Saturday, May 30, 2015

Project Letter: HA-277

Here's another one of the pastor's letters we've received recently! This one is from Benji's center in Haiti. 

Dear Jessi,

My name is Jean Emile Imbry, the pastor of the Wesleyan Church Philippe in the region of Bainet; Bras-de-Croix. Our CDC is attended by your sponsored child. I thank you so very much for your supports towards Benji.

Our community is going further financially and socially. But, we have some challenges. Our school is not in good condition and then the church is too small. Also, I cannot satisfy all the people who are requesting to enter in the program. So, my aim for the church is to renovate the building and continue to evangelize more people. We are working to add more registered children. Now, we have 280 sponsored children.

Our children are more developed than the other children of the community because they have assistances from their sponsors like school fees, health care, school items, and gifts. One of our girls at the center was wounded by a stone hitting over her head and her parents couldn't afford to tend her. Thanks to the center and the assistance of Compassion Haiti, she had an operation and it happened well, thanks to God. Now, the child is healthy. From time to time, some organizations come to ask us a hand in order to repair the roads. Many parents of the children go to church; some of them attend my church and others go to other churches in the community.

The relationship between a child and a sponsor is so important and capital. A child is always excited to receive a letter from their sponsor. I think it is similar to the sponsors, too. I exhort the children to write good letters to their sponsors. I make sure that I am present by the time the letters are being written because I love to see the children's faces as they write. I hope you know the importance of your letters to Benji and will write often.

I sincerely want to assure you that your child is in good hands because I work in close collaboration with the employees in order to change the life condition of the children. We have a good staff that consists of teachers and instructors to teach the children Bible verses and stories.

I cannot stop thanking you for your supports towards Benji through Compassion International. At church, we are praying for you a lot so that God can bless you much more and give you good health. Please, pray for the children so that God can make a way for them and do efficient work in their lives and that they can always remain in Jesus!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

101 Letter-Writing Ideas

I know I keep telling you guys how much I love my new job, and part of that is because I work with some amazing people. While I don't look forward to giving up my afternoons and evenings of Netflix-watching and house-organizing, once I get to work, I am having lots of fun, and I feel really content. Thursday nights in particular are a treat because I get to work with my friend Steph. We have so much fun! On a recent Thursday, we spent quite a bit of our downtime talking about Compassion and letter-writing. Steph started sponsoring a little girl in Ghana about two years ago, and she and I were talking about different things to write about in some upcoming letters. I think that soon she's going to send her a letter about the Derby Festival here in town, with plenty of pictures of the fireworks! While we were chatting, I rattled off some other random letter ideas, and told Steph she should just make a list for future reference. And then she told me to make a list. So I decided to write up these letter-writing ideas, as quickly as I can (as a fun challenge) and share it with you! If I missed anything, tell me in the comments!

*Note: these ideas include some specifically related to my city, Louisville, but they may inspire you to write similar letters about your own city (or you can write about Louisville, too, because there's some cool stuff going on here.)

