Heart Matters: Unwrapped

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Early the morning after Thanksgiving, there was a chill in the
air and the sun was struggling to shine. My husband, Bob, and I
were headed to the toy store to wait in line.

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This was our fifth year to buy Christmas gifts for needy children
at a local shelter. We had 125 names on our list, which was a lot
for our small church, but God had blessed us with donations from
businesses and our church members. Thanks to their generosity, we
were off to the biggest toy sale of the year.

We arrived two hours before the store opened, but there was
already a long line. Frustration crept into my spirit. When the
doors finally opened, it was a mob scene. Bob and I were like
everyone else, pushing and shoving our way through the crowds to
grab toys.

We gathered more than 125 toys, because a few extra kids always
show up. We piled toys high on the floor as we merged with the
checkout line. People complained as we moved all the toys whenever
the line limped forward. They finally asked what we were doing. We
explained and a few smiled. Others were upset because we were
holding up the line. I even found myself complaining to my
husband.

“We’ve been in this line for over an hour and a half. Why do we
put ourselves through this?” I asked miserably.

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The day of the toy delivery, everyone was excited, but this year
it was a little different for me. I was tired — really tired. I
felt I’d spent too much time on this project. When will I have time
to shop for my family? I wondered.

As we loaded the toys in the van, I came across a gift labeled
“boy.” I knew by its shape that it was a popular remote control car
— it had been the last one the store had.

I asked Bob to put the gift under the van seat. I felt God wanted
me to keep this toy separate, but I wasn’t sure why.

As we approached the shelter, I could see the kids. They were
jumping up and down, their faces lit with excitement. I saw the
number of kids and prayed that we’d have enough toys to go around.
We knew this would be the only Christmas present most of them would
receive.

Christmas paper and bows flew as the kids tore open their
presents. My heart was refreshed by the sheer joy on the kids’
faces.

After all the hugs and kisses, our crew loaded up to head back to
the church. We were ready to drive off when I heard a faint voice:
“Don’t go! Don’t go! Please don’t leave!”

A little boy with blond hair and no shoes ran toward us, waving
his arms. He caught up to us, crying as he asked if all the gifts
were gone.

My heart sank. We had nothing left.

Then I remembered the gift under the van seat. As I crawled into
the van, I prayed no one had given it away. It was still there.

I handed the gift to the little boy, and he tore through the
paper. When he saw the remote control car, he hopped and let out a
delighted yelp. He couldn’t believe it was his to keep. Over and
over he asked us if he really could take it home.

We hugged him and assured him the gift was his. We told him we
loved him and so did Jesus.

As we got back into the van, I watched the boy walk away, bare
feet, no coat, waving at us, shouting, ” ‘Bye!” and “Thank you!” He
clutched the car so hard, I feared it would break. As I looked at
Bob and the others, tears poured down our faces. I thought, God,
never let me forget this day.

I received God’s gift that day. And I knew that the next year
I’d do this all over again, but it would be different. I would be
different. There wouldn’t be any grumbling or complaining, because
I’d always remember that little boy.

God gave us his greatest gift at Christmas — a little baby boy
named Jesus. This Christmas, give to those who don’t have. It
doesn’t have to be a present. Some people are just looking for a
smile, a hug, or three simple words: “You are loved!”

Cheryl Russell is a children’s minister in Owensboro,
Kentucky.

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