puppy at christmas

By: Chip Sekulich, TwelveStone Chaplain

In 1863, during the dark days of the American Civil War, the great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells”.

Eventually, transformed with music, these words would become an iconic Christmas carol:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

And the bells are ringing (peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on Earth)
Peace on Earth, good will to men

Though the refrain is well known, one stanza stands out in opposition, a true reflection of the darkness impacting the country and the poet’s very heart:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on Earth, ” I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

His first wife, Mary, died while miscarrying their child in 1835. However, in 1854 he married Frances Appleton and found the love of his life.  Henry’s dear wife of 18 years loved the celebration of Christmas along with all its trappings; including the Christmas Bells that the churches would ring to usher in Christmas Day. Frances and their children were a source of incredible joy and happiness for the poet.

But once again, tragedy stuck.  In 1861, two years before writing “Christmas Bells”, his precious wife was mortally burned in an accident when an open flame ignited her dress. Her death threw Henry into deep grief and depression.

If the loss of his second wife wasn’t enough, his son Charles joined the Union Army and was severely wounded.  For more than two years following the death of his wife, the great American poet and author of  works such as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” could not write a single word.

As his son Charles recovered, he shared that after being wounded he was carried into a battle-damaged church.  While laying on an abandoned pew, certain he would die, Charles saw one word embossed across the church bell that had fallen from its steeple during battle. That single word renewed the spark of life within and kept him anchored to this world.

That word was “Hope”.

This story of his son finding “Hope” moved Henry deeply and coupled with the ringing of the church bells on Christmas morning 1863 he was able to complete a poem in just one day.  There is a stanza that beautifully describes the source of his recovery:

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth)
(Peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Does Christmas bring you pain? Do the holidays magnify unmet expectations, highlight the empty chair at the table, or remind you of the loneliness and pain of broken relationships?  Take hope my friends… no matter what you see around you, no matter what you have experienced in the past or how bleak the future may look, be sure of this:

 “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”

Just as God helped America’s Poet on his journey from grief and sorrow to renewed hope, the Lord is waiting to renew your hope as well.

If you are struggling, please know that I am here to listen and to pray for you.  You may reach out to me by email anytime at chaplain@12stonehealth.com or by calling my desk and leaving a voicemail at (615) 278-3109.  As always, your communications, conversations and prayer requests are confidential.

May you experience the true blessings of Christmas – and may you have hope, even in great difficulty.