& Free Trip to Margaritaville
A picture is truly worth a thousand words, just as the adage expresses. To describe a beautiful image, a thousand words may be required. But, just as true is the fact that a picture may impart a thousand words—words of friendship to the lonely, encouragement to the downtrodden, hope to the hopeless, and beauty to a wounded soul. Beautiful images and words of hope, friendship, and encouragement are all bound together in The Caring Cards Project, a labor of love created by Valencia Chrisman of Conroe.
Valencia lost her niece Michaela to suicide in July 2013. Michaela was 11 years old at the time. Her passing was an unspeakable tragedy to the entire family, family friends, teachers, and many others acquainted with this sweet young girl. And, although nothing can bring Michaela back to loved ones, her memory is being honored through the sharing of hope and encouragement to others. This, in fact, mirrors the young life of Michaela, who possessed a heart full of love for others.
One snapshot in time of Michaela’s life will speak volumes about her love and concern for others. Upon moving to Boston, Michaela, going into a nearby café, noticed that the café was understaffed and that the owner was trying to accomplish all of the necessary tasks by himself. She went home and wrote a note to the owner, saying that if her parents would allow, she would be glad to wipe tables and take out trash or help him in any way possible. This offer of charity from an 11 year-old girl would no doubt be a touch of pure sunshine to this overworked café owner. Michaela’s favorite flower, a big, bright yellow sunflower, as cheerful as sunshine itself, is the perfect flower to describe a life that continues to bring sunshine to others.
Valencia began The Caring Cards Project in early 2015 with a photograph of sunflowers. Valencia is an avid photographer, and her lens work is absolutely stunning. Images of flowers, animals, architecture, statuary, and other fine art subjects have taken a pathway through her camera lens and onto prints, which then being mounted on cardstock, are readied for an appropriate message to an emotionally needy recipient. The first card bearing her photograph of sunflowers was sent to a nursing home with the handwritten message, “You are the sunlight in someone’s day.” As Valencia put it, “Michaela’s death was tragic, and I want her memory to have honor. Bringing hope to another person is something that would bring happiness to Michaela.”
Valencia’s goal is to reach as many people as possible who have an emotional need—those residing in nursing homes, pediatric and adult patients in local hospitals, those serving in the military, and those who are lonely—people in all types of situations and all walks of life. Her husband John assists with the project by accompanying her on photographic excursions, helping to critique images, and selecting photographs to meet the specific needs that are targeted. After selecting images, Valencia will spend an entire Sunday afternoon assembling the cards and choosing scriptures that are appropriate to the emotional needs she will be addressing.
In a given month, Valencia will send out 60-90 cards to nursing homes, as well as respond to requests on her Facebook page or email from people asking her to send a card to a loved one who may be lonely, going through a difficult medical procedure, experiencing a period of low self-esteem, or enduring some other type of trauma. As one nursing home staff member related, many of their residents never receive personal mail. “Receiving a personal card containing a beautiful photograph and a handwritten message has a strong emotional impact for good on the recipient,” Valencia reflected. “It is so much more than a text or Facebook message. It is something tangible that you can hold in your hand, a gift of communication that someone has taken the time to write, address and send to you.”
Valencia also sends a number of cards each month to three military organizations who place them in Care Packages and send them overseas to our soldiers. The Ronald McDonald House is frequently on her mailing list as well. In a year’s time, Valencia has produced and sent out 1,300-1,500 cards. That figure represents 1,300-1,500 people and their loved ones who have been touched by the kindness of both Valencia and John. That number also represents care and compassion in action! (And at their own personal expense.)
To recoup some of her expenses for stationary, prints, stamps, and envelopes, she decided last year to sell her pictures at the Conroe Festival, held each fall in the cafeteria at Conroe High School. She hoped this would also bring more publicity to The Caring Cards Project. A picture of Michaela with a hand-knitted yellow sunflower attached to the frame was placed at her booth and it, indeed, brought many inquiries as to who the pretty young girl was and why the picture was there. Joining her at the booth was a gentleman named David whose 13 year-old son also died of suicide. Together, they were able to talk with a number of high school students who had questions about the topic. “Do not brush off any comment that a friend or loved one makes about suicide. Consider that it may be a true cry for help. Don’t ever tell them to ‘get over it.’ Allow them the help that they need,” was Valencia’s plea. She also urged students to be encouragers rather than those who ridicule.
Valencia further explains that depression, which can certainly lead to suicide, can start early in one’s life. If it is not addressed, the person may look at options to get out of the situation, one being to take one’s own life. “Although it is not a purposefully selfish act, it is a selfish act none-the-less. I can tell you from personal experience that family and friends never recover from it. It is senseless and devastating.” Having this pain in her own life and the life of her family, Valencia is able to understand loss and suffering. Her prayers and words of hope, comfort, and encouragement, so lovingly written inside her beautiful cards, make these a treasure to receive and cherish. And, in speaking to a young girl recently, she told her, “the value that you have as yourself and as a member of your family is so much more important than what someone says to you or does to you.” The young girl left with a smile on her face and words to ponder and treasure.
Asked if she ever stays in touch with people she has written to, the answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
“A friend asked me in July 2015 to send a card to her mom, who had just learned that she has leukemia. I prepared a card for her, wrote an encouraging message and a prayer, and placed it in the mail. I soon received a card back from her! Over the past year, I have sent her several cards. Each time, she reciprocates with a card of her own. How thoughtful she is! Then, I received a card from her daughter expressing thanks for what I had done. The card she sent me was one that her own daughter, at a very young age, had made for her. You can be sure that that card is a keepsake for me! I get such pleasure out of what I do. It is returned to me tenfold!”
“Last year on Facebook, I came across a young boy who has a rare and debilitating disease. His request was that people would send him cards. Perfect! Right up my alley! I can do that! In fact, I got everyone in my office to send him a card. We sent all sorts of pictures of cute animals. He probably got more cards than he could ever have imagined!”
“Capturing a beautiful image on camera is so fulfilling and exciting to me. I get so excited to pick up my pictures and see them for the first time. I bring them home and spread them all out on the table. John and I critique them, selecting those that would make great birthday cards, expressions of sympathy, and those that will brighten someone’s day. I always think of Michaela in the process. She would be excited to see the images. I enjoy the moment. I love the art. And it gives John and me profound pleasure to touch someone’s life in a way that brings blessing and hope.”