Month: November 2014

Shopping with Purpose: Using Your Holiday Gift Budget to Change Lives

Today’s service challenge will be a little different than our usual weekly challenges. Since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I am going to be taking a little blogging break. I’ll be checking in from time to time, but I’ll be taking the next week or so to spend time with my family. So this is a challenge that I hope you read today … and hopefully, one that you’ll keep in mind in the days ahead.

Using your holiday gift budget to change lives

If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your Christmas shopping. There are some people on my list who are easy to shop for. Like my son. He was recently asked, “What do you want Santa to bring you?” His answer: “Just … anyfing. Anyfing he wants to bring me will be just gweat.”

Bless him.

But for others (particularly adults), shopping can be a bit harder. You likely have a few people on your list who don’t need anything, and perhaps don’t even have many wants that are unmet.

So here’s an idea: Don’t give them anything.

Give to someone who needs it, and give your gift in honor of your loved one.

Or give a gift … but buy something that will directly bless the life of the person who made it.

I love this idea for several reasons, but it boils down to this: you’re giving a gift that makes someone’s life better. In fact, you might be able to quite literally change someone’s life. That is pretty amazing.

I really love gifts (I enjoy receiving them, and I LOVE giving them)… but have you ever sat down to make your Christmas shopping list and just been tired of all of the STUFF? I sure have. So this year, as you’re preparing to shop, I’d like to encourage you to think outside the box a little and to look at Christmas shopping a different way. Let’s shop with purpose this year. Let’s let those dollars in our Christmas budget count.

There are many, many organizations out there that provide ways for you to “shop with purpose”. Today I’m going to share a few with you, and your weekly service challenge is simple: Take a few moments to think about how you can make a difference with your giving this Christmas. Here are some of my favorite ideas. They are all programs that I have personally been involved with in the past. I am not affiliated with them in any way, but I feed comfortable endorsing them. If there are any other programs you know of, I’d love to hear about them from you!

The Mercy House is a program in Kenya that provides a home to destitute, pregnant teenage girls. The young women that they take in are in absolutely desperate circumstances. This program is beautifully transforming. These young mothers are taught how to care for themselves and their babies. They’re fed – and they’re taught to cook. Their needs are met – and they’re given life skills and an education so that they will be able to provide for their children in the future. When you “shop mercy“, you are teaching a young mother that her work has value. You are providing for her immediate needs, and you are helping her set up a future for herself and for her baby. Take a look at the beautiful items that they sell. And if you have a bit more to give, consider this: they have a wish list. You can make a donation in honor of a loved one, and The Mercy House will send a card letting him or her know that they have been honored.

You know how much I love Compassion International and the work they do. This gift catalog is one of my favorite things! Think of your loved one, and what he or she is interested in. Then give a gift along those lines to someone in poverty. Is she in the medical field? Every $4 you donate can protect a child from parasites. Is he a teacher? Your $40 donation can help buy textbooks. Gardener? $38 can buy enough seeds to fight off malnutrition for a family. There are many, many options – and when you make your donation, be sure to click on “Honor Cards”. Compassion will mail or e-mail a card to your  recipient, letting him or her know about the donation that was made.

Similarly, a reader reminded me of the wonderful work that Heifer International does. They have a gift catalog as well, and you can choose from a wide variety of gifts (from sponsoring an animal to supporting sustainable farming). They also provide honor cards that you can send to your friend or family member, letting that person know what gift was donated in his or her honor.

A few weeks ago, I told you about the book Kisses from Katie. When I read that book, I was only about halfway through when I put it down and ran to my computer to do a frantic internet search. I wanted to be sure that Katie was doing okay, and I wanted to know if I could help. I can – and so can you. You can make a donation to one of her programs in honor of a loved one, and they will send an e-card to the recipient of your choice. Or you can shop in their store for your holiday gifts. I love this – much like the products The Mercy House sells, these items are giving work to mothers. It’s providing them an honest way to make money and giving them an opportunity to feed their babies. It’s hard for me to think of something that fills my heart with more joy than that.

Have you ever heard of Kiva? This is a company that provides microloans to people living in poverty. If your give a Kiva gift card, you allow your recipient the experience of choosing a person to lend their money to. They get to see names and faces, and they can find a story that they connect with. And then, as the loan is repaid, the money gets added back to their account – and when it’s fully repaid, they get to re-lend that money. It’s truly a gift that keeps giving.

