Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I'm definitely part of the crowd that listens to Christmas music early in the season (I also take a nice break to celebrate Thanksgiving, so leave me be to enjoy my excess of Christmas merriment!!), but I enjoy the lights, foods, decorations, and time off work. Growing older has added some heartache to the season, knowing that some of my friends are missing their loved ones, and the truth that so many celebrate the season alone. Added on, this year I kept seeing posts of my friends in Romania, that I couldn't celebrate with. However, I can honestly say that this Christmas held something extra magical! My sister and her husband became certified foster parents at the beginning of this year. In March, an infant joined their family and this summer two siblings, age 5 and 7 joined them as well. They now have four children and we're all learning and growing in this new family adventure. New additions to the family can be exciting but there is some awkwardness too when blending and creating new relationships. The funny thing is that there are so many personality types, that almost everyone has partner of some kind. My mom and oldest niece are both type A crafters, as in they enjoy art activities with rules and one expected outcome (it's kind of like pass/fail arts and crafts, haha). My youngest niece and I are outdoorsy, quiet, A-symetrical art kind of people. My brother-in-law and oldest nephew are workout, throw football kind of boys. My dad and oldest niece like cuddling and reading books together. My sister and the baby loving playing and napping together. And all the kids like playing with my younger brother, he's just the favorite, pretty much the family mascot. Navigating the different personalities and sharing old family stories with new members is all part of the journey but there are some times when you just really just don't know what to do. It's usually pretty comical (If you haven't seen the movie, Instant Family, you really should! It's so accurate at expressing the newness awkward moments!). When I saw the kids at Thanksgiving, I just gave my oldest nephew a side hug, which I realized too late that we hadn't actually done yet. He just stood still like he wasn't enjoying the sentiment, haha. I released him and my oldest niece, who is the opposite, ran up to me and gave me multiple hugs. So, when we got back together for Christmas, I went to greet my nephew and he help up his hand and said, "It's okay, Aunt Allison, we can just high-five." LOL! Well, at least it's in the open now, that I'm an awkward hugger and high-fives are sufficient greeting for him.
The fact that my siblings and I are grown now, makes some of the joy of Christmas wan. Only a couple years ago, we all slept in, had a quiet morning drinking coffee and opening presents. It was nice and all, but too boring in my opinion. This year was quite the opposite. When everyone came up for the holidays, we had 10 people staying at our parent's house, meaning all the beds and air mattresses were occupied, the fridge was packed with all the food, and the family sized cereal boxes were purchased. Food prep for these five days was intense, to say the least! Mom and I had many conversations about what was sufficient, the family group text resulted in many meat requests and no sides (hamburgers, steak, pork tenderloin, meatloaf), and we made many Walmart runs before we felt prepared. But can one really ever be prepared?
The first night they were visiting, we all went to Tweetsie's Christmas Train. It was so fun, and the kids really enjoyed it! My youngest niece, who was adopted a couple years ago, is an introvert like me, so we stuck together for our own sanity. It was cold outside and snow was still covering much of the ground and trees, which the kids rarely get to see. We left with hungry bellies, soaked shoes and socks, and hot chocolate stained coats. My youngest niece conquered her previous fear of the carousel, and everyone burned their tongues on hot chocolate despite many warnings and blowing on them so much that they were practically half spit, half chocolate. For those of you with young kids, you know how real this life is! I honestly don't know how my sister does this every day with hardly any sleep... the power of God is with her!
On Christmas Eve, we went to my grandparents' house to celebrate with them. As we were driving up to their house, there just happen to be an actual carriage with a horse being harnessed and Santa. Of course the kids freaked out and we parked at my grandparents to walk up the street and see Santa. Because this guy was incredibly on point, he told the kids that they needed to go to bed early that night for him to come see them. Thank you, random Santa on the side of the road! So, later that night when we all got into our annual Christmas Eve fort, there were no arguments about going to sleep early! Our fort took up an entire room and 7 sheets this year, to make individual beds for each kid, me and my brother (I had already told my sister and brother-in-law that they could have the night off, as in just handle the baby). The morning of Christmas, I woke up to my youngest niece smiling at me like there is nothing she would rather do than watch me sleep. Kind of creeped out, I told her good morning. She shushed me and whispered that we had to go back to sleep or Santa wouldn't come. I explained to her that it was morning meaning Santa had already visited us. Then my oldest nephew jumped in, and whispered, "So wait, it's really Christmas right now?!" I laughed and we started to get up and wake the others. My dad had to stand watch by the living room entry, just like he did when I was a kid until all the adults were ready to commence Christmas morning.