  1. The weather. Not as boring as it sounds. 
  2. Snow. If it snows where you live, describe it to your kids. Keep in mind that most of the countries where Compassion works have a very warm climate and I'd wager that 90% of the kids will not see snow in their lifetime. 
  3. The history of your country
  4. The history of your state
  5. Someone famous from your city or state 
  6. A traditional dish your family prepares
  7. Your experiences with eating food from your child's country (they LOVE this)
  8. A hobby or craft you're good at
  9. What you were like when you were your child's age
  10. Your parents
  11. Your grandparents
  12. Your best friend
  13. Your favorite childhood pet
  14. Your job- what you do, why you like it, who your coworkers are
  15. A list of your favorites- and send a blank list for your child to fill out and return (fingers crossed)
  16. Something you want to learn to do
  17. Your church
  18. Your pastor
  19. A recent sermon you enjoyed
  20. Missionaries- talk about any missionaries you know or have met or have heard about
  21. Someone you admire, even if it's someone you've never met
  22. Watch a movie from your child's country and write to them about it
  23. Try something new and write to your child about it
  24. Tell them about your favorite teacher when you were a kid
  25. Or what Sunday school was like
  26. Or what summer vacation was like when you were a kid
  27. Write about the Derby Festival
  28. Or your last trip to the zoo
  29. Or talk about Museum Row and the neat things that happen there (Frazier International History Museum, Slugger Museum, Science Museum) 
  30. Write about horses and how they relate to Kentucky 
  31. Flags- write about your country's flag and explain how it came to be. Talk about your child's flag and ask them what they know about it. 
  32. Tell them about your neighborhood
  33. Or your neighbors
  34. Or your last trip to the beach
  35. Or the mountains
  36. Or the aquarium
  37. Or a national monument
  38. Tell them about your favorite period in history
  39. Or your favorite historical figure
  40. Share about your typical day
  41. How does your family celebrate New Year's?
  42. Or Valentine's Day?
  43. Easter?
  44. Father's Day and Mother's Day?
  45. Memorial Day and Veteran's Day?
  46. Thanksgiving?
  47. Christmas?
  48. Write about the seasons. A lot of our kids don't have four seasons- they have rainy and dry. Or their seasons are different than ours in other ways.
  49. Fall festivals, pumpkin picking and other autumn activities
  50. New babies- do you have a new baby in your family? Write about it! Send pictures! 
  51. Gardening. Do you have a garden? What do you grow? What would you grow if you could? Ask your child if his family grows any fruits or vegetables. You might learn about a plant you've never heard of before! 
  52. If you've been baptized, write about that experience
  53. If you are a Christian, share your testimony with your child
  54. What did you want to be when you grew up? How is it different than what you are doing now? 
  55. What's your favorite sport? 
  56. If you don't care about sports, maybe research one and write a letter about it anyway. Something familiar, like basketball, may not be very popular in your child's country. Or you could write about something a little more obscure, such as curling or sumo wrestling
  57. Have you ever visited a cave? Caves are cool. Write about caves. Kentucky has Mammoth Cave, which is the longest cave system in the world. Run with that. Anything science-y, really. 
  58. Write about your name!! If you don't know what it means, look it up. Share how you got that name, if there's a neat story behind it. Ask your child about her name. I did this recently, and received several responses! 
  59. Share a story about a surprise blessing from God
  60. Or how God has been faithful to your family
  61. Or a prayer request. Your child is praying for you. Don't be ashamed to share how they can pray specifically for your life. 
  62. Describe a way that you serve others
  63. Or a way that you would like to serve
  64. How are you praying for your sponsored child?
  65. Share about a positive news story (be sure to include pictures!) 
  66. Where do your parents work? What do they do? 
  67. Where is your favorite place you've ever traveled?
  68. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? 
  69. Did you go to college? Write about what that was like, the challenges you faced, and how you got through them. 
  70. Does anyone you know live on a farm? Write about farms. Many of our kids live in agricultural communities- it would be fun to compare and contrast farms where you live and farms where they live! 
  71. Do you have a spiritual mentor or a really great prayer partner? Write about them!
  72. Write about an instrument you play
  73. Or your favorite painting
  74. Or a poem you like
  75. Have you ever been to a sports game? Write about that experience. 
  76. Pick a national park and write about it. 
  77. Seek out information about one of Compassion's graduates and write about them. 
  78. Here's one to get you started.
  79. Write about a sidewalk game. These games can be played without many extra toys or tools. Hannah has been sending lots of them to her kids, and they love them! 
  80. Write about astronauts. Your child's country may never have sent people into space, and may not have much of a space program. Look up astronauts, the International Space Station, and info about rockets, and share it with them. 
  81. Do you have a favorite plant? Perhaps a flower or tree you're particularly fond of? Write about it! 
  82. Write about your favorite singer. One time I wrote my girls about Dolly Parton and shared about her Imagination Library program, and told them about the story behind her song "Coat of Many Colors.
  83. If your child has recently experienced a loss, write about a time you lost someone you love. Talk about what they meant to you and how you got through it. 
  84. Look up news stories from your child's country, briefly share about them and tell your child about your prayers for their country. 
  85. The Olympics are happening again next year (I think.) Write about them. 
  86. Try writing a note to your child's parent or caregiver sometime. Tell them you're glad that your families are connected and you're praying for them. 
  87. Same for their teacher, tutor, or helper at the project. 
  88. What was your favorite subject in school? 
  89. Was there a subject you struggled with? How did you deal with that? 
  90. Was there a challenge you worked to overcome as a child? How did you do it? 
  91. Write out a description of what you do at church- what time you get there, the order of the service, describe your pastor and share about any friends or family who go to your church (my kids love hearing how some Sundays, our family takes up a whole row of seats!)
  92. Talk about your extended family, and what you do when you get together. 
  93. If you're married, share how you met your spouse. 
  94. Talk about weddings you've attended and describe some wedding traditions from your country. Ask your child about weddings in his or her country. 
  95. Share about your talents, and ask your child about theirs. 
  96. How do you remember your sponsor child? Is their picture hanging in your home? Do you keep a photo of them on your desk? Tell your child about this stuff! 
  97. How has being a Compassion sponsor changed you? 
  98. Have you ever influenced a friend or family member to become a sponsor? Share about that journey! 
  99. This isn't really a topic, but just pick out a cute card and send it to your kid! The card company does all the thinking for you- and what a lovely surprise for your child! 
  100. Has your child reached a milestone recently? Maybe they've moved up a grade at school, or participated in a competitive event at the project. Write them a note of encouragement about these things! 
  101. Read back through your old letters from your child. Send them a note about how they've changed, what you thought when you first sponsored them, how excited you are to receive their letters. And how you hope to write letters for many years to come. :) 

Pastor's Letter: Ecuador (EC-261)

Here's a letter from the pastor of the church which is the central focus of EC261. I'd heard about this "center" for a while before I had a child there- unlike most centers, which you can think of as after-school programs based out of churches, this center covers a huge area in the Amazon jungle. Some of the little communities are closer to major infrastructure, but a lot of them are only visited by little airplanes piloted by missionaries every few months. So by and large, people don't get letters from these kids very often. And I hate it when they complain about it. We shouldn't be doing this because of the number of letters we receive- that goes right back to my gratitude post last week, where I said we should try to check our motives for giving. Anyway. I thought about the center and the people with kids there as I was reading this letter. It's so sweet. 

Dear Jessi,

Greetings and a big hug in the love of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.

My name is Lloyd Daniel Rogers. I am the pastor of the church "Mision Evangelica Ecuador para Cristo" and the Child Development Center, Copataza, where Mary Paola is sponsored. The center is located in the Amazon Jungle of Ecuador. In this area of the jungle there are indigenous communities like Quichua, Huaorani, Zapara, Shuar, and Achuar.

Our vision is to be leaders in planting churches with the healthy doctrine of contributing to the integral development of children, youth, and their families. This is done in various activities held each year including conferences, summer schools, camps, and sporting events.

Through this letter I want to express my sincere gratitude for the sponsorship and the help offered to our children and youth, and I thank God for it is He who puts in the hearts of people the desire to support and be a part of the life of each of our children and youth.

Our Center serves over 250 children in their education through the provision of school materials and supplies. We assist in the physical area with medical care, and socio-emotional and spiritual areas through various activities. In these months we are making individual medical checkups with the help of volunteer doctors. We also provide some food for each child to supplement their diet because in the jungle we do not have all the necessary vitamins. This year we are planning to have summer camps, conferences, and celebrate their birthdays; in the Center we celebrate all their birthdays because it is really nice to see the happiness of the children when we do so.

Our Center has been greatly blessed by the Complementary Interventions funds in transportation, which has allowed us to reach a wider range of children in the region. We also received the Complementary Intervention for individual medical attention. This fund helps us to buy medicine and pay for the doctor's flights into the area who help us detect and prevent diseases, and if necessary, transport children to larger hospitals with specialists.

