Six years ago, we faced a smile-less Christmas.
Only a few months before, the rhythmic ordinary that was our family life had been forever lost and I began shepherding eight stunned and broken hearts through the pain and questions and agony of missing.
Those next months? It took every ounce of hope just to put feet on the floor each morning and every bit of mental space and physical stamina not only to process my own grief, but to handle the paperwork, finances, household, parenting, taxiing, decisions and all that had once been shouldered by two.
And now, Christmas was coming.
As much as I longed for a good Christmas for my kids, I couldn’t imagine pulling together any kind of real celebration.
Our life seemed so far removed, so out of step from the shopping and parties, baking and merrymaking that engaged the rest of the world.
Even our own Christmas traditions felt too tender this year. I knew we’d come back to them, but this first year we just needed something else altogether.
And yet, I wanted to be present with my kids. I needed to be present with my kids. I had toddlers and school-aged kids and teens and we needed to do more than just survive Christmas.
We needed to do the slow, hard work to begin to heal; to begin rebuilding our family and our hearts, misshapen as they felt.
How do you prepare broken hearts for Christmas?
There’s no manual for that. No chapter in the mothering book tells you how to give your children the world when there’s feels so crushed.
I only knew to look up.
We needed to intentionally turn our eyes from the pain of our circumstances and look to the promise of Jesus.
We needed to wonder all over again at a God of miracles, who chose strength swathed in weakness.
Jesus, very God of very God, clothed in the vulnerability of a newborn; delivered by blood of the mother He came to deliver by blood; the One who holds together all matter Himself needing to be held.
We needed to marvel at a God who lavishly loves, even in a hard, hurting world.
Jesus, the One and Only, sent to a world that overlooked His birth, refused His gift, despised His ministry and betrayed his friendship and He still chose the cross.
We needed to lift our broken hearts to worship and adore One broken for us.
Jesus, the I AM, the First and the Last, the only One worthy, the King of Kings who dwells in unapproachable light, wrapped in wrinkled flesh and tucked into the hay of a cattle trough.
As we prepared our hearts that first Christmas, I opened the Word and began to write out a new tradition for our family. I pulled together prophecies from the Old Testament and scriptures from the New Testament to unfold the real story of Christmas.
We took the advent scriptures and matched each one to one piece of our Nativity. Then, we gathered as a family each night for 15 nights, and put up one piece of our Nativity as we unwrapped the story of Jesus’ birth.
Night after night, we lifted our eyes to Jesus, to wonder and marvel and worship.
Each night, we opened our hearts a bit wider to the hope and joy in the midst of our ache.
Turns out broken hearts prepare for Christmas the same way all hearts do.
Preparing for Christmas means turning from the aches and worries and hard of this world to focus on the One who came to be with us in it.
The hard work of healing a broken heart won’t happen just because a few more Christmases pass by.
We won’t find joy again by stuffing pain and jumping into the decorating and decking and festivity.
Broken hearts can only start to heal when we look up at the One who came to make us whole. The Messiah who came into this messy world to take our burdens and give us abundance.
It’s a promise already fulfilled and waiting for us. It’s only for us to look up.
Again, and again and again, as often and as much as we need until one day, we look around and see that we no longer wake to dread but we’re alive with hope.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Maria Fuller says
Allison Wilson Lee says
Very dear words, Lisa!
Tears roll down my cheek as I read this. So true! We need Jesus in good and grieving times. He is our Hope. He truly understands and saves our tears. God Bless you and thank you for this vital reminder. Xoxo
Wendy Birdsong says
My heart goes out to you and your family during this time of the year. My prayers are with you and your family, and May God heal your hurting hearts and make you guys all WHOLE again.
Betsy de Cruz says
Such life-giving words here, Lisa. So true for me in my broken spots as well. May the Lord increase your joy this season and next year. May He bless your Christmas offering and use it to bring hope and light to many families.
Pastor Dave Griffith says
Lisa, I am a Pastor in NJ and I was looking for a story I could tell those in congregation that are going through sorrow this Christmas season. I found your story and it touched my heart. My father died when I was 11 and left my mom a widow at the age of 35 with 4 small children. I can’t imagine what she went through that first Christmas without him but I do remember her making our Christmas joyful. I plan on sharing your story this Sunday and will be directing anyone who wants to read your full story and get your book to your website. May God bless you and thank you for sharing your heart.
Lisa Appelo says
Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss — I know it’s a forever loss this side of heaven. I’m already praying that God will use your sharing to encourage others in God’s faithfulness, whatever their walk.
Another great article Lisa! Lord bless you this Christmas and always.
Susan Shipe says
Exactly the same. Wonderful post, Lisa.
Lisa Appelo says
Thank you, Susan!
Carol Brown says
John Rutter has written many beautiful Christmas Carols which, because he is British, we do not really get to know. A line you wrote, “the One who holds together all matter Himself needing to be held.” took me back to a verse in his Candlelight Carol:
Shepherds and wise men will kneel and adore Him.
Seraphim round Him their vigil will keep.
Nations proclaim Him their Lord and their Saviour.
But Mary will hold Him and sing Him to sleep.
Have blessed and happy Christmas Lisa. May God Himself watch over and shine upon your family.