If you have any women on your Christmas list that enjoy purses (or totes, or makeup bags), take a look at Freeset. This program is based in Kolkata, India. Many, many women in that city work as prostitutes simply because they do not see any other possibility other than these: sell their bodies, or go hungry (and watch their children starve). The Freeset factory provides a safe working environment for these women to work and to learn. You can read some of their stories here, – but you might want to have a Kleenex nearby. Here’s a bit of one woman’s story (warning, it’s not an easy read):

“My mother’s life as a sex worker was very hard, but she did it for us (my brother and I). There were customers in our room all the time which was hard. Because of this, it was difficult to study when I was young. I had to stay outside and play in the street with friends. It was really hard. When I got older it got even worse – many customers wanted me. That’s when I thought, If I could just grow up and get married I could get away from this, but my mother didn’t have enough money to give me in marriage. I couldn’t study because of the room situation and when I was home I had to help around the house so I couldn’t study even then – so I knew study wasn’t for me.”

PEOPLE. THIS IS REAL. This is happening in the world. Right now. And Freeset is helping women learn that life can be different than this. Let’s use our holiday money to help.

Finally, if you’d like to help on a local level, here are a few more ideas for you:

* If there is an angel tree in your town, choose one of the children on the tree to shop for. Take a picture of the gifts, wrap it up or put it in a card, and deliver it to your loved one. If you have a child on your Christmas list who already has tons of toys, here’s an idea: buy several things for an Angel Tree child. Buy one of those items for the child on your Christmas list. Wrap that small toy up with a picture of the items you donated and include a note saying something like – “I know that you have a sweet heart and that you love to share. So this Christmas, I shopped for another child who doesn’t have very many things. This is a picture of the gifts I got him/her. And here is a —–, just for you! Every time you play with it, you can remember that there’s another child somewhere in your city is playing with the same toy, who got to have a special Christmas because of YOU!”

* Along the same lines … if you’re shopping for an adult, you can give a token gift and attach a card explaining the donation you have made. To an amateur chef, wrap up a new spatula and attach a picture of the donation you made to the food pantry. To the fashionista, wrap up a scarf and take a picture of the warm coat you donated to a homeless shelter. Think of something your recipient might want … and connect it with something that someone else might need.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas to think about. If you have any suggestions to share with me, please comment! Let’s take this time of year to give a little bit of extra thought to giving – even when we shop.

 

The Gratitude Challenge

A HUGE thank you to those who participated in last week’s service challenge! Operation Christmas Child is very close to my heart, and I have loved hearing from those of you who have packed shoeboxes. And remember, you have until Monday (the 24th) to drop them off.

Since last week’s challenge was more complicated (and more expensive) than usual, and since the holidays are a busy time, we’re going to do something simple this week. It’s a challenge that you can complete in 60 seconds, if your schedule is crammed.

This week, with Thanksgiving approaching, I want you to say thank you.

The Gratitude Challenge

Many of us spend at least a few moments on Thanksgiving pondering over the many things we have in our lives to be grateful for. And hopefully, we are thinking of the people we are grateful for.

But are we telling them?

This week, I want you to thank people who aren’t expecting to be thanked. Reach a bit out of your comfort zone. Take a few minutes out of your day to put your gratitude into words, or maybe even into a note or a letter. Make someone’s day by letting them know how much you appreciate the good that they do.

Here are a few suggestions for you:

* Thank your postal carrier. Leave a small note, and maybe even a little gift. If the weather is cold, stick a package of hot chocolate in there. At one point I had a female mail carrier, and I left her a candle and a thank you note. I got a very sweet note back from her. I know people complain about the rising cost of stamps, but I consider it almost a miracle that for less than 50 cents, I can get a card or a letter to people on the other side of the country. And I am grateful for the people who work hard to help make that happen, even when the weather is terrible.

* Thank your sanitation worker. Many times, my son and I have gone outside to wave at the garbage men. (Because NOTHING is as exciting to a little boy as a huge truck that sweeps up your garbage can. Nothing.) One day, we brought out a few water bottles and granola bars. They were SO appreciative! It’s a rather thankless job. Let’s say thanks.

* Thank a teacher or a librarian. What a privilege, to have education right at our fingertips, freely accessible. When is the last time you let a librarian know that you’re grateful for the services he or she provides? When is the last time that you wrote a note to your child’s teacher (or even your own former teacher) to say thank you for the impact that he or she made? Speaking as a former teacher – that note will be treasured.

