Prayer, Creativity & Faith

When the joy is hard to find

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, well, let’s just say whatever wisps of joy I’d managed to salvage fizzled out too. Nothing was the same, and I didn’t feel like celebrating. Not a big surprise, but also not something I had much desire to change.

Along the way, a little over a year ago, I met this sweet, sunny, vivacious woman named Jodie at the Suzie Eller Retreat. Loved her right away, and enjoyed her even more the second year we attended together. She’s all about prayer and spreads love, genuinely, wherever she goes.

Last year I discovered that she had hit upon a meaningful way to celebrate Christmas. It was all about meeting God under the tree in prayer, and she had written prayer prompts for each day of Advent—kindred spirits, right? When she asked me if I’d put together a prayer calendar to go with the release of her new Advent devotional, of course I said yes.

And then the unthinkable happened: Jodie’s 22-year-old son died suddenly in a tragic incident. Every time I looked at my own son, I could barely hold it together. I saw pictures she posted online with her son, and the way they interacted in those photos reminded me so much of my son and me that it completely broke my heart. A group of us who were brought together by this retreat have been praying our hearts out for her and her family, feeling the loss so deeply that it can only be explained by God’s intercession. That’s one of the most beautiful gifts of praying for someone else—I can’t explain how it happens, but I’ve experienced firsthand how God allows us to experience some of the love HE has for that person. It changes your connection to them, and it expands your awareness of the loving character of God. It’s a beautiful thing—even when the prayers are initially prompted by sorrow.

I haven’t written about what happened to Jodie anywhere because it felt too private. I don’t want to attempt to co-opt her tragedy for my own purposes, nor do I want to suggest that what I feel in any way compares with what she feels. But today I’m telling you about her for one important reason. Watching Jodie’s faith, seeing how deeply rooted she is in the truth of God’s goodness and love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s impossible, even when she is hurting and angry… well, it has changed me. I now have witnessed first-hand what it means to have a sustaining, life-giving faith. I’m watching her feel her way forward, spending time with God in prayer, feeling compassion for others affected by this horrific accident, always looking for God in the midst of the sorrow and pointing people towards God without fail.

Jodie inspires me tremendously—because she reminds me that the joy God offers is not dependent on circumstances. But this is not something new. She’s having to live out her faith in a way she never wanted to, but it didn’t just start right here. Rather, the roots of her faith go deep, and they were planted in joy.

Jodie’s brand new book, Jingle and Joy, just came out last week and popped straight to #1 in Amazon’s prayer category. I had the privilege of reading it before it released, and what struck me the most was the joy filling the pages. It’s full of deep insights in short devotions, just right for busy women during the busiest time of the year. And to make it even better, it’s all about finding that joy through time spent in prayer. Prayer is where we can find peace, and it’s where we grow closer to God.

I look back now at my stubborn refusal to enjoy Christmas because it wasn’t on my own terms, and I see how immature that response is. We all have situations and people and losses and sorrow that interfere with our ability to celebrate sometimes. But I think this book is a great first step towards finding our way back.

So today I am honored to be able to offer you my free December prayer calendar with Jodie’s prayer prompts. To download it, click here.

And since this is a season of giving, I’ll also be giving away a free copy of her book. To enter, leave a comment after this post (or on my post about this book on Facebook) sharing what your biggest struggle is with keeping your thoughts on the meaning of the season. I’ll pray through your responses, because prayer can change things we can’t, and because this time of year can be especially hard. I hope that you will consider grabbing a copy for yourself, and one for a friend. As another friend said, this book is a great addition to your nightstand this season. 

More than that, though, it’s about what it will do for your heart… what God longs to do, if you’ll just slow down and sit with Him. He’ll show us, individually, personally, the abundant gift we have to celebrate at Christmastime—and always.

One quick note: you’ll see that this calendar looks different than my usual ones. For one thing, it’s vertical, and for the other, it was designed as a perpetual calendar, which is meant to be used year after year, and therefore does not have the prompts in a calendar grid under headings for each day of the week. I was going to create a version of this in my usual format for use by my subscribers, but honestly, I liked the one I did for her better. So if you’re someone who collects these and is aggravated by the inconsistency, please forgive me. It’s a one-time thing, I promise :-).

7 Responses to “When the joy is hard to find”

  1. Leslie Kane says:

    Thanks for creating a prayer calendar to compliment Jodie’s book! I plan on giving your calendar as a gift to many friends for the holidays. The hardest struggle to find joy this holiday is to know Ryan is no longer with us.

  2. Kelly O'Dell Stanley says:

    Leslie, I will be in prayer for everyone who loved Ryan and his coworkers and is especially missing them this year at Christmas. I’m so sorry.

  3. Kendra Bargen says:

    I love this

  4. Kendra Bargen says:

    (Sorry… hit “return” before I meant to and wasn’t able to edit my first post!) I loved reading this and am praying for all who are mourning the loss of Ryan and other friends and loved ones. I, too, am struggling a bit to get into the holiday season this year, as I lost my adopted grandpa from church last month. Having lost three of my four grandparents all around the holidays, one would think I would be getting used to it and going with the flow… not the case… it gets harder each time, and I knew my adopted grandpa for 17 years. I miss him deeply.

    • Kelly O'Dell Stanley says:

      Kendra, that’s the thing you don’t hear people talk much about—each loss is compounded by the next one. I think it DOES get harder… praying that you will share your sadness with God and lean on Him. And praying that you will find joy in the midst of it.

  5. Susan says:

    My “hardest thing” about the holidays is that husband is in prison for something he didn’t do – 13 years so far and at least 12 to go unless God is merciful and cuts his travail short – and my children and grands are over 2000 miles away. I cannot be with anyone close to me. Holidays have become “just another day” and often “just another work day.” I do try to make it special by baking for the mailman and neighbors, putting up the decorations and emailing my husband a picture, wrapping something under the tree for him. It seems futile because he cannot really enjoy any of it. The only comfort I have is Jesus, and the one afternoon a week I can sit and talk with my husband on a visit.

    • Kelly O'Dell Stanley says:

      Susan, I can’t imagine. I’m so sorry for all you’re going through. My prayer for you is that you feel the comfort of God’s presence. God bless you.

Leave a Reply