One teddy bear and one fairy princess doll. A bright red jump rope, purple kazoo and coloring book with crayons. Socks with prancing reindeer, gloves in a festive Christmas stripe and a comfy green shirt with a smiling owl. A pink Disney inspired toothbrush and a tub of bubblegum flavored toothpaste. An oversized bag of gummy bears and two packages of "hair pretties."
Every November I take a shoe box and fill it with little toys and gifts for a special child thousands of miles away, in another part of the world. Operation Christmas Child collects millions of these boxes every year and delivers them to needy children who would likely go without a single gift at Christmas if not for a shoe box filled with treasures. The precious kids who receive these boxes and the love of Christ tucked inside, are more accustomed to fleeing war-torn countries than being tucked in at night. They are more familiar with the mile walk for water than bounding down a flight of steps to find a tree surrounded by gifts on Christmas morning.
Each year I add a box to the millions that bring the Christmas message to one special child. I imagine the child in my mind. This year I pictured a five year old girl named Grace. In the isles of the Dollar Tree and Walmart I wandered around picking up little toys and trinkets. Would Grace like this shirt? Would she want to play with this doll?
Finally I settled on a box I thought she'd love but when I brought it all back home my box looked incomplete. Everything in the box looked so generic. Anyone could buy the things I purchased. I looked at the shirt made in mass quantities and the toothbrush with the same Disney princess I'd seen a thousand times and wondered how Grace would know she was precious, unique and unlike any other?
And that's when I spotted it. Sitting on my desk was a little wooden sign cut out in the shape of a word. "PRAY." Months ago I had colored the sign while helping with children's church. The sign had sat on my desk ever since. I had nearly forgotten about it. Now I saw it again and realized it was the special something my box needed.
With prayer in my box it looked complete. I secured the box with rubber bands and put my label on top. Most importantly, I prayed for Grace. I prayed that she would cherish her box and feel the love that went into it. I prayed that she would smile when she picked up the doll and hug her little white bear. I hoped she would see that little wooden sign of prayer and feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit's embrace.
As I stacked my box in a pile with hundreds of others I was struck by the great need symbolized in the mountain of gifts before me - the need for the gift of love, of feeling special and of being cared for in prayer. That need is not unique to third world countries. It is universal. Right here in my hometown there are precious children, made in the image of God, desperate for the gift of love and attention. They need to know they are cherished by God. They need to know that they are supported and lifted up in prayer.
I took a moment to look at all of the boxes ready to be sent across the world. It was an amazing sight of generosity and a powerfully convicting one, too. That mountain of boxes was just the start. This month and all year long God requires that I be packing boxes of love and prayer. In every interaction, in every season and in all twelve months I am called to give the joy of Christmas.
I packed one square shoe box this November but my generosity can't stop there. God won't let it. This year I'm going to spend every month packing boxes of prayer by how I live and how I treat the precious children of God living all around me.