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Exchanging a Birthday for Christmas, and Good

I would trade in my birthday gifts, since I was then old enough to understand I didn't need them.

I would give up my 10th birthday to give Christmas to someone else. In lieu of gifts, I was to ask my friends to provide food and clothing to a family in need.

I didn't like the idea.

Why should I have to forgo birthday presents? Why me? Couldn't I just celebrate my special day of the year with my friends like other people did?

Looking back, I have to say, it was the best idea my mother ever had. Truthfully, it didn't take me long to come to terms with it. Even before I told her I was in, I knew it was the right thing to do. But that didn't mean I liked the idea.

My birthday is at Christmas time and over the years I'd had plenty of friends and relatives say, "Your birthday and Christmas gifts will be combined this year." No big deal now, but as a kid, it was as if someone had said I'd have to choose to skip either my birthday or Christmas.

But really, how awesome is doing something for someone else at a time when you're entitled to enjoy a little self-indulgence? There is no greater feeling!

I just didn't know this yet.

My mother was so cool!

I didn't know that yet either.

With the help of our live-in housekeeper and nanny, Angelina, a hispanic woman from Guadalajara and essentially my second mother, I interviewed several families in Tijuana. With Angelina's help, I had three families to chose from, and I spoke with each group, without each knowing what we were up to. My mom and Angelina facilitated.

They helped me choose Berta, a single mother of five who lived in a small, one room, concrete cubicle with no running water or electricity, and no bathroom, on a dirt road that painted everything in several layers of grimy earth. Her kids were young and barefoot, with wild, tangled, unbrushed hair. A mix of exhaust and gas fumes mingled with the odor of sewer runoff and mangy dogs dug through the litter that lined the streets.

I hated the many trips to Tijuana we made over the years. My stomach would get all twisted and my heart even more so when my mother announced it was time to go again. I knew it was the right thing to do, but my emotional unease produced a physical response and I was always sick with dread. My unease had everything to do with confronting so many things I didn't lack for and I felt dirty in a way that made me feel as if I needed a shower whenever we'd return home.

Back at home following our first trip, my favorite doll went missing. The one I always set on top of the pillows on my made up bed, every single day, because my bed was always made. My mother insisted upon it. My curly locked doll with the pretty, white lace pinafore over a pale blue dress always sat atop my beautiful blue floral bedspread. Until the day I couldn't find her and I went to my mother for help after scouring the house for her and blaming one of my sisters for her disappearance. My mother contended she hadn't a clue where my doll went, until we traveled the dusty streets of Tijuana and I watched a filthy little girl with dirt smudged all over her face and down a nose running green clutching my doll tightly as she ran down the street. Mom was then forced to admit what she'd done.

Mom was serious. I was furious. My doll missed me. She missed my beautiful bedspread. She missed being clean!

"I didn't realize you played with her anymore," my mother said.

"I did, I really did," I cried back at home. I'd known better than to pitch a fit in front of that doll's new mother. But once home, I'd thrown a good one. I'd settled down fairly quickly and then had to admit my mother was right. I didn't play with my doll nearly enough. She'd only made my bed look prettier. Her new mom would certainly love her more. Even though she'd never be able to keep that white lace pinafore clean and that bothered me.

Years later, when I was working for Metro Networks in San Diego, our general manager decided we should adopt an orphanage in Mexico for Christmas. He'd been involved with one that was located atop a small mountain in a remote part of Tijuana. A nearly unnavigable, deeply rutted dirt road that became impossible when it rained was the only access and the kids there didn't get many visitors. They'd have no Christmas without our response. He assembled a list of the name and age of every kid, and we managed to come up with gifts and jackets for each one of them.

My own daughter Kelsea was about the age I was when I was first introduced to the need in Tijuana, so I decided she, and her older brother Taylor, would accompany the Metro staff and me to the orphanage to hand out gifts. Our general manager planned to dress up like Santa Claus to do the honors. As we were getting ready to leave, Kelsea went into her bedroom and grabbed a doll off her bed, telling me she planned to give it to a little girl at the orphanage. I'll never forget her talking to and making friends with so many of the kids there, or the little orphan she decided to give her precious doll to. I was a single mom at this time and Kelsea's act seemed even more poignant. She wasn't lacking for a thing but Christmas time was hard for me too.

I'll also now never forget the power of a story. If you pay attention, you will be a part of details sewn up, intricate strands woven together, and circles drawn in full around the goodness of God and his desire for all people.

I could never have imagined that being willing to give up a few birthday gifts, and allowing God to speak truth into me regarding my own contributions, would result in the best gift of all for me. Understanding how God operates and the way he invites us to impact the world, one small act at a time, is priceless. It's in those small acts that generations to come are influenced and the power of God is seen.

He is in all the details.

I'm so grateful for my mother, and hers before and the many generations before them, and for those that will follow us, for all the beautiful parts in our Christmas circle.

For every action, there is always a reaction. And when it's good in action, all scientific boundaries are broken to produce an eternal, unfathomably powerful, even greater reaction. Even when the small good is in a doll given in love to a little girl who doesn't have one.

It's those seemingly insignificant acts that touch a very big God's heart and incomprehensible mind. One that doesn't forget.


Kansas City, Kansas l jm@jmhuxley.com

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