybe two without actively remembering that every minute people are being abused, sold, orphaned, displaced, and widowed. There have been other times in my life, though, when I have felt paralyzed by the thought of the vicious evil being done in any given moment.

It is in those moments when I have been reminded that God NEVER forgets. I CAN forget. I can get wrapped up in my days that are filled with activity. But God never forgets. If He knows the number of hairs on my head, He certainly knows the numbers of those being abused and exploited. He knows exactly how many stomachs are hungry. He knows how many children are wailing or dazed with grief over dead parents. And they are not just numbers to Him. They are faces, hearts, and souls to Him! And He is present in their pain. He is there when the young girl or boy is sold for sex. He is there when the widow watches her child grow listless and blank-eyed because hunger has dulled everything. He sees every village that is marauded for political or ethnic reasons.

He was there during the Armenian massacres, and there during the Holocaust and there during the Rwandan and Cambodian and Bosnian genocides and others we don’t even know about. He is in Darfur today.

And He is not untouched.

My God, what a heart You must have! We cannot blame you for these atrocities—though we try. These are crimes we commit against each other, crimes we allow because we are too concerned with our own safety and status quo to be bothered. But You are bothered. I know that with our present-day, developed-world mentality, we tend to ask questions like, “How could a loving God judge our world? How could a loving God hold us to account when we cannot see Him?” But even if God did not hold us guilty for how we have forgotten and disrespected HIM, we would stand condemned for how we have disrespected and abused and ignored His image that is seen so clearly in the children of the world. In fact, some moments, when I read about atrocities done to children and defenseless women and oppressed people groups, I think, “How do you hold back, God? How do you keep from not just wiping us completely off the face of the earth?” Even with the Western, rights-focused bent that I must fight for the rest of my life, I am more amazed by His mercy in those moments than offended by His judgment.

Yet He has not wiped out. He has given grace. He continues to love His Western, privileged church even when we fail miserably at being His hands and feet to the oppressed. He allows me to approach Him daily, hourly with my comparatively small frustrations and complaints.

I am amazed by this God. I am humbled by this God.

And I pray that these two attitudes—amazement and humility—will lead my heart and my hands and my feet into becoming more and more like His.