Month: December 2014

New Year, New Word

Instead of our regular service challenge¬†this week, I encourage you to take a look into your heart with me today. Let’s decide what’s most important to us. And then together, let’s change the world in 2015.

So … New Year’s Resolutions.

They don’t work so well for me.

I really love the whole concept. A fresh new year, a new beginning, new goals … I love the idea.

But I never, ever stick to them.

If you are a big fan of resolutions, good for you! Keep on sticking to your goals – I’m proud of you!

But if you’re like me …

2015

A few years ago I began hearing about the concept of having a New Year’s Word. Not goals, not resolutions … just a single word. One that best summarizes what you’d like to focus on throughout the year. One of my favorite examples was this article, written two years ago by a blogger who I greatly admire.

So last year, I decided to try it. To paint the scene a bit, at the end of 2013, I wasn’t doing very well. My health had been on a steady decline for several years. I was in constant, often debilitating, pain. My husband and I spent two days in San Francisco at the end of December, and although we spent almost the entire trip relaxing, we did walk up one steep hill to get to a museum. That one hill had me limping for several days afterwards.

There was only one option to help the pain. A surgery. One that shattered my heart. One that meant what I’d been fighting for two years.

It meant no more babies.

But finally my husband and I came to a decision that took every bit of strength and courage that I had in me. As December 2013 closed, I called my doctor and told them that I needed to schedule the surgery.

Then I collapsed in bed and wept. And wept. And wept.

A few days later, I was pondering the idea of the “New Year’s Word” concept. I thought of the year behind me and I wondered about the year ahead of me. And very clearly, one word came to my mind.

Hope.

It’s what I knew I would need. And oh, how I desperately needed it!

I have leaned on not just my faith, but my hope, this year. It has been a difficult year, as I knew it would be. But I thought about the idea of hope. I read scriptures and talks and articles about it. I prayed for it. I depended on it to get me through from one day to the next. I had hope that life would get better. I had hope that I would get stronger. I had hope that somehow, my broken body would allow me to take care of my family, to enjoy life, and to make a difference in the world, even if it is ever so small.

And as I ponder back on this year, I am so, so grateful for my faith … and for my hope. Because life is still hard. My body is still in pain. But it’s better. Day by day, I struggle. But I look at where I was a year ago and where I am now … and I see progress.

I see hope.

So with 2015 beginning tomorrow, I have given much thought to my new word. I look at my struggles and my triumphs and my regrets from last year, and I think about what I want to be different about this year.

I want to look past the trials and pain of life, and I want to enjoy it. I want to cherish these fleeting years of being a young mother, and I want to delight in my littleness of my children. I don’t just want to survive 2015.

I want to savor it.

And there it is – a word I don’t often use, but one that summarizes how I want to spend 2015.

Savor.

I want to look at my life and feel like I’m the luckiest woman in the world. I want to count my blessings and rejoice that my broken body has given me the gift of two wonderful, perfect, healthy children. I want to cherish the bedtime stories, the “one-more-song-PLEASE”es, the way their little bodies fit into my lap and their sweet voices go straight to my heart.

I want to savor this year.

What about you? What is your word of 2015?

A Change in Perspective … at the Clearance Rack

So this morning? Not a great morning.

It started out a little bumpy. And by 10:30, I was sitting in my physical therapist’s office trying to hold everything together. Finally I gave up. I just looked at her and bluntly said, “I’m going to cry now, okay?”

And I did.

Quite a bit.

(I think I freaked her out a little.)

I had a friend watching my children today for me so I could go to the appointment alone. And when I was done, I just couldn’t face life yet. So after checking in with her to make sure my kids were behaving themselves, I escaped to my happy place. The Target clearance racks.

(You think I’m kidding, don’t you?)

(Nope.)

30 cents of joy

As usual, Operation Christmas Child was on my brain. I knew that many Christmas items were going to be marked down. I grabbed a cart and beelines to the Dollar Spot. I didn’t see any signs up, but I found a few items that looked Christmas-ey. I took them to the price scanner and realized that they were 70% off. 30 cents each?? Let the good times roll!

As I have told you, shopping for Operation Christmas Child is one of my very favorite things to do. And for a beautiful hour, I forgot about my problems. I (mostly) forgot about my physical pain and my frustrations and my sadness. I focused on the children who would be opening these shoeboxes next year. I thought about their little faces and their excited voices. I imagined children who have never had a gift to open. I wondered which books these little ones might enjoy, which socks would be the right size, which stickers would be their favorites.

