About the Author

Robin is the author of For All Who Wander, her relatable memoir about wrestling with doubt that reads much like a conversation with a friend. She's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea, married to her college sweetheart, and has three children. An empty nester with a full life, she's determined to...

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  1. I love this lesson!! I will be sharing it with my husband today. We are expecting our first child in May 2012 but I so want to incorporate this idea into our own family tradition once our child(ren) are old enough to grasp the idea. This is amazing. What a lesson in the true meaning of Christmas and giving! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Brittnie!! Congratulations on your Great Expectation for 2012!! With a first-born perhaps like no other time, do you see, truly SEE, the miracle of birth and life. Amanda’s story is beautiful and I’m thankful it resonated with you. Thanks for sharing.

  3. That scene is a recipe for the kids as adults to spend quality time in therapy, some have angst over the holidays, this takes the cake. I don’t see the lesson, I see cruelty. Giving, yes, taking all away, weird. This is not the way to teach kids to have a giving heart or the true meaning of Christmas because children don’t process like adults do. To each his own and all are free to disagree. Merry Christmas!

    • Lisa,

      I must have failed in some way to tell this as well as it was told to me; Amanda harbors no bitterness, she continues this tradition with her own children. And in no way was I recommending that everyone pattern their own giving and teaching as described; I was simply (trying) to retell a lovely story as shared with me.

      And I agree, without the “right” spirit of giving, this could be a cruel act; but in context, with this family, it was done gently and with purpose. I would have never shared this story otherwise; my friend would never have given permission.

      I’m thankful to have thinking readers in the (in)courage community who have the freedom to disagree! But I also I think it’s dangerous to make a sweeping judgment without having all the information. Perhaps you didn’t mean to sound as harsh as this came across to me…but realizing my friend will read this, I feel the need to protect her story for her sake!

      Thank you for sharing an alternate view; I do wish you well :).

    • Oh, Lisa, I wonder, too, if you’ve misread!! They gave away ONE gift, not all!! That might not make a hill of beans of difference in your response, but since you said “taking all away” I thought it best to clarify :).

  4. Robin, I think the lesson is beautiful. Nobody said that sacrifice would be easy. If so, it wouldn’t be sacrifice.

    Last May an F-5 tornado ripped Joplin, Missouri apart. My husband, our four children, and I emptied our troves of treasures. We picked our favorite shoes, toys, and other possessions to donate to those who lost all of their treasures. We knew it would hurt, but there was a much bigger purpose. We knew that every time we wished we still had it, went to reach for it, that the people of Joplin would be doing the same thing on a more painful level. It’s a way of sharing in their suffering. It’s a shift of weight to balance the load so that everything doesn’t topple over on the bumpy journey of life.


    • Serena,

      I have an adult friend who grew up as a missionary kid; she told me stories about how people would donate used items to them–things like toothbrushes (with paste still in the bristles), underwear (obviously used…) and tea bags! Yes, USED TEA BAGS! That you chose your favorite things tells me much about your heart. And given that many in Chattanooga lost everything they owned, I can related to Joplin’s heartache. Thank you for sharing your story!

      • Those aren’t used things, that’s garbage! How shameful. I was a missionary kid for a while in Haiti and you wouldn’t believe the things people supposedly believed we “needed”. Many just like to clean out their garages and closets that way! :/


      • Robin – I’ve heard the same!!! (From a missionary friend also.) People donate garbage! (And they usually have to pay and sometimes bribe to GET those packages, too!)

        Serena – A pastor’s wife, friend of mine, recently wrote about sacrifice and about how we’ve grossly misconstrued what sacrifice really is.. I think you’ve hitt the nail on the head..if it’s easy, it isn’t a sacrifice. (http://mirandasharp.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/craving-perspective/)

      • Oh my goodness! My husband was an MK, and I remember him telling me about some of the awful used things that members of his parents’ church would send to them – tupperware with dead roaches in it, used underwear, rusted metal objects, you name it. Seeing how graciously his family treats those same church members taught me a lot about grace, mercy and forgiveness. And on another note, I think the folks who care enough about others to give not their unwanted castoffs, but of their treasures, are just such a beautiful example of how I think Christ really wants us to give to others.

