The wooden characters with their brightly painted faces, dangled from coiled springs and bobbed up and down as they twirled on the miniature merry-go-round.

The display caught many an eye, and not only the ones three feet off the ground. Retirees, tourists, and even a few English-speaking temporary residents paused to watch the cheery characters–a lovely memento for any child–a wooden toy made in Germany.

The price ranged from 12,95 to 15,95 Euro.

If I were to purchase two, it would be well over the amount I donate to Compassion International per month, to help one child who lives in poverty.

As I walked past the gorgeous, hand-crafted German toys (read: wooden), and the heaps and piles and bins of glittering toys not made of wood, and most certainly not made in Germany, I had to pause and fight the urge to cry.

It’s not due (entirely) to hormone swings or to the fact that my kids have outgrown most of the toys in that shop, but it was the sudden and poignant realization that this was an entire store, one of millions across the world, dedicated purely to the entertainment of children–some children.

Consider an eight year-old girl in Kenya named Magdalene.

She is one of seven children in her family and is blessed to have a mom and a dad who love her enough to send her to a Child Development Center, where she can receive food, medication (if needed), and an education.

The letters she writes to me contain so much joy, it’s almost difficult for me (being the Pampered American Princess I am) to fathom.

A dress.
Cooking fat.

That is what Magdalene received for Christmas, for less than the price of two dangly toys.

When I told my kids what she had received, they asked, “Was she happy with that?” As if Magdalene had been somehow cheated.

Yes, Magdalene was very happy with her gifts. She wrote to thank me and said that I am a blessing from God–me: a person who is not doing nearly enough, who squanders time as if it’s a renewable resource, and who purchases funny dangly toys without giving it a second thought.

I often think about Magdalene.

When my kids are studying, I wonder if she has access to a book that day. When my kids are eating, I wonder if she’s had a good meal. When my kids are bouncing on the trampoline or riding their bikes, I wonder if she even has time to play.

Standing in the middle of that bright, happy toy store, I felt incredibly sad.

What am I teaching my children? And why is it so difficult to break out of the materialistic mindset? Am I raising my kids to be givers or consumers?

There’s nothing wrong with toys.

But I wonder how much, or how little, we really need to be happy.

I am not the blessing from God, Magdalene is.

That little girl in Kenya is helping me redefine the word “happy.”

I know that many families in the US are struggling to make ends meet. But if you find that you would like to help your children broaden their perspectives a bit, consider making a donation (either a one-time donation or regularly) to children in poverty.
It won’t merely change the lives of children in far-off places, but it will change yours as well.
Two recommended charities:

Compassion International


World Vision