On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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Dig Out Your Shoeboxes…. It’s that time again!

Are you weary of political talk, political polls, and political speculation? Are you tired of reports of scandalous behavior and FBI investigations? Have any of your Facebook friends threatened to “un-friend” you if you vote for the wrong candidate?

I’m done with this election, and we still have another week to go.

So I’m going to suggest that you ignore the political arena for just a bit and do something that will truly impact someone’s life for good: Go fill a shoebox for a child in need.

Forget about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for just a minute. Forget about yourself, too. Instead think about someone who won’t be getting a Christmas present and forget about our American first-world problems. In short, do something to change the life of a child forever.

In countries all over the world, little children–and their parents–need to know that they are loved. A shoebox filled with gifts of clothing, school supplies, toys, and toiletries communicates that love in a concrete way. But it does more than that, too. It comes with the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the assurance that God loves them no matter where they live, what color their skin, if they have running water, or whether their government is corrupt. That’s why a shoebox is so life-changing; it can have an eternal impact on a child’s life.

H is modeling 2 of this year's shoeboxes. Isn't she cute?!

H is modeling 2 of this year’s shoeboxes. Isn’t she cute?!

Filling a shoebox is simple, and I promise that it will take your mind off our American election woes.

First, find an empty shoebox. You get bonus points if you wrap or decorate your box, but it’s okay if you leave it emblazoned with Saucony or Sperry.

Next, decide if your box will go to a boy or a girl. Choose from 3 age groups, too. If you’re indecisive, pack multiple shoeboxes.

This step is the best part: go shopping and fill your box with thoughtful gifts. Or if you don’t want to leave the house, build your box online.

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Action shot!

Don’t forget to label your gift  and to enclose $7 for shipping and handling. Find a drop-off site near you, and that’s it.

A few pointers on the gifts:

  • Start with a big item like a soccer ball, doll, or stuffed animal. Remember to deflate the ball and include a pump.
  • School and art supplies are great.
  • Accessorize with socks, mittens, a tee shirt, hair bows, or a flashlight with batteries.
  • Add non-liquid hygiene items like a bar of soap, toothbrush, or comb–the same things that your grandmother put in your Christmas stocking.
  • Hard candy is a nice gift; melted chocolate is not.
  • Fill as much of the box as possible, but don’t include war-related toys, knives, or toy guns. Duh.

The possibilities are endless. You can make something or include a kit if you’re crafty; write a letter if you have a few minutes extra; or even include a family photo. But the best thing you can do is to pray for the child who will receive your box.

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We found Mickey and friends for $5 at Target

Visit Samaritan’s Purse to find drop-off locations in your area. Don’t wait too long though. The national collection week is November 14-21.

P.S. Consider purchasing a tracking label online here. It’s an easy way to pay for shipping, and you get a label that lets you follow your shoebox’s journey. We do this in our home, and we’ve had the excitement of discovering that our shoeboxes have gone to Central America, Africa, and Asia.

 

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It’s Shoebox Time Again

This is my second annual Operation Christmas Child post. If you take nothing else away from my writing, remember this: Anyone can pack a shoebox full of gifts for a child who needs to know that Jesus loves him or her. It’s true. To prove this, here are the 13 boxes that 9 girls packed this afternoon at our house.

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Hidden behind the two front boxes is evidence of my love for Saucony running shoes.

It took them somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes to fill these boxes with soap, toothpaste, wash cloths, stuffed toys, coloring books, markers, crayons, Play Doh, playing cards, stickers, temporary tattoos, and various Hello Kitty products. In the process, they turned my dining and school rooms upside down and littered the tables and floor with bits of Christmas wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and scraps of paper.

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One of the boxes we packed for a little girl. There’s a lot of pink in there!

But the well-ordered melee wasn’t the result of a spoiled child opening too many birthday presents. (Oh, come on. All of us have been to those kind of birthday parties.) Instead, the girls were sharing Christmas with children they will most likely never meet in countries they will most likely never visit. And not a single child cried or yelled, “It’s not fair!” I did not hear the refrain of, “That’s mine, not yours!” And I did not witness a single act of fighting. For 45 minutes. And yes, there were three sets of sisters involved.

