Monday, December 29, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Tanzania and Honduras

It's the last Mail Call Monday of 2014! My how the time has flown! Here are the letters we received this week!

Letters #101 and #102 for the year arrived this week. The first one was from Elisha in Tanzania.

I hadn't heard from Elisha in a while, so it was great to get a letter from him! It was a form letter about his hobbies and pets. I was glad to read that his favorite hobby is helping his parents. But when asked who he likes to do his hobbies with, he wrote "study hard!" I think someone might be trying to impress us a little bit. :) We also learned that he either wants or already has a pet goat and a pet cat. They forgot to circle which option described Elisha! In the free writing portion of the letter, Elisha said that with the birthday gift we sent, he got rice, sugar and a new track suit!

The second letter was from Anahi in Honduras!

Anahi is so cute. I love the fact that her mom writes her letters for her! Anahi's letter was about her family and her pets. She said she spends most of her time with her mom and her little brother Isai. They also live with their grandmother- they moved in with her after her grandfather passed away. There are lots of animals at her grandmother's house, including a dog named Bear, a cat, and a parakeet! They used to have a parrot that talked, but it died. And Anahi said her favorite animal is a turtle!

There are still two days left in 2014- it would be so neat if a few more letters showed up! We'll see what happens! : )

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Year Ever

Last year, I did a "year in review" post. I thought it might be nice to do another one! I've formatted it to be a bit like my Compassion Joys posts!


In 2014, we received a grand total of 100 letters!!! Wow! I had to buy a new binder in which to keep them all, because I ran out of room! : ) With those letters, we received several extra photos of our kids with gifts, whether they had photos taken with what they bought after receiving a financial gift, or they received a gift from us!


Speaking of gifts, it was a huge blessing to be able to send packages to so many of our children this year. Kim H. took quart sized bags to Honduras for Eduardo and Sandier; Shelley carried bags to Kenya for Victor and Mary; Katie C. took bags to Peru for Mishel and Carlos, and again to the Philippines for Merlyn; I also have an opportunity lined up to send a bag to Erick in Eduardo next year, and I'm hoping to send out some more gifts as well!

One of the neatest gifts to send were the Bibles going to Carlos, Eduardo, Mary, and Victor. Carlos and Eduardo's were in Spanish, and they thought they were "beautiful!" Mary's and Victor's were English, and we had them imprinted with their names. This is Mary's gift- her Bible had flowers on it! 


Obviously, the biggest event of this past year was my trip to Tanzania! I never, ever would have imagined that I would actually make it to Africa, though I have dreamed of going since I was a little girl. I signed up for the trip so I could go be with my boy Said, and while fundraising and waiting for the trip to come, we wound up with Bonifas as a sponsor child and Elisha as a correspondent. Spending a day with my boys was a gift that I will treasure forever. And even if I hadn't been able to meet them, the trip still would have been worth it. I love Tanzania and the people there. I would move there if I could. My heart has never felt so at home as it did there.

Our Tanzania tour group!

New Kids!

When the year started, we had 12 sponsor and correspondence kids. I left for Tanzania in mid-March, and by the time the trip arrived, we were up to 15. When I got back, I knew that my mission, for lack of a better term, would be to make sure as many children as possible were receiving letters. As of this writing, our far-away family is now made up of 30 children around the world, aged 5 to 19, and we are on the list for a few more, as a company recently sponsored 1,000 children in Kenya who all need correspondents! I'm so thankful that our family has grown so much this year, and that miraculously, we have not lost a single child. For the record, in 2014 our family was joined by Kajal and Amisha in India; Sandier, Eduardo and Anahi in Honduras; Merlyn in the Philippines; Elifagason in Tanzania; Angelina in Ghana; Reine and Barry in Burkina Faso; Juan in Bolivia; Sharifa in Bangladesh; Caleb in Uganda; Julian and Michel in Colombia; Erick in Ecuador; and Marc and Kevenel in Haiti.


This year I set up my own Compassion table for the first time. It was not successful at all, unfortunately, and I will not be participating in that particular event again. I was so disappointed by the attitudes of the people I encountered. BUT the good thing was that it was my first experience doing my own semi-formal Compassion set-up, and I got some good ideas for the future. And our table looked really cute! I also participated in the nationwide Lifeway partnership, which I was looking forward to for months, as my mom (who works for Lifeway) found out about the partnership ahead of time. After our day at Lifeway, my mom and I went through the resource catalog and picked out some stuff for her store, so there is a separate, permanent area full of Compassion information for the customers to look at!

I brought my letter binder to my Compassion events so potential sponsors could see what letters are like! 

Blog Posts!

I blogged more this year than any other year, as my sponsorship commitments and advocacy have grown! Here are some of my favorite posts!

Compassion at the Library. Here I unveiled a new blog feature- at the top of my blog, there's a page where I keep track of tons and tons of children's books relating to the countries where Compassion works! I read a LOT, particularly children's books, and I know so many teachers or folks with kids of their own, that I thought I'd put together this resource! It's being constantly updated, so check back often! 

Hannah Talks About Prayer! I had a few guest posts this year, and this one was from my dear friend Hannah!

High On a Hill, It Calls to Me. In which I write out how desperately I miss Tanzania.

Juggling for Beginners. I offer some tips on how to write to more than one sponsor child.