The impact that Compassion has on the lives of children and youth of our Center is reflected in their attitudes and actions and faithfulness to God. The Center itself has led to a great change in the lives of people and communities sharing the Word of God and respecting their culture, which has allowed us to raise men and women that have become responsible leaders in their communities and in the local church. Many of the youth have finished school and felt the call of the Lord, continued to the Bible Institute, and have returned to their communities to collaborate and support in various areas in their churches. Some of them have decided to serve God in helping in the Center.

Our children and youth are very shy and do not express their feelings too much, but when they receive a letter from their sponsors they show so much joy and happiness. For them it is very important because in their culture they do not communicate through letters. The dream of every child is to someday meet their sponsors. We have had several visits and this has been an unforgettable experience.

My prayer request is for you to continue praying for the lives of children, youth, families, and Center workers so together we can glorify the Lord and be an example of the love of Christ where he has placed us.

I am grateful to God for your ministry through the sponsorship of Mary Paola. Thank you for your great work and being part of what God is doing in the jungle of Ecuador.

May God bless you and reward you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Project Letter: LK-408

Here's a letter from our Sithum's pastor in Sri Lanka!

I am Antony Robert, leader of the church in Sri Lanka that runs the Peace Makers Foundation, the child development center attended by Sithum.

The Peace Makers Foundation is very pleased and much thankful to you for giving us this wonderful occasion to serve the children. At the moment there are 157 children registered and out of that 89 are sponsored. We can see there are real changes visible in the lives of the children so we encourage you to continue supporting Compassion International. 

In the beginning parents didn't show much desire to send their children to the church for the center, but now they willingly send their children to the center. In the beginning there were lots of misunderstandings about the center but those all were clarified.

The center is conducted in the church and we face some challenges with the facilities we have at the moment. We have a committed and skillful staff. Teachers are doing the curriculum well and freely. Parents regularly appreciate and give thanks to the church and the sponsors for the development they see in their children. 

There is a big challenge we face on the languages. Most of our teachers are Sinhala but there are many parents who only know Tamil. So it is very difficult for the teachers to communicate with the parents.

In the past year our center has seen changes happening in the lives of the children and the parents. Compared with other children, our children have the opportunity to spend the school holidays meaningfully by coming to the center. We regularly see and hear from the parents that our children are practicing and share the things they learn from the center like good behaviors, songs, and stories.

We see that children like very much to write to their sponsors. They show such willingness to write to their sponsors and they expect immediate answers. The correspondence itself provides encouragement and desire for the children to participate in the center.

We had a wonderful opportunity to support the community on two disaster situations due to flooding and a burnt house. We strongly believe and trust that God may change and use these children to make a real difference in this area.

Once again we appreciate and give many thanks to Compassion International for giving us this valuable opportunity to fulfill the church vision for children. We pray for you all and please pray for us to continue in this commitment and win all challenges to make this vision a reality.

Thank you again for sponsoring Sithum. May God bless you.

Nilupul attends the same center as Sithum and he needs a sponsor! Read more about him here. 

Four out of five ain't bad.

This week's gratitude post is a little awkward. I am supposed to list five things I like about myself, and why or how I'm grateful for those things. Which is super awkward because I have to talk about myself in a way that, to me, feels like bragging, and to be honest, with my self-esteem issues and depression, it can be hard to think of one thing I like about myself most days. So I don't know if I'll be able to come up with five things, but we'll try.

  1. I like my strength. I don't like the fact that I have an anxiety disorder, or that most of my childhood memories are filled with miserable panic attacks. But I do like the fact that it's made me a stronger person. I'm pretty good at pushing through stuff that makes me uncomfortable. And I hate chickening out about stuff, because that makes me feel like my anxiety's winning, and I like being in control of my life, thank you very much. So my anxiety has made me a stronger person, and I like that. In counseling a few weeks ago, I was asked if I could imagine my life without the specter of anxiety, and I said that I could envision a life without panic attacks because I've had a few "off years" where it wasn't really an issue for me. Then she asked if I could imagine removing anxiety from my past- like, what life would have been like growing up without it. I said no. It's a part of me. It's not a great part, but it has helped to shape who I am. 
  2. I like my craftiness. And by that, I don't mean shadiness. I like my artistic ability, which took a while to discover. It may mean my house is cluttered with craft supplies, but I also have a bunch of fun hobbies and the ability to make things that make people happy, whether it's helping with projects at work, making things for my sponsor kids, or planning crafts for the kids in Tanzania. It's fun. I like to create. 
  3. I like my giving spirit. And I'm not talking about monetary stuff, because I don't have a lot of money. But I like the fact that I like giving people things to make them happy, whether it's writing letters to my sponsor kids, putting a lot of thought into people's Christmas presents, or baking a cobbler just because for my coworkers. I like giving and sharing and making people smile. I'm thankful that I'm built that way. Some people aren't. 
  4. I like that it's easy for me to love. I love people. And animals, too. I am an overly empathetic person- that bit can be annoying sometimes, because I cry a lot at silly things, like movie scenes that don't make anyone else cry. Or commercials. Or books. But I think that the empathy makes it easier for me to be compassionate and see both sides of a situation and figure out what I can do to help. I'm glad I'm not a grumpy old mean person. I'm thankful that I worry about what other people are feeling, because it keeps me from hurting others sometimes with my sassy mouth (and it makes me properly apologetic when I do let something slip.) I have had more than my fair share of run-ins with nasty people over the past couple of years, and have experienced a lot of betrayal. And sometimes I wonder how those people got that way- how do you get to the point where you actively try to hurt people? Or how do you get to the point where you think it's ok to be hurtful? And I'm thankful that the way my heart is designed, I don't think that I'll ever be that way. 

OK, so I didn't get to 5. I tried. But all things considered, I think that I did pretty well. 

