When I was little, I collected 258 Stuffed Animals. Yes, It was excessive. I was certainly spoiled.
Then, one night we were in a car accident. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt. I got a minor black eye from hitting my face on the dashboard. When the fire-fighters and other emergency personnel came to check on us, they gave my brother and I stuffed animals.
What a great and simple service. I then decided my stuffed animal collection needed to be used for something better than my selfish hoarding.
First, I donated about half of my stuffed animal collection to my Uncle's fire-station, so that he and his team could help me pay it forward by giving to children who had been in scary situations like I had.
Then, over time, my stuffed animals have slowly made it around the world to be with children who could benefit from them much more than I could.
Some of my favorite teddy-bears made it to Fiji on my AYS (HEFY) service trip.
Then, a pile of my favorite stuffed animals tagged along to Mexico. My favorite pig-cow-dog (we never could figure out what it was really supposed to be) made it into the hands of our cute and helpful friend.
For my mission, I brought 2 stuffed animals, intending to find 2 deserving children to pass them along to. However, my first Christmas rolled around and we had been cooped up in the MTC for almost 3 months. It was a great experience, but also incredibly hard. Other missionaries in my group were getting a little stir-crazy and frustrated too. I wanted to help make Christmas feel like Christmas, but it wasn't like we could head over to the mall to purchase gifts to exchange. I had to work with what I had. I made or wrote gifts for each sister in my district. To one, I collected and made a book of quotes because she had a knack for gaining specific inspiration from motivating sentiments. To another, I wanted to give the gift of giving. I gave her one of my stuffed animals: a little monkey. I explained to her the purpose of me bringing the monkey, and told her she could keep it until she found someone just right to take care of him. She was so sweet and cried and thanked me. Many months later, towards the end of our missions, She told me she had found and taught a family with several young children living in a difficult situation. She had passed the monkey along to the youngest of the family.
But, I still had one more. I had also brought a rabbit. I had gotten this rabbit on a road trip with my grandparents. My grandmother had gotten a larger version of the rabbit and I had received a smaller version. This one was special. My whole mission I had searched for the child deserving of this rabbit. Several times I almost gave him away. In my last transfer however, I still hadn't found that special child. Until one day, I realized who it was.
We had been teaching a recent convert in the ward for quite some time. I actually had the opportunity to teach her prior to getting baptized too, while I was on splits. She was a young adult with a huge heart. She was so sweet and so sensitive to everyone around her. A beautiful woman. She was that girl you see and can just picture her as a primary teacher. She was single though and had no children. As we taught her more about the gospel in small and simple ways, I gained a deep appreciation for her innocence and simplicity. She held a special place in my heart.
Right before I left to come home, we taught her one more time. This one was about the Holy Ghost. We focused on the comfort and peace it brings you. I taught it just as we would have taught it to a young child. Similar to many 8 year old's talks at their baptism about the holy ghost with a baby blanket or special comforting item, I used the stuffed bunny to talk about the Holy Ghost as a comforter. I then explained to her the purpose of me bringing the rabbit on my mission. I told her I knew she was going to bless the lives of many children as she continued to grow in her knowledge of the gospel and love those around her. I handed the rabbit to her and told her I wanted her to have it. With eyes filled with tears, she thanked me. It was so simple, but so meaningful. I couldn't have left the bunny in better hands.
I didn't hear from her much after my mission, just an occasional update here and there. But just the other day, she sent me a message with a picture. A sweet and fitting addition to her Easter decorations.
I'm so grateful for the change of heart I was given as a selfish plush-animal-hoarding child and the opportunities I've had all over the world to redistribute and share something as seemingly-meaningless as a stuffed animal. Stuffed animals are not important in life, but giving and receiving and loving are. I still have about 20-30 left, and I hope to continue sharing them as I go. A few I have passed along to my sweet niece and nephew. A few I plan to pass along to children of my own. If anyone has someone who they think would benefit from a simple stuffed animal, please let me know.
“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa