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Heart Matters

Our church ministers to inner city kids all year long, and Christmas is a special time for the kids in our ministry. Most don't lead easy lives; the thought of receiving gifts, candy, and special attention is incredibly exciting. They absolutely love Christmas.

I'm in charge of our Christmas Angel Tree. We ask kids to write the name of a toy they'd like for Christmas on an angel. Then we attach kids' pictures to the angels and hang them on the tree. Church members select an angel, purchase a gift, and pray for the child.

One year, I'd gathered the kids' angels and, after church, skimmed through their requests, smiling at the simple desires. Then I came across Makayla's wish.

Makayla was a firecracker of a girl; she talked so fast it was hard to keep up, and she was always smiling. She'd come to church for about a month, bringing with her laughter and grins. Yet right there in bright big red letters, Makayla had written: "All I want for Christmas is someone to love me."

I was shocked; Makayla seemed full of joy and exuberance -- how could she feel unloved? My heart broke for her; I never would've guessed she carried such great sadness. Here was a little girl who didn't ask for toys, clothes, or candy; she only wanted love. Behind a vivacious smile and bright blue eyes was a child hurting deeply. I knew her mom and dad were divorced and that there were family problems, but I couldn't comprehend how alone she must have felt inside to think that no one loved her.

During the next few weeks, I told Makayla our church family and I loved her and, more than anything, Jesus loved her. She said she knew that; she only wished for a momma and daddy who loved her. I prayed for her home and I prayed for God to provide me words to comfort her.

The night of our Christmas party arrived, and torn wrapping paper and children's laughter filled the room. I watched Makayla gently open the gift I'd given her. It was a stuffed bear with the words "Jesus loves you so much!" on the front. I wanted her to have something tangible she could hold to remind her she wasn't alone. I'll always treasure her bright smile as she held onto that bear.

The next week Makayla's seat was empty. After class, I learned her mom had packed them up and moved. I felt an incredible sadness that lingers today, knowing I wouldn't see her again. I pray for and think about her often, especially at Christmas. I hope her Christmas wish she so desperately longed for came true.

Sometimes behind the brightest grin and the loudest laughter, a child's hurting heart is crying out. Ever since Makayla, I've never missed an opportunity to hug every child leaving my class and say, "Jesus loves you, and I love you too."

Cheryl Russell is a children's pastor in Henderson, Kentucky.

WHAT'S ON YOUR HEART? Send your 500-word story to "Heart Matters," Children's Ministry Magazine, P.O. Box 481, Loveland, CO 80539-0481. If we publish your article, we'll pay you $125.

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