Tanzania Recap: Day 10. The day I met my precious boys.

31 Other Ways. The problem with junk fundraisers and the value of a financial gift.

I'd also point out that all my Tanzania recap posts, a long with a few posts about specific children or events, can be found at the top of my blog, under "My Mission Trips!"

2014 has been a pretty great year for me  as a sponsor. I can't wait to see what's in store for 2015!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Bangladesh and Mexico

Happy Mail Call Monday!

We didn't get much mail this week- I think the holidays are causing some real struggles at the post office, because everything we were expecting was late, and a lot of stuff we usually get never turned up! But two letters did make their way over here, though!

The first letter we received was from Sharifa in Bangladesh!

I sure hope to hear more from Sharifa in the new year. She is so sweet, and we only got two letters from her in 2014! It takes a while for her letters to get here, and I know that there was some major flooding and power outages where she lives. I want to get to know her better!

Sharifa shared that she and her family are doing well, and she said that she goes to the project every day and does "coaching" at the project! I will have to ask her what that means- she could be coaching others! She also said she has lunch there, which is good to know. No matter what her family's food security situation is, I know that Sharifa is getting something good to eat! She said "in our area people grows cow, goat, chickens, ducks and horse." I thought that was a cute description! I also learned that she has one sister, and her family is made up of four people. At the end of her letter, Sharifa said it rains almost every day, and there are lots of canals and rivers. They use boats to get around, and she likes to gather lilies from the water!

This weekend, we also heard from little Brendita in Mexico!

I just got finished transferring this year's letters to a new, bigger binder since I ran out of room in the old one. This gave me the chance to count all the letters we received this year, and Brenda's was our 100th letter for 2014!

In her letter, Brenda wrote about her hobbies and pets. She has a cat named Gato, which means cat! She also said she enjoys playing with dolls, and that she would like to learn how to swim. She also said she wants to swim with her cat! I'm not sure that would work out very well! : ) She also drew a very colorful picture with lot of stick people and little hearts.

Stop by next week for my year in review post- I hope we get a few more letters between now and then!!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Waiting Kids

It's been a little while since I did a post featuring kids waiting for sponsors! These are always fun to put together, because I get to see kids who might hang out with my own children. : ) 

Prisca attends the same center as our little guy Bonifas! She lives in Tanzania. She is 18 years old, and her birthday is August 30. She likes singing and art, and she lives with her parents and two siblings. As an older teen, Prisca likely has less than 4 years left in Compassion's program, if she is able to stay until graduation. Sponsoring her would be a great encouragement, and a relatively short-term commitment!

Maria attends the same center as our Patricia! She lives in Brazil. Maria is 8 years old, and her birthday is August 2. At the center, she will have the opportunity to learn foreign languages and get lots of helpful tutoring! Maria likes playing house and art, and she lives with her parents and two siblings. 

Samuel goes to the same center as our tiny Erick- our youngest kiddo! They live in Ecuador. Samuel is 19 years old, and his birthday is August 21. He has four siblings, and they live with their parents. Erick has lots of activities- youth group, Bible classes and camp, plus he likes singing, playing ball games and riding bikes! We hear from Erick regularly- his center is great about getting letters out! 

Christian attends the same center as our ballerina Angelina! They live in Ghana. He's 7 years old and his birthday is February 19. His mom and dad are farmers, and he has two siblings. He likes soccer, running, and hide and seek! We just got Angelina in September, and we already received a letter from her! 

Junior goes to the same center as our tender-hearted Eduardo! They live in Honduras. Junior is 6 years old, and his birthday is June 13. He lives with his mom and dad, and one sibling. He likes playing with cars and running! I believe that his center has access to a camera, as we received a gift photo from Eduardo for the minimal gift amount. This could mean extra photos throughout the year! Junior has also been waiting almost 11 MONTHS for a sponsor!!!

Luz attends the same center as our Anahi! They live in Honduras. Luz is 7 years old, and her birthday is November 26. She lives with her grandparents. Luz likes playing with dolls and jumping rope. We hear from Anahi rather frequently- after a little bit of a wait to get her first letter, we received several from her in a fairly short period of time! 

Shyam goes to the same center as our gorgeous girl Amisha! They live in India. Shyam is 8 years old, and his birthday is March 18. He likes art and playing games. Shyam's community needs a lot of hope, based on the letter I've received from Amisha. We haven't had Amisha very long, but her first letter was written within days of sponsoring her, and we got it just over a month later. The kids there are also working on learning English. Shyam has been waiting for a sponsor for over 10 months. 

Ian goes to the same center as our Merlyn! They live in the Philippines. Ian is 5 years old, and his birthday is March 29! He is doing well in preschool and he likes listening to music. Ian and his family live in an area that was hit hard by the recent typhoon. We are still waiting to hear if his center was damaged. It is possible that his family suffered material losses because of the storm as well. This would be the perfect time for Ian to get a sponsor- right at a stressful point in the life of his family. 

Godfrey goes to the same center as our Said! They live in Tanzania. Godfrey is 18 years old, and his birthday is March 5. He lives with his grandma. I really like Godfrey. He looks to be about 8 feet tall, and his middle name is Valentine (and his last name is Said!) I love this center so much- Said writes faithfully and regularly, and we get several letters from him every year. The staff there adore the kids, and they take great care of them. I also got to meet one of the staff members from this center when he accompanied Said to our visit day- Brother Bonifas is so wonderful. They're doing great things. I would live there if I could. I want Godfrey to get a sponsor soon! 

