FROM INSPIRATION TO DESIGN TO PRODUCTION TO YOU (OR, THE STORY OF HOW GOD WORKS IN AMAZING WAYS)
The full story of how SACRED SEASON came into being is a long one - spanning many years, full of tortuous twists and turns - as I tried to determine how to best keep my promise to God, using the "instrument" of SACRED SEASON.
More than anything - it is a story of how God truly does work in amazing ways - and of learning how "God's time is the right time".
From the very beginning, back in the summer of 1995, when I first thought of these designs, I envisioned working with ornament studios, where artists would be blessed for spreading the Gospel.
I researched producing SACRED SEASON in quantity in the USA (that could be a book in itself, with doors slamming right & left!). I also traveled to Ireland and ultimately throughout Eastern Europe - networking and talking with artists who could create the SACRED SEASON designs.
Now, all along this journey, I had been very blessed to meet extraordinary American artists who helped me translate my more complicated and "painterly" designs into finished pieces of art - but trying to find artists who could replicate these designs & produce them in quantity had turned into a nightmare!
It was this "production puzzle" that had seemed unsolvable - for 5 long years, in fact.
At every stop along this journey, I was startled not just by my inability to find artists who could paint beautifully and consistently well - but also, by the overall disinterest in this project, even by "Christian" artists. None seemed "moved" at all by the concept behind SACRED SEASON.
Throughout these disappointing travels, a friend and advisor (who, incidentally, is an agnostic) continued to "hammer away" that I needed to travel to China "where this sort of work is done all the time".
But - I had been just as adamant for years: I simply would not do business in China - for a number of reasons, including:
- China persecutes and imprisons Christians and Catholics;
- China imprisons priests and nuns and ministers - anyone who preaches the Gospel;
- China 's poor record on human rights - particularly with respect to children and the unborn;
- China 's record of poor working conditions;
- Chinese artists, as non-Christians, would have no appreciation for the mission behind SACRED SEASON.
Nevertheless, my friend continued to insist that I needed to go to China to get the ornaments produced - saying that it was indeed possible to work with a good factory where workers were treated well and respected.
One day, when a much hoped for factory in Eastern Europe failed to deliver on its promises, I dissolved into tears.
My friend sighed and said: "I keep telling you and you simply won't listen. You need to go to China ."
I was beyond exasperated & snapped at him: "I know you don't get this, because you aren't a believer - but I'm not going to do business in a country where they don't respect Christianity!"
But I was embarrassed into silence when he replied: "For someone who has never been there, you certainly have a lot of opinions. There are many wonderful people in China and you should go there and investigate for yourself before you write them off."
So, in the fall of 2000, I "threw in the towel" on this long-running debate, & decided to go to China to "check it out" - promising to keep an "open mind" - but without making any commitments. (My agnostic friend had found a factory within one week and set up the appointments for us to meet -- I'm still astonished that he was able to do this, in a country so huge!)
Upon arriving at this factory in interior China, I was struck by how warm and welcoming and professional everyone was - and how well the workers were treated (far better, in fact, than any conditions I saw in Eastern Europe).
But, when I presented the artwork for the artists to paint onto the glass globes and "eggs" - the factory owner and artists all scowled. The translator explained: "We've seen American Christmas ornaments - and these will never sell in America - these don't even look like anything we've ever seen!"
I must admit, I still cringe thinking of how abrupt I was. The truth is, I was annoyed. ( I've come all this way, and they are going to tell ME what will sell in the USA ?? And these folks have never been outside of China , much less celebrated Christmas!!! )
So, brushing their concerns aside - I replied: "Don't worry about that - this is something brand new for the American market & these designs will sell beautifully! These ornaments are all about Jesus and the Bible. You just paint them & I'll sell them, OK? Now, can you make them?"
They nodded in silence - and went to work.
Over the next 10 days, I was stunned by the quality of the work - ecstatic to the point of tears.
Finally - an answer to years of prayers - a way had been found to make the ornaments!
The only thing that was sad, I thought, was that the stories didn't mean anything to the artists.
On the last day at the factory, we were saying our good-byes and finalizing contracts for work to begin. Everyone was very pleased with the outcome of the trip.
Just as we were about to leave - in walked a group of artists and the translator - men and women ranging from their 20s to 50s. The translator said: "You can't leave yet - we have more questions."
(I was embarrassed still by my abrupt manner when I had first arrived - and had tried hard to be warmer & "make friends" during my stay. But now, oh no! - Had I been clumsy & rude? - What had I forgotten to cover with them? Surely they would think me an "ugly American"!)
"When you first came here, you told us that these ornaments were about Jesus and the Bible. Well, we've heard there was someone called Jesus, but we don't know anything about Him - and we've never seen a Bible. Would you tell us the stories? "
I was so stunned, I simply couldn't speak. I frankly think I gaped at them a moment - then I started to point to certain designs (the samples were scattered on the conference table).
First, I pointed to "Consider The Lilies" - struggling to find the "right words" to instantly "connect" with these "total strangers" about Jesus - an audience who had never heard anything about Him, before that day!
I literally said a silent prayer ("God help me - where do I begin?! - What do I say?!) - And then, I picked up "Jesus Calms the Stormy Sea " .
Watching the faces of the Chinese artists, as the translator carefully translated the Gospel miracle story, I saw that THIS story was getting their attention.
When the translator told the artists about how Jesus commanded the wind and seas to be calm - suddenly, the artists grew very excited - eyebrows raised, mouths hanging open, talking to each other with huge smiles on their faces.
The translator turned to me, grabbed my arm and said: "They want to know!! Did Jesus REALLY do that?!"
My eyes filled with tears - in astonishment - and also in shame, for being so convinced that these stories "wouldn't mean anything" to the Chinese.
Then, my friend - the agnostic - turned to me and said:
"Isn't this what you are always talking about? - That the Holy Spirit works in amazing ways?"
So, in one fell swoop, God touched the hearts of so many people in that factory office:
- The Chinese artists - who 2,000 years after the birth of Jesus - had never before heard the Good News;
- My "agnostic" friend - searching and questioning, skeptical and yet longing - who witnessed first-hand how God does indeed work in amazing ways;
- Me: so pitifully arrogant for years, to have thought I "understood" where God wanted SACRED SEASON made. Now I was dramatically reminded of the REAL AWE we "believers" should all feel when we listen to the miracles of the Gospel!
Ever since, every time I get a shipment delivered to the USA , I think of the wonderful Chinese people on the other side of the world who make these beautiful ornaments, entirely by hand.
I pray that they continue to ask their translator to explain the stories on the cards, as they prepare the ornaments for shipment - so that they learn the Gospel stories of two millennia ago.
It is my hope and prayer that SACRED SEASON is "planting a seed" - in a land where Jesus is not known, where Christians are persecuted, where a cross may not be sold and where possession of a Bible is considered "subversive" - but, where commerce permits the story of Jesus to see the light of day.
I trust that God will water and nourish that seed so it will grow - and I thank Him for using all of us & SACRED SEASON as instruments to spread the Good News - here & in China.
The bottom line, which I had to learn the hard way by traveling to the other side of the world, is this:
I have no idea how God will act - what circumstances He will use for His purposes - and I had better take care to not "get in God's way"! I now try to remember always, that God's time is the right time - and my trust must be in Him, and not my own understanding.
Most of all --- I see that it was most definitely in the Lord's plan, that China is the right place to produce SACRED SEASON !
It is my prayer that these ornaments will continue to touch hearts - all over the world - for many years to come!
Please share this wonderful story with everyone you meet!
God bless you !