Emmanuel

Emmanuel.

God with us.

It’s the theme that keeps playing on the screen of my heart this Christmas.

I sit in church on Christmas Eve morning and feel the words seep into my soul.

God with us.

Emmanuel.

The manger scene on my bookshelf, set out at the beginning of Advent, sits as a quiet testament to the Truth of it.

A tiny baby is snuggled in the manger carved of porcelain, surrounded by witnesses of the glorious moment when the world was forever changed.

Through the raw, undignified labor of childbirth God came to us.

On that first Christmas night he found His home in a barn, the breath and body heat of animals filling the air with a sweet, musty odour.

The gentle movements of cattle rustling in the straw were the backdrop to one young woman’s delivery.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

Just like that, God entered the world He had created and sought out the hearts of humanity as He always does.

A young woman and her humble husband,

shepherds working in the fields nearby,

the townspeople of a small town in Judah called  Bethlehem,

the king of a mighty empire,

an elderly woman and man in the temple in Jerusalem,

men from the far east.

God here with us for one purpose;

to redeem the brokenness and seek out the hearts of His beloved creation.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Suddenly, there was hope.

I look back over the past year and it’s those words that ring in my ears.

“God with us.”

He was,

he is,

and he will be.

Steadfast love.

“Never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”                               -The Jesus Storybook Bible

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I watch my children’s eyes as my husband walks them through the Christmas story, the porcelain figures in their hands as we recount the events of that first celebration of Jesus’ birth over 2000 years ago.

I see it’s like a story to them.

They don’t understand yet, but someday they will see it;

this Emmanuel feeling…God with us.

So much humility and gratitude in the realization.

God here with us in the mess of our lives,

delighting in our little acts of worship to Him.

We sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and blow out the candle.

My daughter wonders how many cand

les should really be there, and her brow furrows in concentration as I try to explain that there was never a beginning.

I peel back the wrappings on the large wooden plaque and I see a map of the world painted on the rough wooden slabs.

My husband smiles at my delight and I study the span of it.

We point out to the children where we are and where their aunt is, clear across the expanse of the map in Australia.

This one world that seems so huge to us, but is such a tiny dot in the eye of that one God who entered into it.

Emmanuel.

One of my favourite Christmas songs com

es on and I close my eyes and take a moment to settle in it.

God Is With Us

The skies don’t seem to be as dark as usual
The stars seem brighter than they’ve been before
Deep within I feel my soul a stirring
As though my hope has been restored
The shepherds say they’ve heard the voice of angels
Confirming rumors spread across the land
That a child protected well from Herod’s anger
Is our father’s son, and the son of man

Love is raining down on the world tonight
There’s a presence here I can tell
God is in us, God is for us, God is with us, Emmanuel

He’s the savior we have been praying for
In our humble hearts he will dwell

God is in us, God is for us, God is with us, Emmanuel

I feel compelled to tell all who will listen
That peace on earth is not so out of reach
If we can find grace, mercy and forgiveness
He has come to save, he is all of these

You’re the savior we have been praying for
In our humble hearts you will dwell

You are in us, you are for us

You are with us,

Emmanuel

~Casting Crowns

It’s true.

Emmanuel means He has come down here to us.

God is in us.

He is for us.

He is the hope we can hang our heartstrings on and know, without a doubt, that He will be able to hold the weight of all of us and our world.

~AF

 

 

 

A Village

Sasha is a young single mom working a day job…and raising three kids on the side.

What started as a babysitting opportunity turned into weekends, weekdays, weeknights, and sometimes weeks at a time.

For these three kids she is just as much “Mommy” as their biological mother.

They have drawers full of clothing, favourite toys and predictable routines specific to her home.

Sasha is often exhausted and frustrated from the early mornings, interrupted nights, constant transitioning of toddlers and syncing schedules.

However, when the kids do happen to go home for a few days, she can’t help but miss them and wonder what they’re doing.

She is a mom in every sense of the word.

Her parents and siblings help out as well, welcoming these children into their family with open arms.

“Grammy” is adored by all and despite having raised four of her own children spends day after day, night after night caring for, feeding and loving three more little souls.

Sasha and her family’s endurance and generosity have inspired and blessed me.

If it were not for them, a single mom with very limited resources and support would be overwhelmed, frustrated and more than likely unable to cope with the demands of raising three active, young children on her own.

It’s very possible this family would be a part of the foster care system if it were not for Sasha’s daily sacrifices and commitment.

***

Dana is a newlywed.

She and her husband love children, which led her to begin offering childcare out of her home.