So here's my encouragement for you this week. I'm not going to say "think about how awesome you are" because that's weird and is totally missing the point. I'm going to ask you to think about what makes you you. What makes you unique, what makes you special. Even if it's stuff that seems bad on the surface, like my anxiety. And be grateful for it. Be thankful to God for making you that way. Be thankful to your family for shaping your mind and your life growing up. Be thankful for the tough experiences that have made you a better person. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Fork in the Road

Hey folks,

I am going to be blogging in two places from now on- you can expect the same content on this blog, but I am going to share personal posts of a particular nature on another, newer blog. I just feel like it's what I need to do in this season of my life. This blog is about adoption- and while I need to make it clear that Brandon and I are not currently in any sort of official stage of adopting a child (sorry to disappoint), that's where those kind of posts are going to be, and I'll be sharing my heart about the topic there in the meantime. You can read more about what's going on in my head in the first post, which you'll find here. And I invite you to follow along, because maybe from time to time I will have some interesting things to say. I'll definitely be sharing lots of prayer requests and related posts there, too.

Oh, and the nice thing about this particular fork in the road is that you can keep following both roads at once. : ) I just couldn't think of a better phrase at the time of this writing!

Edit: Also, I am sharing this post on my facebook page and other "media outlets" (har) because if I were to share a post from "Jones, Party of Three" on there right now, people would skip the crucial step of actually reading/thinking and start congratulating me or whatever. So I am rolling it out slowly, and covering it up (for the moment) with *this* blog so some certain people don't get the wrong idea! I feel like I've just fed you some clickbait- sorry! But there's a reason behind it! 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pastor's Letter: Thailand (TH-817)

We have been receiving a few more pastor's letters recently! Technically this is from a project director rather than a pastor, but....same difference! This is from Tinnakorn's project in Thailand. 

My name is Mr. Nipon Banditjaroenwong. I am the director of Poeng Kloeng Church CDC where we minister to Tinnakorn.

Thank you very much for sponsoring Tinnaorn and supporting our ministry and center. We are located in a very poor community and our vision is to serve the children, to holistically develop them, and release them from poverty in the name of Jesus.

We offer many outstanding activities which are useful for the children at the center, such as memorizing Bible verses, singing praises, and playing games. For the language foundation activity, we teach the children basic English, basic Myanmar, and basic Karen tribal. For older children, we train them in different careers such as raising the fish, making flowers from the yarn or paper to use in the important day or event. We also teach them how to cook in order for them to develop and make a career out of it. Besides the above mentioned, we also teach them about agricultural work by teaching them how to take care of the vegetables in order for them to grow well. We also celebrate birthdays with the children every month, singing and playing. Many of them have never had this before. And we celebrate holidays.

Besides the above outstanding activities that I've mentioned, the center has many more activities, such as setting up training for the staff. They learn and understand more knowledge of how to take care and develop the children in different age groups. The workers can apply this knowledge and use in their job. We've invited a guest speaker that is an expert in this area to come to share this knowledge with us. The center uses the holistic curriculum of Compassion to develop the children in the four areas of social, physical, cognitive, and spiritual development. The children benefit in their transformation from this, but so do the staff and the community and parents. The children are noticeably different from the ones in the community who do not attend the program at the center and they are admired. The children here are very happy and it is clear to be seen. 

The letters that the children receive from their sponsors make them very happy. They feel the warmth and love of their sponsors when they read the prayers and words of encouragement. These letters help to develop their self-esteem and motivate them to continue in the program and at school and at church. They are very eager and proud to share news about their lives with their sponsors and write letters back. It's very important to provide this avenue for joy for Tinnakorn and correspond regularly.

Thank you for loving Tinnakorn and for supporting us in our mission at this ministry and center. You are quite a blessing. May God bless you more and more. Amen.

Little Jorweysoe attends the same center as Tinnakorn, and he is waiting for a sponsor! Read more about him here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Muchas Gracias

Last week, I shared that the Gratitude Challenge for the week was to show gratitude to three people. Be intentional about it, and not just a compulsive "thank you" if somebody hands me something or blesses me when I sneeze. And this week's challenge was to share how I felt about it.

The first people I showed my gratitude towards were the guys who came and picked up my couch last week. Brandon and I had the tremendous opportunity to order a new couch and loveseat during an amazing sale back in March, and our furniture was finally ready to be delivered this past week. And I had to find someone to pick up my old couch *fast.* I called everyone I could think of. And when none of them could help me, I started taking suggestions. At each office- Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities of Louisville, the DAV, Volunteers of America, and everyone else I've lost track of, I was sure to express my thanks for any helpful advice I received. I felt bad that I just had one donation to give, and those who couldn't meet my own schedule were going to be missing out, for lack of a better term. Anyway, I finally found a place who could get my couch the next day, and these two gentlemen showed up with their truck and their work gloves. And they were so nice. And one of them had a beach hat and purple fingernails and he was like, six and a half feet tall. It was fun. I'm sure that at a lot of houses, people just kind of point and say "take that" and send them on their way, but I made an effort to talk to them, made a point to share how thankful I was that they were able to come on such short notice, and just try to make them feel appreciated. It's not really a glamorous job. I hope that they enjoy it (they seemed to) but I just really wanted them to know that I appreciated what they were doing, that they were really helping me out, and that I was grateful for that! And that made me feel good, and the next time I have furniture and other stuff to donate, I'll be giving them a call.

The next time I made an effort to show gratitude was my last day with my counselor, Julie. I'm not dropping out of counseling, but she had finished up her hours and taken her exit exam, so last week was our final week together, and now I'll be seeing someone else. I know that in some ways, it's Julie's job to connect with me and be supportive and kind and all that stuff. But I wanted to give her a token of my appreciation, because coming to counseling and sticking with it was kind of a big deal for me. She did a good job dealing with me, and never made me feel weird or unsure about the things I had to share. She has said some really nice things, things that I think go above and beyond what someone in her position would be required or feel obligated to do, and I really do appreciate that. So right before I left last Tuesday, I gave her a bracelet from the AP fundraiser that I'm doing. I picked out a pretty red one for her and explained what it was from and who made it and all that. She was happy to receive it and was appreciative, but her reaction wasn't quite as excited as I thought it would be. I don't mean to say that she was ungrateful, or that I feel like I deserved a bigger display of...something for giving it to her. I have just picked up on some of her mannerisms and the way she talks about things, so her reaction wasn't quite the same as I expected. But there's an important lesson in that. We don't give to receive thanks. And we don't show gratitude so someone else will think better of us or to receive something in return. We do it because it's the right thing to do. And any time we find ourselves giving with an expectation- whether it's a gift, a charitable donation, our letters to our sponsor kids, a kind note, whatever- then we need to step back and reevaluate things. There shouldn't be any sort of motive behind our giving other than to say "thank you" or "I love you" or "I appreciate you." If we are getting upset or frustrated or irritated about the way someone responds to that, then our motives probably weren't as pure as we'd like to pretend.

