“Mommy, I think you like those toys more than we do,” I remember saying to my mom as we shopped at a discount store. The way she would inspect each toy, carefully read through each book, count puzzle pieces, and put together toy sets (discount items tend to miss pieces), I was sure she loved those toys every bit as much as we kids did. She was always on the lookout for sales so she and my hardworking father could put presents under the Christmas tree for us kids.
Two years ago, some friends and I took boxes of food to families who had been displaced by the February 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Constitución, Chile, and were still living in makeshift camps ten months later. Margarita, one of the volunteers, had taken a collection of Christmas decorations in her office building, so we included a few of those in each box, along with a copy of the Christmas issue of Conéctate (the Spanish edition of Activated) and a CD of Christmas music. One person in Margarita’s office had also donated a Christmas tree, which we also took with us, even though we didn’t know exactly what we would do with it.
Eiko was 31 kilos (68 pounds) that Christmas. Her skin stretched tightly across her cheekbones, and even her bulky winter clothes could not hide her extremely thin body. Only thirteen years old, she was suffering from a severe eating disorder that had begun at the age of nine. My parents and we, her siblings, hadn’t been fully aware of her struggles in the earlier stages, but now their impact was glaringly apparent.
What Actually Woke Me Up at Starbucks
I was staying with my grandmother just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. It was wonderful in every way except when I needed to get some work done online. One morning shortly before Christmas, I needed to answer some important emails, so I decided to head for the nearest WiFi spot and take care of that before running a few other errands and grabbing some coffee.
I arrived at the first location and was unable to get online. I went to a second and was unable to send email over their network. Frustrated, I headed to Starbucks.
Some years back, my husband and I were serving as missionaries in northern Brazil when an opening came up for us to take part in a new venture helping young people in Buenos Aires.
At the time we had three children, and I was pregnant with our fourth. My husband is from Argentina and was hoping we could arrive in time to spend Christmas with his elderly father, so a few days before Christmas we set out on the 7,000 km (4,350 mi) overland journey. The trip went fine until we arrived at the border.
Each December I ask my children, Toby and Kathy, now seven and nine, to go through their toys and clothes and set aside what they have outgrown or no longer use. Then I check what they’ve selected, weeding out worn-out items and exercising my veto power in a few cases, and box up the best of the rest to give to others who have less than we do. Besides instilling in the children a spirit of giving, I have found this to also be an effective way to trim down on clutter and put “gently used” items that they no longer need or want to good use.
As I rushed around the streets of Morelia, Mexico,the stoplights were crowded with beggars. It was Christmas Eve, and I had gone out with my 10-year-old daughter for some last-minute shopping.
“Look at her!” Cathy drew my attention to an old woman who had stopped begging momentarily and was rubbing her cold, bare feet.
Because I grew up in the Soviet Union, I didn’t celebrate my first Christmas until 1991, when I was 16. Until then, I had never seen a manger scene, never heard a Christmas carol, and never been told the story of Jesus’ birth. But that year the truth and spirit of Christmas stormed my heart and mind and left me feeling tipsy with happiness from December 25th (Christmas in the West) to January 7th (Christmas according to the Julian calendar and the Russian Orthodox Church). I spent those two weeks with members of the Family International who had recently introduced me to Christ. We wished a happy Christmas to everyone we met, and passed out colorful posters with the Christmas story to thousands of people, many of whom, like me just a short while before, were hearing it for the first time.