23 Dec 2013

How to get the best Christmas gift

It’s 110 degrees in the shade.

I can feel the sweat running down between my shoulder blades.

This is Christmas in South Africa. At the Romotsi “Good News Club.”





I stand between Lesedi and my dad and tell those kids with the bright faces that we’re here because of you.


We’ve come to deliver your Christmas presents. All 120 of them.

They’ve turned my parents’ garage into a kind of makeshift Santa’s workshop for weeks now, wrapped and labeled by individual name and age and gender.



This day blinks like a star, bright and hot and ringed around on my calendar for weeks now.

We ride out in convoy to deliver Christmas on one of the hottest days of the year.

And of course there is dancing.



I navigate a spot in between the circles of kids and sneakers and dirt and feet and find a patch of grass for Zoe and her clutch of McDonalds in its brown paper bag.

Her face is as red as mine and we’re happy to be sitting down for a few minutes after playing dress up and photo booths and nail painting and face painting and water gun fights with a hundred kids who’ve never had a hamburger before.











He’s sitting next to me. Scrawny legs stuck out in front of him and half a chicken burger in his hand.

Before I know it he’s scooted his skinny butt back toward me, leaning up against my knee. So I do what anyone does when faced with the biggest, stickiest grin in the cutest face. I pull him onto my lap and proceed to fall in love.


Zoe is smitten too.

He’s about her age.

His name is Roderick.

And he wants to be friends.


I can’t understand a word he says but hear everything he needs because, well, I’m a mom. And when a kid has eaten two packets of French fries and leans his head way way back in your lap you know he needs water.

We drink our way through two shared cups of water and two shared cups of Fanta orange and he tries the Jelly Tot candies but agrees with Zoe that they’re only worth spitting out because they get stuck in the teeth.

I’m all-over sticky from hours spent taking photos of kids in dress up at our make shift photo booth and my arms are aching in the best kind of way. This is Ma Margaret’s home and patchwork piece of grass.


She hosts a make shift after school program for 120 kids.

With her daughter, Lesedi.


And when Roderick has eaten his way through most of his very first hamburger I deposit him in the group of kids waiting for their Christmas gifts.



It’s hard. I want to keep on holding him.

Zoe doesn’t make it easier.

“He’s so cuuuuuute, mama,” she squeals and coos at him, and we both lose a little piece of our hearts to the boy in the dirty checkered green and purple shirt.

I lose sight of him for a while in the midst of the flurry of calling out names like some kind of pint-size lottery winners – kids coming up one by one to claim the gift packed and prepared just for them.

Labeled and chosen by name. This surprises me. Its easy to forget how significant a name is.

There are bouncing balls and water bottles for the preschoolers, mirrors and nail polish for the teenage girls, stuffed toys for the little girls and boys. Again and again and again my dad and Pastor Norman call names and again and again small hands reach out for what’s being delivered from the back of a pick up truck – a South African stand in for a sleigh.




And between the heat and the chaos and the kids all calling out for their friends who didn’t hear their name called, my Michigan son emerges like a shadow beside his Oupa and asks to help hand out the gifts.

This same boy who whines for something from the dollar store every time we leave the house.

This boy who I make recite something, anything that he’s grateful for at the end of the day to counteract his constant complaining for more.

This boy who lives the story of first world dissatisfaction on so many levels it can send me around the bed and him to time out.

He’s a mini, manic, list of demands to get, get, get and get some more.

But this boy, today, in this place is first in line to give.



An upside down, right-side-up Christmas.

And when they reach down into the big bag of stuffed animal toys at the end of the morning there’s only one, raggedy white cat left. And my dad tells me afterwards how badly Micah wanted it. And how badly he wanted to give it to Micah.

And Wanda takes up the story and tells me she stood firm because there was still one last boy who might need a gift and my sons with their rooms full of toys could wait. Could learn to wait and practice over again the discipline of giving.

The gift of giving.

And when all the gifts have been given and fingernails painted and watermelon sliced, Roderick comes running through the crowd to find me one last time.

He climbs up onto my lap clutching his gift bag and we open it together.

And there, tucked in next to his collection of chocolates is the white cat.

Micah’s nearly cat.

Because, of course.



And the world explodes into a hallelujah chorus because two thousand years ago and this afternoon again, God intended more good than we could possibly choose for ourselves.

In unexpected places and ways.

The wonder of becoming the gift.


{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    Sitting at my cluttered desk at work, blubbering like a fool. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to be a part of this. Feeling so incredibly blessed!

  2. 2

    Happiest Tears!
    An #UpsideDownChristmas being lived out in South Africa, the gift that we get to #betheGIFT
    Thrilling at the farm…. a thrill of Hope… the whole weary world rejoicing that we get the joy of giving to Him when we give to the least, who He makes the first.
    I. love. you.

    all’s grace,

  3. 3

    Crying in the public library of all places!! You have ripped my heart right out and transported it to that grass in South Africa. What better gift can you ask for than what Ann has said – to BE the gift? Love your heart and that amazing beaming smile, friend!! Blessings on all!!!

  4. 4
    Jessica Turner says:

    Tears. Just tears. Thank you.

  5. 5
    Kelly Stoutenborough says:

    This is sooooooooooo AWESOME…tears in my eyes as I look at pictures…this is magical & precious & something I want to remember & hold in my heart when my “piddly problems” send me into a terrible whiny phase myself..

  6. 6

    Oh, my! Just beautiful!!! May your Christmas continue to be filled with great joy!!!

  7. 7

    I cried. I have lived here my whole life and have seen this giving acted out so many times. And still it hits me hard. Thanks for this reminder again of why we celebrate Christmas.

  8. 8

    Stumbled across this via Twitter and am walking away so inspired. Thank you so much. xx

  9. 9

    Beautiful! So beautiful!

  10. 10
    Irene Talaasen says:

    Your post comes on my email and today’s was Christmas for me. What a blessing and what a message to all of us……..Giving as He gave is what He planned for us to do on His Birthday.
    Blessings and Joy on the rest of your trip!!

  11. 11

    Your post made my day! I come from South Africa, but we’re living in Thailand at the moment. Seeing those familiar looking faces made me smile.
    May God bless you.. and keep on blessing them through you!

  12. 12

    May the thankfulness you have shared warm our hearts. Your story of your son touched me, made me grateful for what we have. Thank you for sharing.

  13. 13

    Love it! Thank you!

  14. 14
    Steven Holly says:

    Saw this on twitter, had to check it out. Wife and spent three weeks in ZA and Swaziland a few years ago. Fell in love with Southern Africa and her people. What a blessing for me to see this. Christmas Eve. Thank You

  15. 15

    …and now – now it feels like Christmas! My how you bless!

  16. 16
    mom2beauties says:

    Tears rolling down my face at work. How AWEsome! AMEN!

  17. 17

    How beautiful and what a magnificent way to celebrate the spirit of the season. I don’t celebrate Christmas as I am not a Christian, but I do believe that the season of giving is one to share with those less fortunate. What a wonderful gift you have given those children.

  18. 18

    So, so beautiful. Thank you for taking the time out of your visit to your home and family to share this.


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