"Guess what I want for Christmas?"
I'd heard this question repeatedly for the past six or so years, or at least ever since my boys could talk, but this question this time was different.
Our host daughter posed this question to me just days after we'd met her for the first time in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the holiday travel season at O'hare International Airport.
We'd arrived early to greet her after her long travels from her home country, Latvia. She was one of many other other children, orphans, who were being hosted in America by families for four weeks during the holiday season.
Though we never had met her we already loved her. Her gentle, compassionate eyes, her playful smile, her tilted-just-right chin in pictures had captivated our hearts along with all the words of praise her previous host mother had spoken as she shared with us about our girl's unique inner beauty and resolve.
As our host daughter walked toward us in the airport, I knew in my heart she was our daughter, plain and simple, even though she didn't yet know it. Even though no one else, no courts, social workers, countries, knew it or approved it. Even though God himself only knew.
But still I was taken aback by the conversation that unfolded around this simple little question just four short days after we had met her.
"Mom, guess what I want for Christmas?"
"I don't know, Marina," I'd said as I tried to think of all the things a 13 year old might want. "An MP3 player?"
"Nooooo," she said. "Guess again."
"Noooo," she said. "It's not stuff."
"To swim with dolphins?" I asked, remembering her love for animals.
"Nope," she answered.
"Well, honey," I said, "if you want me to actually be able give it to you you'll have to tell me what it is."
"I want for you to adopt me and Gabi into your family."
Her words, full of hope and anticipation and vulnerability, flooded my eyes with tears and my heart with the overwhelming kind of tidal-wave emotion that threatens to sweep you off of your feet.
I stumbled to find the right words; we, indeed, planned to adopt her even before we met her, but law required us to submit our paperwork to her country and court before we could speak freely about our intentions. And the first rule of hosting and international adoption is to not speak about adoption with a host child. Too many promises and too many broken hopes and dreams and hearts.
"We love you so much, Marina, and we are trying very hard to be together again."
It was all I could say, and as I looked into her hopeful, gentle eyes, I prayed she knew that I meant every single word I had spoken. I meant it with all of my heart.
She smiled at me, and she said, "Ok, mom. I just want to be in your family forever. That's all I really want."
"Yes, me, too, Marina. Me, too. We will pray about this and ask God for help."
We agreed on this, and we agreed that an MP3 player this year would be good for under the tree. Something I could deliver.
That night as my husband I climb in bed, I sob.
"There are kids who want nothing more than a family ... I have a child sleeping in my house who only wants a family for Christmas. And we can't promise we can deliver that even though we want to."
My husband held me close, as I cried into his sweatshirt. Paperwork. Approvals. Courts. Documents. Governments. All of this stood like hulking giants before us.
"That's true," John has said. "But God can."
But God can.
As we prepared to celebrate Christmas, I heard part of the Christmas story differently for the first time; my heart began to really ponder the words of Mary.
"Nothing is impossible with God."
This young girl, quite likely the age of our host daughter, quietly surrendered in her heart and will to a will beyond her own when the angel told her she would give birth to a son, God's son, and He would save his people.
Immanuel. God with us.
Not the kind of God who sits on his mighty far-away throne and bids us to figure life out on our own. But Immanuel -- the God who came to a hurting world quiet, soft and slow, in the skin of a small baby turned man.
Immanuel means God with us, and if God is with us and God comes to us, we must then see that, really, nothing is impossible with God.
My heart held to these truths, and we prayed. All of us, Marina included, that God would place the lonely in families and bring ours together for good.
A few short weeks later we put our host daughter back on an airplane to Latvia. Back to life as an orphan, a foster child, a ward of the state despite the fact that she was a beloved daughter in our hearts.
The day after she boarded the plane we submitted the mounds of paperwork to officially request permission to adopt her and her younger sister. Days turned into weeks of waiting. Weeks turned into months of waiting.
The quiet was the loudest noise I'd ever heard.
And I began to wonder ... Only to be reminded that these girls weren't just our beloved daughters; they were also beloved daughters of our Heavenly Father. The kind of Father who does big things and gives good gifts and who is for us, not against us, and who places the lonely in families. The kind of God who makes the impossible possible.
Daily God reminded me.
Often God reminded me.
Momently God reminded me.
Because Immanuel, God with us, He walks alongside us, bringing to mind and heart that we need not fear because He is with us.
And He was with them, too.
One early morning in May, I woke with a sudden urgency to pray; so I did and then --peace.
Peace filled my heart, and even though it was May, for some reason I had Mary's words running through my head: "Nothing is impossible with God."
And the very first song that I heard on the radio that morning as the boys and I drove to school was one I'd never before heard:
"You know, that there's no such thing as impossible."
Though months had passed, and word was slow, God reminded me that with Him because He is with us, nothing is impossible.
And that very day, we got word that our referral was coming. And we would travel before the end of the month to bring home our girls.
We spanned oceans, and as we sped fast over deep waters into the uncharted waters of international adoption, God reminded me I have nothing to fear.
Because Love came down and spanned heaven and Earth to be with us, God with us, Immanuel.
We wrapped those girls in our arms, and we held on tight and told them that this was it; no matter what would come from now on we would be family. We went to court once and again and court decided to give us a chance. And we read the court documents, and we read in the lines that this adoption was kind of an impossible case. This kind of adoption from their kind of circumstances doesn't typically happen.
Because with God, with God with us, nothing is impossible.
So we retuned home together, and the courts finally ruled with finality that we would be a family, and we fought hard for joy and healing. And six months in, we still do. All of us. Every one of us. Because life is different. And beautiful. And hard. And good. And chaotic. And crazy. And brilliant.
Life, especially a life on the road of adoption, is beauty born of broken. So we fight for joy and to live in the gentle flow of grace.
And today when my husband, my girl and I stood in the front foyer of my in-laws home, anticipating the giving of presents, and my oldest girl --His daughter, our daughter --she said, "I finally got my Christmas present. I'm finally adopted."
So we stood there first giving thanks before the giving of gifts and after the giving of gifts and the receiving of the greatest gift, squeezing the living love out of each other, smiling through tears, crying gratitude and joy.
Because that girl -- she didn't just get her gift.
We all got it.
All of us.
And it reminds me a little bit of that first Christmas when another young girl had the audacity to whisper, "nothing is impossible with God."
And because Immanuel, God with us, we know that nothing, indeed, ever is.