The gifts have been opened and my kids are donning their new jerseys and shirts, surrounded by a sea of Legos. Cinnamon rolls that went down easily have now become sugary bricks in the bottoms of our stomachs. Tears are pooling in my eyes, a strange combination of suprising sadness and joy.
As we were headed to bed last night, I told my husband with a smile that I was elated that two little homeless boys we know would be waking up at a friend’s house to celebrate a real Christmas. My boys picked out stockings full for each of them. We have been anticipating their opening them for three weeks.
They never showed up and the stockings are still sitting there. When I heard the news, my gladness got swallowed up by grief.
Grief for my friends who have been loving this family for months, being stood up by their mother who is paralyzed by a complex web of inability and refusal to receive help. Grief for the little boys who are torn between a mother who loves them but can’t really provide for them and the scary unknown of the foster care system. Grief for the deep complexities of broken systems that cannot be fixed with quick bandaids and situations that cannot be wrapped with shiny bows. Grief for adoptive parents waiting endlessly for stuck children to be let out of their home countries and for adopted children who were traumatized by situations they did not choose.
As I ran this morning in an attempt to pound out my frustrations and confusion on the pavement, I realized what a strange Christmas gift I have been given today in an unexpected form.
In addition to a beautiful Christmas tree pin that I will wear proudly even though I am three decades too young to wear a broach, I have been given a deeper awareness of the gospel through this mother and her two sons.
I am just like this mother. I swing between an inability and a refusal to receive the gifts and presence of God. From time to time, I come and receive, laying down my pride and shame. Those moments are golden, but there are so many others that I miss out on because I won’t come or respond. Jesus came for both of us, for my children and for hers.
God sent His son to this world because there was no simple, easy fix. A complex web of brokenness needed a complex solution, one that could only be accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of the sinless son of God.
This morning, I am choosing to hold two contradictory stories at the same time. Gladness as I watch my children enjoy the gifts they hand-picked for each other and as we board a plane to be with our family. Gloom as I think about the complexities of brokenness in the lives of our little friends and so many others.
Gladness may be swallowed by grief. But there is a day coming when grief will be swallowed up by an even greater joy, the joy of the world as it was meant to be under the full rule and reign of God. In the meanwhile, we will fight to maintain the strange gloomy gladness that the gospel requires.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show the all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.