A Night for Weary Hearts

I am grateful to the Calvary Lutheran Church in Alexandria for inviting me to share a story of hope and joy during this Christmas Season, A time of year that spotlights for birth of our Savior. A time to celebrate and be joyful. But what if you are not joyful and you don’t want to celebrate?

Listen for yourself!

Or read the message below!

Ever since I was a kid, this season has had much excitement and anticipation.  What will I tell Santa that I want for Christmas or better yet, will he bring it?  Oh, I hope so, I remember thinking.  My mother would remind me often, you need to be good, or he might not come. Much to my surprise, each year Santa delivered just what I wanted and a little more.

Years later, I recall using this same trick with my own kids.  Better not pout…I’m telling you why!

But then as the years goes by, our lives have ups and downs.  And while Christmas has much anticipation, we may not all be excited. Some of us may experience regret, sadness, loneliness, or loss.

Once of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night”. I love the melody, the words, and the emotion I feel when I truly listen to the song and it’s meaning.  The verse that says… “A Thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn….”

Weary hearts, weary lives, weary world …. Rejoices!

As I prepared some thoughts for today, I was thinking about the last few years. Weary of change, weary of loss, weary grief… it’s everywhere. It also confirmed for me that whether you’ve lost a husband, a loved one, a job, a marriage, a healthy life, or a life free to roam out and about….

Loss is hard…. It’s really hard. It’s harsh and so often unpredictable! Christmastime can put the spotlight on this harshness. Weary hearts rejoice.  Is that even possible?

So where to begin?  My story of loss began 7 years ago …November 1, 2014… a day my life changed forever. That was the day my normal life, my young and vibrant 52-year-old loving husband of 30 years, father of our three children, middle school math teacher, cross country and track coach, mentor and friend to many died after he collapsed on his morning run with our dog Max. It was ….Harsh…shocking and beyond devastating.

Losing a husband left me numb, frozen in life and forced me to change, when I really didn’t want to. Our plans were plentiful…travel, walks with our dog Max, spending our life growing old together, we had talked about it many times. Then suddenly it all changed. Just like that…he was gone! No warning, no planning, and no final goodbyes. But we have all experienced loss, it’s inevitable and no amount of money can stop death and loss. So how do we cope with this loss? For me, it was time to find my way, on my own…. without my husband. A time to untangle our 30+ years together and figure out how to find meaning in the life God had planned for me for my remaining years on earth.

The first days were all a blur, as we were surrounded by family and close friends, caring for our every need. We were guarded and protected and given all the things we needed to survive. Food, laundry assistance and comfort for our broken hearts.

But as our inner circle returned to their worlds, the kids and I began to understand the huge climb we had in front of us.  I was at a standstill… I was in no way ready to enter the real world again… and maybe I never would?

Watching the world around me returning to normal, when I was in no way ready to move forward…. well, it was hard!  It was as though I was at a stop sign and the world around me was whipping past me at 70 miles an hour.  I wanted to scream…stop…just stop…. just for a little longer.  I needed time to catch my breath.

November and December of that first year…. Wow! Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year all fell within a month or so after Randy died, so that holiday season was rough, to say the least. I could not imagine how we would survive that first season, without him at the table.  It was his favorite season of all.  Would we be able to uphold our family traditions…? Baking, shopping, Christmas cards, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, decorating and the list goes on and on…

Grief started to take hold and it took me down paths where I faced fear, worry, and homesickness. The fears of… What is going to happen to me? To the kids? To my life… will I be alone? How will retirement look? What if something happens to me and I’m home all alone?

All the worry… did we plan enough ahead for our finances; how will I be able to travel alone…and all the concern for things that had not even happened yet. Jana, I had to scold myself. Stop it…stop getting ahead of yourself.  Stay here… stay now… don’t worry about it…now.

And the homesickness…a feeling I experienced as a young child as my mom dropped me off at girl scout camp. For days I cried myself to sleep wanting to go “home”, to my house, my bedroom, my family and to be where things were comfortable, familiar, and normal.  That unsettling feeling in your stomach where you just know things are not right and you wonder if they ever will be again.  Homesickness…that’s what I had…

Homesick for Randy, for his laugh, his warm hand in mine, for our life and our family back – all together again.  But it wasn’t going to happen, my mom was not going to pick me up from camp and it would not all be ok again, at least not yet…I was going to have to overcome this homesickness and take steps into the unknown, a world I had not imagined.

In the book of Matthew, we hear from the sermon on the Mount, a strong message about worrying.  DO NOT WORRY, Matthew 6:34 (NIV)… says:  Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

This speaks to me and says…. Step by Step!

Step by step, that was the key … and at times it quite literally had to be just that. Baby step by baby step. Or sometimes it felt like one step forward, two steps back. Just when I thought I was moving forward, something would set me back a few notches? A picture that appeared on Facebook.  A sound that reminded me of Randy. A voice… a smell, the family picture that hangs in our dining room….

