By Hugh Chapman
In a quiet corner of the seldom used room of my house stands a three quarter finished dollhouse. For 20 years the little house has been at the same phase of completion, with three walls fastened into place and about one-third of the tiny cedar shingles glued to the roof. There is no paint, and none of the miniature pieces of furniture have ever been assembled.
The room in which the dollhouse sits is a formal living area that sees only a small fraction of the family gatherings as compared to the new den that was built off of the kitchen. The little house is rarely touched, and even when it is, it is only because some occurrence has made necessary the dollhouse’s movement. My wife, a few years ago, relocated it temporarily to another corner of the room while decorating for Christmas. But the little house never seemed to belong there and after the holidays the house was promptly moved back to the space that we now refer to as “the dollhouse corner.” The corner is quiet and the dollhouse is safe there. What’s more, I like it there, if for no other reason than to remind me of things in my life that I should have done differently. And it makes me work harder in an effort never to repeat my mistakes.
My daughter was born during a turbulent time of my life. I was working part time, mostly weekends and late nights, while at the same time pursuing a bachelors’ degree at a nearby college. Between work, classes and studies, time always seemed scarce and parental attention to our daughter was handled almost exclusively by my wife. For that reason — and I suppose other reasons as well — I was quietly frustrated when my well-meaning sister gave the 600 piece balsa wood dollhouse to my daughter for her birthday. My dismay came not from the presenting of the gift, for I knew my sister gave it in love. Rather, my dismay came from the realization that I would ultimately be the one to assemble the project. In light of my other obligation I simply didn’t have the time.
Yet as luck, or perhaps God’s grace, would have it, my daughter was undemanding of my time limitations and even at five years old, she was perceptive enough to understand. Not once do I recall her whining or pestering me to work on our project, for such was the nature of this quiet and beautiful child.
But to my credit, I suppose, I did try…or at least I did for a while. I remember pouring out the pieces onto an old card table and sorting them into piles. Then with an X-Acto razor in one hand and a tube of glue in the other, I began the painstaking process of cutting doorways and windows, fastening on shutters and assembling tiny planters that would be installed beneath each windowsill. I then proceeded to construct a stairway to the second floor and I worked hard to attach tiny rails and banisters for the safety of my daughter’s diminutive, imaginary family. It was a slow moving process, requiring several twenty-four hour glue-drying sessions which would inevitably stretch for several days or even weeks while I struggled to catch up on my school and work requirements.
When finally I came to the roofing portion, I was growing increasingly tired of what I saw as a meaningless task, and once I took out my frustration by shouting at my daughter, then shoving the dollhouse aside in order to make room for some selfish and mindless project of my own. Though Danielle never spoke a word in reply, the quiet tear that formed in the corner of her eye spoke louder than words ever could, and even today I still hear the echoes of her silence.
In time, it was my wife who finally moved the little dollhouse to its corner of our house. And with the project out of my sight, it soon worked its way out of mind as well, as I proceeded with my little projects, met my little deadlines, and earned my little diploma. In time I took my little job, accepted my little paycheck and earned a little acclaim from my peers. And while those little things were happening, somehow the little girl who had once viewed me as the greatest man who ever walked upon God’s green earth, had silently grown into a beautiful young woman. And the blue eyes that had once looked so lovingly at me, her father, now had forever turned away, and toward the young man she had quietly fallen in love with.
Eventually, on an afternoon when the dollhouse rested miles away in the darkened corner of our living room, I found myself in the vestibule of my church looking at the elaborately stained dollhouse-like windows that had been fashioned into the outer walls of our place of worship. Then as the melodic sounds rolled expectantly from the church sanctuary piano, I turned from the windows to see the sparkling blue eyes of my daughter in her flowing white dress. Without a word she wrapped her hand around my arm, and together we began our long walk up the aisle where softly I kissed her glowing cheek in order to bid her farewell. As I waited to speak the well rehearsed words that would forever convey my daughter from my care and into the care of the man she had come to love and to trust, the soft memories of her childhood flowing peacefully, and my heart ached for one more day with my little girl.
The question was asked of me, and with more of a nod than a spoken word, I relinquished primary care of my daughter to the man who would soon be her husband. Then as quietly I took my seat, I thought again of the little dollhouse in the corner of our room and this time it was my eye, not hers, that quietly blinked back the tears. Meetings, project deadlines, and important decisions, come and go, but true love goes on forever.
My daughter and I have talked of years past. I have apologized to her for my absence, and she has forgiven me of my shortfalls. And through God’s grace, she has become one of my most trusted friends.
And life has played out so beautifully for us all. As an answer to my prayers, Danielle and her husband live in their new house only a few miles from the home where the years of her childhood so swiftly passed. And on occasion when I pass through that seldom used room, I always look to the little dollhouse in the corner, and whisper a prayer for my little girl as I long for the days of her childhood.
But only recently, as snow from a winter’s day banked softly against a windowpane, I found myself thanking God for the happiness my daughter has found. There within my deliberation I found myself asking if there was some way I could ever make up for the many ways I had failed as a parent.
And with that request, I began pondering the magnitude of God’s love, and of His grace, and of His ability to offer second chances, and somehow I couldn’t help but to breathe a sigh of contentment.
For earlier that very day Danielle had been here for a visit and this time, I made time to spend with my daughter. And there together we stood side by side near the hardwood bassinet, and blinked back mutual tears of joy as we looked down at the precious gift of love that God had granted. Danielle’s daughter — my granddaughter – with eyes every as blue as her mother’s, looked happily to those who loved her.
As long as life and breath goes on, our family stories will continue to unfold. We laugh, we cry, we bruise and we heal. But sometimes, through the grace of our savior, we are given a second chance to make right all the things that are truly important.
And I’ll be happy to tell you all about them, but they will have to wait for another time. For today I have a more important job to do. There’s a baby to rock, and a dollhouse to finish.