Therapy in a Shoebox

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Since I was a little girl, I fretted about giving gifts. Maybe because I loved receiving them so much, I feared that the gift I would give would not make the person receiving it happy. This paralyzed me, this worry that my gift wouldn’t be good enough, or important enough. When I had little money, I would make my gifts. As a teen, I crafted handmade books, full of quotes and ideas and art that I tailor-made for each recipient. You can imagine the relief I felt when those gifts “hit the mark,” and my family members appreciated them with tears.

But oh the gift-stress!

You’d think by now I’d be a confident gift giver. But to be honest, there have been many times when the gifts I’ve given haven’t been the right fit, most likely because I was simply filling a slot on a gift list rather than spending a lot of time placing myself in the person’s shoes and uncovering what would make them truly happy. In other words, when gift giving became rote and unemotional, it wasn’t a very successful exchange.

I remember reading a book entitled, Unplug the Christmas Machine, where I learned to let go of all these stressful expectations, particularly around Christmas. That book taught me the importance of simply giving, always with the person in mind. It freed me from all the have-tos, and the you-shoulds. It gave me permission to give joyfully from the heart, not to fill a slot, but to bless a person.

But when I started shopping this weekend to fill my Operation Christmas Child box, the old insecurities about gift giving came rearing up. Oh how I worried. Oh how I fretted. I let this fear keep me immobilized as I walked down the aisles. I chose a girl, aged five to eight. With teens and a twenty-something, it had been a long time since I bought Christmas gifts for young kids.

I’d pick up something, ask “Would she like this?” and put it back. It was difficult to find something perfect for a 5-8 year old girl I’d never met in a country I most likely hadn’t been to. I let out a breath. It shouldn’t be this hard. This is about Jesus and giving and joy, I reminded myself. This, in itself, was its own form of therapy.

I finally remembered the whole point: to bless another. That’s when I crawled into the shoes (flip flops? bare feet?) of this unnamed girl, living in poverty. What would bring her joy?

She might need clothes, I thought. So I found two sweet, simple t-shirts. She might like to do her hair, so I found accessories. She certainly needed clean teeth, so I nabbed some toothbrushes. She might love to create, so I included art supplies. And everyone likes to cuddle something, right? So my daughter Sophie found a plush giraffe who gave the best hugs.

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When I came home, I felt joy. I pictured the little girl opening the box, her face lighting up as she grabbed the huggable giraffe and donned a new shirt. All those silly insecurities about gift giving faded as I anticipated the joy that would come.

That’s my gift to you this upcoming rush-rush holiday season. Step into someone else’s shoes.  And then anticipate the joy. You’ll find that your gift-giving takes on new meaning, and the stress melts away.

I’d also like to challenge you to take some time in the next two weeks to bless a child around this world through Operation Christmas Child. Packing a shoebox a tangible way to teach your children generosity, and even if you don’t have small children, it’s still an amazing exercise in generosity.

All the stuff you need to know:

Operation Christmas Child, through Samaritan’s Purse, is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind (so they know what they’re doing). Since 1993 they’ve delivered over 124 million shoeboxes full of gifts. (I can’t wrap my mind around this number.) A half a million worldwide volunteers help distribute these simple gifts–gifts of hygiene, clothing, school supplies, and toys–to children in poverty. If you join this movement, you’ll be part of a projected gift-giving extravaganza of 11 million gifts. Wow.

I still struggle when I buy or make gifts. I so want those gifts to reflect the outrageous love I’ve experienced from Jesus. But maybe that’s the point. We give as a reflection of the greatest gift, making our gifts an echo of the beautiful gift God already gave us in His Son, Jesus. I’m certainly grateful for that.

 

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