Step by step…here and now!  Don’t go to tomorrow, next week, next year…not yet.  It will come on its own.  God was asking me to stay put, stay here~ Listen for his voice and feel His presence now and in this moment. It was a profound thought that carried me through and still to this day as the pit in my stomach rises, I must remind myself…step by step.

Step by step keeps us in step with God’s plans for our lives.

With the Christmas season is upon us, families are preparing for their favorite traditions. Family, friends, food, fun, and everything in between. But for those that have experienced the loss of a loved one, this time of year can add some more uncertainty, anxiety, and stress. Fear of the season is real!

Fear of the unknown, fear of the emotions that will appear or fear of not seeing the loved one at the table. All are fair game during the holidays!

It’s been 7 years since I endured my first holiday season without Randy, a day I remember all so well. I recall as I was writing my book, Finding Norm, Rediscovering Joy Through a Season of Loss, that my editor Carol pushed me to not tell the story but to feel the story.  She kept telling me, “Jana, we want people reading or hearing your story to feel the story not just read it.  We want to experience their senses while reading the book.”

I spent nearly 40 years as a banker and used my writing skills daily with emails and correspondence to clients or the community.  As I sent off my first draft of the book, my editor joked with me, “Jana, we need to take the banker of you and discover the story-teller.”  This went really well for me as I have always had a bit of creative flair to my world.  Being a lefty allowed me to use my creative side often.  But something happened to my mind when I got to the” first’s- section”.  The first birthday, the first anniversary, the many firsts in 2014-2015.  But when I got to Christmas, I got stuck.  I froze and I reverted to my banker writing style again.  I just couldn’t get past it, and I didn’t even know it.  It wasn’t until Carol said, “Jana, either we leave this section out or we have to dig deeper.  If you’re not ready to let us in, I understand but your readers deserve to feel this not just read it.  They need to be there that first Christmas and experience a bit of your loss, pain, and agony not seeing Randy in the room at the many gatherings.”

It was then, that I contemplated just going to Kinkos and printing off 5 copies for the kids and I and be done with the whole book deal.  But God spoke to me saying you’ve come to far.  Let me help you!

Oh my, it was hard, it was painful to write, read, and relive that first Christmas …. There was so much I could share with you about that first Christmas but a God-story I’d like to share briefly is when I went to decorate.

Like many families, we typically spent the Thanksgiving weekend putting up inside and outside lights, trees, and many family heirlooms.  The tree always brought a special time for the kids, Randy, and I as we unwrapped the many ornaments and placed them on the tree. I recall that year in 2014, I dreaded the thought of this but needed to remain strong for the kids and wanted to make sure we had some sort of normalcy in our lives this first year.

Emily, in her junior year of college was staying home after the funeral until after Christmas.  We had worked it out to finish out her semester on-line so she could be home with her family until after the first of the year.  We pulled the boxes out and then Emily went to work at the table writing her research paper.  Matthew was busy too working on schoolwork and the three of us were in the room together with Christmas music playing in the background.

I went to work slowly putting lights on the tree and one by one placing the ornaments on the tree.  Ornaments that stretched back over 50 years … the memories, the joy, the tears, and it all came back to me.  Overwhelming is an understatement. I stopped at one point and just prayed, “Lord, please help me … help me to gain strength with your loving arms around me during this Christmas season. I missed Randy more than I can even express… Lord I need your presence and a feeling that Randy can see us and give us strength.”

I finished the tree and the kids, and I stepped back to relish our work on the final touch of the tree. In a flash, the outlet let out sparks and it traveled through the chords and the lights on the tree.  Smoke came from the plug, and I rushed to unplug…. What got into me, I only could imagine and later realized how stupid that was.  But I laughed, hysterically saying, thank you God and Randy for your warm entrance in the room.  A reminder you are in charge and not me!

So, as I face yet another year, I am reminded of some tips that helped the season go just a little smoother for the kids and me.


First and foremost, recognize that this will not be an easy season. So don’t pretend it will be and certainly do not expect perfection. Give yourself and others around you the grace to know it’s going to be difficult. As much as you are fearful of the holiday, those around will also be on pins and needles, not knowing what to do or how to help. Everyone just wants you to be ok, and let’s face it, there is very little they can do to take the pain away. Offering yourself and your family the space to know it won’t be easy allows you and others to make a few mistakes.

Grace is the face that love wears when it meets imperfection. ~ Joseph R. Cooke

Stop looking for perfection and accept God’s grace!

Plan and Prepare

Planning for the day or days of celebrating can get you in the right frame of mind. I found myself wanting to avoid what was ahead. I wonder how many people want to avoid the thought of what it’s going to be like without their loved one at the table. Honestly, there’s little preparation you can do to overcome this emotion. But planning and taking some time to get yourself in a good headspace can be helpful. How about a few extra treats for yourself? Schedule a spa day, or a pedicure and manicure. Take a little extra time to get your hair done or buy a special scarf or necklace for the day? Schedule a coffee date with a close friend and confidant. Write a blog or craft a poem about your loved one. Taking some time to give yourself a little pampering can help you feel special and cared for.

