Tuesday, December 28, 2010

365 Thank Yous—Book Recommendation!

I have only once or twice in my life read an entire book in one sitting, but one of them was this morning: 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Gratitude Changed My Life, by John Kralik.

Kralik's story begins in December 2007, which, as Kralik describes, was an absolute low point in his personal and professional life. On a hike on the mountains on New Year's Day (by himself because, on top of everything else, his girlfriend had just broken up with him), Kralik hears a voice telling him, "Until you learn to be grateful for the things you have, you will not receive the things you want." Kralik decides to write thank you notes—365 of them, in fact, over the ensuing year.

As he begins to write to people, thanking them for material as well as non-material gifts, his life begins to change. Kralik is not sure whether the changes came about because he wrote the notes, or whether his view of his life changed because of them, but either way, the outcome was astonishing.
It's a good read, and it will inspire you to begin recognizing all of the blessings in your life--and expressing that recognition through simple thank-you notes. 

Kralik is extremely transparent about his own shortcomings and insecurities, and so is very easy to relate to. He is also honest about the fact that writing thank you notes is not a sure-fire way to fix all of the problems in your life; he still faced difficulties and stresses, deadbeat clients, family issues, and financial problems—but he faced them with a different attitude and a new ability to see the parts of each situation that were actually blessings.

My first thank you note for my own 365 thank yous was to Kralik, thanking him for the book. I bet he'll get a lot of those! But just imagine, if a significant number of people read the book and undertake their own 365 thank you projects, what an increase in global gratitude would result! And that can only be a good thing. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Children Catching It!

As part of our Bible Study gift exchange, in which we gave each other gift cards to charities, my daughter received a Kiva gift card. She chose to lend to Bayram Isgandarov in Azerbaijan, to enable him to buy 10 more sheep for his flock.

She is so excited!

She has learned that there is no rush as rush-y as giving. It is the most addictive activity out there. Now she is urging me to take on another sponsored child (yipes!), and she wants to (finally!) clean her room to earn allowance, so that she can help with a sponsorship.

How cool is that?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogging From the Boonies: The Importance of Letter Writing

Blatantly stealing from Michelle's awesome blog.... But if you are a sponsor and you're not sure that your letters make much of a difference, watch this video!

Blogging From the Boonies: The Importance of Letter Writing

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's only wealth...

I've been reading Proverbs, and I was intrigued by Proverbs 11:16: "A kindhearted woman earns respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."
Only wealth?

In America, that almost sounds like an oxymoron: Jumbo shrimp; only wealth. Don't we live as though wealth were the ultimate goal? To say someone is "successful" is to say, "he makes a lot of money." If we refer to someone "making a good living," it means, again, they make a lot of money.

And in education: the goal of education is to prepare students for good jobs. What do we mean by a "good" job? You got it--one with lots of money attached. But Solomon refers to "only" wealth, like it's no big deal, nothing to write home about.

Maybe we need to reexamine the meaning of a "good" job, a "good" living, and success. Could we make the aim of education be not about climbing the corporate ladder but rather about finding the passion God put in you and figuring out how to nurture that? Could a "good" job be one that is a good fit for the student's personality and interests? Or that results in a better life for someone else or a better world overall? (I love the tagline for the MacArthur Foundation: "committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world." That about says it all, doesn't it?)

How would schools look different if we viewed wealth as "only wealth"?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ideas for Small Groups/Bible Studies This Christmas

This year, our small group is doing something different for our Christmas party. Instead of the usual "white elephant" gift exchange (what an *American* concept!), we are giving each other gift certificates to charities. We'll each purchase a gift certificate/card from a favorite charity and bring it to the party. We'll do our usual game (My husband reads--very dramatically-- How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and every time he says the word "who" we pass the gift in our hands to the next person. At the end of the story, the gift in your hands is now yours!).

One of the ladies had a brilliant idea: We are giving each gift certificate in a coffee mug (now dubbed "a cup of love"), so that as we use the mug through the year, we can remember the charity who received our gift. (The mug I have pictured above can be found here--I think it would be perfect for this kind of gift exchange!)