Through a series of events Dana was given the opportunity to provide childcare for a young single mom who had recently moved out of a women’s shelter with her two young children.

Dana knew this family would require much more than the typical childcare expectations, including weekends and possibly overnights as this young mom worked on securing employment and rebuilding her life.

Soon the children were spending a lot of time in Dana’s home and she soon learned to love them very much, despite some very challenging behaviors that made it difficult for her to reach around to all the children in her care.

When the family’s new residence turned out to be infested by bedbugs and Children’s Services began considering the children be removed, Dana and her husband stepped forward and offered to take the children into their home full time until the situation could be resolved.

So…on Dana and her husband’s 6 month anniversary, they found themselves curled up on the couch with two children watching a Disney movie, too tired to go out.

While the children’s mother visits regularly and is very grateful, Dana and her husband are the ones who change diapers, tuck the children into bed, deal with tantrums, feed, clothe and pray over these children.

There is no word other than parenting that explains what they are doing.

They are often exhausted and feel ill equipped to parent these children, but in her words,

“It is so beautiful to have something bigger than ourselves to pour into!”

If it were not for Dana and her husband, this family would most likely have entered the foster care system.

Thanks to Dana, this young mom can see her children every day and work at building a safe home for her children to return to without the stressful scrutiny of Social Services which is intimidating for anyone.

Her children were able to move into a home they were already familiar with, with people they already knew and loved instead of being torn from their home and placed with strangers.

It will be a long road ahead for this family but Dana and her husband have proved they are willing to do whatever it takes to support this family and help them thrive.

I truly believe there is hope for this family because of Dana.

***

So many times, when a new little face appears at my doorstep teary, wide eyed and frightened, I have wondered…

Could this have been prevented?

I look at my own children, hear their birth parents’ stories, observe the grief and loss and regret and questions and I wonder…

Could this have been prevented?

What if there had been someone there to walk that young mother through the diaper changing, breastfeeding, teething, and tantruming of young children?

What if there had been someone to bring freezer meals, clean the house, buy tiny baby clothes, give her an hour to nap, throw a baby shower.

What if that young father battling addiction had people around him to support him and his son.

Someone to call out the man in him, the father in him, and to model integrity.

Someone to offer free babysitting for his son, hand me down clothing, a night off or a ride to and from work each day.

What if that teenage couple had someone a little older and wiser to come alongside and gently walk them through car seat installations, nutritious meals and safe sleep?

What if there was someone to say those words every mother longs to hear,

“You’re a good mom.”

What if we opened our eyes to see the families around us who are struggling and to offer the small things we have to them.

Because in our offerings there is dignity.

There is validation and affirmation.

There is a shared strand of survival in the challenges we face as parents.

We all need a little grace.

Of course, not all situations could be prevented.

Many families need more than a freezer meal or hand me downs…

but what if we started there?

What if we stopped trying so hard to get it all right that we had room to acknowledge that you and I…well we’re the same.

We both raise our voices and collapse under pressure.

We both suffer from anxiety and turn our backs when we shouldn’t.

We both make mistakes…

sometimes ones we will regret forever.

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I wish I had been there when my daughter was born in her mother’s tender seventeenth year.

I wish I had been there through the challenging teenage years when addiction lured her into its deathly grip.

I wish I had been there to let her know that she is not alone.

I wish I could have offered up my hands and my baby clothes and my leftovers.

Maybe things could have been different.

I love that I know a God who delights in taking broken things and making them beautiful and whole again.

Adoption and foster care are both wonderful examples of  His work of redemption, but make no mistake…

they are the result of brokenness.

While God delights in restoring the broken pieces of our lives, he also longs for His original design to flourish.

Families are created to last forever, and when that initial model disrupts there is chaos, trauma and pain.

Parent and child will bear scars for a lifetime.

But what if there were more Sasha’s?

More Dana’s?

More people willing to enter the core of this problem instead of placing bandaids on top?

How many more families would remain intact?

We live in a broken world.

Every day we witness the evidence of that tragedy, but as believers, we are called to bear witness of the Light.

We are empowered by His Spirit to foreshadow His Kingdom here on earth while we wait for Him to return and restore everything to its beautiful, original design.

I love these verses in Pilippians that teach us how to serve humbly.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:3-5

It takes a village.

We were never meant to do this on our own.

I am so thankful for the Sasha’s and Dana’s who are bravely, gracefully stepping into the mess of brokenness and offering up what they have.

It is painful,

it is exhausting,

and it is often discouraging.

But it is good.

~AF