Its the Thought That Counts

by Jan Coles

All kinds of thoughts can occur to me when I open a gift:
“How thoughtful!”
“That is so nice of her to think of me.”
“I already have one of these.”
“I thought I told him I don’t like these.”
“What made him think I’d like this?”
“What was she thinking?!”
Among the gifts my husband and I received as wedding presents was a large, blue glass bowl from his Aunt Ellen. His artistic, eclectic Aunt Ellen. The bowl was, well, um, shall we say, unusual.
The actual depression of the bowl had a diameter of about eight inches and was about four inches deep. The top rim of the bowl was about four inches wide on two sides and three inches wide on the other two sides. (Think about making a bowl by pressing down through the center of a cookie sheet.) It might have been a reasonable (albeit large) salad bowl, but the bottom of the bowl was not flat. It looked like mountain ranges had uplifted from the bottom of the bowl. (You can see a picture of it here:
What was Aunt Ellen thinking?
The bowl was too big to fit in a cupboard. It was too fragile to put in a closet or under the bed. It was too big to set out as “decor,” since our dining table did double duty as a desk. We joked that it couldn’t even be used as a bedpan because of the ridges in the bottom of the bowl. In short, the bowl was useless. And to be honest, we thought it was ugly. So, we did what newly married college students do with a wedding gift they don’t want: return it and buy something else.
Our quest to return The Blue Bowl was not an easy one. It seemed that none of the stores sold anything like The Blue Bowl. The reactions varied:
“No, we don’t sell anything like that.”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure what store that may have come from.” (trying to appear helpful)
“You say you got this as a wedding gift?” (hiding a puzzled smile)

“Um, I’ve never seen anything like that here.” (stifling a giggle)

“What on earth is that?!” (peals of laughter)

After a few stores, the task of finding a place to return the bowl turned into a game. The more places we went to, the more incredulous looks and comments we received, the funnier the game. We laughed with the clerks as they tried to help us figure out which store we could try next.

So it was with smirks ready that we approached the clerk in the china department at Frederick & Nelsons. “Oh!” she gasped, “You want to return a Blenko Original?!”

“Well, yeah,” I began. “It’s pretty ug…,” Stepping slightly in front of me, Brian stopped me with a more gracious response: “It doesn’t really fit our decor.” (Anything worth more than $20 didn’t fit in with our decor.)

The astonished clerk finished the paperwork to return the bowl and we left with $35. “Not much for a Blenko Original,” I remarked to Brian as we left the china department.

Then a funny thing happened. I didn’t want to sell the bowl back to the store! We had so much fun trying to return the bowl that we actually enjoyed—in a twisted sort of way—owning the bowl. I wanted to run back and tell the clerk I’d changed my mind and wanted the bowl back. Suddenly I realized the bowl wasn’t worthless.

As kids, we expectantly opened boxes adorned with bows and colored paper on Christmas and on our birthdays. Sometimes we were disappointed, like when my great aunt sent me slippers she had crocheted using pink, scratchy yarn. “It’s the thought that counts,” my dad would say. “Your aunt made these for you because she loves you.” (To which my eight-year-old mind responded, “If she loved me, she would know I hate pink!”)

But I’m beginning to wonder what it really means when we say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Certainly, Aunt Ellen had thought about whether we would appreciate and enjoy The Blue Bowl. The problem was what we thought. We were too busy thinking about what we wanted. The Blue Bowl had little value to us when we looked at it with our own expectations and desires.

We hear a lot about God giving each of us special gifts: an ear for music, a great singing voice, insightful teaching, an ability to be an encourager, among many others. I fail to see the gifts God has given me because I’m too busy taking them “back to the store.” I don’t want them because they aren’t exciting or fun or obvious or what I deem “useful.”

God’s not in the business of handing out gifts without thinking about the recipient. I’m convinced he thinks about it a lot. But gifts he gives aren’t useful to us until we see their value. Until we think about them the way he thinks about them.

I think my dad was right. It is the thought that counts.

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