Sweet Greetings from India, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Tanzania, and Honduras!

Happy Mail Call Monday!

It was a huge blessing to receive 8 letters this week- including 6 in a single day! I've been struggling with some stuff lately (my pain has been really bad, which has a dumb habit of setting off depression) and these letters warmed my heart. : )

The first one we received was from Jayid in India!

Jayid's letters are a little sporadic, so it's usually a surprise to hear from him- they're hard to predict! Jayid's letter was actually a form letter, which is a little unusual- even though he's the right age for a form letter, he usually just dictates what he wants to say to a staff member, who writes it down (most of the staff at his center speak English!) I learned that Jayid goes to school by van, and his teacher is named Neetu. His favorite subject is math, and he's in school from 9 to 2. He also shared the name of his school, which is in Bina, and he said that for Children's Day, several of the projects had sports competitions, and he got to participate!

Next was the six letter day! The first letter I opened was from Reine in Burkina Faso!

Reine is a great correspondent so far! We got her late in the summer and have heard from her three times. Her letters are pretty short, but she fills them out completely- the free writing section, the questions section, a prayer request and a drawing! Reine said that she's gone back to school after a holiday, and she liked the photo I sent to her. She said it was very beautiful- I don't know which one it was, though! : ) She also said that she likes rabbits (I think I sent her a picture of Gimli) and she wanted to know what season we were in. She asked us to pray for her grandmother, who is sick.

Next up, Prayer in Indonesia!

Prayer is just the cutest. He is cute, and his letters are cute. He had a lot to say! He said he also received the pictures I sent, including a postcard of a jellyfish and my "beautiful picture!" I still have no idea what it was, but apparently I sent out a lot of them! Haha! Prayer shared that he's graduated primary school and has started junior high. He's already made lots of friends and likes his teachers! He told me that there is no special celebration for graduation at his school (I asked about that and told him about my brother-in-law's 8th grade graduation) and that he likes soccer and it's the most popular sport in his area. He told me that Indonesian Independence Day is on August 17, and his country has presidential elections every 5 years. He shared his mom's name (Neni) because I talked about moms in my Mother's Day letter- I'm trying to find out as many family member names as I can! He also said this: "I love praying for mother and the family there because every Tuesday our church has Prayer time together. I only hope that mother would pray for my school and my family." He is so sweet! I'm so touched that he's started calling me "Mother" in his letters now!

After that, I opened a long-awaited letter from Tasya in Indonesia!

I realized the day that these arrived that I hadn't heard from Tasya in almost six months- just two weeks shy of that, to be exact! So it was really awesome that this letter finally arrived! Tasya said that she's moved up to 7th grade, and there are 28 students in her class. She said that they had a flag ceremony for Independence Day, and she liked the books and letters I had been sending. She also described some competition between student centers for Children's Day- they were preparing for the competition, and she asked that we pray they would do a good job and be healthy! Tasya also I always pray for mama, mama's friends and mama's family that God always protect your family." I love her so much!

Then came our much-anticipated first letter from Michel in Colombia!

Michel's first letter arrived at Compassion in Colorado 6 months to the date that we received her as a correspondent (I had asked about an inquiry, and they found that the letter arrived the day I asked!) Then it took almost a month to get to me because of Christmas craziness at the post office! Michel's letter had a lot to say. It was a form letter about her friends- she listed her friends at the project and said they are her friends because they're "respectful to her." She also likes playing on the playground and playing with sand with them! Michel's letter was written by her tutor Marcela, as Michel doesn't know how to write much yet. So Marcela said "hi" at the beginning of the letter, too! She went on to say that my photos are "precious" and that she's showing them to her family. She really liked the stickers and coloring books we've been sending, and she's going to color them "with her mom's help!" Michel's family comes to church when there are special services organized at the project, and she shared the pastor's name. Michel said that holidays in Colombia are very special because families spend time together, and for Independence Day, people display the Colombian flag in the windows of their homes! She also shared Lamentations 3:25, and said that she has never been to Barranquilla, which is the city my friend Daniella is from. At the end was written "Michel and Marcela say bye for now!"

Next, we have an adorable letter from Sandier in Honduras!

Sandier is so cute. I love his letters. He has a new tutor now, named Iris. In the form letter portion, which was about having fun, Sandier said he likes spending time with his friends, and riding bicycles! In the free writing section, I learned that Sandier said the beaches in Honduras are very beautiful, and his favorite parts of the country are the "swimming places!" He also said "most of the people are very kind and generous." He said there are no libraries where he lives, and he really liked the card I sent with the "beautiful zebra" on it. For Independence Day, Sandier said they have parades in Honduras! Sandier said that he is doing well in kindergarten, and his favorite part of school is "to learn how to sum" and he wants to be either a firefighter or a teacher when he grows up. He also liked the books, stickers, and notebooks we have been sending to him. In another letter, Sandier told me he has a cat named Picho. I asked about Picho, and in this letter, Sandier said "Picho is black, but [I] would like for him to be red or orange." That made me crack up! Sandier asked we pray for his sick grandmother, whose name is Griselda, and his mom, that she would ask Jesus into her heart!

The last letter of that day was from my precious Said in Tanzania!

