January 3, 2005 - "A Wish for the New Year" by Author Unknown
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"The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul." ~ G. K. Chesterton
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Reading this story reminded me that sometimes we need to set resolutions for ourselves that reach beyond what is "safe" and can seem scary in order to realize our dearest hopes. Lois opened her heart up to a new life and found her heart's desire with her New Year wish and the courage to follow it.
"A Wish for the New Year"
Sitting in church, I stared at the words I had scribbled on a scrap of paper: "I want to find my brothers and sisters." It was the first Sunday in January, and our pastor had challenged us to trust God for something big in the new year. "Ask God for what seems impossible," he had said. "Write down your heart's most secret wish." This was the biggest, deepest wish I knew.
In the pew were my two children and my husband, Don. We had joined this enormous church in Oklahoma City in part because of my desire to get lost in a crowd. I ducked in and out like a shadow, avoiding close relationships and the inevitable questions about my past. Even though I was happily married, I ached from a childhood I had left nearly 2000 miles away in Maine more than 25 years ago.
I was five years old the first time my mother left me in charge of my brothers and sisters. "My babies," I called them, acting like their mother. Brian was seven. Karen was three, Robbie was one and little Kelly-Jo, a newborn. Daddy was away in Vietnam. Mama said she was just going to the store for bread and milk.
At first it was fun, just like playing house. But by nighttime the babies were crying and everyone was hungry. I had made a mess in the kitchen trying to fix supper. The second day Mama was gone I washed diapers in the bathtub. The smell was awful. When Mama finally came home, she went to sleep. She didn't bring any bread or milk. As I later came to understand, she was an alcoholic.
One night when I was six, I was awakened by screeching tires, screaming sirens and red flashing lights outside our house. Brian had crawled out a window and had been hit by a truck. I peeked through the curtain as he was lifted into the ambulance. Mama wasn't home so I rounded up the others and we hid in a closet until the policemen found us.
"I'm going to get a court order and take these kids out of here," I overheard one of them say.
We were instructed to stay put until they came back for us, but as soon as they left, I gathered up Karen and the babies and we walked in the dark until we found our great-uncle's house. He fetched Mama at a bar.
"This is all your fault!" Mama screamed at me. "You were supposed to take care of them. You are a bad little girl." The court order never came and Brian recovered. From then on Mama parked outside the bar and locked us in the car. Night after night Kelly-Jo cried because she was hungry and wet. Robbie bounced from the front seat to the back. Karen sucked her thumb. Brian cursed.
Daddy finally came home from Vietnam. Pretty soon, though, he and Mama were both drinking and fighting. One night I woke up when Daddy kissed me on my forehead. "Where are you going?" I whispered.
"To the store," he replied. He never came back.
Mama got worse after Daddy left. We moved from place to place, finally ending up in a small Maine town where Mama's parents lived. But they couldn't care for us, and Mama finally gave up. I was seven years old when we became wards of the state.
Brian was placed in foster care. Robbie and Kelly-Jo were adopted by a family. Karen and I went to Bangor Children's Home.
The orphanage was a forbidding Victorian building on a hill. Karen and I were assigned to a huge room on the third floor with rows of beds and a box at each for the red oxfords and uniforms we wore. I spent hours looking out the window, praying for a car to come up the long driveway and take me away. In the yard I would ride the swing as high as I could in hopes that I could fly over the fence and escape.
On Christmas, 1967, the tag on my gift read "For Boy or Girl." Trembling, I opened the box. Inside was a Pinocchio hand puppet, my very own toy. I was told that if I was a good girl, I could play with Pinocchio for 30 minutes each day. For that half hour I came alive.
When I was nine years old Karen and I were placed with a foster family. I ran to pack Pinocchio.
"You can't take that," the floor mother said. "The toy belongs to the Home."
She grabbed him. "The toy stays here."
"Nokie, Nokie!" I cried, calling out his nickname.
It seemed that everything I had ever loved was taken from me. Try as I might, I couldn't get over the scars of the past. As a teenager, I ran away from my foster family, leaving Karen behind. By sheer will I made a life for myself far away from Maine, but I could never trust anyone. My deepest relationships felt fragile.
"I think you should go back," my husband quietly urged when I told him about the New Year's resolution I'd written down in church that Sunday. "Visit the Children's Home. Try to see your brothers and sisters. Face your past."
I shuddered. I was afraid of being hurt, of being rejected once again. "What if they don't want to see me?" I asked. "What if I only remind them of painful memories?"
"Think about how the pastor put it in his sermon. You have to trust God with the future. If this is what you really want, God will help you."
I nodded. For years I had carried around an old newspaper clipping sent by a good friend back in Maine. It was an engagement announcement showing an attractive woman named Kelly-Jo. I took it out and studied it. Okay, Lord, you're going to have to help me with this first step.
