By Bob Mardock,
President International Family Services
One of my favorite Christmas verses is one not normally associated with the traditional story we read in the Bible about baby Jesus, the shepherds, the choir of angels and the wise men, but it certainly speaks of the ultimate Christmas gift:
Long ago, even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5)
It was God’s plan all along to offer us the gift of adoption – The Ultimate Christmas Gift. And He loved giving the gift.
How do you respond to receiving Christmas gifts? With gratitude? Do you unwrap your gifts with joy and anticipation. Or, like a lot of people, do you respond with what I call “Christmas entitlement mentality disorder?” Frankly, some people receive gifts well while others don’t. Doesn’t it drive you crazy when you give a thoughtful gift and the recipient opens the gift with the attitude, “This better be good . . .” Its that heart of entitlement that turns people into dissatisfied complainers, and even at Christmas there are folks who tell God, by their words and their actions, “That gift you gave me, that gift of adoption – it isn’t good enough! I don’t want it, so I’m not even going to unwrap it.”
I am blessed to be living life with one of God’s gifts to me, my little Irish girl, Carol. If you don’t know Carol, you need to. I love being married to a woman who LOVES giving gifts. Carol and I are the parents to 10 kids – all boys – except for seven girls. And many of our kids now have kids of their own. At present we celebrate 15 grand kids. Needless to say, we have A LOT of opportunity to give gifts. Of our ten kids, six are adopted, and each one of the adopted were marginalized in the eyes of the world, that is, until they were adopted by the king (I am the king) and his queen (Carol), when they were given all the rights and privileges as citizens in the kingdom of Bob.
One of our adopted kids is Dani. You’d be impressed with this girl. She is a dynamic young woman, the wife of Adam (a city planner), the mother of our beautiful toddler granddaughter Marigold, an administrator and teacher at the local community college, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children and a girl with a heart of gratitude and joy.
But Dani’s story has not always been magical. Dani was born into a family culture of drug abuse and violence. Her birth mother was in and out of prison and rehab, and Dani never knew her father. At the age of three she was temporarily rescued from the craziness by her elderly great grand mother who couldn’t bear to see the damage happening to her great grand daughter. But the state had a “better plan” and Dani was soon placed back into the chaotic and dangerous life of her drug-addicted mother. CPS would eventually recognize their plan wasn’t working, so Dani was again removed from mom’s lifestyle and put into the state foster system where she bounced around from foster home to foster home.
After mom’s death by drug over-dose Dani was adopted by a family who raised her from the age of eight to the age of sixteen when her adoptive parents came to the difficult decision that they could no longer parent Dani. One day I got a phone call from the mother who explained that the couple needed our help making plans for their daughter’s future. They were seeking another family who might step in and take over the parental responsibilities for Dani. It’s a long and involved story (as you can imagine) but as it happened, we knew Dani and her adoptive family and had followed Dani’s life since she was three years of age. When she was 16 we helped Dani get a summer job at the Christian camp where our oldest daughter and husband were the directors, and where two of our other kids were also on staff. There’s nothing like a summer at camp, and Dani’s life was being transformed by the love of people – and God – as she served in the dining hall and on the toilet-cleaning crew. So, when the adoptive parents asked if we knew of a family who might help them with Dani, I told her we would. The beautiful girl, Dani, age 16, became a Mardock. And through the years Dani has unwrapped gift after gift, including the gifts of second, third and fourth chances. Instead of living in bitterness, Dani has chosen the gift of joy.
Each one of us has been given the opportunity of being adopted into the family of God, and if we accept the conditions of adoption, the Christ-child of Christmas, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, promises to make the adoption final by signing the adoption papers with the blood He shed on the cross. What a gift! And, the Father’s gift giving doesn’t stop there. Since He loves giving, it’s like Christmas every day!
Many will remember that back in the mid-1990s, not long after Russia was opened to the West, adoptions in Russia became an option for U.S. citizens. Today’s political climate has since closed the doors for Americans to adopt in Russia, but through the years, through the birth of International Family Services 25 years ago, we have been able to bring nearly 4,500 orphans home to the U.S. to their forever families. 2,500 of those adoptions have been from Russia. Carol and I estimate that between the two of us we have been to Russia about 100 times.
In addition to adoptions, in those days Russia’s Department of Education invited religious leaders to teach morals and ethics in the public arena based on Biblical principles. Many organizations were invited to teach in Russian schools, prisons, businesses, government offices, fire and police departments and orphanages. Two such Americans answered the call and found themselves in an orphanage like one of the many IFS has worked in. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of the government-run program lived in this particular orphanage. One of these gift givers tells the following story:
“It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear – for the first time – the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.
“Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.
“The orphans were busy assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat — he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately — until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.
“Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?'” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him – for always.
“As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.” (From A Russian Christmas Story – “For Always” – by Will Fish)
We have a heavenly Father who loves to give gifts, and among the gifts He gives is the promise He will never abandon us and will never abuse us. And, we choose the attitude in which we will receive this ultimate gift. Will we treat our adoption into the family of God with gratitude and joy? Will we unwrap the ultimate Christmas gift, the gift that keeps on giving?
If you’re a Christ follower, let this Christmas be a time when you revel in the magnificence of your adoption. Chose to leave behind any confusion, hurt or pain of the past – whatever baggage or bitterness you may be carrying – and thank your Heavenly Father for your new name and your abundant future.
If you’ve never experienced spiritual adoption, perhaps now is the time to receive the gift this Christmas. This Christmas you have the standing invitation to be adopted into God’s forever family. You too, just like little Misha and Dani, can celebrate that you have a Father who will stay with you forever and always. And, with a heart of thanksgiving, praise and gratitude, you can be a channel through which God uses you to bring this ultimate gift of spiritual adoption to others.
From our family to yours, God bless you this Christmas Season.
If it is the desire of your heart to unwrap the gift or Christmas I encourage you to say these words to Jesus:
Dear Jesus, I have wronged you and have done many things that I know don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself and I’m sorry and I ask your forgiveness. I see now that you are the ultimate Christmas gift, and you paid for the sins I have committed when you died on the cross so I don’t have to die spiritually and eternally separated from you. I am so thankful that you proved you are God when you were resurrected – you came back to life after you died with my sin! You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life – I give it to you. Teach me how to live every day joyfully and expectantly as I continue to unwrap your wonderful gifts to me. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that you will be with me for always.
If you prayed that prayer from your heart, you have entered into the family of God. Now you need more family, family who will encourage you to know Jesus better and to discover all the additional gifts that come when you receive the ultimate gift of salvation. Find a good Bible believing Jesus loving church that will help you in this new life you have committed to. The best is yet to come.