He was a small, dark-haired, dark-eyed boy just shy of eight years. Anthony and his younger sister were currently living with some family friends of ours who also happened to be foster parents. When my mother and father first told us about the camping trip, I had no reason to suspect that it might be anything other than a normal, friendly visit with people we’d loved for a long time.
I can’t recall the exact moment my parents told us they were thinking about adopting Anthony, but I’ll never forget how I felt. Waves of bitter anger washed over me, leaving tinges of guilt and uncertainty in their wake. I spent the remainder of the journey up the mountainside in alternating frenzies of fury and helplessness. I was number five of seven children and currently the oldest child at home. Why did they need more? I remembered thinking that my parents didn’t even have enough time and love for me. How could they possibly think about adopting another child?
There was plenty of daylight left when we reached camp, leaving us ample time to get acquainted with the little interloper. Oh, sure, he was cute enough, with eyes like melted milk chocolate, smooth dark skin, and a smile that embodied childish glee. But he would be just one more seat at a family table that already felt too squished. Every time I looked at him, I felt like I watched my parents’ divided affection swirling that much further away from me.
I couldn’t make myself warm up to him.
Worse, my younger brother and Anthony hit it off instantly, running and screeching through the camp, playing mock battles with broken sticks, and ducking through bushes. I spent my time avoiding them and hanging around with Rachel, a girl my own age. My mom and Anthony’s foster mother clucked like chickens in a farmyard, catching up on all the time since they had last seen each other.
Dinner came and went, and before long everyone was talking about the business of sleeping arrangements. I’d always assumed I’d sleep in my parents’ motor home and hadn’t even thought of bringing a sleeping bag. It was around this time that my dad picked up on my moody signals and thought he’d have a talk with me. He asked me what had been bothering me all day. Running out of evasions, I finally confessed my feelings about their decision to adopt. He looked taken aback.
“Laura, we’ve always raised our children to be open to adoption. We almost adopted that little boy Taylor, and you didn’t say anything then,” my dad pointed out.
I hung my head, trying to avoid my father’s eyes. “But it fell through. It never seemed like it was real. Not like this time.”
I didn’t need to see my dad’s face to know he was disappointed. I could feel it emanating from him. “Your mom and I have always believed that the Lord never limits the human heart, that there aren’t restrictions to how much love a person can share with others. Adopting Anthony would be no different than if your mom was pregnant with another baby.”
“I wouldn’t want another baby, either!” I couldn’t help crying out. “You guys hardly love the kids you’ve got. What makes you think you can love one more? How is that fair to this little boy, let alone your real kids?” I asked him, wiping away hot streaks of shaming tears.
My dad looked at me for a moment, his eyes focused on mine. I couldn’t tell what was going through his mind, but I felt the weight of his accusing stare and finally ripped my gaze away, unable to face him anymore.
“I really think you need to pray about this, Laura. I think that when you turn to your Heavenly Father, you’ll see that not only do your mother and I love you, but that we also have enough love for all our children as well as for one more child who really needs it.”
My father didn’t give me much of a choice. He told me that I’d be sleeping in Rachel’s tent, and it just so happened that Anthony would be sharing it with us. I didn’t want to share with them and tried everything I could to get my dad to change his mind, but he insisted. I was stuck.
I remember crawling into the tent, devoid of everything but a pillow, and laying my stuff down as close to Rachel as I could get. Maybe she’d let me share a blanket with her, since there was no way I was going back to fight with my dad again.
Rachel and I talked for a while, listened to music, and swapped tales of things we’d been up to lately, but before long it was time for bed. I tried to do what my dad had asked, to pray to see if what he said was true. Would my Father in Heaven really change my heart? Could He really make me feel any different than I did? So I prayed.
Nothing changed. I still felt as upset and angry as I’d ever been.
I curled up on my side, punching my pillow in frustration. How could I be so jealous of an eight-year-old? It wasn’t fair that he could just walk in and claim my parents’ affection when I had spent years trying to earn it and still felt like I’d never have it. How could my parents ask this of me? It wasn’t fair.
I tried to sleep. I wanted to block it out of my head and just let the oblivion of dreams take over, whisking me away from all my jealous, heartsore feelings. I wanted to pretend we never came to this stupid mountain, but I was so cold that sleep evaded me. Every time I relaxed just enough to surrender to sleep, my own shivering would wake me, and the discomfort of my chilled skin kept me awake.
