The word alone evokes so many memories, so many emotions from my childhood. Smells, tastes, laughter, and songs fill my mind, and the little girl inside me can feel the excitement and anticipation of Christmas drawing near. I can close my eyes and remember the sprinkles upon sprinkles being poured over sugar cookies doused with white icing. Laughing with my brother and singing Christmas songs with my parents while driving around our small town looking at Christmas lights.
Although our home had a chimney, we didn’t have a fireplace. I remember my parents setting up a cardboard fireplace in our living room because I couldn’t understand how Santa would ever get in our house that didn’t have one.
I remember sitting on Santa’s knee at our tiny, local movie theater, trying my best to be good after dancing between naughty and nice all year long.
When a chill hits the air and snow begins to fall, I smile remembering the days of ice skating on my babysitter’s frozen creek and sledding down her neighbor’s hill. I can still taste the hot chocolate, rich and sweet, chasing the cold away.
Under the lights of our Christmas tree, covered with tinsel and homemade ornaments, lay the most beautiful and my most favorite Christmas decoration of all – the nativity scene. To see the rudimentary building made of wood and moss hosting a mother, a father, and their precious baby captivated my attention year after year.
“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:6-7
My imagination came alive as I looked at the shepherds with their sheep. How their hearts must have burst at the sight of the Lord. How chills must have passed through their bodies as they gazed at their Savior. The words of the angel had proven true.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:8-12
I looked so curiously at the wise men bearing gifts for baby Jesus, pondering the reverence they must have felt, so perfectly captured by the position in which they bowed their Lord.
“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” – Matthew 2:10-11
Although my family very sporadically attended church, they taught me about Jesus, and the Lord pursued my heart from as early as I can remember. As much as I loved wrapping presents, setting out cookies and milk for Santa, and watching Christmas movies, in the time that I spent gazing at the manger scene, I understood in my heart the true meaning of Christmas. The Savior of the world had been born.
One of the first items on my wish list for Christmas when I got married was my very own nativity scene. I wanted to replicate that memory of having Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, and all who came to behold him that sacred night under my own tree. As a young child, I had spent hours playing with the figures, imagining what it must have been like to be in the presence of the Son of God. I looked forward to the day my own children would play with our nativity scene, creating their own memories around the true meaning of Christmas.
My family entered the world of adoption 3 ½ years ago, and like those of you who have opened your hearts to the least of these, I am forever changed. I love the beauty that adoption brings into our lives. It is the picture of the gospel. Restoration and redemption. Healing of the body and spirit. A connection that is woven with love and grace. And yet, adoption is only necessary because of great loss, and with loss, pain.
In a perfect world, all children are raised by the loving parents who helped create them and gave birth to them. In reality, too many birth parents find themselves in desperate situations with little hope. Mothers give birth to their babies, and moments or maybe hours… days or maybe weeks… months or possibly years later, mothers and fathers look at their baby one last time, and then they walk away.
They walk away.
Tears pour from my eyes as I imagine what it would feel like to walk away from one of my sons. My chest is crushed beneath the weight, and I can hardly breathe. I am broken for the mothers. I am broken for the fathers. And I am broken for the babies who were left by the ones designed to protect them and love them for all their lives.
To be found, these children must be left. Someone had to leave. A mother, a father, a grandparent, a friend – someone placed a child somewhere to be found. In hospitals, bus stops, train stations, and streets, and by rivers, power lines, businesses, and orphanage gates, children are left to be found.
But sometimes children are left not to be found. In the darkest of places, where their new, soft, and tender skin should never graze, little ones are left to be lost. Whether driven by desperation, fear, hatred, or disgust, we will never know. This is how some of our children’s lives began. How do we sit down to tell our children that people heard the cries of a small animal, only to realize the sound they heard was a baby inside a trash bin? Thrown away. Tossed aside. Meant to be lost forever.
How do we tell our children that this is part of their story?
Most children adopted from China have a finding spot. Whether by a river or at the bus station, a trash bin, or the street, our children deserve so more than where they were placed.
And then I look at Mary, I see Joseph, and I remember these words…
“…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger…” – Luke 2:6-7
She placed her son in manger. Our King, our Savior, the long awaited Messiah was born and placed in a feeding trough for farm animals. Not a hospital, a home, or a cozy crib inside a warm, beautifully decorated nursery. God’s only Son, our beloved Jesus, was placed in a manger in an area only suitable for livestock. It was the lowest of the low and certainly not fit for a king by the world’s standards.
Our Father used the manger itself as a sign to the shepherds. It is written, “This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). Not only did God allow our Savior to be placed in a feeding trough, but He used the manger as sign. The manger was meaningful and purposeful. It did not define who Jesus was, but it told us much about our Sovereign, Holy Lord.
Our Father loves all of us, not just the strong but the weak. Not just the first but so much the last. The Everlasting God had His eye on our children as their birth parents walked away, and I am confident He was with them until they were found. Our babies were never alone, and He is with them now.
So when I tell my children about their finding places, they will also hear about how…
The Son of the Most High God…
Our mighty and gracious Jesus Christ…
…was born as a King but lived like a Servant.
…lived without sin but took on the sin of the world…
…and when He was born, He was placed in a manger.
Now when I look at the nativity beneath my tree, with baby Jesus lying in the manger, I see my children lying in China, waiting to be found. When I look at Joseph and Mary watching their son and their Savior with such adoration, I see the face of God watching over my sons with the deepest, never ending love. While I ponder this in my heart, I feel both sadness and overwhelming gratitude. Brokenness and great hope. I feel love and overwhelming forgiveness. I know God was with my sons then just as He is with us now.
Though the early parts of our children’s stories have been written, God has not yet finished His great work. Our Father has such abounding love for what the world views as weak and low and last, and I believe that through our beloved children, once lost but now found, God’s glory will shine the brightest for all the world to see.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10