Presenting Angels

We have been surrounded by angels since answering the call to foster, and never is it more evident than at Christmas time.

The hospital provided our family with a box of food, new pajamas for each child, and a new outfit for each child. The Police department gave them each a new toy. A foster agency we never even got children from gave us new stuffed animals for each child.

None of that was expected, neither was the box of oranges or baskets of eggs or two pound bag of tiny snowman chocolates.

It’s been like manna from heaven, with a side of quail.

Our church angel tree got them each new Sunday shoes, a book, and legos. Legos are a really big deal for our children, because for years they have done legos as their Sabbath activity. They do not play with legos on other days. They do not squabble or fight while they play. It is something they can do, together, without drama or trigger or competition or fear. It’s amazing, and it gives us very peaceful Sundays.

And it was their idea. This legos on Sundays isn’t a rule we set. It’s something they came up with all on their own as they explored what the Sabbath means to them. So on Sundays, they don’t play at all with their other toys, and only play with legos which they don’t play with on other days. It’s adorable.

And, the creative play they do while building is some of the most therapeutic they could engage in with those precious little hearts who have been through so much. It’s also perfect for occupational therapy and social skills. I mean, legos for our family are not just silliness. It’s serious and amazing and healing.

And they play with them all day long, which gives Nathan and I rest. Real rest. Take a nap rest. Sit down for a minute rest. The kind of rest we haven’t had in years.

So we all are a fan of legos.

But, that’s a lot of legos for six children playing at the same time.

They are going to flip out to see new shoes and legos – and books are perfect because we just split up their rooms and they all have their own libraries started and our children love to read.

We may mess up a lot of things for our children, and they may spend more years in therapy because of us than for anything they went through before us, but by golly, we gave them a love for reading – that’s how I know they will be okay.

Anyway, when you put all that together:

One outfit, one pair of shoes, one book set, one toy, one box of legos, a new stuffy, new pajama set, two tiny surprises from friends, plus the Harry Potter wands Nathan made, all together that makes ten presents for each child.

That’s not even anything frivolous or fancy, though it’s more than the four gifts of “something you want, something you need, something to play, and something to read.”

Part of that, though, is because they really do need new Sunday shoes.

But still, seriously, ten miracle presents for each child.

It’s amazing.

And it’s hilarious, because ten presents for six children adds up to sixty presents squeezed under the tree – not even counting a bunch of crazy wild fancy toys.

That’s crazy.

It feels a little ridiculous, especially when we think, “Oh!  But where are we going to live?”

Oh, yeah.  We are here.  We are safe.  We are home.

Or, when we think, “but what are we going to eat?”

Oh yeah.  Our pantry has been filled by the storehouse, and strangers, and angels hidden in the crowds.

Or when we think, “but how will we pay for Kyrie’s supplies?”

Oh yeah. Someone sold shirts for us.  And someone sent us a box of syringes.  And we won the medicaid appeal for her formula.  And somehow, those loved ones around us – the ones we don’t even get to hang out with because of doctor’s appointments and hospital visits – somehow they keep mailing us just enough to get what she needs, or palming us just enough to answer what we cried about on our knees that morning.

I cannot count how many times this year that has happened: that Nathan and I have been on our knees, pleading and begging and praying, and the doorbell rang, or the mail came, or someone shook hands with him on Sunday, or someone left something for us when we were not looking.

These are the angels who have heralded the good news to us throughout the year: Heavenly Father hears your prayers, and He knows your needs, and He loves you.

So maybe ten presents are ridiculous, when you think about so many places in the world where there are so many without shelter, without water, and without food.

That’s what I was thinking about when our Bishop first asked us to fill out angel tree forms for our ward.  I declined, initially, because we are safe and warm and clothed and fed, and that is sufficient for our needs.

Except the Sunday shoes, which we needed desperately in a spoiled American kind of way.

But, he said, we send our tithes and fast offerings to those places the way the church is organized to help.  But we are also responsible, he said, for our local people, which includes you, and this is about the children, and about traditions as a family, and about giving them memories.

“Fill out the paper,” he said.

And so I did.

And then one day this week, a box of presents just appeared out of nowhere on our back porch.

