Better Books and Bibles store in Calgary

One of my favorite places in this whole city is a particular bookstore, which has not only new books, but also used books, and not only that but also Christian books.  I consider it a Mecca for booklovers and treasure hunters.  Last week I treated myself to a browsing session at their new location.

They are easily accessible on 16th Avenue NW, not too far north of downtown.  If you’re anywhere near Peter’s Drive-In, SAIT or Motel Village, you’re just minutes away from Better Books and Bibles, a couple of doors down from White’s Flowers.  It is interesting that the shop next door to the east, formerly a house, used to be one of the biggest and best used bookstores ever.

You are welcome to bring in used books you no longer want, and with certain titles and authors you can either receive cash for them, or exchange them. In the New Book section, their theme is “Better Books”. They also have a great selection of Bibles, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs. It is also a great resource for church leaders to support the needs of a congregation.

I had a chat with David, the manager, who said that some customers found them through my previous blog post, which is wonderful, and I hope many more find them here!

bannerThe prices at Better Books and Bibles are more than reasonable, and lower than most used bookstores.  Of course I couldn’t leave without a treasure.  I found a copy of  This Day: A Collection of Simple Prayers.  (David gave me a great deal on it since it was my first time in the new store!)  I will be posting a review and some images soon.

Here’s how you can reach the store:

Website and email: (you can send them a message on the contact section of their website)

Phone: (403) 233-2409

Facebook: or

Address: 636 16 Ave NW, Calgary, Alberta   (SEE MAPS BELOW)

(Parking in the back, accessible from the alley)


There are 2 maps below, and a “touched up” Google street view image.

Do drop by and check out the riches of this store and the friendly staff!

contact info & sm map Google street view edited bigger map

Please Read Our Past Issues

A writer who wants to carefully target a magazine in order to make a sale will study samples of the magazine, as many writer’s guidelines suggest you do.  But this can get expensive.  Having gone through this experience several times, and being frugal to the core, I have a few recommendations of how to familiarize yourself with a magazine publisher’s style and preferences by getting article and magazine samples at bargain prices.  My focus is on children’s magazines, but these tips work just as well for all kinds of magazines.

Free Online Articles

You can find a lot of free samples of the articles that a magazine publishes on websites.  The best resource I’ve found for children is the group of Cricket/Cobblestone magazines, who have a webpage of free articles, as well as an entire sample issue you can read online, for each of their magazines.  I signed up for their emailed newsletter, which has links to free articles, and have gathered about a hundred of them to study so far.  Highlights for Children is another magazine that has archives online.  At, click “Read It” and select Stories or Articles.  You’ll see a few, and then click “Read More”, where you’ll find plenty of their past stories, articles and more.

Magazine cover Clubhouse Jr - Front

Online Databases

A subscription to a database of articles can be pricey, and a lot of my online searches for magazine back issues and articles led me to these.  But as a help for teachers and parents, has an incredible searchable database containing all their articles.  It costs $35 per year for a Single User membership.  There are also online databases you can access through your library (see below).

Writer’s Forums and Critique Groups

I found some helpful information and magazine samples on a writer’s forum I belong to, and I hit the mother lode when the leader of my in-person writing critique group gave me a pile of magazines she no longer needed!

Buying Single Issues or Subscriptions

With any luck, you can find issues at your local newsstand or book store.  But I find the selection of periodicals in the stores shrinking, especially the ones I’m interested in.  Many magazine publishers in their writer’s guidelines offer sample issues for just the cost of shipping, at a reduced price, or as a download.

If you are buying several back issues—because the more issues you study, the better you’ll understand the publisher’s needs and style—it can get expensive, so you might find it worthwhile to buy a subscription.  Do check the added cost of shipping so you are prepared.  I am interested in writing for Sunday School papers, so I ordered a set of weekly papers for an entire season at a very reasonable price.

