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when the holidays magnify heartache

This is a re-post from last year – it just felt like the right post to share again today. I adore this time of year as much as the next person, but it never fails that the joy and twinkling lights and peppermint candies are always accompanied by some type of undeniable pain and sadness and loss. If you find yourself not quite in the holiday spirit today, may this post be an encouragement to you …


I’m a dreamer.

Not in the sense that I’m a visionary with lofty ideas or plans. I’m not that type.

I’m literally a dreamer. I wake nearly every morning having dreamt the night before and can usually remember large portions of these dreams. Sometimes they are off-the-wall, make-no-sense types of dreams. Other times, I wake with a deep impression, a clarity, a sense that my dream was not just a dream.

Sunday morning, was one of those moments.

I’ll spare you the details, but the gist was that I quickly delivered a baby boy and he only lived for a few short minutes.

I woke with a broken heart.

I am not pregnant, we are not trying for another baby, it’s not a story I recently read or watched or had a conversation about. There is no logical reason why my sleeping brain would dream about this. Someone told me once that when interpreting dreams, pay less attention to the details and focus on the emotions instead. So I woke, thought about my dream and was compelled to pray.

This time of year is about joy and cheer and merry and bright. There is so much to celebrate, so many delicious smells and cherished traditions, festive parties and happy moments. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

But the holidays also magnify heartache.

The loss of loved ones. Broken marriages. Sickness. Financial struggles. Unexpected hardships. Unrealized dreams. Fears coming true.

These things happen all year long, but it sure seems they pile up during the holidays. Heaps of sadness, heartbreak, struggle, loss come pouring down during this time of year when we should be singing merrily.

I don’t mean to be a downer. I just know there is a lot of pain underneath our glittery sequins – sometimes hidden masterfully, other times oozing out in the least expected moments.

You are not alone.


As I lay in bed on sunday morning, I prayed. I prayed for the mothers who have lost babies. I prayed for the families who are fractured, for those with scary diagnoses, for the heartache and brokenness we all feel. Will you join with me in praying? For relationships healed and bodies made well, for jobs found and hope restored. But most of all, for an unexplainable peace to cover and comfort in the face of trial.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

You are welcome to download and print this quick scripture reminder I made for myself. Share it with a friend who needs hope today or keep it for yourself as a reminder of His loving gift of grace and peace in the midst of ugly circumstances.

grace-and-peace-print(click image to download)


66 thoughts on “when the holidays magnify heartache”

  1. What a coincidence. I had pretty much the same thing happen to me as Stephanie did. I just now found this email in my in box that I somehow missed when you posted it. It really rings true and I too will save it and print out the verse to read and re-read. I lost my husband of 49 years this past March, so the holidays were a bit different this year from other years. I make new discoveries all the time and I’m so happy to have found you, Emily, in my online travels. Your site is so fun and uplifting. I love the things you write and can so identify with much of what you say. Thanks for what you do. I’m enjoying the Illustrator tutorial too!

  2. I didn’t have time to read all my emails during the holiday season and just got to this email this evening. I have to think that it was saved for me for right now. I thank you for the beautiful words, the beautiful prayer, and for bringing this consciousness to all of us. I am going to keep this and read it often. And I will pray for you also, when I do.

  3. Wow, Emily, you only know how well I can relate!
    I didn’t see this post last year. It shows how timeless writing powerful words of truth can be!
    Must be similar to how God’s words are alive…the same yesterday, today and forever!
    Love you!

  4. I have never left a comment for a blog. Never. But I was so moved by this, to tears in fact, that I felt compelled to respond. I enjoy reading your thoughts and ironically they mirror many of the same ideas I have – so much so that I joke to my husband that we must have been separated at birth. Today was no exception. I recently miscarried my son due to a rare trisomy that is incompatible with life. It’s been a couple of months now and life has gotten back into that comfortable and familiar rhythm. Today, however, I was bluntly reminded of my loss and it brought about a full return to the sorrow from which I thought I had moved on. Then this evening I read your blog. Through the tears I understood that people are praying for me, even my pseudo separated from birth sister, Emily. Thank you for your prayers and for the reminder that I am not alone.
    God’s blessings, grace and mercy to you and your family!

