Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Challenge: Ethical Halloween

“Trick or Treat?!”
Allow me to reminisce and take you on a journey to the ‘middle-of-nowhere’ Manitoba where I grew up….

Halloween Win: dressing up as your cat and your mom
making your Halloween costume.
Where I grew up was literally the middle of nowhere. Our closest neighbours were miles away and we were the only house down the mile stretch of road that could possibly just be considered our massive driveway. Without fail, on Halloween, it was going to snow. Due to the snow, costumes were made to fit over bulky winter jackets and if your costume wasn’t, you had to wear your bulky winter jacket over top to ensure you would actually enjoy your Halloween and not complain about the cold that would surely overtake you as it progressed further into the evening. Since I grew up in the middle of nowhere, walking from house to house like most friends did in the town where my school was located was not an option. First off, that’s dangerous when there are bears and coyotes and other wilderness creatures out and about, and second, did I mention the closest neighbours were miles away? My dad would drive us from one house to the next and the neighbours we visited would be expecting us—an aunt and uncle, my one neighbour I was really good friends with, the house of the teenagers that baby sat us, my parents random friends...  You would get brown paper bags filled with candy and most of those you would visit had just enough candy for those they would be expecting. I recall one Halloween where we must have ventured outside our general route and we ended up visiting the house of an elderly individual who just gave us money! This venture also included stopping in on people who just moved in who only had festive cupcakes to give.

The nostalgia of sleeping bags as your candy collection mechanism, adults making random comments about your costume, and even school Halloween parties are nothing short of sugary sweet.

However, as I’ve become an adult, the sugary sweetness that once coated my Halloween adventure has turned into an exposé on the Trick, and how the Treat portion is there as a cover-up to make us indulge.

When someone thinks about Halloween, they probably think candy, costumes, parties, pumpkins and good times. When I think of Halloween, I think of those things but also of the underlying issues with the common themes of Halloween... One of those issues, and the biggest if you ask me, is the slavery that goes into producing our night of spooktacular indulgence.

Spooky is right.
According to a recent survey from the National Confectioners Association, 72% of all candy spending this Halloween will be on chocolate. Out of the 10 best selling chocolate brands consumers will be using their purchasing power to buy for the trick-or-treaters bombarding their ‘welcome’ doormats, either Hershey or Mars owns the brand.

Remember around this time last year when Hershey announced it was going to commit to sourcing 100% third-party certified cocoa for all of its chocolate products worldwide by 2020? While that seemed like a major step in the right direction, it was more of an issue as to why they hadn’t been sourcing unethical cocoa to begin with. The company, as part of their Hershey’s 21St Century Cocoa Plan has set the goal of sourcing 10% by the end of 2013—with 2013 coming to an end, I am surprised I haven’t heard anything about their status on attaining this goal.

According to the website Grist, a 2011 Tulane University study found a “projected total of 819,921 children in Ivory Coast and 997,357 children in Ghana worked on cocoa-related activities” in 2007-2008. The documentary ‘The Dark Side of Chocolate’ has exposed what ‘worked’ really means in that statement; slavery—these children are forced to do the work, are beaten, abused, denied education and are victims of injustice… and, dare I say, victims of first world inhabitants that either lack education of world issues and everything that goes into what they buy, or are victims of those who ARE educated but choose to look the other way and conveniently forget about the issues when it comes time to make a purchase.

Mars, similarly to Hershey’s, has a plan in place to source 100% Sustainable Cocoa by 2020. Mars is working alongside Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and FairTrade. By 2014 their goal is to have 35% of their supply sustainably sourced. Better than the 10% we see over at Hershey’s, but I’d still like to see some proof this is happening and making a difference. After all, even their Rainforest Alliance certification that graced their chocolate bars in the past meant that only 30% of the cocoa in the bar you are eating is actually certified.

