“Never let social workers in your house at Christmas time,” is the joke I regularly repeat to family members this time of year. “It’s been my experience that social workers can be like the Wise Men of the nativity story bringing unexpected news.”

I jest about this, because it was during Advent of 1989 that social worker Richard Costa came to our house with news of great joy about our adoption application. Over Christmas cookies and apple cider left from Becky’s annual cookie exchange party, Richard got to the point.

He told us he’d found a 3-year-old girl who would fit well with Sara, our 5-year-old birth daughter.

“Her name is Brittney,” he said, “and she comes with some conditions.”

We could hear the gears turning. While there seemed to be a light at the end of this two-year tunnel of adoption requirements, we couldn’t help but wonder if these unforeseen conditions might be the lights of an oncoming train.

First, Richard said the foster family, who had kept this child for the past 15 months, wanted updates and an occasional visit.

Maybe we were just eager, but that seemed to us a reasonable request.
“No problem,” we said.

“Second,” Richard breathed before telling us the girl had a baby brother named Michael who was recently added to the same foster family.

“If you take the girl,” he said, “you must be willing to consider the boy if he comes up for adoption next year.”

Shaking my head, wondering how I would provide for a growing family on a clergy salary, I suggested we take the holidays to think about this.

The truth is, I guess I was looking for some kind of sign that this was supposed to be it. Was it too much to ask for a star and some wise men?

My wife didn’t need to think about. She immediately started looking through Sara’s toys and things for anything that might be unisex.

Was there a baby blanket in a closet somewhere with a little more blue than pink? Surely all the inflatable bath-time baby books could be used for a boy and a girl.

Four weeks later, we went to the foster home for a visit. I think we were all interviewing each other when, feeling the nervous need to impress the foster parents, I asked, “Did Richard tell you that I’m a minister?”

“He didn’t have to,” replied Aurel Gion, the foster mother, “That’s what we prayed for.”

This was it. This was our sign. And it was a helpful sign to us when, three years later, we were adding Brittney and Michael’s unexpected sibling, Nicole.

Since then, not a Christmas has gone by in which I’ve not thought of that sign. For, like the social workers, the Magi of the Nativity also looked for a sign.

“And this will be the sign to you, the angel said to Wise Men. You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

Does God always give you a sign for such life-changing events? No, not always, but I am praying that this article becomes a sign for a select few of you.

Maybe the column is a sign it’s time to invite a social worker to your home for Christmas cookies.

Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write norris@thechaplain.net or visit thechaplain.net.