Review: A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson + Giveaway

One thing I hear over and over when grappling with how to live out justice in my everyday motions is to start small. Find what I can get behind and do that. For some, they have the energy and passion to call their representatives every day or to attend town hall meetings. For others, writing postcards or op ed articles is the best use of their time and resources. Some find inspiration through book clubs or small groups. But still, doing justice every day can be overwhelming.

51k3ZY2-VcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In the midst of writing about doing justice in my daily life, I received a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds by Debbie Johnson. She understands the challenge of staring at the thousands of avenues of spreading hope so she breaks down Bible verses, encouragement, and practical ideas into daily “seeds.” The idea is that when we start with a small seed, life grows.

With a background in social work, Johnson knows first-hand best practices for helping those in our neighborhoods, as well as across the world. Because of her experience, the advice and suggestions given come from a place of expertise.

What I appreciate about A Pocketful of Seeds is that each day is truly a small nugget. They’re an easy couple paragraphs to incorporate into my routines – whether first thing in the morning or during those first few minutes of nap time. Johnson also gives incredibly practical suggestions for how to begin, from ideas for how to help local food pantries to what joyful giving looks like for you and your family.

If you’re looking for a practical way to explore what doing justice can be for you, I’d recommend this daily devotional.

How do you incorporate justice into your daily life? What are some small seeds that have worked for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away a copy of A Pocketful of Seeds. Leave a comment about how you are pursuing justice and I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, November 10, 2017. (United States addresses only.)

I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Be Kind to Yourself

Love kindness. The second part of Micah’s famous statement tells us to love kindness. Not dandelion-463928_960_720simply to be kind or to show someone kindness, but to love it. I’m guessing that Micah meant love in the deepest, truest sense of the word. Not just I love autumn! but deep, spiritual, unshakable love.

Yesterday, I posted the song Be Kind to Yourself from Alright Alright. China wrote this song to her children, but I loved the lyrics for myself. The first verse says,

Be kind to yourself, ’cause who’s gonna stand up to you when you’re mean to yourself in your head?

Be good to each other, you are the gail for the sails.

Be noble for you are made of stardust

Shine on little heart shaped stars!

BE KIND by China Curtiss Kent, (c) 2015

I think it’s interesting that, as Micah relays God’s requirements he says to do justice and then love kindness. Those two don’t often seem to go together. Justice can be so stern, so unforgiving. Justice reminds me of courts, of activism, of loud voices.

Kindness makes me think of my girls, of friendship, of walks and coffee and relational things. I wonder if this is why God put those two together? Without kindness, justice is harsh, loud, abrasive. Coupled with kindness, justice is seeing through the lens of empathy and storytelling.

Kindness starts in our own heads and hearts. As China sings, who’s gonna stand up to you when you’re mean to yourself in your head?

When we are kind to ourselves, being kind to others comes more naturally. When we seek justice in our own lives, seeking justice globally comes more naturally.

As I learn more about this world and the injustices in it, I can feel overwhelmed. I need to remember to start small, and sometimes that means starting with myself. Kindness can be hard. It takes a certain bravery and vulnerability to recognize the need for kindness in our own lives.

I do know that when I am kind to myself, in my successes and failures, I am kinder to my little family. And they, in turn, are kinder in their interactions. It’s totally the ripple effect and yet, I can so easily forget it.

Today, I hope that you are able to stop and recognize areas in your own life that need a bit of extra kindness. However that looks, I hope that you are able to take a moment and fulfill that need to be kind to yourself.

How do you practice self-kindness? When do you know that you need to stop and recognize that important piece of care?

BackyardThis post is Day 16 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Increasing Awareness of Justice Issues

Even though I’ve always been someone who is aware of justice issues, I’ve become much more intentional and aware in the past couple years. Since I rarely just jump into anything, I started this journey by reading more books, articles, and experts in the field of justice work. I wanted to share a few of my favorite resources with you to help on this path of becoming more aware.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This book is cited again and again as a life-changing resource, and for good reason. I think most people have some sort of vague idea that our prisons are overcrowded, that we need reform, and that the inmate population is racially skewed. But why? How did we get here? What are the actual statistics?

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. He has spent his career providing legal services to those who cannot afford quality lawyers, specifically for inmates on death row.

Just Mercy is an important book, and I’d highly recommend reading it. But I’d also recommend following the Equal Justice Initiative for a view of statistics and cases of racial injustice happening today.

Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
There are a couple books that helped shape my perspective on the complexity of the Israel-Palestine conflict but as a Christian, Blood Brothers was most significant. Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian from Nazareth. His family has been Christ-followers since, well… Jesus was their neighbor.

