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For those who grieve at Christmas

Have you ever not been happy at Christmas time?  I love this holiday, but I will say:  it’s nothing like any of the others.  In all my 46 years, I’ve never had to work so hard to keep His coming framed in my view while staying out of the muck of self-pity.  It’s not just me.  I can feel all the members of Team Stern doing  the same thing.  In the relentless sparkle and cheer of the holiday, the grey weight of sadness presses ever more strenuously on hearts that were already sagging to begin with.    Nothing sounds the same.   The happy Christmas songs are annoying and the sad ones are unbearable.  Nothing looks the same.  This is our first year putting the tree up without Steve’s help.  The kids and I went out one morning and picked the first one we saw.  We decorated it with the same lovely ornaments we use every year.  Everything is the same on that tree, but it still doesn’t look very beautiful to me.  It’s not ugly…it’s just not happy.  The gifts are wrapped and it’s only the 3rd, and I think my kids will like what I picked out – but none of them feel special or exciting to me.  I’ve never been this way before, but this year I am the girl who cannot find the magic in Christmas songs, décor or gifts.   If I didn’t know better, I would call me the Grinch.


But the thing is:  I really am loving Christmas 2011.  The real Christmas.  I am leaning in hard to the Christmas story…reading it every day in every gospel and every version.  And at the center of that story:  Christ came.  He came to those who were sad.  Broken.  Needy beyond belief.  Isaiah says He came to those “sitting in darkness”.  Not a lot of fa-la-la-ing in the world when He showed up.  It’s for the hurting that He came and the gift in our stocking was His death in exchange for our lives.  All these trimmings that accompany the season of celebrating His arrival?  We invented them.   And they’re not bad, but they’re also not the point.  I’m realizing that Christmas feels especially sad to me when I subconsciously make it about something else.  I love all the beauty and the family and the music – but that stuff cannot carry me through this season of sorrow.  It’s not big enough.  His coming, however, and the awareness that He alone was born that man no more may die – in and of itself brings soul-deep joy.  Contentment.  Peace-in-the-midst-of-this-storm.  The main thing is Jesus.  The rest comes and goes.


If you are sad this Christmas, it might be tempting to try to ignore the season altogether.  But may I suggest instead that you do the opposite?  Move into the very center of it.  Stand for a moment – not around a perfectly decked Christmas tree – but at the foot of the manger and look again at that tiny baby.  Can you even believe it?  There He is.  Born for you.  Born for us.  For our sin and sadness and our breakdowns in the middle of department stores (oh wait, is that just me?)  He is joy, and at the heart of His story is fullness of joy….especially for those who grieve.


Because of Jesus,


December 5, 2011 - 5:28 am

Lori Hill - Thank you Bo for putting to words your thoughts. They help to articulate matters of the heart and place them (not iignore them) in proper perspective – at the foot of the cross.

In Him,

December 5, 2011 - 6:23 am

Susan from Nebraska - Thanks so much for sharing and pointing us to HIM once again. Loving you so much during these holidays!!!!

December 5, 2011 - 6:48 am

Cousin Karla - Thank you for the wonderful reminder, Bo. I have written that in my mind for many years. Keeping the sadness out comes only when we remember the true reason for Christmas and press on. Blessings to you, Steve and the kids. My prayers are with you continually.

December 5, 2011 - 6:50 am

Rene - The first year I couldn’t put up a tree, and could barely visit stores. The second year, I could do a tree, but couldn’t bear to unwrap the ornaments. Now at the fourth Christmas, I’ve found that all that stuff is still there.
His grace, His heart, His arms — always there.
Now that I’m ready again, the lights and ornaments feel like candy, and not the necessary, almost burdensome, tasks they once were. Like you, I was reminded of the Real Stuff. Now the Fluff Stuff is just fun, and lights up my eyes again.
Heartfelt prayers and love to you. I’m so sorry you’re on this path, but so grateful you know the One who walks with you.

