Christmas with Ann Voskamp: What to Do with a Broken Heart This Christmas

To get our hearts ready for Christ’s birth, Ann Voskamp is writing for us, celebrating the holiday that’s all about Jesus. Join us as we anticipate the coming of our savior. 

That one doctor thought it was a bit of a miracle before they even cracked open the chest and cut away at his heart.

Because who in the world figures out you’ve got a tumor plugging up an entire cavernous heart chamber when you’re blithely driving kids to hockey on Tuesday night and fine-tuning a tractor engine on Thursday and sitting in the front pew on Sunday?

Maybe you only figure out your heart’s failing when you yell at the kids over state-of-disaster floors, or when you feel like a first-class Christmas failure in the age of Pinterest, or when you and yours never get through the holidays without a whole mess of family drama—and don’t ask me how I know.

Sometimes the only thing you know by heart is that your heart knows it hurts.

So when the general practitioner in the small country clinic had suspected a tumor in the Farmer brother’s heart? The specialist could only say he couldn’t really believe it, could only think of it as a bit of a miracle. People say that when miracles happen: “I can’t believe it! It’s a miracle!”

But that’s always the best place for miracles: God meets us—right where we don’t believe.

When our believing runs out, God’s loving runs on.

They roll the Farmer’s brother into the operating theater at 1:27 in the afternoon.

We can’t think. We watch the clock. The Farmer calls his dad in Florida. They pace together. My mother calls. We pray. I keep glancing up at the minute hand, the way it keeps ticking.


“Did I ever tell you what Max said?” Mama’s got to be eating something. I only hear her “nhuh huh.”

“Well, yeah, he clapped the Farmer’s shoulder and said he really might be the only pig farmer he’s ever met and we laughed. And at the end, he prayed over us just like you’d think Jesus would—I told the Farmer that on the way home—that it’s not very often that you meet someone and walk away thinking: “He was so much like Jesus.”

“Uh huh?” Mama’s got to be eating almonds.

“But it’s that story he told—

Can I get through this without choking up? Max’s Texan drawl was as smooth as the back of my Grandma’s Oil of Olay hand.

And he said that Taylor Storch’s family had headed to Colorado for a little skiing. That the 13-year-old had laughed loud coming down the mountain. That Taylor had fallen—crashed—down a straight rocky slant of the earth. By nightfall, she was gone, slipped off this earth and Home, and her parents, Tara and Todd, were signing papers to give away Taylor’s still-warm heart.

Mama’s quiet on the other end of the line. She’s watched them a dig a hole in the earth for her own girl.

“Max said they ended up giving Taylor’s heart to a woman in Arizona whose heart was failing so weary that she couldn’t get off the couch anymore—Patricia Winters.” There’s snow falling out the window.

There’s been ugly sin this week and there’s been dead weary and there’s been more than a few moments I haven’t known how to go on.

“Taylor’s mama had only one request.” I lean against the windowsill, head against the cool pane, tell my Mama what Max had said, how he had shown us a photo of Taylor with her mama. How Taylor’s mama had called Patricia Winters and asked her if she could come hear her heart.

“Oh my.” Mama murmurs what only a mama can feel. The clock’s ticking on the wall.

And Max had told us how Taylor’s mama flew from Dallas to Phoenix and knocked on Patricia Winters’s door and Patricia Winters walked right past the couch and she opened the door and she opened her arms and she welcomed them in. And Taylor’s mama fell into her arms and the two mothers just held each other, Taylor’s heart beating right there next to her weeping Mama’s.

And then Patricia Winters reached over and handed Taylor’s Mama a stethoscope.

And she laid that stethescope up against Patricia Winters and she could hear it, right there in Patricia as clear as a beckoning bell:

Thrum. Thrum.

Taylor’s mama could hear it loud and long, right there in her ears …


Like a thunder vibrating right through her—


Her daughter’s still-beating heart.

“Oh … I can’t …” Mama chokes out the words. “I can’t even imagine.”

Can’t imagine. Can’t believe … Miracle.

And then Max had asked us slow and quiet. “What was Taylor’s Mama really hearing?”

“It indwells a different body, but that heart is the heart of her girl … ” Max said. “And when God hears your heart, that’s what He hears—the still-beating heart of His Son.”

The clock’s ticking on the wall. Doctor’s will be cutting into the heart of the Farmer’s brother right now.


“Oh—I’m here.”

Her voice’s breaking up. “Just—listening.”

Ticking. Beating.

“I was thinking this week—you know when we were in the hospital with Levi?” I turn from the window, turn the sink tap on, fill the sink as if I could fill an ache. “You know—she was the first one to come visit?”

“Yes.” Mama doesn’t have to say anything more. She knows who I mean, how it it’s been over a year and a half. That cards and letters get returned and invitations go unanswered or declined. That the strangest pain that never goes away is estrangement.

“She loved us, Mama … and I don’t know what went so impossibly wrong but I know that I miss them impossibly …”

Mama whispers it like she wishes she could make the words do more, “I know …“

The sink water’s not much better than lukewarm.

“I sure wish I knew how to fix this—I shake my head, turn the water hotter. “Because I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

In a heartbeat.

I stop. Hands in hot water.

I can hear it in me.

Thrum. Thrum.

Me with a tumor, me with heart blockage, me with a failing heart …

That’s the point: Your heart can’t forgive the tactless no-so-great Aunt, your heart can’t forgive the words that should never have been said, your heart can’t forgive the remark that was more like a blade and left a mark how many years later. Your heart can’t forgive the stepmother, the side joke, the backhand, the over-the-top family that just gets under your skin.

Your heart can’t forgive. That’s why He gave you His.

When you don’t think you can forgive what she’s said about you—

When you don’t think you can forget what he’s done to you—

When it’s His heart beating in you—you can forgive in a heartbeat.

I look up from the sink. The Christmas tree is there by the fireplace—and it’s right there, what all the hard relationships, gatherings, families need at Christmas:

The Tree is where God’s grace does heart transplants: God takes broken hearts—and gives you His.

I would tell Mama that later.

That they cut a three-inch tumor out of the Farmer’s brother’s heart. That only four days later, the Farmer drove his brother back home to his farm. That they prayed thanks for startling grace.

That it’s really true: That right where you don’t believe … is where God meets with a miracle.

That miracles happen in a heartbeat.

Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife, the home-educating mama to a half-dozen exuberant kids, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, a New York Times bestseller, and new this month, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. Named by Christianity Today as one of 50 women most shaping culture and the church today, she’s a writer for DaySpring, a speaker with Women of Faith, and a global advocate for needy children with Compassion International. Ann loses library books, usually has a sink full of soaking pots, and sees empty laundry baskets rarer than a blue moon.

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