The Season of Getting

If you’re lucky, this is the Season of Getting. I don’t mean getting big-ticket items like luxury cars. Although you are lucky if you’re friends with the couple in the Lexus commercial who spend untold hours making giant red bows for their auto-gifting.

What I’m talking about is the feeling you get when you do something nice for someone who can’t repay you or even thank you. Often what you receive in return is greater than what you give. That is the beautiful irony.

Four years ago I received a request that I still think about. Partly because it makes me appreciate what I have, and partly because of the way my daughter Sofia responded. I’ve mentioned some of this request once before, but it still warms my heart. I’m still “getting” something from this.

The request

My infantry company is deployed to a remote outpost in Afghanistan. We spend most of our time in a very remote outpost living and working with the Afghan National Army, living a very meager existence. We don’t have showers or running water. We live twenty men to a tent, and live out of the back of our armored vehicles, or from our rucksacks. We are very far from home. Anything you could provide my Soldiers would be greatly appreciated. Some of my men do not have families in the States who can support them. Our communication back home is infrequent and unreliable. Letters and packages are our lifeline, and the only way we know that we are not out there alone. Nobody wishes for the end of war more than those of us who fight in them, but we are determined to finish what was started, and honor those who have served and fallen before us by completing this mission the best way we know how. Your support is invaluable. Thank you.

Our response

We decided to send one box of hygiene items and one of snacks. But to me, the most valuable things in those care packages were seven pieces of pink construction paper. Each one was a letter from Sofia. Each one, “had to be different!” This is a fine plan until you consider that Sofia had only recently learned to write.

As she made a mistake, she would crumple the paper in frustration. She asked me to help. She told me what she wanted to say, I wrote it down, and she copied it. Then she drew a picture. It was usually a heart or a butterfly. Or butterflies with heart bodies. Or both. This was a long, slow process and she really worked hard. I still have the “dictation” she gave me:

1. You are the most greatest hero in the whole wide world. Love, Sofia

2. Thank you for saving the world. Love, Sofia

3. I miss all of you, every single Soldier. Love, Sofia

4. I hope that all of you do not get hurt. I love all of you for saving the world. Love, Sofia

5. Thank you for being brave. Love, Sofia

6. Thank you for protecting us from the bad guys. Love, Sofia

7. I super miss all of the Soldiers. Love, Sofia

After I mailed it all, I imagined these troops receiving it. Maybe a few of them even folded up the pink letter and carried it with them. I imagined that when they finally did get to call home, they got to tell their loved ones that many strangers cared and sent them mail. I imagined what it must feel like for a parent or spouse to know this. Or maybe we just gave one of these guys five good minutes when he needed it most.

No matter what the actual impact, just knowing the real possibilities and potential ripple effect lifts my spirit. Of course our goal was to lift theirs.

The perfect gift

I will never forget how much care and effort Sofia put into this. It will always be something special we did together. So, as the last-minute holiday shopping commences, I hope you too are getting something wonderful—the gift and reward of kindness. However you choose to do it, it will be perfect. And if you need a red bow, you can have one of mine. 

red bows

© Gina left the mall, 2013

22 thoughts on “The Season of Getting

  1. The older I get, the less interested in “things” I become. Gina, you and Sophia have been leading the way for some time by showing compassion and love to the oft forgotten soldiers…always been an inspiration and a reminder that we value the work of the soldier and pray for their safe return…to home.

    • Mrs. P, thank you for this beautiful note. It’s a pleasure and honor to share these stories, hoping for the very things you mention—a little inspiration and a reminder of those that serve and sacrifice for us every day. I pray for their safe return as well.

      And I agree with you about things, I’ve become the same way. That said, I hope this season of “getting” is wonderful for you and your family.

  2. Hello! It is Christmas morning and I stumbled upon your blog while looking on Google for a distraction. My husband is a marine currently deployed and we are saving Christmas for when he gets home (luckily my son is to young to notice). Anyway I just wanted to say that I think what you are doing is amazing. ..I am in tears reading each one of your posts. My husband often mentions how several guys have received nothing from home this entire deployment! it is heartbreaking. Thanks for the information on how to support our service members! We will certainly be signing up to adopt someone as soon as my husband gets back. Merry Christmas!

    • Sarah,
      It’s Christmas evening and your note made the day even more special. I know that holidays apart are just one of many sacrifices that you and your family make. Please be certain that many people care and truly appreciate all that you do. Not everyone knows how to express those feelings or put them into action, so I’m happy to help in any way that I can. No service member should ever feel forgotten or alone. Nor should their loved ones.

      Since you are saving Christmas for later, I will wish you an early Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

      • Thanks for your kind words Gina! I just submitted my information on soldier’s angel to be approved to adopt a service member. Thanks so much for the inspiration, we have been looking for ways to volunteer as a family, this will be perfect for us and help us to stay connected to our extended military family 🙂

        • Sarah,
          Your post to Gina really touched me about men in your husbands group getting no support from home, if their deployment isn’t in the Mail Stop I would be happy to send something to them via your husband or directly to them…I am in contact with Gina if you would like her to vouch for me and she could you my email if you would like to contact me…no one should not hear their name at Mail Call!
          Paula Krieger

          • Sarah, that’s wonderful news!! Paula, that’s a wonderful idea!! (I was assuming they were close to mail stop but..I should know better than to assume) And yes, I can vouch for Paula. She has been kind enough to help me with my adopted soldier and I am very grateful for her support.

            Sarah, If your husband has a point of contact (POC) or if there is an address you would like to share, or if you would like me to introduce you to Paula over email, contact me at: gina@ginaleftthemall.com and just let me know what works best for you. Along with Paula, I would be happy to write to them as well.

    • I wish I could write letters to those soldiers in that group, I love getting to write letters to the troops!!! I know it makes their day when they get a letter from someone from back home!!!

    • Hi Sarah, my name is Kyndal. I saw where you said that your husband is a Marine, I am a big fan of Marines!!! Hey Sarah, hope you won’t mind if I ask you this, will you tell your husband that I say “Thank You” to him for his wonderful service to our country, and that he has my total support and my prayers.

  3. It’s so sad to think of being so far away from home like your soldiers in Afghanistan. Such a lonely existence. Sofia’s letters were the perfect touch for those care packages, and I imagine those pink construction papered heartfelt thoughts have become treasured mementos.

    • This soldier’s letter really touched my heart. I hope very much that Sofia’s responses were like a pink paper bridge back home and shattered some of the isolation. When you realize what some of our service members endure, it’s easy to see why the bond between them is so strong. And why our support matters.

  4. I wish I could write letters to those soldiers in that group, I love getting to write letters to the troops!!! I know it makes their day when they get a letter from someone from back home!!!

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