Love in a Box

Love in a Box

When I became a parent I was very keen that our children would understand that Christmas is for giving and not just for getting. I wanted our children to understand that many children throughout the world do not have the material goods with which we are blessed here in the UK and Ireland and to care about this fact.

Around that time I heard about Operation Christmas Child. Operation Christmas Child is a very simple concept: you find an empty shoebox, gift wrap it, then fill it with love in the form of toys, sweets, pencils, notebooks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and a flannel, a scarf, gloves and hat and send it to a child in a country that is much less well off than we are here. On the outside of the box you indicate whether the box is for a boy or a girl and the general age group (2-4, 5-9 or 10-14) that it’s suitable for. You also make a donation of £3.00 per box to cover shipping costs.

Our children used to each pack a shoebox for a child of the same age as themselves. The hardest part used to be covering the shoebox with the wrapping paper. Thankfully when our children were small, my two older nieces from London used to visit us over mid-term and they helped with this, which I very much appreciated. Nowadays you can buy pre-printed shoe boxes  specifically for this purpose. If your group buys them in bulk, they work out about 50p each.

Each year in October a Sunday afternoon would be set aside when I would sit down with the children to wrap and pack the shoeboxes. In recent years, after the boxes were filled, Leah took on the responsibility of checking each one to ensure that nothing had been forgotten. One year (while still in Primary School) Leah went to the local collection centre in Limavady to help check all the boxes that had been collected before they were sent on to their destination.

Our children used to also enclose a Christmas card in their shoebox that they had written to the child who would receive their box. One year, to Leah’s absolute joy, the child who received her shoe box wrote back and even sent a little picture of herself. Her name was Bojana, she lived in Montenegro and she was the same age as Leah. Leah was so excited to hear from this young girl.

Every year, when we shopped the January sales, Leah was quick to spot items that could be used later that year to pack our shoeboxes. Before we left for Bristol Children’s Hospital  in July 2013 Leah and I had already gathered up much of what would be needed to pack our shoeboxes when we returned in a couple of months. However, things did not go the way we expected them to and it was mid – November before we returned home. Shoebox Sunday at our church had been and gone and to be truthful, packing shoeboxes was not uppermost in our thoughts.

After Leah died in January 2014, participating in Operation Christmas Child joined a long list of family activities that now felt so painful that I couldn’t imagine myself ever being able to take part in them again. Each autumn as the Operation Christmas Child leaflets were given out at church, the promotional video was shown and each family came to church on Shoebox Sunday with their contribution, my heart silently broke and my tears flowed freely. To be honest, I have always cried watching the Operation Christmas Child videos, seeing the suffering of those families living in abject poverty and how grateful they are for so little, but now I had other reasons to cry as well.

However, this year when they started giving out the leaflets I said to my youngest “I wonder could we manage it this year?” I knew there was no way that I could tackle wrapping the boxes, so I bought four of the ready to use flat-packed shoeboxes a few weeks ago. However, after looking at them sitting in a corner of the Living Room for a week, I concluded that I couldn’t go through with it and I stored them away in a cupboard. I reasoned that they would keep until next year.

I knew that the last weekend in October was the final occasion before Shoebox Sunday in early November that I would have any reasonable amount of free time to spend filling these shoeboxes, but I just couldn’t do it. However all week afterwards it floated around in the back of my mind; this ‘family tradition’ that was so important to Leah and was once so important to me too.

So that is how, on a very busy Friday at the start of November, with a to-do list as long as my arm, I carved out time for my youngest and I to fill four shoeboxes: one from each child – four boxes filled with love. Today we brought them with us to church and we added them to the ‘wall’ of over two hundred shoeboxes that have been collected.

Of all the promotional videos created in support of Operation Christmas Child, my absolute favourite is the one with the backing track Love in a Box by Melisa Bester. One of Australia’s youngest artists, Melisa Bester, recorded this song for Operation Christmas Child in 2006 – when she was only eight years old. Please watch the video and listen to the beautiful words. Also, do take a few moments to tell me about your experiences of packing love in a box and sending it off to a child in another country to let them know that they are loved.

God is Bigger than the Boogie Man

God is Bigger than the Boogie Man

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These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don't seem to have taken ANY photos CHRISTMAS 2012 - between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.
These were taken CHRISTMAS 2011. Sadly I don’t seem to have ANY photos taken CHRISTMAS 2012 – between me having the flu and the cat killing the hamster, it was all a bit stressful.

One of the many differences since Leah died is the quietness.

The house feels quiet, the car feels quiet and we are quiet, often lost in our thoughts and in our memories.

In September 2012, Rachel, the eldest of our four children, left home to go to university.

Then in November 2012 I started a new job.

December 2012 Leah had her first blood test.

In July 2013 Leah and I went to Bristol Children’s Hospital and we were away from home for 16 weeks.

December 2013 Leah was admitted to ICU and in January 2014 she died.

It feels as if just yesterday we had a noisy house and car full of children, but today there is just quietness.

Leah was the only one of our four children who ALWAYS played her music too loud and this used to drive me crazy.

In the car she used headphones, but even then she had her music turned up so loud that it still irritated me. I lectured her endlessly about the potential damage to her hearing.

Sometimes I would play my music through the car stereo to drown out what leaked from her earphones. Then she would turn hers up even louder, as she said that my music was drowning hers – parents of teenagers, you know how it is!

Now it all just seems too quiet.

Was it really so long ago that I was driving our 7 seater car with our kids and their cousins jumping about and belting out the Veggietales song “God is bigger than the Boogie Man”?

Sometimes it feels like only yesterday.

A Thankful Heart

A Thankful Heart

By early December the pain in Leah’s back was very severe.

On Friday the 6th December ’13 we were told that Leah had developed a spontaneous spinal fracture between T6 & T8. I was utterly devastated by this news.

Last night I glanced in Leah’s diary – she didn’t write very often – on Saturday 7th December ’13 she had recorded the many things in her life that she was thankful for.

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I remember how much pain she was in that Saturday and how distressed I felt watching our daughter suffer.

Now, through Leah’s occasional writings, I get glimpses of her beautiful thankful heart and it just humbles me so much.

Leah always enjoyed VeggieTales DVDs so maybe Leah would have liked this Veggie Tales picture:

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