Issues of Highlights Magazine

The Library

The local library carries magazines, but understandably only the most popular.  I still use this as a good source for a few children’s magazines that I’m targeting.  Finding the copies that circulate among the branches will be a different procedure from library to library.  At mine, I used to be able to do an online search in the library’s website, and then I’d be able to see which branch carries which magazines, but the library’s search process has changed and I can’t do that anymore.  So I called the information desk, and a very kind, helpful young lady assured me that she would make a report and send it to me.  (It turned out that she was unable to generate the report automatically, so she made it manually, and I thanked her profusely for the extra time it took her!)

Using my library membership, I also use the eLibrary to search periodicals by various criteria and look at copies of actual magazine pages.  A librarian gave clear step-by-step instructions on how to find the actual pdf’s of articles and stories (which include the great artwork).  For example, I can read all the articles published for the past twenty years for a certain magazine, and see a listing of all the articles they’ve published on certain subjects and in specific issues.

Also, don’t forget to check your library’s sale tables in case they are discarding magazines.


Talk to school librarians to find out if they are planning to discard any of their issues of magazines.  Call in the spring because some will be already preparing for the end of the school year, and you want to catch them before they throw them away.  You will save them some trouble transporting heavy loads of them and they’ll probably be thrilled to pass them along to someone who appreciates them.  I obtained boxes of past issues this way from schools, and accepted all that the librarians offered, even if they weren’t the ones I needed, because you never know if they will be useful to you or someone else in the future.  The downside of this is that you may get old issues, but you might find that even these are helpful.

Magazine Front Cover - Guide and eBay

On the web pages of, Steve Barancik has resources for the parents that visit his site.  He includes a section on where to obtain children’s books and magazines at bargain prices.  You can find more than just children’s reading materials at the links he provides.  The magazines I checked at the links were a huge savings from ordering them from the publisher or other magazine subscription websites.

Steve recommends looking around eBay for books (using the search word “lot” for a lot!), and using Steve’s instructions for finding magazines was just plain FUN!  I bought six recent issues of a favorite children’s magazine for a great price and low shipping cost.  (By the way, he also has web pages on how to write stories, and while you’re there, you can check out my book reviews!)

Thrift Stores, Used Book Stores, and Garage Sales

This is definitely a hit-or-miss activity, but I did want to include it, because the magazine you are looking for might be easy to find in one of these places.  I regularly make the circuit of quite a few thrift stores, looking for books to use for tutoring (or, quite honestly, for the fun of treasure-hunting for all kinds of things), but while I’m there, I take a look to see if they have other resources such as magazines on their shelves.  Depending on the store, you can pick up magazines as low as ten cents each, up to a dollar.  I don’t go to as many garage sales as I used to, for time’s sake—they are very hit-or-miss and I can’t not look at everything—but their prices would be even lower.

If you need magazine samples to study for your writing, I hope that these suggestions will save you some time and money!

“I Guess I Robbed a Bank” published by Good Guy Publishing

Writers sometimes get an “us versus them” attitude toward the editors to whom we send our work.  But I have found an editor that is such a pleasure to work with, I almost stopped caring what happened to my submission.  Meet editor and author Graham Taylor at Good Guy Publishing in the U.K.  We had many emails go back and forth over a few months, and each of his quick responses and warm greetings left me feeling glad that I’d connected with GGP.  It was frosting on the cake when I squeaked in as a finalist in the Flashy Shorts 2 contest.  I highly recommend writers check them out.

Flashy Shorts?!  People displaying their colorful underwear?

colorful_beach_shortsNo, that’s the name of one of GGP’s many competitions, accepting Flash Fiction (500 word max) and Short Story (5,000 word max) entries.  It was hard to find places looking for “long short stories”, but I discovered GGP via a Google search on short story markets, and why wouldn’t I want to do business with a Good Guy?  I sent in “I Guess I Robbed a Bank” after getting the go-ahead from Graham by email, but frankly, I didn’t know I’d actually entered a  competition until they said I was one of the finalists. (Perhaps everything submitted is considered an entry to a competition?)

Flashy Shorts 2
Flashy Shorts 2

Hyperventilating at a hyperlink

You can buy Flashy Shorts 2 at Amazon, here.  (That link goes to, rather than the address, because you may have an easier time buying it through

Please bear with me in my !!! ExCiTeMeNt !!!.  This is a first for me, my name being listed (even hyperlinked!) on AMAZON as an author.   In an odd coincidence, this is the second short story of mine published in June/July 2013, both written in 2007 while I was out of town on a holiday, both inspired from a writing prompt in The Writer’s Book of Matches.  I’ll have to do some analysis and try to recreate the environment that was so full of creativity.

