When I was around 10 years old, my grandparents toured the Maritime Provinces of Canada in their Winnebago. They returned with many pictures and souvenirs, as always, including a boxed set of the first three Anne of Green Gables books for me. Like so many others, I was taken with Anne right away. I imagined myself right along with her as she imagined herself right into all sorts of adventures and mistakes. I read those books over and over, then bought the next three and read all six over and over, until they actually fell apart. I even read the first one out loud on a road trip with my brother, though I’ve been careful not to state that publicly ‘til now. In college, the first two Anne mini-series were released, and I was caught up in Anne’s story all over again. In my head and heart I wanted to be Anne, complete with a faithful Gilbert coming along to love me and share even more adventures, and hopefully not too many mistakes.
Last year, I turned 40. The weeks leading up to the day were not fun. I have enjoyed a rich, full, and abundant life; still, it never occurred to me that 40 would come with no husband and no children. Some dreams have been lost along the way.
As is often the case, the anticipation of turning 40 was much worse than the actual fact of turning 40. My family and friends lavished me with love and the disappointments faded a bit. In my favorite present of all, my brother and sister-in-law gave me the Anne movies on DVD. It had been a long time since I’d visited Anne’s world via VHS, and the fact that my brother picked the perfect gift helped me feel all the more loved.
I settled in to watch the movies with anticipation and delight. Somewhere in the middle, it hit me: Wait a minute…what if I’m supposed to be Marilla, not Anne? I struggle to translate the workings of my heart in that moment into words. Part of me heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit whisper, “Yes,” and answered Him with, “Amen.” Another part of me protested – No, I’m Anne, the one with the imagination, who has adventures and deeply delights in all the bits of life, who grieves deeply because she loves much! The whisper, though, was louder than the protest.
Marilla and her brother Matthew adopted Anne, a thrown-away orphan given to long monologues and wails from the “depths of despair.” Marilla is described this way before Anne:
“Marilla [was] always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously…She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humor.”
She is described this way after several years with Anne:
“…her expression was very different; the something about the mouth which had hinted at a sense of humor had developed wonderfully; her eyes were gentler and milder, her smile more frequent and tender…Marilla felt that out of her sixty years she had lived only the nine that had followed the advent of Anne.”
So you can see, perhaps, why I wasn’t all that excited about being Marilla. Some of those beginning words describe more how I fear being than how I actually am. And yet, the longer the picture of Marilla has been before me this past year, the more taken with the idea I’ve become. Marilla loved Anne, and made all her fantastical, tragical adventures possible to some extent. What developed in Marilla was there all along, and used for the good of a girl who needed a home.
There’s a lot more to the story of how a gracious God has been slowly working all this out since that jolting “what if” last spring. But, like Marilla, I find myself rather quickly preparing to welcome a child into my home. For right now that means paperwork and classes and health inspections, so an agency will know that a foster child will be safe here. It also means much prayer – rarely have I so clearly sensed my dependence on God and my need for His grace and wisdom. Sometimes, after all, I still feel like Anne, like I’ve been playing at being a grown-up and someone is bound to find out the truth as I stumble into some misadventure. Somewhere tonight, though, there is a little boy or girl who needs a Marilla. I’m honored, humbled, terrified, delighted, to try on that name. Amen.