013

Initially I was just going to grab a few things. But as I looked at these wonderful items, only 30 cents each, I realized something – I had lots of points saved up from Shopkick. (If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can read the post I wrote for my cousin’s website.) I pulled out my phone, and within seconds I had redeemed my points for a $25 Target gift card. Then … it was go time!

One lesson I have learned from packing shoeboxes in the past – it’s a lot more efficient to shop for shoebox items if you have a plan. Although the little Hello Kitty socks were adorable, and I initially grabbed handfuls, I realized that I only needed 8 pairs for my little girl boxes. I checked the sizes, bought what I needed, and left the rest for someone to find. Although I was tempted to buy more (only 30 cents!!) I knew I had grabbed what I needed, and I was excited to leave many on the shelf for someone else to discover.

So I happily shopped, carefully selecting what I knew I would use in this year’s shoeboxes. And people, as I walked up to the checkout counter and began to unload my treasures, I started thinking of my problems again.

Guess what?

They didn’t seem so bad.

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They really, truly didn’t.

When we serve, we are blessed. I believe that with my whole heart. When we focus on the needs of others, we are distracted from our own. And the perspective we gain from serving those who are less fortunate than we are – it can be just what we need to give us the courage to face life again.

So friends, if you’re having a tough day today, I understand. I really, really do. But here’s the thing: if you do something nice for someone else, you will feel better.

I sure do.

A Change of Perspective

Time to Shop!

Family packing time

I hope you had a joyful Christmas! I had a wonderful time with my family and with great friends. And Santa even found my house, which is always a plus. ūüôā

Do you remember The Shoebox Challenge? (If you’re new to Let’s Do Some Good Today, you can check it out here.) This year, with the help of some wonderful friends, I was able to pack 33 shoeboxes. It was such a joy to do! If you participated this year – thank you! If not, there’s always next year. And now is the time to start!

Candy in the water bottles

First of all, I’d like to share my exciting news. If you pay your $7 shipping donation online, you are able to print off tags to add to the top of your boxes. When your boxes are received, you get an e-mail telling you where they ended up. Two days before Christmas, I opened my inbox and found four e-mails from Samaritan’s Purse. This year, my shoeboxes (and possibly the shoeboxes shipped by the winners of our challenges) ended up in Mexico, Ukraine, Ghana, and Indonesia. So fun!

If you’d like to pack a shoebox next November, I’d encourage you to start thinking about it right now. Packing can always be done at the last minute, but if you start planning now, you can stretch your budget!

Candy

If you’re new to packing shoeboxes, you can read my original posts¬†here and here. You can also check out my Pinterest page¬†– I have this board¬†that’s full of shoebox ideas!

If you’re new to this and you’d like to pack one box this idea, now is the time to make a list of the things you’d like to include.¬†Each month, just buy one item and set it aside.¬†If you’re on a tight budget, this is a great way to pack a shoebox! And if you put aside a few quarters each month, you’ll easily collect your $7 shipping donation. Remember to buy things “in season”. (For instance, buy crayons in August when school supplies are on sale.)

And speaking of that — it’s time to start shopping! Why? Because Christmas items are on clearance now! I do a lot of my shoebox shopping in the first week of January. Soon, Target will have their Christmas items marked down to 70% off (if they’re not already), and Michaels will be down to 80%. These are the stores that I have had great luck at in the past, but keep your eyes out everywhere you go! And as the weather warms up, start looking for winter items on clearance. Small things like hats and mittens are fantastic additions to your shoebox.

Family packing time

A few final notes. I highly recommend the website Clip With Purpose. This website is dedicated to shoebox packing on a budget. I love the tips that they share – everything from craft ideas to sales to clearance finds. I have liked them on Facebook, so the great deals pop up in my newsfeed. And speaking of Facebook – if you haven’t liked Operation Christmas Child, I’d recommend it. All year, they share stories and videos from children who receive the shoeboxes. It’s great motivation to keep packing!

