Award-winning author Meadow Rue Merrill on teaching kids to give of themselves at Christmas time
Kids are used to getting presents for Christmas, and likely giving a few themselves, depending on their age. But Meadow Rue Merrill wants to expand their horizons by making it a fun family tradition to also give gifts to Jesus in a special way. That’s what inspired her new children’s book, “The Christmas Cradle.”
Merrill won a Christopher Award earlier this year for her memoir “Redeeming Ruth,” about her adoption of a disabled orphan from Uganda (read our interview about that here). The mother of five joined me on “Christopher Closeup” recently to discuss her foray into writing for children.
She said, “I’ve got a bunch of kids at home, and Christmas has become so commercialized. I wanted a way for children to express the joy and fun of Christmas where it was still centered on Jesus, and so I came up with a story about a little girl going to her aunt’s farm, and they discover a cradle that leads to a family tradition.”
“The Christmas Cradle” tells the story of a girl named Molly and her family who are visiting her Aunt Jenny to celebrate the holiday. Molly comes across a Christmas cradle in a box in the barn, and asks her aunt its purpose.
Aunt Jenny explains, “Growing up, we played a game to share God’s love with others. Each December, we sang carols, delivered meals, and visited people who were lonely. Then we wrote each act of love on a card and put it in the cradle as a gift for Jesus. On Christmas morning, we read the cards and prayed for each person we’d served.”
In writing the book, Merrill said she contemplated the questions, “How do we give a gift to Jesus, who has everything? How do we honor Him on this day? I feel like we can do that best by giving gifts to other people in His name.”
Merrill doesn’t just approach that idea from the standpoint of a giver, but also a recipient of kindness. She recalls, “One of my favorite Christmas memories was when we truly had very little to give our kids, and a neighbor encouraged them to write letters to Santa. I was thinking, ‘Why? We don’t even have the ability to [afford anything].’ But on Christmas Eve, [this neighbor] invited our family over to her home, and there in the middle of her living room was a pile of Christmas gifts [for my family], including for the baby that I was pregnant with. As my husband and I brought those home that Christmas Eve, it really was the kind of magic that we all hope for – but somehow spending it on ourselves doesn’t make it happen. It’s when we find someone with a greater need than ourselves to give it away.”
Part of Merrill’s selflessness and awareness of poverty stems from her experience adopting Ruth. She says, “Ruth won our hearts with her bright smile and the laughter in her eyes. It took a great amount of sacrifice to meet her physical needs, and yet the joy she brought us was so incredible. One of the experiences I had while we were working on our adoption was going to Uganda, where I was stunned to find out how far an American dollar would go in meeting the needs of people who struggle with the very basic necessities there. Coming back to the airport in Boston, I was waiting to get picked up, and I grabbed a coffee, and a donut for Ruth, and the woman said, ‘$3.50.’ I could almost not hand over the money, because I realized how trivial it is here, but how much it can do to meet the needs of people who can’t meet their own needs around the world.”
Unfortunately, Ruth passed away due to health complications, but her legacy lives on. Merrill says, “Getting to know Ruth and meeting her needs opened our eyes to the needs of children around the world, and in our own communities, who don’t have what they need. I realized how far our gifts, donations, and even time, can go when we invest those in the lives of someone else. Ruth changed our hearts forever in the way we look at things, and we want to reach out and share what we have with others.”
One of the ways Merrill is doing that is by donating 10 percent of the proceeds from “The Christmas Cradle,” as well as future books in her Lantern Hill Farm series, to the anti-poverty charity, Compassion International.
Merrill also hopes that people don’t just read “The Christmas Cradle,” but act on it. She concludes, “I hope that this book will be something that families can celebrate together with their friends, and their neighbors, and to create a tradition of having their own Christmas cradle…It would be part of their decorations leading up to Christmas. Then, when they have the opportunity to do a good deed for someone else, a gift of the heart, they can write it on a little piece of paper and put it in the cradle. Then on Christmas morning, we can remember those people who we served by taking out their names on the cards and praying for them.”
(To listen to my full interview with Meadow Rue Merrill, click on the podcast link):