I’m sure I dog-eared many pages and circled dozens of hoped for items in the 1989 Sears Wishbook, but I only really remember one. Amidst the rock tumblers, art sets, and dollhouse furniture, just one prize really mattered to 7-year-old me: Marie. Marie stood about a foot and a half tall, wore a white party dress, and had long, shiny brown pigtails. In my mind, her sweet little face was that of a four-year-old; and I longed for her to be mine. The $70 price tag was steep. I’m not sure if it was steeper than my parents could afford that Christmas, or just steeper than they felt was reasonable … either way, I knew she wouldn’t be waiting under the tree for me. I was, however, given the option of working for her – doing extra chores and odd jobs around the house until I had earned enough to buy her myself.
So, that’s what I did. For months and months I asked for extra tasks at home and saved every penny. I knew I wanted her more than any of the cheaper dolls or toys at Wal-Mart or even the KB Toys in the mall. I knew she was worth it.
I have no memory of the working or the waiting, but I can picture the BIG DAY like it was yesterday. I had reached my goal. I was a second grader with $70 to my name and I was ready to cash it in for the doll of my dreams. Can you imagine? I dressed up. My mom let me wear lipstick. I felt so grown-up, proud, and excited. I remember sitting on the edge of my parent’s four-poster bed as my mom took the well-worn catalog and dialed the toll-free phone number to place the order. I remember hearing her voice grow concerned as she asked questions about warehouses. I remember the look on her face changing in a way that made my heart sink.
I have two children of my own now, and I often think back to what my mom did next. In the moments following the end of her phone call she made a powerful decision that must have taken an immense amount of faith. She decided it was not her job to repair her daughter’s broken heart.
Mom came and sat with me on the bed and began to explain. Marie was out of stock. No longer being made. Not available for purchase anywhere. The long-awaited reward had evaporated. She let me cry … she always let me cry, which is good because tears are my primary vehicle for expressing any emotion. She let me cry, but then she spoke the words that I have remembered ever since: “If you want to, you can pray and tell God that you are choosing to trust Him to provide something even better.” She could have said, “Let’s go to the mall right now and find a new doll,” or, “don’t worry, I’m going to fix this and make it better for you.” Instead she said, “you can choose to trust God.”
I did. Faith like a child, you know? I believed her and I believed that somehow God could work it all out. I was heartbroken, but I believed it.
A couple of weeks later another publication showed up in our mailbox. It wasn’t quite time for the 1990 Sears Wishbook to arrive … no, this time it was a catalog for a company that I had never heard of before: American Girl. There were three dolls in the catalog, Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly; and they were like nothing I had ever seen before. Each doll had books written about her adventures, which was perfect for the little bookworm that I was. Each doll had her own beautifully detailed clothes, accessories, and furniture. The collections captivated me.
And then there was Samantha, herself. Long, shiny brown hair that fell in curls around her shoulders and big, brown eyes, both just like mine. She reminded me a bit of Marie, only she was much, much better. My mom and I both knew she was the doll for me the moment we laid eyes on her. I’ve always imagined myself to be a bit less expressive than my mom; but now that I am the parent, I can only imagine that my own whooping, hollering, and jumping up and down would rival the victory dance she did in our sun-bathed entryway. After a phone call to my dad’s office to let him know the good news, we worked out our plan. Since my late October birthday wasn’t too far off, we decided that I would wait until then to receive the doll I had saved for, so that she could be given to me along with some clothes and accessories as gifts from my parents.
When I cracked my eyes open the morning of my 8th birthday my room was glowing with early morning sunlight and magic. There she was, across the room from me, sitting on a little white daybed, just like mine. She was perfect, in her brown plaid dress, seated on the white comforter my mother had sewn for her. Next to her bed stood a large, navy trunk. It was open just enough for me to see a glimpse of its contents … lovingly lined with fabric, a small dresser with three drawers, and a hanging rack full of beautiful dresses. Aside from actually constructing the trunk, my mom had made all of it. I couldn’t make myself move, content to just lie there and gaze at the beauty of it all. Perhaps I was afraid I would wake up from the perfect dream of at least one 8-year-old girl. Too good to be true, but it was.
I wouldn’t realize until many years later that Marie was the first Ishmael of many in my life – a perfectly good prize that I had set my hopes on, but not the one that was intended for me. Of course maturity has taught me that, although God is faithful, He does not always “fix” our broken hearts by giving us something “better” in such an immediate sense. I do believe, though, that through Samantha, He used a child’s language and a child’s attention span to teach that He is always good and can always be trusted. Always.