It’s a funny thing to watch four men you have never met before slowly pick up and wrap everything you own, crate it, and drive it away for placement on an ocean barge. You sit idly as they place it all into boxes and document the contents. You watch as they individually wrap your family ornaments, your children’s baby books and footprints, and your album of wedding photos. And then just like that, you sign your name on the dotted line, and wave goodbye to every material possession you have ever collected.And then a few weeks later, you board a plane, and arrive to a brand new home with only enough clothing and underwear to last you the week until you can wash them and wear them over again- repeatedly- until your shipment finally arrives.
During our first move overseas, we had a total of 80-some days without sitting on any of our own furniture, or seeing any of our personal belongings. It’s crazy to see what you can live without for several months, and makes you wonder what you can live without indefinitely, to be honest.
It especially makes you reevaluate your feelings about your possessions when you are moving overseas. LITERALLY meaning your items are going over the sea. On a ship. In boxes. 6,000 miles of travel. 6,000 miles of possibly having your items just… disappear. Sink, capsize, be rained on, get stolen. Those items change hands so many times from your moving company to the ship owner, to the moving company in the city you are waiting for them in, and you will read a thousand horror stories on Google if you let yourself search about the process. So many opportunities for your precious things to just vanish, never to be seen again.
I’m pretty confident you’d be lying if you said you didn’t think about all of your “stuff” possibly just not coming back when you sent them away with a moving truck. As for me, I nearly cried when the truck drove away that first time I ever packed up my house and sent it with somebody else. Living without all that stuff for those three-ish months made me realize how incredibly shallow and materialistic I am, and how little those items actually matter in the grand scheme.
When our doorbell rang in mid December, and movers arrived to unpack our shipment, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief. But, I hope that when our next “pack-out” date arrives, I don’t ache again at the thought of having to release the tight grip I have on all that I own.
When I first started writing this, Henry was around 18 months old. His first Christmas was the year before we PCSed, but the first Christmas that he was really interested in the traditions or the gift opening, happened to fall a few months after we sent away everything we owned.
We moved at the very end of October, and barely had time to breathe before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday were upon us. We ordered a few fleece blankets to survive the cold and snow of North Japan winters, but similar to the previous years, I failed to order the usual Black Friday haul and mostly just posted about the good deals I saw.
But there was one gift that we gave Henry that first year of his life that I had ordered almost two months before Christmas time even came. I ordered it before he even could remotely understand what such a gift meant. We will give him this same gift every year until he leaves our home, and have started the tradition with our sweet Ellie too. I was reminded today to order them, and it reminded me of this post that I wrote two years ago:
November 30, 2017, I wrote:
Today I stumbled upon an article written about orphanages in Japan. My heart ached deeply as I read the statistics on adoption, and how many children are still waiting for their forever homes- and in turn how many as children will never know a home outside of an orphanage. This article is from six years ago, though articles I read on the current statistics still echo these numbers.
“There were 36,450 children in the orphanage system in Japan in March, 2011. Only 12% or 4,373 were adopted or placed in foster care during the preceding 12 months.” – Japan Daily Press, “Japan’s Forgotten Children.”
Upon further reading, it seems much of the reasoning for the children remaining in understaffed or underfunded orphanages lies in the legal issues surrounding living parents that are unwilling to sign over their parental rights, yet still wish to keep children in the orphanage, and not offer them up for adoption. Because of this, many of these children remain in the orphanage until they are 18 years of age. Immediately, I was enraged at this. Why don’t they just sign over the rights so these poor kids can find a loving home? But the answer was almost as immediately whispered to me when I looked at Henry, who raised an eyebrow at me from the couch. Big dark brown eyes and a gap-toothed, ornery grin peered back at me, making me realize just how much I adore that little stinker. In that moment, and in every moment following, I could not imagine being unable to provide for my little boy in such a way that I was forced to make the decision: give him up for care at an orphanage, or watch him fail to thrive daily because I was not in a place to provide for him. I completely understand these parents’ desperation. If I had to give my little boy to someone else in order to feed him, I would still cling to any legal ties I had to him. I would want to still call him MY Henry.
Nevertheless, these orphanages (as are most in the world) are overrun, understaffed, and often desperate for help from the communities they reside in. We see so many toy drives, coat collections, and food bins this time of year in order for these institutions to provide what they can for the kids they house. So many still come up short. And this problem is absolutely not unique to Japan. Countries around the world, including the United States, have so many children waiting in the foster care system, in their orphanages, and in shelters, desperate for help and a home.
For me, this realization brings about a new view of the holiday season, as well as a new perspective on how I raise my Henry and my Ellie to look at their world and the world around them every day.
This brings us back to the Christmas before we moved to Japan.