This week, in fact, they shared this little story: ” ‚ÄúMy name is Anna, and I am 9-years-old. In my life, miracles just do not happen. I live with my mom and I don’t have a dad. My mom has to work a lot though it’s hard to find a job in the place where we live. To sell fish on the market place is the only option. Very often my mom is not at home. Once during the school break, men and women came to me to bring me a gift. I was very surprised. My first thought was that it’s not for me, but they confirmed that it was mine. Then those people told me that God has love for me and He will not leave me and my mom alone if we would come to Him in prayer. So thank you everybody – I don’t know who you are and how you know me that you’ve brought me a gift. I am very glad and I tell everyone – just believe – the miracles come true! I am sure about it.‚ÄĚ – Note from shoebox recipient in Ukraine.”

What are the odds that this little girl received one of the shoeboxes I packed? Very, very slim. But it still touched my heart. Maybe she DID receive one of my boxes. Maybe she opened it and cuddled the doll that I was delighted to find on clearance at Target. Maybe she was touched to find the soup and toothpaste that I carefully couponed for at CVS. Maybe the toothbrush that my dentist donated was an answer to her prayers. Maybe she combed her hair and pulled it back with her new headband and she felt beautiful. Maybe she looked at the box, lovingly wrapped by my friends, and she realized that somewhere, strangers cared enough about her to pack this little box of gifts.

Shoebox pile

Maybe whoever opened my shoeboxes realized that miracles can happen.

And so, friends – for those maybes – I pack again.

Will you join me?

Time to shop!

If you have any questions about Operation Christmas Child, please let me know – I’ll try to answer it, or I’ll see if I can find an answer for you! Thank you SO much for joining me on this adventure.

 

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, my wonderful friends! It has been a busy month, but today I am lounging in my pajamas, eating delicious leftovers, and enjoying time with my family. Happiness. I hope you are having a peaceful and a joyful day, as well.

This week, I received a suggestion from a friend: Why don’t we have a service challenge about taking care of ourselves? I loved that idea. Many of us spend this time of year preparing gifts for others. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling a little bit tired. So here is my challenge to you this week: take time to relax and rejuvenate if you can. Reflect back on this year, the things that have ben wonderful, and the things you might want to change a bit in the future. Because next week we’ll be back, and we’ll be planning some wonderful things together for 2015.

If I may pass on a bit of advice: When I was pregnant with my son, I was dealing with some pretty heavy depression. Between the constant sickness, the crazy hormones, and the stress of caring for my toddler when I could barely lift my head off of the pillow, I felt completely empty inside. Desperate for help, I went to a therapist, and I’m so glad I did. In just a few sessions, I felt much, much better about life. Here is one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had.

“So what do you do for yourself that makes you stronger?”

Blank stare.

“Um … well, uh – I read a lot.”

“Why do you read?”

“Well, because when I read, I escape from life and how I feel.”

“Okay. That’s not a bad thing. But that’s not making you stronger. It’s just escaping for a few minutes. What do you do to build yourself up?”

At that point, I was in tears. I realized that I was wasting a lot of time just trying to escape from my sadness, but I couldn’t think of one single thing I was going to make myself actually feel better about life.

So … what makes YOU feel better? What makes you feel stronger? I’d love for you to¬†give this some serious thought. Do you feel better about yourself after working out? After creating something beautiful? After spending time with loved ones?

This Christmas, give a gift to yourself. Do something that makes you feel more optimistic about life. Because another wonderful piece of advice I’ve been given is this: you can’t serve from an empty platter.

 

So this week, fill your platter.

And next week – let’s serve!Merry Christmas!

 

 

The Christmas Decoration Appreciation Challenge

One more week until Christmas!

 

Are you feeling stressed?

 

Do you have gifts to wrap, shopping to do, packages to take to the post office, cookies to bake, parties to attend … and then, you know, regular stuff … like keeping little people fed and bathed, working, cleaning, grocery shopping,¬†taking care of pets …

 

Yeah. This is my favorite time of year – but if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling just a bit frazzled at the moment.

 

So this week’s service challenge is a simple one. I invite you to take a little bit of time to spread some kindness, AND to relax and enjoy the season.

 

Introducing …

Christmas decoration challenge

 

(I know – kind of a mouthful!)

 

Here’s what I want you to do: walk or drive around your neighborhood. Drop by the homes that you admire. Say thank you.

 

That’s it!

 

Our family participated in this challenge this week. We have a family member on our Christmas list who loves to do nice things for other people. We wanted to do some kind of gift with meaning for her. So we talked about her and about how much she loves to do kind things for people, and we came up with this activity to do in her honor.

