The past few years, I’ve really begun struggling (internally & externally) with HOW & WHAT we choose to give for special occasions: birthdays, Christmas/holidays, weddings/anniversaries, & even in everyday opportunities to support, congratulate, or comfort the people in our lives.
FYI: I say “our” even though this post is about “me” & my habits because I think that the hardest part of the tug-of-war battle I’ve been waging is that it is part of a larger (ok, gargantuan) trend of impulsive (& compulsive) overconsumerism, but I won’t dive into that trigger topic right now…
In Spring 2009 I was introduced to The Advent Conspiracy, a movement started by churches in the name of Christmas that spoke out for social justice purposes (& has incredibly creative trailers on YouTube). Turns out, the U.S. of A. spends 450 BILLION DOLLARS on Christmas…EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Advent Conspiracy stands behind a specific cause: the human right for everyone to have access to fresh, clean, drinking water, an undertaking estimated to cost around $10 billion globally– ONE FORTY-FIFTH OF WHAT WE SPEND FOR CHRISTMAS.
Again, EVERY SINGLE YEAR.
Anyway, one is able to buy gift cards to enable others to support international water projects under way, & I love that one of us (non-blogger JSho) bought said gift card for me last Christmas. I was able to support projects in THREE different countries with the donation made in my name; it was one of the best Christmas gifts I’ve evr gotten because I was able to share something I use far too much of and rarely think twice about having immediate access to. Someone’s gift to me, in effect, literally became LIFE-giving to dozens, maybe even hundreds, of others. #AWESOME.
Since hearing about AC, I haven’t been able to shake this idea that our giving should not stay between the gift-giver and the recipient, because guess what (hello, globalization!)? NOTHING THAT WE DO SOLELY AFFECTS US. That transaction does not exist in a vacuum between those 2 people. The goods we choose to buy affect people all over the world. The services we purchase affect people and stigmas and standards in modern culture. Ripple effects are rampant & practically tangible in our shrinking world, & that is obvious in both good & bad ways almost everywhere we look (/google/watch/read/travel).
Anecdote & point of all this: I am now trying, when possible, to consider a few things in my gift-giving. First, who is the recipient & about what are they passionate? Second, where is there a “hunger” for those passions in the world, & what nonprofits are taking a creative approach to sating that need? Third, what is something that person supports but would not normally spend their OWN money on?
I did this for my oldest sister, beautiful red-headed Lyndsay in LA. She & I have really connected the past few years over the issue of domestic violence (“that’s my major,” #miamiu haterz). Last year she started volunteer work with Sojourn at the OPCC. Time is a very valuable gift for Lynds, & I know she is not often able to financially show her prioritization of the cause or the org, so that was my first thought– donate to Sojourn in her name.
But Lyndsay is also an artist in many senses of the word; she studied musical theatre in college & has always been dexterous in visual art. She’s recently been latching onto ideas of art therapy for those who’ve survived DV. To again drive home this idea that we have the entire world available to us at our fingertips, I should say that I simply googled a few key words & stumbled into a gallery/studio that uses creation & art therapy to empower DV survivors (children & women), located literally SIX driving minutes from Lyndsay’s front door. The org, A Window Between Worlds, also lets you donate on behalf of others, & a $25 gift sponsors an entire class for a survivor. Needless to say, someone will be able to participate all because of my sister’s belief in the power of artistic expression. I found an article about art therapy and printed off info about the next exhibit being held at the gallery in March and included those with the donation receipts & a personal note.
I was worried about Lyndsay receiving this gift with open arms. Lynds is far from close-minded or shallow, but she loves funky fresh, super hip, eclectic things so much & doesn’t often indulge in “stuff” for herself. Our cultural tradition of buying-to-give made me so nervous that what I’d given wouldn’t seem like much because it was nothing but 6 pieces of paper that fit in a white envelope & cost a mere 44 cents to ship across the country. I crossed my fingers that the power I felt in such a gift would be conducted from my heart to hers & waited to hear from her on Christmas.
Turns out, she hated it. (JUST KIDDING! Happy ending time!) I got a text from Lynds at 10am PST that said, “Your present just made me sob! Thank you for such a touching, thoughtful gift!” Her gift to me wasn’t far off, either: her card announced “a gift that gives twice for a girl who wouldn’t have it any other way” and arrived with the GUESS shirt that was sold in the fall to benefit Sojourn during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
I guess where my faith needs work right now is in the belief that more of us are on the same page than I sometimes give credit for. And while Lyndsay & I were SO on the same page that we even supported the same organization, I don’t know of any important people in my life who would protest a gift to an important cause made in their name.
Happy holidays, and keep giving all year long.
For more startling facts on global water access: water facts
For other neat charities to support: 12 ways of giving
For a friend’s beautiful take on the holidays: giving presence