And finally, the last expression of gratitude for this little exercise went along with the gifts that are headed to Peru for our sponsor kids in a few weeks. A duffle bag of gifts is headed to Peru with my friends Kara and Paul, who are going to visit their mom Mrs. K (you may remember her from when she accepted and then re-mailed gifts for Brenda when she was living in Mexico!) These folks are being very generous in bringing the gifts for me (and a couple of friends) and while I didn't have a lot of money to offer them (which I doubt they would have accepted) I was sure to include a kind note and some treats for Mrs K. The big thing, though, was the note I included for the field office staff in Peru. I have been thinking about them a lot lately. When I went to Tanzania, I loved meeting the Compassion staff there just about as much as I enjoyed meeting all the kids. They all have such huge hearts. And in my experience, this seems to be a job requirement for everyone who works for Compassion. So I found a pretty card and wrote out my feelings about this whole thing- how much I appreciate their hard work. How glad I am that they love our kids as much as we do. How I am praying for them and how I pray that God blesses them abundantly, because they bless me in ways that they may not realize. I hope that some day I am able to travel to every Compassion country and meet the staff there, but I know that this probably will not happen. So from now on, each time I have a chance to send a gift to one of my kids, I'm going to include a note for the field office staff, beyond "thanks for getting these to my kids." And writing that note got me thinking about including a short note to other folks who work for Compassion, too- whether it's a happy little Post-it stuck in with my box of letters, meant to be read by the staffer in Colorado who gets the box and starts to sort out the contents inside, or including cards for my kids' tutors with their letters.

Showing gratitude makes me feel good. I enjoy doing it. I don't think that I came away from this week's challenge any differently than I expected, but I'm glad I did learn a little something, or have a little lightbulb come on, about our motives for giving thanks.

If you accepted my challenge of intentionally showing gratitude this week, I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Getting to Know You: Julian & Michel

Life has been really crazy lately, and it has been really hard for me to prepare these posts to completion in time for them to be posted. To help me catch up (still a day late) I am sharing the story of both Julian and Michel, who joined our Far-Away Family at the same time!

Names: Julian and Michel
Ages: Julian and Michel are both 7 right now, but Julian is older
Birthdays: Julian's birthday is July 10 and Michel's is May 13
Country: Colombia
Sponsored since: May 2014

How we got them: Around the time that we were waiting for Anahi to show up on our account, a Compassion staffer posted a need on facebook- 100 little ones in Colombia had recently been sponsored and needed correspondents. I requested a boy and a girl, and Julian and Anahi showed up on my account within 24 hours of each other- Julian was late in the day and Michel the next morning. I kind of think of them as twins in my head. :) And it's pretty neat because all of those kids were from the same two centers, so a bunch of sponsors were able to connect in a facebook group and share when we got our first letters, or any pertinent information on the centers!

About their families: Michel's profile says that her parents are together, but she has only mentioned her mom in letters. And Julian just lives with his mom. Although we've had them for a year now, we've only received three letters from each of them, because it took a loooooong time to get first letters. I'm looking forward to learning more about their families!

Hobbies and interests: Both kids are pretty great at drawing- they're little artists! And they are both friendly, cheerful and affectionate. And both of them are above average in school, which is so awesome! Michel loves playing and swimming, and going fishing with her mom, too.

Here are some excerpts from their letters!

"Jesus is my friend because: he never leaves me alone." - Julian

"For me, the meaning of friendship is: sharing and enjoying." - Julian

"I hope you always have beautiful moments. God bless you." - Julian

Our first and only picture of Julian

"Jesus is my friend because: he watches over her and her mom." - Michel

"Michel says that she loves you very much, and she feels very excited because of your letter. She says that your photos are precious, and she is going to show them to her family." - Michel

"She wants to express her gratitude to you for the stickers and the books that you sent her, and she says she's going to color them, with her mom's help." - Michel

Michel's first photo. I love that pout! 

"I would like to have a rabbit as a pet. I would name it Bebe." - Julian

"Julian gives you a hug and a kiss, he says that he loves you very much." - Julian

"I thank you for your precious letters! I love them greatly!" - Julian

"I want you to know that I am doing well at school because I passed my school year." - Michel

"I want to express my gratitude to you for your friendship, your letters, the book of animals and the Christmas greeting card you sent me as well." - Michel

We got an updated photo of Michel later in the year. She's grown so much! 

"I want you to please continue to pray for me and I will do the same for you. I want to dedicate the following Bible verse to you: Psalms 31:24. Will you send me a Bible verse? I say goodbye for now with a hug and a kiss. I love you very much." - Michel

Sweet Greetings from Thailand, Bolivia, Togo, and the Philippines

Happy Mail Call Monday!

We received four letters this week- and I do know that more are on the way! 

The first letter was from Thanakan in Thailand! 

This was our first letter from Thanakan! She wrote a form letter about her hope for the future, and shared that she does want to get married, and she wants to go to university and become a teacher! She also said she wants to visit the US and meet me- and I hope she gets to do all those things some day! She shared that her parents are going to start their farming soon, and asked that we pray for them. And she asked if it is rainy or snowy where we live! 

Next, we got a very exciting letter from Merlyn!