While company information isn’t exactly ‘pull on your heart strings’ material, I don’t want to regurgitate information I have already shared in previous posts (see Challenge: Ethical Easter for the initial Challenge). I want to bring you something new. Something different from what most people are sharing around this time of year…

Your Challenge is to have an Ethical Halloween.
Here is the outline of the challenge and, should you choose to accept it, it will change the way you look at the candy you see in stores, in your child’s pillow case when they get home, and will change how you decide to use your purchasing power.

1- Research.
Take 10-15 minutes RIGHT NOW (you’re already on the internet—why not kill some more time? Pinterest and Facebook can wait) and Google some of the stuff I’ve mentioned about child slavery in cocoa.

2- Imagine.
Think about your kids, nieces, nephews, grand kids, friends’ kids or even yourself working in the fields in the Ivory Coast of Africa. While we cannot even fathom this concept, and visualizing it is next to impossible, individuals live it every day of their lives.

3- Return.
Now that you are educated and want to make a difference take a look at the chocolate you already bought. It’s hard to believe that child slaves exist and are picking the cocoa that goes into making those mini chocolate bars you’ve already bought to hand out on Halloween. Do you still have the receipt? If so, return the chocolate to the store. When they ask why, say you don’t want your purchasing power supporting a company that still has slave labour in their supply chains. There are companies out there that already commit to this standard and your dollars are better spent supporting them.

4- Share.
Share what you’ve learned. I have found the best to reach people is to share your story. When I speak I share how I didn’t know what human trafficking was a mere few years ago. It’s powerful to know that the person doing the educating was just like you before they became passionate about ending injustice. You are the best tool to change the hearts and lives of the global community forever—in those you educate in your closest circles to those companies you give your money to when you buy something.  Tell people why you aren’t handing out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pumpkins, or mini Hershey’s bars. When someone goes against the flow, people want to know why. Share and inspire.

While I specifically talk about chocolate, I want you to also know the Halloween Costumes you buy for yourself or your children are possibly also sewn with the same seams of slavery and injustice. My want for you, first, and foremost, is just for you to research. Learn about where your goods come from and be an advocate for change with the money you spend. A dollar spent is your compliance with how a company runs—from the first stop in their supply chain to how it makes it to your hands.

You can make Halloween a treat for everyone—your friends, kids, and the random strangers dressed as goblins, ghouls, princesses and *insert trendy child costume here* that come to your door, and those in the fields starting the supply chain process. Expose the trickery and be more like Glinda the Good Witch than the Wicked Witch of the West.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Living a Note-Worthy Life.

Oh the fresh pages of a new notebook.
So lovely—so untouched, completely available to be taken in the direction of your choosing and ready, hoping, to be used for something of the greater good.

I have this thing where I always carry a notebook with me. I have even been known to write on sticky notes, and then stick the sticky note to my cell phone! There’s something about the classic style of pen and paper that calls out and infects you with inspiration. And needless to say, I don’t really use my iPhone’s “Notebook” feature to its full potential.

While in the Dominican Republic this summer, I had the opportunity of working alongside three lovely ladies. We all enjoy stationary perhaps a tidbit too much so when adorable “No Stress” notebooks were introduced to a couple of the ladies on a shopping trip, it became a “we all need matching notebooks!” scenario. They were even all sneaky about it—asking me which one I liked without me even knowing they were going to get me one.

From L to R: myself, Carina, Joy & Kelly. Notebook buddies!
Kelly & Carina 1 - Aelea 0

Aside from the beautiful goodbye letters written by Kelly and Carina to me in this notebook, it was left untouched until recently. One main reason is that a notebook such as this, with its history of love and surprise, needs to be used for something special. Not just any old rambling and doodling, but something of meaning and as world changing as the lovely ladies who bought the notebook as a gift.

The contents of this notebook now contain notes from the epic and life-changing book “Godspeed” by Britt Merrick.