So do check out Good Guy Publishing, and their many publications.   Here are the opening sentences of “I Guess I Robbed a Bank”.  Maybe they will inspire you to read the rest!

While Veronica waited at the police station for the administrator to return with the documents, she massaged her wrists beneath the handcuffs.  She noticed that a man at the counter kept looking at her.  Well, no wonder.  Her jeans were ripped at the knees and dried blood stained the denim around an ugly wound.  Frightening tattoos decorated the full length of both arms, and sliding tears had left tracks through the pink and blue butterflies on her cheeks…

“Inclement Weather” published in The Storyteller Magazine

My short story, “Inclement Weather”, is now appearing in the current issue of The Storyteller: A Writer’s Magazine.  What a thrill!

This story came out of a unique writing opportunity and a great book of writing prompts.  Several years ago when I was a teaching assistant working at an elementary school, I had two months off during the summer, and spent one of those months in Denver visiting my family.  My routine was to spend mornings writing, and the rest of the day visiting.  I’d brought with me a favorite book, The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1001 Prompts to Ignite Your Fiction, and used many of the prompts to write short stories.  This was one of them.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 5_43_06 AM storyteller cvrScreenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 5_44_51 AM Storyteller TOC

Over the years, I revised it many times and struggled to find markets for my humorous, slightly romantic story.  Eventually I submitted it to the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in the Genre Short Story category.  (This is typical of my questionable habit of starting high, in a competitive arena, and if I don’t get a positive response, I know it still needs work.)  And I got no response.  I revisited it a year later, and something occurred to me about a change that was happening with the main character, so I clarified and emphasized that change and felt that I’d improved the whole story.

With this new enthusiasm, I went back to the Writer’s Market books and the internet to find a potential home for my story.  My writing style isn’t the most in-demand.  I don’t write in some of the more popular genres, such as paranormal, thrillers, mysteries or science fiction.  I think my stories could be considered a mixture of women’s fiction with a touch of romance, and on the corny side, definitely tough to find markets for.  So I was excited to find The Storyteller listed in the 2013 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market as a publisher who was specifically looking for wholesome writing.  “We accept all genres, but please remember this is a family magazine and submit accordingly.”

The Storyteller is listed in the 101 Best of the Magazine Markets for 2006-2011, and The Best of the Magazine Markets for Writers 2009-2011. Harvard University has now included the Storyteller in their publication, Magazines for Libraries. It is a world wide publication.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 6_35_11 AM Storyteller home pgHere is the brief summary I included on the cover letter for “Inclement Weather”:

All Robert wanted was to come in out of the rain for a few minutes, but the next thing he knew, he was in a shouting match with a complete stranger.  Over a period of less than fifteen minutes, however, the conflict in the dress shop caused a significant change inside him which transformed a faltering element of his personality.  He left a  much taller man with a delightful woman on his arm.

You can buy this and other issues of The Storyteller by going to their website and clicking on “Shop with Us”.  To order this issue, choose the Single Issue option, and select April, May, June.

Screenshot - 30-Jul-2013 , 6_30_34 AM Ordering fr mag AprMayJune issue

Calgary Flood

For the last few weeks, many of my writing, posting and other activities have taken a back seat to the news and activities surrounding the flooding here in Calgary and nearby cities and First Nations.  Our neighborhood was evacuated for several days and since we’ve returned (all safe), I’ve been listening to other people’s stories, telling some of my own and taking many photos.  My own family, in three households around the city, all live close to the Bow River.  When we had to evacuate, we kept in touch by texting as we went in different directions to stay with friends and family, and thankfully were untouched by flood waters.  Here is my story.

June 12th – a week before the flood

At about 9:30 PM the first night of the flood while I was taking pictures of the rising river, a neighbor told me that our area was next to evacuate.  I walked home to listen to the news and by the time the police told us to leave at eleven o’clock at night, I’d grabbed a few days’ clothes, my cat and my neighbor.  We went up the steep hill on our street to a McDonald’s and hung out there with other neighbors, eating and watching the news on television.