        • Amber and Amy,

          Your comments make me wonder: what if everyone who gives to missionaries lived AS a missionary for a period of time! Whoa, Nellie–our giving would be changed then! But as I point a finger I realize three are pointing back, and I wonder when I’ve withheld or given “less than” to others.

  5. I think this is a perfect example of a big picture situation. As a parent, I honestly just don’t know if I could do this. And as a parent I long to help my kids understand the depth of what God did. Heck, I long to understand what he did.

    I think it’s hard to see past the immediate. Their heart break. (thus, God’s heartbreak as he gave his sacrifice). It’s hard to read the words of the daughter – her years of anger and resentment. What parents want their child to be angry toward them or more importantly, the Lord?


    the beauty of this story is the FULL, BIG picture. And that is where we fail in our culture. Fast food, fast service. A quick lesson to change the heart? Many parents do not have the fortitude to stand and teach… in reaction to wrong behavior or (like in this story) as a way to guide the heart.

    I think this is a lovely story of big picture victory about parents who love their children and love the Lord. They did something I don’t think many could do. And as Robin said, not all should. I so deeply appreciate the sharing of this story as it impacts me to love my children enough to make the right choice for them… and it challenges me to discover ways to help them discover the heart of sacrifice and discover the love God has for them. Thanks so much.

    • Oh, Jenny….your comment does this weary soul good. So well said. NOT because you somewhat agree with me, but for the Big Picture points you make. Bravo.

      And that you’re challenged to “discover ways to help them discover the heart of sacrifice and discover the love God has for them”? Yes! That’s precisely the point (that I didn’t make very well 🙂 ).

      I’ve actually gone back and clarified my post a bit; I hope it helps readers see this story’s beauty.

    • Jenny: Loved your thoughts in this. It’s definitely a great challenge to us as parents to discover grow our children in the ways of giving and sacrifice.

  6. First… I love you to bits, Robin. I hope you know that.


    I don’t think Christmas morning was the time for this lesson. Over and over in the story are references to the years it took to understand. Those are years that could have gone the wrong way for a kid and a parent. Years where trust and understanding each other could’ve been lost, replaced by resentment.

    I get the lesson and how it was inscribed on her heart forever and all that. I just wouldn’t ever do this to any of my kids. I would, however, take them to volunteer at shelters at a younger, more impressionable age than 15. Kids are naturally empathetic. An 8 year old going to a shelter with mom or dad to serve others is a more compassionate lesson, I think.

    But that’s just me.

    Love you, lady.

    • Sugar,

      You know my affections are deep for you, and I DO welcome alternate opinion. I’ve actually revised the post attempting to tell this story well (Amanda loved it).

      This choice isn’t for everyone!! It fit the family. And yes, it took years to maturely understand, but when you consider the big picture, Amanda wouldn’t change this in her history. That she chose to continue the tradition with her son speaks volumes :).

      Thank you for expressing your thought; I hope/pray readers read Jenny’s comment and look for ways they can discover teaching their OWN children like-lessons, even if the method differs greatly.

  7. After I posted my comment, I considered Amanda’s childhood and my own. We didn’t open a ton of gifts at Christmas. On good years, we had maybe five boxes to open. What can I say… we didn’t have much when I was a kid. Thinking of my one favorite gift being taken away would’ve killed me. Maybe if I would have experienced a more privileged life… don’t know.

    Amanda’s parents had a plan on raising their daughters. It obviously worked, so who am I to say any different?

    Merry Christmas, Love!

    • Sugar, You make a great point; as I’ve read the comment thread over the past day, my heart has broken for several… I realize this story has been painful to some based on their own childhood. I never saw that coming…. (and thanks for coming back and making that point).

  8. Oh.My.Goodness. This is an incredibly powerful lesson. Thanks for sharing the story. It’s an awesome reminder to let go of our favorite things, the way God did for us.

    • Chrissy,

      Yes! At its simplest, this is a story of holding fast to Christ and valuing Him above all THINGS. I’m STILL learning what that looks like!