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We managed to scrounge up just enough non-pink items to fill a box for one boy.

No, the event did not go off without several glitches. I seem to have lost my voice this week thanks to a well-timed case of pharyngitis; a few guests canceled at the last minute for legitimate reasons (Don’t tell my friend Stephanie that you’re going to clean your room and hope that she forgets about it.); and almost a third of our guest list never RSVP’d.

But in the end, it was perfect. We’re donating the leftovers from this afternoon–including a green and purple inflatable dinosaur–to the mean mom who grounded her children for not cleaning their bedroom. (Just kidding. She isn’t the meanest mom in the world; that’s a title my children have bestowed on me.) And next month 16 children somewhere around the world will discover the joy of Christmas.

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All that was left after the lids were on the boxes. See the inflatable dinosaur in the background? Who wouldn’t want one for Christmas?!

Before I close–and I’m already 20 minutes past my deadline–I need to thank my next-door neighbor Timea. Earlier this year I wrote about H’s favorite friend Sofia and her brave battle against brain cancer. While Sofia was in the hospital, friends from all over the country showered her with countless toys, art supplies, and gifts–to help brighten her hospital stay and to let her know how much she was loved. After Sofia passed away in June, I volunteered to help Timea find a home for 10 boxes of books and toys. With Timea’s permission, we saved two boxes for this afternoon’s shoebox packing party.

Even after her passing, Sofie’s life continues to make a difference. Thank you, Timea, for blessing the lives of others. Before I get too teary to write, I’m going to leave you with a video from Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that sponsors Operation Christmas Child. If you still haven’t figured out how or why to pack a shoebox, watch this video or just read the instructions I wrote for the girls.

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Cyber Monday Ideas

Today is an important day for online retailers. It’s Cyber Monday. (Doesn’t that sound better than Black Friday?) Maybe you’re finishing your shopping before the kids arrive home from school, or perhaps you have plans to curl up with your laptop after dinner tonight. Or maybe, like me, you’re finishing your Christmas shopping from the comfort of your bathroom floor while your pathetic 9-year old hugs the porcelain.

So what do you give to someone who has everything he needs? For someone who doesn’t want anything but appreciates that you’re thinking of her? Or how about a gift that blesses the recipient and empowers the worker who created it? Here are 3 suggestions for today:

1. Shop with Samaritan’s Purse. This is the organization that flies Christmas shoe boxes around the world to underprivileged children. They also do a pretty amazing job of helping out in times of disaster. Did you know they have a Christmas catalog, too? You can give the gift of domestic animals, emergency relief supplies, clean water, and much more. We ordered chicks one year for each of our nieces. I think their mothers were pleased that we did not actually give the chicks to our nieces.

2. Drink coffee. Do good. If you–or someone you love is a coffee junkie–you know that Rwandan coffee is exceptional. Instead of purchasing beans from your not-so-friendly warehouse store, consider purchasing Land of a Thousand Hills coffee. Shipping is free today! I promise you that this is delicious coffee. There are plenty of bean options available, including Haitian varieties, as well as gift merchandise.

Christmas in a Cup Flavored Coffee Gift Set

3. Don’t forget the Philippines. Donations to disaster relief typically ebb when the disaster is no longer front-page news. Damage from Typhoon Haiyan is going to take many years to repair. Click on the button on the right side of my blog to donate through Compassion International. Compassion International has been working through churches in the Philippines since 1977 and has a vested interest in restoring island communities.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget that the true meaning of Christmas. It’s not about the gifts we give each other. It’s about the greatest gift we’ve be given: a helpless baby who came to earth to be our Savior.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m still in the bathroom. Round 2 seems to be over, and my relief should be home in the next few hours.


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A Season to Give Thanks

Another catastrophic disaster has claimed the front pages. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the island nation of the Philippines. As of today, the Filipino government has listed 2,275  fatalities but others have suggested that 10,000 might be a truer figure for Tacloban, the city that took a direct hit. More than 600,000 residents have been displaced from their home, and 2.5 million need food.