I was sorting through catalogues that fall after having Henry, trying to decide the best gifts to get a 6 month old for his first Christmas. I thumbed through the Kohl’s catalogue for several minutes, flipped through the Target ad I had snagged earlier that day, and then proceeded to glance at the rest of the stack, hoping to find any other deals that fit our budget. I stumbled upon a gift catalogue from World Vision, and read about the lifesaving vaccines, emergency medicine, gifts of livestock, or clean water wells that I could purchase for a child, family, or community in need. I could even give these gifts in the name of someone else.
It wasn’t until a week later when I walked out of our pediatrician’s office after 4 month old Henry received his vaccines, free of charge through our insurance, that I realized what a blessing it is to have a baby who is not likely to contract life-threatening illnesses. While I am pro-vaccine, it really doesn’t matter what my stance on this is, nor does it matter what yours is. The debate doesn’t even matter here. The simple fact is that we have vaccines and medications, whether pharmaceutical or holistic or whatever you believe in, and this help is readily available and almost always affordable. So many in the world do not have this luxury of the choice to vaccinate- a concept that we so often bicker and fight about.
Later that day, I sat down and researched organizations that provide help to those in need, including World Vision and Compassion International. We settled on using Compassion, after reading that Compassion uses a much higher percentage of donations for the individual(s) in need, compared to other similar charities. Any time that we give, we ultimately make the decision of where to donate to based off of which program uses funds responsibly, and which program does good in the entire community- providing individuals with both a life-saving kind of support, but also a strong hope of independence in the future. That being said, there are thousands of charities that seek to help the impoverished, tons of which specifically target children who are in desperate need. If you choose to donate, pick which one fits best for the issue you are trying to help with, as well as what works with your financial situation.
After our appointment, I returned home, and purchased the desperately sought after vaccines and medicines for kiddos in countries that have no access to these medicines otherwise. I hit the order button, and cried long and hard as I watched my sweet, healthy boy rolling around on the floor, bandaid on his then chunky little legs. Pro-vaccine or not, I cried quietly watching my sweet boy sit up, roll over, and smack toys on the rug. What a blessing it is to have a healthy child. Seriously, what a blessing it is to have a healthy baby! I could say this six more times and never really convey how grateful I am for my two babes.
I made the donation in Henry’s name, and used the funds we had placed into our Christmas account for him.
I tell you this not to talk about our donation, but to talk about the values I hope this will instill in my babies as they grow. Every Christmas we will provide them with a card like this one, which we were emailed after we purchased a gift in Henry’s name that first year.
I will say to my darling babies each year:
“Henry, Ellie: It’s Christmas time, which means we will spend lots of time with family. We will eat together, and we will give each other gifts. We are so blessed to be able to sit in a warm home with those that we love, and we celebrate that fact as we ultimately celebrate the birth of Jesus. But there are lots of other little boys and girls in this world who don’t have what we do. Some of them don’t have any toys, and some of them don’t even have mommies and daddies to spend Christmas with. Some of those children are really sad, and really lonely. So we took some of the Christmas money that we set aside for presents this year, and we bought them (fill in the blank) to show them the love of Jesus, and to show them that they are dearly cared about, even from the other side of the world. All people in this world are chosen, and dearly loved by the Jesus that loves you so much. We want you to know that other people matter, and we want you to always want to think of others, every day, not just at Christmas time.”
It’s never too late to instill a heart of giving into your children, and it’s never too late to instill in them the idea that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as we often believe it does. Little ones watch what we do, and believe me, I know how it is a constant daily struggle to put forth the actions that prove that this is truly our line of thinking.
By their fifth or sixth Christmas, I pray that Henry and Ellie will bring me a humanitarian aid gift catalogue, and excitedly ask me to help them pick out what they want to spend their Christmas money on. I pray that my babies go through their adolescent and teen years always aware of the needs of their classmates and friends. I pray that they recognize those that have less than them, and those that are hurting, and that they doesn’t hesitate or even think twice about giving them something of theirs when they see a need they can meet.
I hope that my babies ask hard questions without hesitation, and seek to be the answer to the injustices that they can change. And I hope that because of my son or daughter, a child their age in Zambia, or India, or Japan, or the United States, or a even a child in their own town… opens their eyes one morning to a beautiful world where someone noticed them and cared about them.
I hope that someday, my babies pack up their household to move, and wave goodbye to the truck. I hope that they don’t fret about their stuff like I do, and that they think of others far more often than I do.
Almost two years after originally writing this, I look at our sweet 3 year old Henry, and our 1 year old little Ellie, weeks before Christmas again, and I still feel the same after these years. I desperately want my babies to be better than me, and I desperately want them to know that they are loved by the same God who loves the poor, the orphans, and the hurting. In their world, if that means I give them money so they can gift chickens to a village for Christmas, then I will buy them all the chickens in the world.