Godspeed is about living out Christ’s mission right now. It’s filled with brilliant information regarding what our mission is, where our mission field is (anywhere and everywhere) and how we can actively share the gospel in proclamation and demonstration each and every day of our lives.  It uses stories from the Bible, Britt Merricks own life (most of which involve his daughter Daisy and her battle with cancer) and the stories of those he knows personally or who have shared on a website dedicated to sharing stories at

When I arrived at the very first portion of the book I deemed necessary to make a point of remembering I had the thought of “should I highlight this book, or should I take notes?”. Highlighting passages in an actual book is a very foreign concept to me. I don’t know if, to this day, I have ever done such a thing other than possibly in a textbook in college. In my short 25 years of life, highlighting a book doesn’t seem to be a thing I do. Call me old fashioned, but I like to keep a book in pristine condition. I also don’t like swaying an individual’s perception—imagine myself lending this book to someone all marked up? They would immediately know my revelations and I would dislike for my points of high importance to influence what really speaks to them. Highlighting was out, taking notes was in—The ‘No Stress’ notebook has found its time to shine.

The very first noteworthy passage is a quote I have come to absolutely love;

“Yes, God calls us to relieve suffering and bring about justice- absolutely. But God and His glory must be the driving force for this mission, not the plight of humanity.”

This quote was life changing. As a self-described humanitarian who is dedicated to living a life serving others, this concept in plain wording made my heart feel challenged and excited about pursuing Christ more in the way I help people.

Page after page of Godspeed was noteworthy. I almost felt like I could just re-write the entire book. Have you ever read a book like that? Where you feel every passage is a golden nugget you need to remember? Where the turn of every page reveals even more revelations and things that just make you think? Welcome to Godspeed.

Some of my favourite notes that I find worth sharing with you (as they may change your life, inspire you, and encourage you to read the book!) are as follows:

  • Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God.

  • Look at the purpose for which Christ called you: He can use your life, your gifts, your talents, your occupation, your likes, and your preferences, even your flaws- the person He made you to be- to bear fruit for His kingdom. God has chosen you to bear fruit for His glory in this world!

  • The less opportunity we have to talk about Jesus, the more opportunity we have to be like Jesus!

  • Now more than ever, compassion is in fashion.

  • God is strategic. And we need to begin to see ourselves as strategically sent by God to our present time, place, context and people. We are God’s mission strategy.

  • Every time the Bible mentions prayer, it talks about people, situations, circumstances, forces of wickedness and their influence, cities and even nations Changing!

  • The more we pray, the more we gain the heart of God for the world!

These are just a FEW tidbits from the book. Some of these quotes left me feeling inspired as I wrote them down, others made me think and question my actions and others I was left feeling like ‘whoa’ (insert Compassion is in fashion and the passages that followed). I just finished the book and re-reading the notes makes me want to read the book again. My final note from the book is this:

"We can do so much more than we even realize."

Let that thought sink in and really think about your life; your current situations, where you live and work, those you interact with on a daily basis, the dreams you have and the things you can see yourself doing in the future. All these things, when partnered with prayer, can lead you to a place of furthering God’s kingdom in ways bigger than you could ever imagine. God has bigger plans for you than you could ever have for yourself. Take some time to pray and seek for your next step. Find a notebook and write down what you feel God calling you to do. What your next steps are might seem small but they will lead to great things! Put those steps into action and continue to see what is next!

God’s plan for your life is a page-turner of a book that will leave others filling pages of notes and wanting to re-read again and again. God is waiting—you are guaranteed to live a life that is note-worthy. 
Pages and pages of notes!

What books have been especially note-worthy to you and why?

Monday, October 14, 2013

A New Take on Giving Thanks

Good ol’ Thanksgiving.
Over the past few years I have come to recognize and appreciate the Thanksgiving holiday. Growing up it was just another reason the family came together to eat a delicious meal. We would spend one day on the weekend with my grand parents and my half brother who would join us at my parents house for a meal similar to that we would indulge in on Christmas. One other day on the weekend we would head into the big city to join in the festive feast with my mom’s side of the family—the whole family, being many cousins, aunts, uncles and my grandparents. Both gatherings included someone saying grace before the meal expressing more gratitude than any other time of the year, munching down on mashed potatoes, perogies (yum!), cabbage rolls and other generic celebratory meal food, topped off with the classic pumpkin pie with larger-than-needed dollops of freshly whipped cream.

