I will never forget that first Christmas after Annie died.

I was trying hard to grasp for the little bit of joy I could muster, but life felt so bleak.  
I felt eyes on my all the time, well-meaning people wondering how they could help.  I just wanted to disappear.
I had never had a Christmas like that.  The only Christmases I had ever known were happy.  It felt so wrong, but then again, nothing about life really seemed right or normal.
I managed to hold it all together, plastering a fake smile on my face, until after the Christmas Eve service a good friend didn’t say a word, she just hugged me.  And I broke.
“I just want it to be over.” I confessed.
I felt so guilty.  Guilty that my three and five year old had a mom who didn’t have any strength for cookies or traditions.  Guilty that I was the Pastor’s wife who didn’t really care about Jesus being born.  Guilty that my little baby was lying cold under a blanket of snow instead of snuggled in her crib.  
I survived.  I’ve woken up to three more Christmases since then, none so heartbreaking, but each with moments of overwhelming sadness.  
The truth I’ve realized is that not many of us get to keep our idealized Christmas memories.  We are a broken people, with sadness and grief piled up high.  And there’s just something about popping open the Christmas bins and smelling the fragrances of past Christmases that conjures up feelings and memories that we’d rather just keep neatly packed away.
Last week we were running out the door and I couldn’t find Kate.  She was in the corner, sobbing.  Surprised, I asked her what happened.  “I just miss Annie,” she said.  My heart dropped, her tears mixed with mine, and for a moment I felt like it was all new again, freshly happening.  It was hard, in a good way, and I needed her tears to remind me again not to bury the hardness of what we’ve walked through . . . what we’re still walking through. 
We grieve together and we face life together, not knowing all the answers, but so thankful for Jesus, who understands our sadness and hands us a promise of One Day.