The river was supposed to crest between about three and six in the morning, so at about 5 AM on Friday when it started getting light, we decided to go back to see how high the water was.  Police were blocking some of the roads, and we were shocked to see that the little creek about two blocks from our area was now a raging river about five times wider and faster, and was only one block from us.  All the electricity was out, so I figured that was a sign that we weren’t welcome back, so even though we were sure that no water would reach our places, we decided that we would cooperate by going to a shelter at a recreation center.

June 20th – still rising

On the way, we saw that what was once a dog park, golfing range and cement factory was now a raging river.  It was a strange to walk into the hockey rink where my kids had often played hockey, and to see the entire surface of the rink filled with rows of cots!  As was typical around the city, there were so many volunteers and so many donations offered, we watched them turn away people and home-made food because there was no more room for them.  We stayed there and ate three meals, and then went to a friend’s house for the night.  Returning to our neighborhood on Saturday to see if we could salvage some food from our refrigerators before it all spoiled, we found that the electricity was back on and we were allowed to come back home.

The entire downtown core—one of the hardest hit since it is along the river—was flooded and closed for about a week, some businesses even longer.  The mayor asked all companies, whether in flood zones or not, to close up shop in order to allow all emergency vehicles to do their job unhindered by traffic.  I thought this was brilliant, and am in awe of the competency and care of our mayor Naheed Nenshi.  My son’s IT company, which is in operation 24/7, had to move their operations to an employee’s basement and later to a college classroom, carrying on their work via their company’s server near Atlanta, Georgia.

Flood  - Thurs to Sunday 058

June 22nd – police borrowing my neighbor’s binoculars to see if it was a person in the middle of the river (it wasn’t, it was just debris)

For a few days, sections of the main highway through town were closed.  It was frightening when a railroad bridge buckled over the river with a train on it carrying tanker cars full of petroleum.  Thank God the bridge held and the train was moved with no further problems.  My neighbor works at the Calgary Zoo, which is on an island in the Bow River in the east part of downtown, and he told me yesterday that they had to lay off seventy-five percent of their staff.  The flood damage required them to close, and it will be months before everything gets up and running again.  In the early part of the flooding there was a contingency plan for some of the large cats from the zoo to be evacuated to the city jail, but it proved unnecessary.

Mallard Pt east 001

July 16th – now that the water has gone done, we can see how in many places the trail was gouged out by the river. It all used to look like the trail in the background, only with shale covering it.

I personally don’t know anyone who was flooded out.  A co-worker told me that some friends in Mission—a beautiful neighborhood, many of whose front yards extend to the banks of the Elbow River—lived in a seven million dollar home, but are abandoning it because it will cost two million dollars to repair the flood damage.  The government gave financial support to many victims, and recently announced that there would be conditions on any further support for those in flood zones, encouraging them to rebuild in a different location.

The flood hit two weeks before one of Calgary’s biggest celebrations, the Stampede.  It flooded one of the central venues, the grandstand, rodeo grounds and racetrack where the chuck wagon races are held.  With the announcement that the Stampede would go on as planned, “come hell or high water”, came tee shirts with that logo, sold as fund raisers for flood relief.  I could hardly believe it when I was at the grounds on Sunday and heard that to date $2.1 million has been raised from these shirts!   There on the big screen we saw the amazing transformation in photographs of the entire area under several feet of water, yet two weeks later, it was dried out and remade to a track that the cowboys and horse racers said was a better surface than they’d had in years.  I am inspired and proud of the spirit in this city.

Mallard Pt east 016

This bench used to sit in the shade of huge old poplar trees along a lovely red shale walking trail, facing trees and bushes and within hearing of a gurgling creek where the mallards made their nests in the rushes.