When I felt something drape over my bare arms, I jumped and sat up. I turned hastily, seeing Anthony standing over me with a startled expression and his hands outstretched as though he’d just dropped something. I looked down to see a ragged, threadbare blanket covering me—a child’s blanket, not even big enough to cover my legs. It had the look of something that had been loved and used often.
“What are you doing, Anthony?” I turned to him, asking him in a harsh whisper.
His little dark eyes looked black and shiny. “You were shivering. I thought you were cold, so I gave you my blanket.”
I craned my head to look at his little bed. There was only a pillow left. “You don’t have to do that, Anthony. You need this blanket. I’ll be all right.”
He shook his head, that infectious smile spreading over his face. “No, I’m okay. You’re cold.” And he turned to go back to his little pillow.
Shock, cold and clear, slapped me. All this time I’d been thinking I was so poorly done by. I didn’t want to share my parents with anyone, yet this little boy who didn’t know me at all shared literally everything he had with me.
I clutched the little threadbare blanky to my chest, tears filling my eyes. I could feel my heart yielding. God hadn’t refused to answer my prayer; He just couldn’t reach me through my own selfishness. I might have prayed for understanding, but I didn’t let Him in. I had refused to listen. Suddenly, I wasn’t the kid my parents didn’t love enough; I was the girl who didn’t know how to love enough. And Anthony had just showed me how much I had to learn.
“How about we share it?” I called out.
Anthony stopped and turned to look back at me, that darling smile in place again. “Sure!”
He grabbed his pillow and ran back to snuggle up between Rachel and me. The difference in the spirit in our tent was notable. I fell asleep thinking that the best example of true love and kindness I’d ever learned had been taught to me by an eight-year-old boy with a tattered old blanket.
The next morning I woke up to a whole new attitude. Only Rachel had known what Anthony had done, but everyone could see the difference it had made in my behavior toward him. Where jealousy had once grown rampant, love bloomed instead. It was as fixed as anything I felt toward my own little brother, and I knew it had changed me forever.
Shortly after that camping trip, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the doctor would not give the “all clear” for Anthony’s adoption, fearing that my mom’s health would be too taxed to raise another child. It was a devastating blow to our family for many reasons, not the least of which was the loss of Anthony as our little brother.
I asked God why He would bless me with this overwhelming love for this little boy when He must have known that we would never get to call Anthony our own.
Anthony and his little sister were both adopted by their foster parents and have a permanent home with them. Even though he was not ours officially, Anthony has called my mom “Mother” and has remained close to our family for years. He addresses each letter to my parents as “Mom & Dad,” and every chance we have had to spend with him is precious to us.
Over the years, I have asked myself why God would have shown me how to open my heart to another sibling only to have him taken away, and I have discovered that it wasn’t a cosmic answer about adoption. The truth is I didn’t get a simple answer. My Heavenly Father just opened my eyes to see the goodness in Anthony’s heart. It had always been there—I had just been too caught up in myself to see it. Anthony taught me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned—that the divine is in every human heart, that every soul is worth loving, and that my heart has room enough to embrace more than I imagined.
I will never forget the lesson he taught me or the love I still feel for Anthony. I will always treasure the moment a darling little boy wrapped me up in his tattered blanket and claimed a part of my heart that is all his own.
Lead image from Getty Images
L.T. Elliot lives in the western United States. She spends most of her time playing with her kids, hanging out with family, and escaping to worlds within her mind. You can learn more about her at www.lixiconluvr.blogspot.com.
For more touching, true stores, check out Angels Round About: True Stories of the Lord's Tender Mercies.
This engaging volume is a collection of true stories shared by Latter-day Saints who have experienced the Lord’s tender mercies in the midst of trying circumstances. The vignettes vary from accounts of heartfelt supplications answered to sweet whisperings of knowledge and comfort to kind understandings that bring hope and peace. Woven into each are profound lessons that demonstrate how, under the direction of the Father and the Son and through the power of the Holy Ghost, we can be protected, inspired, converted, healed, and taught. Together, these chapters beautifully confirm the glorious truth that there are, indeed, angels round about us.