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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a good friend. We were discussing gift-giving, always an interesting topic to ponder this time of year. Specifically, we were discussing a shoebox gift program called Box of Joy.

Our conversation gave me many points to consider in my prayer and meditation over the following weeks. Why a Box of Joy? Why give a gift of a toy to a stranger in another country? Why not use those funds to donate to a local charity? Or if led to address the needs of the poor in another country, why a toy? Why not a clean water project, or education? Does donating to a program such as Box of Joy spread a secular ideal of Christmas? Does it diminish the true meaning of Christmas?

Well, let’s pack a box and see, I thought.

I spent several weeks considering the types of things I might assemble. Should I pick a girl or a boy? What age group? If I came across something that I thought would be good in the box I set it aside. And as I did, I’d think of that unknown child. Isn’t that a little like a prayer? As the weeks passed, I had a nice stack of things: books, rosaries, holy cards, toys, notepads, even nice plastic shoe box containers, a good start. Soon it was time to pack, so I headed to the store to fill in the gaps. I took my daughter and a friend to help. We started with an outfit. A T-shirt and leggings for a toddler. We couldn’t decide which to get, so we bought two! “Oh goodness, we shouldn’t leave the boys out,” I thought, so we picked out a boy outfit, too. And shoes, they could surely use shoes. Oh, and some fresh crayons to go with the notepads. “Honey, go pick out a ball for the boy. Make sure it will fit in the box! And let’s be practical and get some toothbrushes.” All the while, I was smiling and thinking about our unknown child (children now!). Again, isn’t that a little like a prayer?

After we got it all home, I spent another hour, putting the boxes together. Sorting and dividing the erasers and pencils and crayons and stickers and Slinkys. Folding the clothes. Arranging them nicely in the plastic bins. Placing a children’s holy card on the top of each one. Making sure that they close properly. I labeled them, added the funds for mailing, and secured them with rubber bands. All the while, I was still smiling and thinking about these children, a little prayer.

So weeks of planning and hours of shopping and assembly later, I have a Box of Joy (well, three!) ready to be shipped. Who has the joy? Well right now, I do. But I pray that the items I’ve selected will bring joy to their recipients. I hope they enjoy playing with the ball or the doll, that the clothes fit, and the shoes are serviceable. But that isn’t really the point. My gift isn’t the shoes, the clothes or the toys. In all the planning, shopping, packaging and praying, what I am really giving is a box of me.

And that was my epiphany. That is what Jesus does for me. He gives me Himself. Unfathomable, and yet so simple really.

So, back to the box. In it, I’ve freely given a gift of myself with no expectation of anything in return. And that is what He wants of me, a free gift of myself to Him, in everything. My pastor advised me years ago that in seeking God’s will, I should do the little things that He places right in front of me. This was one of those little things. I joyfully await to see what He puts in my path next.

Kristen Levine lives in Gastonia.