  9. What a beautiful story, Robin. Thank you for sharing it and showing so clearly the depth of what sacrifice is.

    Well told and well written. Thank you for helping us remember what is truly important this season, that it even goes beyond a baby in a manger, but what that baby means to us. That baby grew up to be the sacrifice for all of us.

    Thank you Robin!

  10. {I am running out the door and don’t have time to read this post, BUT came over after I read another one of yours in my inbox…Robin, it was about some big changes for you. Just wanted you to know I got that one and I’m praying. Maybe it was already posted, but in case it wasn’t wanted you to know I got it so you would know at least some of us did and like me, I hope we’re all praying for you!}

  11. I don’t wish to take anything away from Amanda, and I’m glad this experience benefited her so greatly. I can see the care and love her parents were applying. But I wonder if it might have benefited the children even more to not be inspired by guilt … oh look at how much you have, these other children are starving, you should give up your favourite thing … but by love.

    Maybe it would have taught them more to take the children out before Christmas, perhaps using the money that would have been spent on gifts for them, and had them buy something for other children – so they could think about those children, lift their hearts for them, and give the gifts with mindful love not shamed guilt.

    “Obedience was our only choice.” A gift that comes from anger and obedience surely has less worth than a gift that comes from love?

    But having said that I understand Amanda’s family operate from a strong and caring ethical base, and just because I would do things differently doesn’t mean I am slamming them. At least they care enough to help people with nothing.

    • Sarah,

      I so appreciate the way you’ve asked questions here. Definitely what works for one family isn’t ideal for another. My hope in writing (beyond sharing what I thought was a meaningful story) was to challenge all of us to consider how we hold tightly to things at the expense of holding tightly to the Lord. And how we can teach and impact our children for the Kingdom’s sake.

      Your last point is key, and that is Amanda’s parents’ motive–as I understood it, they weren’t shaming their children, they were trying to help see how to love sacrificially.

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

  12. OH WOW.
    Growing up in early childhood I was poor and didn’t know it. And then after junior high we were well off – and I didn’t know it. I found out later that some people saw me as a rich kid! We didn’t live extravagantly, my parent’s didn’t let me have everything I wanted, but I never wanted for anything – that’s for sure. And even that is a richness that not everyone has. I never gained the kind of perspective that she had/has.

    We have a different sort of tradition but not *entirely* different. My kids have no idea how blessed they are, they are showered with gifts from family all around. We’re not well off by American standards but we’re rich by worldly standards so we’ve always done OCC or Angel Tree or SOMETHING. A few years ago (you may recall) we settled on a new tradition. Instead of Santa presents, our kids get 3 gifts representing gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold gift is supposed to be “the big one.” This is third year that we’re “giving that gift up.” There will be no gift in that box. There will be only a token reminder for the need we met with that money. So not only are we giving up a gift, but the one that’s supposed to be the biggest. My kids, bless them, they make me cry, readily give up this gift. This year we chose to donate to World Vision and as we flipped through the catalog, I saw my 11 year old’s heart growing right before my eyes. She wanted to know how many things we could give, she wanted to give many things! She wanted to know if she could make her own donation out of her savings account. I cried. She wanted to know why I was crying. I couldn’t explain that I was proud of her, but also deeply aware that we’re giving so little in the grand scheme of things, that we’re giving only *just* enough to hurt a little bit, but that we’re still not hurting for PRESENTS on Christmas morning, let alone food or shelter or water. On Christmas morning when we open presents, that gold wrapped box will serve as our reminder that there is so much more to Christmas than GETTING.

    Thank you for sharing her story with us, Robin. Her parents were seeking gifts for their children of an eternal value, which far outweighs any physical gift that can be given.

    • Oh, Amber, I love your intentional parenting! I have a feeling in your old age, your children will tell you time and again the impact you had in their giving traditions. I bet they model for their own children much of what you’ve described here.

      Thank you for sharing your Christmas traditions! Who knows who you might inspire to do something similar?


  13. This story was playing through my mind as I read, with me as the little girl telling it. How moving and meaningful. I am not so sure I would have the fortitude to stay the course as the parents–maybe give away their second favorite as suggested. Thanks for sharing.