Chacour became Archbishop of the Galilee region and spent his life working toward conversation and peace between Israeli and Palestinian neighbors. His book was an eye-opening memoir about the layers and layers of conflict in this region. There is no easy answer toward peace, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth working toward.

On My Nightstand…
There are so many books and so little time… I wanted to share three books that are on my to-read pile, in case one looks like a good fit for you.

Mending the Divides by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
Written by the founders of the Global Immersion Project, this book looks at peacemaking in a world where conflict, hate, and injustice thrive. What do we do next?

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
This book comes highly recommended. Written by theologian James Cone, it looks at two powerful and charged symbols of American Black history.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Legal scholar Michelle Alexandar looks at the incarceration rates of African American men and argues that the prison system as it runs today is the contemporary replacement of the Jim Crow laws of the 1960’s.

What books and resources have impacted your journey toward a better understanding of justice? Have you read any of these?

BackyardThis post is Day 14 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Preserving Good Intention

In 2014, my relationship with friends on social media changed. Events happened here in the United States and people took to their Facebook pages, declaring loyalty to one side or another. This is also around the point with Facebook introduced the “hide friends” feature, meaning you could stay friends but just not see their posts.

tree-200795_960_720In some ways, this feature saved many of my online friendships. As people became more and more outspoken, I began seeing them only in relation to their stance on certain issues, rather than as a holistic person with nuances and layers of opinions.

The majority of my friends on social media don’t live near me. We can’t meet for coffee or dinner and our interactions are fairly limited to the filter we choose to present to the world. And, I’d say a lot of my friends have somehow managed to keep social media what it was meant to be: social. They stay away from politics and keep my feed filled with babies and daily life.

I struggle to find this balance. Life hasn’t gotten less complex in the past few years and I know my friends’ opinions on the role of law enforcement, of the conflict in Syria, of the recent elections, and so much more. I know that if I could just invite them to dinner, we either wouldn’t talk about any of this at all or we’d have a stimulating conversation. Maybe we still wouldn’t agree but we’d talk over dinner and our discussion would be infused with our kids and our daily lives.

I’m wondering what the role of justice and activism look like in this age of social media. To stay quiet is to take a stand. To say something can be polarizing. I’m learning to choose my words carefully, to defer to those who have more knowledge and experience, and to use the “hide friend” button as a way of preserving good intention toward my friends.

How do you balance real life friendships with online images? When it’s impossible to sit down face-to-face, how do you remember the nuances of opinion?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “invite.”

BackyardThis post is Day 13 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Finding Heaven at the Wild Table

Every Tuesday, I help with Writer’s Workshop in Bea’s classroom. And every Tuesday, I leave after an hour with a greater appreciation toward all kindergarten teachers. Controlled chaos is putting it mildly but somehow Mrs. M is able to help twenty five-year-olds create books about Nocturnal Animals, using exclamation points and onomatopoeias when appropriate.

wax-1175873_960_720Bea is a quiet, concientious kid at a rowdy table. She is constantly battling boys who refuse to give a silent five or take bunny breaths to calm down. One table over is filled with girls who follow directions, share crayons, and get their work done.

Part of me wants to ask why Bea is stuck with the wild kids. Part of me knows exactly why because I inflicted that same spot to my good, quiet kids when I was teaching. Sometimes you need to know that one person at the table will do what they’re supposed to do.

Where’s the justice in this? Shouldn’t all the good kids be together, encouraging each other academically? Shouldn’t all the rowdy kids be together, fending for themselves? In some ways, I think Bea’s school experience would be better if she were at a table (or in a classroom) filled with kids who care as much as she does.

But that would defeat the point of sending her to our diverse neighborhood school. Not only is it culturally diverse, but it’s academically, socially, and economically diverse. When I talk about diversity, I need to remember that it means everything.

Friends were visiting from Zimbabwe and we took them to the fall festival. At one point, as we were standing in the eternally long line for the bounce house, Susan exclaimed, This is what heaven looks like!

This comment gave me pause. It’s true. Heaven, wherever it is and whatever it actually looks like, will be filled with diversity. It will be filled with people who look different, who speak different languages, who see God differently, who learn differently, and who interact with life differently. That’s the beauty of God loving all the little children, regardless of appearance or life experience.

I’m sure there will be a time when being at the wild table will be a true detriment rather than a life experience. We’ll have to evaluate our own values and make a game plan. Until then, I’m thankful that every single day Bea gets to experience a little slice of heaven as she writes about bats and owls.

Where is a place you’ve seen heaven here on earth? What does it look like to you?