Said wrote to say that he was doing "fine and healthy," as was his family, and that exams were coming up soon. He said that when he has his school holiday, he will be at home to help with "chore activities!" He takes good care of his mom and sister. : )

The final letter of the week came from Eduardo in Honduras!

Eduardo is so sweet. He took inspiration from the form letter the little kids in Honduras sent out, and told me about how he likes to have fun. He said he plays soccer with his friends, hangs out with his family, and watches TV with his brother! Eduardo also shared his mom's name with me (Doris) and told me that there is a zoo near his home, and he likes to visit there and see the animals. Eduardo also drew a picture with flowers, plants, and happy clouds, and included a note on it which my friend Hannah translated for me! Part of it said "I say goodbye with kisses and hugs and love. With love and care for you. May God bless you greatly. I love you very much." How precious! In the photos I have of Eduardo, he always looks so stern- but his letters are full of warmth and love! I love this guy!

I'm looking forward to this week, to see if any other letters come my way! It would be neat to hear from the other kids in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, India and Honduras!

No Gift Receipt Required

I can't believe Christmas is only 10 days away! My tree is up (finally) and all the presents are wrapped underneath it. Last night my friends and I had our annual tradition- a "party" with food, movies, and an ornament exchange. This year, since I learned how to crochet, I decided to make party favors for my friends- I made them each a scarf in their favorite colors! Crocheting gives me another way to do something I love- giving people presents. Giving is definitely my favorite part of the holiday season. I really try to find gifts for family and friends that they will love, because I love making people happy in that way!

I think most sponsors would agree that we would love to be able to give gifts to our sponsor kid- not just for Christmas, but all throughout the year. Compassion gives us the opportunity to send a financial gift for birthdays and other occasions, and staff members at the projects will help the kids get what they want and need. But it's also so much fun to pick out my own tangible gifts for my kids on those occasions that I am able to send some- like when I traveled to Tanzania and took backpacks  full of stuff to the boys, or when other sponsors have offered to bring baggies of presents when visiting Compassion countries, or when I was able to mail a doll and a Bible to my friend who was doing language immersion in Mexico, so she could mail them to the Compassion office in-country! Picking out gifts for my kids is such a special occasion, and it is lots of fun. Sometimes an idea for a gift will pop into my head even when I'm not planning on sending anything to a child any time soon, and I like to daydream about what I would send if I had the opportunity! Here are some examples:

Sandier would get an orange plush cat, because in his last letter he told me his cat Picho was black, but he'd like it better if he was orange!

Mary would get a CD player with lots of worship CDs, because she likes to sing!

Mishel would get lots of hairstyling supplies and accessories, because she wants to be a stylist when she grows up, and she likes to practice hairstyles with her cousins.

Kevenel would get a pile of books to share with his library- most of my kids don't have a library anywhere near them, and have never seen one. I was so happy to read that Kevenel has a library nearby!

Amisha would get a pretty, dark-haired doll, because I think she looks like a doll herself, and from her letters, I think that she might need a little more fun and childhood in her life.

Kajal would get a princess crown and dress, because in all my letters I always call her Princess Kajal!

I may not be able to send gifts directly to my sponsor kids this year, but I can send gifts to kids and families in Compassion's program! Compassion has a really amazing gift catalog- you "shop" for things that benefit Compassion families or the child development centers. Making a purchase from the gift catalog is a great way to shop for Christmas gifts. You don't have to deal with crowds and lines at the stores. You don't have to bother with gift wrap. You can always find something for that person in your life who's impossible to shop for (we all have at least one.) There are also great choices for teachers and coworkers- those you may feel obligated to give to, but have no idea what to get! And there are gifts for all budgets, too! Below are some of my favorite choices.

Parasite protection. Bugs are gross to think about, but parasites are a real threat for many children around the world. Unsafe drinking water in particular can pose a great risk to the health of kids in countries where Compassion works. The embarrassing thing is that this common health problem is pretty much preventable- and very inexpensive. For just $4, you can provide medication to protect one child from these invisible creepy crawlers.

Mosquito nets. In Tanzania, we were fortunate to sleep under mosquito nets every single night. Even with the nets, we still got bitten sometimes- but not nearly as much as we would have without them. We were all also on antimalarial medication. Those pills are a luxury not available to many families with kids in Compassion's program. A gift of $18 provides a family with a mosquito net (they're really, really big) treated with insecticide.

Bathrooms. Indoor plumbing is a luxury we definitely take for granted. While our hotels in Tanzania had "sit down" toilets, none of the child development centers did. All but one of the centers told us they had grant applications outstanding for improved bathroom facilities. The two bathrooms I actually went in were outdoor stalls with wooden doors, cement floors and ceramic-coated holes in the ground. One had toilet paper. Good bathrooms are essential for good hygiene, and good hygiene means fewer health problems. A $25 gift to Compassion's "toilet fund" (my name, not theirs) can help these centers achieve their goals!

Medical care. When my Said broke his leg falling off a bus last year, he had to go to the hospital. Then he had to have surgery, placing pins and metal plates in his leg to help it heal properly. This year, he had surgery to take the pins out again. Said's momma could not afford this medical care on her own. I don't even know that they would have had access to a hospital. Said would have been in pain, and he probably would have ended up disabled because of the severe break- and then he couldn't work to take care of his mom or sister, and he wouldn't have been able to grow up healthy and strong to take care of his own family someday. Said got the care he needed because of Compassion. They made sure he saw the right doctors, got the right treatment, paid for his surgery, and helped him get better. He showed me the scar and said to me, "because of you, I was able to be healed." A gift of $40 to Compassion's medical fund can help all the future Saids see doctors and get the medicine and surgeries that they need to thrive.

