Vulnerable children experience Christmas differently. Seemingly small, insignificant things can mean the world to them at Christmas.
For many people, Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. They revel in the warmth, decorations, gatherings, and traditions. But for vulnerable children, Christmas can be very hard. For many years, Christmas was an incredibly difficult season for me. You see, my mother passed away three days after Christmas when I was six years old.
That One Christmas
Even before that fateful holiday season, Christmas had been hard. We were living in poverty. My sister and I were in and out of our home, bouncing back and forth between foster care and our family. Our father had already passed away a few years prior. My mother struggled to care for herself and us. Christmas was not something we did.
Then that one Christmas came. We were sitting in the car in the parking lot of a restaurant. My mother started coughing, and then it was silent. We didn’t know it at the time, but she had had a massive heart attack and passed away. As a shy, scared six-year-old, I no idea what was going on. I was a vulnerable child in every sense of the words. It was a blur of people and noises. I do remember the police officer coming and telling my older sister and myself what had happened. My sister cried, but again I didn’t realize what was going on.
The Tooth Fairy
I remember we spent the next few days with a family. I didn’t know them, but they had a house that was clean and warm. They even had a Christmas tree. During the chaos and confusion, it felt safe.
During all that was going on, I lost a tooth. And to a six-year-old, that was a very important development. The mom of the family showed me how to place it under my pillow that night and explained the tooth fairy would come. When I woke up in the morning and lifted my pillow, I found a felt, tooth-shaped case holding my tooth and a quarter. I was elated! The case had a face stitch with pink thread and a pink border, and it was mine. It was the first thing I could remember that was truly mine.
As the years went on, I bounced from home to home, and each Christmas came and went. Some years were easier than others, but I always felt out of place in each home. The holidays seem to exaggerate the fact that I was not in a home with parents, that I was a visitor whether for a short time or longer.
Despite these feelings, there were times just like my visit from the tooth fairy that made me feel loved and wanted. Times such as when a friend from school’s family invited me to every holiday celebration at their church. Or when a neighbor took me along with her grandson to a holiday light display. Then there was the year when I was fifteen, and my English teacher gave me a Christmas book with a special message inscribed on the cover.
How You Can Make Christmas Special for Vulnerable Children
Each of these memories may seem like a small, insignificant thing, but as a child in foster care they meant the world to me. I longed to have something of my own. And if it was made or given with me in mind, it became even more special.
This holiday season, as you decorate, gather, and celebrate, I challenge you to think of ways you could make a child in foster care feel special. Vulnerable children should not feel forgotten on Christmas. Maybe your act of love this year is making ornaments and donating them to an agency. Or purchasing items from a wish list or toy drive. Or asking if your church has any families that are fostering and finding out if the kids have any needs or desires. A simple act or gift from you could mean the world of difference to a child in foster care, just like it did for me.
Being Intentional and Specific
One way to make Christmas memorable for vulnerable children is to put time and energy into being intentional. I mentioned before that gifts made a tremendous impact on me as a child in foster care if I knew it was made or purchased with me in mind. While you may not meet or even learn the name of a child you are blessing, you can likely learn their age and gender. This helps you make or buy items that the child will love. A present made or picked out intentionally makes a child feel seen. The extra little bit of time and effort makes a huge difference in helping the child feel loved, as well.
Perhaps you feel too busy this holiday season to make crafts or shop for children in foster care. There are other ways you can make a difference. Giving to organizations and ministries that advocate for children in foster care is a quick and simple way to impact a child’s life. Focus on the Family’s Wait No More program provides suitcase bundles to children in foster care because, unfortunately, many children move between homes with their things in a trash bag. If you want to bless a child in foster care this Christmas, consider donating a suitcase, teddy bear, and Bible. You can make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
Remembering that Christ Came as a Child
Another way to recognize vulnerable children at Christmastime is to remember that Christ came as an infant. In Luke 2:7, we read that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (ESV). The image of Christ as a vulnerable baby is striking. It is easy to forget that Christ was also once a toddler, child, teenager.
Christ’s status at birth may resemble that of many vulnerable children. He came from a humble background. While many people at the time expected a literal king, Jesus first lay in a manger. He was not wealthy or famous. Instead, he was fully God and fully man. And being fully man, he had typical human experiences. He faced hunger, fatigue, sadness, pain, disappointment, isolation, and an array of other physical and emotional challenges. Jesus fully understands what vulnerable children go through.
This Christmas, think of vulnerable children as you celebrate Advent. As I mentioned before, you can make this holiday extra special for children in foster care with simple gestures. If you are doing Christmas crafts, make a few extras to donate to a local agency. If you are shopping for Christmas presents, pick up one more item to take to a foster family. Like the loaves and fish, Jesus can multiply your gifts. There is no act of love too small this Christmas.
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