    • I hear you, Julie. Though I think this story is beautiful, what it compels me to do rather than follow exactly, is to consider how I can instill a heart of sacrifice in my own children. It also makes me consider how seldom I give sacrificially, ya know? In some ways I’m generous, but rarely at a true cost to myself.

  14. From a 64 year old missionary a great tip for giving to missionaries: gift cards…that allows them to shop for their own underwear.

    Convicting story Robin…I hope we all struggle with this one….and possibly out of the struggles one will take courage and repeat this in some way that affects their children for the rest of their life.

    Merry Christmas

    • Betty,

      Hmmm, yes. When I decided to share this story, my hope was that we’d all wrestle with how we can instill generosity and other-mindedness in our own children (not necessarily to copy this lesson, but to consider how to impact our children with things of eternal value).

      And GREAT POINT on what to give missionaries! I don’t think you can send used ones of those ;).

  15. Wonderful story Robin!

    I truly think any time you can teach children the value of giving to the less fortunate is a good time!

    It is helpful that youngsters, heck all of us, look around our own neighborhoods, towns & see who might not have a Christmas. This year our church adopted a family with 4 children-2, 5 11 & 19. The sad part is grandfather, father, & 11 yr old all have cancer. Not to mention mom works at Housing Authority when she can. That means not much Christmas for anyone!

    People would pay their electric bill, give gift cards gotten as gifts from work, & I got the oldest 2 gift cards & parents a nice Wal-mart card. My prayer is that everyone in that family enjoys Christmas.

    Thank you Robin for this wonderful story!

    • Oh, Beth! What a beautiful gesture by your church–to gift this family in ways that met NEED, and beyond. The sad thing to consider is how many families aren’t on someone’s radar. Wise words from you to encourage us to seek others out.

  16. Okay…..here goes…..this actually happened to me as a little girl…..but not for the same reasons. We were poor and very neglected….there was this one Christmas that I got two things… Unwrapped….but there was this doll…..she was beautiful! Brings tears to my eyes this day….they took it away from me and handed me a different doll…whether it was meant for me or not….I do not know…..they gave it to my cousin Valerie….the favored one by my grandparents. I remember crying hysterically….broken hearted. When I met with Jesus this morning…he offered to take my pain from all that incident…I’m giving it to Him as I write this…as I grapple to understand….He asked me to help neglected children in my community because I would understand better than most…..I said Okay. I did not EVEN see this coming on this beautiful Sunday morning as I sit here doing my devotions. So….I honestly have mixed feelings about this devotion…I understand it completely because I see the motive….but it sure brought up some hurt.
    I pray that God will use my story….for HIS Glory. (in)courage…..keep them coming.

    • Oh Jude….When I met with Jesus this morning…he offered to take my pain from all that incident…I’m giving it to Him as I write this…

      Powerful words! You know that there is NO safer place for your pain than in the hands of our Father who can redeem it. HE is has amazing things in store as you step out in obedience!

      I am praying for you right now! Isaiah 26:3

      • Thank you Karen and God Bless you for your reply….Isaiah 26:3…I will think about this today….smiles to you! Redeemable? Fantastic…to turn that pain into something For His glory……worth it!


    • {{hugs}}

      It makes me sad that this conjured pain for you! But how beautiful that the Lord took your pain and transformed it into actions of beauty for others! I love what Karen share with you, but the first verse that popped in my head is from Joel: http://bit.ly/sq3UeR It’s about God restoring…redeeming what was taken away from you. That painful things can be redeemed, well, it makes me ever grateful to our God who understands our grief.

      (Praying over you now 🙂 ).

      • Thank you Robin……I’m sorry to have made you sad…….it’s Christmas time and I want you to have a great Christmas full of wonder for the season.. I choose to receive the promise that God will restore to me what has been lost……When He does….I’ll write about it and give Him Glory. Thanks again for the encouragement. Merry Christmas!

  17. Amen to the life lesson taught by that father. I would love to go back in time and teach this to my children. By sharing this with them, I can only pray that they might adopt such an incredible way to bring home the message of how God sacrificed His son for us. Thank you for sharing Amanda’s story. I am going to share it with my Facebook family this beautiful, crisp Sunday morning in Michigan. Merry CHRISTmas!

