Although I wrote this last year, I feel it deserves a repeat-performance. I visited this family again recently and brought their daughter Lilly an actual malaria net, like those World Vision uses in Africa because I know the compassion she feels for those affected by malaria, an experience from a previous visit with her folks. She's a busy 7-year-old now and couldn't remember the entire incident, so I promised to find what I'd written last year and send it to her. Re-reading it blessed me and I hope it blesses you, too.
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This year, we all agreed to forgo the typical presents for our adult extended family members and instead choose gifts from the World Vision Gift Catalog. We'd given some similar "gifts" previously, but this year there was a special abandon to it -- a desire to really make these "thoughtful" gifts for each receiver, a criteria very close to my wife Janet's heart.
It's about time we did this -- several donor friends had "made the switch" already and told me wonderful stories of how even their grandchildren "get into it" and draw pictures of the goats and ducks and school uniforms that are being given in Grandma and Grandpa's name. For young and old, these "gifts" can really bring to life our help for those in need, and at the same time they move our gift exchange focus off of ourselves.
I read a quote by a woman this week who said that she gives her grandchildren only gifts from the Gift Catalog, as a way to change the theme of Christmas "from getting to giving". When I read this, I was convicted that we'd missed it a little, that we'd somewhat excluded our grandchildren from this new gift theme and thereby cheated them out of this shift in focus so as not to let them down in the "getting" department.
Everyone needs to negotiate these waters in their own way, and this actually isn't a commercial for World Vision's Gift Catalog, nor anyone else's.
It's a contrast between two events that happened for me last Monday, at the end of a lovely visit to Chico, CA where I stayed with my brother and his sweet young daughters as we celebrated our Mom's 75th birthday. We also celebrated Christmas early, and afterward, five-year-old Maya and I were in the kitchen, where I showed her the picture in the Gift Catalog of the ducks and chickens we bought her parents. Her dad asked her jokingly if they should keep the poultry in her bedroom, and I was trying without much success to explain to her who actually receives these animals. She was a good sport, but I'm not sure she really understood me. I think she'd rather have enjoyed keeping ducks in her bedroom.
We said goodbye a few hours later and were on the plane home that evening when I read the following email from a young couple who give to World Vision and whom I'd visited the prior week, along with their four-year-old, Lilly. The mom wrote:
"On Friday, Lilly wanted to make believe we were in the desert. She then started to say, 'Look out for the mosquitoes; they'll bite you.' I told her sometimes mosquito bites make people sick. I asked her how we could help the pretend people not get bit. She thought about it and said, 'a cover?' I explained that, yes, they can use nets to cover themselves. I then told her that we could help real people, by buying them nets for Christmas. She asked where we could buy the nets, and I replied that we could buy them through World Vision. She sat for a second, then gasped and whispered 'Mr. Cory!' It was priceless... She is paying attention;-) I truly believe this will be a family affair in no time at all. So this year for the family we are buying (mosquito) bed nets, per Lilly's request."
The hero in this story without question is Lilly's mom. It's her worldview, her "world vision", which seamlessly transforms playtimes like this into teachable moments. In the process, Lilly is transformed in her own understanding. And somewhere along the line, a child's world becomes bigger, more inclusive, more expansive. "Neighbor" begins to mean to her something of what it means to God.
And in the transformation, another Christmas prophecy becomes real: A little child shall lead them.
Isaiah chapter 11 prophecies of the "shoot of Jesse", one coming from David's lineage. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him. With justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (There it is again--God's special concern for the least and the last.)
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The Peaceable Kingdom; led by a child. A very special Child. A child raised up in the way he should go. A child who grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Christmas is about a child. Children can be immensely self-centered. And children can put us to shame in their unabashed generosity. Which of these tendencies will we feed?
This Christmas, may our children and our grandchildren grow in wisdom and stature, and may their world get a little bigger, like Lilly's did. I think the Child of Christmas would be pleased. And maybe they'll even lead us somewhere where treasure lies.
Read more Christmas posts on this blog.
See more holiday gift ideas from World Vision and our partners: Holiday gift guide: 30 meaningful gifts under $50