Category: Weekly Service Challenge

The Help an Animal Challenge

Welcome back, everyone! These last few weeks we’ve taken a break from our normal Thursday service challenges. I hope you’ve all had a fantastic holiday season. Now we’re back with a new year … and a new service challenge! If you’re an animal lover (or an animal liker) … (or just an animal tolerate-er who wants to do something nice) … this challenge is for you.

The idea is simple: this week, we’re going to do something kind for an animal. Or for lots of animals. The ideas are endless, but I’m going to share a few of my favorite suggestions with you.

Help an Animal challenge

1. Find a wish list. We talked a bit about this when we did the Shelter Challenge¬†a few months ago. If you don’t know where your closest local shelter is – well, that’s the magic of the internet. ūüôā Go to Google or Swagbucks, type in “animal shelter” and your zipcode, and a map should pull up showing you where your closest shelters are. Then give them a call, or look online and see if you can find a website. Find out what their wish list is and do a little shopping! Most shelters need everything you can think of that you might use for your own pet – food, leashes, toys, etc. There are usually items that you can get very inexpensively (especially if you use coupons), like cleaning products. And often there are things on the wish list that you won’t cost you any money at all. For instance, most shelters can always use old blankets and towels, and those with small animals need newspapers to line their cages. Even if you don’t have any of these items at home, ask around! Let your friends know you’re collecting newspapers and old towels to drop off to the animal shelter. Many people love the idea of helping – they just don’t know what the needs are. And one last idea – look for clearance! I have recently found pet toys and snacks marked down 70-90%, both in the pet aisle and in the clearance section. A pet won’t care if their new toy says “Merry Christmas” on it, and you this is a simple way for you to donate on a budget.

2. Volunteer. My local animal shelter has a long list of things that volunteers can do! Some of the activities were things that¬†I expected, like grooming the animals and giving them some one-on-one attention. But there were other things that I had never thought of, like making follow-up phone calls and organizing fundraising events. Even if you don’t feel physically able to interact with animals (because of health limitations, allergies, or any other reason), if you want to help, contact your local shelter! Most depend heavily on volunteer work and would be happy to find a way for you to assist.

3. Advocate. If you have friends who might like to help, spread the word! Share this post with them. “Like” your local animal shelter on Facebook and invite your friends to do the same. Have a craft day and make toys to donate to your local shelter. Last month, my church hosted a Christmas party and I was asked to come up with a service project. We ended up doing this one¬†– people brought their old shirts, then everyone worked together to cut them up and braid them into dog toys. It didn’t cost a penny!

4. Serve at home. If you own pets, what’s something extra-nice you can do for your own animal this week? My dog is mostly an indoor dog, but I know she’s still really bored with this cold snap we’re having. (This morning she went outside and headed to her water bowl … and it was frozen over. I wish I’d had a camera handy – her face was so funny!!) This week, I’m going to make a focused effort to give her extra love and attention. Because … and yes, I’m going to admit this to the whole world … I’m not really a dog lover. I like dogs. But getting one was not my idea. I gave in because my husband and daughter wanted one. But she is SUCH a good dog – she is so gentle and patient with my kids, and I know she would lay down her life to protect us in a heartbeat. I take that for granted sometimes and it’s easy for me to forget to give her the extra attention that she loves so much. So this week, Carlie, you’re going to get spoiled!

Operation Christmas Child
My shoebox model

I hope I’ve given you¬†an idea that¬†you can get excited about¬†today. I’ve set a few goals for myself this week, and I’m excited to come back and share them with you. What are you planning on doing this week to help an animal? If you have any more ideas for me, I’d love to hear them!

 

 

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?

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.

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!