* Thank your cashier. When I have a cashier who is particularly friendly (or particularly patient with me, THAT lady with two kids and a stack of coupons), I try to either find a manager or to go online and take a satisfaction survey. I want friendly employees to know that I appreciate them, and I want managers to know at raise time, or at layoff time, which cashiers are the best. And many times, they will be rewarded with a small bonus if their name is mentioned in an online survey. It’s a free, easy way for you to give back and to say thank you.

Those are a few ideas for this week’s little challenge. As motivation to get you going, I wanted to share one last story.

Last year, my family decided to do a “Random Act of Kindness” day. I bought a few $5 gift cards to hand out to strangers. (IT WAS SO FUN!) The last one was in my pocket for several hours. I had someone in mind, but it didn’t really fit with my “doing things for strangers” plan. Finally I decided, forget the plan. If I feel like someone needs a little bit of appreciation, I need to act on that.

So when I picked up my son from preschool, I found the custodian. As I approached her, she smiled at me (as always). I opened my mouth to tell her about this “random act of kindness”, but as I looked into her eyes, my words changed.

“I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you. You do SUCH a great job keeping this school looking nice, and you are always so kind to me and to my children. I know that my daughter threw up once when she was here, and I never really thought about who had to clean that up – but it was you. You help take care of my children, and you do it with a smile, and I am so grateful for that.”

Oh, her face.

And oh – her gratitude.

It was nothing but a $5 gift card and a few kind words.

But seeing her face melt as she realized that she was valued and appreciated, I realized that it might be the best $5 I’ve ever spent.

My challenge to you, internet friends, is simple: this week, look for people who need to know that they’re appreciated. Tell them. Write your words down. Send a gift. Send a text. Send a Facebook message. Follow your heart. It doesn’t matter WHAT you do so much.

Just say thank you.

A video to brighten your Saturday!

Let’s get packing!

The Shoebox Challenge (continued)

For those of you who are new to Let’s Do Some Good Today … welcome! I’m so glad you’ve found us here! Every Thursday, we issue a new service challenge. And one of our first challenges was one of my favorites: the Pack a Shoebox Challenge. This week’s challenge is a continuation of that one. If you haven’t read our initial post, you can do so here.

If you have been packing a shoebox for the last two months, great! But if not, there’s still time. Shoebox dropoff is November 17th to 24th, so if you’ve been picking up items to pack, time to pull it all together! And if you haven’t … let’s get started!

Packing a Shoebox

Remember, if you haven’t read it yet, check out the original challenge to learn about Operation Christmas Child and to find information on how to pack a shoebox. If you want some more ideas, I have also created an Operation Christmas Child Pinterest board, collecting ideas from people who are a lot more creative than I am. 🙂 Finally, here are a few ideas for putting together a last-minute shoebox:

  • Ask for help. Reach out to friends and tell them what you’re doing. I’ve had friends donate unopened Happy Meal stuffed animals, like-new small toys, leftover Halloween candy, sample-sized soap and toothpaste, reusable tote bags, and much more. People might have things at home they’re willing to donate – or they might be willing to help with your shipping costs. You’ll never know until you ask!
  • Host a shoebox party! (That’s what I’ll be doing!) I’ve been hitting up sales and clearance racks all year, and my closet is getting full. So next week, I’ll be having some friends over to help me sort, wrap, and pack my shoeboxes. I’m so excited! You can keep it simple – invite a few friends over for dessert and ask everyone to bring one item or a few dollars. Many people love the idea of doing something like this, and would love to help out if you give them the opportunity.
  • See what you already have at home. (Remember, all donated items need to be either new or like-new.) Do you have any Beanie Babies that have never been played with? A drawer full of extra pens? A promotional water bottle or shirt that you have never used? A small notebook you’ve never written in? Some Hot Wheels that look brand new? Leftover Halloween candy? Start with what you have – you might not need to buy much at all!
My husband is excited to get the closet emptied out. For now. :)
My husband is excited to get the closet emptied out. For now. 🙂

And because I love Operation Christmas Child so, SO much … I am doing another giveaway! When I pay for my shipping, I’ll make a donation to cover your box, as well. I’ll e-mail you the label to print off and tape to the top of your shoebox. That label will have a unique barcode on it, which means we get to find out where your box goes. Awesome, isn’t it?

