Courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service

Each year each of my three children goes back to school with a new pair of shoes. But not before we discuss at length the difference between the shoes they need and the shoes they want. This year, we're going to try something new. This year, we're going to discuss the difference between their wants and others' needs.

Here's the plan:

First, we're going to talk about Mary Damron. Then we're going to talk about Tiffany Taylor. Then we're going back-to-school shoe shopping.

Mary is the national spokesman for Operation Christmas Child, which turns shoe boxes into Christmas presents for poor children overseas. Tiffany is director of Shoes for Orphan Souls, which collects and delivers new shoes to orphans overseas.

Mary grew up poor, motherless and generally shoeless in coal-rich, dirt-poor Appalachia. "I thought God hated me and that was why my life was so rough," said Mary, who spoke recently at Berclair Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. "I found out God is full of blessings, but it's only done through others and no one was helping God with my blessings."

Tiffany grew up in a well-to-do suburb of Memphis with two parents and plenty of shoes. In 1996, she and her husband, Brad, adopted a Russian baby. In 1998, they adopted another. "We felt so blessed," Tiffany said.

It was a few years ago that first Mary heard about Operation Christmas Child. Mary and her Appalachian neighbors filled and wrapped 1,258 shoe boxes with gifts for children. She delivered them personally to Franklin Graham, chairman of Samaritan's Purse, which sponsors the shoe box program. Graham invited Mary to go to Bosnia to deliver them. Mary has been to Bosnia eight times.

In return for her gifts, Mary receives the gifts of gratitude and perspective. "Those children over there have been through so much and they have so little. They're so thankful for any little thing," she said. "They remind me how blessed I am, and how easy it is to be a blessing."

A few years ago, Tiffany heard about Shoes for Orphan Souls. Tiffany and her church family collected dozens of shoes for orphans. Last year, she went to Russia to help deliver shoes to the orphanages. When she got back, she quit her private-sector job to collect shoes. In return for her gifts, Tiffany receives the gifts of gratitude and perspective.

"When you realize what God has done for you, well, you know you don't have to do good deeds, but you want to," she said.

After we finish talking about Mary and Tiffany, my American kids and their American parents are going to the store.

We're going to buy six pairs of shoes. That will give us three for my kids, three we can send to Tiffany, and six shoe boxes we can fill for Mary.

I'm hoping the gratitude and perspective come with the shoes.

For more information about Operation Christmas Child, call 1-800-353-5949 or click here

For more information about Shoes for Orphan Souls, call 1-877-7-ORPHAN or click here
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