Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Headed to the Poor House with Love

Abigail turned six over the weekend, and this birthday was marked by a love of American Girl dolls. Josh and I have not encouraged this interest, largely because we hope one day we can afford to send our children to college. Nevertheless, a few friends in her inner circle received dolls in the last year, and so the desire took root and grew in sweet, innocent, six-year-old girl fashion.

Over the summer, she poured over her AG magazine, circling the items she was interested in, discussing the merits of the different dolls she was considering, informing me each day as her favorite doll and accessories changed. She day-dreamed about these dolls like a middle schooler about a crush. One day she said, "Mommy, I just can't stop thinking about my American Girl doll." Her eyes sparkled and her lips curved sweetly into a smile.

We decided to make the doll a reward for finishing the huge Hooked on Phonics set she's been working through for the last year. The set consists of five boxes of reading materials that begin with basic letter sounds and consonant-vowel-consonant words like "cat" and "fit" and end with more complex phonograms like "igh" and "kn." By the last box, she was reading words like "string," "knapsack," "phone," and "shimmer" in increasingly longer books and stories. The whole set is a behemoth task for a five-year-old, representing hours of dedication and work. To encourage her investment, each individual box she finished came with a small prize, and the American Girl doll became the grand prize. Toward the end of summer, her motivation for her doll was so great, she worked her way through the fourth box in a weekend, insisting we read together in every spare moment we had.

So it seemed appropriate that her birthday follow this love. We made reservations at the cafe in the AG store for her and two little friends to enjoy a small dinner party. She finished her fifth and final box of the set just days before her birthday weekend so that she would have her own doll to bring to the party, where they have highchairs for the dolls, who are served with tiny teacups and plates when the girls receive their drinks and meals.

The night before her birthday celebration, Josh, Benjamin, and I drove her to the store to pick out her doll and one accessory (the prize for completing her fourth box). She walked the store thoughtfully, carefully considering all her options before settling on Josefina. She radiated gratitude and joy, carrying her doll gently, adorning her with her little accessories, and smiling that coy smile of hers that comes out when she can't contain her inner delight.

All summer, Benjamin and Abby had been discussing which doll accessories he would get her for her birthday. So that night at the store, Ben pulled me aside and said, "I want to get something that Abby can wear to her party tomorrow." The store sells matching outfits for girls and their dolls. Since her party at the cafe was to be followed by a slumber party at our house, I suggested a set of matching pajamas, which he agreed would be perfect. I made the birthday purchases out of Abby's sight, shook my head at the price tag, and then we all went to dinner together, Josh and I exchanging smiles as we observed Abby's excitement. "It's happy new mommy day for Josefina," Abby proclaimed over mac and cheese, embracing this role completely.

Toward the end of dinner, Benjamin sidled up to me to whisper in my ear, "Mommy, I want to get Abby a bed for Josefina."

I heard the love in his voice but said quietly, "You'll have to talk to Daddy about that, because I think we've spent all our birthday budget already," catching Josh's eyes across the table.

Ben walked around the table to his daddy and whispered his desire in his ear. With Abby engaged in her care of Josefina, Josh mouthed across the table to me, "How much?"

I shrugged my shoulders that I didn't know. "Probably a lot," I mouthed back.

Josh turned to Ben and said, "Why don't we go look and see." So while Abby and I took care of the bill, they went back to the bastion of girly-ness, two boys who adore our little girl, to see about a bed.

I watched the door, waiting for them to walk back out, wondering what they'd decide. A few minutes later, they emerged with a large bag in hand, smiling. As we climbed in the car together, Josh said, "I just can't say no to our son when he loves her so much." We drove home through the rain, Abby cradling her doll in the backseat, my heart glowing with affection for my husband.

And I thought, this must be how God reacts to us. When he sees us giving to our brothers and sisters on earth, sharing lavishly, illogically out of a pure heart of love, I'm sure He must say, "Sure, Son. Go ahead and get that for your sister. I'll find the money somewhere. Give freely. I'll figure out how to pay for it."

Something about the whole exchange rang profoundly true.

The next day, Abby dressed her doll up for the party, enjoyed a sweet dinner with friends, and came home to find matching pajamas laid out for her and Josefina with a little bed next to her big bed for her doll. Ben couldn't contain his excitement, telling her all about the bed and how they chose it. When he started to walk out of the room to show Abby something else, she ran up behind her brother and threw her arms around him, saying, "I love you, Ben."

And when Abby opened the rest of her birthday presents two days later, she shared her new crafts and activities freely with her big brother, without concern for how much he was using her gifts. It was all freedom, all generosity, from a spirit overflowing with gratitude and joy.

We love because we've been loved. We give because we've been given. We share because we've received abundantly. And in this communion of love, the very heart of God, whose resources know no limit, is revealed.

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