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So there I was, watching “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” yet again — as I have nearly every Christmas season except for that of its premiere (I wasn’t born yet), when it occurred to me (as it always does) that there are some serious flaws in the storytelling…most glaringly, with the subplot about the Island of Misfit Toys. (Whew! That was a long sentence. Take a breather, readers.)

The “misfits” on this island range from the slightly offbeat — a train with square wheels, by no means unfixable — to the ludicrous — a polka-dotted stuffed elephant (so what? I had a purple plaid stuffed dog). But what always got me, doll-lover that I was as a child, was the little ragdoll. Seriously, what was so wrong about her? She was adorable! She could say, “How do you do?” Why in the heck was she stuck on this island?

Okay, I realize I’m taking a children’s animated show a bit too much to heart. But isn’t that what children do? On the plus side, maybe it was repeat showings of this Rankin/Bass classic that caused me to side with the underdogs, the folks on the outside margins, to begin with. I still do, perhaps because it’s where I see myself.

Only here’s the thing: God doesn’t make misfits. In God’s great plan, there is a “fit” for everyone. It may take awhile to find it, of course. But it’s out there. I doubt my first grade classmates knew what to do with a girl who was already reading at a fourth grade level (at least — the test only went up that high), who made up rhymes instead of playing tag, who had (I kid you not) an invisible “thinking cap” that she mimed putting on before spelling bees.

It took a long while to find “my people.” But find them I did. Some of us are odd ducks (or geese or elephants), while some of us are simply extraordinary. I know some pretty terrific folks — SueBe and Ruthie, for two. My friend Susan is the most thoughtful person on earth. My friend Maria lives a life of quiet but radical spirituality. Caroline — who I have known since first grade — combines brash good humor with erudition…and has never, ever treated me like a misfit.

So for all you “misfits” out there, take heart. There is a slot out there for your distinctly shaped peg. And there are other people, too, who will embrace your particular brand of different. Because, like the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, you are not wrong…only wonderful, in a way all your own.

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Everybody knows the story. The Three Magi came seeking the Christ child, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Practical gifts? Maybe not so much, though I’m sure the gold came in handy. (Raising kids is expensive.) Otherwise, the presents were more symbolic than usable; gifts for a king who would have to die for his kingdom. (Seriously…what’s a carpenter supposed to do with myrrh?)

We come bearing gifts, too. We might not always recognize their importance, but we should. Some gifts make themselves obvious — a fabulous singing voice or a knack with decorations, for instance. Others are subtler, but no less essential. A listening ear, a kind gesture, the giving of one’s time — these gifts are always appreciated, especially at this time of year, when so many are feeling stressed out or lonely.

As we approach Christmas, let us think about what gifts we might bring to Jesus and to one another. Don’t overlook the obvious, but do look deeper. A friend of mine always wanted to learn how to blow glass. She now makes prayer bracelets out of her gorgeous hand-blown beads. I bought a slew of them for Christmas presents. Gift. My dentist found a stray pooch who was too rattled to be left alone, so she brings the dog into the office with her, where this once insecure mutt brings comfort to those (and there are more than you think) who are rattled about going to the dentist’s office. Gift.

I often find myself thinking I haven’t got much to give. My little blog posts, read by a stalwart few, probably don’t have frankincense-level reverberations in the world. But I am good about praying for other people, and believe in the efficacy of prayer. Sometimes I think it’s the only real tool that matters. I try to listen to others, to smile at strangers, to reassure bumblers (like the lady who tried to get into my car outside the pharmacy last night thinking I was there to pick her up), mostly because I consider myself a bumbler. I care about animals and justice for those who don’t usually get any.

So what is your gift? What can you lay down beside the manger? What would you give if you could give anything in the world?

Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s as good as gold. And definitely better than myrrh.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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