  5. What a sad dream. Thanks for the reminder to have compassion for those struggling. BTW, the dreamer in you reminded me of a cool song I listened to yesterday about a dream. It’s called Faust, Midas and Myself by Switchfoot. Their lead singer/songwriter Jon Foreman is the most amazing man, if you don’t know him, you should. I think you will enjoy the story and message of this song. :)

  6. This just came up in my email this morning, this was perfect for what I am personally going through. It is hard at the holidays not to feel guilty about not feeling super happy and merry. Ive spent the last 6 christmas’ without my family as they are in the states and I am in the uk. I have a great church here but the holidays always highlight that I am on my own. And this year was a pretty hard year with loosing my grandma and a few close relationships falling apart, thus making this holiday season more difficult. Thank you for this message it was really encouraging and thoughtful. God Bless- sarah

  7. i’ll be attaching this to the cross wreath we’ll be delivering to the funeral home saturday. two weeks ago was a wonderful celebration where my husband was asked by one of his leading basketball players to present her with her hall of fame award that she would be receiving at the college she attended. he didn’t feel worthy; out of all of the people she could have asked. my husband spoke first. not of her stats, not of her physical greatness, but of her willingness to work hard, to become a leader, to grow as a christian, and as soon as she spoke her first words were that my husband had been her first male role model. that jesus christ had given her abilities that he believed in; that she never believed she could go to college, no one in her family ever had; but he prayed with her, took her to colleges, got scouts there to watch her and cheered her on to do her best to serve God first. it was an amazing night full of tears of joy. and then a week later her 19 year old daughter that she became pregnant with her sr. year of college opened the door at a friends and was shot in the chest by a 46 year old man. she died on the way to the hospital. her daughter also played for my husband at the same high school and my son had just spoken the night before about recruiting her where he is coaching college basketball. this mother, step-father, grandmother, are so strong in their faith i have never seen anything like it….i have been ashamed of myself being sick today going to the dr. feeling like i’ll never get through what needs to be done for christmas; thinking i’ve been in the hospital 2 out of the past 4 christmas eves; wondering if this will be another…..my son hit a deer in his new car after just totaling one in a snow storm, our hvac unit has just died, our plumbing from upstairs has leaked to downstairs, i’ve had breast cancer in early stages this year—NOTHING the Lord isn’t trying to help me learn and grow from……I still have my 2 boys; one of which was married this year! I have too much STUFF–that’s why I can’t get all of this decorating done! We’ve lost my inlaws and new traditions need to be made—it’s hard when everything revolved around them; but they had long, happy lives. A momma and grandmother don’t need this useless crime to have been set before them. But they will see to it that God will be glorified because there was a reason…no matter how deep their hurt. So when we are in our mundane “get it all doneness” of it all—–there is no reason. Hold them tight, read books, break bread, sing songs, bring some greenery into your home, light candles and share what you have with others…..

  8. Thank you so much for expressing what many people feel over the Christmas season, myself being one of them. I remember childhood Christmases when there were no cares or concerns, times of family memories and happiness. Then many of those people passed away and at Christmas there was a feeling of loss, remembering those who were no longer present. Then there were years of sharing Christmas with a new love and the excitement that brings. Years of having a new baby. Years of losing a baby just before Christmas when a kind nurse whispered in my ear just before I was wheeled into the OR for a D&C “I’m so sorry that you have to be here at this time of year” with Christmas music playing overhead. Then the joy of having another new baby.
    Now, there is a feeling of regret, of all the years wasted in pettiness, self-absorption and laziness when so many things could and should have been done better. In my late 50s now, I have children married or in love and a granddaughter, but I still feel like I have missed so much in life and can only thank God for having patience with me when I should have done so much better. I can only pray that I will find a renewed strength and purpose in life by serving him and using the time I have left on earth to lead others to Him and be a blessing to my children and grandchildren. I can only advise others to “seize the day” and use whatever time you have wisely so that you can truly hear that you have fought the good fight and finished the race.

  9. I read this last year and my mom had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. And as I read it again just now, while sitting across from my mom who is now receiving hospice care, it was just what I needed in this exact moment. Thank you.

  10. I am 21wks pregnant right now and have been experiencing terrible dreams of my baby dying. On my last ultra sound they found a cyst on my precious little girls brain. The doctor told us that it could just be a pocket of fluid or it could be a sign of a rare and fatal decease. We will have a better idea what the diagnosis is by 28wks, but in the mean time it is hard to focus on the Christmas celebrations. I am trying to trust God and praying that He will heal my baby, but my dreams seem so real. Your post help me put things into perspective. I know God loves me and I need to rest in His unchanging grace and peace this Christmas. Thanks Emily

  11. Bless you and peace to you for your loss. I recently (Sept, 2014) lost my wonderful husband of 27 years. This will go on my bathroom mirror next to may favorite picture of him. hugs to you and all feeling heartache this season.

  12. Thank you for reposting this. I saw it last year and it had meaning to me. This year it had a different meaning to me. I lost a baby at 21 weeks this year. So this Christmas I would be holding and caring for a 7 week old baby boy had I not lost him. I have dealt with it well because I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. He has my baby and there is no better place to be than in the arms of Jesus. But still for some reason, the Christmas season has opened up wounds. It’s healing and comforting to hear someone else knowledge that sometimes below the surface of all the holiday cheer is hurt.

