My favorite Christmas memory as a child happened the year my dad lost his job. That was the year Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage. In case you are not a child of the ‘80s, they were one-of-a-kind cloth dolls with plastic heads that came with birth certificates and adoption papers. All the girls wanted them for Christmas.
They were also expensive.
My family was scraping by on my mom’s teaching salary. Even though it was a gift I longed for, I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be possible. I didn’t want my parents to feel bad about it so I kept my wish to myself.
My mama, however, had different plans. She found a woman from our church named Delores, who was making handmade dolls similar to the name-brand ones and charging much less. Delores had cared for me when I was in the church nursery. She painted the dolls faces and crafted their hair, making each one with unique features. Mama commissioned her to create a doll for me with the same chai latte skin tone, freckles, dark brown pigtails, and even a diamond-shaped beauty mark on her right cheek just like mine.
On Christmas morning, my brother and I raced downstairs to the tree eager to dig into the treats in our stockings and unwrap the gifts beneath the tree. I was surprised when I saw a hand-sewn, quilted baby carrier nestled among the other wrapped gifts. With sparkling eyes, Mama and Daddy encouraged me to open it.
Inside was the most beautiful doll I’d ever seen with lush, dark chocolate hair and my similar features. I was stunned. How did they do it? How did they know what I’d wanted?
I named my doll Kailani, which was my middle name meaning “heavenly child of the sea” in Hawaiian. That doll was my treasure for years. I cared for her, cuddled her, styled her, read to her, and talked to her about all my dreams. Cradling her in my arms, I cared for her like my own baby — never imagining God would one day give me three baby girls.
Kailani was a sweet reminder that God delights in giving us good gifts. He gave Delores and my mama the gift of creativity to fashion this doll just for me. And the best part was that Kailani looked like me. She wasn’t like all the other Cabbage Patch dolls. In my second-grade mind, she was more beautiful and perfect than if we had had the money to buy the name brand one. Decades later, I’m still savoring the memory of receiving that handmade gift.
In the book of James, Jesus’ half-brother, reminds us:
Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.
James 1:17-18 (HCSB)
Friends, sometimes in life we may find ourselves longing for something that someone else has. She might be especially adept in the kitchen or inspiring when she speaks on the stage. Your friend might have a way with words or beautiful features or that cute pair of shoes you’ve always wanted. We can focus on that specific gift that our friend has, or we can unwrap the generous and perfect gifts God has handcrafted uniquely for each one of us.
Maybe He painted you with freckles or shaped you with naturally curly hair. Maybe He molded you with a gift for organization or singing or gathering people. Maybe your gift is being able to see the person in the room who is hurting or on the fringes. Whatever your unique gift, embrace it. Receive it. Rip off the paper and use it for His glory!
As we draw near to Christmas, let’s remember the most perfect gift God gave each one of us. When He sent his son Jesus as a newborn baby to earth, He made the greatest sacrifice of all time. He knew when He gingerly placed His precious child in that rough manger that Jesus would one day have to die a horrible death on the cross. He gave up His most treasured possession to gift us freedom from sin and eternal life. Friends, this is not a gift we can earn or strive for. It’s unmerited and undeserved but given with unabashed love and grace. In all our traditions and gatherings this week, let’s not forget the True Gift — Jesus.