The day was full of the usual excitement, whining, greediness, joy, reminders to be thankful, some timeouts, breakfast together, the correct answer that Christmas was about Jesus, and lots of love. My main answer when people comment about how fast our family is growing is that there is just more of us to love, and that really is true. It's anything but easy and as my sister looked at my parents and said, "Christmas really brings out the worst in my kid's behavior", to which my parents agreed that was true of us as children too! But dedicating our time and energy to encourage, forgive, and hold each other up is what family is about. It's not solely biological or mandatory, its a gift. Sure it's a messy, sometimes sticky and slobbery gift, but it's a gift nonetheless.
The foster care system could be the poster child of how messy life is. But it's also a picture of God's grace in the midst of our mess. We get the opportunity to live out the love of God amidst lives that may never get to see that. Social workers, birth parents, children from broken homes, therapists, teachers, church families, and friends are all exposed to that love just by being around the family. We don't have enou
gh of that love, and we constantly have to remind each other to dig deeper into God's source of love and strength because we simply aren't enough on our own. We have a family group text that is usually used to share ridiculous things with each other so we can all laugh together. But sometimes, we vent, and cry, and ask for help. But the great thing about it is that we know our family is on the other side of the conversation crying, laughing, praying or yelling with us.
I'll be honest with you, we aren't good at this, haha; it doesn't come easily. But my sister and her husband are a constant encouragement to me to live out the love of Christ. Foster care is no joke, they are faced with situations that nothing can prepare you for, and they are asked to do incredibly hard things in the name of love. They wouldn't want me to glorify the things they are doing, but I do want to tell their story as encouragement of God's goodness. As someone looking from the outside in, Foster care and adoption allows those involved to experience the love of Jesus in such a tangible way. And God asks us to do hard things, that is true, but He provides for those who are obedient. Have there been times when my sister and her husband felt alone in this battle? Absolutely! But in reality, God has provided so many friends, mentors, and church family that have experience with the foster care system and support them in various ways. They are a gift beyond what I had even hoped for them! Some of their closest friends foster as well, which gives them all the opportunity to get together and have loud, messy, community. I've experienced it first hand and its more unique than any other friendly get together, with a strength that radiates within these families. I've heard that it takes special families to foster, but I after seeing so much of it, I really think that it just takes an amazing God and obedient families.
My mom put up a new decoration this year, that is probably my favorite one yet. She works with missions at our church and got some prints from Samaritan's Purse of kids around the world accepting their shoeboxes. After the event at church, she brought them home and put them on this wooden tree. One morning while we were eating breakfast, my oldest niece and nephew asked why we had all these kid's photos. So, I told them to go look closely at the pictures and see if they could figure out why we liked them. They looked and my niece said, "Hey, we packed a shoe box like that!" That was exactly what I was looking for, and I explained that those photos were of some kids that have gotten a shoe box. Other pictures are of some modes of transportation in the delivery process, so we talked about those too. My nephew pointed out a picture of some SP workers delivering shoeboxes tied to a camel, and said he would like to go take kids presents on a camel, haha. For two kids that haven't heard much about the Bible before coming to our house, I love getting to see them understand who God is more and more. My niece just sat there and looked at those kid's faces for a long time, I don't know how long that conversation will stick with her, but for the moment she gained a better understanding of the power of a gift.
"Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."
- 1 Cor. 13:6,7
Fostering is a great reminder that we don't know what tomorrow will bring, so today is worth the investment. Share the moments with those you love, invest in each other's dreams, and inspire each other to pursue God more and take on those hard challenges! Every day we wake up, we face heartache, our weaknesses and things we flat out don't want to do. The saving grace is that letting more of God fill us, will allow us to draw more of His power in our walk. We were meant for more, for hard, for strength, but not alone. Thats always the hardest part for me, but God gave us fellow family members fighting the same fight for us to walk together, hand in hand. Be bold and very courageous!
From our family to yours,