I have just returned from my latest walk in my end of the once-flooded park and saw uprooted trees and various strange debris in the middle of a large field that were apparently dropped off by that raging river during the flood.  The creek is almost down to its normal July spring run-off level, but its course has changed to cross over the walking path.  I am—and have been through the past weeks as I have seen the alarmingly fast waters and the hills of large rocks deposited in its wake—in awe of the power of God in nature.  Somehow, though it sits in the center of the most disastrous looking area, my favorite bench is still there in the midst of the wreckage with debris still stuck firmly to it.

My prayers continue for the victims in Calgary and especially High River to the south, and the First Nations to the east and west.  I hope you will join me to ask for help from the ultimate power in the universe, Almighty God, who tells us to call to him and he will answer us, and show us great and mighty things.

Mallard Pt east 067
In spite of the changes–and as a passerby said, it’s only people who seem upset about the change of the river’s course and all the trees dropped the the field, not the wildlife–it’s still beautiful here.

Children’s Book Week 2013

Don’t miss out on the 94th Children’s Book Week in the U.S., running from May 13 – 19. Organized by Every Child a Reader, Children’s Book Week began in in the United States in 1919 and is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the country. Every year, events are held at schools, libraries, bookstores, homes or wherever children and books connect.

I just found out in the newsletter from Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers that their celebration of Children’s Book Week includes some pretty exciting things. The website features free coloring pages (like the one below) and their blog is running a contest for free books. (I don’t know which I’m more excited about, the coloring or the books!)

Eerdman’s consistently has some of the most enriching books I’ve seen: beautiful words and beautiful art. They put it best in their own words… “…Offering board books, picture books, middle readers, novels, nonfiction, and religious titles for children and young adults, we at EBYR seek to engage young minds with books . . .
. . . books that are honest, wise, and hopeful . . .
. . . books that delight with their story, characters, and good humor . . .
. . . books that inform, inspire, educate, and entertain.”

This isn’t the only Children’s Book Week. Last week from May 4 to May 11, Canada held its 36th Children’s Book Week, which annually includes writing contests, art contests and other activities. I have just learned about the Canadian children’s Book Centre, which appears to be a great resource.  Children’s Book Week in the U.K. is held in the first full week of October each year and has been running for 80 years.

It’s great to have organizations come together to support children and each other. I hope you’ll find some great information that will inspire children to discover and read some marvelous books, old and new.


The Liebster Award

…inspiration to and from cyber friends.

Happily Writing has been nominated for the Liebster Award!  What a lovely idea to pass along blogging affection in the blogosphere with an award that means “dearest” in German (my heritage!).

This kindness was done by a dear cyber-friend in my writing group, Violet Nesdoly, who I feel I have met in person from enjoying her posts, our various messages back and forth, and from reading her newly published book, Destiny’s Hands.  Violet’s writing, whether in her poetry or in an email, has such a calming effect on me, and I so admire her talents.  You can experience her grace and peaceful imagery for yourself at her website.  Be sure to also check out her other blogs listed on the right sidebar.  Thank you, Violet!


To accept the award, I need to list five random facts about myself, pass the Liebster Award on to other blogs, and proudly display the Liebster button on my blog.  So here goes:

Five Random Facts about Ramona

1.   I am on a quest to create a dark chocolate, gooey, sugar-free and fat-free brownie (even though I recently finished my yearly cleanse to help beat my chocolate addiction from Christmas time).

2.  Will Farrell and John Pinette make me laugh ‘til I cry and can’t breathe and my body is exhausted but I am utterly euphoric.

3.  My cat now habitually wakes me up at 4 A.M., that middle-of-the-night time where I’ve had almost enough hours of slumber and can’t go back to sleep.  Sometimes I jump out of bed with an idea for a story or post.  Perhaps he is just trying to be supportive of my writing?

4.  One way I celebrate Valentine’s Day—no matter how busy I am or how many other books I have on the go—is by reading a Georgette Heyer novel, and if I’ve run out of Georgette, a Rosamunde Pilcher novel.

5.  I sincerely believe that…

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

(Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child’s Garden of Verses)

And now, I am passing along the Liebster Award to…

Some of the bloggers that make my days brighter and fuller

The Better Man Projects (Evan Sanders) – Any one who is on a mission to be a better person has my vote.  Evan has dreams and is driven to achieve them.  He successfully published his book (by the same name) and continues to share from the heart in his posts.