December 5, 2011 - 6:51 am

shell Wells - Bo-
I have such incredible respect and admiration for you. As a wife, partner, mother, woman, daughter of Christ. Thank you for always acknowledging our human nature. Yet, always helping to remind of us the big picture. How easy it is for me to get caught up in “my stuff”.
You really are a blessing to so many. Your gifts of expressing your thoughts through your writing and in your speaking. I pray you and your family feel surrounded by Christs unending and all consuming love. Your all in my prayers.
Blessings and hugs,
Shell Wells

December 5, 2011 - 7:34 am

Cindi - Exactly what I needed to read. I’m struggling with staying positive as well. Thank you, Bo, for your insight. You are so strong and such an inspiration to us all. Thank you for being you!

December 5, 2011 - 8:43 am

Jen Barrow - I needed this today. I am with you. If not for that baby, where would be be? Much love…xo

December 5, 2011 - 8:44 am

Martha Rodman - I’ve learned the same things….my husband suffered a massive stroke/heart attack in April 2010, so last year was Christmas just as you described. Even this year, though better is still a struggle. He was diagnosed as blind, deaf and gone, but he is now able to walk, the feeding tube is gone so he can eat and drink by himself, but he can’t talk. He is a preacher extrodinaire (sp) and I miss his words so much. 19 months without one original word has been tough. But Jesus is here with us. He comes everyday. He shows up in so much grace. We are still seeking Him for Darryl’s restoration…trusting God for every YES He has…and leaving the rest in His loving hands. To know that God sent Jesus because He loves us, even in the midst of your situation is so huge. Grace to you and your family. Jim Stephens is an old friend….and he sent this to me. Blessings, we will add you to our prayers. Martha Rodman

December 5, 2011 - 8:48 am

Laurie - This time of year…which has always been my favorite, always has a cloud of sadness around it. It has gotten better, but there are moments where the tears come out of no where. They catch me off guard now.
I do love your attitude, and advice though, because you can’t turn off Christmas. It comes, ready or not, and you can’t ignore the meaning. Those sudden tears that come, have now become my moments to stop and reflect. Reflect and cherish my lost loved one, and to remember why that babe was born in a manger. It is powerful!
I don’t know you, but I do pray for you as you go through this first Christmas without the one you loved so much! Take some time with your family to talk about Steve. Don’t let others push him out of the conversation. It is important to remember why he was in your lives as well. Laugh, cry and remember. Christ died for him too!

December 5, 2011 - 8:57 am

Heather Sohn - Thank you, Bo.

December 5, 2011 - 9:29 am

Kay Fleming - Thank you for putting things in proper perspective. (formerly a Rock Church member)

December 5, 2011 - 9:41 am

bo - Martha – please know that I have added you and your beloved to my Christmas prayer list. May you find yourself right in the center of His story during this holiday season.

December 5, 2011 - 9:43 am

bo - Thank you, Laurie. My Steve is very much alive – for which we are all so grateful – but was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) last February. This year has been filled with many new discoveries and the great grace of God. Bless you!

December 5, 2011 - 9:44 am

bo - You’re welcome, sweet friend. Love to you and the rest of the Family Sohn.

December 5, 2011 - 9:44 am

Jandra - Wow.

December 5, 2011 - 10:10 am

Jean Nelsen - Blessed is she (Bo) who believed for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.-Luke 2:45 Love you girl.

December 5, 2011 - 10:38 am

Linda - Came across your blog via a friend, Steffy. I’m thankful that I did. Thank you for sharing what you’re learning during this time. It is hard to keep perspective in all the urgency of getting everything together for Christmas.


December 5, 2011 - 11:06 am

Julie - I was reminded in church yesterday about how many miracles are in The Christmas Story. I decided to focus on those this holiday season, It reminded me how much God loves us. Great truths here Bo!

