Christmas is something I truly anticipate.

As soon as the leaves turn, I start looking forward to stringing the lights and decking the halls. Once my girls were old enough to join in on the fun, I loved having little elves—er, I mean helpers—to join me in the spreading of cheer. Our favorite family tradition has become lighting the Advent candles. I am an easy target for all the commercialism of Christmas, but as we light those candles and read the words of hope and joy and peace interwoven throughout God’s story, I am grounded in the true meaning of Christmas. In the glow of candlelight and cadence of Scripture, I anticipate the chapters yet to unfold in God’s story.

But last November, we said good-bye to our foster daughter a day before Thanksgiving, and the emptiness that was left in our hearts and home felt too dark to fill with light, too deep to fill with hope. This season of joy celebrated in a baby’s birth, and hope placed in the promise of His return, felt empty. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t anticipate Christmas. I couldn’t anticipate anything.

My husband, in an act that could only have been inspired by God’s Spirit, reached out to our faith community and asked for encouragement. A request so simple, it was brilliant: leave us a voicemail. Those voicemails were played from our car to our living room to our girls’ iPods when they couldn’t sleep at night. In the days that followed, our faith community rallied around us in ways big and small. They wrapped us in words and hugs and food and hope. Hope doesn’t give you the answers to your questions, it doesn’t provide a solution to your problem, but it helps you look up and anticipate the rest of the story—the rest of God’s story.

How to Create Anticipation Before Christmas

Each week, as we lit a new candle in our Advent wreath, our anticipation grew. We started to anticipate joy, and we found joy—in words of encouragement, in a comforting hug, in a hot meal. We started to anticipate peace, and we found peace in a promise found in Scripture, in a prayer shared for our foster daughter, in a community that shared our burden. We were loved so deeply that we started to heal. Christmas reminds us that it’s okay to be broken, for it is Christmas that celebrates a Savior sent to heal.

We lost our footing last Christmas, and without the arms of a faith community to catch us, we may have lost our hope. But those arms acted as the hands and feet of Christ and carried us through to a place where we could anticipate not just the season but the story still unfolding.