Here is a list of charities (my favorites) that I compiled for the group. Maybe you have a group that might like to use this idea? Some will involve the buyer choosing how the donation is spent, and some (like Kiva and Donors Choose) give the recipient the fun of choosing:

Charity gift card options

  1. Charity Choice: You choose the amount, buy the card; the recipient chooses the charity from 14 categories of charities.
  2. World Vision Gift Catalog: Give a rabbit, a goat, a soccer ball, etc. Most items are $25.00 or more, but on the lower left side of this page, you’ll find the option to look at items that are “under $20.”
  3. Kenya Kids in Need: This is a charity that I work with a lot. This URL takes you to our online shop. It is set up to allow sponsors to buy gifts (and necessities) for our sponsored children, but you can always put in “greatest need” in the memo line, and they will distribute the item. In the case of an item (like a pair of shoes), they will email you a photo of the child with the item (can take up to 2 months before you get the photo).
  4. Donors Choose: This organization supports U.S. classroom teachers. On this page, you can either have a gift card mailed to you, print it yourself, or have it emailed to the recipient. Minimum $10 donation, and the recipient then chooses the classroom project to support. When it is funded, the person who chose the project to support will receive an emailed "thank you" from the teacher.
  5. Kiva: A little bit different; a gift card for Kiva lets the recipient choose an entrepreneur to support with a “microloan.” Minimum $25. When the loan is repaid, you receive notice that your $25 is now available to reloan, donate to Kiva, or cash out.
  6. The Heifer Project: Similar to World Vision gift catalog; you choose the gift (a share of a gift of trees, or a share of a pig, etc.) and then you can print out a gift card that announces the gift.
  7. LifeChange: This is our very own Vineyard’s program. Cool part: 100% of the donation goes to the charity; no administrative fees or anything.
  8. Compassion International also has a gift catalog; you may purchase a number of items for needy children across the world, like a soccer ball ($13), a chicken ($16), or a goat ($45).
I would love to see Christmas become a holiday where this sort of thing is the norm rather than the exception. (My husband patiently explains to me that our economy would collapse if everyone donated to charity rather than buying unneeded items for each other.... Hmmmm...) But imagine a world where there was this huge holiday, with music and decorations, and concerts, and ... everyone helped make life a little better for someone else!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Second Friday Letter-Writing

Compassion sponsors have started a second Friday letter-writing campaign. Fridays are tough for me, so I've elected to do second Saturdays. I wrote to Ritu and Estefani today--they will be shocked to get so many letters all of a sudden (I have NOT been the greatest letter-writer--until lately).

I went to Michael's and found wonderful stickers to add to the letters, and small calendars that I sent to each girl. I marked their birthdays in the calendars with stars and hearts and flowers and exclamation points... Maybe they won't even see that until their birth month arrives--fun!

Michael's also had, in the dollar section, little packs of "positive notes" designed to be put in your child's lunchbox. My youngest is now 13 and prefers buying her lunch, but these would make good gifts for sponsored kids--things they could give to their friends! (Since they say things like, "I enjoy spending time with you," they wouldn't really work as notes from sponsor to sponsored child). If you want more than the little sample packs available at Michael's, they can be found here. Each one has a nice little note on one side and a "fun fact" on the other. Cute!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to Sponsor a Child

Start by visiting the organization's website. Here are the four I currently sponsor with:

Compassion: Compassion International is awesome! Currently, sponsorships are $38/mo. You can also send extra money for birthdays, Christmas, or family gifts. Compassion also offers periodic trips, in which you could visit your sponsored child (which would be awesome!).

World Vision: Sponsorships are $35/mo. WV makes letter writing very easy by sending cute little crafty things that you personalize and send to your child.

Kenya Kids in Need: This started as a Yahoo group who decided to come alongside an amazing man in Kenya, who started a school for kids who were too poor to go to Kenya's "free" schools (Even for "free" schools, kids were required to get uniforms, school supplies, etc.). We have grown tremendously in the last few years. One very wonderful feature of KKIN is the "online store"--You can order gifts (clothing, blankets, school supplies, and more) for your sponsored child, and they will be purchased right there in Kenya, thereby helping the local economy as well.

