"I miss your Christmas letters," an elderly relative told me one hot summer day at a family reunion. I almost choked on my coffee (because in every season, every good family get together has coffee!).
I felt the heat of her unspoken question, "Why haven't you written any in the last couple of years?"
I wasn't sure what to say or even what was appropriate. "Well, thank you. I guess they can be kind of hard to write some years," I said feeling lame.
"Well, they're nice to get," she smiled. An awkward silence followed. I sipped more coffee.
I'm sure she had no idea how much I'd agonized over whether to write one or not during those years. The years after our son died, that is.
I was expecting an exciting Christmas with our baby twins. But it did not happen. Our son died in my womb after an umbilical cord accident ended his precious, but brief time here on earth. He was stillborn at delivery. For two months his twin sister clung to life in the NICU and struggled, but survived.
That first Christmas was hell for us. The sorrow in our home was palpable and every happy holiday event was a knife in an already oozing wound. Life went on for others and array of Christmas cards and letters flooded our mailbox with mostly happy life updates.
"My husband was promoted to a new position and loves it."
"Our kid had a great year in soccer."
"We took a trip to (somewhere amazing) and had a great time."
"We've been so blessed and have had a great year."
The letters were full of the usual good things often found in Christmas letters. Nothing wrong with that. But I couldn't handle the usual, good things. My year was a nightmare still in progress. Even so, I sat down to write a few lines about what our family was going through. I gave the facts. I included Scripture. I tried to write with real emotion and yet, contain the flood of all-too-real emotion — an impossible balancing act.
What I didn't say was held deep within:
"I cry every day all day."
"I walk past a room decorated for my twins and I can't go in there."
"Few seem to understand me and I feel rejected."
"I don't know if I can go on."
There are times in life when what you're living through is so difficult that to dress it up or conceal it is a far more difficult.
Many of you know just what I'm talking about.
For some of you, this the year when you've been scared you may have cancer. Or the year you've walked with someone dying and a part of you is dying too. Maybe this has been the year your child is so far away from the Lord, you've wondered where the hope to pray for hope would come from. Or the year where the dream of a godly, happy marriage has crumbled right before your eyes. And maybe this year, a friendship has changed so drastically that a disappointed loneliness has replaced their absence. Maybe you've felt like an absolute failure as a wife and a mom.
These are the years when writing a Christmas letter feels impossible.
I love that there is no pressure to fake it with God. He never asks us to hide the hard truth or dress it up to make Him feel better. He lets us be ourselves and is at home in very hard of life.
I've been breathing in Jeremy Camp's song, "He Knows."
And how hard your fight has been How deep the pain within Wounds that no one else has seen Hurts too much to show All the doubt you're standing in between And all the weight that brings you to your knees
He knows He knows Every hurt and every sting He has walked the suffering He knows He knows Let your burdens come undone Lift your eyes up to the one Who knows He knows
What comforting words living in a world that often demands happy deception in order to maintain a socially acceptable equilibrium. God does not. He knows.
This year, I'm not writing a newsy, interesting or inspiring Christmas letter. It's been a hard one. But God is with me. God is with us in the days, months and years when we walk through unspeakable hardship. And that is the beautiful, precious, real, unfailing Good in the midst of the very, very hard of life.
Julie Neils is a media relations consultant and has more than fifteen years of experience helping ministries, political leaders, and authors effectively communicate their message. She is a wife, homeschooler, and mother to six — five here on earth and one who awaits her in heaven. A former military brat, she has lived all over creation; her favorite "home" being Panama City, Panama. As such, she loves good coffee and a great book to go with it. She and her family live in the Rocky Mountains.