This story has been written and re-written by Cindy and her husband Jim many times over the years. This particular version was penned by Jim.
It would be March of the following year before we would find out that we had, unbeknownst to us, shared in a kind of small African Christmas miracle. Our family was in Kenya working at a mission hospital that Christmas. On the other side of the continent, in Gabon, some good friends of ours, Bill and Mary Beauvais and their three children, were working as full-time missionaries. They were in the midst of a severe time. Gabon was in economic crisis and so were they. Their financial support level was low, partially a result of the Gulf War and its impact on the value of the dollar. Bill and Mary were struggling to provide even the essentials. At times they were forced to make hard choices between things like medical care for a child and the next meal. Bill was experiencing that choking feeling dads get when it looks like they are not keeping up their end of the bargain about taking care of their families. With Christmas approaching, they watched helplessly as they saw their children moving fast toward a head-on collision with disappointment. Even though they were not the type to let gift-giving get out of hand, facing Christmas with no gifts whatsoever was starting to get to them.
Three weeks before Christmas, their four-year-old son Ryan spotted the one thing he wanted in an old magazine. He did what four-year-olds are particularly good at—he obsessed. No question about it. Santa Claus was going to bring him what he saw in that advertisement. It was a small dinosaur, a small pink brontosaurus. “ ‘Tis a gift to be simple,” as the old Shaker hymn says—a gift afforded to many children, but to few adults. For Ryan, his request seemed simple enough; he could not see that he was asking for much. But his mother knew this was truly an impossible item. First of all, the magazine was three years old and the item was not even for sale; it was a give-away at McDonalds. And oh, by the way, we are all in the middle of equatorial Africa! Mary tried to distract him away from it, even going so far as to hide the magazine, but it was of no use. Ryan had fixated on it. A pink dinosaur was what he kept talking about, and he was sure a pink dinosaur was going to be waiting for him that Christmas. It is one thing to know as a parent that gifts are not the true meaning of Christmas; it is something else entirely to have to face your four-year-old little boy on Christmas morning empty-handed.
Bill and Mary tried to think of other things. When the Friday before Christmas came around, their neighbors stopped by the post office downtown and brought back a notice that there was a package there waiting for the Beauvais. The problem was that the post office was way across town, and Bill and Mary did not even have enough money for the bus ride to go and pick it up. They told themselves it that probably did not matter anyway; that government offices have a way of closing way before the posted hours in Africa, particularly before a holiday, and that the package was likely just some ministry materials. Their neighbors, however, said they would be going back by the post office later in the afternoon and, just in case it was still open, they would stop in and check. It was 5:25 PM when their neighbors arrived at the post office, which was scheduled to close at 5:30 PM. There was no one there except one lone worker, sort of leaning on a broom, pretending to be cleaning up. They handed him the slip signed by the Beauvais. He disappeared into the back room and, in short order, came out with a large package.
The return address was Jim and Cindy Judge, Wheaton, Illinois, and the postmark was February. Cindy had sent the box of items in response to a request Mary had made in a letter almost a year earlier, asking mostly for some unglamorous but unavailable items like a new mop head, a home permanent, and some tile grout. Cindy, taking seriously Mary’s admonition not to spend a lot on postage, had sent the things surface mail, and the post office apparently took the word “surface” literally. It must have been rowed across the Atlantic. Where the package had spent the last 10 months was anyone’s guess. While putting the package together Cindy, as she is wont to do, also included several other unspecified items: some new clothes for the children, music tapes, books, fun things from around our house. She found lots of things for Ryan’s ten- and eight-year-old sisters, who were about the same age as our girls, but nothing seemed very appropriate for a four-year-old boy. Just before closing the package, one item in our toybox caught Cindy’s eye. It was a long-discarded toy from a McDonald’s Happy Meal, something we had gotten several years before. A toy promoting the animated film The Land Before Time. It was a dinosaur….a brontosaurus…a pink brontosaurus, to be exact (with three daughters, the odds were that at least one of the Happy Meals would hold a pink brontosaurus)! Cindy tucked it deeply into the bottom of the box and hoped it would do.
Alone in their bedroom, ten months later, the day before Christmas, Mary and Bill unpacked a box from the Judges. Item by item, they were overwhelmed by the things inside. There was something special for everyone—everyone, that is, except Ryan. But when they reached the bottom and pulled out that last item, that pink dinosaur, that one thing utterly impossible to deliver, that thing no adult would have been foolish enough to even consider praying for, they were stunned. It was a true gift from the “other” list. You know the list I am talking about—that list we all keep secret and safe inside, the one we have all made in our own hearts every year since we realized you could make such a thing as a Christmas list. The list with those desires too costly, too extravagant, too, in a word, dear to even risk mentioning. The list only selfish children would actually speak out loud. Yet…sometimes, some special times, an item from the other list appears. And when it does, we know we are loved.
Mary and Bill held the pink dinosaur in their hands and were speechless. Ten months before their son had even seen its picture in an old magazine, some friend thousands of miles away had placed it in a box, a box that was delayed and sat waiting for that one exact best moment to reappear. Was it all the product of time and chance? Some happy coincidence? Or was it coruscation—a momentary flash of brilliance, a small glimpse of God’s love and glory? As they stared down at the toy they knew the answer…this gift required so much knowing, so much care, so much attention, that it was as if the curtain had been pulled back and they had been given their own gift….a sweet glimpse of the Savior’s smiling face…and they were dazzled.
It was not a very big miracle. No one ended poverty, received a million dollars, or saved a life. It was a small item, really. But sometimes the greatest of Christmas miracles, the greatest of Christmas gifts, come wrapped in small packages.
Question to consider: How have you seen “a momentary flash of brilliance, a small glimpse of God’s love and glory” recently?