I got her number from directory assistance. Kelly-Jo's adopted father answered and he knew who I was immediately. "I remember you, Lynn Ann," he said. "You're the one who has big brown eyes. It just about killed us that we couldn't adopt all you kids."
He told me Kelly-Jo was away on vacation, but he promised to give her my number.
A few hours later the phone rang. My son, Paul, announced from the hall, "There's a guy on the phone named Robbie. He says he's your brother!"
"Robbie?" I said in disbelief.
"Lynn Ann," he answered back with a real Yankee drawl. "I never forgot your name." He remembers me! He and Kelly-Jo had been adopted by the same family. Both were now married and lived in Maine.
"I'd like to come to Maine in a few weeks," I said. "Could you meet me?"
"Nothing could keep me away," he said.
I had found my two missing siblings; now I had to find a way to get us all back together. I had kept up with Brian and Karen. They lived just a few hours from Robbie and Kelly-Jo but they hadn't ever gotten together. They're as scared as I am, I thought.
Before leaving Oklahoma I framed four prints of the only surviving photo of the five of us as youngsters. My gift for my siblings.
After my plane landed in Bangor, I traveled to a friend's bed and breakfast to meet Robbie and Kelly-Jo. My babies, I thought when they came down the stairs. For they had been babies when I'd seen them last, Kelly-Jo still in diapers. I gazed at her now and a shadow of my own face stared back. Robbie towered over me, tears brimming in his eyes. I held them both, just held them.
We talked into the night and the next day. I found the similarities between Kelly-Jo and me startling. We could have been twins as high school cheerleaders. Looking at photos together, I noticed that we even had chosen the same wedding dress! I stayed at her house and before I fell asleep I saw that she slept with one leg outside the covers, just as I do.
I met with Brian and gave him the picture of us. "What cute kids we were," he said.
I visited Karen at her house and was amazed. It was like walking into my own home. Her furniture was similar to mine, and her decorating colors were the same: blue, mauve and forest green. Over her bed she had a collection of teddy bears. "Just like mine!" I exclaimed.
The hardest place to visit was Bangor Children's Home. I walked up those steep porch steps with dread. It was now a day-care center. In the office where I had trembled as a seven-year-old, I met Dierdra, an employee who offered to give me a tour.
She took me through the huge dining room and up the wide stairs I'd had to clean and scrub with a toothbrush every Saturday morning. I located my former bedroom, where I had gazed longingly out the window for a rescuer.
I found the room where the housemother had disciplined me. Back then I had forced myself to block out all feeling when I was scolded. But now tears that had been stanched for years flowed.
As I described the painful memories, Dierdra looked as if she had seen a ghost. "Just a minute," she said and bustled out of the room. She came back from the attic carrying a small hand puppet. She even had the tag that read: "For Boy or Girl."
I put my hand inside Pinocchio and held him close. I finally realized what an amazing thing had happened. I had been afraid to face the past, but when I finally did, I had been rewarded beyond measure.
Four months later Brian, Karen, Robbie, Kelly-Jo and I met again for a real reunion. For 10 days we were together, waterskiing, swimming and picnicking. In a world filled with chaos and turmoil I had found a place where the sounds of family suddenly brought purpose to my heart. God had erased my fears and had helped make my secret wish come true.
The Letter Box:
A dear friend shared your article with me about Noah and his Christmas spirit! Thank you for writing that article -- I needed it, and please sign to Noah a double heart-shaped I love you from me! I used to interpret for the deaf in my younger days at the University of Arizona and in church. Now my rheumatoid arthritis keeps me from being as fluent, but I will always love the beautiful language of signs and the people who use it!
A very Merry Christmas to you & your family. No reply is necessary; just wanted you to know you touched this person's heart with your needed message. Tell Noah to keep wearing that red Santa hat and spreading his smiling cheer!
In the love of our Lord whose birthday we celebrate, Jan Welshenbaugh
Susan, I loved this message. My first thought was, "Susan is following me around and she has also been inside me home. You described me and my feelings. I love 2theheart and love you for all your time and effort in producing it. God Bless - and a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS. Dorothy Casper
Thanks so much for that story. It really made my day. I've been struggling this year too with getting things done and finding time for family even though it's only my husband and son in the house.
I have been trying to smile and be friendly to people but will do so even more now.
Hugs, Tracy Mountford (angels2theheart)
I so enjoyed all the Christmas stories, but The Christmas Star by Susan Adair and Christmas Smiles by Susan Fahncke found a special place in my heart.
How wonderful--a star gift from even beyond the grave. Truly death cannot destroy the power of love.
How wonderful--a small Santa to share smiles with everyone and bring a little bit of peace and joy on earth--and soothing balm for his busy mother!
Making a difference, one story at a time!