For fourteen years, we had an amazing run of Christmases.
My four girls would wake up my wife, Wynter, and I and beg us to move from our bed to the tree. Wynter would have just finished wrapping the presents three or four hours earlier, as was her tradition, because she wanted to stretch out the gift-wrapping as long as possible. She was exhausted when it was time to rouse, but she would hide every bit of exhaustion and read The Night Before Christmas beside the tree, grateful to be there and excited to give.
I would follow that with the reading of Jesus’ birth by Luke, ensuring that the girls would be thoroughly annoyed just prior to opening the presents. Then I’d pray a long prayer to guarantee that my girls understood that Christmas had little to do with us receiving the physical gifts in front of them and everything to do with us and the world receiving “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
It wasn’t much, but it was ours. For fourteen years. And it was beautiful.
Seven months later, everything changed. Wynter suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
We were devastated, and our expectations for the life we had was dashed by the loss of a woman who was a rock for all five of us. We’ve been resetting our expectations ever since.
As we go into our third Advent season and Christmas without Wynter, we are still trying to figure out how to make sense of where we find ourselves. It isn’t easy, but we are committed to practicing the discipline of celebration. We are choosing to follow in the steps of Paul who, while imprisoned, chose to encourage the people of the church in Philippi to rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
—Philippians 4:4 NIV
Life was different for him than what he expected, I’m sure. And it was harder following Jesus for those in Philippi, who were undergoing persecution, than they probably ever thought. So Paul continued to encourage himself and them to look for God even in the hard. To celebrate.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
—Philippians 4:8 NIV
You see, Paul knew what could change their perspective because he allowed it to change his: celebration. Paul chose to see what God was doing that was good rather than choosing to dwell on what wasn’t.
So can you and I.
My girls and I are choosing that this Advent season again. We are choosing to remember all that God gave us in Wynter and all that God is still giving us now. We are choosing to celebrate.
- What thoughts are you dwelling on this Advent season that aren’t true or helpful?
- What has God done in your life that is worth celebrating?
- What one idea or tradition can you begin this Advent season to celebrate in a tangible way?