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Joy Lucius AFA Journal MORE

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6 [NIV]). 

It is never too early to pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.

Seriously, Labor Day is over now, and summer has officially ended. Autumn is on its way, and this year’s shoebox collection week is just around the corner – November 15-22.

If you aren’t feeling the Christmas spirit yet, remember that even now, before you pack that shoebox full of tiny toys and trinkets, God has a specific child in mind to receive your gift.

If that is not enough motivation, just think! Your gift could be the very thing that God uses to reach one more soul with the gospel message. Because with every box, Samaritan’s Purse presents the child recipient with The Greatest Gift, a gospel story booklet written in their own language.

I know! I know! It has been a hard year. Believe me, I get it.

Besides this crazy, ongoing, global pandemic, our world has experienced wars, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, floods, earthquakes, swarms of locusts, and other devastations. Hunger and poverty are on the rise, as are isolation and loneliness. No one has been left unscathed by events of the past year. No one!

But that knowledge alone should motivate Christians in every country to reach out and do SOMETHING to help make a difference.

For our family, that something has always been Operation Christmas Child. It is simply the easiest, most practical, child-friendly, and inclusive way for families of every shape and size to show the love of Christ to someone outside their normal sphere of influence. Plus, it is a great teaching tool for parents to show children the true joy found in selflessly helping others.

In fact, some of our most precious memories with our boys (who are now both grown with children of their own) revolve around packing a Christmas shoebox to send to another child in the world.

Of all those memories, one particular shoebox experience changed me forever as a parent.

It happened in early November the year our youngest son Chris was 8. But it really began way before that, if the truth be told.

Chris loved baseball. He always did, and he still does. He played it from the time he was 4-years old, all the way through high school, college, and even on a semi-pro team. Now, he teaches and coaches junior high and high school baseball.

Yes, Chris loved baseball, and his favorite baseball player of all time was Ken Griffey Jr. He watched every game that the Seattle Mariners played, which meant that the rest of us did too. He knew all of Griffey’s stats, imitated Junior’s batting stance, and sang The Kid’s walkup song. He had Mariner hats and gloves and shirts. And he decorated his room with Mariner memorabilia. Chris loved Ken Griffey Jr.

So, when he asked for a baseball signed by Ken Griffey Jr., we tried our best to find one. But they were expensive and hard to come by in rural Mississippi.

But my brother-in-law Dave worked for an international chemical company, and he traveled around the country for his job. As he traveled, Dave put out some feelers for anyone closer to Seattle who might have an inside tip on getting a ball signed by Griffey.

Eventually, he heard of one, but it involved trading, lots of trading, to get to the guy with the Griffey ball. I think my brother-in-law had to first offer up a piece of memorabilia from an Ole Miss boy named Manning.

That expensive item got traded for something else, which got traded for something else, and eventually got traded for a baseball signed by Ken Griffey Jr. But my sister said a good bit of cash padded the deal as well because the guy with the Griffey ball knew he had Dave over a barrel.

Well, needless to say, when Chris opened that present from his aunt and uncle, he was ecstatic. For an 8-year-old, it was the best gift ever. He took the ball and the glass case it came with and put it in a place of honor in his bedroom.

Great story, right? But that is not where the story ends.

Fast forward to the following November when it came time to pack our annual family Christmas shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse. As usual, I was outvoted (3-1), and we started buying gifts for a boy instead of a girl. As we shopped, both boys picked out items, as did their dad and me. It was great fun, even with a budget.

When we got home, we lined our purchases up on the dining room table. We wrapped a big shoebox in colorful Christmas paper (Back then, they did not have plastic boxes readily available for this task.) Then, we arranged and rearranged the items in the box till we got everything packed in nice and tight. We affixed our label and prayed over our gift. It was ready to go to the collection site.

Operation Christmas Child was a success!

Later, as I was working in the kitchen, Chris came down the hall with tears running down his face, clutching something tight against his chest.

“God said I’m supposed to put this in the box,” he said, holding out his cherished Ken Griffey Jr. ball.

“Oh, baby,” I replied as I hugged him, “I am sure God doesn’t want you to do that. He probably just wants to see if you were willing. You are! So, take your ball and put it back up.”

“No!” Chris cried emphatically. “He told me to give it to this little boy.”

He opened our shoebox and started shoving the ball inside. But I was still not convinced.

“Chris,” I argued, “the little boy that will receive this gift won’t even know how special this ball is. He lives in a poor country and probably has never even seen a television much less watched major league baseball.”

“Momma, God said this boy loves Ken Griffey Jr. too, just like me.”

I sighed and took out several items from our shoebox and rearranged them so the baseball would fit. My husband and I hugged Chris and assured him of how proud we were of him; how pleased God must be with him. He smiled and wiped his eyes, but it was obvious that his sacrifice had taken its toll on his heart. On mine too!

Later that night, my heart still ached for my child and what he had willingly given to a child we would never know. I slipped out of the bed and told my husband I was going to get the baseball out of the box and never tell Chris any different. I planned to put it up and keep it until Chris was old enough to understand.

My quiet, stoic husband said, “No, Joy, you can’t do that. We have to trust that Chris heard from God. Who knows! This gift made lead that little boy to Christ. And Chris’s obedience may bless him more than we will ever know. Leave the ball in the box!”

So, I did! But I never forgot! Neither did Chris.

And then one day, my grown son, the baseball coach was lying in bed sick, diagnosed with chronic leukemia. It was literally a miracle that it was discovered! The doctors said his case was so advanced, his spleen so enlarged, his blood count so high, that if it had not been detected, he had mere days or hours left before a much more tragic outcome.

For almost a week, I watched as those amazing doctors cared for him. And in the meantime, our “ball harvest” came in.

Dozens of his players, both baseball and football, raised money for him. They (and their parents) called, cried, texted, Facetimed, and repeatedly gathered in prayer for him.

His fellow coaches and teachers also prayed. They visited, carried out his coaching tasks while he was gone, mowed his yard, took care of his dogs, and did a zillion other little things to make his life easier.

Opposing coaches and players even sent their regards and prayers.

From around the world, former coaches and his own fellow teammates (Many of them are now coaches.) called and prayed. They made him laugh and cry and promise to get well.

And he did.

Exactly one week later, the doctors grudgingly allowed him to go to a playoff game. He had to promise to sit in a car and watch from afar, with just a quick visit to the locker room at half-time.

Four years later, I doubt many of his players ever think of that time because Coach Lucius is back to normal and doing great.

But the coach’s momma never forgets.

She will always remember that little 8-year-old boy who gave up his most prized possession to another little boy he might never meet or know.

And somehow, this momma knows that the biggest gift given that Christmas was not a baseball. It was the faith of a little boy in his great big God, the same God who rescued him from leukemia.

So pack those boxes, people. Pack as if lives depended on it, both spiritually and physically. For they do. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:9-10 [NIV]). 

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