Archive for December, 2010

The China Doll

china doll plantWhen my brother was 13, he had an unusual hobby. We called it dumpster diving. A nearby apartment complex housed college students from around the country, and at the end of the school year the students would discard everything they didn’t want to haul home with them, including quite a few items that still had some value. My brother capitalized on the opportunity.

One day, he brought home a China Doll plant, which he gave to me. My mom, who has a green thumb, said it was a good find. I moved it to my room, and would set it out on the front porch every few days for some sunshine. After I’d had the plant for a few months, its leaves started drooping and then falling off. Within a couple of weeks, there were no leaves left. When I asked my mom what was wrong, she said it might have gone into hibernation. A plant without leaves held no interest for me, so I put it in the back yard with my mom’s other potted plants. It stayed there for quite some time, leafless and forlorn.

One day my mom brought a plant to my room. Yes, it was my China Doll, and there were tiny sprouts at the tips of its branches. Over the next weeks, the sprouts grew into new shoots and leaves, and eventually my plant was in full bloom again. This cycle continued over the years.

I eventually moved away from home and left the China Doll with my mom and her green thumb. In one letter my mom wrote: “I thought your China Doll had finally died. I almost tossed it, but you know how I hate to throw away a plant. I waited a while and sure enough, it grew back fuller than ever.”

The following spring I went to visit my mom. She had more time for gardening now that most of her kids had moved away, and the back yard was beautiful, full of aromatic rose bushes and flower-covered arbors and trellises. There on the porch, transplanted into a bigger pot, sat my China Doll. It was at least four feet tall.

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. That China Doll will always hold a special place in my heart, not because I’m sentimental about a plant, but because it taught me to hope.

As I begin the New Year, some things seem to be hibernating—a few dreams and goals—but with the sunshine of God’s love, the water of His Word, and a little of His tender loving care, they will blossom in His good time. If He causes a simple plant to begin anew and grow stronger year by year, how much more can we expect Him to do for us, whom He loves dearly and for whom He created all the rest?


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Why My Heart Melts…

Exchange between me and Allen

my son Allen at 11 months

Allen, at 11 months, always the charmer

Mommy: Allen, I love you.

Allen: I love you too.

Mommy: I love you three.

Allen: I love you all the way to fishy heaven and back.

Mommy: Is that where you plan on going?

Allen: No, I’m going wherever you are going…so that we will be together.

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ice cream dipped in chocolate

It was vacation time, and my husband and I were driving with some coworkers to a beach resort for a greatly anticipated week of relaxation and fun. It was a sixteen-hour drive from our city to our destination; although we started before the sun was up, by noon we were not even halfway there. Our car recently had an overhaul so we couldn’t use the air-con, and it was getting hot, really hot! Our co-workers had three young sons, and the long car ride was starting to get to them a little. After one too many “Are we there yet?”s, we decided it was time for a break.


We found a roadside restaurant and got a round of coffee to keep us awake and a round of ice cream for the kids to keep them happy. Jerry, the youngest, had just turned three. He was so eager to pick out what ice cream he wanted: vanilla dipped in chocolate, on a stick.


“He is going to make a mess,” cautioned one of the parents.


The other one said, “It’s okay. This is the one he wanted, let him enjoy it.”


With great interest we watched the race between Jerry and the heat. Jerry clutched his ice cream with both hands, trying his best to eat it before it all melted. The hard chocolate covering kept up a strong pretense, while the vanilla ice cream inside slowly melted away, dripping down his arms and onto the plate. The more it dripped, the tighter he held it. Finally, the chocolate shell couldn’t stand the pressure; it imploded, leaving a mound of melted mess, and a little crying boy, distraught at his loss. His mother picked him up, wiped away his tears and cleaned the mess. She set him down again, this time with a bowl of ice cream and a spoon. A wiser choice, we all agreed.


As we continued our drive, I thought about the significance of that event. How many times have I had a dream, a desire, or something that filled my entire focus? I was sure that it was the right thing for me and would make me happy.


I can now picture an angel or wiser being telling God, “Don’t give it to her; she’ll make a mess,” and then God replying,


“Let her make her decision; she’s old enough.”


Then when I later find myself holding a pile of broken dreams that shattered (or melted) around me as I tightly clung to them, He picks me up, wipes away my tears, and gives me that thing that He wanted to give me all along, that thing which was actually better for me, but in my intense focus, I didn’t even give a second glance.


I finally take what He has to offer, and I realize that it was really what I wanted all along or something better than I could have even hoped for. After all, having created me, and all good things, He would know best what I need in my life, wouldn’t He?


So, will it be vanilla or chocolate? Next time, I’ll try to get His advice before making my decision.

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blue lighted Christmas treeWhy do I always wish for a perfect Christmas? Why is there some image of a “perfect” Christmas in my mind and heart—something almost unattainable: nostalgic, soft and cozy? Why do I sometimes feel disappointed when things don’t turn out the way I am hoping for, or when circumstances are not exactly what I would have chosen?

No Christmas is perfect. Even the Christmas that stands out in my mind as my “best Christmas ever” was not perfect. I was tired that day, disappointed by certain aspects of it…yet still the day stood out to me as wonderful, because I had received beautiful gifts of love that day, and was able to give them in return.

Come to think of it, I doubt that any Christmas throughout the ages has ever been perfect. Even the “first Christmas”, the day that we celebrate a loving Savior coming to Earth as a baby, was imperfect.

Mother Mary, if she was anything like a normal woman on the day of the birth of her first child, probably went through nearly unbearable pain, and afterwards, complete exhaustion.

Joseph might have been worried about the future for him and his new family. He was possibly a bit embarrassed; after all, he couldn’t find any better place for his young wife to have her first child than a place where animals ate and lived.