December 5, 2011 - 1:29 pm

Claudia - Bo….you articulate so well — what so many are thinking!!
You are SUCH a blessing to so many and know that you and your family are in my prayers!!

I pray God decend upon your family in a precious way this Christmas like mome you have ever had in —- in a remarkable Christ~centered way only HE can do for you and your family!!
Love you……Claudia Gilliam ( from your Mom & Dad’s church)

December 5, 2011 - 1:45 pm

Cheri - My friend just lost her husband a couple of days ago. Very sudden bout of brain cancer, only three weeks from diagnosis to his death.
I’m sure she hasn’t even thought about Christmas this year.

December 5, 2011 - 1:49 pm

bo - Thank you, Jean. Love you, too!

December 5, 2011 - 1:50 pm

bo - Thanks for stopping by, Linda. Any friend of dear Steffy is a friend of mine!

December 5, 2011 - 1:53 pm

bo - Cheri, I’m so sorry for your friend. So, so sorry. It must be so hard to lose a dear one in December. I’m praying for her and for all her Christmases to come – that they will be marked by the comfort of Christ.

December 5, 2011 - 2:44 pm

Lisa Ham - Thank you for your honest and wise perspective! When I saw that both Jen Barrow and Steffany Woolsey had posted links to this blog post, I knew I had to read it. Thank you.

December 5, 2011 - 6:22 pm

Shanel Hudson - Thank you for sharing. I love that you wrote “. . that He alone was born that man no more may die”. Some days that is so big it’s hard to get wrapped around it. That He loved us so much. WOW. Again, thank you for sharing. Bless you and your family.

December 5, 2011 - 7:03 pm

Barby - Hi Bo!
You don’t know me, but I saw your link through a FB friend, Laurie Francis. I know some people that are hurting this year and I wondered if you minded if I shared your words with others (with the personal details removed.) I am not struggling with a loss right now, but your words speak to me also. Putting all the “other stuff” in place of the real Christmas leaves me with an unsettled feeling. I think it is because all the “other stuff” has no guarantees, but there is One who was sent and chose to be sent. He will never leave us because of His eternal love.

December 5, 2011 - 7:15 pm

Rachel Polley - Bo,
Thank you for your honesty and transparency with your thoughts about this Christmas season. You and your family are in my daily prayers. I loved it a few Sundays ago when Pastor Ken talked about having files for different days and things that he prayed on, or about and he had said Steve was in his Monday file. I don’t have a file, but I do have a list and both of your names are on it. I can only imagine how different things must feel this year for all of you. Thank you for sharing; you have a wonderful way of turning my focus to Him with your words and perspective. Love to you and yours.

December 5, 2011 - 8:44 pm

Susie Kay - Bo,
It is hard to put into words what my heart feels when I read your words of Joy in the Lord mixed with the season of grief.
I am involved in the ministry called GriefShare. I am impressed that this ministry is not only for those who have lost loved ones, but anticipate that loss. But I am also impressed that the very name of this ministry is Grief – Share. He, our beloved Christ, shares Himself with us and He alone paid the price so that we would have LIFE.
It is this promise that sustains me even when your words bring tears to my eyes as I remember Donald who went to Him 4 1/2 years ago.
I pray blessings of JOY into your home and heart as you gaze upon that sweet tree and the memories that hang on it. Much love, Susie

December 5, 2011 - 10:57 pm

Teresa Fourtner - Oh Bo….. I love you!

December 6, 2011 - 3:25 am

Vangi Taron - Oh, Bo! This is just the essence of it all – and so beautifully said. How beauty can be found in the depths of grieving and sorrow and difficulty is ONLY the love of God. I’ve felt, to a lesser degree I’m sure, some of the “dead-ness” trying to get excited with songs and the (artificial) tree and the decorations in light of the difficulty of being away from family and the real spirit of celebration during this time. But I read from Isaiah the other day about a different “Come” and it reminded me of how Jesus came. Isaiah 55 — Come to the waters…

I love how He came to us and then invites us to come to something that truly satisfies. It truly IS in the center of the story that this season comes to life. Thanks so much for sharing the hard stuff, the real stuff — letting us step into that with you. You are delightful and Jesus thinks you’re great. So do I.