  13. Tears filled my eyes reading this post this year, but in a different way than they did last year. Last year I had just lost my oldest sister to breast cancer. She was only 36. She had a 4 year old. I was broken. I was broken for myself. I was broken for her husband. I was broken for my nephew. A year later, healing has taken place. For all of us. We are not fully whole. And in some ways we never will be quite the same. But the Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ gives us just what we need for each new day. Thank you again for the reminder. Praying for those struggling with heartache this season.

  14. Love this. I wrote about the exact same thing on Monday. Over thanksgiving, four teens from my hometown were killed in a car wreck, and I’ve been thinking about their families ever since … the pain they will experience during the holidays now and ever more is unspeakable. So many people bear a lot of hurt during this time; thankful God is near them!

  15. These are profound words. Thank you for sharing this. I live in Newtown, CT. This is a tough week for us as we prepare for the birthday of Christ and the second anniversary of our tragedy. I love your beautiful scripture reminder and will print it out for myself and for a friend who lost her sister at Sandy Hook.
    Blessings on your holiday.

  16. I am a dreamer too! I often wake praying for someone and it’s not usually anyone I have talked to or even been thinking of recently. Thank you for sharing and for being so generous with your free prints. I enjoy them all!

  17. i remember reading this post last year and Im so thankful to read it again, as it certainly hits home for me this year. My mom passed away suddenly in June and I miss her so much, especially during this Christmas season. It doesn’t feel right to decorate and celebrate without her. I know my mom loved Jesus, so I know she’s celebrating Christmas in heaven. Trying to find my joy and peace in that, but it’s a daily struggle. Thanks again for your post ;)

  18. Love this. I am also a dreamer, often weird, but mostly about too much pressure that I put on myself. My dreams are often being back in school, trying to get to my finals but realizing I haven’t been attending 90% of the classes. Or trying to walk but not being able to actually move my feet fast enough.

    I love this time of year but do also see the heartache it can bring. We have many celebrations, but also loss- it’s always a weird balance. It’s hard to see the joy sometimes, but remembering the celebrations of the birth of our Savior always helps me remember what’s important. Love the verses and printables.

  19. I read your post last year but did not comment at the time, however, this year I felt led to say something. Your post was lovely & lets those out there know that they are not alone in their struggles regardless what they are. I am a Stephen Minister at our local church. There are many churches in the USA that have Stephen Ministry programs. We are not counselors. We are trained to walk with those in need–emotionally, physically, whatever. To help them verbalize their feeling & find solutions to their problems. Our church knows that there are those this holiday season that do not feel the Ho, Ho, Ho, Joy, etc. of the season. In order to address this, we offer what we call a Blue Christmas service every December. This is not a morbid, drowning in my sorrows service. It is an uplifting service where they can come & light a candle from a lost loved one, talk to a Stephen Minister, pray with one but only if they want. We never force our religious beliefs on anyone; we are only there to provide a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on & we usually cry with you. I urge those that are regulars on Emily’s blog to find a Stephen Ministry near you. Go to http://www.stephenministry.com & you will find member churches across the country. Merry Christmas & God’s blessings on you all.

  20. thank you. thank you for sharing. I am not alone. I have vivid, crazy wild, dreams. they disturb me, this morning I awoke thinking I had breast cancer. I don’t! I won’t! I had to give it to God and pray that those around me will be fully healed and free. I can’t take that on! Thank you for sharing. I am going to meditate on the word

  21. Without going into details I want to let you know that your words were exactly what I needed to hear. I’m writing this as tears lows down my face, knowing of the inevitable pain that is growing in my heart.
    For this moment I’m reminded that I’m not alone.

    Thank you for this.

  22. I am new to this site and today received this. I want to tell you Thank you!! I have experienced loss in my family and now have a neighbor who lost her father and brother this year. I have been thinking about her a lot and wasn’t sure how to reach out to her. This card will be a great help.

  23. Thank you, Emily. I am a new reader and I want to thank you for your blog. You have such a loving, sharing, spiritual heart, and I am so happy I found you.

    Best wishes for a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    1. I was just going to pop in a give a quick read before I got my students ready to go home. Now I’m sniffling and red eyed. But thank you. Yes I will agree with you in prayer for those (of us) who have heavy hearts under tinsel. Bless you.

    2. I immediately printed these for my co-worker who has been recently diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. I am not sure where she is spiritually, but I know this verse will mean the world to her. Thank you.

    3. Thank you so much for this post. I have always loved Christmas, it has always been my favorite holiday. However, this year I am really struggling with loving it and enjoying it as I always have and just wanting it to be over. My husband passed away in August, so this Christmas is different for me. I never expected to be writing those words at this stage in my life.
      I am grateful for the time that I had with my husband and so grateful that he strengthened my faith in God. I love the verses, because it reminds us that as unbearable as our circumstances seem we are not alone.

