It’s 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 think I already have one of these.

I think 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 depression of the bowl had a diameter of about eight inches and was about four inches deep. The flanges around the rim of the bowl doubled its overall size. Ridges that looked like mountain ranges protruded from the bottom. (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 bed pan 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 (yes, we did name the bowl), was not an easy one. It seemed that none of the stores we went to 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?” attempting to hide a puzzled smile. 

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

“What on earth is that?!” accompanied by 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 $15 didn’t fit in with our decor.

The astonished clerk finished the paperwork to return the bowl and we left with $35, about $75 in today’s money. “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 said. “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, etc. I wish I had one of those special gifts. I want gifts that are useful to others, gifts that people can see. I think we all do.

Unfortunately, I often think any gifts he has given me aren’t the good ones. They’re gifts that don’t seem useful or special. They are undesirable because I have expectations about exactly what a special gift from God really is.

The real problem is that I fail to see these gifts as gifts born out of love. I don’t want them because they aren’t exciting or fun or obvious or what I deem useful. They’re like The Blue Bowl: ugly and unwanted. So I’m busy “taking them back to the store” to try to exchange them for something more exciting. Something that will capture my attention. Something that will attract others to me.

The reality is that not all gifts are obvious and exciting. To use an old expression, where would the blossom be without the stem? Whereas I’d much rather be the blossom, God’s given me the gift of being the stem. It’s not what I want, but it’s what is needed.

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

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