My boy. 

Baby care. I don't know why people make a big deal about the cost of adoption ("how much did she cost?") No matter how a child comes into your family, they're expensive. From sonograms, bloodwork, ultrasounds and birthing classes to all the checkups and vaccinations babies need, from the start, having a kid costs money. This probably contributes to the fact that in developing nations, some children have a 1 in 5 chance of making it to age 5. With Compassion's help, families involved in the child survival program can get assistance with the medical care that little babies need. A gift of $55 provides medical care for one child for an entire year.

Safe Water. I can't even begin to describe to you how important this is. When I was in Tanzania, we spent our last day visiting the field office in Arusha. Staff members gave presentations on the various aspects of their jobs, and what they were doing in the country. My friend Pando is a researcher for Compassion, and he told us about a study he was working on regarding Compassion's clean water systems. They studied about a thousand families throughout the country who received water filtration systems through the program, and tracked them for a year. Water borne illnesses in adults dropped to less than 5%. Families' overall health improved dramatically in that time. The kids were healthier, too, but they still got sick sometimes because they still had to go to school, where there may not have been a water filtration system. And the great thing about these filters is they last a long time. We were told they produce over a million gallons of clean water- more than the families who received them can use. So they share water with their neighbors and extended family. And more people learn about where the water filter came from. More people have the opportunity to learn about Compassion and their church partners. More people can learn about Jesus. And they can stay healthy and live longer to tell everyone else about the clean water, and where it came from. There's a reason Compassion calls this program Water of Life!

If you'd like to take a look at Compassion's gift catalog for yourself, click here. There are many, many opportunities for giving in there! And you can give throughout the year! If you'd rather take a look at a printed catalog, something you can hold in your hands and share with friends and family, let me know- I have several copies to share!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Peru

It's time for another Mail Call Monday!

We just have one letter to share this week! I admit that I feel pretty impatient waiting for the mailman these days- he's coming around about 3-4 hours later than usual because of the holidays, and when he gets here, he usually doesn't have what I'm expecting- whether it's a letter, a card that I know a friend has sent, or a package containing something I've ordered! 

Anyway, here's our letter this week. It's from Mishel in Peru!

Mishel's letter arrived right after Carlos'- his came on a Saturday, and hers was on Monday! I like how predictable Peru letters are! 

Mishel opened her letter with "I greet you with much affection." She said her family is doing well, and said thanks for the letters and the book of planets! I try to send my kids books whenever possible, and it was great to hear a specific comment from one of the kids about a book I sent (Mishel's planet book came from the clearance section at Half Price- it was an older "easy reader" book about the planets in Spanish!) She said the weather in Peru is warm, and asked for prayer for her brother Brayan. I was proud to read that she helps recycle bottles at home and at school! She said that she practices hairstyles with her cousins (she wants to be a hairstylist) and in Peru, they celebrate Independence Day with "colorful parades." She closed her letter by asking for more pictures of my family, and said "I say goodbye with many kisses and hugs!"

Mishel's letter encouraged me to work harder to take photos of my family members, so I can share them with the kids. My plan is to take pictures of as many relatives as I can at Christmas, and then I will have a bunch of photos for letters throughout the year! I had thought about doing this around Easter, but just didn't do it for some reason. Now Mishel's letter has provided me with motivation to actually do it! 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Outgoing Mail: Anniversary Edition

It's been a while since I did an Outgoing Mail post, so here's what I'm putting in the mail for my kiddos this week!

I admit that sometimes I feel a little guilty that I don't hand-write as many letters as I used to. I have circulation problems with my hands, and they get icy cold when I use them in repetitive motion for a while- like when I'm crocheting or writing with a pen. And then it gets so bad that I can't feel my fingertips. It's lame- and it also means that I very rarely hand-write letters to our sponsor kids now. I write out Christmas and birthday cards, and I've sent out a batch of "just for fun" cards, but that's it for the last five or six months. Everything's been written online (except for Christmas letters, which I typed and then printed.) 

Because I'm not sending hand-written letters, but I'm still on the watch for little gifts for the kids, I'm creating quite the backlog of papery items. The box that I keep them in, which is already pretty big, is overflowing. I sent gifts with Christmas cards and letters and continue to send out birthday folders stuffed with extras, but I wanted to do something more. I started brainstorming for ideas for something to do. 

I took a bit of inspiration from my friend Shelley, who always mentions her Compassion anniversaries in her Compassion Joys posts each month- meaning, Shelley keeps track of when she became a sponsor for each of her kids, and mentions it in her posts! I always thought that was so sweet. I decided to start sending "anniversary" gifts and cards to my kids! 

