When Christmas is Hard

The phone rang in the middle of the night.  Our son had been arrested for the murder of his wife’s first husband.  Life as we once knew it stopped.

The first Christmas was brutal.  An empty seat at the dining room table.  An unknown future. Unspeakable pain for the victim’s family and for our family. Why didn’t our all-powerful God stop this horrible crime from happening?

Now, 23 years into our son’s life sentence, we’ve learned some things that I hope will be helpful if you are facing a hard Christmas yourself—or if you know someone in that situation.

  • Grieve your losses.

No, the holidays will never be what you once anticipated.  Shed necessary tears as you see sentimental ornaments, hear a favorite Christmas carol, or review memories of happier occasions.  

  • Concentrate on simplicity.

Christmas doesn’t need to be a lot of work and exhaustion.  A simple scented candle, a favorite meal, or a wreath on the door can be enough when you’re in a hard season.

  • Balance alone time with the time you spend with a few trustworthy people.

Our natural inclination is to turn inward and isolate when we’re hurting.  Be intentional about connecting with a friend and share openly about your journey. 

  • Accept the kindness of others.

When you’re used to being on the “giving end” of compassion, it’s hard to receive from others graciously.  Let a caring friend drop off a meal or help with extra expenses due to your difficult situation.

  • Identify someone who needs help and offer tangible support.

Serving others has been the single most helpful thing Gene and I have learned.  In reaching out to others who are hurting, we’ve shared our story, listened to the life experiences of others, prayed together, and developed supportive friendships.

  • Experience the power of praise.

Play worship music.  Get out an old hymn book and read the lyrics of a favorite song.  Read the Christmas story and express your thanks through prayer for the gift of Jesus, the Savior sent to save the world.

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

Father, You are holy, righteous, and just. I praise You for giving me life. Thank You for patiently guiding me through the good days and the hard days. I give You all that I am as an offering. I want You to be pleased with my choices, my attitude, and my service to You. Thank you for sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world. I glorify Your name.  Amen.

Question:  What are you thanking God for during this holy time of year?

Speak Up for Hope is our nonprofit organization. No one on our staff receives a salary for their many volunteer hours, so your gift goes to your intended purpose.  You can designate gifts specifically for:

  • Inmates and their families
  • Books, Bible studies, and curriculum for classes inside the razor wire
  • Equipment needs in prison chapels
  • Games for visitation areas, so children have something to do with an incarcerated parent
  • Books for the “Read-Me-a-Story” program (inmates reading to their children on video)
  • Scholarship assistance for us to equip people to share the gospel and teach the Word of God globally through Speak Up Ministries.  These gifts can be designated for military spouses or for anyone who needs training.

Give online at www.SpeakUpforHope.org, or call Gene at 586.481.7661 if you’d like to make a tax-deductible credit card donation by phone. Thank you for your generosity.

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  1. Beverly Hollis on 2022-12-23 at 4:52 AM

    Good Morning Carol. Such a blessing you are to so many. I lost my husband just over 3 years ago and it’s been tremendously difficult but I truly try to look to God for and in everything. Your words are very encouraging to me as we experience the empty seat and miss the laughter. This year we decided to return to Florida to continue our family annual vacation, the place where my husband passed. Thanks so much for your encouragement

    • Carol Kent on 2023-01-03 at 11:36 AM

      Beverly, thanks so much for taking time to share a bit of your journey. I’m so sad to hear that you lost your husband a little over 3 years ago. I’m praying that God will remind you of precious memories and that your family will be encouraged as you spend time together.

  2. Lindsey on 2022-12-21 at 9:51 PM

    These words of encouragement mean so much! My brother was sentenced on November 21st to 9.5 years in federal prison. My heart is shattered, some days it physically hurts, and some days it’s just numb. A friend of mine bought me your book as her husband has been in prison for years, and it is amazing! I will continue to pray for you and your family! Please pray for my Brother, his wife and kids and myself! Pray for his salvation! Thank you and Merry Christmas!