      1. I’m so sorry, Felicia. Praying for you right now that you will experience more of that unexplainable peace through these next few weeks. You truly are not alone. xoxo

    4. Thank you so much for this lovely post. What a blessing it is! Its timing is perfect as we are in the midst of a dreadful diagnosis for my husband of 30 years. I am thankful he is here now and as healthy as today brings. I so appreciate your kindness in sharing.

    5. A little over 2 years ago my husband and I lost our baby boy who was stillborn at 22 weeks. He was perfect, I unfortunately was diagnosed with cervical incompetence. Theres nothung more devastating thanto realise that your perfectly healthy baby passed away because your body failed. 2 years on I am in a much better place and by the grace of God we now have a little boy he’s 6 months. I wake up some days and wonder what life would be like if he was here. Although I feel God has released me from the pain I felt back then I still have moments when I stop and think about him and the world seems to stand still for a minute. I really appreciated finding this in my inbox this morning, thank you for reposting it.

    6. It’s a blessing to me that you posted this again today. Yesterday was the seven year anniversary of my little brother’s suicide, he was 32 and a daddy of two little kiddos, a seven (almost eight) year old daugher and a son, not quite 5.

      I wrote the following to my husband this morning, “I wanted to say thank you again for all of the sweetness you poured out on me yesterday. I don’t know why the actual “day” seems to get to me so much but I guess it’s the anniversary of the day my life changed forever. I haven’t really enjoyed the Christmas season like I used to in over seven years but I try to be sure I don’t show it to the kids, it’s supposed to be a magical time but I’m usually in a funk and have to really concentrate on not letting it take over. I woke up today with a deep breath and a “let’s do this” attitude so hopefully I can start focusing a little bit more on work and Christmas preparations!!”

      And I wanted to send a thank you to you too…we can forget that people are hurting, families are changing, and what we lack can be magnified at this time of year. We will soon creep up on the loss of my mother-in-law at the end of January. The wonderful woman whose focus of her life was the family vacation to Minnesota (she started planning every year in January until we met in late July) and Christmas (which she started planning the minute she recovered from vacation until we gathered together on December 24th). We know we WILL survive without her but no one will be quite as joyful as we have been. Things are different now and rely on each other more than ever. People pour their love and caring out on us this time of year and though it helps, it can’t entirely take away the pain.

      Thank you for sharing!!

    7. This post serves as a reminder that even when our dreams do not make sense, our prayers do, and I have been praying for a young family whose lives were changed not long ago when their newborn daughter was stillborn. Throughout these difficult days, they have shared of God’s great love for them. HIs grace and peace have indeed been theirs in abundance. Thank you, Emily, for sharing this scripture to download, and I will make a copy for them in the hopes that they will find comfort.

    8. My heart is not in Christmas. Our tree is assembled, but undecorated. Our house looks like, well, it never looks like it does right now. All three of us are struggling with grief. Eight months ago my father went “home” to be with Jesus. It happened shortly before Easter. Can you imagine spending Easter in Heaven? Now we are at Christmas. He loved Christmas. Mom, my brother, my husband, my son and I are really struggling to get through this 1st Christmas. Grief slams you in the face when you least expect it. We will soldier on. We have hope. We have promise. We have our Savior who was born at Christmas! That is what gets us through each tear that gathers. If the tree doesn’t get decorated, so be it. As long as we celebrate Christ’s birth and spend time as a family with joy and laughter that will be what is important.

    9. It’s funny how the holidays can remind us of all the things we don’t have, isn’t it? Whether it’s loved ones we’ve lost or personal losses.

      My husband and I cannot have children, and while that’s something we have worked hard to heal from and move forward, this is a time of year that reminds me of it. I’m not ungrateful or sad, just reminded of what I don’t have—whatever that means.

      Thank you for posting this again; I loved it last year and still love it this year.

    10. Thank you. I had just sent a discouraged email to my Mom, after I hit send I saw your email with a new blog post pop up. Tears are streaming down my face. Just what I needed to read. thank. you. Xoxo.

    11. This post meant so much to me last year as we were in the days following the birth of our daughter(born the very morning you had this dream) and the unexpected diagnosis of Trisomy 21(Down Syndrome). It was such a poignant reminder of the Lord’s hope and peace…during a very emotional and uncertain time as we didn’t know what her health and future would be. We celebrated our sweet girls first birthday on Monday and the Lord has been so faithful to speak His hope and peace to us throughout this year! Blessings to you and thank you for reposting!!

      1. Hi Emily….I’m sure that you have touched a lot of people with this post! I feel so thankful that I came across your site! Have a wonderful Holiday!

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