Christmas is over. We survived. One might even go as far as saying we actually enjoyed ourselves. A far cry from the previous year and the weight of the grief that held us tight. By all accounts, it was lovely. Relaxing, reflective, and wonderful. We woke up a little earlier than usual to find that Santa had paid us a visit. The sheer joy and excitement in the eyes of our sweet Audrey Nole were the most perfect way to start the day. As we sat around in our pjs, there were presents to unwrap, breakfast to be had, and general laziness to sink into. Audrey Nole loved every second. She was surprised and excited by each new gift and she made me proud by the gratitude she showed. It was all the reasons that so many people told me last year to suck it up and do it for Audrey. I honestly hated hearing that. I mean, on one level I can understand the sentiment and I can even agree. But on the deepest, most raw surface of my emotions, my grief last year was intense - and it didn’t make sense to hide it or stuff it for any reason. Not even Christmas.

Last year felt as if I had just said hello and goodbye to my son. It felt like only days before had we made that long and painful drive home from the hospital; alone and obviously missing our youngest family member. How could I possibly celebrate when sorrow loomed? How could I pull myself, artificially, out of the depths of the shadow of the valley of death? My heart, my head, my body, all needed deeper healing to do that. And while those were all things that God could absolutely have spoke into submission, he didn’t. He hunkered down in my grief with me, and burnished my soul as it was dragged through every mother’s nightmare. So I didn’t hype myself up for Christmas last year. We put up a tree and Santa made his visit, but beyond a few moments of laughter with my sister and the joy that comes from having children on that special day, Christmas was awful and difficult and mostly felt wrong; celebrating life, even as significant a life as the Savior of the world, felt like a betrayal of my own precious son.

Yet, as I look back on my journal entry from last year, I’m in awe, and also not, by the thoughts of my heart. I remember the day with all of the dread that lead up to it, but beyond the rough sketch of the day’s plan, there’s not much I can draw on. However, as I read from that day, I am overwhelmed by how fully and wonderfully I felt God’s presence. He gave me the peace that could only come from the Prince of Peace. He gave me the energy to wake that day and do the whole Christmas thing. He gave me community to love me and prayerfully go through that day with me. What a God I serve. That even in the dread and through the thick fog of grief, He granted me exactly what I needed on that day {and every other day for all of time} to be able to see Him and feel Him and celebrate. I’m so thankful for the hope that comes with Christmas. The anticipation of the Son of God’s birth is bring-you-to-your-knees overwhelming. It is the most wonderful gift. And one that no matter where my heart lies, from the deepest parts of sorrow to the highest peaks of joy - and often a combination of both - is faithfully, eternally, true. I didn’t have it in me to do much celebrating in 2017, yet God met me there and filled my broken heart with gratitude and JOY. In 2018, I longed for Christmas in a way that I haven’t in a while. I knew it was complicated and that it will likely always be so, but He met me in that.

Two Christmases without our son. Two different places in this grief journey, met with equal tenderness, comfort, and strength, by the God who sent His own Son. There is much to be thankful for in this story I’m living. There is also much to celebrate. The empty stocking on Christmas Day wasn’t so empty. It was filled with the Holy Spirit and was the most heart wrenching, yet unbelievably sweet, reminder of God’s presence in our home and our hearts. He gave me the “glad tidings of comfort and joy” last year and this year he showed me the “wonders of his love.”

A Merry Christmas indeed. Happy Birthday, Jesus! So thankful you were born.