God has watched over me every day of my life. A miracle that happened in my childhood has given me a deep, abiding faith for His continuing love and protection.
In the summer of 1958, my mother made the most loving and courageous decision any mother can make: she gave me up for adoption. The decision to give up an hours-old infant would be agonizing enough, but I was not a newborn baby; I was seven years old.
This is much too complex a story to tell in its entirety here, so I’ll condense it to this: My parents divorced soon after I was born and my mother had custody of me until I was three years old, at which time she was forced for financial reasons to give me up to my father. I lived with him and my grandmother until I was five, when he remarried and moved us from our home in Boston to live in Oregon with his new wife.
My life for the next year became hell on earth; the new wife was a bitter, violent alcoholic whose jealous rages against me escalated until my father, in fear for my life, finally sent me back to my mother.
My mother by this time was remarried, had moved to Delaware, and had given birth to two more children; she was completely unprepared to deal with an emotionally wounded and distraught six year old child, especially one who didn’t want to be there. And in truth, she had not spent more than a few days with me since I was three—we were mother and child, but strangers. Her husband was a merchant Marine who was gone most of the time and the stress of being, for the most part, a single mother, was overwhelming to her. I couldn’t have come at a worse time. She begged my father to take me back. He, of course, couldn’t. My parents were at an impasse.
But God brought about a miracle that year; my father, through a series of amazing coincidences, was led to a couple in Portland, Oregon, the Wagners, who were heart-hungry for a child. And because they were older, they wanted a child of three years or more. My father met with them and immediately recognized the love, comfort and financial stability these tender-hearted people had to offer his little girl.
After seeing only a small, black and white photograph of me, and hearing my story, God touched their hearts and they agreed to take me as their own. My father called my mother, told her about them and asked her to sign the adoption papers that would be coming in the mail.
The decision she now faced—whether to give me up—was a hellish one for my mother. To relinquish her child to complete strangers was inconceivable; she struggled with guilt and self-condemnation. But she also knew that her own psychological state at the time was not best for my welfare.
Finally, after weeks of agonizing and praying, she agreed, and one day in early June, she put me on a plane and sent me across the United States to my new family.
The Wagners were the most patient, caring people any little girl could wish for. Bringing an emotionally scarred child into your home is heartbreaking much of the time and frustrating most of the time. I was angry, and scared and lonely; I did not fall in love with them overnight. But as the months went by, their patience and love began to heal my wounded spirit; I looked forward more and backward less. I was becoming their little girl.
As December approached, my new parents began to talk with excitement about Christmas. I didn’t share their exuberance; the last Christmas that stood out in my mind was the dark and miserable one I had spent with my stepmother. Christmas had been just another day to survive.
But my new mother and father’s enthusiasm finally became irresistible; over the course of events there was an excursion to visit Santa, a drive through Candy Cane Lane to see the beautiful Christmas lights, caroling with my new friends and neighbors, and of course, decorating the fireplace mantle with a lovely Nativity Scene. My mother filled the house with scents of baking holiday cookies, and whipped soap flakes into a fragrant, fluffy snow to cover cedar boughs for the dining table centerpiece. And the tree! There may have been a tree that last Christmas I didn’t like to think about, but if there was, I didn’t remember it, so this one was glorious to behold; its sparkling lights and heady pine scent were a healing balm.
Christmas Eve brought new family members too, aunts, uncles and cousins, for a luscious dinner that outshone even Thanksgiving. An air of affection and joy in the gathering filled me with a sense of belonging that was both new and wonderful. Later, during Midnight Mass, as the true story of Christmas was read, I felt completely surrounded by peace and love.
It wasn’t easy to fall asleep that night…Santa was on his way! The cookies and milk were on a table by the hearth, and I had no doubts any more that he would come. I finally nodded off wrapped in a cocoon of my new family’s tenderness.
“Wake up, sweetheart. It’s Christmas!” My new mother’s grin made her look younger than I’d ever seen her. My new father waited, smiling, in the doorway. When I walked out into the living room and looked around, I was awestruck. The entire corner of the room was filled with presents! It looked like Disneyland!
There were gifts of every size and shape and color, some with tags reading, TO TINA FROM SANTA and others which read, TO TINA FROM BABY JESUS. As I walked closer, I saw even more gifts, these tagged for me from Mom and Dad, with little hearts next to the signatures.
“Are these all for me?” I breathed.
My father scooped me up in his arms, stood up to his full 6’4 height and hugged me. “You betcha,” he said. “Looks like Jesus and Santa think you’ve been a real good girl.” He set me back down and my mother nudged me forward. “Go ahead and open them, honey.”
I was speechless.
It took me over an hour to open every gift. My new parents weren’t rich by any means, but they had bought every present I had mentioned wanting over the previous months. There were toys, Barbie dolls and baby dolls, new clothes, Nancy Drew mystery books, coloring books, stuffed animals, and candies. They had wrapped every little thing separately so that there would be more packages for me to open. It was a labor of love that even now I’m overcome remembering.
Thanks to my loving God that first Christmas, something melted in my child’s soul. Something that had been walled off for protection came safely into the light. Something that had been empty was filled. I had been heart-homeless for a long time, but because of the tender care of my wonderful new parents and of the courage, sacrifice and love of my birth mother, I finally had a home.