I’ve been a little emotional the last two days. At first I put it down to pregnancy hormones and then I couldn’t shake the random bouts of tears and so I took some time out to dig deep into the recesses of my heart. The place we don’t like to go because pain lives there. The place we should go, so we can feel and then fumble forward towards healing and wholeness. What I realised as I lay on my carpet in an empty house and too much silence is that as this Christmas holiday descends and we all gather and celebrate, I have this overwhelming feeling of gratitude and also deep empathy for those whose Christmases are a little less cheery and a lot more raw and painful.

6 months ago today I was sitting in an ICU ward with my baby girl and the uncontrollable unknown of her health and future was harrowing and dark. I’ve walked a slow and steady road of healing since then, but yet, as Christmas approaches and studies show that family and religious practices contribute more to our happiness than consumerism, seriously how profound, I feel that there is so much we could have lost if Honor was not here. I feel stronger yet somewhat fragile. Pictures of sick kids or stories of paediatric illnesses make me so sad and I still cry when I think about the “what ifs”. I can’t seem to look away and ignore stories of children battling life threatening illnesses and I find myself desperately praying for health more now than I did before. It’s like there is this part of me that changed back in June and although I walk forward with joy I still feel undone by the brevity of life. I’m floored by God’s kindness that I don’t have to weep over a desperate loss this Christmas but at the same time so mindful of those that will. I feel grateful that she can write her page long Christmas lists and eat sweets for breakfast from her advent calendar but I know that the reality is that others will not get to experience this kind of joy. I’m not so phased by “lack” of money or things or anything, for that matter, this year because I feel like her presence is all that I need. And yet, I feel really burdened for my friends (and even those I don’t know) who will look at empty chairs and feel like no gift could compare to having those they’ve lost around.

I’ve taken moments to remember the joy amidst the pain from our hospital stay because it reminds me that even in our darkest places there are these glimmers of hope that lead us on and surround us with supernatural comfort. Like the first time she ate after a week of nothing, she was like a baby bird inhaling a croissant and I can remember giggling at her new found delight for pastry. Or the time she looked at me with her fiery eyes and said “no more crying mamma, you’re making me sad.” That moment when I climbed into her bed and she wrapped her arm around my neck and whispered I LOVE YOU Mamma and squeezed me tight. Or when she forced herself to straighten her neck and then made me take a picture to show everyone that she was so ‘better’. Somehow writing these things even amidst tears I am smiling. Because they’re pictures of hope. Little reminders of grace, symbols of God’s presence that I will never be able to ignore.

So as I write this, in an attempt to release some of the sadness from before whilst savouring the inexplicable joy of today, (I do feel like a mild emotional crazy person) I feel to encourage (in some small way) the weariness of grief this Christmas.

What I’ve found to be a great anchoring for my swaying soul is the person of Jesus. Now I understand this may be completely far fetched and out of reach for some, but hear me out for the moment. I don’t know your beliefs or stories but I do know the reality Jesus has meant for mine. He’s the hope that I refer to. The greater measure I long after and the very One I have clung desperately to amidst the pain. I know He’s real because I have seen Him do impossible unexplainable miracles for me. And so as sceptical as some may be reading this, maybe just maybe, there is more to what is going on around you than you think. (Just a thought?) I wholeheartedly believe and stand firmly upon this almost absurd idea that because of Him there is hope of a future. A bright and glorious day. Jesus is our access to a brilliant tomorrow. We may despair this side of heaven but it is not the end. The empty seats around the table will be filled. The laughter and embrace of our lost loved ones will be heard and felt once more. We will not long after them forever but rather we can have extreme hope knowing that at the end of it all there will be this big reunion party. All the despair, loneliness and brokenness will be burnt away and what remains will be a beautiful new existence.

If you are facing a Christmas engulfed by the reality of loss this year know that there are people who pray and fight for your joy and peace. There are communities of believers who contend for all that you have lost. Today I wept for me and the innocence I left behind in a clinical ICU WARD and then I wept for you. For all that we may have lost this side of heaven. I may not know your story, mine is most likely different to yours, but today I sowed tears for your future here on earth.

Take heart. God is near, especially in the darkness and loneliness of grief.

My prayer for us all today, as we walk into this Christmas, is that we would receive gladness for our mourning and beauty for our ashes. That supernatural grace would infiltrate our lives and manifest itself through tangible peace and joy. That God would guard our hearts and minds with the knowledge of Jesus. A true knowing that this is not the end and that death has not won today, or ever. That eternity wins. That love wins. Every time. And although today may be empty of the presence of our lost ones, tomorrow we will see in fullness the restored and redeemed picture of humanity here on earth.