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Christmas Unwrapped

When Christmas was unwrapped for us, it changed everything!

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.

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.

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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