No. Period.

No. Is a full sentence. 

Rest and relaxation are key to starting the season in a good place. The holidays often can involve more social activities and hectic schedules can really take a toll on your sleep patterns and overall health. Lists and more lists of things to do. Baking, shopping, decorating, entertaining not to mention all the other normal life activities. Maybe it’s time to learn the power of “no”. No….as I was taught early on is the full sentence. No. Period.

No guilt, no pressure, and no expectation. Just no. This is the time to take it a little slower. Give up on doing the Martha Stewart Christmas. You’ve just experienced a great loss. Now is the time to say no to all the hustle and bustle. No.

I remember a group of close friends planned a birthday party for me, my birthday was just a couple of weeks after Randy’s passing.  They thought this just what I needed.  A time to celebrate with close friends and a little Christmas cheer.

A friend and her spouse picked me up at my house and we made a pack… if I started to feel overwhelmed or anxiety takes a hold, just give me a nod and we’ll leave.  She said, “I’ll take the lead and we’ll quietly exit.

Well, I was greeted at the door by the hosts and almost immediately I had an overwhelming feeling that I had made a big mistake.  I entered her kitchen area with food and beverages, people standing around visiting, laughing, and enjoying cheer.  It hit me like a lead balloon.

It’s too soon…I can’t do this.  Randy is so obviously not here and all I want is for him to be here! What was I thinking?  I need to go home where I feel safe and secure.  I toughed it out for about 30 min and my friend could tell I was struggling…consequently we left short after that.

Lessons learned; No. Period is ok.  It really is.

Pick and choose a couple of things that bring you joy, peace or happiness. Attend a music concert. Hide yourself in a new book. Find a Christmas devotion. Or search for a new Spotify music playlist. Find something to give yourself a chance to rest and prepare your heart for the coming events.

Remove the temptation or self-expectation of doing it all, as you’ve always done it. Life is different now. The rules of the Christmas season have all changed. Be kind to yourself and your schedule.

Be Real

This is the time to be realistic with yourself. Expectations of how the season or day will go and worrying about it seem to take hold, but this is not the time to let yourself get too far ahead. Take the days and moments, step by step. Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow is not here yet. This is NOT the time to take any large leaps. Step by step…that’s all you can expect. Some of the steps might be forward, some might even be sideways….and let’s be real, some or maybe even many might be steps backward. That’s ok. Be real, you’ve just gone through a rough patch, the holidays are not the time to expect great leaps forward on your journey. Survival might be your most realistic goal. Be gentle with yourself and set your sights on small steps.


Nothing is strong as true gentleness.  Nothing is so gentle as true strength. The bible reminds us that a gentle answer can calm a person’s anger or broken heart. Gentleness almost always contributes to contentment as well as peace. Jesus Himself was an excellent of the power of gentleness. Psalm 23 is perhaps the most beautiful expression of Jesus’ gentle ways with us.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


This is the season we see this word Joy, over and over! Joy to the World. Joyful, joyful we adore thee. But the little three-letter word is really a choice. A choice you can make every single day, every single moment. Starting each day, before you get out of bed…. find one thing that you can find joy with today. Just one thing. Something that you are grateful for. Shifting your mind from what you don’t have or what you don’t like…take just a couple of minutes first thing, that you can tell yourself you are one lucky person. Changing your mindset to gratefulness rather than bitterness starts with finding those things that are going good in your life. Even if there isn’t a lot…find one thing. Start a holiday gratitude journal with a daily goal of writing an entry. Place post-it notes on your bathroom mirror with the word…gratitude to remind yourself to choose joy. Or download a Christmas devotion and read a daily inspirational message. My favorite app is the bible app, my version. Try this one: Grief Bites: Hope for the Holidays.

This season too shall pass. That might be the best news of all. The season of the holidays or the season of grief will pass. And life does go on. Take this year in stride, allowing plenty of time to be good to yourself and be gentle on others.

I started a gratitude journal that first year and have kept it by my bed ever since.  Somedays I have a long list to add others not so much.  But starting my day thinking about what I’m grateful for helps to shift my mindset to a positive mode rather than “poor me”.  Oh, don’t get be wrong, I had plenty of moments and still do, of self-pity and the why ME’s. But gratitude seems to ground me in God’s word and keeps me focused on the big picture, not this short life on earth.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us: In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Giving thanks is a way of letting go of the things in your life. Letting go is a choice. It’s a way of lifting up your hands to God and looking to Him instead.  Choosing Joy is form of letting go and letting God take charge!

Let us pray….

Dear Lord, thank you for the blessings you have given us even during our period of sadness, grief, and sorrow.  Remind us Lord of your grace and mercy in our lives as we struggle to surrender and let you take the reins.  Lord teach us to take a step at a time and to listen for your voice to lead us and for us to follow you wherever you go.  Lord, in this season of Christmas, help us to be gentle with ourselves and others around us.  Lead us to you and shelter our hearts in your hands. In His name, we pray, Amen!

Christmas Blessings,


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