I noticed it again tonight when I was up in our attic. Off in a corner, partly hidden by boxes of books and cast-off clothing, sits a dinged-up pink bike. Barely larger than a trike, it sports pink handle-bar grips and tiny white tires.
The bike once belonged to my stepdaughter, Jana. She was 6 when I met her. Mainly, I remember blond hair to her bottom and a voice so high and doll-like that the first time I heard it over the phone, I thought she was joking.
"Is your dad there?" I asked.
A squeaky "Uh huh--I'll go get him" confirmed it was for real.
Five years later, when Dave and I got married and condensed our stuff, I had assumed Jana's little pink bike would go in the garage sale we were planning. She was 11 then--at least two bikes older.
"How much is it worth, do you think?" I asked Dave as we rummaged through piles in his garage. "Five bucks?"
"Oh man!" he gasped and came over to where I was standing to behold the pink object. "Jana's first bike," he mused. "We have photos of the boys running behind her, teaching her to ride." He looked to me for understanding, for consent. "You know, pigtails blowing in the breeze? A smile from here to there?" He looked back at the bike. "I don't think I can let it go," he said.
Four moves and two garage sales later, the bike has stayed. And will stay, I think, until he dies. It could end up as the first pink-bike headstone in town.
I joke now. But during the first part of our marriage, that tiny pink bike came to represent a threat to my newfound happiness: another female. Pink. Young. Adorable. Add to that the fact that Jana was everything to her father--in spite of living three hours away--that I'd never been to my own father. I'd lost him in my childhood, first to shadows of divorce, then to mental illness, and finally to suicide.
I'd been warned that there are few things harder on a second wife than an adolescent stepdaughter. And I had prepared myself that Dave's love for his daughter would aggravate my own lingering father-wounds. Surely, Jana would compete with me. And I would compete with her.
But I was only half right. Yes, when Dave would go to great lengths to make Jana happy in some way, I wanted to topple them both. When he didn't come to bed because tucking Jana in turned into an hour-long tete-a-tete. I silently seethed over the "intrusion." This kind of emotional hoarding comes all too easily for children and adults who grow up in want. But right before my eyes, Jana thrived in the abundance of her father's love. And exactly because she felt secure, she was able to forgive my selfish comments and occasional fits of resentment.
Slowly, I learned that the pain I felt was actually God's invitation to redemption. As often as I pointed out to him that Jana was always getting her own way, he pointed out to me that I had a choice. I could give in to feelings of resentment and jealousy. Or, I could do the opposite. I could want for Jana everything I'd never had from my father. I could offer to let Jana sit by her dad at church, or encourage them to take a walk alone in the snow. I could rejoice in their relationship and let the little girl inside of me draw comfort from witnessing firsthand some of what she missed.
Over time, as God helped me to embrace the very thing that hurt, I began to heal. Watching Dave with Jana--father-love in action--helped me to better imagine God as the loving father that he wanted to be to me. As I developed greater intimacy with "Abba" ("Daddy" in Aramaic, the loving term Jesus used for God), I found a true balm for my father-wounds.
And there's more. I had always wanted a daughter but had two boys. Worlds away and unknown to me at the time, Dave was on the same track with his wife. Two boys--and then came Jana. A surprise. A daughter for Debbie and Dave. And in God's benevolent time line, a future daughter for me.
She's coming this weekend. She'll be here in a couple of hours, hugging me, chattering away, alight with love. These days, she's sweet 16 in every sense. Gone are the days of bikes in any color. Now she rides around in a spiffy green Jetta, breaking boys' hearts, beautifully certain that her father's heart--and mine--are hers.
On that kind of certainty you can't put a price tag.