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Some friends of ours in California, the Cones, have taken in two little foster boys. They have two sons of their own. The photo above is from their blog. The two boys whose faces you can’t see (because of the law) are their foster sons. This is the first year those two boys have heard the Christmas story. Kelly Cone, the mom in the family, wrote about it here. This is how her story starts:

For the past 10 days, we’ve been opening up one “advent” bag every evening over dinner. Each bag contains four pieces of candy and a piece of paper containing 1-2 verses of the Christmas story told by St. Matthew in his gospel.

The first two days were a little boring for our 4 boys. I mean, Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem? A Roman emperor taxing people? What does this even mean for little kids who’ve never paid for anything?

But then we reached the part of the story where Mary and Joseph were forced to stay in a stable outside, cold and alone. No one had any room for them. They did the best they could, even though it was lower than low.

I looked up at our 10 year old foster boy, and his head was bowed, his face drawn and serious.

Unlike his 5 year old happy go-lucky brother beside him, he remembers. He remembers the cold nights sleeping on the street or in someone’s car because his mother had nowhere safe for him to stay. Instead of protecting him and reaching out for help, she eventually abandoned him at a mobile home park.

My heart caught in my throat. I looked at him.

“How do you think Mary and Joseph felt?” I asked him.

“Sad. Cold.” he responded quietly, looking away. There were tears in his eyes.

I remember what he’s told me about this time last year. He, his mom and his brothers had just been evicted from their apartment. They spent months living on the streets, begging for their mom’s drug money on street corners before DSS finally took them into custody.

Suddenly, Mary and Joseph’s plight hurt my heart in a way it never had before. The Christmas story came alive and stuck with me all through the next day like a bad toothache.

You really have to read the whole thing. There was room at the inn for these suffering children, and now … hope. This is Christmas. Pass it on.

I hope Oscar Hijuelos is smiling in heaven.