When Christmas is messy

My kiddos sometimes make up song lyrics when they don’t know the actual words (maybe we all do this?).

My daughter’s rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen sounds like this:

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day

To save his sons and daughters from our terrible mistakes…

I think it’s perfect.

First, yay for gender inclusivity.

But also, I think Jesus’ deliverance doesn’t stop at Satan’s power.

I think he came to save us from our terrible mistakes too.

Can I be honest for a second?

My little family has watched the fallout from some terrible mistakes this year.  

My babies know too much of advent, too much of leaning into the ache between the now and not yet of redemption.  I want to wrap them up in my own childish naivety, but it is not to be.

Ever since I chose to enter the beautiful mess that is foster care and adoption, Christmas has been tinged with longing, with grief.

And this year is no different.

But I believe that Jesus is no stranger to the mess.

I’ve never birthed a child, it’s true.

But I’ve heard that the process is pretty messy.

Not nearly as sweet and serene as our nativity scenes portray.

I haven’t spent much time in barns, either.

But I doubt the first Christmas night smelled too great.

I believe there were blood, sweat and tears that night.

I imagine that though it was holy, it likely wasn’t silent.

The night that heaven broke through.

That Love came near.

And there, in the mess.  In the stench. In the din.

Emmanuel.

The with-us God.

The One born to save us from Satan’s power.

And our own terrible mistakes.

And so

If Christmas feels messy for you this year,

Know that you are not alone.

You are in good company, friend.

I believe that Jesus is here too.

Even when Christmas is messy.

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Four Years Ago

Today, a busy four year old tells me what he learned in his class at church.

Jesus rescues!

He yells it again and again.

Today he “helps” me install new smoke detectors and put pizza in the oven.

Today he snuggles into my side as I read book after book.

It feels so ordinary.

But four years ago this week, I said one of the hardest goodbyes of my life.

It’s like a muscle memory, sneaking up on me.

And it still takes my breath and makes my eyes all leaky.

Four years ago, I asked myself what would calm my heart if this Little One were my baby.

I printed photos and wrote little notes.

I folded all the tiny baby things.

I watched my sister carry my daughter out of the house as she sobbed, begging for Little One to stay.

And I sat in the rocking chair and sang until my arms literally ached.

Four years ago, I hugged a social worker who told me I was one of the good ones.

And I tried not to cry when he thought maybe I should keep some of this stuff for the next baby.

No.  My heart instinctively knew.

That would hurt too bad.

Four years ago, I buckled one of my loves into his carseat, kissed his head and closed the door as he was carried into an unknown future.

People ask me sometimes if, in retrospect, I knew he would be back.

If I knew he would be here four years later sharing my home and my last name.

The honest answer is no.

Just as I hoped he might be my baby, I hoped too that I’d done things well if that was not to be.

Sometimes foster care feels like a zero-sum game.

Except with lives at stake.

My heart was rooting for his birthmama four years ago.

Even as I ugly cried in my living room and yelled at Jesus that I was so done with all of this.

I root for her still.

Life is hard enough without judgement.

There isn’t a tidy way to wrap up the story.

In adoption, happy endings are always tinged with loss.

I hated that day.

But it is part of my story.  The story of us.

And I love that story.

Enough

I didn’t even realize how raw this day still makes me until my redemption ache started leaking out of the corner of my eyes.

I like to, you know, hide it under all the things.

Make breakfast.  Empty the dishwasher. Clean the kitchen. Pick up the groceries.  Fold the laundry. Go to church.

It’s only after I’ve settled the little one into his class (no tears– woot!) that it all starts to crash.

This morning I can text one baby’s birthmom a beautiful picture but not the other one.

This is so unfair.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

A chance encounter at the grocery store reminds me of a festering wound in my own birth family.  One I would rather ignore.

This is so unfair.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

I am tired of praying for God’s will to be done on earth.

This business of redemption takes too long sometimes.

