By Sarah Trent
Ever since I was very young, stuffed animals were a big part of my life. I learned to enjoy their smiling faces and their soft cuddles. My dad would make the teddy bear or the fuzzy-maned lion come to life with a different voice, moving the arms and legs as if the puppet was dancing across my bed and straight into my heart.
When I would go to the grocery store or Target with my mom, she would entertain me by giving me a new stuffy right off the shelf. This continued throughout the majority of my young life. When I was sad, Mom would pacify me with a new stuffy. If I was a really good little girl, Dad would reward me with a stuffy of my choice.
I didn’t realize until I was much older that the patterns of my childhood were a result of deep pain. In the early days, I would beg for my mom’s attention, but my younger brother was a very difficult child and often used up all of her energy. She didn’t have time for me then, but my stuffies did. They would come with me on my bike and hang out with me, always with a smile on their faces. My dad was very career and task oriented. He was always working on the yard or remodeling the house, so when I asked him to play, he’d say, “Go play in your room with your stuffies.” Please know, things were not always this way, but this is a story about stuffies, not the family dynamic.
Our family also moved a lot. By the time I was 16, I had been in six different schools, in three different cities, in two opposite states. Although I was very social and made friends pretty easily, I was also always the awkward new girl, and If anyone found out I was related to my younger brother, they automatically assumed I was a horrid human being. So I didn’t have many friends as a kid. I had stuffies. When I felt the pang of loneliness, I would find a way to get a new stuffy to cheer me up. By the time I hit high school, my collection had grown to more than 600.
My addiction to collecting stuffed animals as a way to fill the voids in my life didn’t stop until my college roommate brought home an orange tabby kitten that she had found crawling around in a dumpster. We named the kitten Tiggr, and he chose me. One evening, at the end of a horrible day, I was distraught. I told myself, “I need a new stuffy, even though I’m an adult.” So off to Target I went. As I walked the toy aisle, I realized I didn’t see a stuffy that called to me, but a picture of Tiggr flashed across my mind. I wanted to go home and pet my cat! I finally had a live stuffy to greet me when I got home! That was the end of the collection phase.
However, it wasn’t until many years later, around Christmas of 2016, when God very clearly showed me my need to purge. My life was filled with love from my husband and 3-year-old daughter, and I had friends at church. For the first time in my life, I was ready to let go of some of my stuffies, and I did. I was 36.
Fast forward to Halloween 2019, and my daughter’s elementary school was hosting a read-a-thon. One of the teachers mentioned how cool it was that her students liked to read to stuffies in her classroom. BING! The lightbulb went on! I offered to supply each child in the school with their choice of a stuffy to read to during the read-a-thon. They loved the idea! There were over 500 kids at the school. With the help and support of my husband, we sorted and cataloged the stuffies. Then we stacked them all together across our living room for a group picture that didn’t fit in the wide-angle lens.
On the big day, I spent six hours at the elementary school helping kids I had never met pick out new favorite friends to read to. Hour by hour, class after class, kids from kindergarten to fifth grade came in and found one of my fuzzy friends to call their own. Their smiles were so bright. These beautiful children were genuinely happy as they thanked me and ran off whooping and ya-hooing!
That event was one of the most emotionally healing activities I have ever done in my life. I was deeply lonely in my early days and was taught to fill my voids with a certain kind of material item. God took my pain and turned it all into overwhelming joy. In place of hundreds of stuffed animals, I now have memories and pictures of joyful children’s smiles.
God is enough. He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is my comforter, my protector and my companion. He is my Savior, who often has to save me from myself. He showed me true joy in release and reminded me that He designed us to need one another in His family. My need for stuffies grew sideways out of my need for fellowship and love. God resolved that, forever.
As a middle-aged adult now, I can see hints of similar patterns in my young children when they see new stuffies at the store and little button eyes glitter in the fluorescent lights. Instead of giving in, I hug them tighter and gently say, “No, you don’t need another one.” Even at home, I have come to realize my daughter would much rather spend time with her friends than stuffies, and my toddler-aged son, while he enjoys two specific cuddly stuffies, doesn’t even look twice at the four others in his toy box. He searches for me, for my eyes, and longs for my touch.
Having stuffed animals is not a sin. The problem is planted when the material items become the focus. We idolize many things that seem so innocent but are, in fact, destructive. God asks us to look to Him to fill all our needs. He gives us life abundantly. We simply need to ask and let go. Let go of old ways of thinking and possibly old things residing at home. God will show us His path and provide a way out. We must be open to His guidance and obedient to His direction.
There were still tears from my heart as I wrote this story down. They were tears of joy that our God is alive today and is working through this story in the hearts of others. Thank you for reading.
Sarah Trent and her husband, Shawn, moved to Oregon in 2008. They now have a daughter, a son, and lots of live critters. She enjoys gardening and getting outside and is an aspiring photographer in God’s time. She feels especially called to care for friends and family, finding what makes each tick and meeting their needs.
Photos above provided by Sarah Trent.