BackyardThis post is Day 12 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

Justice For All

I grew up with the phrase, Life’s Not Fair. Usually it was used to stop whining between siblings but it seems to have taken on a whole new global meaning. Life’s not fair means we can write off systemic injustice, using the rational that life was never meant to be fair, so why even try?

equality-doesnt-mean-justiceWhen I was getting master’s degree in Urban Education, most of my classes were on the discrepancies of education between neighborhoods in our city. Wealthier neighborhoods had better public schools; poorer neighborhoods had gaps in funding and resources.

We often looked at this graphic of Equality and Justice: Three children of varying heights are standing on three boxes of the same height, looking over a fence. The tallest child can easily see the baseball game on the other side; the middle child can just see over the fence; and the smallest child, even when boosted, still cannot see over the fence. Justice shows the tallest child standing on the ground, still watching the game over the fence. The middle child is standing on one box, and the smallest child is boosted up on two boxes and now enjoying the game.

ajAerM1_700b_v2This is a great start in understanding the difference between justice and equality. But it’s still imperfect. After I got my degree, the much-used graphic became imperfect (or perhaps it was always imperfect?) and a new one was created. The first two images are the same but a third scenario is added, this time the fence is chainlink and no one needs a box to stand on because they can all easily see through the fence.

(I suppose this one is imperfect, too. Why do we need a fence at all? If this is an image of life, why do we have those who are not at the field? I guess that’s a different conversation wth a lot of nuances and economics to consider.)

For now, I’m thinking of the Pledge of Allegiance that we teach to our children: I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Liberty and Justice for all. We teach our schoolchildren these words. We demand respect while saying them, facing the flag, hands on hearts. But our daily practice doesn’t always amount to justice for all. We don’t like the idea of giving someone else our box to stand on, even if we don’t need it ourselves. We don’t like having people watch through the fence when we’ve paid good money for our seats.

The thing is, I’m still sitting in a pretty great seat, right on the third base line. I’m still enjoying the game with an incredible, closeup view. Is it fair that others are watching through a chainlink fence while I’ve paid a lot of money for my tickets? No. But is it changing my experience? It’s not. I still haven’t given up my seat to those watching through the fence.

In a redeemed world, I think we’d all be sitting at the best seats. But for now, let’s remember our own spot in the stands and allow others to watch the game, too.

Where do you sit on the field? What’s your view of the word justice in the Pledge of Allegiance?

BackyardThis post is Day 11 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

The Slow Walk of Justice

We were driving in the mountains with friends this past week. Frank and Sheunesu in one car with the girls and Susan and I in the other car, since we haven’t graduated to something big and family-friendly yet. In this instance, I was glad that we needed to take two cars. Susan and I were able to connect and converse in ways we just couldn’t with kid music playing.

IMG_6922We were talking about life and this journey and Susan said something about the fact that we are on a long walk with Jesus. I loved this image. So often I hear that life is a marathon, not a sprint. But I don’t like marathons. They are a lot of work and I’m not a huge fan of running.

Walking is something I love. Connecting on a long trail, out in nature. Having time and distance to talk without losing my breath. This image of my walk with God resonated.

Recently, I read a quote from John Muir:

I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains – not hike!

Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,” To the Holy Land. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not “hike” through them.

John Muir, in a conversation with Albert Palmer. From The Mountain Trail and Its Message.

I’m not a sprinter or a marathoner. I suppose I’m not a hiker, either. I love the idea of being a saunterer. Someone who sees the Holy in this journey, who passes through nature reverently.

I think this posture could be taken in the way our world moves toward justice. An event happens and I want change now. I want results and action and outrage. I want to move forward, to strike while the iron is hot.

But that’s not reality. Justice happens slowly, carefully, with an attitude of sauntering.

I’m not saying that thoughts and prayers are enough or that we simply do nothing because we are so busy reflecting. But I am saying, as a reminder to myself, that life is not a sprint or a marathon. It is a slow walk. It is spending time together, pausing to eat a snack on the trail, remembering to stay together.

I need to remember that the path to justice is walking alongside. It’s walking alongside my neighbors and friends who are oppressed because our laws and regulations are unfair. It’s walking alongside my neighbors and friends who benefit from those same laws and regulations and don’t want to see their rights changed. It’s walking alongside those who are unable to vote, to express their opinion and values. It’s walking alongside those who create the space for our national opinions and values.

It’s easy to go for a saunter with someone who believes what I do, who sees the world similarly. It’s hard to hold space and conversation with someone who I don’t immediately agree with.

I’m learning how deep justice runs. That justice for the poor and widowed means making space for the rich and married, as well. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. There is space for all of us to walk through this holy land.

How do you make space to engage with those who have different beliefs? Are you a sprinter, a marathoner, a hiker, or a saunterer?

BackyardThis post is Day 10 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.