He Cares for You (Janis Cox) – Janis is a cyber friend that I know through my writing group who has written AND ILLUSTRATED an adorable children’s book called Tadeo Turtle.  I can’t get enough of her art, crafts, faith-building thoughts and her infectious energy.  She posts consistently, faithfully, short-and-to-the-point, always giving her readers something inspiring to take away.

White Rabbit’s Gallery (Iliana C. Hakes-Martinez) – I appreciate the talent of this creative photographer as she matches her photos with fascinating, diverse quotes.  I also like to wander over to her tutor and editor pages and see what her students have produced.  I feel a kindred spirit here.

Scott (Scott Fillmer) – We have so many of the same interests it was inevitable that we connect online.  Scott thoughtfully fills his posts with interesting and wise words on faith, photography, journaling and tech subjects, including feast-for-the-eyes photographs.

Alphabetically Inclined (Beckony) – Every post of hers is filled with at least one or more of: wry humor, irony, honest self-disclosure and inspiration to keep on writing (she keeps a daily count of words written, going on for the 2nd year!).  It was the fact that she made me laugh out loud that hooked me on her blog: “Warning, may contain immature content.”

To those I have nominated, in order to accept the award on your own post, please:
1. List 3 things you’ve learned since you’ve “grown up”.

2. List 2 unsung heroes that we probably don’t know, and why you consider them heroic.

3. Pass the Liebster award on to other blogs (up to as many as five).

4. Proudly display the Liebster button on your blog!

My cyber friends, I wish you an abundance of new ideas and many followers to let you know your talents and web-presence are appreciated!

Highlights for Children has a Blog!

When I enter Highlights for Children’s contests, I usually try to read the stories that won their previous contests.  That helps me zero in on what they are looking for.

So, yesterday I browsed around the Calgary Public Library’s eLibrary, looking for the winning entries of Highlights’ previous contests.  The eLibrary includes MasterFILE Premiere, an amazing resource.  It is a database of magazine articles, including some children’s magazines.  (Your library may have this resource. If so, I’ve included some very basic instructions for searching for children’s magazines, below.)

I found 16 of the most recent winning stories, and thought I would write a blog post to give them to all of you.  But before I did that, I wanted to check with Highlights to make sure I wasn’t infringing on a copyright.  I called their main phone number and explained to the person who answered what I needed to know, and she put me through to Judy Burke, the managing editor.

Well, what a fun experience that was.  What an energetic upbeat person – exactly the voice you’d expect to hear at Highlights!  She said I can’t post the winning stories, but I can link to their page where the winners are listed.

Misc Sun shadows frost 108 6x9

Judy also asked my name and after I told her, I mentioned that they had published a puzzle I’d submitted.  She said that if a person has published ANYthing with them, their name is flagged.  So whenever they send a new submission it has an advantage.  That was nice to know!

She also suggested that I check out their brand-new blog, “Highlights Aha!”.  What an exciting discovery!  And it is MY kind of blog.  Of course, that’s no big surprise, since their magazine is my kind of magazine.  They stand for children and education and goodness.

I hope you check out the blog, and if you enter the contest, good luck!

* * * * * * * * * *

Instructions for using MasterFILE Premiere:

First login to your library’s webpage, and go to their electronic resources to find MasterFILE Premiere. (You may be able to search your library’s resources by typing in “MasterFILE Premiere” in the library’s search bar.)

You can find full text articles from children’s magazines in the MasterFILE Premiere databases by searching for the name of the magazine in the search bar. Then after you have searched for the name of the magazine, filter by publication on the left hand side, and click the name of the magazine.

I hope that’s  helpful!

I Am on the Most Wanted List

My name is Mary .

I have held people at gun-point, staged bank robberies and organized a prison break. I am highly skilled with a .357 Magnum and an expert safecracker.

I have been the target of a mafia contract, faced thirty-five charges in four states plus eleven federal indictments, and am on the Most Wanted List.

Or I was.

Now I am in solitary confinement, facing twenty-one years in prison.