There were shepherds who were most likely completely freaked out, at least at first, when an angel appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the night. Maybe they thought it was the end of the world, for them, and that was why the angel had to start his message with, “Fear not!”

Wise men hundreds of miles away were confused, wondering, at an amazing happening in the sky, so much so that they decided to travel a long ways to find out exactly what was going on, and give honor. Even once they reached Judaea, their curiosity and wonderment probably grew, as there was no baby king to worship and their travels extended until they finally found a young child, who had no worldly honor and praise, and gave him their three gifts.

There were people all over the world of that day who were displaced due to a new tax law; they were traveling, possibly depressed, homesick, or physically ill, wondering why God was allowing them to go through all that, wondering if He even cared, when His answer had already descended to Earth and was lying in the most unlikely place—a manger.

The baby Himself must have cried that day, at such a change: from King of Heaven, to a helpless babe.

No Christmas has been perfect; yet each Christmas is beautiful…for the love that is shared on that day, for the giving and receiving of gifts from the heart, for the joy of being with family and friends, for the excitement and wonder of the season itself.

And if nothing else, if the day dawns with loneliness, sadness, or even despair, Christmas is still beautiful…for the promise that was given and is renewed each Christmas: the promise of a Love that is enduring and true, a Love that made the choice to leave the most wonderful place in existence to walk the dusty roads of mankind and experience depravation, pain and death in order to fulfill a promise…that He would walk each step of that same road with each of us. No one is ever completely alone, and Christmas is a day to realize the beauty of such a marvelous gift—Love eternal, and the promise of life forever with the Creator of that Love.

Merry Christmas.

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When you saw the crib from highManger scene

Did You see Your death and sigh

Or did You see that You again would rise

And chose a humble womb from heaven’s skies


When you lay in a manger, damp and cold

Did you long for angel’s wings to enfold

Or realize we too would want such things

So You forsook the comfort of angels’ wings


When you tasted this world’s humble fare

Did you long for Heaven’s sumptuous care

Or knew the taste would be richer with us by your side

And gave us the truth while You chose to abide


When you felt weary and weak and worn

Did you long to leave this world so forlorn

Or knew that we needed to be shown the way

Our truth and light, and for our sake did stay


When you had to see and touch and feel

This homesick world from one so real

Did it pain You to stay a while

Yet, I think I saw You smile


For You knew that Heaven’s touch

On this poor world would mean so much

So You lived and died, and rose to glory

To begin life’s deepest true love story

(Written December 1999)


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It was a great evening!Mary and Joseph journey to Bethlehem on a donkey

There was really good food.

There was enjoyable company.

There were games and singing.

And there was a Christmas quiz, a “nativity quiz” to be exact, outlining 10 multiple choice questions of certain aspects of the “real Christmas story”—you know, that thing we think we all know so well. After all, we’ve attended Christmas pageants; we sing “We Three Kings” as we picture them kneeling before a newborn baby in a manger.

I grew up knowing about Jesus in the manger even before I heard of the name Santa Clause. The funny thing was, I still did not get every answer correct—I’m not sure if anyone did.

Afterwards, I wondered about that fact, as I returned home and opened my Bible to double check one of the questions (and answers). Sure enough, I had been wrong about something I assumed was fact ever since I was a child. The answer was right there; it had been there all my life. It had actually been there for the past couple thousand years.

Why is it sometimes so difficult to take time to open the Book? The answers to so many questions are right there, within the pages. The heart and soul of it all…the spirit, the purpose… Love is within the pages, a Love that lasts forever.

…By the way, did you know that Mary did not actually travel to Bethlehem on a donkey? Despite Small One being my favorite childhood cartoon, the fact is that it does not state in the Bible how they made it from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I didn’t know that. I do now, though.

Can’t wait to see what else I will find out as I take time to open the Book, and my heart as well.

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A Gift from the Heart

heart wrapped with bowI really have no clue if today was indeed “the first day of Christmas”—according to that old song, in which someone was given by their true love something different every day “of Christmas”—often some gift having to do with a bird (again, no clue why). I have heard it was actually a song with hidden meanings, but that’s not the topic of this post (mainly because I really don’t know much more about the song than that I have always found it to be rather irritating).

In any case, my husband gave me a gift today. Last night I was up quite late working on a timely project; it had been a long and tiring weekend in more ways than one. My husband was also up late, also working. Hence, neither of us were up before our 20-month-old son—who, since he was a young baby, has had some sort of affinity for lights, including sunshine. Once he noticed any sort of light coming through the curtains, he would be up for the day.

For the past few days, he has woken me up with his trademark request for raisins; he cups one hand and puts a finger from his other hand on his palm, while saying “ins” over and over again, with an adorable little lisp. This morning, it was over an hour before I was hoping to have to get out of bed, and there he was, bending down until he was a couple inches from my face, saying, “Mama, mama, ins, ins.” I made a mental note to keep a little box of raisins under my mattress, to give him in the morning and gain a few extra minutes of shut-eye. I kept my eyes closed, in some kind of hopeless hope that he would decide that he wanted to go back to sleep. Today, for a change, the voices faded, and I drifted back into my merry dreamland.

About an hour later, I woke to the faint sound of singing. I got up and peeked in the living room, where the music was coming from. The three kids were watching a video, singing along with the tunes. In the kitchen, there was my husband, making waffles and some hot coffee.

I enjoyed the waffles; I enjoyed the coffee; I definitely enjoyed sleeping in. It was something simple, but something my husband knows means a lot to me—one of those gifts from the heart that cannot be bought from a store, but means every bit as much as a present wrapped up and set under a tree. A gift unplanned, undeserved, but given from a heart of love.

I knew it would be another long and busy day ahead, but it would be wrapped up with love, each new day also a precious gift, and a chance to present others with gifts from the heart.

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