In Praise of Care Packages

Two months ago, I wrote about used tea bags in care packages, which led to reader comments about less-than-optimal gifts, including a single roll of toilet paper, ribbons from graveside floral arrangements, and pencil stubs. But “philcott,” reminds us of the joys that gifts can bring, by pointing out what can happen when they are absent. After sharing some on the topic, philcott writes, “Having said all that, I must add that it would be a blessing to receive a care package of any sort, or some other indication that someone cared about us and the work we are doing.”

Care packages are certainly one way that people can show that they care.

I can say that during our time overseas, we were blessed with some wonderful, thoughtful gifts that helped us know that we had people who valued us and our ministry. And while we appreciated them all, some of what we received stand out in our memory because of the stories that go along with them.

For instance, there was the time when a group from our sending church came to help with a country-wide missionaries’ retreat. They brought along some home-schooling supplies for us, as well as some books and a box of VHS tapes for our kids. (Yes, this was in the olden days, before Netflix.)

The tapes had been recorded off TV and included episodes of Little House on the Prairie. It seemed that our friends who taped them must have had the VCR on a timer or maybe a setting that was supposed to skip the commercials, because the shows would often end abruptly with a minute or so left. That meant that we’d miss that final piece, that final explanation, that surprise at the end. So Pa might say something like “Half Pint, open your birthday present and you’ll see why we’ve been keeping so many secrets.” And just as Laura would untie the bow . . . the screen would go blank and we’d hear the theme music for the beginning of the next episode—Daaa da da daaa da da da-da-daaa.

The other confusing thing, at least for our children, was that the tapes were unmarked, so we watched the episodes out of order. That led to the kids, at the beginning of each show, asking questions such as “Is Mary blind in this one?” A little confusing, but a lot of fun.

Then there was the time my wife told our home church about some specific flavors of Brach’s Milk Maid Royals that she’d enjoyed as a child. Now you can buy all six versions of the candies with just a couple clicks on Amazon, but back then, it was somewhat more difficult to track them down. But track them down they did—and sent them over. Sometimes it’s the little things.

At times the gifts were hand delivered by visitors. Other times, they came through the mail. And when something was mailed to our address from the States, it was hard to determine who was more excited, us or the the security man who watched over our apartment building’s front door and mailboxes.

We always understood that mailing packages overseas is expensive, with the shipping cost sometimes surpassing the dollar value of what is inside. This hit home one year when my wife asked a friend to send some decorations so she could give me a surprise birthday party. (It seems that black streamers and paper plates aren’t a common decoration in Taiwan.) Our friend gathered everything up, adding some things herself, and put them in the mail. And when we saw the label with the total cost, we cringed at the amount, but laughed, too, as it was—appropriately enough for my 40th birthday—$40.40.

Regardless what was inside the packages, we appreciated the love that went into putting them together and sending them. But love sometimes can’t fit into a box or envelope. So in that vein, here are a two more “care packages” that I’d like to share.

There were times when my wife found out that people back home were going through difficult times, but she wasn’t close by to cook a meal for them. When she let our friends know, they stepped in and took over food on our behalf. It seemed like an odd request, but our friends were glad for the opportunity. When asked, one of them replied, “I’d love to!”

And finally, at one point during our time abroad, a visiting group from our home church included two children of the worship minister there. He had written a song that we’d often sang back home, and we asked his daughter if she’d sing it for us. She did and it was a wonderful moment. I’ve written about this before, saying, “When people came to visit, they often brought us gifts—books and DVDs and cake mixes and games. This was a different kind of gift, and one of the best that we received.” I’ve included the song below—written by Phil and sung by his talented children, Laura and Nathan—as a gift for you.

Responding to philcot’s comment, I replied, “I hope you receive the blessing of a care package soon, with or without used tea bags. It’s so much easier to do the work before us when we get encouragement.”

That is my hope for all of you, too.

[photo: “Packing Peanuts,” by yum9me, used under a Creative Commons license]