I’m not ready for Christmas to be finished. I especially love this in-between time. The hustle and bustle is done and it’s not quite time to start the taxes. Each evening, we build a fire and turn on all the Christmas lights—inside and out. My Nativity in the front yard glows and the multi-colored lights twinkle in the cold night air. Peaceful. Comfortable. Soothing.
Yes, I know it must come to an end and I’ll begin packing up. Soon. Any day now. Promise.
But I have one more—Liz—Christmas story. If you’ve read it before, hang around. It might be different.
We don’t get to public worship much these days what with all our health challenges. We miss it dreadfully but sometimes things just have to be as they are. We did get to go to Christmas Eve traditional service this year. We sat on the back row because a bunch of family joined us, we were almost late, and it was easier with husband’s walker. Somehow, an unusual sense of gratitude, quiet, and worship slipped over me there on the back row and before long I was lost in the miracle of the night.
One of our kids leaned over and with a big grin motioned me to look behind us. Ahhhhh, sweet memories bounced off the pipe organ. A family sat on straight chairs behind our back row of regular pews. A mom, a dad, and a couple of grandparents. The mom and dad each bounced a baby on a knee. Little girls, not quite crawling stage, adorned in red velvet twin dresses, with red bows perched on their nearly bald heads.
The babies' squirming, mild fussing, and innocent giggles had been lost on me. While I smiled at the precious scene, my heart looked back.
Some forty years ago my daughter was twelve and my son was four. For three years, six kids sat in our family pew at church. We were a foster family so four of the kids changed often but our two birth children hung in there and remained for the long haul! Hey, I was young, eager to nurture, and thought I could handle anything. I found that becoming a foster parent was much like the first-time pregnancy: you are blissfully unaware of the pain, horror, and screams that follow. Then, like a mother eagerly getting pregnant over and over again, every time the caseworker calls with another abused child in need of love and safety, without even a grown, a seasoned foster mom just finds an empty bed and sets another plate at the table.
It was the 1970’s and foster parents could not adopt the kids they protected and loved. But, a foster parent could raise kids in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We took every opportunity to show Jesus to “our kids.”
Every week, all of us went to church together. Back then, only the “Crib Set” was entitled to church nursery luxuries so kids--toddler age on up and parents sat—or wiggled—in worship services together. When the Sunday school put on a Christmas Pageant, our new Patricia came home from her first practice in tears, incensed that the innkeeper would not let Jesus’ mother come in from the cold. Long talks ensued until she made her own peace with the innkeeper. One night she said, “I’m glad you made room for me, Mama.”
While our lives were hectic and chaotic, we strictly enforced bedtime rituals. We prayed together as a family then each child was tucked in with special parent time and additional prayer when needed, which was often. During Advent, our evenings included time for devotion around the wreath with candles and scripture readings. The year Charlie came, we celebrated his second birthday in November so when Advent arrived, the candles never remained burning. As soon as one child lit the Advent candles, Charlie took that as his cue to blow them out.
Over the three years, Barbara stopped hoarding food, Bethany started talking, Leonard didn’t lie as much, and Patricia tried not to cuss like a sailor. We helped eleven children hope for a safe tomorrow and to trust adults—a little. We fed their souls, their minds, and their bodies. Gradually, the screams in the night subsided and daytime laughter erupted more often. They bonded with our children, other fosters, and with their schoolmates, and then we helped them leave us, for better places… we hoped.
No, I don’t know what happened to most of them and yes, I wished laws had been different. It took many years for me to accept that God gave me a job to do and that I did it the best I could.
So, this Christmas Eve, the “joyful noise” of fretful toddler twins in worship service was music to my ears. That is where children belong. Even Jesus said so.
Tonight, as the glow of Christmas tree lights flicker in this in-between time, I left yesterday behind with its bittersweet memories and unanswered questions. I deliberately turn my white hair and old heart to the present and pray that in my assignment as caregiver I will serve up love, protection, and safety to my two care receivers and that I will do it will joy and grace.
After all, old foster moms believe they always entertain angels.
Stay on good terms with each other,held together by love.
Be ready with a mealor a bed when it’s needed.
Why, some have extendedhospitality to angels
without ever knowing it! Look on victims of abuse
as if what happened to themhad happened to you.
From Hebrews 13:2-3
May angels swam you and your memories be happy in this bright New Year.