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.
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 the house, 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.
It all started when we gave in to the children’s pleas and bought a cute little rabbit. At first, the little fellow was too small to be left alone in the garden while the children were at school, but neither could he remain in his hutch all day without any exercise.
So the task fell on me to take the rabbit out in the garden daily. It soon got to be our little ritual. Whenever I’d unlock the screen door in the morning, there’d be a “Thump!” from his hutch, as if he was saying, “I’ve been waiting for you!”As soon as I set bunny on the ground, he would do a few little happy jumps, showing how glad he was just to be alive.
When my boss agreed to let me start working from home, I was excited about the prospect and confident that I could do an even better job than working at the office, but he responded with a knowing smile, “Just remember, I may call sometimes just to see if you’re at your desk. Don’t let me find you in the kitchen!”—My boss knew my love for good food and cooking!—“Just be at your desk by 9:00 every morning, and everything will flow from there.”
I didn’t appreciate it much when I was younger, but looking back now, I realize the influence my father’s faith in God has had on me. I have fond memories of standing next to his (at the time) towering 6-foot frame, listening to him wholeheartedly singing hymns in church.
My family was from Holland, and my father’s favorite songs were in Dutch. After leaving home and striking out on my own, one particular song would come back to me, especially when I was feeling discouraged or worried. Roughly translated, it goes like this:
I first met Martha as she was sitting on a bench in the park where I was taking my baby for a walk. My husband and I had been married for two years, and we had just had our first child. Martha was staring vacantly into space and didn’t acknowledge me when I sat down to tend to my lively eight-month-old boy who already didn’t want to stay put in his stroller.
When she saw him, Martha’s expression came alive, and she smiled at me and the baby. I struck up a conversation with her, and found out that she was a retired nurse and midwife. She was slim and petite, and although in her 60s, she still wore her hair in shoulder-length soft waves. She told me how she had never gotten married but always loved babies and had delivered hundreds of them.
I had just moved to a new country with my husband and family. That meant new schools for the children and a new job for my husband. It was a difficult time of adjustment for all of us, but I was especially feeling the strain. My marriage was feeling it, too. There was a growing list of subjects that my husband and I stopped talking about, because we knew they would lead to arguments.
But then I got to know Toni.
My son's voice broke as he spoke, "Mom, I don't know what's happening. I just moved my family in order to take a new job, but now that job has fallen through!"
I did my best to encourage him, but as the minutes went by, I could tell I wasn’t getting through the wall of anguish.
After hanging up, I couldn’t get my son’s situation out of my mind. Finally I stopped everything else to pray about what he was going through. My son and his wife are active Christians and responsible young parents. I knew that he would do the best he could to support his family, but I knew, too, that the worldwide economic slump meant it was even more difficult than usual to get a good job.
Shortly after the Tohoku earthquake and ensuing tsunami of March 11, 2011, I read an article about the 600-year-oldstone markers that previous generations of Japanese had erected in the hills along the coastline where many past communities had been devastated by tsunamis. The boulders marked how far inland the wave from a previous tsunami had reached and warned residents not to build below that line.
The stone markers were disregarded by modern property developers who built far below the safety line, some right up to the coastline. Seawalls were built to protect the new residential areas, and engineers were confident that they would be able to withstand any tsunami. The seawalls failed, and the only villages that were spared were those inland and uphill of the stone markers.