Cowbells clinked on the door as Grandma and I entered the secondhand store not far from my grandparents' farm near Greeley, Colorado, where I was visiting the summer I was 5 years old. The sign outside said Junk, but to my grandma and me this place was a gold mine, packed floor to ceiling with woolen quilts, old records, and boxes of who-knew-what, its musty smell alone the stuff of promises.
"Mornin'," Grandma said to the lady inside. "We'll just be a-lookin'."
Moving sideways through the crammed aisles, I stopped for a moment to admire a chipped pomegranate sugar bowl. "Keep an eye out for something that doesn't belong here," Grandma hinted. "Something of value to you."
Eventually we wound our way back to the front of the store, and Grandma gave the junk lady 25 cents for a big box of buttons. "Thank ya," she said, repositioning the rhinestone-lined comb securing the pile of hair atop her head.
That's when I saw the doll. Her cloth body slumped against a book, her head tipped slightly to one side. But her eyes--her bark-brown eyes--gazed directly at me. I knew she was meant to be mine.
"Grandma," I said, "I want that doll more than anything." I pointed to her. "That one, there on the shelf."
"Costs fifteen cents," the junk lady said. She reached for the doll and held it up for Grandma's inspection. A whimper came from the doll. "The crier doesn't work right," the junk lady added. "She cries every time you move her."
And how often had that been? I wondered. Moved from place to place, probably, with no one to love her for very long. I guess her crier didn't work right. It was worn out from crying.
"Thank you, Grandma," I said. "I'll love her forever."
We settled into the pickup truck, the doll on my lap. I cupped my hand over her painted-on hair. "I'll call her Sylvia," I told Grandma on the way home. "You'll never be without a family again, Sylvia," I promised. She was my adopted doll. I kissed the crack over her eye, determined to make up for whatever sadness she'd known in the past.
I knew there were real kids in the world just like Sylvia. Surely God--whose love Grandma said stretched even farther than the sky--wanted all children to have a family. And then it became as clear to me as Sylvia's eyes: "When I grow up, Grandma, I'm going to adopt a real child."
"Why, that's wonderful to hear, Muriel," Grandma told me. "I can see already that you have the love in you to do it, God's love. And that's what makes everything possible."
Sylvia let out a cry when I brought her close to my heart. I watched the road markers tick by through the car window. "Does it take a long time to grow up, Grandma?" I asked.
"You'll be grown before you know it, child. Time has a way of passing."
My husband, Steve, our two children and I sang and told silly jokes for most of the drive from our home in Northglenn, Colorado, to a big family gathering at my aunt and uncle's farm near Greeley. My cousins Danny and Susie had told me lots about the foster child they'd taken in, and I looked forward to meeting her.
As I walked through the living room, I was surprised by a girl with honey-brown locks twirling past me like a whirligig. "Sorry, sorry, sorry," she said, stopping to face me mid-spin.
"Well, hello there," I said. "You must be Stephanie." She giggled and nodded her head so her hair bounced around her face. With a shy smile she twisted a strand of hair round her finger.
"I'm Muriel," I said. "Danny's my cousin." Stephanie was standing completely still now. She was a wisp of a girl, whose face somehow managed to convey both joy and sadness at once. And her eyes, her bark-brown eyes .
She's meant for me. The thought came out of nowhere.
"Gotta go," Stephanie said, suddenly. "See ya later!" And with that, she was off again, spinning out of the room.
"I see you've met Stephanie," Susie said, coming from the kitchen. "Caring for her is a challenge. She's not even 10 years old yet and has already known so much sadness. She's been in and out of countless foster homes. It's taken a toll on her, and she's a difficult child--angry, aggressive with the other kids, a discipline problem in school. The agency is desperate to find her a permanent home."
With us, I thought immediately. Stephanie belongs with us.
First Susie and Danny broke up the fight, then had to chase Stephanie halfway down the road before catching her. Stephanie came back, hiding behind Susie.
On the trip home, we weren't in the car more than five minutes before the conversation turned to Stephanie. "She's all alone in the world," my son said. "It doesn't seem fair." My daughter asked, "Can't somebody help her?"
Steve and I looked at each other. I knew immediately what he was thinking. Back in the early days of our marriage, we had talked about adoption. But somewhere along the way, busy raising our two kids, we had stopped talking about it. Now we started again. And we were talking about Stephanie.
If we were going to bring a third child into our home it would have to be a unanimous family decision, and we would have to be sure about it.
Over the next several months, we worked at getting to know Stephanie, visiting her at my cousins', often bringing her to stay with us. Kim loved having a girl near her own age around for late-night talks, and there was just enough tomboy in Stephanie to impress Steve Jr. But sometimes Stephanie acted out. She picked arguments--fights, even--with Steve Jr. and Kim. But time and again, after a while they'd be back outside running around the yard together.
A Year Ago
Steve and I had picked Steph up from the airport that June day. She was alone this trip, without her husband and their two girls back in Ohio. I'd detected some homesickness in our recent phone conversations, and as much as I would have liked to cuddle my grandbabies, I looked forward to some time alone with my 37-year-old daughter.
Lord, will there ever be enough time to show her how much I love her? I wondered while we sat in my bedroom catching up. And then those long ago words came back to me: Time has a way of passing.
"I'm hoping we can move here to Colorado in a few years, Mom," Steph said. "I want the girls to know you and Dad better, and to enjoy the kind of love I wasn't always able to appreciate when I was their age."
"It wasn't always easy, was it, Steph. But we knew it wouldn't be."
Steph looked down at the floor, and I knew she was trying to push away the memories of our struggles as mother and daughter, painful memories for us both. Recently, we had been able to heal many of our shared wounds. Motherhood had given Steph a new perspective.
"I can never make it up to you, what I put you and Dad through all those years," Steph said, burying her face in her hands.
I reached over to stroke her hair. "And I know I can never make up for the sadness you've suffered, Steph. I can't make that pain go away. But what I've always been able to do is love you."
I cupped my daughter's chin in my hands and looked into those brown eyes of hers. "I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were meant to be mine. You twirled into that room, Steph, and I knew you had been given to me. I didn't understand how or why it happened, but that didn't matter. God had prepared me to trust that feeling."
I reached for the doll named Sylvia, the doll that had planted in my heart the desire to adopt a child. "Love makes everything possible, Steph," I said, handing Sylvia to her. "That's what my grandmother told me the day I chose this doll--the day I first imagined you."
Steph held the doll while I told her the whole story of how Sylvia came to be mine. Then Steph asked, "Do you think I could take your Sylvia home with me, Mom? I want to show the girls the most precious doll in the world."
"Of course you can," I said. "You know, Steph, when I got Sylvia, she used to cry every time I moved her. But now she doesn't cry at all."
Stephanie put her arm around my waist. "That's because she knows at last how very much she's loved."
There we sat for a good long while--the doll, my daughter and I--knowing without a doubt that we'd all been chosen for one another.