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Love in a Box

When I became a parent I was very keen that our children would understand that Christmas is for giving and not just for getting. I wanted our children to realise that many children throughout the world do not have the material goods with which we are blessed here in the UK and Ireland.

Around that time I heard about Operation Christmas Child. Operation Christmas Child is a very simple concept: you find an empty shoebox, gift wrap it, then fill it with love in the form of toys, sweets, pencils, notebooks, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and a flannel, a scarf, gloves and hat then send it off to a child in a country that is much less well off than we are here. On the outside of the box you indicate whether the box is for a boy or a girl and the general age group (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14) that it’s suitable for. You also make a small financial donation per box to cover shipping costs.

Our children used to each pack a shoebox for a child of the same age as themselves. The hardest part used to be covering the shoebox with the wrapping paper. Nowadays however you can buy pre-printed shoe boxes specifically for this purpose. If your group buys them in bulk, they work out quite reasonable.

Each year in October I used to set aside an afternoon to sit down with the children to wrap and pack the shoeboxes. After the boxes were filled, Leah took on the responsibility of checking each one to ensure that nothing had been forgotten. One year (while still in Primary School) Leah went to the local collection centre to help check all the boxes that had been collected before they were sent on from here to Eastern Europe.

Our children used to also enclose a Christmas card in their shoebox that they had written to the child who would receive their box. One year, to Leah’s absolute joy, the child who received her shoe box wrote back. Her name was Bojana, she lived in Montenegro and she was the same age as Leah. Leah was so excited to hear from this child.

Every year, when we shopped the January sales, Leah was quick to spot items that could be used later that year to pack our shoeboxes. Before we left for Bristol Children’s Hospital in July 2013, Leah and I had already gathered up much of what we needed to pack our shoeboxes when we returned in a couple of months. However, things did not go the way we expected them to and it was mid-November before we returned home. ‘Shoebox Sunday’ at our church had been and gone and to be truthful, packing shoeboxes was not uppermost in our thoughts.

After Leah had died in January 2014, participating in Operation Christmas Child joined a long list of family activities that now felt so painful that I couldn’t imagine myself ever being able to take part in them again. Each autumn as the Operation Christmas Child leaflets were given out at church, the promotional video was shown and each family came on Shoebox Sunday with their contribution, my heart silently broke and the tears flowed freely. To be honest, I have always cried watching the Operation Christmas Child videos, seeing the suffering of those families living in abject poverty and how grateful they are for so little, but now I had other reasons to cry as well.

However, this year when they started giving out the leaflets, I said to my youngest “I wonder could we manage it this year?” I knew that there was no way that I was going to tackle wrapping the boxes, so I bought four of the pre-designed flat-packed boxes a few weeks ago. However, after looking at them sitting in the Living Room for a week I concluded that I couldn’t go through with it and I put them away in a cupboard. I reasoned that they would keep until next year.

I knew that the last weekend in October was the last occasion before ‘Shoebox Sunday’ in our church that I would have any reasonable amount of time to spend filling these shoeboxes, but I just couldn’t do it. However throughout the week that followed it floated around in the back of my mind; this ‘family tradition’ that was so important to Leah and had once been so important to me too. So that is how, on a very busy Friday in early November, with a to-do list as long as my arm, I carved out time for my youngest and I to fill four shoeboxes: one from each child – four boxes filled with love.

Hebrews 13:15-16 (NIV)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

 

 

 

Vicky Whyte

Vicky lives in Northern Ireland with her husband and two younger children. All she ever wanted in life was to get married, have kids, serve Jesus and love other people. Just quietly and without too much excitement. Her favorite spare time activities are catching up with friends or getting lost in a good book. Then, in 2013, family life changed forever. Leah, the second eldest of their four children, was diagnosed with a rare genetic mutation and went through a bone marrow transplant. Nine months after her initial diagnosis, Leah developed a rare side effect of her treatment and died shortly after her 16th birthday. Devastated and heartbroken by her daughter's death, Vicky has found that blogging helps her to trace the rainbows through the rain and see God's hand in everything.

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