Ever since my mama died in 2015, Christmas has had a dark cloud that looms over it. Not in a seriously depressing way,  but the less obvious, heartache that almost feels like indigestion kind of way. We miss her and her over the top execution of all things holidays. The laughter and smiles that she would get from watching us unwrap presents. The frustration when we begged for just one more present before we took a food break. The deep, all encompassing love that she showed for each of us and the people we brought into the family. She loved fiercely and the absence of that is noticed a little more pointedly at Christmas.

Once we lost George Mason, the cloud changed shaped. We all will still miss our mama and her abundant joy during this season. But in 2017 we lost a little boy - and with that loss came all of the dreams we had for him and the experiences we should have gotten. The years of presents from Santa and the tedious waiting by big sister as baby brother figured out this whole unwrapping thing. We lost the faces of joy and excitement as he dug through his stocking. We lost decades of memories and gained scars on our hearts.

This is our second Christmas without George Mason. Last year I barely managed to put up a tree and go through the motions of Christmas cheer. But this year is different, and I’m so thankful for that. I still miss George Mason deeply, but I miss him without the deep mourning of his life. So this year, instead of going through the motions, I’ve enjoyed this season. The shopping and decorating. The Christmas cards. I even hung our stockings - and included one for George Mason. Santa probably isn’t going to fill it, and the emptiness tomorrow morning will be a reminder of his absence in our lives, but just seeing it there, along with the others, makes this mama’s heart happy.

I don’t know what the details of living this life without George Mason look like in the long term (hence the looming empty stocking). But as I sink deep into the Gospel, I realize that there is nothing in there that says I have to have it all figured out. Jesus, the King of Kings, was born in a stable and placed in a feeding trough. Nothing about his birth was Pinterest perfect. I’m sure his mom was a little freaked out and probably even a little angry that she had to birth her very first baby in a dusty old barn. Yet, it was a child that the whole world celebrates. That everyone from lowly shepherds to influential kings would come and bow before. If a king born in a stable doesn’t give me grace for not having a perfect plan or reason in this grief, I’m not sure what will. The Gospel of redemption through a baby in a manger. If hay and manure can be part of God’s perfect plan to save His people, an empty stocking certainly can be a part of this journey of grief. Because tomorrow isn’t about presents or Santa (as fun and wonderful and magical as those things are), it’s about celebrating life. The most important life of all time. And on a day where life is celebrated, I’m so happy to include my son - even if he isn’t here to celebrate with us. In fact, I’m a little jealous. Can you imagine the birthday party being held in heaven?

Cloud of sorrow and all, this is my story. This is George Mason’s story. This is Jesus’ story. Christmas will never be the same for our family as it was before we lost. But it will always be the most special celebration of the most special life. Even if I don’t have all the details worked out perfectly.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows - light! sunbursts of light! You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy. Oh, they're so glad in your presence! Festival joy! The joy of a great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings. The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants - all their whips and cudgels and curses - Is gone, done away with, a deliverance as surprising and sudden as Gideon's old victory over Midian. The boots of all those invading troops, along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood, Will be piled in a heap and burned, a fire that will burn for days! For a child has been born - for us! the gift of a son - for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there'll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. “ - Isaiah 9:2-7a MSG