Merlyn's mom wrote this letter, as she did the last one, and it was filled with so many smiley faces! Merlyn wished us happy anniversary, and asked me to say "hi" for her to "brother Brandon", and then said to "send (her) hi" to all my family and friends! So, hi from Merlyn! She also said that she got the gifts my friend Katie carried to the Philippines for her, and included a little collage of pictures!! It was so neat to see these photos- Merlyn looks so happy! And I also like the fact that she calls me her big sister! She asked that we pray for her mom, to stay strong! 

Next up, we heard from Juan in Bolivia! 

Juan's letter was pretty short, but it was really cute! He basically said that he had a good day on the day he wrote the letter, and he had a salad with his lunch- and he wrote "mmm, tasty!" He sent his love and thanked us for the letters we send! 

Finally, we got our first letter from little Estha in Togo! 

Estha sent a form letter about her community! She shared that she's 90 km from the nearest city, and many people in her community get around by using bicycles! She asked us how we prepare for Easter, and she drew a duck in the drawing space provided! She also said "thank you for always being with me!" 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Outstretched Hands.

I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer at the Compassion Experience today!

When I saw on my advocacy page that the Experience was going to be coming to my city, I freaked out- I was SO excited. I didn't expect it to ever come here because Nashville, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and several other big(ger) cities are so close by. It's the same reason we're never getting an IKEA- we're pretty big, but not quite bit enough for a lot of things, and they assume we'll just travel to them. Anyway, I immediately emailed my mom and asked if we could sign up to work (I needed a driver.) So she took off work, and we registered to work the mid-day shift.

We were pretty busy most of the afternoon, and it was super hot today so the air conditioners in our tent thingie were working overtime, but I was so glad to serve with my mom and help out in this way. Compassion has given *me* so much, and there aren't a lot of events in my area that I'm able to help at because of my driving issues, PLUS this was just super exciting because I really wanted to walk through the exhibit!

I just love this photo plastered on the side of the trailer! It reminds me of Tanzania! 

For most of the afternoon, my mom and I were stationed just inside the tent, setting folks up with their iPods and getting them ready to enter the exhibit. Later in the afternoon, we were able to walk through one time. My mom went in first, and when our other volunteer returned, I headed in after her.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Compassion Experience, it's an interactive walk-through thing telling the stories of actual Compassion graduates in different countries. At this set-up, you can walk through and learn about Ruben in Bolivia, Julian in Uganda, or Brinda in India. I really wanted to see all of them, but I went for Brinda first because I wanted to listen to her talk. :) I have seen videos of Brinda before, and I love listening to Indian accents and love the culture and would really like to adopt from there someday. Anyway, I started walking through this recreation of Brinda's life. The "tour" starts out in Brinda's home before she was registered in Compassion's program. Her home is filled with icons and idols, and she describes some of her culture's traditions. Like, children should be quiet and somber because if they draw attention to themselves, like by laughing and playing in front of other people, they are welcoming bad luck (or the "evil eye") because staring at children is bad luck. And she tells us that girls in particular are taught to be invisible. They are seen as not having much worth or value. When I heard her talking about girls being "invisible," I started getting choked up. And I thought to myself "you are going to want to sponsor another child, but you can't right now. You can maybe ask for some more correspondents when you get home, though." And then we continue journeying through Brinda's story. How her family became Christians not long after her grandmother's miraculous recovery from serious illness- a recovery that was prayed for by Hindu priests and Islamic imams, before Brinda convinced her mother to pray to the Christian God, whom she calls Daddy. And then she tells us about her sister's surrender to Christ after the family fasted and prayed for a financial miracle regarding her schooling. Brinda used a phrase at this point that really jumped out at me: she said that when acting on faith, she put everything she had in her outstretched hands and offered it up to God. And something clicked in my head. I struggle with the fact that I don't hear from God very often. The past year or so has brought on more doubt and skepticism for me than I've ever experienced in my life, and I struggle with it. I'm being honest here. But in that moment, picturing Brinda's outstretched hands in my mind, having faith that God would deliver and make a way for her sister to finish school, I felt this sense of certainty just smack me upside the head. It was as real if someone had walked up and poked me in the middle of my back. I knew that if I walked out to the room full of child packets and saw a teen girl from India, like Brinda, I would be her sponsor. I didn't know where the money was going to come from, but I'd put what I had in my outstretched hands and offer it up to God.

My mom was finishing up in the "waiting kids" room (yes, she did take home another kiddo) and right before she walked back out to her post, I saw her. Vandana. The only teen girl from India in the room. And she had these braids. And this dress that looked like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz." And I said "ok, it's her" and walked over and filled out the form. And thus, Vandana joined our Far-Away Family.

I had barely looked at Vandana's information packet, but registered a sense of familiarity with her child center number. I didn't *think* that I had a kid at her center, but maybe one of my friends had a child there. Or maybe her center was one of those that another advocate or blogger posted about frequently. But that didn't seem right.

I finished out my afternoon working in the packet room (which was pretty awesome, because I got to talk about all my kids and make some letter-writing recommendations) and we headed home an hour and a half after my finding Vandana. I was very tired and hot and a little worried about telling my husband about us sponsoring another child and ready to sit in the air-conditioned car while my mom drove us home. While she was on the phone with my dad, I opened up the packet again and stared at that center number. And then I thought I had it figured out. I used my phone to log into my mom's Compassion account, and let out a loud "HA! Oh, do I have something to tell you." As soon as she got off the phone, I told her why that number seemed so familiar- my Vandana attends the same center as my mom's Amisha. Her very first sponsored child, whom she's had for 6 years. Amisha, who asks about me and Brandon "all the time", according to mom. Amisha is the apple of my mom's eye, when it comes to her sponsor kids (and she says I'm going to "show her up" when it comes to letter writing, which is both not true and also very funny.) If that's not a God thing, I don't know what is.

If you live in or around Louisville, I would strongly encourage you to come out to the Compassion Experience this weekend. It's free. It's good for families and couples and single people and the elderly and tiny children and anyone and everyone. It is interesting. It is educational. It is moving and inspiring. You can learn more here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

And If Three Whole People, Why Not Four?

