In 1977 I was having my left lateral meniscus removed as a result of a motorcycle calamity when I met Dutchie Mathison. I do not recall how much time I spent in the hospital, but I had to have stayed long enough to have a visit from the itinerant teacher providing education for sick children in Maple Ridge – Mrs. Mathison. I cannot tell you what Mrs. Mathison looked like or what schoolwork she brought for me to do. I was only twelve, and it was only months after my mom had died. This time of my life was a blurr. I was in what some describe as survival mode; a term used to describe a stress response to a trauma and when worry takes over your life.
What I do remember about Mrs. Mathison is warmth.
Over forty years later I casually mentioned in conversation with my youngest daughter one day, “I’d love to own a ‘Dutchie’ one day.” And unbeknownst to me this wish was recorded. Jenna began this past spring to keep track of our wishes. She was compiling personal gift lists for each of her family members on her iPhone. And with the advent of Christmas she returned to her lists and began the hunt for a “Dutchie” in hopes of surprising her mama.
With excited anticipation on Christmas morning she handed me a pink foil wrapped present tied up beautifully with a teal satin ribbon. “This is a photo blanket,” I excitedly guessed. “Go ahead and guess away, mom. You will never guess in a million years.” And she was right! Complete with the original receipt I was gifted the original “Dutchie” titled Four Friends. Tucked in with the painting was also its inspiration: “The sepia faded snap brings images flashing back through the decades. I remember my twin sister and I and a Christmas that brought two store bought dolls from a far away “in town granny”. The memories are as precious now as the dolls were then. Thus Four Friends…”
She surprised her mama all right, with a gift from heaven!
This year has been a season of lament. April 23, when my dear sister passed away, I entered a season of loss like I have never experienced before. The hopeful anticipation of Advent was distant and far from my grasp this year as I wrestled the weight of Nancy’s death and Christmas time without her. Grief continues to lurk like a thief in the bushes and ambush me when I least expect it. Yet, this Christmas morning I was surprised by joy – the kind of Joy that C.S. Lewis describes as the “region of awe.”
No, I cannot dismiss the experience as accidental.
This painting was the only Dutchie that Jenna found—in Essex, England a mere 7,562 kms from Maple Ridge —on a site called preloved.uk. Pretty certain this was the right one for her mama, my daughter set out to gratify her mama’s wish. The owner had bought the painting years before on a trip to Vancouver and promised Jenna she would look into shipping costs and insurance upon her return from Egypt but told Jenna that she would only be in England for four days before going to Chili, so she would have to arrange things quickly. Arrangements were made and the seller kindly sent Jenna updates as she tracked its journey, “coming home.”
Jenna did not know the painting was of two sisters until its arrival. She too experienced unexpected Joy!
I have a note from my sister (my brother-in-law gave it to me at Nancy’s funeral) that I carry in my wallet: “I will always be with you, when you see or hear something special you’ll know.”
Of one thing I am sure. I have evidence that God exists. Just as David prayed with confidence I also believe with confidence that God has kept count of my tossings and collected my tears in His bottle (Psalm 56:8).
For this wonderful Christmas gift I kneel and say thank you.