Making a list and checking it twice may be easy enough for Santa, but pleasing the fickle fancies of preschool children is a daunting task. If parents were really savvy, they would realize that most young children are perfectly content with a pile of Christmas wrapping paper and a refrigerator box. Saturday morning cartoons parade an endless array of blinking, flashing, buzzing gadgets during commercial breaks between Halloween and Christmas. The wish list of greedy kiddies grows and grows. 

One particular Christmas, Santa and his elves (my mother and father) found themselves in a quandary. Kathy and I had been cranky during the fall and truly de- served to be on the “naughty” list. When Christmas came it was payback time. On Christmas morning, Tiger Lil (Kathy) and I rolled out of bed at four a.m. and stumbled into the dark living room. This was the strangest array of toys ever assembled.  A mini-ironing board and iron were in the forefront with my name attached. I didn’t iron back then and I never use it now. (If it’s not perma-press, Roger doesn’t get dressed.) 

Kathy’s big gift that Christmas was a “Mary-Get-Well” doll. Some twisted toymaker at Mattel designed a plastic patient who could catch every communicable disease known to man. Mary-Get-Well had red, round stickers for measles, sticky white pustules for chicken-pox, and foam inserts for mumps. If you filled her head with petroleum jelly, she could have a snotty nose, and if you filled her behind with chocolate pudding-well, we won’t even go there. Mary-Get-Well was an enigma.  She was sick her whole miserable life, and yet Mattel made millions from selling her. Kathy never let me play with her because I wouldn’t return the sticky measles to their rightful place.

To add insult to injury, my second gift from Santa was a “Pitiful Pearl” doll. Unlike Malibu Barbie and her plastic cohorts, Pitiful Pearl was as ugly as mud.

Her hair was frayed and stringy, her tummy pooched and her eyes bugged out. She even had crooked rubber teeth. I imagine my Daddy thought Pitiful Pearl was a hilarious gift, but I was not amused. 

The only saving grace that holiday was my Easy-Bake oven. The Easy- Bake oven was another attempt to point me toward domesticity, but it never stuck. The finest baking I have ever done was under that Easy-Bake oven lightbulb. My culinary talents declined from there. When Easy-Bake appeared, Christmas was saved.

Yet Pitiful Pearl became one of my favorite doll-buddies. She faithfully appeared at every tea party and nap time. She didn’t need a lot of new clothes, and she never complained when I brushed her hair too hard. 

What causes us to cherish some things and discard others? Is there rhyme or reason why we choose those things that are precious to us?

Of all the gifts and toys my youngest daughter Bronwyn received on Christmas, was a bald baby doll named Otis Lee. Otis was the undisputed trophy toy from her Christmas bounty. None of the other gifts mattered. 

It was Otis that stole her heart.  

Otis had a hard life.  Besides the smelly task of living under Bronie’s armpit day and night, Otis had many brushes with death. Becky, our black and white mongrel, fancied Otis as a chew-toy.  Besides dragging the plastic heartthrob through dog-poop, several teeth-marks had actually penetrated Otis’ skull.  After major surgery and some duct tape, Otis survived. 

We’re not sure whether he had brain damage.  The worst catastrophe of Otis’ and Bronwyn’s lives came when her older sister (Brianna) had finally taken all of the pestering she could stand from her little sister.  Being the precocious yet sneaky seven-year-old that she was, Brie watched the weather channel to find a rainy winter night in January.  After dark, she slipped Otis under a very deeply planted rosebush and waited for the mud to bury Otis alive.  Brianna’s act was ruthless, pre-meditated dolly murder.

Much to my chagrin, Otis was found and the dastardly attempt upon his life came to light. Bronwyn was in hysterics. In desperation, I threw Otis in the washer on perma-press. Although the rubber body parts were slightly deformed, Bronie didn’t mind.  Otis slept in her bed for years. I just moved her into her new house and discovered Otis perched on the bedroom dresser (a little dusty, I might add…) I thought Otis was long gone, that Bronwyn had traded her husband for her baby doll. Surely Richard would win out for the top spot in her heart.

After all, Richard is washable. 

Otis Lee was not the prettiest dollie under the tree.  Jesus, the Savior of the world, was a humble baby born in a stable. But don’t let the plain wrapping fool you. He was God wrapped in simple swaddling clothes.

The gifts we cherish most are not always flashy and expensive. The best gifts come in plain packages.

If by faith we choose to invite Jesus Christ into our hearts and receive His gift of eternal life, we are forever transformed. All the playthings of this earth seem to fade when He captures our hearts. We become hungry for things that will last.  We do not carry Him under our arm, as Bronwyn toted Otis.  We carry Him in our hearts.  And when He draws us with His love, we will never be the same.



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