When my children visit me at Christmastime, they smile when I give them my little gift, wrapped in scraps of paper. Imagine a child getting excited over a little bar of soap, a comb, shampoo or toothpaste! How desperate does a child have to be to appreciate that kind of Christmas gift?

Very desperate. I haven’t done anything to make them proud of me, but they are desperate to love their mama, because that is what children do. It’s in their DNA. They love the one that brought them into the world, and they cherish anything that comes from her hand.

They want a mother, and this is as close as they get to having one. It’s what they want most in the whole world, and now they can go back to their little friends and tell them they got a Christmas present from their mama. Finally, this year they don’t have to lie.

So now I’m on a different kind of Most Wanted List, no doubt the subject of their innocent little bedtime prayers. Dear God, please get my mama out of prison and bring her home.

* * * * *

For many inmates, being disconnected from their children is the most painful part of their lives. But through an organization called Angel Tree, children of inmates can receive Christmas presents from their parent. For the prisoners who haven’t seen their children since they were incarcerated (which is nearly half of them), this provides a desperately needed link, a gesture of love and care.

The majority of prisoners are held more than 100 miles from where their children live, yet through local churches these sons and daughters can find a wrapped present under a tree with a card signed by Mom or Dad.

It isn’t the stuffed bear or the building blocks that work the magic. Knowing that a beloved parent thinks about them, cares about them, misses and loves them is what causes their hearts to swell and their eyes to sparkle.

Through its work, Angel Tree offers inmates and their families reconciliation to God and to one another. It is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, commemorating Mary Kay Beard’s leadership in helping the inmates of Birmingham, Alabama connect with their children. The letter above narrates Mary Kay’s story, and in 1982 after she was released, she joined with Prison Fellowship to direct attention to the most innocent of all victims of crime by organizing Angel Tree.

You can help Angel Tree by praying for the success of their work, which goes on all year to bring healing and reconciliation. Or you can talk to your church about being involved, make a gift of your time or donate money.

What a fitting way to celebrate the birth of Christ, the very one who came to set captives spiritually free.

Compassion Sunday

On Compassion Sunday a few weeks ago I gave a talk at my church about my many years of involvement with Compassion International. Here is part of that talk, a little bit about my experiences with this organization that I admire and trust.

As I grew up, I’d heard about donating to charities, but the first time I ever heard about sponsoring a child was at a Christian rock concert in about 1980. I signed up and received a picture of a little 4-year-old girl from Haiti, which I still have.

Over the years I’ve continued to sponsor new children as the others graduated from the program. It was $21 a month then, and it’s $41 a month now, but my Compassion payment has always been my happiest expense of the month. And now I have the joy of seeing both of my sons sponsor a child, too.

I love being involved with this ministry. Children are so precious to me, and Compassion has spent 60 years helping them practically and spiritually. The heart of this organization is to make disciples of Christ, and in 2011 over 159,000 people served by the ministry gave their lives to Christ.

The personal contact is what I love the most. Compassion makes it easy to send letters, and I can encourage the child’s faith, tell them all the ways I’m proud of them, and tell them I love them. Then some wonderful person in another part of the world helps the little ones to write letters back to me, which makes my day.

Here are some of my favorite parts from a letter I received recently from the child I sponsor in the Honduras. I started sponsoring her when she was 12 years old and she is now a feisty and driven 15-year-old.

“I want to tell you my dreams…to be a painter…

…and to be a prophet and travel all around the world and take Jesus’ message to all nations.

I want to meet the world’s prettiest places, especially Canada, my favorite country.

I always pray for you and your family. I say goodbye, my sister in Christ. I’ll always lift you up in my heart.

I love you.”

I also want to emphasize that I trust Compassion, and I like that they do their work through local churches. Their financial integrity continues to be recognized by Charity Navigator, giving Compassion the most four-star ratings—which is their highest rating—of any organization of its kind in the U.S.

Psalm 35:10 says, “My whole being will exclaim, ‘Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.’” I believe God is rescuing countless children through this organization, and not just them, but many of their families and communities, too.

It is my joy and privilege to be able to be involved in these kids’ lives, and I’m thankful that Compassion makes it possible.

To watch an excellent video about two Elizabeth’s, click here.