Every year it was the same thing. My dad brought home 20 or so white paper sacks from the restaurant that we owned, and my sister and I lined them up across the living room floor. Then we pulled out our crayons, markers and colored pencils and got to work creating Christmas masterpieces.
For most of my childhood, my dad was the minister at our county jail, and this project was one we did each year as a special treat for the inmates he served. My sister and I would decorate the sacks with our best work, and then we’d help fill them with candy, socks, apples, oranges and small Bibles.
I remember diligently working each year on those paper bags. I’d kneel beneath the lights of our tree, watch Christmas movies on TV, and draw scene after Christmas scene. An elaborate Christmas tree on one sack, a snowman on another, a manger scene on the next.
It would have been easy to rush through those drawings and give the inmates less than my best. But I remember, even at a young age, thinking that I wanted each man or woman who received a bag to revel in the picture – drawn with love by a child – that was on its front.
Thinking about it now, I appreciate the fact that my dad involved his two young daughters in that yearly act of service.
It would have been much easier and quicker, I’m sure, for him to pick up a bunch of holiday sacks at the dollar store and fill them on his own. But, instead, he allowed us children to invest our time and energy into the lives of others, teaching us what Christmas is truly about.
As a parent now myself, I’m also looking for ways to teach this lesson to my children. One way I aim to model a spirit of giving is through Operation Christmas Child. For the last two years, my oldest and I have enjoyed picking out small gifts for an impoverished child about her age, who lives somewhere across the globe. My daughter really gets into this project, personally picking out each gift and adding special touches to the box.
Another project we’re working on this year is assembling a gift package for the child we sponsor through World Vision. Although we send her money each month and occasional letters, we’ve never before sent a package. Christmas seems like the perfect time to do that, and my daughter is excited to pick out these gifts as well.
Mainly, I hope my girls grow up with hearts prone to explode for others. I hope to instill in them spirits of service and compassion. And I hope at our house, just like at mine as a child, Christmas is never just about what we can get.