I started off compiling a list of the anniversary dates. Have I told you how much I love Google Drive? It is just the best. I can make documents and save them to the interwebs, and access them anywhere I have wifi. Right now I have a document showing when I've heard from each of my sponsor kids (or for those I haven't heard from, the date that I became their sponsor or correspondent.) That way I can see when we've been waiting a little too long for a letter (six months for the new kids) or even when to expect a letter in the mail (about every two months for Peru and Kenya, for example!) Then I have a document where I keep track of the kids' birthdays, for easy reference. They're divided up by month, so I can plan two months out to send their birthday gifts. This new document is a bit like that one- I started by typing up the name of each month, and then I brought up the "My Sponsorships" section of my Compassion account. I went through and looked at each child, noting the date they were sponsored. So, for example, under the July section, I typed up "25- Tasya (2010.)" That way I can also easily see how many years I've been writing to the kids! Only two of these are slightly off, as I picked up Jayid's sponsorship after his financial sponsor dropped him (so the date I have is when I started the financial sponsorship) and the date I have for Carlos is the date when my friend Jim offered to take up his sponsorship and keep me as a correspondent! 

So after making up my document, I took a look at the anniversaries coming up. For January, we have Caleb and Eduardo (one year) and Brenda (two years.) I also wrote down the February anniversaries, too- just Sharifa, at one year. Then I got to work on getting some presents together!
Recently, I found a good deal at the Dollar Tree. They carry discounted, name-brand greetings cards at great prices. They're just older or discontinued designs- most of them are 2 for $1, and you can see the manufacturer's suggested retail price on the back- some of the cards originally sold for $3-4 each! Then they have these packaged cards from American Greetings, Hallmark, and other companies- usually 8 to 10 cards per pack. Most of them are thank you notes and invitations, but some are just blank cards. At my last trip to the Dollar Tree, I picked up two packs that would be good for boys (green and blue with smiley faces and grey and green stars) and two for girls (purple flowers, and pink paisley print.) They're good quality cards, and you can't really beat the price! I used these cards to make my anniversary cards for the kids. On the inside, I wrote up something like this: 

Dear Caleb, 
Happy anniversary! I became your sponsor on January 2, 2014. By the time you receive this, we will have been friends for one whole year! I have loved getting to know you over the past year, and I know we will be friends for many more years to come. I love you, and I am proud to have you as a part of my family.
Love and hugs, 

Then I worked on shrinking my overflowing supply of gifts for the kids! I realized in going through my things that I have a ton of Spanish language stuff for little kids, but I really need to work on finding more things for teen boys, since I have so many of them now! Here's a list of what I'm sending out for these gifts: 

Eduardo is getting a Transformers paint with water book, because that's the most mature-looking thing I could find in the box. : ) 

Caleb is getting a small book about a killer whale rescue, and another little book about rainforest ecology (I found the books on clearance for $0.25 each at Half Price Books!)

Brenda is getting a winter paint with water book (I forgot I had them!) and the Spanish version of "If You Give a Cat a Cupcake!" I found that and another book in the series at Half Price for $2.49, which is a pretty good deal- and I also have an educator discount card for an extra 10% off each purchase (which comes in handy because I buy so many books for the kids there!) 

Sharifa is getting a Lisa Frank coloring book, but she's also getting a birthday folder in this mailing, so there's more coming to her! 

I hope all the kids enjoy getting anniversary presents in the mail- and I hope that I'm able to keep up this new tradition! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For God loves a cheerful giver.

"Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me."

This past week has been full of all sorts of special days. Thanksgiving Thursday (who calls it that?) was followed by Black Friday, and then Super Saturday. Sunday didn't have a catchy name, but you might as well call it Sale Sunday because people were still shopping (particularly online) and preparing for Cyber Monday. The past five days or so have been so incredibly focused on money. Consumerism. I have friends who started shopping at dinnertime on Thursday (which makes me a little sad, but ok.) I have friends who shopped for twelve hours. I know people who stayed up late to buy things at certain times from websites offering super deals. People are shopping for gifts, they're shopping for themselves, they're shopping for their kids and their homes. And I can say that there are some good things about this shopping focused weekend. The crazy sales meant I was able to buy a new coat which I really needed since mine had rips and tears, a broken zipper, and was the wrong size (I got it straight out of high school!) My point is, people have dropped a lot of money in the past few days- money on stuff. Good or bad, it's all stuff.

And then someone came up with the idea of Giving Tuesday. I wonder if it's a sort of palate cleanser- what can we do to feel better about the insane amounts of cash that we as a nation have spent this holiday weekend? People like giving to charity around the holidays, anyway. Things like Angel Trees start popping up in our malls and shopping centers, charities start mailing out wish lists (I get them from children's homes, animal shelters, the zoo, and just about everyone else that is charged with taking care of living creatures, human or otherwise.) I think Giving Tuesday is a pretty neat idea, though part of me wishes that it took priority over the "me" centered shopping days. Then again, if we did Giving Tuesday before all that other stuff, people might give less because they'd be afraid of using too much money and not having enough left over for shopping!

So now Giving Tuesday is upon us, and Compassion is doing something really neat. Instead of just a generic push for donations today, as many other ministries and charities are doing, Compassion is concentrating their efforts on fundraising for a brand new Child Survival Program in Gujarat, India. If you followed my trip to Tanzania, you may remember that I visited a Child Survival Program (CSP) in Tanzania. That's the extra program Compassion does for moms and babies- they make sure the  moms enrolled in the program get proper prenatal and postnatal care, job training, advice and support from other mommas, good nutrition....and the babies get their immunizations and check-ups and visits from social workers and playtime with other babies- all these things that are so important to a child's development and that we in the industrialized world totally take for granted. The babies in the CSP are fat. Healthy looking. Average-sized in areas when it's impossible to guess a child's age because they're all smaller than what we're used to seeing. They're healthy and happy. Their moms are making plans for starting businesses with the skills they've learned. Their families are smiling and hopeful. Compassion's CSPs are genius and vital and amazing.

