I was scrolling on a social media newsfeed shortly after Thanksgiving when I noticed a pattern. Post after post, people who have struggled, or are currently struggling, with life’s circumstances were expressing the same thought: holidays put a spotlight on the things we wish we could change.

The single mom felt more lonely than usual. The divorcee is tired of arguing about custody. The empty spot at the table where Dad used to sit fills those present with fresh grief. The financially strapped family wrestles with the strain of debt and bills even more over the holidays.

And so on and so on.

Upon reading the posts, I was struck with an interesting thought. Maybe the reason we feel that large spotlight during emotionally heightened seasons is because we have been conditioned to believe hard things happen and then we [eventually] return to “normal.” That “when ____ is over, then I’ll ____” line of thinking. The problem with this ideal is that we never really return…normal simply morphs and becomes something new.

“It’s over.”

Those were the exhausted words that escaped my lips when my late husband moved to heaven. In that moment, my weary soul clung to the hope that the worst was over and I had now been ushered into a season of healing and I would soon be my “old self” again.

While in many regards that two-word declaration was true, it left out the reality that when something is over it’s also marks the beginning of something new.

My late husband’s death brought the end of cancer’s reign in my life; but it ushered me, and my kids, into a lifetime of grief. Time has worn off the sharp edges that used to pierce my heart and leave me bleeding. Time has not, however, removed the grief. It never will.

The difficult reality is that hardships in life leave a mark. There’s no going back. There’s no returning to the naive person we used to be.

What if it were possible for us to be changed in such a way that while we still long for those “better days,” we can also see good things in the here and now?

I’ll never forget the heart-stirring testimony of a woman who endured and survived the ravages of chemotherapy while single and very alone. She told us how the only thing that brought a shred of comfort was her bathtub.

While sitting on the edge of my seat, listening to her, my heart broke for the precious, sweet lady. Then she said something that revealed how she had so gracefully navigated such a horrific season in life and came out on the other side radiant.

With tears rolling down her face, she shared how one day while letting the warm water soothe her worn body she was struck with the realization that not everyone has a bathtub. She described how deeply that knowledge had impacted her, and after she had recovered, she went on to start a ministry to the homeless.

Her pain-filled hours in a bathtub changed her. She could have become bitter or filled with self-pity, but because her heart was soft and seeking God, the results were something incredibly beautiful. Because she dared to look past her own struggle, the lives of countless others have been beautifully changed, too.

For some of us, this holiday season can be best represented by Elvis singing Blue Christmas because the lack of someone’s (or something’s) presence leaves us feeling blue. It’s ok, and even healthy, to allow ourselves to acknowledge that sadness. Go ahead and let some tears fall.

But don’t forget that it’s also healthy to acknowledge how Christmas is all about the glorious fact that God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son so that all our sorrows will one day fade completely away in the bright, bright light of His presence. One day we will no longer be on earth celebrating Christmas in spite of all the things that are wrong in our lives, one day all our hardships will be forgotten in the splendor heaven.

And once there, wouldn’t it be amazing to look around and see the faces of people who were brought into the family of God because you chose to let His love shine through all your broken places?

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