 Thank you treat

 

We assembled little treats (hot cocoa and candy canes) and added a note. Then we drove around our neighborhood and let the kids choose the homes with “the bestest” Christmas decorations. My husband kept the truck running, I dropped off the treat, rang the doorbell, and sprinted back to the truck. The kids had so much fun with the doorbell-ditching idea! And it was so much fun to take the evening to just enjoy the lovely decorations in our neighborhood.

Fun with candy canes

 

So here are a few ideas for you this week:

* Simply knock on the door of a neighbor and give him or her a sincere compliment on the way that their home is decorated. It takes a fair amount of time and effort to decorate – you’ll probably make that person’s day by complimenting that effort!

* Print off a little tag (you are welcome to use my¬†“Thank you for your decorations!” printable¬†– it’s what I designed for my family) and leave a note in the mailbox of homes you admire.

* Come up with a small treat, attach a tag, and doorbell ditch!

* Make one certificate (and buy a prize, if you’d like). Spend some time admiring the decorations in your area. Then come back to your very favorite home and present a grand prize!

 Neighborhood treats

This challenge should be simple – you can do it in minutes, or you can take a few hours if you’d like. But I hope it gives you the opportunity to spread kindness and gratitude, to connect with your neighbors, and to slow down a bit and enjoy the season.

 

Merry Christmas, y’all!

 

Help a Hospital Patient Challenge

So, show of hands. Who likes to be in the hospital?

Anybody?

What, no hands?

Yeah. Here’s the thing: I’ve spent a fair amount of time in hospitals the past few years. And it’s not my favorite place. I’m guessing it’s not yours either. Sure, there are joyful things that happen in hospitals. That’s where I became a mother. That’s where …

Well …

I’m out of good things.

So we’re agreed: the hospital is not usually a fun place. Most people there are stressed, upset, and/or in pain.

Which means it’s a FANTASTIC place to spread some sunshine!

Are you in?

Me too!

Time for our newest weekly service challenge!

Help a Hospital Patient Challenge

I have a LOT of ideas for you this week. Please don’t be overwhelmed – just read through and see if there’s something that reaches out to you. Or you can call your hospital and ask if there’s a volunteer coordinator that you can speak with. Explain that you’d like to help, share a few ideas, and see what they have to say. I can almost guarantee that your call will be very gratefully received.

* When we did the quarter challenge, one of our stops was a hospital. This challenge is easy: just bring some quarters and tape them to a vending machine in a waiting room. (I use blue painter’s tape that won’t leave a big sticky mess behind.) If you want, you can leave a little encouraging note.

The Quarter Challenge 015

* Here’s another fun one that I did last year: flower deliveries! I found a few cute vases at the dollar store, then I went to a local thrift store and picked up a few more. I came home and cleaned them up. (I soaked them in a sink with warm water and vinegar, then sprinkled in some baking soda. It fizzed and bubbled and ate away all of the residue. They looked brand new!) I went to the flower shop and bought several stems of flowers. Then we went to the hospital and delivered them to the maternity ward. The staff members were tickled to see them – they said they’d give them to the mommies whose babies were in the NICU.

* We also visited the hospital¬†when we did the blessing bag challenge. Many people who rush into the hospital might not have had the time or the ability to pack an overnight bag, and a few toiletries to help them clean up can make a huge difference in morale. (Many hospitals have some kind of soap to offer … but after giving birth, I didn’t really feel like washing my hair with “all-on-one soap and shampoo powder”.) We dropped ours off at the maternity ward to be given to new mamas who go into labor suddenly, but you can take them to the ER, or just call your hospital, ask to speak to a volunteer coordinator, and see where your blessing bags might be needed.

The Quarter Challenge 013

* When I went to visit a friend in the hospital a few years ago, I was tickled to see a small group of musicians playing quietly in the hallway for the patients to enjoy. If your family is musical, you might reach out to the hospital and see if you can sing a few Christmas carols. Even if you’re not, you can coordinate a group of friends to go caroling. I did this in college – a group of us went from room to room on Sunday asking if there were any songs or hymns that the patients would like to hear. Almost every person was thrilled to have us there.

* This idea is new to me, but I LOVE it. Have you heard of Jared boxes? It’s very similar to an Operation Christmas Child shoebox, but rather than shipping it internationally, you drop it off at your local hospital. Basically, you take a small box and fill it with little gifts that will entertain a sick child. Put a label on top saying what gender and age group it’s meant for. Then drop it off at a local participating hospital (listed on their website), or just call your closest hospital and ask if they’d be able to use one of these. (My guess is, they’re going to say YES!) I love, love, love this idea. Check out their website¬†for more info and ideas.