Here are the details: (Each action is worth one entry to the giveaway, but remember to come back to this blog post and leave one separate comment per activity)

  • RSVP for the shoebox challenge by commenting below
  • Ask a question either on this page or on my Facebook page – I’ll do my best to answer!
  • Share this post on your Facebook page and/or Instagram account (including a link to this blog post), or Pin it!
  • Comment on my Facebook page telling me you’ve accepted the challenge (and let us know what you’ve done so far, if you’ve started)
  • Post a picture on my Facebook page of your shoebox
  • Write a note or post a picture on your own Facebook page sharing what you’ve done so far, and include a link to this post

So you can earn up to six entries in this giveaway – but be sure to leave a separate comment for each action! This giveaway will end Tuesday, November 18th at noon (Central time) and I will announce the winner that afternoon. Thanks for joining this week’s challenge! I hope this brings you as much joy as it brings me. Because … y’all.

 

 

Lest We Forget

Lest We Forget

This morning as I was walking my son into preschool, I was stopped by his music teacher. I could tell instantly that something was wrong. As she began to speak, my suspicions were confirmed.

The soldier that my son’s class has “adopted” has been badly hurt.

“He’s been moved to Germany. I don’t know what’s wrong. They won’t tell me anything else because I’m not family. But he doesn’t HAVE any family. There’s no one to contact.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying. I don’t even know him.”

Why was she crying?

Why am I crying?

We’re crying because right now there is a young man who is sitting in Germany who has been seriously hurt. He is alone. There is no one to call and check up on him. He has no idea that there are many of us here who are praying for him, rooting for him, and desperately hoping that he heals quickly.

We’re crying because every soldier should have someone at home to cry for them.

So today, I am saying many prayers for our “adopted” soldier. And I’m saying a prayer that our little care package will race its way to him (and that it will be transferred to where it’s supposed to go).

We had no idea when we decided to adopt him that this terrible day would be coming. All we knew was that there was a lonely soldier, and that we wanted to help. And I’m so, so glad we did.

So today, this Veterans day, please take a moment to thank a soldier. Write a letter, send a care package. Do something small, do something big.

Today … remember.

Have I Done Any Good?

This song (and this video) just make me want to go out and change the world.

Or at least, change someone’s day.

Enjoy!

The Feed a Stranger Challenge

It’s Thursday again – time for a new service challenge! If you’ve participated with us in the past, thank you! If not, this challenge is a great one to start with. Why? Because no matter what your financial position is, you can help!

Feed a Stranger Challenge

This week’s challenge is simple: Feed someone who is hungry. (Technically, this challenge is the “Feed a Stranger Challenge”, and I’ll be giving suggestions in that vein. But of course, if you know someone who is hungry, take this week to consider how you might help, or even how you might be able to rally your community’s support.)

I’m going to share suggestions at for those in various financial positions. If you have absolutely nothing to give monetarily, don’t worry! You’re first!

Are you on a there’s-nothing-to-spare budget? If you are living paycheck to paycheck (or if you are hoping and praying that paychecks will someday start again), you might feel like this challenge is one that you can’t participate in. But you can! Have you heard of The Hunger site? It’s pretty cool. You go and click a button, and food is donated to people living in poverty. I know, it sounds kind of scammy. But remember when I talked about Swagbucks? It’s kind of the same idea. The Hunger Site has a lot of sponsors who pay them money to advertise on their page. When you visit their website, they get paid just because you’re glancing at ads. They turn around and use that money to feed hungry people. It’s that simple. In 10 seconds, your click can buy a little more than a cup of food to feed someone in desperate need. You can try it here.

Are you on a very tight budget? Did you read my post earlier about the book Kisses from Katie? Katie Davis founded one of my very favorite programs. When she began living and serving in Uganda, she found many children in her community who weren’t going to school – not because it wasn’t available to them, but because they were hungry. These children were choosing to spend the day digging in the garbage for food rather than going to school. Her Masese Feeding Outreach is simple: she feeds them. I love this for several reasons, but it primarily boils down to this – she feeds them, she gives them hope, and she enables their education, offering them a better future. When I went to donate last year, there was a note on the website asking people to donate online with a credit card rather than mailing in a check, because “for the cost of a stamp, we can feed two more hungry children”. This shows me that they take any and all donation money very seriously. If you have one extra dollar in your budget, you can feed four hungry children. That is amazing to me. You can check out her program here.

