by Melissa Brotton  |  28 December 2020  |

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” (Ps. 42:11)

Sometime during my college graduation weekend, my mother presented me with the gift of a rag doll named after me, complete with her own psychology degree. Pinned to this smiling doll were the implements of field research: a gorilla named Koko (after Francine Patterson’s famed primate), a Pavlov bell, a whistle, a leather strap of books by Freud et al., and a clipboard of cartooned jokes about therapists. I loved this gift that represented all my career aspirations at the time. Carefully, I placed her on a bookshelf to remind me of my goals for the next five years as I pursued various graduate degrees. But after a few years and some career changes, I eventually tucked the doll away in a box as I moved around the country. At length, I forgot all about her.

Not long ago, while sorting through things in my garage, I came across my “Missy” doll face-down in an open box. A reroofing project had dumped loads of asphalt dust onto everything. I picked her up, brushed her off, and stared into her face. She was still smiling, of course, but her glasses had grown filmy. With her rumpled, dirty clothes, she seemed a pale and tattered remnant of her former self, somewhat like how I was feeling about my life at the moment. Years of chasing futile dreams had left me, too, in a dusty box, waiting for someone to pick me up and dust me off. A thought sparked in me that I would need to do more than simply clean “Missy” up. She would need an entire overhaul if she were ever to offer inspiration again.

I knew nothing about how to clean up rag dolls, so I started with the internet and followed instructions. First, I removed her clothing and all of her attached bells and whistles, which I placed in a shoe box, ironically labeled “Dream Pairs.” Next, I let her soak in a small tub with some liquid soap and a shower-cap to protect her delicate hair. After her bath, I took her out and wrung as many drips from her as I could. Finally, I placed her outside on a drying rack in the sun. She looked pathetic, face-down, her naked body dripping onto the patio. A sad effigy of my own soul, I thought glumly.

Coming back inside the house, I realized that I did not have an actual plan for what to do with her once she was dry. How could I re-dress her until I understood my own path? And I didn’t have that figured out yet. An old song was playing in my head. “Are you tired of chasing pretty rainbows?”[1] Now, chasing dreams is a rich part of human life, but sometimes our pursuit of them becomes dizzying. “Are you tired of spinning round and round?” I felt weary and tangled in my own dream-weaving to the point of being stuck. Had I lost sight of what was important? “Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life, and at the feet of Jesus lay them down.” Deflated, I seized the moment to commit to God whatever was next on my horizon.

My rag doll story reminds me of an incident in the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who, in her book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, recalls a day when she was forced to say an unexpected good-bye to her own beloved rag doll, Charlotte. This doll was especially dear to Laura because she had dreamed a long time of having a real doll after having only a corn-cob wrapped in a handkerchief. One day a neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, stopped by the Ingalls home with her infant daughter, Anna, who took a liking to Charlotte, but when it was time for the visitors to go home, Anna would not let go of the doll. Gulping back tears, Laura, with pressure from Ma, had to allow Anna to take her doll. Weeks later, Laura came across Charlotte frozen in a mud-puddle, where Anna had discarded her. Overjoyed, Laura picked up the soggy doll and ran home, where Ma took pains to sew Charlotte a whole new face.

Ma ripped off the torn hair and the bits of her mouth and her remaining eye and her face. They thawed Charlotte and wrung her out, and Ma washed her thoroughly clean and starched and ironed her while Laura chose from the scrap-bag a new, pale pink face for her and new button eyes.

That night when Laura went to bed she laid Charlotte in her box. Charlotte was clean and crisp, her red mouth smiled, her eyes shone black, and she had golden-brown yarn hair braided in two wee braids and tied with blue yarn bows.[2]

Our verse from Psalm 42 reminds us that when we feel like a worn-out rag doll, we can ask Jesus for an overhaul. In order to be remade, we may feel ripped apart, thawed, wrung out, washed, wrung out again, starched, and ironed. Admittedly, the process is hardly fun or easy. We may feel hung out to dry, so to speak, cold, wet, and dripping. But the final promised outcome is the needful facelift – a new smile of joy. A deep joy that comes from intimacy with our Savior, of internalizing his confidence as he removes stains of false hope from our lives. Like Ma giving Charlotte a new face, we can trust that our Savior knows what is needed to make us our best and brightest.

I am still waiting for my answer. In the meantime, I have re-dressed my doll as a gardener, symbolic of possibilities and my prairie upbringing. Gardeners plant many seeds, and seeds are little packages of potential — some which spring up and delight us with their beauty and vitality. Like the psalmist, I trust that God will lead me down the road he desires and make me faithful in the process.

My Gardener has thrown the seed. I wait in the true hope of his promise to sew a new smile on an old doll.

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
(Isaiah 43:18-19a)

  1. “Give Them All to Jesus,” written by Phil Johnson and Bob Benson Sr., 1975 (Dimension Music) and sung by the Heritage Singers in their 1976 LP, This Is the Time I Must Sing.
  2. Ingalls Wilder, Laura. On the Banks of Plum Creek. Chapter 29. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1937.

Melissa Brotton teaches writing and literature courses at La Sierra University. Her special areas are nineteenth-century British literature and religious studies. She has published on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Biblical ecology. She spends a lot of time outdoors, paints, and writes nature stories and poems. 

To comment, click/tap here.