I’ve always loved the Christmas season. As a child growing up in a family of 13, I treasured the time we spent together for the holiday. We did cleaning and shopping and decorating, all together; there was a constant crowd and constant activity! Dad would find a huge tree (usually over 12 feet tall) and we would decorate it on Christmas Eve. Then, we would join our church community at a packed midnight service celebrating the birth of Jesus in solemn, yet joyful, worship. Afterwards, we would host an early morning breakfast and fall into bed, only to rise at the crack of dawn to exchange gifts and laugh and sing carols again, all together. Family played a big part in celebrating Christmas for me.

Things have changed, however. While I still celebrate Jesus’ birth with a mixture of joy and wonder, I am sharply reminded of who is missing. I lost my father a few years ago in the midst of a very stressful season at work. The following year, just as I began to regain a sense of normalcy, I lost my eldest brother very unexpectedly. Then last fall, as the trees lost their leaves and the sun seemed to lose its very warmth, I lost one of my sisters. These three family members have impacted me greatly: my father for his faith, hard work, and provision for our family; my brother for his knowledge of the world, current events, and culture; and my sister for her creativity, openness to new ideas, and delight in people.

But I miss them mostly as father and brother and sister, especially in this season. I miss their care and desire to help. They were always there for me and for others when needed. I miss their laughter and quick wit, fully living life, each of them loving me in their own way. I miss the chance they each gave me to enter into their worlds to care for them. Their absence leaves a dark hole in my heart that will not be filled in this world. I am grieving their loss and it is taking time to work through what that loss means to me.

So as I face this long holiday season, I experience light and darkness intermingled. In addition to my own grief, my work as a counselor often shows me more of the dark side of life. But invariably, it also gives me a blessed opportunity. As I come alongside people who are working to persevere well despite the hardships they are facing, we consider together what light there may be to guide, to illumine, to change. And that always leads us to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophesied his coming long ago. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isa 9:2). “He is the lamp for our feet, the light on our path” (Ps 119:105).

As I grieve the separation from my family members and walk similar paths with those I counsel, my heart is stirred to remember that Jesus came into the world to bring life that was “the light of men.” And because he walked among us, he knows the depth of every struggle, and every experience of brokenness or loss that we face. In his love for us, he overcame death and darkness so that I not only can see light—I can be light. I long to reflect that light into the lives of others, as my family has done for me.

For all this, I am so thankful. And I am hopeful—for myself, for my loved ones, and for all the people of this broken world. Though Jesus came two thousand years ago, the darkness has not, and will not, overcome his saving work. My prayer this Christmas is that you will welcome Jesus and know the blessing of his love, his light in whatever darkness you are facing, and his life that overcomes death.