Finding Hope When Christmas Doesn’t Look the Same

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

By Amy Mullens

God's Brave Women - Amy's Story


“Mom, we have to make a way to be able to see some family at Christmas time,” my eleven-year-old daughter pleaded.


She had just put words to the lump I had been carrying around in my throat for the past several weeks.


Later that morning, I walked along the river that runs through our town, wrestling with uneasiness in my heart. November was upon us and the possibility of getting to see any extended family for the holidays was looking slim.


Two and half years ago, our family had moved to England to help plant a church in a place that sorely needed one. Our kids, now aged 17, 14, 11 and 5, had grown up surrounded by family in Northeast Pennsylvania. Christmas time had been filled with traditions with loved ones. Last year, my parents came to the UK for Christmas and this year, the plan was to go back to the States. But, then 2020 happened. November brought a national lockdown for England and a ban on all international travel.

The wind whipped my hair and I began to remember experiencing these same feelings of agitated instability from Christmases before. . .


Growing up, Christmas dinner at my Grandmother’s was the height of our celebration. The decorations at her house were to the point of almost overboard, which left a magical result. Her house smelled like Christmas (aka: delicious things to eat). She paid attention to who liked what and aimed to make everyone feel special by preparing their favorites. Her battle with cancer gave our family the gift of knowing which Christmas would be her last, and we celebrated in her home, with everyone pitching in to make things like she always had done––we were holding onto tradition for one last year. She died the following September.

The first Christmas after she passed away, I felt like the oxygen had been removed from my atmosphere. How would we celebrate without her? My dad’s birthday is two days before Christmas and I wanted to make a special dessert for him that year. I went to the recipe box my grandmother had given me to look for her pecan pie recipe. On the bottom of the recipe she had written: “Your dad really likes this pie.” Her love for her family lived beyond her in how she taught us to pay attention to what the ones we love enjoy. We miss her always, but new traditions have replaced the old, and we are able to pass the way that she loved her people onto the next generation.


"We miss her always, but new traditions have replaced the old, and we are able to pass the way that she loved her people onto the next generation."


Four years ago, at the beginning of November, we received a call telling us to be ready to leave for Ethiopia within 24 hour’s notice. Everything was in place, except for one document, for us to go to court and adopt the baby girl whom we had been waiting a year to bring home. The heartache I carried around longing for her was ever with me. November began to wear thin and the document was not materializing. A fellow adoptive mama who had also adopted from Ethiopia called me the day after Thanksgiving and said, “Girl, get on a plane. If you show up, that document will show up.”


"We had been told to prepare to be in the country for a month to complete the legal process. I was now grappling with Christmas. If I left to try to bring home my baby, I may not get to be with my three other children for Christmas."

We had been told to prepare to be in the country for a month to complete the legal process. I was now grappling with Christmas. If I left to try to bring home my baby, I may not get to be with my three other children for Christmas. We prayed asking for God’s guidance. My dad offered to go with me, so our kids would not be left without parents the entire time. On the 29th of November, my dad and I flew out on a mission to get this baby home. We met with our adoption agency and three days later, the missing document appeared. Court was going to be that week! Throughout the whole process, I kept telling people we needed to hurry because I wanted to get back home for Christmas.

“When is Christmas again?” they repeatedly asked. (They celebrate on the 6th of January in Ethiopia.)

“2-5 of this month,” I emphasized and held up my fingers to signify the numbers, wanting to be sure I was understood.

My husband and oldest daughter joined me in Ethiopia as his signature was needed on one document, but then, their tickets dictated that they return to the US, leaving me to finish the process. There was just one step left: US immigration.

The proceeding steps of the process were not complete until Thursday and on Friday, their US immigration offices are only open until 11:30 a.m. Our adoption agency told me to email and beg for an appointment on Friday morning. The internet was not working at our guesthouse, so I ran across the street to a café. The woman working there asked for a birr to use their computer. Desperate, I knew that I didn’t have this small amount of money with me. I shoved my hand into the pocket of my backpack and miraculously pulled out a birr!

Before I had even finished my email, the driver ran into the café and said,

“Amy, get into the car! The agency has called and you have been given an appointment!”

We flew through the streets of Addis Ababa with my 16-month-old daughter strapped to my chest. Within thirty minutes, we were in and out of US Immigration, visa in hand, ready to go home for Christmas.

Later, my husband told me he and our daughter had prayed in the airport chapel in Vienna where they were laid over. Moments later, he received my text! Me and our baby girl would be flying into Philadelphia on the 18th of December!

What a crazy week before Christmas that was. If it wasn’t on Amazon Prime that year, it wasn’t happening, because everything was just thrown together. But, it didn’t matter. God had given us a Christmas miracle in bringing us home. To celebrate together the adoption into God’s family that Jesus made possible by coming to this planet was the most important thing.

"God had given us a Christmas miracle in bringing us home. To celebrate together the adoption into God’s family that Jesus made possible by coming to this planet was the most important thing."


As followers of Jesus, Christmas holds a sacred place in our lives, as it should. However, we have to be able to filter through what really matters surrounding this celebration.

Christmas 2020 is not going to be an easy, all traditions fulfilled, kind of holiday for anyone, I dare say. If we are not careful, we could let the “if only’s” overshadow the fact that God in the form of a baby named, Emmanuel, became one of us to let us know that He is near.

"If we are not careful, we could let the “if only’s” overshadow the fact that God in the form of a baby named, Emmanuel, became one of us to let us know that He is near."


“Yet in the dark street shineth

The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.”

The above words of, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” have meant a lot to me this Christmas. As we watch government regulations unravel what we thought our holiday would look like, may each believer remember all of our hopes and fears truly are met, kept and fulfilled in the precious Baby Jesus. Merry Christmas!


"As we watch government regulations unravel what we thought our holiday would look like, may each believer remember all of our hopes and fears truly are met, kept and fulfilled in the precious Baby Jesus."


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About Amy


Amy and her husband are church planters in England. Originally from Pennsylvania, she experienced in a deep way what it means to live as a pilgrim when she recently had to adjust to ex-pat life and settling her four children into a new culture. She is addicted to seeing Jesus change people's lives and loves nothing better than to walk with them through His Word, whether that be in a small group, her writing or over coffee.


Exploring the English countryside, getting lost in a book and catching up with an old friend are among her favorite things. You can find her at www.amymullens.com or on Instagram @amymullens.