Loads of Love to you!

December 6, 2011 - 6:08 am

Arlene - I’m having similar feelings about the “holiday” but am so thankful for the most precious gift of all . . . Jesus! Thank you so much for sharing your heart. You remain in my prayers. Love you.

December 6, 2011 - 7:17 am

bo - Of course, Barby – our determination has been to try to share in an honest and (hopefully) faith-filled way. Thanks so much for stopping by.

December 6, 2011 - 8:23 am

Debbie - Wow! I must say your writing is really arriving to express your voice. So beautiful.
Our pastor just preached on this kind of thing from Luke 1 where Herod and all Jerusalem were troubled. About the fact that Christmas stirs up all of us, it is a marker and a very profound reality.
We continue to pray for you all.
Hugs from here!
Debbie and Gary

December 6, 2011 - 10:28 am

Angela Cheeney - You have a way of being so “real” and your “real-ness” is extremely easy to relate too. I feel like I have checked all the boxes on the “have a good Christmas” list…..the tree is up, the packages are wrapped, the pumpkin spice latte is poured, and the Christmas candle is lit but I am still sad. Sad that my mom can’t survive the battle she is dealing with even though she is fighting sooooo hard. It just feels unfair. So thank you for refocusing me on the reason we celebrate Christmas and what Christmas is REALLY about.

December 6, 2011 - 1:22 pm

Darcy Swenson - Tears. Well said.

December 6, 2011 - 2:40 pm

Ann Dunagan - We do praise God for Steve’s LIFE — and rejoice to think that his life is already a part of God’s unending and eternal plan. I’m thinking about how Jesus said that “whoever drinks of His living water will never thirst again.” We’re already a part of God’s never-ending reality. He’s real, and He’s eternal — and we’re all a part of that kingdom already — all of us who know Him: you, and me, and Steve, and your parents, and all your kiddos. We’re all very much alive, and will continue to be so . . . and nothing can ever take that life away.

And yes, we are praising God for each day, and each memory, and each moment you have together in there here-and-now. All of you, TEAM-STERN-family, are so awesome, and special to us!!!

Each day is a unique gift to unwrap . . . and to enjoy.

December 6, 2011 - 4:16 pm

Cathy Wood - Bo..Bo..Bo…so much truth…wish you lived next door!!! STRENGTH to you from the joy of His presence!!! Love ya, Cathy

December 6, 2011 - 6:04 pm

Corina Burgess - Bo:
I read, reread only to read this 4 more times. Each time your words “move into the center of it” gripped me. Jesus is worth my celebrating the season. Thank you. (I thought this year would be easier than last… )I love you friend.

December 6, 2011 - 6:43 pm

Marsha Briggs - Love You Stern Family All. Am keeping You close to my heart and in prayers.

December 6, 2011 - 7:02 pm

Martha Rodman - Thank you Bo…every prayer is helpful and needed. May His grace flow in ever ready abundance into every needed area.

December 6, 2011 - 9:57 pm

bo - I love you friend, and am praying for you and your sweet family. May this season bring you closer than ever to His heart, His hope, His joy.

December 7, 2011 - 8:20 am

LeeAnn Rawlins - Bo, I do not know you well- I do enjoy reading what you write – wish I knew you better.
You have a way with words- a true gift. As I read your last blog, tears filled my eyes and memories flooded my mind of years gone by, like over 28 years ago, when Christmas for us was so very sad, the year my husband died and many that followed. However God has blessed us with more family now, little pain still there, but joy again has come to our live. May God give you joy even in your hard days. The vs in James about counting it all joy- I read is not a jumping up and down joy but a calm delight in our hearts. Love and Blessings LeeAnn Rawlins

December 7, 2011 - 9:26 am

Greg Price - Bo, thank you so much for your willingness to honesty share the pain of the season as well as the joy. The Prices will be praying for the Sterns. Your whole family is a joy.

