When I was younger, I went on a tour of an underground cave.

After all, my father was a geologist and he considered underground caves and igneous and metamorphic rocks and shale and limestone outcroppings by the side of the road part of our basic education.

There’s nothing like being interrupted in the middle of a the Bangels song on your Sony Walkman to stop and listen to an enthusiastic lecture from your father on sedimentary rock formations.


If you are a sassy teenager with aqua net hair and stirrup pants, when you’ve seen one outcropping of sedimentary rock…..

…you’ve seen them all.

boxwood present topper

And so it was, at my father’s insistence, we took a tour of an underground cave.  I don’t remember much, except it was dark.  Really, really, really dark.  We carried flashlights and the guide had a lantern so it didn’t really seem that dark at first.

Until the point in the tour when everyone turned out their lights.

And then you couldn’t see anything at all.  Nothing.  You could wave your hand in front of your face or stare really hard or blink twice and open your eyes wide, but all you could see….

….was absolutely, positively, nothing.

Then, into the darkness, the guide would shine the smallest of lights.

And that tiny glimmer of light shining into that vast cavern of emptiness was all it took.  It bounced off the underground walls and flooded the room with light and banished the darkness to the recesses of the cave.

Monogrammed-Present-Topper (1)

Our youth minister, Micheal, was just like that small light in the dark cavern.

Before he and his entire family died tragically in a car wreck earlier this year, Micheal had been in charge of our annual shoe box drive at the church.  Every year he stood up in front of the congregation and asked us to donate a shoe box full of tiny toys and toothbrushes and shampoo and paper and pencils and whatever else would fit inside the box.

He would patiently remind us again every week until the shoe boxes were supposed to be turned in and then faithfully gather the boxes to be shipped off to children around the world.

Most of the time his announcement was met with mild interest and choruses of, “Oh…is it that time already?” and “Shoe boxes again?” Everyone would faithfully pledge to bring in boxes…..and sometimes we did.

And sometimes we forgot.

Cookie Tag Present

Two weeks ago, shoe box collection time rolled around again.

Without Micheal.

Someone else made Micheal’s announcement.

Someone else said they would gather the shoe boxes.

Someone else gave us instructions and set a goal and arranged for the boxes to be shipped off.

It was hard to think about someone else taking up where Micheal had left off.  After all….he had always taken care of making sure we had enough shoe boxes….reminding us to donate and making up for those who forgot.

So in his absence we encouraged each other and hoped that during a busy holiday season….

….the shoe boxes would be remembered.

boxwood wreath topper

Early Sunday morning, I arrived to church, opened the doors and stood in awe.

Everywhere I looked were shoe boxes.

Stacks and stacks of fancy shoe boxes as far as the eye could see…tied up with brightly colored string and ribbons and bows.

And as I stood there in the quiet of the morning staring at the rows of presents…

….I heard a shuffle behind me.  

It was an older gentleman.  His head was bent and his shoulders were drooped and weary from years of illness.  I watched as he walked through the pews with painstakingly slow, halting steps.

And in his hands he held a shoe box.

It was wrapped with pieces of jagged vintage paper and an over-abundance of scotch tape and covered in an old rubber band from a newspaper.

And he carried it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

Slowly and steadily he made his way down the aisle to the stacks and stacks of brilliantly wrapped boxes.  Then he paused, bent his head for a moment, placed his gift atop all the others and quietly left the sanctuary.

And somewhere up in heaven…..

….Micheal smiled.

Because one small light can change the world.

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  1. Image for Marisa Franca @ All Our Way Marisa Franca @ All Our Way

    Doggone it KariAnne, here I am sniveling in my coffee again!! Yes one beautiful soul can inspire other beautiful souls to accomplish miracles. I didn't know Michael but I can imagine him as a beautiful angel looking down and smiling. This week I was moved to tears when I heard about the woman in Ferguson who owned a bake shop. For years she save d all of her money to open her bake shop. Her dream had come true until unruly thugs burned it down. She had nothing left -- but then money started pouring in. People all across the country heard of her plight and they began to pledge money. At last count there was close to $100,000 and initially she had $50,000. Isn't that wonderful? Michael and his family were the beacons leading us to goodness. :-) Wish I could have known your dad -- he sounds wonderful!

