Editor’s note: This story was written by Izabella McMillon. Izabella received an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox when she was a child—and it changed her life. This article is sponsored by Operation Christmas Child

As I watched my mom’s hands bleed, washing our clothes, I determined in my heart that if I had kids one day, they would have an easier life—somehow.

My mom never complained. She silently washed our clothes with tears streaming down her face. She worked in a factory most of her life, exactly where the government assigned her. She lived in a small government owned apartment with barely anything to call her own. She was never taught how to make decisions, as the government made them all for her.

The communist regime of Romania didn’t even allow the name of God to be said out-loud. Owning a Bible could easily cost one’s life. Spiritual darkness was raging, severe poverty was a big challenge, and our small, two-room apartment was our safe haven where Mom and Dad strategized daily on what food to put on the table or how to buy new shoes for us growing kids.

My older brother was in charge of looking after me while my parents tirelessly worked 14-hour days. My brother and I quickly became independent and spent a lot of our time standing in long lines for everything from bread to milk, or (rarely) meat and potatoes.

So, yes, I was determined that if I had kids one day, they would have an easier life.

When I was seven years old, God reached into our gloomy world and started shaping me in a very unique way.

My brother and I found a hidden Bible in the floorboard of our apartment, and that was the first time we ever heard the name of God.

The stories in the book captured our hearts and we became hungry to know more. A glimmer of hope surfaced. Despite the potential harm, we began to read the Bible and fell in love with its stories.

God started working on my heart and shaping me through this small book, and four years later I started attending a small underground church.

I still remember the first time I learned how to pray. I was 13 years old, and I wanted God to prove He existed by giving me snow to brighten the cold and dark winter days.

My prayers were simple, but expectant.

For three months, He didn’t answer. Just as I was ready to give up on Him, my answer came in an unexpected way: a colorful, wrapped shoebox gift.

Within this box, I found a snow globe that brought snow to life like never before. I understood through that little globe that God knows me and the desires of my heart.

He knew I was ready to give up on Him, but He was not ready to give up on me.

I learned that He is a God who answers prayers, even when His answers look differently than what I imagine. On that day, a simple silver and blue snow globe shaped my future, and for that I am grateful. Because it was on that day that I decided to follow Jesus for the rest of my life.

Looking back I see God’s hand all over my story. And today, I stand in a place where I have been entrusted with the awesome opportunity and responsibility of shaping the hearts and minds of my two children. My determined heart is full as I watch them live a life filled with joy and opportunities to give back to others.

I find myself on the other side of those gift-filled shoeboxes, packing them with my children, and I have learned that the joy of giving exceeds the joy I felt on the receiving end.

I treasure the sweet moments with my children as we pray for the ones receiving our gifts to feel loved and not forgotten—just as I did as a young girl on a gloomy winter day.

Sometimes behind faded smiles and silent tears hide lives that have been ravaged by brokenness, abuse, hardship, and poverty—yet they reflect Jesus well. I am thankful to serve a God who relentlessly pursues us, molds us, and shapes us. Who continues to ask each one of us the question: ‘Will you receive my love?’

Operation Christmas Child is a great service opportunity for your kids and family to share God’s love in a tangible way! By prayerfully packing a shoebox gift, you become a part of sending Good News and Great Joy to children in need around the world. For more information on shoebox packing and how to get involved, visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.

 
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