It’s a funny thing when you watch four men you have never met before slowly pack up everything you own, crate it, and drive it away for placement on an ocean barge. You watch as they pack your picture frames, your clothing, your furniture. You watch as they file paperwork for your TV, your Xbox, your computers. You watch as they individually wrap your family ornaments, your infant’s baby book 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 everything you have ever collected.
It has been 40-some days since we have sat on any of our own furniture, or have seen any of our personal belongings. It is a little crazy 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 seas. 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 arrive in. 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 your personal belongings 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. Living without all that stuff for going on two months now has made me realize how incredibly shallow and materialistic I am, and how little those items actually matter. When our shipment shows up safe, I’m sure I will breathe a sigh of relief, but I hope that when we move back to the states someday, I don’t ache at the thought of having to release the tight grip I have on all that I own.
We have a 1.5 year old little boy named Henry, whose favorite things include his daddy, his pet turtle, any pair of shoes he can place on his feet, and the movie Zootopia. His first Christmas was last year, but this will be the first year that he will be really interested in the traditions of Christmas, or in opening gifts at all.
We happened to move at the perfect time of year, and are quietly settling into our new home very shortly before Christmas. We barely had time to breathe before Black Friday and Cyber Monday were upon us. We ordered a few fleece blankets to survive the cold of the new northern climate we are in, but- similar to last year- failed to order our usual Black Friday haul. Last year, Drew and I stuck to the two gift rule, and spent less than $150 total on our family Christmas between the three of us, mostly because we are both pretty awful at gift-giving for each other. But there was one gift that we gave Henry that I had ordered almost two months before Christmas came. We will give him this same gift again this year, and every year until he leaves our home. I was reminded today of why I need to sit down and order it.
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. 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.”
Unfortunately, upon further reading, it seems much of the reason for the children remaining in understaffed or underfunded orphanages lies in the legal issues surrounding parents that are unwilling to sign over their parental rights. 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 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 of my inability to let go. I completely understand these parents’ desperation. If I had to give my little boy away, I would want to still cling to any legal ties I had to him. I would want to still call him my little boy; my son.
Nevertheless, these orphanages are overrun, understaffed, and often desperate from 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 not unique to Japan. Countries around the world, including the states, have kids waiting in the foster care system, orphanages, and shelters for help and a home.
For me, this type of realization brings about a new view of the holiday season, as well as a new perspective on how I raise my sweet Henry to look at his world and the world around him.
This brings us back to last Christmas.
I was sorting through catalogues last year, trying to decide the best gifts to get a 6 month old. I thumbed through the Kohl’s catalogue for several minutes, flipped through the Target ad I had snagged earlier, 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 the 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 protected from life-threatening illnesses. While I am pro-vaccine to the core of my being, it really doesn’t matter what my stance on this is, nor does it matter what yours is. The simple fact is that we have vaccines, and they are 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. I will re-check this research this year, ultimately making the decision of where to donate 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 sense of independence. 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 which issue you are trying to help with, as well as your financial situation.
After our appointment, I returned home, and purchased 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 chunky little legs from the vaccines that will help protect him from some scary stuff. Vaccines 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. 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 instills in Henry as he grows. Every Christmas we will provide him with a card like this one, which we received last Christmas after we purchased the items from the catalogue.
I will say to him,
“Baby boy. 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 kids are really sad, and really lonely. So we took some of the Christmas money that we set aside for gifts 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. All people in this world are chosen, and dearly loved by Jesus. We want you to know that other people matter, and we want you to always want to think of others, not just at Christmas time.”
It’s never too late to instill a heart of giving into your children, it’s never too late to instill in them the idea that stuff doesn’t matter nearly as much as we act like it does at times. Little ones watch what we do, so I know how it is a constant daily struggle to put forth the actions that prove that this is our thinking.
By his fifth or sixth Christmas, I pray that Henry will bring me a Compassion or World Vision gift catalogue, and excitedly ask me to help him pick out what he wants to spend his Christmas money on. I pray that Henry goes through his adolescent and teen years always aware of his classmates and friends’ needs. I pray that he recognizes those that have less than him, and that he doesn’t hesitate or even think twice about giving them something of his.
I hope that my Henry asks hard questions without hesitation, and seeks to be the answer to the injustices that he can change. And I hope that because of my son, an orphaned little boy his age in Zambia, or Japan, or the United State, opens his eyes one morning to a beautiful world where someone noticed him and cared about him.
I hope that someday, my baby packs up his household to move, and waves goodbye to the truck. I hope that he doesn’t fret about his stuff like I do, and that he thinks of others far more often than I do.
I desperately want Henry to be better than me, and I desperately want Henry to know that he is loved by the same God who loves the poor, the orphans, and the hurting. In his world, if that means I give him money so he can gift chickens to a village for Christmas, then I will buy him all the chickens in the world.