Sunday shoes, books, and legos.

And I fought back tears.

But then another family from church showed up one afternoon while I was at work and delivered to us a couch and loveseat because they heard we didn’t have one.

And then another special needs mom mailed us a gtube button because her child changed sizes and she just happened to have what we needed.

And then somebody put Christmas lights up after we moved.

And then some other anonymous person gave us zoo passes – with tickets for the train.

Memories.  That’s what the zoo is to us.  It’s not just an outing.  It’s the place we went to everytime we got new foster children, to let them flesh out their new family dynamics and for us to get to know each other in a safe, neutral setting.  It’s where I take the children on my days off, so that we can play and spend time together while giving Nathan a break and time to finish his work.  It’s where we go for homeschool field trips on days all the other children are in classrooms, so that Kyrie can get out of the house without dying.  It’s where we go to be a family, to learn, to play, to run and shout without having to be quiet and sit still.  It’s where Kirk learned to rock climb with one hand, and where Alex is well-behaved because his autism mind can predict what is coming next, and where the little ones first learned about animals and have done more pet therapy with those goats they brush than they ever could anywhere else.  That’s what the zoo means to us.

The zoo is where we learn about stables, and why animals need stables, and how animals eat, and what a funny thing it is that a baby would be laid in a manger.

Our faith tradition understands that the Savior was born in April, but we are so grateful for His birth that we join the rest of the world in celebrating at this time of year when the Spirit feels so strong while people are focused on being kind and generous and giving and good.

And we know Christmas isn’t about the presents, and we try to teach this to the children, but it’s also an awe-inspiring thing to watch the Spirit of Christmas grant provision to little children, relief to parents, and create memories for us all.

I work tonight, so Nathan has taken the children to Bartlesville to play with his parents while he plays violin for the Methodist church program.  I sent them in their pajamas, and they will open presents and they will make gingerbread houses.  It will all be very exciting and loud and I will be extra grateful for grandparents.  They will fall asleep on the way home, stumble into their beds just as I get home from work, and then wake in the night to throw up like they always do after eating everything they can find at Grandma’s.  Traditions, right?

When people talk about what we have sacrificed for these children, I often think about what the children have sacrificed for each other.  Not just for Kyrie, but also that.  They have come through hard things, committed to our family the way little ones do, and worked hard to be all they have become – sometimes in spite of us.  They work hard in their therapies every week, and they work hard at their chores, and they work hard in school even when it is at home.  They do not get much extra most of the time, because we have to so carefully stretch everything and even for their own healing must keep things so structured and steady and even keel.

But Christmas?  Christmas is something else.  It’s time to rest, and to play, and to ponder, and to sing, and to smile.  It’s time to give and serve and love, but also to receive and to feel loved.

And it amazes me that each of them have these ten little presents, and I am in awe of how friends or strangers could pick things out such gifts so exactly right for them.

Because they are gifts from the magi, gifts from angels, to these precious little spirits growing up before my eyes.

The Christmas after Kyrie was born was the first one we realized how her care had impacted us and changing our situation, and then last Christmas seemed impossible but unfolded before our eyes.

This Christmas came with a move completed in a week, start to finish, which is more than we could have done on our own, and our cultural celebration of Christmas has arrived on our doorstep one surprise at a time, one course at a time, one box at a time.

Maybe that’s my present: to know that we are okay, and safe, and not alone.

My children reminded me this morning that I am an orphan.  I don’t know where they learned that or how they figured out to apply it to me.  I told them it was okay because I am a grown up, even though it is hard.  They said it was still sad because I won’t get any real presents.

I told them they were my present, and it’s true.

And even Kyrie, whom we didn’t know would still be with us.

And maybe what we have experienced gives us peace while we still have her with us, or until she passes, or until she is better (which they say will not happen).

And maybe instead of only anticipating grief, we are learning to anticipate peace.

Maybe we have learned this year how to ask for help, how to give each other comfort, and how to let ourselves be loved.

Maybe that’s what Christmas is about: a baby born to do what we could not do for ourselves, to comfort us when we feel despair, and to love us no matter what.

Thank you for being angels.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.