As the fire rhythmically flickers in our fireplace, I sit in our darkened living room staring at the Christmas tree lit up in our nearby dining room. My heart softly settles into a place I don’t let it rest near often enough: I am filled with sweet delight.

The lights on our tree reflect off our wood floor and highlight a Hot Wheels race car set in the middle of the living room. I can see the rug we rolled up and moved out of the way so we could get the new refrigerator into the kitchen a couple hours ago — oops, ours went out on Christmas Eve with a house full of people. Joseph and Mary stand watch over the room and the tree now devoid of gifts. They rest from their hard Christmas journey on a nearby table, Mary clutching her newborn child. Joseph, Mary, and child are a powerful symbol of where our family’s heart has been this past year.

A pop-up kid's tent is set up in the entry way, just around the corner from where I sit. Toys and games are stacked on our dining room table waiting for the morning fun to begin again. In the middle of that table sits an incredibly precious, framed, photograph of two precious little boys — one whose absence tears at our hearts and yet whose life now graces another family because of the love and foster care of our son and his wife.

A few presents, not yet delivered, rest on the china hutch. A cute Christmas card from Fitia, from Madagascar, rests on the same table on which I’m resting my feet while I type. Toys are stuck in every corner of the room. They are picked up as much as needed until life returns to our happy holiday “normal” when daylight strikes and the rambunctious joy of a little boy fills the rooms again.

Unfortunately, Donna has developed a temperature and she is resting fitfully in our bedroom down the hall. Zach, Mandy, and our little S-man (our 3 1/2 year old foster grandson whose name I can’t share) are asleep in the room behind me. Megan, who recently graduated with her DPT and who we lovingly refer to as Dr. Meg E. Pooh, is asleep in the room next to them.

As anyone who is honest and has been down this road already knows, I’ve had my share of mess-ups, goober-headed things I’ve done, dumb things I’ve said, ill-timed words, as well as things I’d like to do go back and do better. And yes, I’ve collected some wounds along the way and have the scars to prove it. Yet there is one unmistakable reality: we all love Jesus and we all love each other. I don’t know about your definition of success, but I’ll take that one.

We have had Christmas Eve with my whole physical family and Christmas afternoon with all of Donna's physical family. Both were sweet times with people we love. But our family is much bigger than just our physical family — the Joseph, Mary, and child remind us again of this truth. Travelers a long way from home, taking care of their newborn baby, need folks to love them and accept them into their family's care. God has graced us with repeated opportunities to do this over the past year.

So as the lights on the tree shine in the darkness of near midnight, my heart chooses to hold on to the great gifts that God has given me this past year. Some of those gifts have meant very hard goodbyes, but I wouldn’t trade the hurt of the partings if it meant never knowing the precious ones God has put into our lives — treasures from Peru, China, Thailand, Madagascar, and Kentucky — but who are not physically present with us this Christmas. And for the treasures in the rooms nearby, who rest in the grace of God’s sweet care as they sleep, I count myself blessed, loved, and hopeful for tomorrow.

As this year ends and a new fresh start to a year begins, I am reminded of the greater grace of being in God's forever family and I pray that each of those scattered treasures that I have come to know and love will come to know Jesus better and be part of my forever family, too. So let's launch into next year with passion and gusto, but also with great thanksgiving for the gifts of this past year and the earnest longing that all those we love find their lasting tie with us in Jesus — I don't think we should box up Joseph and Mary, but let them be our daily reminder to welcome into our hearts others looking for a home.

I don’t know about your definition of success, but I’ll take that one.
Happy New Year, and may Jesus come to your house and to those you love, again and again, so that Christmas doesn't just happen once in 2011!

“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you" (Joshua 3:4 TNIV).