I pressed my back against the bathroom door as he flailed against me, then threw himself against the tub. He said he hated me. He said he wanted to die. He groped around the bathroom for anything he could break, and—when his hands found something—he tore at it with a terrible and desperate sense of intention.

When all of my carefully studied behavior strategies proved unsuccessful, and all of my training and research about trauma failed to restore him to calm, I started praying and singing softly. He turned on me and shrieked, “Stop that! Stop singing!” It was as if the peace I was seeking actively and painfully offended the chaos he was trying to create.

It was 11pm on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas day, I put on a smile and took happy pictures as the kids unwrapped their presents. I had disregarded any semblance of a budget and gone overboard on shopping for gifts. I had bought everything they told me they wanted.

Later that day, he flew into a fury and broke all of his toys. When I asked him why he did it, he said, “I’m used to my Christmas presents being broken.”

Christmas is hard for many foster kids. Many of them have unhappy memories of the holidays. They are full of disappointments. They are reminders of loss. And yet Christmas is theologically—fundamentally—about foster care and adoption.

Christmas is about God making a way to be our Father, since our First Parents failed us, leaving us with a broken lineage, an endless inheritance of death. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”

God sent Jesus to make us his sons and heirs. When I adopted my girls, one of the things the judge made me promise is that my girls would be my heirs—not just raised as my children, but entitled to an inheritance. It is integral to the very definition of adoption. On their adoption day, a friend of mine pointed me to Romans 8:14-17, which says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba. Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Jesus’ incarnation entitles us to the same inheritance as Jesus: eternal life, eternal unity with God, and an eternal place to call home.

Not only is Christmas about God’s plan to adopt us fatherless creatures, but it is also about the submission of Mary to birth the Incarnate God and lay him in a manger (which would never pass a foster agency home study) and the acceptance of Joseph, who fostered this mysterious, miraculous baby that was not his own. Mary and Joseph said “yes” to Jesus being their child—and their child made them children of God.

Christmas is about the fostering and adoption of the human race. And yet—isn’t Christmas hard? Aren’t we more comfortable in the chaos and violence passed down to us by our ancestors? Do we not fight against the peace of our souls? Do we not ever so often break our best gifts because we are used to brokenness?

As I hugged my crying foster son on the floor of the bathroom that Christmas Eve—trying desperately to convince him that he was loved and worth loving and would always be held—I thought, this brokenness does not ruin Christmas. Christmas is for this. God knows we have father issues and trust issues and attachment issues and that we need to be taught peace and joy. That’s okay. Christmas is for this. Christmas is for us at our darkest, our most detached and disordered. Christmas is a startling contrast to our bleak loneliness, so bright and glorious that it is alien and painful to our eyes and hearts. The Bible says that God “sets the lonely in families,” (Psalm 68:6), but any one who has fostered children will tell you: it takes some practice to live in a family. It takes some time.

My daughters and I still sometimes have days where I have to tell myself that we are still practicing being a family—we’re still learning how to be together and be good at it. When I fail to trust God, I picture myself as a child adjusting to my adoption into God’s family—realizing that I can lean into His love. And I will always be held.

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