And then the music starts and it’s the lullaby I’ve sung to my sweet (and feisty) little one from the first day we met.

The song that reminds me that God has held me in seasons of feeling torn, in seasons of crushing grief.

And he is holding me still.

He loves us, oh how he loves us, oh how he loves.

It is what I need to hear today, when I don’t want to admit how raw I feel.

Maybe it’s what you need to hear too, friend.

You are loved.

Wildly, passionately, extravagantly loved.

It is enough.

Standing Stones

The one who calls you is faithful (1 Thess. 5:24)

I’m thinking about gratitude today.

It’s been one year since my home has been closed to foster care.

The five years before that were a tumultuous journey.

Years full of purpose and fire, full of a call that I couldn’t escape.

Years that brought, without a doubt, the most joy and the most heartache my soul has known this far.

Years that brought me my babies and also the hard realization that all the Little Ones are not mine.

This year has been quieter.

As the seasons have changed, I’ve been reminded of the faithfulness of the One who calls.

I want to raise an Ebenezer.

To mark these places.

Give me faith to trust what you say.

That you’re good and your love is great.

We sing these words this morning and my heart flashes back to sleep-deprived hours of singing them on repeat by the crib of a screaming Little One who had known too much chaos, too much transition already.

Tonight that Little One scurries around with a gaggle of other kids, dancing and running wild to Jesus-music.

Tonight as we snuggle he tells me to sing the Jesus-music louder.

So I do.

***

There were days when the waiting was excruciating.

Days when I yelled and pleaded to be done.

The promise is not that this story will end the way I hope,

I wrote on one of those hard days.

But that the Holy Spirit will come in power.

Friends, I watched him do that.

I watched the church show up to love me and my children well.

Walking with me into the halls where despair lost and love won.

Dragging me off the floor when I just couldn’t anymore.

Showing up and doing a thing.

Again.  And again.

***

As the air turns crisp again and the twinkle lights shine on the long winter nights,

I remember Little One’s first Christmas.

And the gaping hole in my heart not to be part of that day.  That story.

It was one of the darkest seasons of my life.

I know this is not how the story ends.

I wrote, undoubtedly choking on my own words.

I know joy comes.

In a very real way, I know Emmanuel.

Friends, it was not how the story ended.

Joy has come.

Joy is asleep in the other room.

Joy is the unruly tribe that foster care has brought me.

A motley crew we are—diverse in practically every way.

Sharing eyes and stories, bloodlines and passion.

We have walked through dark days together and celebrated wildly on happy ones.

My life is so full.

***

I’m thinking about gratitude today.

Grateful for a quieter year to remember.

To tell the stories.

To raise the standing stones.

Today I can tell you without a doubt that the One who calls you is faithful.

It’s Not a Race

Little One learned a new letter today—O.

This brings the grand total of letters he knows to 2.

And that’s ok.

Y’all, I am an overachiever.

I read a post that someone put about her kid on social media the other day.

A kid younger than Little One who knows ALL THE LETTERS.

I freaked out a little bit.

Or a lot.

I google-searched how many letters kids “should” know at different ages.

I scoured amazon for the “best” magnetic letters.

I am an early childhood teacher, for goodness sake, there’s no way I could let my kid fall behind!

And then exhaustion got the best of me (hello, summer of pretending to be a stay-at-home mom!) and I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I woke up with a little bit of clarity, feeling like I could breathe again.

And I remembered all the things that Little One can do.

Things like wiping away his sister’s tears and bringing her his lovey when she is sad.

Things like walking up on stage during the camp talent show when they ask for volunteers (even though he’s never heard the song before in his life).

Things like trying seven hundred different ways to make a block structure stand up just right and not giving up until it works.

And I sniffed his curls as he snuggled against me and asked me to read all the digger books again and again.

And I remembered what I’ve known all along.

Childhood is not a race.

Friends, it’s not.

It’s an ambling journey through the woods collecting rocks to fill your pockets.

