Thursday, December 16, 2021


I've heard that Christmas is a hard time for many people. One study found that 38% of those surveyed said their stress increases in December. Others find the longer hours of darkness to negatively affect their emotional health. 

There are many reasons for depression, but I used to assume that those hardest hit are the ones with no family and friends, like the man we caroled to this week who sat in a dark trailer and said no one visits him. My heart breaks for him, and the many others, who sit alone night after night.

I wonder if it is the contrast that is most painful. The contrast of what you had and now don't. The contrast between what you want and what you've been given. The contrast between reality and desire. The more jolly and merry in the world around us - even if it is fake, the more stark our own life can appear.

Our December has been rich, and full, and beautiful. I love the gatherings, the food, the people. We've attended numerous music events: church caroling, Christmas singings, concerts, and community events. Each one fills me with deep joy. 

But the joy contrasts to loss. Just as a splotch of mud stands out starkly on a bride's white dress, so grief at Christmas feel highlighted with neon lights. 

Twenty years ago Ed proposed on Christmas Eve. Though he is gone, the hole he leaves is too big to be forgotten by filling the social calendar and singing "Joy to the World." Memories run too deep. I'm surrounded with tangible reminders. I pull a book off the shelf and find his name inscribed. I rummage for a piece of scrap paper and find a list of points in Ed's handwriting for a game he was playing with the children three years ago. The children flip through photos and videos on my phone (which was once Ed's), and I hear his voice singing Christmas carols. 

I don't want to lose memories. But the beauty of memories carry a gut punch. 

I recently reread A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. He compares catastrophic loss to an amputation. 

"We can recover from broken limbs, not amputation. Catastrophic loss by definition precludes recovery. It will transform us or destroy us, but it will never leave us the same. There is no going back to the past, which is gone forever, only going ahead to the future, which has yet to be discovered. Whatever that future is, it will, and must, include the pain of the past with it. Sorrow never entirely leaves the soul of those who have suffered a severe loss. If anything, it may keep going deeper." (Please go read the whole book because I can't copy down everything I underlined.)

Somehow that has been comforting. Maybe it is a sign of health that the deeper the joy, the greater the contrast to the deep sorrow. Sweet contrasts with bitter. Light to darkness. The heartbreak of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. The valley of the shadow of death to the gates of heaven.

I don't know how to hold both joy and sorrow in my heart at the same time, but I'm not given an option. I know many of you are walking through similar contrasts. May we not deny the pain or decline the joy, but embrace both. It sounds cliché, but this is why Jesus came. To walk into our sorrow and give us eternal hope.

"And ye, beneath life's crushing load, 
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, 
And hear the angels sing." 
(3rd verse of It Came Upon the Midnight Clear)

I'm including a video of a song by Aspire Chamber Choir that I loved this month. (If reading by email you may need to click over to the website for the video.) You can also enjoy Aspire's entire Christmas concert.


  1. I'm a relatively new reader, and I wasn't very familiar with your story until now. What a hard loss, and I'm so sorry for the grief you must still experience regularly.

    I lost my nephew unexpectedly many years ago (15, I believe), when he was almost 3 years old. It was without a doubt one of the hardest things I've gone through, and I find that it does continue to affect me in ways both seen and unseen. It does feel a lot like you said though, where eventually you learn to carry both the sorrow and the current joys together, although both sensations seemed to be softened with time -- the sorrow softened with the newness of life going on, and the joys softened with little bits of sadness because you wish they were still there. I can only imagine losing a spouse, a beloved partner.

    I know my words can't make anything better and that I'm a stranger to you, but know that I thank you for sharing your story and your strength and your faith, and that I wish you peace in this season.

    1. Thanks, Torrie, for your kind words and understanding heart.

  2. Thank you gina for this post, keeping you and the children always in prayer. Sue

  3. May the Lord Jesus be a special Friend and Comforter to you.
    (That concert is in my hometown - though I live in the South now) :) Chris W.

  4. The way all of life is a paradox... thank you for sharing, even if you don't feel like you can express the depth of everything.
    This reminds me of what I read in Anne Lamott's book "Travelling Mercies" the other day:"The lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and...only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness, but time alone, without the direct experience of grief, will not heal it."
    And of the quote on the back of the church bulletin last Sunday: "To love at all is to be vulnerable."~CS Lewis.
    So true, so true, so true.

    Praying for you..

  5. Dear Gina,
    Your post reverberated in my heart!!!
    I too lost my husband.
    I too use his phone.
    I too find lists he made.
    I also have read and understood Jerry Sitters book "A Grace Disguised"
    Yes this is a season of happiness and sorrow...And sweet and bitter.
    Wishing you the Lords richest blessing .

  6. Dear Gina, I too lost my first Husband to Cancer many years ago. God is faithful and His love will sustain you. Yes Christmas is a difficult time for so many, but I think we are enriched by our loss as we are attuned and aware of the impact of loss. Today we shared our Christmas table with a young man who's wife in still overseas and not yet able to join him. He hasn't seen her for 2 years, or his 15 month old child! We also hosted a father and son who live on their own. God works in mysterious ways, and God is good. Please be encouraged and give your grief to God for He cares for you.

  7. May God bless you and your family!


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