On a chain around his neck Harry D. wears a silver pendant that says simply "orphan".
"I know nothing about my parents", he says. "I didn't have any hair when I was a kid. I was sick and I figure this was the reason I was put in the orphanage. People couldn't take care of me or didn't want me."
From the orphanage in Halifax he was placed in a succession of a dozen foster homes. There was frequent abuse and in one of them, he was locked in a dark closet every night.
"I learned to love the darkness. It was like a security blanket, but it made me feel useless, like an animal sometimes... but what could I do? They had the power. There was no love ... no feeling ... you couldn't cry.... it went on and on ....
"I always promised myself as I grew up that nobody was going to hurt me anymore. Then at the age of 12 I started sampling the beer in the basement of the foster home. The beer made me feel invincible. It put that cape on me, I could do anything. But when it wore off I was still that sick little boy and I knew I was going back in the closet."
He credits the programs he took in prison with helping him gain the confidence to be a better person. He finally started school at age 50.
"But when I came to the Keele Centre", Harry adds, " I finally found someone to listen to me to get rid of all that anger and hate built up inside me for all those years. Without getting it out, a person would explode."
And he credits his wife, the first person who showed him love.
"It was scary when you don't trust anybody. It's hard to let someone take hold of your hand and guide you, touch you. I know it's real because she stayed with me all this time.
"I bought the chain 20 years ago. I wanted to always remember where I'd come from. But I don't feel like an orphan anymore because I have found my Higher Power. The Lord was always with me in jail but I just didn't know it.
"The key was the willingness to go into that Higher Power. That happened at the Dismas Fellowship. That took away the hurt and got me out of the closet even though I can still remember. The journey was incredible. Thank the Lord I made it through."
I'm grateful to Harry D. for letting me see the Christmas event in a new way.
In Christ, God too became an orphan, surrendering to the "foster home" of human care - into the arms of a Palestinian carpenter and a teenage mother. He "stripped himself" - one scripture said - and took on human form - for a world that he wants to call back from darkness to light.
Thomas Merton said, "Christ is not simply the tip of the little finger of the Godhead, moving in the world, easily withdrawn, never threatened, never really risking anything. God has given Himself totally. He has become not only one of us but even our very selves."
Maybe it's why so many of us experience the presence of this "orphan-loving" God as we journey with men and women who have experienced prison and the challenge of reintegration. In Him and in our friends we celebrate a light that shines in all our darkness.
Have a wonderful Christmas!
Harry Nigh, December 2012