It’s Advent—the season of preparation and anticipation.
I love Advent, maybe as much as Christmas. I love the whole month of December, actually, and I love spending it in celebration. I love the decorating, the baking, the weather changes. I love making lists and checking them twice. I love the music and the good cheer. I love shopping for gifts and wrapping them and placing them beneath the tree.
I love this sort of preparation. I love having everything ready for the celebration to come. Maybe it’s the control freak in me, I don’t know, but I love feeling ready.
It is appropriate then that I am spending this Advent season in another sort of preparation—we are likely getting another foster placement by January: a teenage girl.
It’s an interesting parallel, that these two seasons of my life are overlaid in this way. I’m currently nesting, getting the bedroom and bathroom ready, cleaning and dusting and washing bedding. I am preparing my home for this child, much like we prepare our hearts for the arrival of Christ at Christmas. There is a spirit of welcoming in this sort of preparation. It is an anticipatory joy. Such celebration shows care. Such preparation shows sincere desire. It says, You are wanted in this place. You belong here. I am ready for your arrival.
I want to be ready to welcome this new child. I am spending this time in preparation, anticipating the connection we will forge, the bond we will have. I am hoping that this spirit of welcoming that I’m trying to cultivate with clean sheets and fresh toothpaste is akin to the Christmas spirit all around us—peace and goodwill, hope and connection.
Welcome to our home and our hearts, new girl.
You already belong.
The shape of my family isn't anything like I had expected it would be. I was expecting a tidy circle, as most families seem to be. My husband and I tried to grow our family in the natural way, but we could produce no children of our own. We longed for family, though, so we decided to open our hands to embrace those adrift in the foster system, unmoored from their own family circles.
It is a good thing that I have always loved strays.
The foster care experience has been both hard and surprisingly beautiful. There is something uniquely fulfilling about expanding the circle of your family in this way—letting go of the familiar hands of your spouse to admit a stranger and pull them into the fold, then stepping back to allow them space to join you for as long as they need.
In this way, the circle of our family has grown, its dimension an ever-changing variable.
We have only known the experience of family under these uncertain terms.
Even our adoption has felt impermanent at times. The past can never be eradicated, and no matter how tight our bond with our daughter may be, I know that part of her will always wonder and long for another reality, another unbroken family circle that does not include us.
It is a sobering thought.
But it's not enough to keep my hands from squeezing tightly around hers. I want her to know she has a place in the family we have built both with and for her, even if her hands always long for the touch of the ones that held her at birth. She is ours, and sometimes we know we need to hold on loosely.
But we never let go.
Families are made by people turning towards each other. For better or for worse, our hands are bound to those we marry and birth, and within these circles we make, we focus our love and attention. We seldom look past the familiar faces across from us.
But foster care requires you to look beyond the circle of your own family to notice and embrace those who need a place. It is the decision to open your circle to others, to take an unfamiliar hand and hold it tightly and learn its curves and edges until it is familiar as family. It’s taking hold of that hand without knowing how long it will need yours.
It could be three days.
It could be three years.
It could be forever.
(I always hope for forever.)
In a way, though, I guess it always is forever, regardless of the court’s decision. The circle of our family does not shrink after their time with us is through. In my heart, they are all forever my children, and they will forever occupy space there.
We always leave space for them to return when they need us.
The arms in our circle are always open. Perhaps our family isn’t so much a circle as it is a parabola, its curved ends always reaching out, ready to receive whatever blessings might come.
I inadvertently gave my most encouraging piece of advice about coming out to my gay brother when he was still very, very closeted.
I'd always had an inkling that my younger brother might be gay, but at this point in his life (his senior year of high school), that’s all it was—an inkling. He wouldn’t come out for another five years. But high school is always a challenging season, particularly for those who dare to be different.
And dare my brother did.
He loved the stage. He acted in plays and musicals. He sang in choir. He took dance lessons. (He’s amazing—he does it all professionally now.) He was drum major. He played the flute and the piccolo. He was not afraid to make nonconformist fashion choices. He drew, painted, sculpted. He wanted so desperately to express himself authentically in the best way he knew: performance.
These things made him a target.
He had a girlfriend, sure. But that too was performance, and it wasn’t enough to silence the cruelty of those who suspected and weaponized the truth against him.
He played the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat during his senior year, and he threw himself into the show. The musical is based on the Bible story: Joseph’s father gives him a beautiful, multicolored coat that makes his brothers so jealous that they plot to kill him, but when a chance to sell him as a slave arises instead, they take it. Long story short, Joseph overcomes many obstacles and ends up winning Pharaoh’s favor.
My brother loved this role. He is a performer, after all. But in the rehearsals leading up to the show, I could see that he was performing through a haze of pain. Kids were being downright mean to him.
I wanted to do...something.
So I made him a present.
It was small, but it was something. It was the only bit of encouragement I felt I could offer him.
It was a piece of word art—rainbow cutouts in the shape of Joseph’s coat that I had carefully cut by hand, a relic from a time before Cricut machines. It said, Wear it anyway.
Twelve years later, he still has it—it's hanging in his office.
Wear it anyway.
It’s good advice, really. There’s some universal truth there.
But I did not know how true that mantra would actually turn out to be for him.
When I made him that sign, I was thinking so small. My aim was to encourage him to take pride in his talents in spite of the opinions of others—haters gonna hate, after all. But, as is always the case with universal truth, the sentiment is bigger than I imagined, and it encompasses so much more than just talent.
Wear it anyway is a battle cry.
It’s a roaring declaration of pride.
Now that he’s out, I understand why my brother kept that sign.
That rainbow coat has taken on an even greater significance for him, and I am proud to stand behind him, holding it up and sliding it over his shoulders and encouraging him to Wear it anyway.
Pride is all about owning your personal truth. It’s about radical self-acceptance and love. There’s a takeaway for all of us, really, this celebratory, radical acceptance. It’s religious, almost, a reminder of Christ’s grace.
Be you, brother. In all your flaming glory.
Happy Pride Month.