It’s full-body painting on the porch.

It’s melting ice cubes and splashing in puddles.

It’s singing songs at the top of your lungs.

The rest will come, all in good time.

But these moments of being little are darn near close to sacred.

Too precious to be squandered on the “shoulds” and “bests” that work for someone else.

Too precious to be squandered.

An Adoption By the Numbers

Months in care: 30 (I cannot count the days… it hurts my heart too much)

Number of CASAs: 2 (one fantastic, one not-at-all fantastic)

Number of days lost from work because of sudden arrivals/removals from my home: about 8 (not including the FMLA leave I chose to take during the first two months)

Number of days lost from work because of court hearings that didn’t happen when/where I was informed they would: 3

Number of court hearings and other official meetings that I “accidentally” didn’t get notification about: 3

Child’s social workers: 5

Number of times I dropped the f bomb on child’s social worker (without children present): 1

Number of times dropping the f bomb on social worker got me what I wanted: 1

Supervisors: 2

Number of times I pestered supervisors because I didn’t like social workers’ answers: too many to count

Big Bosses: 2

Number of times I called in the big boss because I didn’t like supervisors’ answers: 2

Number of times calling in the big boss got me what I wanted: 1

Number of times the big boss told me emphatically to wait in the lobby and not come upstairs to his office: 1

Number of times I threatened to appeal a decision that actually had to do with me (most decisions in foster care don’t): 1

Number of times that threatening to appeal got me what I wanted: 0.5 (they met me halfway on this one)

Number of times I was late arriving for a required visit: 1

Number of times a professional was late or didn’t show for a required visit: 50? 100? These are actual estimates.

Number of times I would do it again: all of them.  Because Little One is worth it.  All of the little ones are worth it.

(To be fair, not all adoptions are like this.  My daughter’s adoption involved only one social worker and no f bombs.)

The Call That Changed My Life

Three years ago today, I got the second call that changed my life.

The first one was giddily anticipated… the call about the Little One who would grow into my big girl.  The one that proved the naysayers wrong.

This one was different.

I had just had my annual foster care reconsideration visit a few days earlier.

I had jumped through the hoops to stay licensed for another year even though I really, really wanted to be done.

I told my social worker that I didn’t know what kind of placement I wanted.  But that parenting my big girl had made me brave, and she could call me about anything.  And that I would probably say no.

It was Friday afternoon and I was just leaving work.

And there was a baby.

A tiny one ready to be released from the hospital on Monday.

I had no plans for childcare (not to mention that the baby was too young to be in daycare even if I did).  I had no baby stuff.  I had never even held a person this tiny before, much less walked into a hospital and taken one home.

It was crazy.

And I knew by the pounding in my chest that the answer was yes.

And so I took a few months off from work (yep, with a weekend’s notice!).  I filled my sister’s minivan with stuff I thought I might need.  And I walked into the hospital with my mama pretending that I knew what the heck I was doing.

As she told me all about specially mixed formula and follow up appointments, the nurse said she could tell I had done this before.

I told her that I was a good faker.

And I strapped this tiny Little One into a borrowed car seat and drove him right on home.

It’s true, he had me at one look into those deep brown eyes.

He was an infant, after all.  How can you not bond with an infant?

But I didn’t know what the future would hold.

It would be years before that Little One would share my last name.

Years of uncertainty and stress and jumping through one thousand more hoops.

Years of navigating a relationship with a birth family that loves him too.

Years of monthly visits by social workers and CASAs (some great, some meh).

One whole year, in fact, of hellos and good-byes that ripped my heart to shreds.

This Little One immersed in potty humor and obsessed with basketball was worth it all.

To know him, even for a short time, would have been enough.

To hold him still, to ruffle his perfectly messy curls makes my heart explode.

Friends, sometimes the answer is no.

But sometimes the answer is yes.  Even when it seems crazy.

Sometimes the call that changes your life comes when you’re least expecting it.