With your permission I would like to post this on our churches fb page so others can be encouraged by your honesty and pointing everything back to that amazing baby

Much Love

December 7, 2011 - 9:50 am

bo - Thank you so much, Greg. We love your family too! Of course, re-post with abandon. 🙂

December 7, 2011 - 11:20 am

Nita Belles - THIS blog goes on my FB page…
You grace and wisdom in the midst of the storm is both inspiring and comforting.
Love and admire you so much my friend,

Amazing Grace and love to you all Team Stern.

December 7, 2011 - 3:29 pm

Victoria - I’m not the one that breaks down in departments stores, but I am the one who broke down putting on my elf ears, which is a special kind of depressing. 🙂 I’m also blessed to be the one who cried through almost the entire Singing Christmas Tree because it was just so right. Celebrating Jesus and that he was born as a baby just so he could sit next to me while the tree sang. I find the season so much more precious when it’s all you’ve got. 🙂

December 7, 2011 - 4:19 pm

bo - Oh, Miss Victoria – I love you and your elf ears. Dearly. Thanks for being my girl (not that you had any say in the matter).

December 8, 2011 - 4:03 pm

Tim - ;>( I know thw feeling and I know the peace through Christ in it all. God Bless.

December 8, 2011 - 5:58 pm

A.J. Swoboda - This was a profoundly beautiful piece. Thank you for it.

December 8, 2011 - 7:36 pm

Some favorite posts | Creating Home Journal - […] diagnosis of  ALS earlier in the year and Bo at shared with us about pressing into the Christmas story even as she struggles with the conventional picture of happiness this holiday […]

December 9, 2011 - 7:12 am

~Brenda - Wow. I loved this. I do find myself leaning toward ignoring the whole season rather than embracing it. Thank you for pointing us toward the real reason for the season. Now excuse me while I go read the Christmas story. 🙂

December 10, 2011 - 1:17 pm

Sandy Phillips - Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They express what I’m feeling in my heart so beautifully. We lost our amazing 26 year old daughter last March and I don’t know if the grief will ever lessen. The holidays basically suck, forgive my language but they do, I’m trying so hard to keep things “normal” for the rest of the family but it just feels so joyless. God did bless us with an adorable grand daughter in Jan and she has so many of her Aunties traits that bring a smile. Some good friend often bring us tapes of your sermons and they have certainly touched us, neither my husband or I are ready to go church again yet, it’s not that we blame god but i am still a little mad at him, I know that’s not fair but it’s honest. My heart goes out to you and your family this Christmas. Love Sandy

December 10, 2011 - 1:32 pm

bo - Sandy, I can’t begin to say how sorry I am for your loss…or how grateful I am for your comment. We have a grandbaby on the way in March, and he is already such miraculous intervention for all of us. It always reminds me of the line to a Nichole Nordeman song that says “even now in death You open doors for life to enter….”

Praying you will feel a spark of warm life during this cold season.

With hope,

December 12, 2011 - 7:36 am

Louise - so with you here, Bo. (((hugs)))

December 12, 2011 - 7:37 am

Louise - guess the other part of this is to really be present – it is the gift

December 15, 2011 - 9:00 am

Cyndie Evans - The heaviness that you have described here has permeated our home. And I now know that the gentle pushing toward the baby in the manger has been the breath of life from the Holy Spirit 🙂
Thanks for sharing.

December 23, 2011 - 12:50 pm

Karen Bradley - Thank you so much for this story. I have been sad and lonely this Christmas, and this story helped me to realize that I am never alone. Christ is with me always. Again thanks so much.