Children Incorporated: God recently put U.S. kids on my heart, and so I started sponsoring with CI. You can choose from Appalachian, inner city, and Native American. They also have overseas sponsorships. Sponsorship is $28/mo, again with the option to send more for birthdays and such. WIth U.S. kids, you can also send packages, and know that they will get there!

Then what?

Sponsorship really has two components: financial support and letter-writing.

There has been a lot of talk on the web lately regarding the importance of our letters to our sponsored kids. Letter-writing can be tough! The organizations will tell you to "avoid discussing your material possessions." It's amazing, even though I think or myself as a relatively non-material girl, how much of my family "news" involves things: "I got a Droid phone; it's like a little hand-held computer!" "My car just turned 15 years old. I wonder how long it will last... "

I have not always been the greatest at letter-writing to my kids. But after reading some excellent blogs on the topic, I am all fired up about it! Check out my new favorite blog for letter-writing suggestions and lots of heartfelt testimony about sponsorship in general!

As for the financial end of things, this can be very humbling. Ritu from Bangladesh is our best letter writer. We send her some extra money for her birthday each year. The first year, we got a letter explaining that she used her birthday money for a blanket for her mother ("because she didn't have one") and a goat for her family. My kids, who really wanted some new game-playing gadget at the time, were pretty silent after reading that letter.

Why I Sponsor

How I started sponsoring

I actually sponsored a little girl in the Philippines as a kid. I had this idea that my class could each contribute 50 cents a month, and we would have enough to sponsor a child. I discovered quickly that trying to get that 50 cents from everyone each month was a task I loathed--and I wasn't very good at it, either. So I paid for the sponsorship myself, with babysitting money. Every month I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make the $12, but somehow I did--at 50 cents an hour, that was 24 hours of babysitting!

When Christian Children's Fund raised their sponsorship fees to $15, I panicked. I was unfamiliar with the notion of trusting God to provide, and reasoned only that I had barely been able to raise $12/month--$15 was impossible. I wrote to CCF and explained that I had to discontinue my sponsorship. It always felt like an abysmal failure.

Fast forward to about 7 years ago. My daughters and I were sitting in church, watching a Compassion Sunday presentation. That "little voice" in my head said, "You should sponsor." I explained to the little voice that we did not have the money; we could barely pay our bills as it was, etc. etc. Money management has not been my strong point! Then it occurred to me: Often God calls us out of our areas of weakness! Moses the stutterer was called to be the spokesman for a nation; Jonah the coward was called to undertake a dangerous mission in Ninevah; Peter denied Jesus and was asked to start His church. The list goes on. As I debated with God about how I had talent to offer, could even come up with time to offer, but I just didn't have the money, He persisted. My daughter turned to me and said, "I think we should do this."

Fine! We chose Estefani from Nicaragua, since one of my daughters is named Stephanie.

I must say that a heart change was immediate. Getting my Droid phone brought me happiness (I admit it; I love that thing). Signing up to sponsor Estefani brought JOY. If I could only have one of the two, I would absolutely choose Estefani and joy.

And more and more

While waiting anxiously for my first letter from Estefani, I discovered a Yahoo group of child sponsors. I found that these crazy people actually sponsored more than one child! You can do that? Soon I added Ritu in Bangladesh as our second Compassion sponsorship. Many others followed. Somehow, God seems to provide; new jobs come in, just enough to cover my new sponsorships.

What to do when bad things happen to you

Sponsor a new child! We've adopted the approach that, when something bad happens to us, or even in the world, we can fight back by putting something good out there: we sponsor another child. I like to picture Satan, poised to strike, and thinking, "Oh, MAN! If I hit them with this, they'll just add another sponsored child to their list! I HATE it when they do that!"

The rewards

When I urge people to try sponsorship, they always say, "I know, to remind me that there are people who are worse off than me.

No, that's not it at all. You will find that sponsoring brings such JOY. Getting a letter from a child in poverty who says, "I pray for you" is so humbling. Knowing that someone's life is different--better--because of you is mind-boggling. So... try it. Try it. Take a step in faith, and try it. I guarantee you will be glad you did (and Satan will be bummed.).