(Priscila -in purple, Mark, Janet and Alessandra)
(“Here’s a photo taken at the airport when I arrived to meet you. Grandma dressed everyone in red so I would readily see you when I came through customs. I took you home a week later on Dec. 23. We took you to church the next day on Christmas Eve and stood you up on chairs so everyone could see who they had been praying for. The pastor said a prayer for you and us. For Christmas, all we had under the tee for you was a Candyland game.” – Priscila’s mom).
I slowly walked across the glossy white tiles of the Morumbi mall in Brazil, looking down at every grout-filled crack in the floor. My thick hair flopped with every step. I loved to walk at the mall, staring at the pretty florals and stripes of all the clothing displayed in the storefronts, watching families walk by, and — every once in a while — hungrily slurping a McDonald’s strawberry sundae someone would give me.
But I never went to the mall to buy things. I never went there to shop. I went to the mall because, more than anything, I loved to stand and stare at the motionless mannequins just on the other side of the clear glass window panes. I remember every moment of this like it was yesterday. My eyes, just a little lighter brown than my wild curls, would grow wide in amazement, and I would stand there, looking the mannequins up and down, admiring every single detail. I remember her flawless plastic hand, so smooth, sitting at a perfect ninety-degree angle against her hip. If I close my eyes, I can still see her cheesy smile, her impossibly rosy cheeks, and the beautiful, long, flowing skirt pinned onto her matching blouse.
Every single time I went to the mall, I did the same thing. I would stop in front of the mannequins, stare, and dream. One day, I reached over and tugged at Miss Julie’s shirt. “Miss Julie?” I asked, pointing to the posed mannequin. “Can she be my mother?” Miss Julie smiled at me. “No. But one day you will get a real mother.”
Miss Julie took me home.
She was the first person I can remember who really loved me and my sister. I was about four years old then, and until Miss Julie loved me I was juggled from here to there, passed around constantly, with nowhere to call home. At only four, I knew I had to protect by baby sister, who was just seventeen months younger than I.
Once, my sister and I were taken to a daycare, but no one came back for us. Days passed. I must have been really young, maybe two or three, but I remember the daycare had no windows or doors. Chickens came and went as they pleased, pecking at the dirt floor where I was sitting.
My birth mother had my sister and I at a very young age, and decided to give us up for adoption. But there was no permanence in my life. Everyone who passed through my life put their own needs before mine. We weren’t really adopted; we were in and out of people’s homes, free daycare facilities, and foster care.
I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I didn’t have a mother. At the mall, kids were always with a mother, and sometimes a father, too. I would watch televisions shows, and all the children there had moms and dads. Why didn’t I have a mom to tuck me in at night, or read stories to me, or put bows in my hair, or kiss my knees when I scraped them?
Maybe the mannequin could be my mother.
But it was Miss Julie and Mister Jim who took me home, not a mannequin. I knew Miss Julie and Mister Jim loved me, and I knew they loved my sister.
They taught us a few words of English, and I remember too how they used to let us play in the sink. I would plunge my arms into the warm water, and watch how the bubbles piled higher and higher as I splashed the dishes around. I was safe, I was loved, and I never wanted to take my arms out of the warm, soapy water.
Mister Jim and Miss Julie made us Jell-O when we got up in the morning. I watched in fascination as hot water streamed into the bowl, steam rising up into the morning light, transforming the pale powder into ruby red liquid. Then, after nap time, my sister and I would rush to the refrigerator, open the door, and shriek in delight at the Jell-O’s transformation.
It was magic, pure magic. I have so many wonderful memories of our time with Miss Julie and Mister Jim.
But Miss Julie and Mister Jim were American missionaries, and they weren’t going to live in Brazil forever. Looking back now, I know they really worried about what was going to happen to us when they left.
It was around that time that Janet — one of Mister Jim and Miss Julie’s four adult children in the United States — called and said she was thinking of adopting. Miss Julie was ecstatic. “Janet!” she said, “I have two little girls here who need a mother, and they are already sisters!”
Janet laughed and said no. She wanted a baby.
But later that night, God began to work on Janet’s heart. Her heart began to soften to the idea of adopting two older children instead of a newborn. She called long-distance to Brazil a few hours later and said, “You know what, mom? I do like the idea that they are sisters.”
Several months and a ton of paperwork and fees later, we were hers.
Mister Jim and Miss Julie dressed my sister and I in matching red shirts and met Janet at the airport.
I didn’t have to stare longingly at lifeless plastic mannequins anymore. I had a mom.
A real, live, mom.
We arrived in the United States on the twenty-third of December. The next day we went to church, and in Sunday school, we made paper angles for the top of the Christmas tree. And then, we all went out to pick out our first Christmas tree together.
Since it was Christmas Eve, only funny-looking trees were left. But do you know what? That was perfect, because in the corner of the tree lot was the most
oddly-shaped tree you’ve ever seen. At the top, the trunk had split into two little stems, perfect for our two little paper plate angel toppers.
The next morning we woke up to one gift under the tree — a Candyland game to share. But gifts didn’t matter. None of those material things mattered. All that mattered was that we finally had a mom to call our own.
When I was seventeen, I went back to Brazil.
When I finally found my my biological mother, she had two more young children living with her. I couldn’t help thinking over and over, “She kept them. Why didn’t she keep me?”
But everywhere I looked, I couldn’t escape the reality of life on the streets of Brazil. Even the simplest, everyday tasks were a hardship and a struggle. And then I saw the way my birth mom treated her young children. I saw the condition of the home where they lived. As painful as it was, I had a powerful epiphany — I suddenly had no doubt in my mind that God literally saw me, scooped me up and lifted me out for a better purpose.
I believe that to this day.
I realized that if I would have stayed in Brazil, wandering the corridors of the Morumbi mall, my life would have taken a very bad turn. Maybe I would have been selling drugs, maybe I would have been sold into child trafficking — or maybe I’d even be dead.
This is why I believe we need to be thankful and happy with the turns our lives take, and count them all as blessings. We can’t look at others and and covet what they have. Instead, we need to all look at where we are, and realize that every
single thing that’s developed in our lives has happened for a reason — to make us who we are.
My past is full of hurts. But this biggest lesson I have learned through my life, and through my adoption, is that I can’t change my past. I can only be me, right here, right now. Any problems, hurdles and hurts in the past are in the past, and can’t be repeated in my life, They can’t be passed on to my kids. I refuse to be bitter, or hurt, or hurt others because of the pain.
I believe that God truly cares about each and every one one of us, and looks over everything that happens in our lives — yes, even our mistakes — even though sometimes very, very unfair things happen to us.
I don’t understand why my life started out the way it did. I don’t understand it at all. But know that trusting in Jesus is the answer to all the “What if?” and “Why?” questions I can ever have.
And you know what? I’m a stronger, more motivated person now, because of the struggles. Not despite them, but because of them.
And it’s all because of Jesus.
Story by Priscila Barros and edited by Gina Munsey.