Family, food and fun… what more do you need? Thanksgiving was just getting together with family, eating food and hanging out. The random extra thankfulness during grace I never gave much thought to. This was how we did thanksgiving. That’s it, that’s all.

As I get older I come to learn more about how the “Thanksgiving Sprit” needs to be included in our every breathe, every action, every moment and how we need to get real about this fact when it comes to the holiday.

We rarely come together on Thanksgiving because we are full to the brim with thankfulness and we want to bless those closest to us with delicious meals literally made with love. These things happen throughout the year in expected moments that truly make us feel thankful for our many blessings in life.  The holiday is a nice, slightly forced way, to get together and make us be thankful. I guess every now and then we need a kick in the butt to get us into gear! That should be the real reason for Thanksgiving—a reminder of how we are to act every day of every year. We shouldn’t base our lives around one day but allow the day to infiltrate our every day lives.

Last year I had the opportunity to celebrate American Thanksgiving. To form a generic statement—Americans tend to take their Thanksgiving very seriously. 
*Example: I was living in a house with five others and one gentleman in particular had a strict “no Christmas music before Thanksgiving” rule that he was quite dedicated to (hooray for Canadian Thanksgiving in October! Bring on the Christmas music!). 
I drove down the California coast to spend Thanksgiving with a co-worker and her family. We had incredible appetizers, a traditional meal (sweet potato casserole, and other generic American things I’ve never had as part of the Thanksgiving meal before) and played games everyone took part in after the last bits of food were stuffed into our already overfull bellies. The biggest part of this for me was, before grace was said and we devoured in minutes the meal that took hours to prepare, we all went around and said something we were thankful for—generic ‘friends and family’ aside. It was wonderful to hear the assorted sentiments expressed from the varied crowd. My pick for what to be thankful for was transportation. I clearly remember being thankful that a friend was home for the weekend and allowed me to borrow his car to make the drive out. I was thankful for the car, for being able to drive, for flying all the place I had the opportunity to go, thankful for my bicycle back home and even walking as a mode of transportation. Taking the time to think ‘outside the box’ of the generic relationship sentiments encouraged me to be thankful for things I otherwise forget to be thankful for.

We need to let the ‘outside the box’ thinking of what we are thankful for infiltrate our minds to become part of our daily thinking. Could you imagine if you took time in your exact state—right now—to be thankful for what is around you? I am thankful for carpenters who build sturdy chairs, I am thankful for farmers who dedicate their lives to growing and harvesting tea that is able to be transported all the way to Canada for me to sip. I am thankful for technological advances and that God has given people the talents and passions to be developing the technology that allows me to sit on a computer and type words people will be able to see over the Internet! I can see, I can type, I can smell, taste, function to the best of my ability to do things to glorify God in every moment of my life!

When it comes to the injustice surrounding us in the world we can be thankful that God is just and that He has put the passion in people’s hearts around the world to seek justice. A favourite quote goes as follows:
 “Yes, God calls us to relieve suffering and bring about justice-- absolutely. But God and His glory must be the driving force for this mission, not the plight of humanity." From Godspeed by Britt Merrick. 
With God and His glory behind our passion for justice how can we forget to be thankful for a God who loves love and justice and restoration? I am thankful that love, justice and restoration occur and will continue to occur until all the captives are set free!

It is impossible to not be thankful. Literally, Impossible.

As someone with a new take on Thanksgiving, I hope you too have found the ability to have the Thanksgiving spirit overflow into every aspect of your every day life. Give thanks constantly and you will see how much in your life you truly have to be thankful for.

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