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Giving the Clothes off My Back

by Andrea Canale

Giving away clothes became my resolution for life.

 It was as if a supernatural force had overtaken me. My muscles jittered as a distant glaze drifted across my eyes. My heart fluttered, and my legs had a mind of their own.

“Look, Mom!” I exclaimed, pointing to a giant sign across the mall.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Everything is 90 percent off!” My voice reached an octave higher than normal.
“Let’s take a look,” Mom said.
“Wow! Good find, Andrea,” Juliana, my sister, said, tugging at Mom’s arm.
We marched straight to our favorite store. Once inside, we found ourselves amid the bustling frenzy of shoppers. We strolled through the cloud of perfume, past the cosmetic counters, directly to the racks of clothes.
“All these T-shirts are only $2!” Juliana exclaimed.
We snaked through the crowd. I started grabbing as many shirts as I could. There were five different shades of purple, and since I couldn’t decide which one I liked the best, I took all of them.
“This sale is awesome!” I said as I flipped through the sea of blue shirts.
“Try them on,” Mom said. “They’re so cheap.” 
I snatched them all off the hangers, leaving a trail of clanging disarray. Before I went into the changing room, Mom whipped out her calculator, punched in some numbers, and calculated our savings.
“These jeans are only $7!” Juliana announced, leaning over Mom’s shoulder.
Even though I didn’t need them, I carried the jeans into the fitting room. The shopping ritual was something I experienced each year before school started and during the holidays. Thinking shallowly, I grabbed whatever discounted clothes were in reach.
The tiny dressing room was overflowing with clothes. As I stood knee-deep in a colorful mountain of T-shirts, I realized I didn’t have enough room at home to store them all. Do I really need these? I questioned myself as I stared at my reflection.
Even though the sale was hot, my desire to buy the clothes was cooling. I thought about all the less fortunate people who couldn’t afford such luxury. In the blink of an eye, I was somewhere else.
Remembering . . .
The sweltering air wrapped around me like a wet washcloth. The eerie silence in the lonely hallways was deafening. I was at the orphanage in Buzau, Romania, where I had lived for the first year of my life. I was as helpless as I looked, left alone in a stark white metal crib. The only article of clothing I had was worn and faded.
My mother and father adopted me just before I turned 1 year old. Both of my parents repeatedly told Juliana and me about our adoptions. They also told us about the boxes of clothes they shipped to the orphans in Romania. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized I had been one of them.
Giving away clothes became my resolution for life. Each summer my parents, sister, and I dedicated a day to sifting through our closets and putting some clothes aside to share.
“Put anything you want to send in the hall,” Mom would call out.
Although the concept of giving clothes to needy people was important, sometimes I found it difficult to let go. 
“I know you love your clothes,” Mom said, whenever she saw me hesitating. “But there are thousands of children in the orphanages that don’t have anything.” 
I reluctantly tossed some favorite things in the basket. Even though we did this every year, I still didn’t understand how privileged I was. There were always a few dresses or pants stashed in the back of my closet, Christmas or birthday gifts that sat untouched for years. It wasn’t until seventh grade that I understood the importance of giving to others.
In global class the teacher required an end-of-year assignment that traced our ancestry. Being adopted made me nervous about how to approach the project. I decided to research my Romanian ancestors instead of my adopted family.
I spent countless hours in front of the computer reading about a tyrant dictator, beautiful monasteries, and Transylvania’s infamous vampire. I spent the most time mesmerized by pictures of the orphanages. My parents had told me how bad they were, but I never fully understood.
My mother gave me the journals she kept throughout my adoption. Reading her words opened a window into a world I never knew existed. I finally understood. That summer, sorting my clothes was much more than a chore. It became my favorite activity of the year.
My decision

Standing among the piles of clothes in the cramped dressing room, I turned to Mom as she neatly folded the shirts that I had set aside to purchase. I remembered what Matthew 25:36 says: “I was naked and you clothed Me” (NKJV).*
I said to Mom, “I have enough.”

She stared blankly at me.
“I’m not going to buy these,” I explained.
“Which ones don’t you want?” she asked, trying to understand.
“I want all of them, but I don’t need anything. I’m not going to buy them.”
My eyes glistened with tears as I pictured dozens of kids running around playing happily in my hand-me-down clothes. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth. “I need to go home and clean out my closet.”
While I don’t know any Romanian orphans personally, I do know that I’d give them the shirt off my back.
*Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This story was originally published in The Salvationist in December 2008.
Andrea Canale recently graduated from high school. Her home is in New York.

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