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As the horror of the Newtown tragedy unfolded, it became clear to me that the celebration of the 2012 holiday season would be restrained. Loss and grief seemed to almost envelop me and mock any semblance of joy. And yet, when was the message of Christmas – peace on earth; goodwill to all – needed more?

So I felt especially blessed to receive a “God wink” the week before Christmas. A God wink is defined by Squire Rushnell in “When God Winks at You” as what some call a coincidence or an answered prayer. If you watch for them, they can be tangible signposts from God making his presence known in our lives.

The seeds of this God wink were planted 44 Christmases ago. My cousin Richard’s wife, Karen, was an outstanding seamstress. One of her specialties was making Raggedy Ann and Andy rag dolls in all sizes. My mother was so taken with her dolls that she bought me a set of 20-inch dolls for Christmas. They were amazing.

The only problem was, I was 15 years old! I couldn’t even tell my friends what I received for Christmas – it was just too embarrassing. But my mom was so excited with them that I said thank you as enthusiastically as possible and put the dolls on a shelf.

Over the years, I considered giving them away several times. But because they were made by a relative and my mom had chosen them for me, I could never actually part with them. And there was one part of the dolls I especially was drawn to – Karen had embroidered a heart on each doll. Inside the hearts was embroidered, “I love you.”

Now fast-forward 44 years to the week before Christmas. My cousin was visiting family in Western New York. His beloved Karen had passed away earlier in the fall after a long illness. Their first great-grandchild, a girl, was born shortly before Karen died. Richard told me how happy he was that Karen was able to hold the baby one time.

I asked him if she had been able to make a Raggedy Ann for her. His eyes filled with tears – she had started a doll, but was too ill to finish it.

As I drove home, I berated myself for asking a question that upset Richard at such a difficult time. Then it dawned on me – there was a brand-new set of Karen’s Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls safely sitting under glass in my sewing room.

As soon as I got home, I rushed to the dolls and once more treasured their “I love you” hearts. I felt very deeply that God had let me “adopt” these dolls for 44 years so that at just the right time, they could bring some joy this Christmas to a family grieving the loss of their wife, mother and grandmother.

Richard and Karen’s precious new great-granddaughter would have Karen’s dolls after all. A tangible reminder of Karen’s love for the baby she did not have the chance to get to know.

Thank you, Mom. Because of you, one of the least favorite gifts I ever received became one of the most joyful gifts I was ever able to give.

And thanks to God for providing a God wink 44 years in the making – reminding me at a difficult time that even in seasons of loss and grief, gifts of love and caring abound and can still bring joy.