    • Carol Kent on 2023-01-03 at 11:32 AM

      Lindsey, I’m so sorry about all your family is going through right now. I can only imagine what a difficult Christmas you had. I’m praying for you, your brother, his wife, and their children. I’m especially praying that your brother experiences a personal relationship with Christ. Have a blessed new year.

  3. Flo on 2022-12-20 at 11:42 PM

    Dear Carol, I have read your story many times as it touched my soul deeply during the time when my son was incarcerated. It sure was helpful to know someone else dealt with the same kind of emotional pain that I was dealing with. You have no idea how much your story helped me in those days when I didn’t know what to do with the tears and anguish. My son was in a Federal prison for 4 years and had since been out now for about 2 years. Christmas is still emotionally painful as most of my family does not want to have him come to our family gatherings. I try not to dwell on this and keep laying it at the feet of Jesus as I know only God can change their hearts. I also have learned that by reaching out and helping others…..as this has brought me much healing. I got involved in a ministry that helps those dealing with any form of addiction. It is amazing how God opens and closes doors to get you where He can truly use you! I sure look forward to meeting you in Heaven someday along with both of our sons!

    • Carol Kent on 2022-12-21 at 8:20 PM

      Dear Flo,
      Thank you for your note. I know how painful it is to have a son who is incarcerated and I will pray for reconciliation with your family. Thank you for your comment about how important it is to reach out and help others. For us, serving others in the middle of our own suffering has been a key to rekindling hope and joy. Have a blessed Christmas.

  4. Kimalea Arrighi on 2022-12-20 at 11:35 PM

    Carol, thank you for sharing your heart with us. Your love is healing. Your words are encouraging. Your life shines. Merry Christmas to you and your wonderful family.

    • Carol Kent on 2022-12-21 at 8:17 PM

      Thank you, Kimalea! It has been a joy to have you in my Speak Up LearnOn Growth Group and in the Speak Up Speaker Certification Course. I feel like we’ve connected as friends and encouragers and I appreciate your heart for doing ministry that matters. Have a blessed Christmas with your family.

  5. Maggie Rowe on 2022-12-20 at 7:49 AM

    Today is the anniversary of my mother’s loss three years ago, and it’s always a hard day. This post should be shared widely as so many are hurting. Thank you, Carol, for using your pain to help countless others.

    • Carol Kent on 2022-12-20 at 1:25 PM

      Thanks, Maggie. My mother passed away 4 years ago on Dec. 17. I’m praying for you right now as you mourn the loss of your mom on this anniversary of her home going. I wonder if our moms have met each other in heaven.

  6. Lynne on 2022-12-20 at 6:49 AM

    Thank you for posting this…it is very helpful and affirming in a season where my father passed just 3 1/2 weeks ago. Have a Blessed Christmas!

    • Carol Kent on 2022-12-20 at 1:26 PM

      Lynn, I can only imagine what a difficult Christmas this is for your family. I’m praying that God will cover you with a tangible sense of His presence and peace as you mourn the loss of your father while celebrating the birthday of the King of Kings.

    • Laura on 2022-12-21 at 5:46 AM

      This is our 5th year of our son’s incarceration, but the first since his trial and sentencing to life in prison. It gets easier but is NEVER actually easy. Covid visitation restricts make for infrequent, unfulfilling visits and it feels like he is slipping away, despite the close relationship we have had.

      Thank you for these practical and heart helping ideas which I will apply as I continue to adjust to this reality and strive to surrender and trust the Lord day by day.

      With appreciation for you carol and your ministry.

      • Carol Kent on 2022-12-21 at 8:26 PM

        Laura, I fully understand your comment that “It…is NEVER actually easy.” COVID restrictions were tough on families with incarcerated loved ones and as year follows year of son’s are more and more aware of what they have lost in personal relationships with people they care about. I’m praying for you and your family right now. Have a blessed Christmas.

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