Do you have a few extra dollars to give? Reach out locally! Call your closest food bank and ask what their greatest need is. (At mine, the greatest need actually isn’t food – it’s toilet paper! It’s worth a phone call before you go to the store.) Remember, smart shopping can really stretch your budget. One of my local grocery stores has name-brand canned vegetables for $.29 this week. My $3 can give 10 local families a side of vegetables to go with their dinner!

Do you have even more to spare? I would encourage you to consider making a donation to a non-profit organization that supports those in poverty. Compassion International has a special place in my heart. And right now, they have a Christmas catalog. In honor of a loved one, you can make a donation to Compassion, and you can designate where that money goes. You can buy seeds for a family to plant a garden; you can buy livestock; you can financially support a child who is waiting for sponsorship. And if you’d like, they will send your friend or family member a card letting them know about the donation that was made in their name. If you have people on your Christmas list who already have everything, this is the perfect gift!

That’s our challenge for this week! I hope you are able to find a cause that speaks to your heart. Remember that no matter how much or how little you have to spend, you can always, ALWAYS make a difference.

Thanks for reading!

Book review: Kisses from Katie

Recently on my Facebook page, I asked my readers if they would be interested in some sort of book club. Several of you commented that you like the idea, but rather than a formal discussion, you would prefer occasional book recommendations. In honor of today’s weekly service challenge, and because … well, it’s my favorite … Here is our first book suggestion.

(Now here’s the thing about me. I DON’T LIKE SPOILERS. I don’t like it when people give away the ending to books or movies. But I also know that most people want to know what a book is about before they read it. So here we go: my attempt to review one of the best books I’ve ever read, giving you a glimpse into what it’s about without giving anything major away. Wish me luck.)

Kisses from Katie

I’d heard about Kisses from Katie several times before I decided to read it. Who is this Katie girl, and who is she kissing? But finally I checked it out of the library. I opened it and began reading the introduction. I had only made it in a few pages when I read this and froze.

“During the first few months I lived in Uganda, in fall of 2007, I wrote, ‘Sometimes working in a Third World country makes me feel like I am emptying the ocean with an eyedropper.’ Today, it still feels that way. I have learned to be okay with this feeling because I have learned that I will not change the world. Jesus will do that. I can, however, change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred hungry schoolchildren and  for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”

Have you ever felt like that? Like there is so much need in the world that it’s like emptying the ocean with an eyedropper? I have. Many times. It’s hard to even know where to start. But these words of Katie’s went straight to my soul, dug deep, and planted roots.

I don’t know exactly what I am going to do to make a difference in the world. I am figuring it out, one day at a time. But if you are looking for a book that will inspire you, touch your heart, make you laugh and cry, and restore your faith in humanity, I’d recommend Kisses from Katie. How much do I love it? I checked it out from the library last year. Then I bought it, because I wanted to be able to share it with friends (which I have). Then I bought more copies to give as Christmas gifts. And just this past Halloween, I attended a “Who do you want to be when you grow up?” party, and I dressed like Katie.

I really, really want to be like her.

Her book chronicles her journey, beginning with as the girl who goes on a mission trip to Uganda, and continuing through her amazing story as the young woman who, in a quiet but powerful way, begins to change an entire community. I was only halfway through the book when I frantically put it down, ran to my computer, and googled Katie Davis. I wanted to know how she was doing. (She’s doing great.) I wanted to see if she was able to help the children she was serving. (She absolutely did. She has transformed their lives.) I wanted to know if there was any way I could help. (There was.)

If you can borrow this book from a friend or from your library, I would highly recommend it. If you’d like to purchase it, you can look at Katie’s website. Or you can purchase it on Amazon: Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption.

“Many days, I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need and the incredible number of people who need help. Many days I see the destitute, disease-ridden children lining the streets in the communities I serve and I want to scoop up every single one of them, take them home with me, and feed and clothe and love them. And I look at the life of my Savior, who stopped for one. So I keep stopping and loving one person at a time. Because this is my call as a Christian. I can do only what one woman can do, but I will do what I can.”

I cried the first time I read these words. And today, as I type them, I’m crying again.

I would love it if you’d read this book and then come back and tell me what you think. In a few weeks, I’ll share a few ways that you can support the amazing work Katie is doing, especially as you’re doing your Christmas shopping. Because I can’t go to Uganda today. I can’t work by her side as she feeds hungry children. But from here in my home in the United States, I want to do a my part to support this wonderful mission.

Let’s all be like Katie.

Let’s “keep stopping and loving one person at a time”.

Let’s do some good today.

 

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