We unwrapped each brightly colored ornament one by one. The peppermint candies that looked real enough to munch, the lollipops and the cupcakes…the fun gingerbread men with their iced on smiles. We took turns grabbing ornament after ornament and hanging them on our candy tree.
It was time to decorate for Christmas and our kids, some with incredible eagerness, some with wonder and curiosity and some with new-found teen reservations, you know, so they didn’t look too excited on purpose, all gathered around the bags of Christmas decorations that were lugged down from the attic.
So many memories in those bags. The candy-themed Christmas tree I began when Josiah was all of four years old that once towered behind him like an evergreen giant, now seemed to be only barely taller than the fifteen year old Josiah who is more man than boy these days.
Each year I’ve gathered a few more candy-themed ornaments, and we’ve made some here and there, so now when the tree is finished and the last trinket is hung it is more sparkle than green. That’s quite alright with me.
Through the years our kids have been gifted ornaments and I’ve allowed them to choose some when we have been out and about. We’d mark the year and their name on the new ornament and every year the greatest shrieks of excitement come as the kids pull their ornaments out of the bags.
“Look!! Here’s mine! I remember this one!”
This year as we were unwrapping ornaments, I heard my Camila exclaim with extreme excitement, “MAMA! Look!! IT’S MEEEE!”
She pulled the curled up photo ornament out of the box and gazed with such a sense of pride, my heart exploded. Tears filled my eyes. There was Camila in the picture, dressed in school uniform a couple of years ago, and smiling ear to ear. She stood for a few minutes smiling and looking at herself. Camila has found her ornament.
The excitement that came from Camila over this picture was more excitement than is ever found in any birthday presents or Christmas presents, which can be times of anxiety for kids who have come from hard places. We have surely come a long way in these situations, no question about it. I’ll never forget Camila’s first birthday party home when we threw her a big party with friends and family and as presents were given to her to open she hid and began to sob. What was all of this fuss about anyway? There have been other seasons when it was hard to regulate emotions and if she really liked a present she would just take off running and go look at it by herself without everyone staring at her responses.
But there was no struggle at all when Camila looked down and saw a memory of herself. There was no emotional war. There was only great joy and excitement. Camila has her ornament. She fully belongs and is fully loved.
Some of our kids have joined our family as older kids and we have found it super important to be consistent with traditions and allow them to build memories for themselves in these traditions.
This year is the first year of my life that I have had to force myself to begin decorating. Our family is walking through some deep sadness that would tempt to rob me of the joy that is fully available in the middle of any storm. But as my feet began working, I was so glad that we were decking the halls again. Yami told me as I was contemplating shifting up the norm of how we decorate, “The candy tree has to go in here! This is always where it goes!” And as we decorated she declared proudly, “I’m going to do this with my kids and family one day, too!!”
When I mentioned to Danny how delighted Camila was to see herself, Danny had a God-sent idea. He found some photos that neither of us have looked at in several years. They were the faded photos from adoption files of a few of our kids that seem like they were sent to us an eternity ago.
The eyes staring at us in the various pictures gave such a strange feeling to me. They are the eyes of kids we now know deeply as our own, yet the photos were of when they were unknown to us and we to them, a world between us in every possible way of distance and culture but not in divine destiny. The stories in those photos had already played out for years when we first gazed upon them.
When we first saw the photos, we examined the tiniest creases in faces and we tried to assess every back story and absorb personalities through color and depth that we thought we could perceive and understand at the time. The today me sees the guesses we were right about and the multitude of guesses we were wrong about. And here we are years later, after our stories have collided and swirled together like two colors of paint being stirred in the bucket of time; mixed ever-so-slowly in a colorful, contrasting, broken, mending, beautiful, difficult, unexpected, rewarding, and miraculous journey…here we are still learning what it really means to surrender. Here we are still learning what it means to take up our cross; still learning that pouring out our lives for the broken is always, always, always worth it, but will always cost more than we thought when we were staring at a photograph making guesses about personalities and preferences.
This journey has broken us in more ways than one, and yet we see now that these were all ways we needed breaking. This road has healed us in even more ways, ways that we didn’t know we needed healing before. And just as hard as the last months have been, we are seeing increasing beauty unfolding before us and inside of us. And that’s the yang to this whole beautiful mess. God knew what he was doing way back when those photos were sent. He knows what he’s doing when I’m on my face because I don’t know how to fix this. And he knows what he’s doing when I see children coming alive in this thing called life because He himself is healing all of their hurts and they know that they finally belong.
Danny took those old photos and he took some mason jar lids, and he made some special ornaments. Before he hung the handmade ornaments on the tree I made him smile for this cheesy photograph.
Then he told the kids to go see.
There were tears. There were hugs.
“You know why I did this don’t you?” He asked.
“Because you wanted me to have some memories,” was the tearful response. Lots of tears and hugs followed.
The “It’s me!” moments in adoptive parenting are miraculous. They’re the moments when we see that God is writing a security and a belonging and a deep love into our kids. All of them. They are the moments that stand out brighter and more glorious than any difficulties could ever attempt to.
My heart is filled with gratitude this Christmas because of Jesus, and because even in the trials, I’m honored that God entrusted us to live this life. He is faithful.
Thank you, Jesus, for this family of mine.