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“Look what I got for Christmas,” said my friend Megan as she held up a single serving package of crackers with a small red stick for the spreadable cheese.
At eight years old I was shocked. There I was holding my new doll and standing next to my doll’s stroller. Immediately I knew I needed to rejoice with my friend for her treasure and try not to draw attention to my more expensive gifts. I put the doll in her stroller and said, “Wow, those are so yummy! You’re lucky.”
Never before had I realized that my family was richer than other families. My father was a schoolteacher and my mother babysat other people’s children to help make ends meet for our large family. I always thought we were poor. But here was a person I knew, and she had the smallest Christmas gift from Santa Clause I’d ever seen.
I told my mom about this experience, and the next year we decided to do something nice for Megan and her family. I lovingly picked out the best doll we could afford. We planned to surprise her on Christmas by anonymously leaving it at her house. However, the doll I was getting was still more expensive and more fancy than hers.
Somehow in my little heart I had decided it was good to give to others after I had taken the best for myself first. It made logical sense to me that the best way to give to charity or others was to see what you wanted or needed first and then give what you didn’t want or need to someone else. This way there was no waste and everyone received something.
For years, this semi-charitable philosophy was the basis for my giving. I felt good about myself for giving to others and not wasting all the stuff I didn’t want. Then a very young boy taught me that my selfish version of giving was missing the mark.
And the Children Shall Lead Us
Quinton, my oldest son, always had a big heart. He continuously looks for ways to help and serve others.
When he was three years old, Quinton begged for a Buzz Lightyear toy because of his excitement in seeing it in a recently released movie he loved. This toy was expensive and not the kind of toy we normally splurged our meager funds on. However, after seeing the toy appear on repeated birthday and Christmas wish lists, we eventually relinquished and purchased the toy for his fourth birthday.
Quinton’s joy was just what we had hoped for. He slept with the toy and played with it daily.
The following December, I read my son a story called the. It’s a family favorite about a young scout who selflessly gives his Christmas gifts away to poor children. After reading this story, our young family decided that we wanted to give to the poor. I knew the local thrift store had an evening set aside when they allowed poor families to choose from the nicest items for their family Christmas presents. I suggested we contribute what we could.
Immediately Quinton ran to his room and started looking through his clothes and toys. He had many nice, like-new items he had never used. We thought any of these items would be suitable. And, of course, they wouldn’t hurt our family at all to give them away because he obviously didn’t need them.
After we had collected a generous amount of items, I sat down to admire my kind, young boy as he played with his toys. I loved that he was so easily inspired and more than willing to think of others and act. As a side benefit, I got to do some pre-Christmas de-junking, which was a tradition of mine as well.
As I was looking at my son and appreciating him, I noticed he was playing very thoughtfully with his Buzz Lightyear toy. He was carefully looking it over. After a few minutes of this he looked up at me and said, “Mom, I’ve taken really good care of Buzz, huh?”
“Oh yes, Quinton,” I said. “You are so careful with him. He looks just like new and should be a good toy for a long time.”
At this point Quinton looked back at his beloved Buzz and seemed to ask himself a deep question.
Then, looking back up at me, he said with an enormous smile, “Mom, we didn’t put Buzz in the box for the poor children. He’s the best toy I have and he’d make them very happy. He makes everyone happy.”
While I was trying to determine how to process this shock and what to say, my young son joyously took Buzz to the box and made him comfortable among the other toys and clothes.
My son smiled at me, and I wanted to cry. I was holding back the tears. His childlike love and goodness were incredible to behold. However, I think I was also tearing up because I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I had scrimped and saved for that Buzz Lightyear toy. I even had to convince my husband that it would be a good thing to buy. But now, quite unexpectedly, my son was willing to give it up for a good cause just like that.
“Maybe he doesn’t realize there won’t be another Buzz toy given to him,” I thought. I decided I had to let him know.
When I told Quinton, he looked up at me with his large blue eyes and said, “But Mom, isn’t it right to give something someone couldn’t get for themselves? Isn’t that the point?”
“Well, yes, but you wanted that toy for so long, I hate to see you lose it. You’ve already given the other children so many nice things,” I reminded him as I tried to get him to change his mind.
I felt so conflicted. Here I was caring about a toy and money, while at the same time also wanting my son to feel the joy of giving with such love and charity. “Okay,” I said. “It’s your choice.”
I assumed he’d start playing with Buzz again and forget about the idea of donating him. But he didn’t. After a couple of months of Buzz being at his side night and day, Buzz was now permanently in his donation box.
Two days later we dropped off our donation box. I again reminded Quinton he wouldn’t get another Buzz Lightyear, and this was his last chance to rescue his beloved toy.
“Mom, think how happy the little boy who gets Buzz will be,” he assured me as he picked up the box and walked it to the drop-off point. He set the box down, picked up Buzz one last time, gave the toy a quick hug, and said something to the toy. Perhaps Buzz’s parting words to Quinton were, “To charity, and beyond!”
Quinton was all smiles as he returned to the car with a light heart and a quick step. I was fighting back the tears of joy and pain as my heart melted. “We should do this every year, Mom. I like knowing that someone will be happy on Christmas because of me,” he said in his sincere, committed voice tone — which he often used when discussing important matters.
At this point, I reflected on that Christmas so long ago when my friend Megan was so excited to get her cheese and crackers, and I was so blessed to get to anonymously share some Christmas joy with her.
I realized as we drove away from the thrift store that the size of the person doesn’t determine the size of the heart. My small son’s heart reminded me that true joy comes when we give our best and not worry about the rest. This little principle is not just for Christmas presents. Each day we live 24 glorious hours. They are a gift to us. The way we live and give of ourselves during those hours is the way we give back to God. True happiness comes when we love enough to give our best and not worry about the rest.
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