“Hi there Ms. Kim. I’m sorry to bother you again, but we’ve run out of food stamps. If you have anything, even leftovers in the fridge, I’d really appreciate it just for my daughter. Sorry to bother, but I really don’t want her to be hungry when she gets home from school.”
For the last two years, we’ve volunteered as a host home through the Safe Families program where we temporarily house children from families that are in crisis so kids don’t have to be taken from their families into foster care. This call was from one of those families that needed support and the daughter had stayed at our house this past spring.
Thankfully, she was reunified with her mom and their case was closed, but we had grown so close to them that we continue to remain in contact. Every Sunday we pick her up for service at our church and every Friday night, we bring her to our church Awana program. Then in between, we have play dates and occasionally we get these calls when they just need a little bit more support.
When this particular call came, I was already in a frazzled state trying to get things ready for the busy holiday weekend ahead. However, I could not ignore this woman’s plea for help as she reminded me that this time of year is not so merry and bright for everyone. It is, in fact, the hardest time of year for many, and the hardship of life stung deeply as I thought of this struggling family on the other end of the line who had become like family to us.
Soon enough, I got into my car and headed over to their home to make a grocery run, my mind now sober from the holiday frenzy I had been caught up in. When the door opened, the girl who had stayed at our house wrapped her arms around my waist and I gave her a kiss on the head as mom also greeted me at the door with her newborn baby. They all smiled warmly but their faces could not hide their heavy spirits.
At the grocery story, we roamed down aisle after aisle as mom found food to stock up for the week. Some baby formula, packs of veggies, ground beef, etc. Although the reality had hit me hard of how tremendously difficult life can be, I also felt a warmth and peace from just seeing this family simply be together.
They were together, not separated or torn apart like many families are. And even in the midst of such dire need, they had countless inside jokes to tell as they chuckled back and forth with one another, shining the strength of their familial bond which could not be crushed by any lack or need.
It didn’t matter that they had to carefully scan the items to search for only the WIC approved food items on welfare because, well, the sparkling cider was also on sale and they were thrilled to be able to celebrate the holidays with a little something fancy and special. In fact, they got the 2 for 5 deal.
And looking at their clothes, you could quickly tell they were worn and dirty because they often don’t have the funds to do laundry. Still, they wrapped around one another snugly with an unshakable trust and love that was both fiercely beautiful and greatly respectable.
No, they don’t have much, but they do have each other. And that, to me, is the perfect way to spend the holidays no matter how crazy, unlovely, or even bleak the circumstances may be.
Once I dropped them off back at home with their bags of groceries, I left their little apartment that had several blown out light bulbs, filth, and trails of rat droppings everywhere. While those things would normally bother me a great deal, I still felt good about their home because again, they were together.
But that is not the case for the little boy at my house who is currently apart from his family this Christmas. While we are a Safe Families home and love the ministry of keeping families together, we are also a newly certified foster home and take in the kids who have already been taken from their families by the state.
The holidays have not been easy for this boy, our foster child. Yes, he is being showered with love and gifts too many to count, but the sting and loss of being away from family is felt so much more this time of year. He’s too young to really verbalize what he’s feeling, but I can see it on his face.
Although he is now generally happy in our home with a peaceful disposition, there has been regression this time of year. He withdraws quietly away from us here and there. He occasionally stares out into nowhere and I wonder if his mind has wandered back to thinking of his own family. As we go around to see our own friends and family, I see he does not quite feel he belongs and likely longs for his own family and friends back home.
Whenever I see this sadness peer out of him, I wish so badly that he could be with his family–that they could be happy and cheerful and just simply together–just like the girl who was reunified with her mother. But they can’t, not now anyways. His mom isn’t ready, and we don’t know when or if she ever will be.
So for now, we are his family. Not perfect by any means, but we are together. And leading up to Christmas this year, we started the tradition of writing letters to Jesus for His birthday.
When Christmas morning arrived, we decided to share all the letters we wrote. To our surprise, it was our foster son—who had mostly been down and despondent all week—who jumped up to be the first one to read. With a bashful smile on his face, he slowly read his letter aloud:
“I… I… Irene… is the best mom… ever.”
Then he flashed a smile again and quickly hid his face behind the green construction paper he had written on.
I know he misses his mom so much. I know it’s so hard for him to be away from home. I know he waits for the day he can go back. Yet he, too, seems to know how to make the best of his circumstances and can even be thankful and happy that he is together with us this Christmas. And we are too.
Even when things are hard and far from perfect, being together counts for a lot.
For this reason, we will continue to support the families through Safe Families so they can stay together, and we will continue to love the foster children who come into our home for as long as we are together as well.
Whoever you are with this holiday season, no matter how imperfect things may be, remember you are together and you can hold each other close and, together, celebrate the joy of the birth of Jesus Christ and the pure goodness and light He brings into all of our homes.
Merry Christmas everyone, from our family to yours.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”