Those are hard numbers to swallow. Marine Corps KC-130s and Ospreys are already assisting evacuation efforts, and the USS George Washington group is on its way. So what can individuals do to help? Consider donating money to credible relief organizations who already have a presence in the country. Compassion uses donations to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs of its enrolled children and their families. Samaritan’s Purse is already working with local churches and on Friday will send a 747 loaded with relief supplies. The American Red Cross is partnering with the Philippine Red Cross and has activated its family tracing services.

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A not-so-subtle reminder hangs next to our breakfast table.

You can also adopt the practice of thankfulness. Be thankful for the roof over your head, the clothing on your back, and the food on your table. Be thankful for heat as the air temperature drops. Be thankful for safe, clean drinking water. Thankfulness is a popular attribute to espouse in November, since Thanksgiving is just 3 weeks away. But true thanksgiving isn’t a trend; it’s a heart attitude. Facebook is full of thankful posts these days. Here’s a personal favorite of mine. If it steps on your toes, then ouch!

True thankfulness is not solely limited to the month of November. It’s a year-round character trait that requires daily practice. I recommend reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in which a homeschooling farmer’s wife challenges readers to live grateful lives.

H and her Thankful Tree

H and her Thankful Tree

In our home, H and I are on our second week of a Thanksgiving unit study. Last week was devoted to Cranberry Thanksgiving, which is one of our most favorite titles from the Five in a Row curriculum we use. This week we’re branching out into other books but still continuing to study Thanksgiving. Yesterday we started a thankful tree. Here is H adding to her leaves this morning. If you have good eyesight, you’ll notice that she has listed her cousins, Aunt Martha, Uncle Brian, both sets of grandparents, all current and former hamsters, and our Compassion children. We’re still working on being thankful for sisters and parents.

Lots of leaves left. Maybe I'll earn a coveted spot?

Lots of leaves left. Maybe I’ll earn a coveted spot?


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Got an Empty Shoe Box? Fill It Up!

It’s that time of the year. Shoe box time.

When we arrived (almost on time) at church yesterday, I noticed a familiar sight in the foyer. On a table sat two shoe boxes overflowing with school supplies, toys, candy, and personal hygiene items. Operation Christmas Child brochures, stickers, and prayer cards surrounded the boxes. I made a mental note that I needed to go through my pantry, round up empty shoe boxes, and make a shopping list when we returned home.

After lunch, the girls and I pulled out the stockpile that we had amassed over the past year: markers, colored pencils, and crayons bought during the back-to-school summer sales; a 6-pack of socks found on clearance; a tiny Beanie Baby bear, two elastic bracelets, several notepads, and a mini Etch-a-Sketch all stashed and forgotten at some point earlier this year.

We pulled out 4 empty shoe boxes, hunted for 2 more, and then got to work separating, filling, and evenly distributing our stash. Then we made a shopping list: wrapped candy, Hot Wheels for the 2 boys’ boxes, 6 tubes of toothpaste, and 6 bars of wrapped soap.

After a quick trip to Target, we finished our packing. How easy was that? We like to wrap our shoe boxes, but that task remains for a later date–mostly because the 4 of us don’t wrap boxes very well together. (I’m just being honest here.)

A boy's box: same art supplies, hygiene items, and candy + toys.

A boy’s box: art supplies, hygiene items, socks and candy + Hot Wheels!

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One of the girls’ boxes: same art supplies & hygiene items with purple socks, Play Doh and hair goodies.

If you still have no idea why we filled up 6 shoe boxes yesterday, watch this video below. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief outreach headed by Franklin Graham. (It gets a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

See how simple that is? If you have kids–or if the voices of Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber don’t make you cringe–watch this how-to video. Don’t forget to attach your label and include the $7 shipping fee. Or you can follow your box around the world by paying online and downloading a special tracking label.

I think I packed my first box more than 10 years ago. Now we routinely pack 6 boxes each year. (That’s one box for each of our children.) In past years, our boxes have reached Ecuador, El Salvador, Georgia, Guatemala, Ukraine, and Zambia. What an amazing way to share the love of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas with children all over the world. I can’t think of a better way to spend $7.

National Collection Week is November 18-25, so that gives you about 2-3 weeks to pack your boxes. So go pack one or two…or even more. What’s stopping you?