This past week, on the first Sunday of Advent, our youngest daughter turned 3 years old.
Or so her paperwork says. You see, our sweet girl is adopted and we don’t know her actual birthday, though I’m fairly certain this is accurate within a few days.
Either way, I love that her birthday is very near Christmas. There are so many parallels between her life story and the story of the birth of Jesus. I won’t go into it here, for that’s ultimately hers to share, but what I will share is the story of her birthday three years later…
The fanfare for her special day included all of the typical preschooler party gear with some Christmas-y vibes thrown in: streamers, balloons, treats, Christmas cookie decorating, sparkly antlers in place of party hats, and lots of little friends running around wreaking havoc that can only be described as both chaotic and joyful.
But I also felt a longing to honor Naomi’s Ethiopian heritage. It may not hold a candle to cookies and balloons and presents now, but someday it will be important to her. And I want her to look back and see that this rich and vibrant culture has been woven through her life like a tapestry, as familiar and comfortable as an old friend or perhaps a gentle grandmother. So for her birthday we gave her a new authentic Ethiopian dress sent from our dear friends the DeGarmos who live in Addis Ababa. Ben and Nina wore their Ethiopian garb. We made Ethiopian food for dinner (that’s an entirely different blog post!). We burned Ethiopian incense. It was delicious in so many ways.
In the midst of all the birthday festivities, I could not shake an ever-so-slight shadow of sadness that seemed to cast its gaze over me. Sadness because, as I’ve said before, adoption is always born out of brokenness. Which means that while we are celebrating her life, someone else is mourning her loss. A mother, unbeknownst to us, has a broken story of which we know not. And that mother, if she is still walking this earth, is undoubtedly grappling with grief and anger, frustration and pain, deep sadness and undeniable longing. All while we are celebrating with joy and gladness. I hold this tension with the tenderest of spirit. Because I am a mother too. Because the loss of a child, no matter the circumstance, is always a loss. As we celebrated the life of our daughter this week, I wept along with my Ethiopian sister and the loss she endures. A loss no mother should have to suffer.
The first Sunday of Advent is about Hope. And so, that evening, we lit our candle and prayed our Advent prayer, engulfed in the company of dearest friends. We savored the warm and comforting flavors of berbere and injera. We laughed and shared and breathed deeply of the earthy and perfumed aroma of Ethiopian incense and leaned in to one another with great intent, all while the background music played like a soundtrack to the evening. The music of children talking and laughing and delighting over the train choo-chooing around the tree and refusing to eat anything of substance and only every once in a great while glancing at Charlie Brown Christmas playing in the living room.
I forced all the adults to group read Sarah Bessey’s first Sunday of Advent reading after dinner. And I found it rather fitting for today. That though the darkness may come, and though we may even become accustomed and comfortable in the darkness, eventually the light will shine again. And oh, how bright it will be! We will have forgotten all about the joy and the importance and the warmth and the brilliance of the light. Until we see it again. Then we will realize it. And we will stand in both awe and gratitude for that which we learned to live without but now know we so desperately need.
Isaiah 60:1-2 tells us, “Get out of bed, Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, all people sunk in deep darkness, but God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you.” (The Message)
There is great darkness in our world. We all see it. Corruption. Poverty. Abuse. Scandal. Sickness. Death. Brokenness that causes what ought not to be…to be. The darkness is heavy. It is a blanket of suffocation. It feels hopeless.
But then. The light. The Star of David. It’s a glimmer, far off in the distance. Small and dim at first, just enough to let us know it’s there. But it burns brighter still with each coming day until we cannot deny its existence. And not only that. It’s purpose.
The purpose is hope. Hope that this darkness is not the end. That this current darkness will not have the final say.
That the brokenness of my daughter’s first mother’s story is not the end for her. That Jesus, in his tenderness and mercy, has yet to right a middle and end to her story far more beautiful than can be fathomed by a human mind. Jesus can and will right her story.
He will right all of our stories. Our stories of brokenness and shame, of pain and doubt, of darkness and despair. He will right them with mercy and love, with goodness and joy. With peace and ever-lasting redemption.
Advent is meant for waiting. But it’s not a “wait and see if anything will happen” mentality. It’s a “wait with great expectation” mentality. We know the promises of Jesus. His purpose to make right what has gone astray; this is the reason we hope. The reason we turn to him and wait expectantly, both now during Advent but also the whole year long and on into eternity.
What are you waiting with great expectation for this Advent season? No matter the heaviness, offer it to the Lord. He can handle it all. Have faith and take heart, dear friend. It’s what He came to do.
Know it. Have it. Be it. Live it.