I've been wanting to write this post for about a year now, but I'm glad I waited.
One of Campbell's Advent traditions (as in many churches) is a Nativity parade. Each year, the children of the church dawn the costumes of shepherds, magi, barn critters, and the Holy Family. Jockying for roles always seems to be a part of the parade (the cow suit complete with udders always seems to be popular) and the oldest kids are always in the running to play Mary and Joseph or the Head Angel. Remarkably, someone in the congregation always volunteers their baby to play the role of baby Jesus. It's a pretty typical scene, just like you would see in countless churches all around the country.
But last year's was different. Our pastor and his family are a foster family and routinely have one or twelve extra kids running around and last Christmas was no different. They had two boys who ended up being with them for about eight months (if memory serves). Anyway, both boys were toddlers and when they were placed with the Bryans they were unable to do much but lay on the floor. By the time Christmas rolled around, both boys had shown remarkable improvement and the oldest was doing a little more walking.
For some reason, Megan and I happened to be at the first service last year, a service dominated by the saints (read older folks) of the church. There typically aren't many kids around for the 8:20 am service, so it's a real treat for these folks to get to see something like the nativity parade. Anyway, there we sat and watched as the various characters were walking in. When it came time for the various barn critters to come in, one of the Bryan's foster boys walked in all alone, thumb thoroughly fixed in mouth.
And my heart broke.
I cry more than I let on, but normally it's just a wet-eye kind of thing. Not that morning. I started bawling. Uncontrollably, almost. One of those cries where you struggle to keep your lip from shaking (the whole time trying to sing various Christmas songs, but with little success). Luckily, Megan was crying to. I looked up and Andy (who was sitting in front of me) was also crying. All because this little boy was walking down the aisle dressed up like a cow with his thumb in his mouth.
I can't tell you for sure why everyone else was crying, but it was pretty simple for me. I started thinking about where those foster boys would be in a year. I started thinking about the hell they had already experienced, the joy of being in a loving home at Christmas, and the uncertainty that lay ahead of them. Where would they be for their next Christmas? It was a strange mix of joy and sorrow that only Christmas can bring.
Here's why I'm glad I never wrote this post until now. The boys were adopted early last year. They've got a wonderful family in mid-Missouri and are no doubt busy preparing for another great Christmas with loving parents. They both continue to get caught up on developmental stuff and will no doubt grow up to be great men; the Bryans even get to visit on occasion.
So I teared up a little big again this year during the Nativity parade, but for very different reasons. Two precious, precious little boys who have been given a new chance in life. God's grace continues to flow through families that choose to foster and to adopt. What a beautiful picture for Christmas.