In most of our lives, there’s the public story, and then there’s the other one.

Here’s a recent chapter from my public book:

Some of you may know my husband Rob nearly died of a brain aneurysm in May. Since we have many friends and family members in various places, not to mention our global homeschool community, I shared a lot of our journey on Facebook. After a truly miraculous summer of recuperation, Rob returned to work as a full-time physician in September. We are still celebrating daily as he contemplates a name change to Lazarus, and we attribute his recovery to the grace of the Lord along with many prayers on our behalf.  

But you might not know we’ve had two aneurysms in our family. Twenty-five years ago, in the summer of 1996, our then 8-year-old son, Jeff, suffered a brain aneurysm that left his life hanging in the balance for months. It happened “before the internet,” so much of the account of his excruciatingly slow recovery is in my journal. Like Rob’s situation, the Lord also brought Jeff back from the brink of death in answer to many prayers, but He has not answered our prayers for Jeff’s complete physical restoration in this life. There are weeks and months of empty pages in my journal in which any desire to capture a mother’s still broken heart was overridden by the daily exhaustion of caring for a special needs child who couldn’t sit up, eat or talk, while I tried to care for, let alone enjoy our 3-year-old daughter. 

As we brought Jeff home on December 20th that year, still with many medical needs including a brain shunt and tracheostomy, we sought to comfort our son and ourselves with this reality. I began to search and ask God to help us live in this new reality. Slowly, he corrected my vision. 

I had to understand that as much as it was proper to look back at what Christ has done at Christmas and afterward, we also needed to look forward to what has not yet happened, to the entirety of the hope of Advent. I needed to live in the truth of not just the first Advent, but the second Advent. 

The Lord didn’t show me these things overnight, but, eventually, a better view both behind and forward has helped us live in hope today. We have learned to comfort ourselves with the entire Scripture. Of course, we love to reflect on the miracle of the incarnation, ”God with us.” We worship the baby in the manger, then look beyond the Nativity and pause in wonder at the suffering servant and resurrected Christ. We point ourselves to his second return as reigning King. We need the promises of a new heaven and earth, not the least of which includes a body for our son made whole again. (Philippians 3:20–21)  

It helps us be ready for Christmas.

This corrected view affects the real 24-7 days, as well as Advent, as we come upon the Christmas season year after homeschooling year when we’re exhausted at the thought of Christmas, having barely finished the turkey leftovers. It has helped me love Christmas more.

The account of the people in the first chapters of Luke gives me personally as a mother the most encouragement. I love to contemplate what the chosen of God were doing the day before their world changed.

Take Zechariah and Elizabeth, “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.” (Luke 1:6) Mary, a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. Shepherds, watching their sheep. Weren’t they simply walking in simple faith and obedience? Didn’t they encourage themselves with the Scriptures and with the promises Of God? In days just prior, I wonder if perhaps Elizabeth was overwhelmed with the sorrow of unfulfilled longing. Whether for his own longing or simply out of a desire to relieve his wife’s sorrow, we know Zechariah prayed for a son. I wonder how many times they comforted themselves by reading or reciting Malachi 4—I’ll let you look it up. And then perhaps Elizabeth, in obedience, took a meal to the poor or a new mother, living out the Proverb, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25

Just as daily living and walking in faith today rarely get social media attention, there are many unwritten chapters and verses of women and men responding in faith while they did the ordinary tasks of life. After John was born, Elizabeth and Zechariah had to live the often ordinary routine of raising a son as tired older parents. (Is it just our family, or has anyone else joked about a young John popping grasshoppers in his mouth to impress his parents?) Neither Elizabeth nor Zechariah are included in the later gospel accounts, so I have to assume that John suffered the grief of losing both parents. And he would have been comforted with the genuine hope of Advent by his cousin Jesus. 

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you might be ready for Christmas in a new way this year. Perhaps your Advent vision just needs a little correcting. I know mine continues to need adjustment. 

As we look back at our Lord’s first Advent, we know the Scriptures, familiar but never trite, have been partially fulfilled. May we all live today, this Christmas and into the New Year, in the hope of their completion. May the Lord find us ready for his arrival!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

ISAIAH 9:6-7

Leah’s family. Leah is pictured back row, second from left.

Leah Coll lives in State College, PA and teaches Latin at Wilson Hill. Read more about her and all of Wilson Hill’s teachers on our website here.