This week's gratitude challenge isn't a writing challenge, it's an action challenge. And since that's a little harder to write about, I thought about swapping it for something else, but I am tired and couldn't think of anything.

The action for this week is to express gratitude to three people. That shouldn't be too difficult, I hope. I think that one good thing about this challenge, for both myself and anyone else who is participating, is that we might recognize that a.) we don't express gratitude often enough, and b.) there are a lot of people in our lives that we should thank!

Here are some suggestions of people who should get a little gratitude thrown their way:

  • Your parents
  • Your kids
  • Your spouse
  • Your pastor
  • Your teachers and professors
  • Your coworkers
  • Your friends
  • Lunch ladies
  • Firefighters and police officers
  • The person who delivers your mail 
  • The person who delivers your pizza
  • The person who brings your carry-out to your car
  • Or hands your fast food through the window
  • The person who bags your groceries
  • The person who rounds up shopping carts in the parking lot
  • The person walking dogs and cleaning fish tanks at the pet store
  • The cleaning crew at your work place
  • Crossing guards
  • Librarians
EVEN IF PEOPLE ARE "JUST" DOING THEIR JOBS, such as the person working carry-out at the restaurant preparing your dinner, that person is still HELPING YOU. And they probably feel like their work is pretty thankless from time to time. So what if they're getting paid for it? Don't they still deserve thanks for doing something helpful? The answer is "yes," because they are a human being. 

So my challenge is to intentionally show gratitude to three people this week. And next week I'm supposed to report back here and share about it. Even if you haven't been officially participating in the rest of this challenge with me, I encourage you to join in this week and show sincere gratitude to three people. Or more!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sweet Greetings from Tanzania, Kenya, Honduras, Ghana and Rwanda

Happy Mail Call Monday!

Our first letter of the week was from Elifagason in Tanzania! 

Elifagason shared that at the center, he is learning addition, and they've been discussing how to search for a job! One thing that's really neat about the centers is they also work really hard to prepare the kids for work in the future, by teaching them marketable skills and things like that. Employment is obviously really crucial to ending poverty. And he shared Ephesians 4:12 to go along with this lesson! Elifagason also said that the teachers and kids at his project got to attend a wedding recently! In my response, I'll ask him who got married! 

Next, we got a letter from Angelina in Ghana! 

Angelina said that she really enjoyed the stories I've been sending to her, including the Men and Women of Faith letters that Hannah has posted! She said that last month, her project had a spelling bee, and while she didn't take part in it, it was a fun experience to watch! In the "questions for my sponsor" section of the letter, she asked me to describe what snow feels like! She asked us to pray for her family. 

Next up, a letter from Motempa in Kenya!

This is the second letter we received from Motempa, but the first letter she wrote! We had a letter/envelope mix-up with her first letter, so I just got her intro form letter! I'm glad it made it to me! Motempa likes purple and green, and she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She has three siblings and her best friend's name is Vivian. He favorite subject is science and her favorite Bible story is the tale of the fall of the walls of Jericho. She shared that her favorite foods are beef stew and mokimo, which I learned is a dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables. Motempa asked that we pray for rain in Kenya. 

Then we got our first letter from Habimana in Rwanda!

Habimana sent a form letter about his house, which is made of wood and mud, and has a metal roof. He doesn't have electricity but he has access to a well. Habimana and his family sent greetings and seemed really excited that he has a new letter-writer, and I'm excited about that, too. He also mentioned that he was unable to finish the first grade last year because it was expensive, so he is giving it another go this year. His letter really had me thinking about his family's financial situation, and I hope to be able to send a small family gift sometime soon. 

Finally, we heard from Sandier in Honduras!

Sandier's letter was a form letter about his project. He said that his project has 289 kids, and his favorite part about his tutor at the project is her attention (his tutor is Iris!) The letter was written by Patricia, who is the coordinator of sponsorship at the project. She shared that Sandier was so happy to get the gift that we sent- when in reality, the gift was from the field office staff, who took up a collection after learning that the gift I sent Sandier last year had gotten lost. I was just so overwhelmed by their kindness. As an added blessing, we got an extra photo of Sandier with his gifts! 

Next year, it will be "28 Pictures of Baby Sloths."

Today's my birthday! Yay! Another year older. Not much is different from last year. Or the year before that. Or the one before that one. You get the idea. I do like doing birthday blog posts, though. I think last year, I did a post of random things about me. So this year, here are 27 things I like.