  2. Image for Betty Betty

    May I say once again that you make my heart SING!!!! What an inspiration you are to all of us. Your family has to be so very proud of you. You have truly found your calling. You create, inspire all of us. You rock star have a heart of gold ! Blessings to you and your wonderful family and your new kitten as well. Betty Hill

  3. Image for Holly McCall {McCall Manor} Holly McCall {McCall Manor}

    Good Grief. I'm sobbing and probably will short out my keyboard in a minute. But before I do, I wanted to thank you for that beautiful reminder that we can make a difference. I am so sorry for your loss, but know the angels rejoiced as they received that family into their open arms.

  4. Image for Debby Debby

    You are so talented and gifted. Thank you for your stories that touch are hearts, enlighten our thoughts and inspire us to believe. You truly have such a giving and generous spirit. Thank for sharing that with us.

  5. Image for Judy Judy

    Inspirational ........... Never forget all it takes it one dedicated person to make a difference. Thank you for the reminder that we can do anything we are passionate about!

  6. Image for Liz Thomas Liz Thomas

    KariAnne, this IS the story of Christmas!! Thank you and may you received tenfold the blessings you pour out on so many!!

  7. Image for Milisa Milisa

    Wonderful story.... You certainly have a way with words! You are also a very talented decorator :) could you come to Conway Arkansas and help a girl out. Ha! My Church is the relay center for Arkansas. We had a wonderful ceremony last Sunday. I sure enjoy your blog; read it every day. Merry Christmas Milisa

  8. Image for Marian@CMShawStudios Marian@CMShawStudios

    Lately I have been using the thought "Just because it's difficult, doesn't mean you're not succeeding." to help me slog through things. I think that if we just keep pounding away at things that are the most important, eventually they become a part of the larger consciousness. Well done Michael. What a beautiful legacy. And what a lovely story to share, Miss Karianne. BTW, it was super fun to see your interview. You get so sparkly when you talk decorating. All the best, The Other Marian

  9. Image for Patty Soriano Patty Soriano

    How wonderful! What a great outreach program. I imagine that many people stepped up because of the loss of Michael, knowing it was his great wish for these shoeboxes to keep going out of your congregation. A lovely memorial to this man and his family. I can visualize the elder man giving his box to the cause. When we all give something small, it creates something huge in the accumulation. I was just about to volunteer to send a box because I thought you were going to say there were none, but that wouldn't be the type of story you would tell. I'm so glad everyone came together!

  10. Image for Kim Kim

    What a beautiful story. I think you just multiplied Michael's legacy by a million-fold. It's a thoughtful and generous idea in such a small vessel. By telling this story, I'm sure more people will be inspired to start a similar "shoe box" campaign.

  11. Image for sherry sherry

    What a heartwrenching story to read Karianne... I just donated a shoebox a few weeks ago to Samaritan's Purse. I'll always remember your Micheal when I do it again next time :-)

  12. Image for sammio sammio

    Oh Karianne, thank you for sharing! What an awesome story and reminder that we never know just how many people's lives we touch with one small gesture.......

  13. Image for Lori Kolecki Lori Kolecki

    Oh KariAnne this made me weep, but that's alright! The gentle spirit of the older gentleman, so innocent and precious. The heart-wrenching story of Michael and his family, so deeply saddening. You know KariAnne I was just told recently that the company my son Michael had worked for developed a program for the employees on being role models for one another, their families and the company as well. Michael, my son was taken tragically by a wreck less driver March 26th, 2011 age 27. Michael inspired others to seek and present the best in themselves, work and learn hard, and be engaged in life in the most positive and inspiring ways. To hear that he inspired the company to develope a program representing his beliefs was so incredible that today his spirit and self still inspires and lives on, just as your pastor had! Thank you for sharing and God Bless! Maybe next year all your blog friends may want to join in with you and send you boxes to take to your church in Michaels memory as well, wouldn't that be "inspiring and awesome too"!!!Love, Lori Kolecki

