God With Us

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

The First Year

The first year is the hardest. I heard that phrase repeatedly from well-meaning people attempting to comfort me after my 39-year-old husband died suddenly of a heart attack. As the days and weeks passed without him, their words led me to believe that if I could hold on until the first anniversary of his passing, everything would be ok. Even though I was rational and knew Ray couldn’t come back, part of me hoped it just might happen.

But 52 weeks passed, and everything wasn’t ok. Ray didn’t come back. I was still a single mother raising my two precious elementary-aged daughters, longing for my godly husband to be by my side.

Twenty-five years later, I know that grief lasts a lifetime, though it doesn’t remain as raw and piercing. It settles into your soul, a connection to the one you long for, and a reminder that the love you shared endures beyond the grave.

I didn’t have any such misconceptions after Mom passed away. I knew the first year would be challenging, but I also knew the longing to see and talk to her wouldn’t magically disappear when I reached day 366. No, it will be with me until I do see her again.

Another Christmas Season

I’m entering my second Christmas season without Mom, the season full of traditions, with her at the center of most of them. The joy she had in baking and shopping, wrapping and giving. The delight she expressed over every gift she received, big or small, store-bought or handmade.

The traditions and celebrations are bittersweet without Mom and Ray. Tears often accompany my activities – sometimes sad, sometimes grateful – as I reminisce about Christmases when they were with me.

Watching my 91-year-old father continue to decline, mentally and physically, adds even more angst to this year’s holiday. His confusion regarding time and the finer details of life has now grown to encompass dressing properly. Knowing how particular he’s always been about his appearance makes it even more difficult to bear.

Suffering Abounds

I’m painfully aware that we’re not the only family missing loved ones or watching them slip away.

  • My neighbor and his two-year-old twins are facing their first Christmas without their beloved wife and mother, who passed away this summer after a valiant battle with cancer.
  • Then there’s my friend at church whose cancer treatments are no longer working and another friend who’s watching her young adult son battle cancer that has returned with a vengeance after being in remission for several years.  
  • A few days ago, one of my nieces lost her twin sister and 12-year-old niece to a tragic accident that left her brother-in-law fighting for his life.
  • The section of my prayer list dedicated to those grieving contains a dozen other names of friends and relatives who’ve lost parents, siblings, or spouses in the past few months.

Those are just a few examples from my little corner of the world. I know similar scenarios are multiplied over and over across the globe. So much pain. So many tears.

But God

In the midst of my concerns for Dad and the busyness of the season, I had the opportunity to attend a women’s Christmas event. The food, fellowship, music, and décor were festive and uplifting. Something the keynote speaker, Laura Story, said has become my mantra as I navigate the hard parts of the holiday season and this season of life.

Laura is a gifted musician with several albums to her credit. One year she was calling radio stations to thank them for their support. Unbeknownst to her, the community where one of those stations was located had experienced a tragedy. When she wished the station manager Merry Christmas, he scoffed,  “What does Christmas have to do with (our situation)?”

“Everything!” Laura replied.

And so it does. God could have left us to muddle through on our own, in sin and sorrow, but He didn’t. He sent Jesus (John 3:16).

Immanuel

God knew beforehand that His headstrong creatures would rebel, and He created us anyway. Not only that but before the foundation of the world, He and the Son covenanted to save us. The promise God made to Eve had been sealed in eternity past (Genesis 3:15; Ephesians 1:4). Think about that! Marvel at it!

In the fullness of time, a virgin bore the Son of God (Luke 2:1-14), and in the fullness of time, He will return (Revelation 21:1-4). All our waiting will be over. Not only will we see our dear loved ones again, but we’ll also see our beloved Savior in all His glory.

So, dear readers, if you’re missing someone this holiday season, I invite you to join me in remembering Christmas has everything to do with our grief, losses, and longing. We can rejoice in knowing that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). The Baby in the manger was Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), who grew to be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, pierced for our transgressions (Isaiah 53:3-5) so that we might be filled with joy and hope (Romans 15:13).

Dear Father, our finite minds can’t grasp the enormity of the gift You gave in sending Your precious Son to save us from our sins, but how we thank You for Jesus! We don’t deserve Your mercy and grace, yet You lavish Your love upon us and pour out new mercies every morning. Please help us to remember we’re never alone. We have the ever-present Comforter to remind us of all Your promises and provisions.

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