Born in the Netherlands, Dina Ellens has experienced a variety of cross cultural settings ranging from the USA, where she was educated, to Asia. She taught school in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years and is now retired. Dina remains active in volunteer work as well as pursuing her interests in early childhood education and writing.
One day I noticed that my dentist friend, Dr. Rina, was looking a bit sad. We often meet for coffee, but today Rina wasn’t her usual bubbly self. I asked her what was wrong and she answered:
“Well, Christmas is coming up, and I’m just feeling kind of sad. As you know, both of my children are married and live far away. And I don’t have any grandchildren yet.”
My ten-year-old granddaughter and I had a lot of fun the other day, talking about fruit. We had just read the verses in Revelation 22 about the tree of life that bears 12 different kinds of fruit: “The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.”1
I thought I had my life together. I had a loving husband, four wonderful children, and a fulfilling life as an aid worker. We had moved to Indonesia to work with a sheltered workshop for disabled children under the sponsorship of the International Council on Social Welfare and were truly enjoying our experiences.
However, after the birth of my fifth child, things took a different turn. I began struggling with nightmares and depression that overshadowed every aspect of my life. Then my marriage fell apart.
I was gathered with friends in a living room full of Christmas decorations. There were refreshments on the coffee table, and we were singing Christmas carols together. What could be more typical?
But I live in Southeast Asia, and I was surrounded by local friends and was attempting to sing “O Holy Night” in a foreign (to me) language. As my eyes traveled around the circle, I briefly thought of each one that was there.
Sometimes the greatest heroes are actually the unsung little ones who live their lives with quiet courage. By their example, they leave an indelible mark. Eddy is one of those.
Recently two friends got in touch to let me know about some pretty major events that were happening in their lives. First, Ina called to share that her daughter had tested positive after being leukemia-free for three years. She had just received the heartbreaking news and was overwrought with emotion when she called.
Later that same week, Susan emailed me to say that her husband had unexpectedly been laid off. She was worried that they might have to give up their new house since they were depending on his salary to make the payments.
Those first few minutes while the news sank in were devastating. I felt like my whole world was caving in. Somehow I managed to stumble shakily out of my boss’ office. His words kept reverberating in my head: “Due to the current situation, we’re having to cut back. So we wanted to ask if you wouldn’t mind accepting a cutback on your work hours for now.”
My brother’s death hit me hard, perhaps because it was so unexpected. John died of a heart attack at only 51. Until then, he had seemed strong, healthy, and in the prime of life, so it was difficult for me to come to terms with this loss.
Unexpected changes have never been easy for me, and last year was such a time. I was expecting to be able to move closer to my son and his family, but found out that the situation to which I was planning to move was no longer a possibility.
Disheartened, I paused to reflect on my options. Outside the window, it was a beautiful day, and I felt a gentle peace envelop me.
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.