When Christmas is broken

I first titled this post “When Christmas is shattered on your sidewalk” but that somehow had a terrible ring to it.  I’ve been unable to write as of late.  Despite knowing that writing always helps me process life, I have been entirely stuck.  Unable to force myself forward, will my heart onward when all I really want is to curl up in something warm and fuzzy and forgiving and close my eyes.

My mind has done it’s utmost to convince the rest of me that there are far bigger things I could be facing.  Our friends are across the country receiving incredibly intense medical care, doing their darn best to beat wicked cancer. I can quickly count tremendous blessings scattered all over my life.  We’ve been given this beautiful, healthy baby girl this fall who makes my heart about burst every day she so exudes sweetness.  But regardless of any of that, the quiet truth is that my heart hurts.

I may make it to church or host dinner for friends or conquer Costco with six kids looking courageous and calm.  But the reality is there was a huge blow up right before we got in the van and two family members stayed home while I took the remaining kids to church alone on Sunday.  Dinner with friends from afar is nothing short of a gift but behind the gracious hostess smile, there is pain.  Isn’t there always?  With age (and the grace that Jesus offers) comes the ability to hurt like hell and still hold up the remnants of life all around you so that you and those you love can keep going.  It’s not the same thing at all as the well-perfected facade I polished in my twenties.

For five years I’ve wanted to make a Jesse Tree.  Something simple and tangible to highlight the waiting of Advent.  When I received Ann Voskamp’s new book as a gift in November, I was thrilled to flip through it and printed the ornaments in great anticipation of making a beautiful tree that our family would enjoy together.  Caleb picked a really cool green branch from the forest that I stuck into a lovely cylinder vase full of soil from the yard.

I gathered the kids after dinner and we read together.  They were squirelly and didn’t want to sit still. We lit the candle on the wreath and they fought about who would blow it out.  We read again the next night.  No one wanted to listen and before I was done they were arguing about who would hang the ornament on the Jesse Tree, who would get to light the candle, who would blow it out.  It was one of those wretchedly un-glorious moments of parenting.  I put the ornament on myself and went upstairs to my room wondering what in the world I was doing wrong?

By the next night there was bickering about who would do what for Advent before it was even nighttime.  I picked up the Jesse Tree, grabbed the ornaments off of it and opened the nearest window and chucked it into the air.  A bit melodramatic perhaps but it was the only thing that seemed right in the moment.  What happened to the meaningful anticipation that Advent represents?  Who were these hooligans that I claim as my own making such a train-wreck of the beauty?  Where did I go wrong in my preparing (or my parenting?) that we couldn’t even manage to sit and read for 10 minutes together?

We haven’t read since then.  The ornaments are sitting on my desk.  Today I looked outside where the now-dead and not at all lovely green branch lays drying out.  This is what I saw:


Someone had, unbeknownst to me, opened the window and dropped my vase out on the ground next to the Jesse Tree.  The beautiful glass was in sharp, broken pieces all over the place.

And that is sort of how I feel.  Blessed but broken still.  The unique, intimate challenges of parenting a child who exists outside of my own understanding have worn me thin this past season.  I am empathetic by nature but I somehow can’t put myself in his shoes enough to “get it”.  By providence and by design, I am his mother, the one and only.  Though I may scream or weep in my moments alone, nothing will ever change that.  Like it or not.  Understand it or not at all.  I cling with everything I have to the truth that I believe in the core of my being:

God does not make mistakes.  He is sovereign over all things.

In the fourteen weeks since Liberty’s birth, there have been many dark nights where I have held her probably a little too tight and soaked in her goodness trying to soothe my own heart.  Her little blue eyed, porcelain smooth face seemed every time to say only one thing “All is well”.  Everything in her little world is perfect and predictable.

Some piece of me wants that.  Begs for that.  Just even for one day.  But that isn’t the world we live in.  At least it certainly isn’t the world I live in.  The world where I live is anything but perfect and the only thing predictable is that the laundry chute will be full tomorrow and someone will fight with their sibling and there will be an ache in my heart for something more.  For victory over failures and inadequacies.  For peace to dawn in the hearts of us who need it desperately.  For love to cover over all that I lack.

My friend Bethany writes it perfectly, I read this post of hers and wept – though my struggle is not at all the same, somehow hearing her say it all out loud meant everything to me in that moment.

I feel no resonance with the baby born long ago in a manger, because what I need right now, in my pain, in my fear, in my suffering, is not a baby, but a King. I need a King who is not dead. Who does not sleep. I need a God who will break through the silent night. – Bethany Stedman

So I settle in to this place and wait in the only way I’m able for just that, for God to break through.  It isn’t the Advent season I’d envisioned, not by any measure.  But it is mine.  And what I choose to do with the pieces that are broken is only up to me.  The hope of Emmanuel, God with us, God with ME is enough to keep me moving forward.  It is the only thing that can.


Beth Stedman (@bethstedman)

Oh, Karissa, now I’m the one wiping away tears. Thank you for writing this. For myself the seasons when I can’t write even though I know it would help are usually those seasons where writing feels most costly – because for me writing always takes me to a place where I have to face my broken pieces, my cracked, worn, and chipped places. That’s what you did here – you stared the reality of what your Advent looked like head on and shared it with the world. Thank you. For me Christmas definitely feels like that shattered vase on the sidewalk, and though you are right our struggles are very different at their heart they are so similar – the feelings are the same. Heartache and disappointment with the reality we face feels the same whatever differences there may be in those realities. I love you Karissa! Praying for God to be more than just Emmanuel for you today – praying that He is the God who redeems, in little and big ways – the God who takes our broken pieces and makes them into something new.


Thank you so much Beth. Such truth in your words. And such understanding, for which I am deeply grateful. Thinking of you constantly, love you and your family so much!