I was thinking about my mom on her birthday, and realized that there was something very special about my childhood—the times we spent together. More specifically, I was thinking about the Christmases when I was small. The thing that made each memory special wasn’t the number or value of the gifts we received or the Christmas parties we attended. Rather, it was the simple things.
You may have seen the quote by American syndicated humorist Art Buchwald,1 “The best things in life aren’t things.” It has a way of popping up in my mind whenever I’m about to buy a new gadget that I’ve seen advertised or exchange a household appliance for the latest model. Sometimes I give in anyway, but at least this saying usually helps me give the purchase some extra thought and consideration.
I love photography. When I got my first camera—a cheap point and shoot—I thrilled to the new world of possibilities. I took it everywhere and captured a lot of memories, till the day it fell against a hillside rock and failed me forever after.
Then I upgraded to a bridge camera with more options and a much greater built-in zoom. This was my pride and joy for years, though eventually my skills outgrew it as well. I wanted something that took the photo as soon as I pressed the button.
My husband and I spent a year in a small town in Tanzania. When I say a “small town,” I mean a town with two stoplights, no supermarket, no restaurants to speak of, only one two-story building, and no entertainment! We lived in a simple house with only the most basic furnishings and conveniences.
We children had always wanted a real Christmas tree—a tall, lavishly decorated one, like other families had. It would have “singing” lights, silver tinsel, and glass ornaments dressing its snow-topped branches. And of course, the space beneath it would be overflowing with presents.
I first met Danica and Milic over 13 years ago. They were already affectionately known as “the grandparents on the mountain,” because the name of the small village where they live, Suhodol, means “dry hill.” To reach it, you have to drive on a steep trail, and during harsh winters, there’s no way to get there by vehicle. They don’t have running water or indoor plumbing, and like many people in the area of Croatia bordering Bosnia, they have a sad story of fleeing from war and destruction, living in refugee camps, and finally returning home to their village and their burned-down house and having to start building a life again at an age when people usually retire.
I’ve kept a journal of some kind since my preteen years. At the beginning of this year, I decided that I would not only record things of obvious significance when they occurred, but I would write at least a line or two every single day, whether or not anything apparently noteworthy took place. I’m happy to say I’m well on track to finish strong.
One of the most mind-boggling questions is “How does God relate to time?”
The Bible does its best to give us God’s perspective. “Don’t forget that for the Lord one day is the same as a thousand years,” it explains helpfully, “and a thousand years is the same as one day.”1 Our relationship to time seems to be a lot simpler, but the truth is we still haven’t figured it all out.
The year we had very little money to spend on Christmas turned out to be our best ever! After a recent move to a new country, we’d had to leave behind all of our Christmas decorations, and I wondered how we could decorate our home, especially since we were tight on cash and had extra setting-up costs. Thankfully, one autumn weekend while on a forest hike, my kids got the idea of collecting pine cones and using these to make Christmas decorations. We began right away, and by evening we had a large bagful.
I first met Ivan in 1995 while collecting aid in Italy for delivery to refugee camps in Croatia and Bosnia. I remember his smile and warm handshake.
It was a few years before we saw him again. He called to offer us some boxes of clothing he had collected, and we went to his home, where we met his wife, Francesca, and their two children. From then on, we stayed in touch, and over time, we’ve learned a lot from each other.