My fingers page through this precious Advent book, my eyes scanning through the readings and my own handwritten reflections from the last three Advent seasons. Each year, has been marked by such grief and such surprising joy. I trace the words of this journal, remembering the days I felt most vulnerable and the days I felt most strengthened. This book marks the journey of my heart to the manger.
This will be my third Christmas missing my beloved – our third Christmas with him missing at the table, his loud voice missing when we sing the carols on Christmas Eve, his laughter missing during the unpacking of stockings and unwrapping of gifts.
I still remember our first Christmas after he died. We tried to hold it together. We tried to stay the course with certain traditions, but it was clear something was off-kilter. We passed the Bible around the circle to read the Christmas story, but his blazing voice was missing. We tried to make conversation at the table, but it felt strained, awkward, empty without his presence.
Looking back, I wish I had been more intentional that year to speak up when things felt wonky. My heart was pained, but I couldn’t push to find the words to articulate it. As a newly-single mama, I was cracking inside for my three girls who were without their gregarious daddy. I saw my family stumbling through the holidays as we lacked his leadership. Now I know it takes time to recalibrate when someone is lost.
I discovered some traditions need to be reimagined. We need to provide space to acknowledge, to be quiet and to remember together. One year we sent out Advent books to all our friends and family in his honor. I love getting the messages from friends as they are reading that book with their families each year and remembering Ericlee’s legacy of faith. Last year I decided to let go of the long-time tradition of going to pick out a real Christmas tree. That was something we did with him, and I wanted to reserve that for our memories. Now our family takes time to share memories of Daddy in Heaven while we hang each ornament on our artificial tree.
I know many of you are stepping into this Christmas feeling raw and vulnerable. That miscarriage you experienced a few months ago, that recent cancer diagnosis, that child estranged from your family, the death of your spouse or grandparent, the unspeakable injustices raging in our world – all these weigh heavy on our hearts. Christmas is the not time to turn away from our grief; it’s time to draw close and offer the present of our presence to each other.
This is not the time to plaster on the cheery face, to try to go through the motions and shut down our emotions. This is the time to muster up the courage to sit together, to weep with each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to rejoice in the new beginnings and the unexpected gifts. Let’s vow to lean in together.
Christ’s birth was always pregnant with a certain bittersweet. Like the birthing process, there is pain always wrapped up with the joy. God knew He was sending His son to earth as a baby born to die so we all might live. This baby wrapped in swaddling clothes has been wrapped in the paradox of death and life from the very beginning of the story.
To fully understand Christmas we have to embrace the grief with the joy.
After my husband died, I wondered if I should be cautious about experiencing joy. I hesitated to laugh because I was never sure when the trigger would come that would make me cry. I worried that people might judge me for finding new happiness and new love. These past few years, I realized that finding joy does not replace the grief of missing, but we still have permission to dance.
This year we count three Christmases missing my beloved, three years he has enjoyed in Glory. And this will be my first Christmas celebrating in a new house with my new husband and girls. This is a dance of joy and pain, a dance of breathtaking redemption only my Heavenly Father could orchestrate. I am starting to believe this dance is the way to embrace Christmas. I could sit on the sidelines and fake it or I can jump into the dance whirling with joy and pain, memories and merriment.
If you’re grieving this Christmas, give yourself space to remember. Be present with those around you. Think about how you might reimagine the traditions to honor the lost. Embrace the pain with the joy. Lean in with me.
I can’t stop singing the words to my favorite carol: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…” He continues to show me His glory shines in every dark corner, in every cold stable, in every rough manger.