Lisa Appelo is a single mom to 7 and young widow. She's a speaker and blogger who shares soul-deep encouragement for the adventure of faith at LisaAppelo.com. She recently authored Countdown to Christmas: Unwrap the Christmas Story with Your Family in 15 Days.You can connect with Lisa on Instagram and Facebook.
Six years ago, we faced a smile-less Christmas.
Only a few months before, the rhythmic ordinary that was our family life had been forever lost and I began shepherding eight stunned and broken hearts through the pain and questions and agony of missing.
Those next months? It took every ounce of hope just to put feet on the floor each morning and every bit of mental space and physical stamina not only to process my own grief, but to handle the paperwork, finances, household, parenting, taxiing, decisions and all that had once been shouldered by two.
And now, Christmas was coming.
As much as I longed for a good Christmas for my kids, I couldn’t imagine pulling together any kind of real celebration.
Our life seemed so far removed, so out of step from the shopping and parties, baking and merrymaking that engaged the rest of the world.
Even our own Christmas traditions felt too tender this year. I knew we’d come back to them, but this first year we just needed something else altogether.
And yet, I wanted to be present with my kids. I needed to be present with my kids. I had toddlers and school-aged kids and teens and we needed to do more than just survive Christmas.
We needed to do the slow, hard work to begin to heal; to begin rebuilding our family and our hearts, misshapen as they felt.
How do you prepare broken hearts for Christmas?
There’s no manual for that. No chapter in the mothering book tells you how to give your children the world when there’s feels so crushed.
I only knew to look up.
We needed to intentionally turn our eyes from the pain of our circumstances and look to the promise of Jesus.
We needed to wonder all over again at a God of miracles, who chose strength swathed in weakness.
Jesus, very God of very God, clothed in the vulnerability of a newborn; delivered by blood of the mother He came to deliver by blood; the One who holds together all matter Himself needing to be held.
We needed to marvel at a God who lavishly loves, even in a hard, hurting world.
Jesus, the One and Only, sent to a world that overlooked His birth, refused His gift, despised His ministry and betrayed his friendship and He still chose the cross.
We needed to lift our broken hearts to worship and adore One broken for us.
Jesus, the I AM, the First and the Last, the only One worthy, the King of Kings who dwells in unapproachable light, wrapped in wrinkled flesh and tucked into the hay of a cattle trough.
As we prepared our hearts that first Christmas, I opened the Word and began to write out a new tradition for our family. I pulled together prophecies from the Old Testament and scriptures from the New Testament to unfold the real story of Christmas.
We took the advent scriptures and matched each one to one piece of our Nativity. Then, we gathered as a family each night for 15 nights, and put up one piece of our Nativity as we unwrapped the story of Jesus’ birth.
Night after night, we lifted our eyes to Jesus, to wonder and marvel and worship.
Each night, we opened our hearts a bit wider to the hope and joy in the midst of our ache.
Turns out broken hearts prepare for Christmas the same way whole hearts do.
Preparing for Christmas means turning from the aches and worries and hard of this world to focus on the One who came to be with us in it.
The hard work of healing a broken heart won’t happen just because a few more Christmases pass by.
We won’t find joy again by stuffing pain and jumping into the decorating and decking and festivity.
Broken hearts can only start to heal when we look up at the One who came to make us whole. The Messiah who came into this messy world to carry our burdens and give us abundance.
It’s a promise already fulfilled and waiting for us. It’s only for us to look up.
Again, and again and again, as often and as much as we need until one day, we look around and see that we no longer wake to dread but we’re alive with hope.
“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Unwrap the real Christmas story with your family this year with the 15-day Countdown to Christmas. This advent devotional brings the story of Jesus' birth to light in an easy, hands-on way as you connect scripture and a daily devotional reading with one piece of your own nativity you build over 15 days. This advent book can be used alongside your own standard nativity or as a stand-alone devotional reading.