We have a goal today- we want to raise $25,000 this Giving Tuesday to start a brand new CSP in India. India was chosen because those babies need an extraordinary amount of help- statistics show that almost 2 million littles die in India every year- that's over 2,000 a day. Most of them don't make it past their first year. And so, so many of those deaths are preventable. Babies are dying from dehydration, malnourishment, and preventable diseases. Compassion's Child Survival Programs work to knock those out.

Please consider giving to Compassion's campaign today. Let's make this thing happen. You can view the giving page and find more information here.

Looking for more ways to help? Consider tweeting about the campaign, or share about it on your facebook or Instagram. Compassion has some great ideas for sharing here!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Haiti, Kenya, and Peru

I missed Mail Call  Monday last week, as I was out of town-so here are my letters from the last  two weeks!

Since my last post, we've received four letters! The first  was from Kevenel in Haiti. 

Kevenel's letter was a form letter which provided more info about him. He said he has short hair and dark eyes, and he is the second of three children. He likes to go to the garden and he wants to be a teacher when he grows up! Kevenel also shared that he has been to a  library before- something I ask all my kids! I'm glad that Kevenel has access to a library! 

Next we  heard from Victor in Kenya. 

My Victor is an incredibly smart young man and makes really good grades- but they are never good enough for his own satisfaction! Victor told me that he is going to "put his best foot forward" and work even harder next term! Victor wrote to say he was sorry about the loss of our pet,  and he hoped that we would be able  to get a new pet soon. He shared a memory verse- Matthew 10:40- and said "I am glad you are having time to enjoy with your friends, since by doing that you are promoting peace and friendship which is like serving the Lord." He is such a sweet young man! 

Then, like clockwork, we heard from Mary in Kenya! 

Mary's letter arrived on her 19th birthday! She writes such amazing letters. She is always so positive and encouraging. Because her letter was so great, I am just going to share it in its entirety here: 

Dear Jessi Jones, 
I hope you are fine and your family too. May the Lord of grace continue expanding your territory because you have done sooo much for me and I cannot be able to thank you. I am finishing my high school education this year and I thank the Lord for the great opportunity. I am doing all my best so that I can achieve my target and I am also dedicating my work to the Lord. 
At home all are fine and healthy. I thank God for making each new day seem bright to my family. I hope your family is fine because God is not so unjust to forget his people. Jessi, you are a great friend to me and I am not afraid to say this to the crowd. You are a friend in a million and may God never set us apart. You care so much for me like I am your sister. Try this. I came up with it on my own. My name is Mary but when I write it starting from the last letter it will be Yram and when you write your name Jessi Jones it will sound this way, Issej Senoj. Do you remember you are J² and I am M²? Remember success is not a journey it is a destination. 
Thank you for your letters because when I read them I usually feel great and that I have a friend who cares. I will pray for your mother, your brother Jonathan and for you and believe that you will find a job. Never give the devil a ride because you will never drive. Pray for my schooling and God will bless you. 

Lastly, we heard from Carlos in Peru!

Carlos had a lot to say in his letter- he wrote two pages! He said that Peru's Independence Day was July 28, and they celebrate the holiday the same way that Americans do. He also said that he has graduated high school and is working on applying for college!! I am so proud of him!! He told me about the jungles of Peru (which he has not visited, but wants to someday) and about the biodiversity there. He also told me that his dog is not very big, as it is still a puppy, and he wanted me to know that he does know what KFC is, and that he has been there with his friends! Carlos and I frequently write to each other about food, and what our regions are known for. So in one letter, I explained that Kentucky is famous for fried chicken- and that the "K" in "KFC" stood for Kentucky! Since he lives in a really big city, I thought there might be a chance that he knew what KFC was! Lastly, Carlos shared this prayer request: "Please pray that God helps me with the studies I will start taking and that He protects me from mean people." I will definitely do that! 

Since a letter from Carlos arrived Saturday, I am hoping that a letter from Mishel arrives today! I also know that we have a letter from Michel in Colombia coming soon, and hopefully a few others!  :)

Holly Jolly

I was looking for a photo on my old blog and ran across these questions on a Christmas post. What better way to kick off a new month than with a fun little survey? Blogging friends, feel free to borrow these questions as a writing prompt- I'd love to hear about your holiday traditions, too! : )

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? I use both. Bags are usually cuter, and easier to deal with, but they're not quite as fun as wrapping paper!

2. Real tree or Artificial? My tree is definitely fake. My aunt and my grandparents always have real trees, but for 99% of my life, we've done fake. And now that I have my own home, I will always do fake because of all the scary stories of real ones catching on fire!

3. When do you put up the tree? My family used to put it up early. Brandon doesn't really care. He is not as into Christmas as I am. I would be happy putting it up the day after Thanksgiving, but I try to aim for December 1. And I have my dad come over and help me do it, because he is good at Christmas and, as I said, Brandon really doesn't care one way or the other!

