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Christmas Espionage

“There is a little girl who lives with her grandma and grandpa and they can’t have Christmas presents this year,” I started, explaining.

Finley nodded at me.

“No presents,” I said, as Maria just looked at me, patiently waiting for the rest of what I was saying.  ‘A little girl, with no presents,’ is everyone she knows. My moment to explain a true reality for other people is her actual reality, and always has been her reality.

“Yes,” she responded, or maybe agreed.

So I changed gears.  For a long time, Russians weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas, everything about Christmas was changed or banned.

For Maria, since there is no materialistic damage to undo, I could just start fresh, with truth;

“Christmas is about giving.  Christmas is a time for us to look at the needs of others, and fill them, even when we feel like we can’t, we can.

Christmas is a time when God gave us a gift.  Actually, the sweetest, tiniest, most powerful gift to us.  He gave us a baby, but the baby was special because it was his own baby he gave us.  He gave it away so that the rest of us could have good lives here, then live with God forever.  Giving away his baby hurt God, because it was his most special thing, part of his own heart, and sometimes giving hurts, but it’s the point of our lives, to give.  And when Jesus was here, he said, “Follow me,” and that’s why we are giving today.  He was always giving, then he gave it all away to us, his life.”

Finley was nodding while clearly thinking about something else, and Maria was listening to my every word, trying to follow along to my words.

“Even when you feel like you have nothing to give, you just say yes, and try, then God makes your gift bigger than you could make it, it’s really good,” I told them.

“Milk?” Finley asked.

When our friends first asked us if we wanted to do Christmas espionage with them, I actually wanted to say no, but just said yes.  Even when I was saying yes, I was thinking, I should just say, weareactuallysuperbusyrightnow and wearebarelygettinganygiftsforourkids and Ihonestlydontknowifwehavetime but whatever, I had just said yes, and if I had learned anything this year, is that there is freedom in a yes to giving.
I asked my friend C who sends her daughter to HeadStart if there were any families she knew of.  She asked the school, and I prayed God would line up a family, I was actually worried we wouldn’t find anyone.  But that week, the preschool called me, with a family they had in mind, and the school was so happy we were doing it.
But what did we even have to give??  I kind of felt bad not being able to make their Christmas more special…
But Maria and I looked around.  We looked in her closet and there were actually 3 dresses, with tags on that she had recently outgrown since being home and never had a chance to wear.  We wrapped them.  Last week, a friend dropped off 3 books for our family, one was a beautiful copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, that we already had, and that I never had taken back.  I also realized we had about 5 kids bibles, and only 3 kids, so we picked a really cute one for the sweet preschooler.  Part of me wanted to hoard the books and stuff, but I knew this was our one opportunity to give to this specific family, just this one moment in time.
Maria has 3 purses since coming home, and picked out one of hers to give.  We looked in the garage, and remembered the Powers family had given us donations for the orphanage, but some couldn’t fit on our last trip to Russia, so we wrapped the notebooks and puzzles and fun toys–so perfect!

A little too small for Maria, and babushka said she was getting some her size.
 We had a good little pile of gifts already!  It was kind of incredible.  We decided to look for other places of abundance to see where we could give.  We looked at all our coloring books, and found a new seasame street one we wrapped.  We found our new Tadee Bear, and wrapped the sweet, soft bear just for our sweet preschooler in need.  Maria and I were having so much fun, she’s always just up for anything, my little buddy when the boys are sleeping.
Tadee Bear!
 An amazing family sent us some American Girl doll books and a back pack which we are giving Maria for Christmas, but I realized Maria at that point has two back packs.  
I actually almost wanted to keep the new one we just got, but reminded myself this was our one opportunity for this family, and we really don’t need two, so we wrapped it for the little girl who would be starting kindergarten next year.  We found a few more items, and all of a sudden, our ‘yes’ that we didn’t think we could fulfill was a pile of new toys, school supplies and clothes for a little girl who was in need, and Maria was joyfully wrapping, loving every second.
Wow! How did this happen?!

