That Night, This Year

[This year, in the space we've already created for story, it only seemed fitting to slide our Christmas letter right in here, alongside all the other pieces of our little scrapbook.]

One picture we took captures our year.

She wore sequins and a flashed a smile, lit brighter than this new dress of hers from Nana and Grandpa. She took careful steps and stood, poised, shoulders-back, almost elegant — if a seven year-old could be called such.

“Excuse me ma’am, excuse me sir,” she said, as she scooted past suit pants and high heels and ducking arms clutching fancy bags. She had little understanding of just where we were taking her and we were not so certain this costly night wouldn’t be lost on little eyes and ears. “Is Handel going to be singing tonight?” she asked, after weeks of hearing his eighteenth-century story. And I wondered: Is the symphony a place for a child still shedding her street-raised skin?

Little did I know that this night would carry reverberations of wonder for all of us.

The lights fell on Handel’s Messiah and my little girl was transfixed.

For two-plus hours, with scripture sung all through the tenor and soprano range, she sat more still than we’ve yet seen. (This was the child who would run from our arms the instant we’d set her down, days after we met her just last summer.)

She peered over the edge of the balcony and into the amalgamation of instruments and voices and He whispered: she is home. 

Home is a nebulous thing for a child whose head found rest on streets and soil and corrugated tin huts which held more bodies than they have square footage. They lived a steady restlessness — one which the rest of us may wrestle with, on the inside, but one which their external world would only reinforce. There’s a vigilance that emerges from many of these fatherless (and formerly fatherless) ones, who feel as if they might just lose another piece of their fractured life if they aren’t on top of every visible detail. They learn to clamor, to control, to cling tightly to the small space they’ve been given.

They don’t know the rest in being home, in Him.

But this night her eyes weren’t darting and searching, striving. They were receiving.

The Hallelujah Chorus was the song of heaven for her, this child whose former-orphan life was writing an invitation to His wonder.

And as I watched, I remembered the inn, on that Bethlehem night. The inn that has never been nearer to me than this year, with both its mess and its splendor.

That little girl, with eyes that imbibed the wonder of His love told in symphony on Friday night, still has her story’s dirt wedged underneath her fingernails. The dark side of her (beautiful!) Africa that she is leaving behind, that threatened to forever scar her, is what makes her so glorious. It is what makes Him, in her, so glorious.

And all the things I want to erase from her story — the things that make me want to clamp my eyes shut and hope it will all go away — are the shards He is turning into gold.

This year He has sent a seven year-old to teach us Hagertys about the power of that night and that manger which held a love-struck King, now come down.

Can the wonder surrounding Him really be wonder without mess?

Love was birthed in mess to one young girl, wet with youth, and barely betrothed. And that’s what He called perfect.

That holy night where a Savior came in the cloak of vulnerability but who soon hailed world leaders to His birthing room, the sky delivered the truth that the inn kept veiled. He didn’t come, separate, distant, and distinguished. He didn’t proffer out an obligatory hand, so as to not soil Himself, as He wiped away our dirt.

He used His own blood to cleanse.

This love was initiated in an obscure inn.

He does not proffer out an obligatory hand, so as to not soil Himself with my children’s stories or our weak hearts as we cradle them. He reaches in to our mess with all of Himself.

This is love.

Nate and I, we’re up to our eyeballs in straw in soil and muck some days. Theirs and ours. But it’s nights like the other night which peel back the sky for us.

And we see: We can’t have one without the other.  

The world we strive to keep so ordered, under the same orphan-vigilance by which she learned to guard her life, perhaps wasn’t intended to be so sterile. Because in His upside-down kingdom mess precedes wonder.

His love is full of wonder because of our mess. (Can you even believe this King left the sanctity of heaven to get His feet dirty in our world?) Friends, this is wonder.

This God-made-infant, then, has promised that we would all see even greater things.

And we are. In our sweat and dirt. Timeless, God-inspired Words set to music composed over two hundred years ago enraptured her — this one who could barely sit through a picture story or endure a single hug when we first brought her home.

She got lost in the masterpiece of all time and its reverberating beauty: His life, offered, for her mess. His love in exchange for her loss.

What her mind can’t yet quite conceive, her heart is living.

And we get to witness this Love, so foreign, made familiar. (It’s for us too.)

Who is this God who made our mess the birthing grounds for His wonder? Who is this Man, not threatened or put off by our soil, but, instead, incited?

Our prayer this year: Lord, we want to know more of this love of Yours.

[Rather than inserting citations throughout, they are here -- For Your Continued Pursuit: Luke 2:8-20 | Revelation 1:5 | John 14:12 | Revelation 19:6 | Revelation 11:15 | 2 Corinthians 12:9 | 1 Timothy 3:16. And the verses from Messiah!]

And a little window into our year, the one where wonder is emerging from mess …


 Many of these photos (the best ones!) are compliments of Mandie Joy.

And a note: the story that has us all at the edge of our seats, this year, is unfolding. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, here, that Lily’s best friend from Uganda will be entering the arms of a mommy and daddy. And that mommy and daddy? Well, you’ll have to read here to find out more … It’s not too late to join in the fun.

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