Wrestling the carseat into the back of the minivan, I (Amber) muttered under my breath and tried to find a crouching position that wouldn’t increase the shooting pain down my back. I remembered that Layla* (name changed) was a tall toddler, so I placed the straps as high as they would go, wanting her first experience in our family to be comfortable and welcoming.
We started hosting children with Safe Families for Children this fall. When we decided to open our home and our family and our very lives to a little girl who needed a short-term placement because she was in an unstable home situation with her mother, we didn’t know what to expect. I was prepared for the classic toddler behaviors (we already have two Ayers kids in the house, what’s one more tantrum going to do but increase the stereo volume, right?) But nothing prepared me for the fear that this little girl brought. Fear of men. Fear of certain foods. Fear of sudden movements. Fear of loud noises.
Realizing the need to adapt (that’s kind of the name of the game in 2020), I started speaking different phrases to Layla when she would erupt in tears or scream out of fear: “You are safe” and “He is kind” and “It’s okay to be sad.” They became repeated refrains in our house. I found a sense of peace when I would say them, and I hoped she experienced the same.
At the end of a tumultuous year, I’m (Matthew) finding myself repeating those same refrains in different contexts, for myself, my community and our world. “It’s okay to grieve the loss of togetherness” and “God is with you in your longing for safety” and “I receive the kindness of God when I can’t seem to find it for myself and others.” These refrains help me pause long enough to laugh at myself, to give thanks, and to let go of expectations that can rob my joy. As every child longs for their place in family, I am learning again to embrace the simple joys in life that point me back to Jesus. The birds of the sky and the flowers in the field in Matthew 6:25-34 show me this uninhibited joy.
Whatever you need to hear in your fear, your grief, your longing, or your angst, we hope this refrain reminds you of the greatest gift we have in this season: “Rejoice! Jesus is near.”