4. Favorite gift received as a child? I can't choose just one! Though some of my favorites that I can remember were probably dolls- I know I got an American Girl Bitty Baby doll for Christmas one year, and I also had the Kirsten doll from AG as well (but I can't recall if that was Christmas or a birthday gift.) My family as a whole tries really hard to get gifts that the recipient will really care about, so every year actually IS special.

5. Hardest person to buy for? Grandparents, definitely. I do have a hard time shopping for people sometimes because I love giving gifts and I always find lots of things I want to give people, and my budget is embarrassingly tight when it comes to the holidays. So in a way, you could say everyone is the hardest to shop for because I have a hard time finding stuff that I'm happy with that fits in my budget!

6. Easiest person to buy for? Brandon. His Christmas list is just birthday list leftovers. And his birthday list is Christmas leftovers. Usually he just tells  me to order whatever Star Wars books have come out over the past six months, and I add a few surprises.

7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes, just one. My mom has a bunch, though- she collects them and keeps some out all year round!

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? Anything that I ever got at a church youth group function, as no one in there liked me and I always got the crappy presents. We would have a gag gift game and someone would always bring just garbage, I think for the sole purpose of making sure I got it. Like burned out lightbulbs. Just trash. It hurt my feelings, actually.

9. Favorite Christmas Movie? I have several! For laughs, I like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Elf is pretty good, too. For warm fuzzy nostalgia, I like the Muppet Christmas Carol, a Muppet Family Christmas, and the John Denver Muppet Christmas special (which I do not own on DVD because it's out of print and EXPENSIVE.)

10. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Fried oysters and cream puffs. My grandmother only makes fried oysters for Christmas. They're soooooo good. And she makes cream puffs- homemade pastry filled with vanilla custard and drizzled with chocolate sauce. But these aren't the little profiteroles you might see some places. These suckers are as big as your hand. Sometimes bigger.

11. Lights on the tree? I like the fat, colorful bulbs my grandparents use. My tree is pre-lit. I can't imagine a tree without lights.

12. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes. I think most people that celebrate Christmas and have been exposed to Christmas songs can.

13. Favorite ornament theme or color? We don't do themes. All of our ornaments are random, mostly from pop culture (Star Wars, super heroes, Hello Kitty.) And then we have some that belonged to my family when I was a kid, one from the year we got married, one from the year we bought a house, and a few others. Oh, and my friends and I do an ornament exchange every year, so I have those.

14. Favorite Christmas song? I can't pick just one. I have maybe four hundred Christmas songs on my computer! If I could pick an entire album, it would be "A Christmas Together" from John Denver and the Muppets.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home? I have never been away from my family (and my hometown) at Christmas. Just about all of my family lives in Louisville, so we just travel around to everyone's houses. This has gotten exponentially more complicated since I got married. When I was a kid, we spent Christmas Eve with my great grandmother and my pappaw's family. Then Christmas morning at my house with my parents and maternal grandparents, lunch with my dad's family, and dinner at my aunt's. In between those last two, the family would come to our house to see our presents- and then we saw my cousin's presents when we went to my aunt's. Now we go to Brandon's maternal grandparents' on Christmas Eve. The last few years my parents have come over for breakfast (since we bought the house) and my grandparents come over when they can. Lunch is still at mammaw and pappaw's house, and directly after that we head over to see the extended Jones family. Then we go over to my aunt's, at least for a little while, because I like tradition (and the food we have at her house!) and finally, at the end of the day, Brandon's parents and brothers come over and we exchange gifts. It's exhausting!

16. What do you want for Christmas this year? This year, like every year, I ask for a few DVDs and books, and gift cards so Brandon and I can go out for our anniversary (or at least get carry-out.) I also try to ask for a few things that we need for the house that don't really fit into our budget, like a gift card for Lowe's, or something like that. We got a weed-eater last year or maybe the year before that. :)

17. Most memorable magical Christmas memory from adulthood? I wouldn't call it magical. I don't think our Christmases are magical, but they are warm and family filled and generally happy. But my most memorable Christmas memory from adulthood is definitely Christmas 2011. We were buying a house- we hadn't extended the rental agreement on our apartment because we were waiting to close, and at the last minute it turned out that there were some paperwork problems from the owner's before the people we were buying it from. Just some filing mistakes. But we were freaking out, and our realtor stepped in and saved the day and demanded that they got everything cleared up. So on December 23, we closed on our house, and we spent all of Christmas Eve moving in! We woke up early and my in-laws and my grandparents and uncle came over and helped us move everything. I stayed at the house with my mother in law and my youngest brother in law, taking care of the boxes, putting things away and stuff, while everyone else made three trips to move all the furniture and boxes over. My in-laws stayed until the afternoon to try to help put things away after everything was relocated, and then they left at about 3. My dad came by to help me set up the tree, so it would actually feel a bit like Christmas (we didn't put any decorations out at the apartment because we'd just have to pack them up again!) Two hours later, I dragged my sore and exhausted self out of the house with Brandon and we headed out to his grandparents' for Christmas Eve dinner. I could barely sit at the kitchen table, I was so sore! But I slept well that night, and the next morning my family brought over donuts and we had breakfast together and they got to see the house (my mom and my brother hadn't been able to come see it when we were looking at buying it!) So that crazy Christmas is definitely my most memorable one. It's hard to believe that we've been here for three years now!