Christmas 2009. Four Christmases ago. I was a wreck. We were so close to finding our new daughter. I just knew it would be a few weeks after Christmas; I hoped it would be a few weeks after Christmas. I was filled with expectation that Christmas.
And, that meant that though I didn’t know who she was or where exactly she was, what she looked like or how old she was, I knew she was. I knew she was somewhere across the world, alone on Christmas, what turned out to be her first Christmas.
I was anxious and wondering and thinking all the time about her. Yet, there was something that gave me great peace.
God was there.
In Luke 2:6-20, Luke mentioned the manger three times. Why?
The manger was messy. It wasn’t what we picture and what our children play with as part of our little nativity sets they can hold in their hands. It wasn’t a symmetrical wooden contraption with a sweet bed of hay. It was more like a box looking thing or basin made out of clay mixed with hay or stones and held together with mud. All kinds of food for animals was put into it, not just nice yellow hay. It was dirty, likely moldy, smelly, not anything we’d want our child anywhere near.
And, God was there. Very literally, God was there.
As spunky and full of life as Lydia is now, there was a time that she was in a pretty messy place. I believe her orphanage was one of the better ones—her needs were met, and we’ve learned that there were quite caring women who took to her there. There was a wall of windows with natural light in the room where she lived 24-7. In that room were 40 cribs and a few toys for all to share to pass their days until they graduated to another room and then another. There were older children in that orphanage too, children we weren’t allowed to see. I wonder what their days were like.
I’ve heard a lot of stories, stories about adopted children who flinch when someone moves their direction in fear that they will be hit; children with flat heads who were never held; children who have come to accept that no one wants to bring home a child their age, only babies; children who suffer significant consequences from not having the medical treatment they needed earlier.
And, yet, I believe God is there.
God is not only not afraid to get his feet dirty; He is about getting His feet dirty. That’s what advent is all about, isn’t it? God coming down, the perfect to the broken, the holy to the unholy.
Psalm 34:18 tells us He’s close to the brokenhearted, and there are so many, so very many. I can only imagine that He is very close indeed to brokenhearted children—here and there—whether they are aware of their brokenness or not. He’s there.
I prayed for our daughter four Christmases ago, that He would be close to her, that He would remain close to her. That He would be tangibly felt in that room where she slept. That He would wrap His arms around her when she was cold. That He’d rock her when she needed comfort. That He’d be in the manger with her.
I know He was there.
And, somehow, in the dark places of orphanages around the world, I can’t explain how or what He always looks like there, but I believe that He’s there. In the warmth of the sun pouring in the windows, He comforted my child. In the smile of a nanny. In the gaze of another orphan. In the provision sent by charities around the world. In her broken heart—emotionally and literally.
Somehow, He was there.
Now, as my children listen to us read about His story every night, sing familiar and unfamiliar words together to prepare, sneak Hershey kisses in their mouths as we make reindeer eyes, and use entirely too much scotch tape on crafts and wrapping paper alike, He is here…and, He is there, somehow making an unholy place, holy.
That’s what advent is about. That’s what He’s about.
photos courtesy of KC Photography