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Joy and Sorrow: An Inextricable Link

A dear friend of over 35 years posted today that her mother has just died yesterday. And, as I sit with this – I see the vignettes of life together as they made relationship, joy, daily life look almost easy. Their love and admiration for one another throughout difficult days and precious celebrations were consistent, steady and lovely. That is what makes death sorrowful. There is a loss of presence that one must reckon with after a life lived well in community.

Just today, this picture of Dad Garner and I showed up on my Facebook feed. I loved seeing that smile again. And there was a reminder note from my Sis-in-law attached to the pic. “He adores her…” I am touching his arm in the picture, and there is a comfort in being close to him. And, I remember that day. I miss hearing that voice pray over us, watching the laughter and his mischievousness play out in one way or another. I love knowing that he believed in me, in us, and in our children and grandchildren. His presence is grievously missed each day. There is joy in the memories and such sorrow in the loss.

Nadia Bolz-Webber posted in “The Corners” this week on this very topic. (I have posted the link - copy and paste into browser.) And the simple and familiar verse “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning. -Psalm 30:5” was her text.

Sorrow – then joy…there it is again. But weeping for only a night?! That seems trite until you realize “night” could be an 8-hour period of time or days, months and years. When allowing ourselves to grieve deeply – openly – honestly, when allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, it is uncanny how refreshing the oasis of a baby’s birth, laughter from the gut, or a timely word of encouragement can become. It is like splashing cold water on your face and gulping down fresh lemonade when you are parched on a hot day.

There is so much to consider here. Nadia writes about the shocking “joy” found in a women’s prison. “The joy is unbelievable. But so is the suffering. I am starting to believe these two things are related…There’s just no way to successfully hide the hardship in a place like a women’s prison. The accumulated effects of generational trauma, addiction, neglect, poverty and undereducation are written indelibly on everyone who lines up for communion in their shapeless green pants and aggressively yellow T-shirts…and I think maybe this ”no way to hide how shitty life is” dynamic in prison allows for something else as well, and that is (perhaps counterintuitively): joy. A bursting out loud, celebration of life…if I’m honest…I just wonder if perhaps there is a relationship between a community’s ability to hold suffering with honesty and its ability to also experience joy with abandon.”

This is something to seriously consider. Maybe this is why I so easily remember the raucous laughter at the memorial service for my maternal Grandfather over three decades ago. In the midst of great loss, we remembered with joy. After watching and sharing in the suffering and agony of his last days, we were relieved in his release and in the stories of his life. (Some were hilarious.)

Would we suffer so much if we did not love so deeply? Are we as deeply grateful if we have not honestly shared in loss or grief that has greatly impacted us? When we have not allowed ourselves entrance into lament and bereavement can we permit guttural laughter and unbridled joy? (You know – the “throw your hands in the air like you really don’t care” freedom from what others think, kind of crazy outbursts)…hmmm…I am not sure.

Just recently I have found myself lamenting my personal losses – grief I had put on hold as I honestly grieved other losses. It has been bringing freedom. For in the processing of grief - I have had to admit my own complicity, my own struggle to find myself again, and the fact that life is just difficult. In years past I would just pray it away, slap a quote or bible verse on it and ignore it as if it had legs and would wander away. But not now. Death is too final, trauma and loss too aggressive, and the gutting reality that our “night” is not yet over - ever present.

My cousin, Tami, just posted a picture of her 25th anniversary date night with her husband Bryan. In her pic from 25 years ago, there is youth, lots of hair (on both of them-Ha!), and smiles. In the picture from yesterday Bryan still has hair – just a little “lighter” in color, and Tami is just beginning the “fuzz” stage after a brutal diagnosis and bone marrow transplants and treatments that have followed. (You have to understand – Tami and I rivaled one another in our 80’s hair days!) There have been heart-rending posts and joyful outbursts of gratefulness on this arduous journey. Joys and sorrows for sure have been friends as she writes, “We have changed a little in those years and definitely been through a lot, but our love and gratitude list have grown with each year living life together.”

Yes, my lists of love and gratitude have grown exponentially as I have walked through what seems to be some of the hardest days I have encountered. (No, I have not had a cancer diagnosis, and I do not ever wish that journey on anyone at all.) And yet…LOVE, JOY, LAUGHTER, NEW LIFE, and HOPE are sweeter than EVER before in the midst of it all.

If you have never heard the song from Lauren Daigle “Thank God I Do” I would encourage you to take a listen. I decided yesterday that I am going to try to learn and record it on my own to remind myself consistently of the joys and deep gratefulness I experience every day from being known, seen, celebrated and beloved. Knowing and learning “how” to know God, Ken, my family, and you – my community and friends changes my life DAILY!!!

Some of the words…

“I’ve seen love come, and I’ve seen love walk away, so many questions – will anybody stay? It’s been a hard year, so many nights in tears, all of the darkness – trying to fight my fears…alone, so long, alone…I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t know you…I’d probably fall off the edge.

I don’t where I’d go if you ever let go-so keep me held in your hands. I’ve started breathing, the weight is lifted here…I’m home with you. I’m home.”

Knowing that I am in solidarity with those who “get it” changes me profoundly. I feel like I’m home.

Walking with Ken through the last few years ESPECIALLY has brought a joy in our union, a strength in our conversations and a sweetness that has burst open new feelings of gratefulness and commitments to future hope and well-being. This has come as we have dredged the depths of our sorrow and loss…not in spite of them but choosing to walk through them honestly. I’m home.

As we walked Dad home a year and a half ago now, I would peek in to see our children, one-by-one sitting next to Dad, looking into his eyes, feeding him or whatever the moment needed. Inevitably Dad would smile and say, “I love you.” There were no qualifiers – just love and gratefulness. There were smiles while also

acknowledging the underlying gravity of the moments.

One last thought – on a lighter note - have you been watching Wimbledon or the highlights at all? This is an incredible example of the agony of defeat shaking hands with the incredulous victories and the surprise upsets. The excitement of seeing the young American phenom, Chris Eubanks, make a Wimbledon debut and then his gracious and joyous response to the experience, inclusive of all he learned even through the loss. Beautiful.

So, yes, Nadia Bolz-Webber, joy and sorrow – are found so close together…even (and especially) in the sports world! And, in the real world – where my world is just a minute segment – may I BE the better version of myself in order to reach those who have been battered, betrayed and felt abandoned by God, friends, family and/or the church.

My Prayer: O God – as I learn about who you are again and again, may I allow joy to be present even in the desert. Remind me to “see” that freedom is a matter of perspective. Let us not be reticent to grieve and lament with those we love as we consider that joy may be somewhere in the midst…just waiting to pounce on us in unexpected moments.

(A picture of Nadia Bolz-Webber's post. I love this image!)

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