  14. Image for Linda Linda

    oh KariAnne, what a lovely story..I too get 4 shoeboxes off each year! I love doing it and trying to fit all the goodies in an impossibly small box! Thank you for the beautiful anecdote. It is a wonderful charity. love, Linda

  15. Image for Jane Jane

    I understand what you are saying about, rock, caves, etc. My brother is a geologist. I never knew there were so many types of dirt, etc. As for me, I think I'll go hunt up some shoe boxes! You are such an inspiration!

  16. Image for Sue Sue

    I'm near tears here....beautiful story, KariAnne. The part about the old man bringing his box reminded me of the story Jesus told about the widow's mite. May we all be lights in this dark world, not only at Christmas but everyday.

  17. Image for Wanda Wanda

    Not only are the small children leading us into God's Grace: but a pretty blond headed lady that now fits into her size 12 slacks is leading us with her powerful message. You, are one of God's blessed messengers by the way you interpret life's events into a story that stirs our souls and makes us better. Thank you!

  18. Image for Susan Susan

    THIS was one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. It took me a few minutes to write this because I couldn't see through the tears and I wanted to savor the joy of Micheal smiling down from Heaven. I hope you and yours have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

  19. Image for Teresa Fields Teresa Fields

    Tears - that all that I can say. It's the small insignificant things we think that don't matter much, but matter more than we can imagine. Thank You.

  20. Image for gina gina

    Karianne, please share this with your newspaper and Samaritan's purse. This heart warming Christmas story should be shared. We made boxes this year. Thanks for shining this light over in my direction.

  21. Image for Zolane Zolane

    Such a moving and beautiful story and great reminder that God uses even the simplest act to show His love to others - both to the giver and receiver. What a blessing to have witnessed this beautiful act of love. I am thankful that you have the eyes to see and the heart to share these glimpses of Heaven. God bless that dear man, all the folks that participate in this wonderful ministry, and God bless you, KariAnne.

  22. Image for Sally Sally

    Wow, you had me at It Only Begins with One. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful story. God Bless Michael and all his family in heaven.

  23. Image for kipper kipper

    I was not anticipating the tears that came when I finished reading the story. Though Michael and his family passed away, their impact on the world is continuing

  24. Image for Tammy C Tammy C

    Thank you, KariAnne, for reminding me/us of the true meaning of Christmas. May God bless you, your sweet family, and that precious little old man!

  25. Image for Colleen Colleen

    My eyes were full of tears as I read this, but my heart is smiling. I know that youth pastor is smiling down on all of you and happy to see his efforts carried on.

  26. Image for JoyceBinAtlanta JoyceBinAtlanta

    Reminder to self: do not read blog till supposedly waterproof eye makeup has been removed! A moving story, told in a gentle way. Thank you for that. I'm sure I'll remember the Angel Michael each time I see a shoe box. I'll also pass on the idea to our care and share leader in my club. Sounds like others have heard about the shoe box gifts before. About time we joined in. Glad I took time to open the email today. Caves are something I never quite 'got' either, but your memories of your father tying in with this story was powerful.

  27. Image for Cyndy Cyndy

    My breath and heart slowed with your story. Envisioned every step this gentleman took as you walked us thru the moment. I read your blog at every turn and I can count on your to remind me of the true gift we all have including the ones we can easily allow to slip away

  28. Image for Terri Terri

    So beautiful, touching, and inspirational! A wonderful reminder...after all a small child born to poor circumstances changed the face of the earth and saved us all...God Bless you and yours~