    • Laura,

      Well, now. Thank you for such a kind, encouraging comment! There are many ways to teach this type of “lesson” and I hope many are thinking about how to incorporate meaningful giving traditions for their own family. I’m still trying to figure out ways to challenge and inspire my own kids to give to others….

  18. This lesson moved me to tears and it is a lesson even us adults should learn. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • When my mother-in-law first shared this story with us, she wept as she told it. She was poor growing up and she thought it was an important, valuable lesson to share. You make a great point–this isn’t just about children, it’s about learning to be generous regardless of age.

  19. My parents participate in a Santa Cop project each year. They sometimes have four to five families they help provide for. They will accept families unti Christmas Eve if asked. They get donations from their church and various individuals. They make sure everyone on the list is taken care of. Usually only the children are on the list. My mom calls each family and gets an idea of their situation and asks what the parents may need. She will always get a gift card to the local market to be given to each family. My children have been helping with this for the last few years and have seen many miracles. One was a family who lived in a small mobile home. They had no heat and were running all burners on the gas stove to stay warm. The family was so beautiful and overwhelmed with what was given. My dad arranged for men from the church to come and fix the furnance that week. They are such unselfish people and I am blessed to have them in my children’s lives. My kids do not know it yet but their Christmas present this year is a donation in their names to the Heifer Project.

    • Christina,

      You make good points–a meaningful way to give locally, and a significant way to give globally. I see how your parents have affected you and your children; that is a lovely legacy they pass on to all of you :).

  20. I am surprised at a few replies that this was an unkind act on part of the parent. A parent knows their child and when it’s time to teach them. We don’t know the age of the other children, yet she was 12, an age of change. I think those who have misunderstood the lesson, may not have truly read or understood the whole thing. You know that Father and Mother were holding hands because it was going to hurt – hurt their girls lil hearts, and theirs too. The difference, they were willing to share this important lesson when it would make the most impact. We only have so many years to help teach and guide our children. May we continue to learn from each other and not be so quick to judge something we don’t understand completely. God made the biggest sacrifice of His Son – a Gift to Us! Cruel? May we be willing to make sacrifes in our lives to further His Kingdom.

    • di,

      Thank you for your comment. When I wrote this story, it NEVER occurred to me it would cause anyone pain, that it was controversial for some. It wasn’t my purpose to challenge others to take up this cause, but because I see its beauty and merit, I thought readers would be inspired to construct meaningful giving traditions within their own family (if they aren’t already).

      “May we continue to learn from each other and not be so quick to judge something we don’t understand completely.”


  21. I’m amazed at the courage of the parents. That had to be a tough decision at best. I wonder, though, how many kids in subsequent years would miss the lesson and selfishly put the second (or third or fourth) favorite gift in the sack. That being said it would still be a sacrifice but from where.
    We give from our hearts. It’s obvious this family knew its priorities and had warm and grateful hearts. As Jesus said the woman who gave from her need made a bigger sacrifice than those who gave from their excess. For these kids the material gifts were excess to begin with but the spirit of their giving overtook that.
    I applaud the whole family.

    • Jeannie,

      “We give from our hearts.” So true. I wonder what I’ve taught my own children by my example; that alone makes me want to give away everything I own. Ok, so maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t think they’ve seen me give to the point of sacrifice. Thank you for again challenging me to contemplate what this looks like.

  22. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about giving and sacrifice. Money Saving Mom had a great post (very convicting and inspiring at the same time) about her daughter teaching her that most of us give from our abudance which isn’t really sacrifice. I loved the story and pray that my children will have that same desire to sacrifice and to give.

    The BIG difference to me between the two stories, though, was that MSM’s daughter has seen giving modeled day in and day out and from that, gave all she had saved. Her parents didn’t ask her to do it, they didn’t tell her she had to do it, it came from her heart.

    This story ends well in that she eventually learned the lesson but she learned it after being forced repeatedly to do it. My personal perspective is that this verges on cruel. I’m not sure I want my kids to think their Heavenly Father gives them the things of their deepest desires, lets them unwrap them and gaze at them in wonder and then yanks them away. That does indeed happen but there seems to be plenty of time for our kids to learn that lesson when they are older and have more perspective.