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. “~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 
 We could sit around with this stuff and wait for my kids to need it, or we could give it to a child who needs it right now.  Plus, I know God fills needs when the needs come, and I know that less is more, so we went for it.
We had gone on a hike that day, so the boys slept for HOURS, as Maria and I listened to festive Christmas music, wrapped presents that we would not open, ate tangerines from our friend’s tree and made a very special card.  (Seriously, I love 10 year olds, best idea ever)

She was so nervous drawing Santa after I showed her a picture, “Please, mama draw!!”  Try it,” I told her.  She did a little, and I praised her.  She glanced up at me, surprised, and kept drawing, joyfully.  When she finished, she showed me proudly her final product.  Ten years without parental encouragement.
The Milroys brought over pizza, and we ate happily, ready for our fun night.  They had bought our little preschooler a beautiful Christmas dress, a target card, made a wreath and a snowglobe.
The kids ran around the living room for a bit.

 Then packed all the gifts into a box, ready to go.

Finley thought it was a real apple, and even tried to taste it.  Always my big eater 🙂

We held hands and prayed for the family, then we loaded everyone up in the car, ready to go.

We couldn’t read the faded numbers on the broken down apartement directory sign, so we just guessed as we passed a bunch of boys playing ball in the pitch dark alley.

 “Shhhhhhhhhhhh!” we whispered to the kids as we got closer.  We told the kids we had to be so, so sneaky, and that no one could see us.  We had to run up as fast as we can, leave it on the doorstep, knock and run away as fast as we could!  Jump in the car and run away before anyone saw us!!

The kids were alert and giggly. 

We lugged the box out, and Maria, Kahea and I each held a corner and started walking through the apartment complex.  

Secret mission.  Maria couldn’t stop giggling.

 A man asked if we needed help carrying it up the stairs, “What if that’s him!?” K whispered.

“No thanks!” we said.

“Uh…are you sure?”


We found the right number, and as silently as possible, laid the box on the cold ground in front of their door.

“Maria,” I whispered, “Do you want to knock?”

“YES!”  she said, and held her clasped hand up, and smiled at us over her shoulder, hand in the air.

“Knock, knock….”

“RUN!” we whispered, and spun around down the stairs as fast as we could.  When we reached the bottom, Maria let out joyful laughs and squeals as we ran to the cars that were waiting for us and hopped in.

Afterwards, we happened to drive by a night time farmers market with live music for us to dance to.  We even got to ride on a horse drawn carriage!  
These kids have some moves!

“HORSE!!!  HORSE!” they shouted!  What a fun, perfect surprise for us all.

Merry Christmas!

 I can’t wait for next year’s Christmas Espionage!

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  • riseandshinelifeblog December 23, 2012, 2:06 pm

    How FUN!! And what a blessing for that sweet family. After meeting a family this year, whose only Christmas wish was for toilet paper because they couldn’t afford it, my husband & I have decided that next year we will begin adopting families for Christmas rather than trying to buy ours something for the sake of buying. I want to begin canning next year, so I may send our families a collection of jams I’ve made throughout the year. I have always loved homemade gifts best anyway! I am going to read this to my husband. I love the “ding dong ditch” aspect of it!!

    • Jen December 24, 2012, 8:07 pm

      Homemade gifts are the best!

  • Squiggly Rainbow December 23, 2012, 7:48 pm

    I am going to get my children to read this now… tomorrow on Christmas day we are going with our best friends to an Aged Care facility for people with disabilities, so excited! xxx Happy Christmas to you all, sending love across the seas xx

  • Jen December 24, 2012, 2:18 pm

    I love your explanation of CHRISTmas- gonna read it to my girls tonight.

    Merry Christmas to your beautiful family!!

  • kate December 24, 2012, 2:19 pm

    I just love your girl. I adore her. (She reminds me of my daughter, so that makes it easy.) What a wonderful first Christmas for her!

    (Love her new glasses and new haircut, too.)

  • Daneille December 24, 2012, 4:33 pm

    The first year our daughter was with us (she turned 12 a few months after she came home), she asked us, “Why didn’t Santa come in Ethiopia?” It was so sad. We told her that Santa wasn’t real, but many of her friends insisted he was, so she was very confused for a while about why Santa didn’t like Ethiopians or orphans.

  • daniellem02 December 24, 2012, 5:48 pm

    awesome post! my husband and i didn’t do gifts for each other this year, but instead bought a new wardrobe for an orphan who is being hosted in America this Christmas. it made Christmas so much more special! God Bless you and may Maria and Elijah have an amazing first Christmas in America!