1989 was an important year. On August 9th a baby girl joined our family. A few months later Ray gave me several pieces of Department 56’s Dickens’ Village and one of my most cherished Christmas traditions began. Not that I equate the importance of daughter Jessie’s arrival with an assortment of ceramic buildings and accessories, but it helps me keep track of how long Dickens has been part of my Christmas celebration.
As long as Ray was alive, he would creatively set up the village and add to the collection every December, usually giving me several pieces for my birthday and/or Christmas. He also started a set for my mom. After he passed away in April 1997, I came across a number of Dickens items boxed up in the basement. No doubt Ray had taken advantage of post-holiday sales, purchasing gifts for the next season. I gave some to Mom and kept the rest for myself, surmising Ray intended to divide his stash between the two of us.
Although I’m a fairly frugal person, my family will attest to the fact I have two weaknesses when it comes to buying: my village and plants. (They’ve also assured me there could be worse things when it comes to non-essential spending and are supportive of my relatively innocuous addictions!) During my travels, I found a small store that no longer planned to carry Dickens’ Village. They were having a “buy one get one free” sale to clear out their inventory. Of course I had to help them do so. That year the village gained a whole new suburb.
When I choose pieces to add, I usually look for ones I can connect with. This year’s additions include “First Christmas Eve Service” (for baby Emma), “Letters to Santa” (a Victorian version of granddaughter Lyla) and “Lovebirds” (‘nuff said).
Two birthdays ago, Mom gave me her entire collection. She said she’d enjoy it more if I combined it with mine. More suburbs appeared. The village now fills three rooms and requires many hours of assembly across several days.
Nonetheless, I always look forward to unpacking the village and getting reacquainted with the various pieces as construction progresses. Inevitably the initial opening of boxes is accompanied by bittersweet tears. So many memories. So many Christmases without Ray. And every year I pray he might somehow know how much joy the village has brought me; how thankful I am he started it for me.
This morning was no different. I was crying intermittently as I opened first one box, then another, when my phone chimed to signal an incoming text. I’d been corresponding with my daughters and several friends throughout the morning, exchanging thankful notes about the much-needed rain we received overnight and sharing Christmas plans. I supposed someone was continuing one of those conversations. I was amazed when I saw instead a text from a friend who’s on staff at Smith-Gilbert Gardens. She’d sent two pictures of a Japanese maple I donated to the Gardens in memory of Ray. In spite of the cloudy day, it shone forth in all its fall splendor. Planted on April 19, 2013, the sixteenth anniversary of Ray’s Homegoing, the tree sits at the edge of the Koi pond, one of grandson Joshua’s favorite places at SGG.
Stefanie had no way of knowing how much those photos would mean to me at that moment, but God did. He knows us intimately – every hurt, every hope, every reminiscence. Like the loving Father he is, he gives us good and perfect gifts. Seeing those photos of the little tree decked out in its gloriously colorful leaves provided assurance of both an ongoing connection and a future reunion.
Not only does God tenderly meet our needs, his timing is always impeccable. Over 2,000 years ago, after hundreds of years of silence, He sent the perfect gift for all time, the One we needed most, the Baby in the manger.
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
As we go through this Advent season, may we rejoice, for the One through whom all things were made humbled himself, took on flesh and came as Savior. He cares about every detail of our lives and will graciously guide and provide for us until he returns as King to gather us to himself.
Immanuel . . . God with us . . . for all time.
 James 1:17
 John 3:16-17
 Isaiah 9:6b
 John 1:3a
 Philippians 2:8
 Matthew 7:7-11
 Matthew 1:23