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Erin Stewart shares how she coped with infertility at Christmastime.

Have you ever looked at a baby Jesus in a Nativity scene and felt nothing but anger?

I have. It happened for almost three years. As we tried unsuccessfully to adopt for years, the holiday season only seemed to bring into sharp focus the fact that I could not have a baby. That little baby in the Nativity seemed to mock me because it felt like everyone was pregnant or adoring their babies when I couldn’t be.

Each year, I’d look at the fifth stocking I bought on a hopeful whim, determined to have a matching set when our family of four finally expanded. Then I’d lay it back in the box, wondering if it would ever hang on our mantle.

I’d get Christmas cards with happy, smiling families with gaggles of kids. I’d put up my big, red joy sign and feel a twinge of guilt that I didn’t feel joyful. I’d hear the songs proclaiming peace, and it felt like a command that I simply couldn’t follow. How could I find peace when my family was incomplete? How could I find joy when my heart felt so heavy?

And I already had two children. I can only imagine the heartache of couples struggling with infertility who have no children at Christmas, or those who may have lost little ones. I’m sure the holidays hit them hard, as they did me for many years. As everyone else is shopping and wrapping and feasting, I know there are people struggling quietly with another negative pregnancy test, a failed adoption or a reminder of little feet that used to run down the hall on Christmas morning.

Last year, I finally hung up that fifth stocking on my mantle, and I won’t lie, it felt good. I felt like somehow I deserved it for all my waiting and faith. Somehow I had earned it. But this year, I find myself thinking about all the people who are waiting, wishing and searching for the joy, for the promise of peace at Christmas. Have they earned it any less?

Absolutely not. I don’t know why some people have to wait for the children that seem to come so easily to everyone else. I have no answers because honestly, there are no satisfactory ones. I don’t believe every hardship is a lesson in disguise. I don’t believe God just makes us wait so we can learn something or become more faithful or reach the depths of sorrow so we can appreciate a blessing when it finally comes.

I think sometimes, life just hurts. For no fair reason.

But I also believe in a God who hurts with us. He wants us to find joy. To find peace. That’s why of all the words we volley about at Christmas, there is one that I hold the most dear: Hope.

Not a hope that things will work out the way we want. My family looks nothing like the one I imagined years ago when I was young and naïve and thought I could plan my babies like a grocery list.

The hope I’m talking about is a hope that someday, all will be well. All will be made right. That may not even happen in this lifetime, but it will happen.

So for anyone who feels they’re not quite finding the joy or peace of the season this year, my wish is that you can find hope, the crowning gift of Christmas. Cling to the hope that he will one day take away the hurt and the heartache. Nurture the hope that you can hold on until he does.

Embrace the hope that miracles happen. They happened on that Christmas night, as a light shone from an impossible star on an impossible moment in a manger. Shepherds ran, hope burning in their eyes, hope moving their feet toward the truth. Could this be the child? Could this be the Savior?

They knew that brilliant star meant one thing: He has come. Not to take away the pain. Not to stop our hurt. But to feel it with us. To know the anguish, the loss, the humanity. He came to suffer, ultimately to death.

And then, he conquered it. For us.

So that even in the darkest night, the light can remind us that because of a babe born in a manger — because of him — hope lives.