Trusting God When Tragedy Interrupts Tradition

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

The "unexpected" can warp our Christmas preparations in surprising ways. As we turn the corner from Thanksgiving into Christmas, Pat Layton shares a story of how she found new joy in the unexpected of her life.


Trusting God When Tragedy Interrupts Tradition

By Pat Layton

In our family, Thanksgiving always meant gathering around my parents' dining room table. Each year we pulled up more chairs as the family grew. Thanksgiving of 2010 challenged that sense of certainty and tradition.

Within hours after that Thanksgiving dinner, my sister called me with the tragic news that our dad had suffered a fatal heart attack. The weeks that followed my dad's passing were like a thick fog, a viscous mixture of anger and grief. This wasn't fair. Every Christmas season up to then had been full of joyful memory-making: baking, shopping, decorating and celebrating the birth of Jesus. But that year tragedy interrupted tradition and our extended family was lost. Every one of us needed to find our way to build a new tradition while trusting God and believing that his love surrounded us.

First, our middle son apologetically reaffirmed their plans to visit his wife's family in North Georgia for Christmas. I assured him that it was perfectly ok, even while I cringed inwardly at the thought of their absence. The next call came from our oldest son sorrowfully stating that he just couldn't face Christmas without his beloved Pappa. Their family was also headed to the mountains for Christmas in a cabin. As the days went by and the grief deepened, my husband, youngest daughter and I began to realize that, not only would our Christmas not have my dad, it would not include our 2 sons, 2 treasured daughters-in-love and our 5 grandchildren. I was devastated.

After some passionate prayer and heartfelt discussions about leaving my mom during such a difficult time, my husband and I decided to join our sons and gather as a family at Vogel State Park in the North Georgia mountains. I hesitantly approached my mom with the plan and invited her to come with us. She encouraged me, as I had encouraged my own children, to go find my way. I cried during the whole drive. I couldn't believe I was actually leaving my mom and sisters at such a sad time. Yet, at the same time I felt God's peace filling my broken heart, reminding me to trust him with our collective grief.

In the days leading up to Christmas I started to see a new shape of things. God's own evergreen trees and brilliant stars filled every space with the sounds and scents of life. I began to surrender traditions I had so tightly held, and slowly embraced what was new. Grown-ups chattered leisurely in front of a roaring fireplace and the kids enjoyed the outdoors. No hustle and bustle. No lines. No malls. No crowds. No "to do" lists. I felt a sense of hope in the midst of the tragedy.

I called my mom several times each day to discover that God had also set her Christmas up quietly and tenderly with a few close friends and family members. It turned out that she needed a new tradition as well, after more than 50 Christmases with my dad. God, in his good love and tender ways, had given us all what we needed.

On Christmas Eve at the cabin we brewed hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows and munched on cranberry muffins in front of what our grandsons dubbed as the "biggest fire in the world." Our middle son's family was coming the next day. The cold got colder and the stars lit up the park. It seemed perfect ... and then it was. Christmas morning I woke up to smoldering fire embers and a deep chill. My husband grabbed boots and a coat and trudged to the door to get more firewood. He swung the front door open and gasped. Snow was pouring from the sky! The ground was covered and our grandsons were barreling down the winter white hill towards us in utter delight. North Georgia was experiencing its first snowfall in more than 15 years! My tears mixed with the melting snowflakes and I thanked God for such a sweet miracle, our very first white Christmas.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that even when I don't see what you are doing with the heartbreaks of life, I can trust that you are there. I can trust that you see me. I can trust that your plan is being worked out in my life and the lives of those I love. Help me see you this Christmas. Amen.

Read more about Pat Layton's quest to a "less hustle, more holy" Christmas in her new holiday devotional book A Woman's Quest to an Unstuck Christmas available in 3 versions at Pat is the author of 7 books including Life Unstuck: Finding Peace with Your Past, Purpose in Your Present and Passion for Your Future (Revell, 2015) Pat lives in sunny Florida where she enjoys the glitter of "White Christmas" from a ribbon of sand known as Longboat Key.