  29. Image for Gwen Gwen

    My husband and A TBI. September 30 my cute 53 year old hubby went in for donor replacement surgery of two vertebrae of the neck....and in perfect health, his heart slowed too slow while under and as his heart was brought up, he threw a clot. Undiscovered for 8 hours. So he's now about 2/3 blind in both eyes so unable to drive. His improsonments slowed and he's grown weaker and not as sharp as suddenly now, two months into this his head is in terrible pain. So I read him this your eyes to a witness of a gift given. We used to shop together for our kids and pray...but I had to find a ride and I had to be on a lady's time limit...but we prayed as I showed my hubby the loot for our children we'd chosen. Older ones. And in reading this, our hearts ached again for the loss of your entire youth group family. We get caught up in our own tragedy that we forgot yours...and we wept. And the old man with his me deep inside as I pictured my Dads old tiny Japanese friend doing this...we both wept. Thank you for sharing. And reminding us to pray for those hurting because an entire family will have a lot mourning this first Christmas. Today I've been praying for my boy and girl. I don't know where they live but I chose with them in mind. My daughter did too. With hers. And to praise God for gifts. My husband ? God can restore his sight as the brain sends out new vessels and pathways to the eyes. My brain injury makes daily life hard and I cry. But I find praises too!! And strangely I can decorate but have lost the ability to figure out how to wrap a present. But I'm still here. The Lord provides. He is good. God is great. Thank you again.

  30. Image for Renee Hussman Renee Hussman

    KariAnne, I recently discovered your blog. I love your pictures and decorating ideas! I look forward to your new posts and reading your stories. You're a wonderful writer!

  31. Image for NormaJean NormaJean

    Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us of what is truly important. What a beautiful tribute to Michael and his sweet family. How appropriate that the church would honor his memory, by participating so generously, in something that he thought was important.

  32. Image for Cheryl @ Artzzle Cheryl @ Artzzle

    Kari, You are such a sweetie. I'm thankful for your parents ... they've done an extraordinary job, raising such a wonderful person as you! And yes, of course ... I'm crying after your post ... AGAIN! :)

  33. Image for charlotte oliver charlotte oliver

    Thank you for sharing your stories, you are a very talented writer. God has truly blessed you with a precious gift. Thanks again. God bless.

  34. Image for Jenny W Jenny W

    I have been reading your posts every morning as I wake up here in Canada. Sometimes I laugh, and sometimes, like on this cold and snowy morning, I cry. Your writing touches my heart. Thank You

  35. Image for Erika Erika

    I. Hate. You. !. In the best kind of "hate" way! This is just too. much!!! Absolutely beautiful! You are talented beyond measure!!!

  36. Image for Kris Kris

    I've been wondering about how everyone has been holding up since that awful accident. Thank you for sharing this ... and Michael's heart ... and the older gentleman's heart ... and, of course, yours.

  37. Image for Donna Donna

    KariAnne, You have such a gift. Thank you for this beautiful story. There is so much in it to reflect on. Happiest of Holidays to you and your beautiful family.

  38. Image for Nancy Carr Nancy Carr

    Some how I did not see this email until just now. It is probably because two days ago I read an article about a boy (from Utah - I believe it was) who sent a shoe box at Christmas, too. It ended up being received by a young Filapino girl. She never forgot his name and found him recently through facebook. He made several trips to visit her and they were recently married. It is such a sweet story. We never know how far our kindness spreads.

  39. Image for Susanne Holdersen Susanne Holdersen

    You gave ME a tiny light in the darkness. You pinnpointed the things I already knew - but had forgotten. I'm in the middle of a wery hurtfull divorce and have been feeling so sad and hopless. Reading your story this morning "woke" me up. There will always be a little hope and light. And when tomorrow rises, maybe someone will be there and lift me out of my sadness. And I will do something that will make a difference for someone else. Thankfull Regards from Denmark

  40. Image for Jane Jane

    Wow! What a loss for your church! What a blessing that they all got to go together. We had a tragedy around here recently. A wonderful father was killed in a car accident. His 8th kid is on the way and his oldest being ONLY 8! He was on his way home from a 2 week stint of being away for work. They were supposed to leave for Disney World the next day!... but instead got to plan a funeral. It is SO gut-wrenching. Anyone looking to donate to a worthy cause this season can do it right here...

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