  1. Making lists. And writing. Hence, this list. Also, to-do lists help me feel better about the day, in some ways. Life seems less overwhelming. And I always put easy stuff on there, too, which helps me feel less like a failure on those days when I'm not able to do as much. "Breakfast" is always at the top of my list, even though I don't eat breakfast. I drink coffee. But I know what I mean. 
  2. Coffee. Oh, I love coffee. I'm not a snob about it. I don't drink anything fancy, just stuff that tastes good to me. I had a friend in high school that scored us free drinks at Starbucks several times a week. That relationship wasn't super healthy for me, but gosh, I miss the free coffee. Several months ago I started brewing it at home again, after a really, really long time (like, high school.) My favorite coffee is Texas Turtle from World Market. It tastes like chocolate and caramel. My second favorite is Vanilla Creme Brulee from Target. Generally, I like to go with vanilla and/or caramel. When I get Starbucks, though, I get the biggest possible iced latte with raspberry and white chocolate, and a few extra shots of espresso. 
  3. Cupcakes. Cupcakes are a right, not a privilege. Everyone should have at least one a week. They are a thing of beauty. I don't just like eating them, I like decorating them and wearing them on my jewelry and clothing. I'm pretty sure I mentioned that last year, too, but who cares. I want a cupcake right now. 
  4. Dinosaurs. I think it would have been fun to be a paleontologist. I would probably think dinosaurs were ok even if Jurassic Park had never happened (the movie, not like a real life event. Unfortunately.) But that really just kind of exploded my interest in them- not just lit a spark. It was more of a massive explosion. 
  5. Hospitals. This one is really weird, but hey, that's me. I don't like being sick or hurt, and I don't like when people I care about are sick or hurt. But hospitals don't upset me, like they do some people. I like the cafeterias and the gift shops. I like nurses. I like learning about the equipment and procedures and codes and slang. I like the little old ladies that work at information desks. I'd like to work in a hospital, but the hours are really crazy and I don't know if I could do that. I even like TV shows that are set in hospitals. 
  6. Grocery stores. Not boring ones- natural ones or gourmet ones or international ones. Even if I can't really buy much, I like seeing the different ingredients and things that aren't part of my everyday life. Weird vegetables and unusual fruits and fish that does not come in stick form. Food dye made from beets. I don't know. I think it's fascinating. Bonus points if there's a cheese counter. 
  7. Stationery. I have a stationery problem. I buy a lot of notebooks and journals. I really like pens, and would buy more of them if there were more "testers" available in the stores. Different kinds of inks in all different colors. Tiny boxes of paper clips and push pins. Stickers and post-its. I love it all. I want a lot of it. I don't know what I'd do with it, though. 
  8. Coloring. I love to color. I don't get to do it very often any more. I only color with crayons, because they're the best. And I only use Crayola. And my crayons are sorted into baggies by color. And I usually only buy the boxes of 96 or more colors. So I have a lot of crayons. 
  9. Corn on the cob. Just wanted to put that out there. It's corn season. Corn on the cob is awesome. It's best grilled. It is also really good fried. And I got to eat some this weekend, so it is on my mind. 
  10. Puppies. But who doesn't like puppies? Psychopaths, that's who. I really miss having a dog. 
  11. Mail. I would love mail even if I didn't have sponsor kids. I sent cards to people all the time before I became a sponsor, because I like getting mail, so why wouldn't everyone else? Cards and letters are very nice. Sadly, they are both endangered species. 
  12. Road trips. I haven't been on one in a while. I like rest stops and tourist brochures and picnic lunches and packing bags of busy activities for the back seat. I don't get car sick, which is kind of a miracle considering all the other things wrong with me. Road trips are special. And I think they're probably more fun than flying to a vacation destination. 
  13. Magnets. When I do take road trips, I buy fridge magnets. I like kitschy ones. When people take road trips, sometimes I ask them to bring me a magnet. Or any kind of trip, really. I have magnets from several states and six different countries. I need a bigger fridge. 
  14. TV. I love TV. Well, we don't have *real* TV, we have Netflix. But I love finding shows and watching them all the way through. Sometimes I am surprised with the things I end up liking. I decided to watch the West Wing, and I adore it now. I never would have thought I'd enjoy it, because I had to watch a few episodes in high school for a class, and you know how things aren't as enjoyable when someone is *making* you do them. Anyway, there are several shows that I like watching over and over again, like House, The Office, and The Golden Girls. 
  15. Candles. I used to be pretty freaked out by them because a friend of mine died in a house fire. And fire still scares me and I run my used matches under the faucet before throwing them away. But I am a little picky about candles- I only like ones that smell like food!!! Usually sweet food. In my house right now, I have a coffee candle ("Christmas morning"- it might be coffee and donuts), a pancake candle, a caramel popcorn candle, and a blueberry muffin candle. 
  16. Politics. But not politicians. I like history and the way our government works, but everyone does a crappy job of that. This is why I studied politics and history in college. And I get excited about shows like The West Wing. I watch that and I want to serve my country by working for the government. But then I remember that real life is not TV (or books) and I am disgusted. 
  17. Sloths. They are my second favorite animal. My friend Kelli and I became a little obsessed with them after seeing one just chilling in the movie "The Mission." They are amazing. 
  18. Walruses. They are my first favorite animal. 
  19. Tapirs. And tree kangaroos. And a bunch of other weird animals other people don't understand or haven't heard from. I really, really love animals. 
  20. Zoos. I feel weird about it because I'm so anti-circus, and some zoos are just a step up from that. So I like zoos but I also like working to improve zoos. When I first got married, I thought it would be really cool if Brandon and I could visit a zoo in every state, one each year. And then we could go to like, Hawaii for our 50th anniversary. And go to a zoo there. But we haven't left the state since our honeymoon, when we went to Disney World. Oh well. Maybe someday! 
  21. Disney. Hey, I love Disney World and Disney movies. I know I have covered this before. My favorite is The Little Mermaid  but I also love Ratatouille. And Brave. And a bunch of other ones. 
  22. Musicals. Les Mis is probably my favorite. And I really like Moulin Rouge. 
  23. Things that look like food. I think food jewelry is really cute. Like earrings that look like pancakes. Or cupcake earrings. On Etsy, you can also find some really incredible soaps that look like food. More cupcakes. 
  24. Children's books. I read a ton of them. I order most of the new picture books we get at the library. Sometimes I order all the books that pop up under a particular keyword, like around Christmas I read all the picture books about pie. And sometimes I order non-fiction stuff when I see an intriguing title, because I like to learn. Like, "Why Do I Burp", or books about how we get salt. Learning is important and it doesn't matter where you're getting your information as long as it's CORRECT information.
  25. Spelling and grammar. I play a little loose with the rules on my blog, because I like to write like I speak, but I am also pretty picky. Spelling was my favorite subject all through school, and I got to grade papers to help out my teachers starting in third grade. But spelling is not a marketable skill, so I don't feel like saying that is really bragging. 
  26. Daffodils. They are my favorite flower. I was so excited when I saw that there are some growing behind my new branch, but I could never get a picture of them because we had a very rainy spring. So every time I was at work, it was either raining or dark. 
  27. Ducks. If I see a duck, I feel that it's probably going to be a good day. The babies are cute and the adults are just neat, because they sound silly and they walk silly, and they like puddles. I don't know why I like them so much, but I do. 
I don't know what I'm going to write about next year, because this was a little bit hard! Anyway, yay for birthdays. This year was hard, as have all the other years I've had recently, but I'm thankful that I made it through. Hopefully there will be many more to come.