When Your Holidays Don't Turn Out As Expected

You followed all of the advice. With tenderness and care, you purchased all of the tagless clothes and made the sensory-friendly accommodations. You examined all of the lists for the best Christmas toys for children with special needs. And you made dietary choices that would best suit your child's restrictions. STILL your holidays aren't as you expected.


Anyone who has taken even a cursory look at Cynthia Rylant's classic book THE RELATIVES CAME knows the struggle. While we love our relatives to pieces, they each can be so very different from us. Their frame of reference is different, even if we grew up in the same family. Tact can be near absent with their comments, unsolicited advice, sneers, or ignorant questions. They don't know any better.

I can remember such hurtful statements from each side of our family, "Do you think our sister's kids have that genetic disorder because she did so many drugs when she was young?" "Well, it's not like he's going to die or anything, is it?" "Don't expect anyone to feel sorry for you," "Maybe if you fed her less sugar." The comments go on and on. In fact, the faux pas should just be expected at times when the family is together.

This past summer we had a reunion with my husband's family. It was surprisingly refreshing because it was the first time in over 16 years that we didn't have to muddle through painful words. We have just come to anticipate them as part of the package. But there have been plenty of holidays where we have been crushed by the hurtful judgment of relatives, the time together not as expected.


How many of us have spent holidays in an emergency room? Or with a child hospitalized? Or hunkered down in crisis alone at home?

When it comes to holidays, we should expect the unexpected. Cooking will be interrupted. Shopping will not get done. I once had a flood of family pouring through my front door as we tried to give our son an emergency IV infusion on Thanksgiving Day. They wanted to know why the game wasn't on the TV while we were praying the children's program would distract our son long enough to get the line in his pudgy toddler arm. I wanted to cry and rock in a corner, but I still had a turkey to get on the table.

Aside from medical crises, we are also more vulnerable to financial crises. The flood of bills for therapies, surgeries, and medications can kick those holiday expectations right out from underneath our hard-working feet. Lose a job anywhere along the line and that can feel much like the dreaded anvil plummeting down upon Wile E Coyote's head.

The Unexpected

Despite knowing all that we face, life changes. Our children change. New challenges can surface. I can recall a holiday season where a new allergic reaction nearly took our youngest daughter's life. That emergency room nightmare is emblazoned on my memory forever.

School still happens in the midst of all of this chaos. We hear from staff more often as our children attempt to regulate amidst all of the excitement of the season. Christmas pageants and programs? They can feel like torture as we pray for our child to cooperate just long enough to appease the relatives in attendance.

One Hope

Rather than wallowing in our woundedness we need to embrace these times of extreme disappointment as teachable moments for our souls. Life will always fall short. Friends will always let us down. We, of all people, can most certainly affirm that crises will continue to happen when we least expect them. Instead of wrestling with tortuous thoughts like, "Will this ever get better?" or "Why can't we just enjoy a simple holiday?" we need to reframe our mindset to that of, "I am so grateful that You are reliable, Lord, when my world is completely unreliable," or "No matter how my holidays turn out, I am so glad that You are always with me."

The simple fact is that we humans like to make big plans and unwittingly believe we are in control. When those expectations fall short, even when we weren't aware that we were entertaining them, we can feel upset, disappointed, stressed, and even despairing. Not until we get those expectations focused on the One Hope that will never fall short will we find ourselves calmed in the chaos. Once we rest in Christ, the outcome of a party or another person's treatment become far less important. Cradled in the unchanging nature of our Loving God nothing can unsettle us for long. Our resiliency increases.

Keeping focused on the One who put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood can help transform our tribulation into a glass that is MORE than half-full. I encourage you to join me in quiet awe and amazement of the Christ-child, who blew apart every worldly expectation to show us that he is Lord of it all.