Each ornament we placed on the tree reminded us of a unique Christmas memory, a joyful milestone in the Howerton family, an acknowledgment that the kids were another year older or simply that the flimsy egg-carton photo frame ornament had survived another year in storage. The ornaments invoked memories like - five years ago, we lost power until after lunch on Christmas day. For some reason, the red ornament reminded me of that. Three or four years ago, Caleb prayed for snow in the wee hours of Christmas morning and we sort of laughed at him. UNTIL IT STARTED SNOWING. Now, when Caleb prays we tend to pay more attention. The snowman ornament reminded me of that. While we decorated the tree last year, we were simultaneously celebrating our family whilst grieving for the missing parts.
Last year’s Christmas celebration was bittersweet because it was the first year I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our family was incomplete. We were smack in the middle of the adoption process last December and we all felt Duzi’s absence. We put his picture in a Christmas ornament in a hopeful yet, grieving sort of way. We prayed for him when we hung it on the tree - we prayed that God would bring our son home to us sooner rather than later.
This year, Duzi hung that ornament on the tree himself. He smiled really big when he saw his photo, from way back when he was 4, positioned in a Christmas ornament on HIS family’s Christmas tree.
While Duzi celebrated the idea of his first Christmas with his forever family, he also grieved for his beloved foster family in South Africa. The holidays are structured to be mile markers, watermarks – the time when one takes inventory of how life is unfolding. The time when one both rejoices and grieves. And, at 6 years old, without being able to articulate why the holidays invoke grief, he grieved. And, we let him. He grieved in his own unique, 6-year old way but I know him well enough now to identify when it’s grief and not just disobedience.
I hesitated to write this post because I imagine that most people want to hear a neatly gift-wrapped, clean adoption story that casts the adoptive family as heroes and the adopted child as the instantaneously healed victim. The truth is that there is tremendous hope that co-exists with grief in the same moment.
Nothing is neatly wrapped, but everything is being redeemed.