Saturday, November 26, 2011

Operation Christmas Child

This is a picture of my family while we were at church packing our two shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  It was a powerful day for me.  We spent time as a family going to different stations where we focused on a separate theme.  At the first station we learned how a child receiving a shoebox might live.  Our boys got to go inside a grass hut that the youth had made.  Our youth director encouraged them to find a place to lay down inside the small dwelling, along with the ten other children inside.  They got to see how vastly different living conditions are from our own.  We also learned how these simple boxes filled with small gifts for a boy or girl can have a big impact.  The stories our youth pastor told showed how God connected the right box with the right child.  Of course God would know which box held what.  Of course God would know which child would desperately need the contents of a particular box for reasons that are singular and unique only to him or her.  Like the boy who loved to garden and received a box with gardening gloves inside.  Or the girl who had to walk several miles to school barefoot, who received a box with shoes, the exact size that she needed. 

At the second station we actually got to pack our boxes.  The boys loved doing this.  While our little one ran around the room, the other two carefully placed our items in the boxes provided. All I could think of as we put those boxes together was, "Oh God, please let our boxes be the miracle some child needs."  I wanted to be able to do so much more.  But it touched me to know that the little we are able to do could be such a big deal to a child I've never met.

At the third station we made an Advent wreath.  After attaching and fluffing the greenery, all our little wreath needed were the candles.  My favorite part of Christmas is the lighting of the Advent wreath.  That night when we went to bed I told the boys about celebrating Advent when I was a campus minister.  Since the semester would end before Advent had even really started, we would do all the readings, all the songs, all the candle lightings in one night.  It was my favorite service of the whole school year.  I'm looking forward to sharing this special tradition with my sons, creating anticipation as Christmas grows nearer, deepening our understanding of what it means to wait for the Savior to come.

When we packed our shoe boxes, we got to include a coloring sheet that shared information about us with the child who will receive the box.  Noah worked diligently to complete each page front and back.  Later my husband asked if I had seen what he wrote about Jesus.  I said no.  He told me that Noah wrote "Jesus helps us through hard times."  I got choked up.  Yes, Jesus does help us through hard times.  And this season has had its challenges.  I just so thankful that my son is learning what a difference God's Son makes in our lives. 

On Friday we spent time as a family making a list of what we are thankful for.  The boys did so good naming things that are significant to them. What was particularly poignant to me was how well Noah remembered what we learned about children who live in grass huts.  When we finished the list as a family, he took the paper and pen and went through our house by himself, writing down the things he was thankful for, noticing the blessings we have as Americans like running water, electricity, and beds to sleep on.

We learned at church yesterday that 93 shoe boxes were filled and sent out.  It seems that Operation Christmas Child was a success.  That's 93 more children in the world who will receive a tangible sign of God's love, 93 more children who will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, 93 more children who will get a chance to learn that Jesus helps us through hard times.  And I am grateful for the small way that my family got to participate in this ministry.  Yet I am also aware that there is another divinely inspired operation happening right under my nose.  In the ordinary course of our lives, the daily stuff that doesn't seem important or noteworthy, we have the opportunity to teach our boys what it means to be a Christmas child each day.  My prayer is that Tim and I will have the wisdom, the guts, and the insight to be able to do that.  I'm thankful God is already working on that too.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Every Thanksgiving my Mom's side of the family gathers in Texas for a reunion.  I try to go every year that I can.  Usually the only thing that prevents me is having a baby.  Our baby having days are behind us now.  Yet for some reason I had the strongest sense that we were supposed to stay home this year.  I don't understand why.  The last time I had this strong of a feeling was the last Thanksgiving my Grandfather was alive.  And I missed it.  But it was also the season that God answered our prayers and allowed us to conceive Noah, our oldest son.  We had been unable to have children for three years.  And then God blessed us. 

So here I am in Kentucky, praying for safe travel for my parents as they go West.  I am puzzled, yet peaceful.  I know this is where we are supposed to be. 

I love how traditions weave memory and personal history into our lives, reminding us who we are, the stuff we are made of, the places we come from.  I don't necessarily have a bunch of traditions, but I do have stories, and they do the same thing for me.  One of my favorite Thanksgiving stories is from the first Thanksgiving Tim and I spent in Fort Myers, Florida when I was working as an Associate Pastor at a church down there.  I was heartsick for Kentucky and Tennessee.  For the life of me I couldn't figure out why God would bring me to a place without hills, trees (sorry my Florida friends; I didn't think palm trees counted at the time), and seasons.  We were alone on the holiday dedicated especially to family.  We were still growing into the understanding that we could be enough family with only the two of us.  Homesick and hot, we decided to go to the beach, just because we could.  As Tim and I walked on the sand, listening to the gentle splash of waves, the wind blowing in our hair, I told him I needed to start a new tradition just for us.  Something I could hold onto that would make Thanksgiving special again, and make my heart a little less lonely.  I told him about an elderly neighbor from my childhood who would fry refrigerated biscuits in oil, drain them and cover them with sugar.  By the time we dusted the sand off our bare feet and loaded towels and sunscreen back in the car I had him convinced.  We stopped at the 7-11 on the way home and bought refrigerated biscuits dough.

Of course reality rarely matches memory.  Especially for someone who knows nothing about frying anything in oil.  I got the oil too hot.  While the doughnuts looked nice and evenly brown on the outside, they weren't so done on the inside.  The first bite Tim took was the last as our new tradition went in the trash as quickly as the raw biscuit dough did.  Fourteen years later Tim still likes to have a little fun reminding me.

Tonight I'm thinking of that memory fondly.  Because I find myself in the same place again.  I am here, home,  wistful for the company of family there.  I trust God has His reasons. And I feel oddly at peace about being here.  Like this is the right place for us.  I also feel contently nestled in the family that feeds my soul each day--three sweet boys that keep me smiling and a husband who is truly my beloved. 

Tonight while Tim went to a men's ministry event at our church, the boys and I stayed home.  Noah asked if we could watch the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving video and eat popcorn.  I gave in.  I thought it would be something special we could do on our Mommy's night in.  I smiled as Snoopy served Peppermint Pattie popcorn for Thanksgiving dinner.  My three stair-step boys sat on a blanket in front of our TV eating their own bowls of popcorn, laughing because Peppermint Pattie kept calling Charlie Brown "Chuck."  I sat there feeling thankful for the peaceful, precious moment, thankful that the popcorn had been cooked just right.  Snatching a piece  from Noah's bowl I told him how special this memory was for me.  He asked me when I had ever done this before.  I said I hadn't ever done it before, that the memory was being made right in that moment.  

Tonight I am thankful. I can't help but compare this Thanksgiving to that other one so long ago.  During that time, and the years that followed, so much within me was just chaos and turmoil.  I just didn't know yet how rich and wonderful the life I was living would turn out to be.  I had no idea the woman I would become or the joy my future children would bring.  I couldn't even imagine how precious and important the relationship with my husband would grow, or how powerfully our bond could sustain me in hard times.  And I had no understanding of the peace God could bring, even in the face of my own unfulfilled wants or desires.  I had no way to know how deep thanksgiving could go.  And now I don't know if popcorn and Charlie Brown will make it to be a Wilson Thanksgiving tradition, but it is a beautiful memory, a sweet reminder to me of how God's love redeems and rewrites our lives for us, bringing us to a place of peace and hope. 

This is me,