* So this is kind of sad, but something to think about. I spoke to a friend who used to work in the NICU and asked what kind of donations the hospital needed. Her answer surprised me. “New baby clothes. A lot of mamas come in to give birth … and then they fail the drug tests. They don’t get to take their baby home. A foster parent is called, but often they don’t have much warning, and these babies don’t even have an outfit to wear home from the hospital.” So here’s the thing: no baby is going to care if they have a new outfit to wear home from the hospital, or a soft cuddly blanket, or a lovey toy. But I care. I care very, very much. If this tugs at your heart too, give your local hospital a call and see what they need. Then hit up some clearance racks for newborn clothes, or reach out to your crafty friends and start making blankets.

* The next idea is perfect for kids to help with, and it comes from the fabulous website Pennies of Time. (If you want to teach your kids to serve, I can’t think of a better site than this one.) Make little busy books for kids who are stuck in waiting rooms! All you need is a coloring book, some Ziploc bags, a few crayons, and a stapler. A few dollars will give you enough supplies to make a lot of busy books. I can think of a few times when I’ve been stuck in a waiting room with kids. I would have LOVED to look over at the pile of magazines sitting on a table … and found one of these to keep them busy!

* My last idea is one that can be done at a hospital, or at an oncology center. Have you heard of chemo care kits before? I discovered this post recently (also on Pennies of Time) and I love it. There are so many thoughtful ideas in here. (For instance, did you know that chemotherapy gives you a bad taste in your mouth, which makes even metal silverware taste bad? I had no idea. Plastic silverware is a thoughtful addition to a chemo care kit.) I have not had to deal with cancer, and I hope and pray that I never have to. But there are many, many people fighting for their lives in oncology units today. This is a great way to lift their spirits a bit Рand if you have lost a loved one to cancer, this might be something you can do this holiday season in memory of your friend or family member. (And be sure to read her sweet follow-up story.)

Okay, those are all of the ideas I had for you for this week’s challenge! I hope you were able to find something that resonated with you. This is a tough time of year to be sick and hurting; let’s spread some sunshine this week!¬†If you participate, let me know – ¬†I’d love to hear your experiences!

 

Service Thursday

Happy Thursday, y’all! Every¬†Thursday, we have a weekly service challenge at Let’s Do Some Good Today. My goal is to help you see that serving others can be simple and¬†manageable. If you are new here, welcome! And if you are returning, thank you so much for hanging around. ūüôā

This week I am taking a bit of a blogging break so I can spend some time with my family. So instead of a new service challenge, I am going to ask you to pick one that you haven’t done yet. Here are a few suggestions:

If you haven’t read¬†last week’s post, I would love it if you would take a minute to do so now. I hope I’m able to share a few ideas with you that will be helpful as you do your holiday shopping this next month.

My first service challenge was one of my very favorites – the quarter challenge. If you haven’t tried that one, you should! It’s fast, cheap, and SO fun! You can check out the dollar challenge, as well.

I also suggest you look into the blessing bag challenge. This one can go in several different directions: you can keep a blessing bag in your car to give to someone in need, you can donate them to a local homeless shelter, you can take some to a hospital, or you can donate them to a food pantry. I’ve done all of these things, and every single person who has accepted my donations has been very grateful. In fact, when I dropped some items off at a food pantry during the feed a stranger challenge, I left and then came back a moment later to ask a question – and found all three volunteers hovering over the blessing bags, oohing and aahing. It’s not a donation they normally receive, and they were thrilled to be able to add them to the bags of food that they distribute.

So this week, pick a challenge you haven’t completed yet and go for it. I’ll be back in a few days, and I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to! Thank you SO much for changing the world with me. ūüôā

P.S. This isn’t a service challenge … but if you haven’t read it yet, I’d love to have you read my very first blog post. It is a story that has meant a lot to me, and I hope it makes you think a bit.

Sir Nicholas Winton

Have you heard of Sir Nicholas Winton before?

I hadn’t.

But this is a man whose name we should know.

There are many people in this world’s history who have done terrible things. Their sensational stories are splashed all over our history books and our newspapers and our Facebook feeds. But I want to change my focus and the focus of my family.

I want to remember the heroes.

I want to remember the firemen.

I want to remember Sir Nicholas Winton.