I’d like to tell you a story. It happened a long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away–though living on Okinawa, Japan for three years seemed that way! I’ll never forget the first year Randy and I celebrated Christmas overseas with our sons, Chris and Jeremy, who were 7 and 4- years old. It’s a poignant memory as we’ve recently said good-bye to Randy’s mom. Even though we’re heartbroken by her loss, we’ve found comfort in a parade of memories that span several decades. This is a story about her and her generous heart that blessed our lives beyond anything I could ever have imagined.
Travel back with me through time…December 1978. Two little boys are seated at the kitchen table working on their Christmas wish lists.
“Mommy, how do you spell bionic?” Seven year-old Chris looked up from writing his Christmas wish list. He’d been searching the Sears catalog for pictures of the Bionic Man, the to-die-for toy every little boy wanted in the late 1970s. He and his younger brother Jeremy had grown increasingly concerned about whether Christmas would come to Okinawa. They wanted to make sure their grandparents knew exactly where to send their presents.
I smiled when I saw their lists. The boys had written pages of their most wished-for gifts; robots, Lego sets, and the all-important Bionic Man. They included catalog page numbers showing where to locate their requests. Rather than lecture them about the virtues of giving, I allowed them the freedom to write without mom-assistance. We sealed their letters and dropped them at the post office.
I confessed silently that I also wondered if Christmas would come to our overseas home. It didn’t seem at all like December. Banana palms flapped outside our windows, and the children played outside without jackets. Back home in Pennsylvania, winter had set in. I imagined snow blanketing the countryside. We almost always enjoyed a white Christmas. Not on Okinawa!
The highlight of our pre-holiday days was stopping at the post office to check for packages or letters, the only connection to our family back in the States. This was long before cell phones, Facebook, and Skype. We didn’t have a phone. Even if we called the United States from the military base, the phone bill would have cost a small fortune.
I reached into our mail box with anticipation. Empty. I managed a smile. “Don’t worry, guys, it takes a long time for mail to come all the way across the ocean to us,” I said with forced optimism. They didn’t buy it.
As Christmas got closer, I began to get concerned– and more homesick than ever.
Finally, our daily post office trip paid off. There among several letters and Christmas cards was the coveted green slip. We had a package!
Chris and Jeremy jumped up and down. “Mommy, please can we open it?”
How could I say no? The boys ripped off the wrapping paper, and pulled out some chocolate candy, a stuffed teddy bear, and some picture books.
“That was nice of Grandpa and Grandma, wasn’t it?”
They nodded, but I could tell they were disappointed.
“Do you think they got our letters?” Chris asked.
“I’m not sure, honey.” I knelt down so I could give him my best mom’s heart-to heart. “You know, it’s fun getting gifts, but we have to remember the real meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the most special gift.” I could tell they weren’t convinced.
Christmas Eve arrived much like any other day on Okinawa. Business as usual, no last-minute shopping at malls or carolers crunching through snow. Would Chris and Jeremy understand that it was too late for more packages to arrive? I determined to set a positive example. We could still celebrate Christmas, even in a foreign country, even without many gifts.
We attended the candlelight service on base later that night. Randy and I held hands while we sang “Joy to the World.” The chapel glowed with flickering candles. I looked around and realized that we had become an extended family with these friends we had come to know. Even though we lived in an unfamiliar place, we weren’t alone.
The chaplain interrupted my thoughts. “You might not realize it, but you’re making memories for a lifetime here. Oh—one final announcement. I’ve just gotten word that there’s been an unexpected mail delivery tonight. Be sure to stop by the post office. Maybe there’s a surprise for you. God bless you–and Merry Christmas!”
Of course, we joined the crowd of families checking our post office boxes one last time before Christmas.
“Daddy, are there any packages for us?” Chris and Jeremy looked hopeful.
They cheered when they saw the green slips in our box. We quickly took our place in line. I held my breath while the postal clerk searched through the mountains of packages. None of us could believe the huge package she set on the counter addressed to Chris and Jeremy Kalmbach.
Randy helped the boys tear open the gigantic box from Pennsylvania. On top of the stack of wrapped gifts was a letter.
Dear Chris and Jeremy,
We know it’s hard to be far away at Christmas. Here are all the gifts you wished for. We love you and miss you. Have a wonderful Christmas!
I still remember the incredulous look on our sons’ faces as they unpacked that box. There were the Lego sets, the robots, and yes, even the Bionic Man.
I felt stunned that Mom had found every single gift. My first reaction was embarrassment for allowing the boys to write such extravagant lists. Then I understood. They wanted us to feel their love and the joy of our family Christmas traditions, even halfway around the world.
And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The love of family and friends and gifts sent to homesick kids is only a small reflection of God’s most extravagant gift, His special delivery of a Savior to a broken and hurting world.
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. –Mother Teresa
Thanks, Mom, for the many ways you showed God’s love to us!