    We were very low income for many of my growing up years and I vividly remember having to pick a toy from my own to give at another child’s birthday party. I won’t go into all of the details but it was such a painful experience that I later discussed it with a friend who is a therapist in an attempt to understand why it was so painful and has continued to be a point of pain whenever it comes to mind.

    It sounds like this family reared a lovely daughter so I will assume positive intent but I would caution others that these types of experiences can be incredibly traumatic.

    • {{hugs}}

      Never would I want to hurt a reader by bringing up past pain; I pray for your healing in this.

      And you’ve prompted me to pray for those who read this, who wish to teach their own children giving traditions, to consider what’s best for their own family, and to be moved by the love of Christ alone.

  23. This is so harsh, and so sad. There are certainly numerous ways to convey the joy of giving without sacrificing the happiness of our own children. I grew up rooted in shame. Feeling like I was not enough. Never enough. It’s a burden that I still carry at the age of 54. I would never consider a scenario as described in this post because I believe it would imply that the feelings of other children mattered more to me than the feelings of my own kids. Where would the love be?

    • Carol,

      It broke my heart to read your comment, realizing more than ever that we view life through the lens of our experience. I am so, so sorry there is so much pain stemming from your childhood. I’m praying for you now even as I type, that the love of Christ would flood your heart and heal those broken places. You ARE enough! You are created in His image! He loved you when you were little and He loves you now.

      This story isn’t for you, dear one, and I’m sorry it brought you pain instead of inspiration.


  24. Dear, dear friends,

    Never did it occur to me when I shared Amanda’s story that I would be opening childhood wounds; neither did I intend to suggest that we should all follow suit. This is ONE family’s story that FOR THEM worked as it was intended; I trust these parents knew their children better than you or I and it’s clear to me all of it was shrouded in love. Perhaps I’ve failed to convey that.

    I’m praying over you this morning. I’m praying for my own response. I would never want to do anything to hurt our wonderful incourage community!!

    Respectfully, I ask you to choose your words carefully when commenting. This is a true story and my friend and her family are conceivably reading the comment thread.

    With grace and love,

    ~ robin

  25. Wow. I would go shopping and have my two children buy a gift for another girl/boy their own ages – but they never ever had to sacrifice – and neither did I. I wish I would have known these parents 30 years ago – so my children and I would truly realize what true giving really means – and how our attachments to worldly things only hold us back from all the blessings that God wants to give us. I’m sure once the kids were able to see the joy that their gifts had given the other children that their perspective really changed. I’m also guessing that the future ‘favorite gift’ took on some dialogue between them and God in later days. Thank you for sharing this wonderful ‘gift’. Merry Christmas!

  26. This is a hard lesson to learn without it crushing one’s spirit. I commend you for not becomming resentful.

  27. This story has struck home with me maybe not for the right reasons though.

    Growing up life wasn’t easy tomes were hard but I remember exciting one Christmas morning my mom and stepdad giving us all our presents. I had asked for new clothes as I was a young teen and growing. Anyway I was overjoyed to receive a card with money in it to buy myself some clothes. It wasn’t a lot by today’s standards but I was already planning the tops etc I was going to buy. I was so grateful and felt so blessed that even when my stepsister was given double I stayed happy. I mean she didn’t live with us and maybe she needed more. The next morning my heart was broken when my mom took my money back. It seems we had bills to be paid and that I could have new clothes at a later date. I tried to understand I really did but my heart hurt like crazy. I then remember my following weekend when my stepsister came with a visit to show off her new outfits. I stayed quiet as I didn’t wish to hurt my parents but I was angry and resentful.

    I want my children to know the joy of giving but I also when them to feel loved and cherished. As a family we all donate and sponsor a child and my girls love doing this but for me on Christmas day there smiles mean a lot as well.

    I admire the conviction of the family but I couldn’t have done it. To give then take away is a hard lesson. But the fact that Amanda still follows this traditiOn is testimony to their faith and conviction xxx