Living Two-Handed and Two-Faced

“Where’s the video on college dorms?” she asked.

We clicked computer screens until the welcome week college video started playing. Smiling faces toured the university campus, music pulsed, and Morgan and I watched footage of dorm room move-ins and bunk bed assembly. Joy welled in me, and I thumped her back.

“I’m so excited for you!”

“Me too!”

Her long ponytail trailed her back and we sat in chairs pulled close to my desk. Music throbbed and the short film ended. We laughed to see that we were both wiping away excited tears.

Photo Credit: Flickr user COD Newsroom, Creative Commons, cc license

“I think it’s the video,” she stated.

“Well, I’m just so happy for you,” I exclaimed.

She stood up, her enrollment deposit paid, the move-in date now written on our calendar. Bouncing downstairs, she was gone and the kitchen was silent.

I’ve been learning this week the dual truth that joy and grief can be simultaneous. Nine days ago, sad family news stopped my world. Since then we have walked numbly to doctors’ offices, pens scrawling notes in solemn vigil. We have scrolled medical websites, estimated timelines, and stared silently into space.

And he said it once, a wise friend of ours, “We rejoice with those who rejoice and we mourn with those who mourn, and sometimes we do it back to back.”

I am learning this week what it is to hold grief in one hand while navigating life with the other. In wanting to live transparently, I have been sharing our family news in occasional prayer emails and to friends in person, crying against their shoulders. But I also see the need to interact and to be present with sensitivity to a variety of settings. At Wednesday night youth group, junior high teens bounced energy as we played zany games of Pictionary Telephone and Four on a Couch. Their joy was evident and legitimate. Seeing their sweet faces that are so loved by God and us, I looked deep into their eyes and chose to be present, to be there, to be playful with them.

And we can hold grief and zany laughter in one body. I am learning this surreal and complicated reality: that joy and grief can co-habitate and that I hold them in honest hands before me.

I can mourn. I can rejoice. And I’m trying to honestly, transparently, let myself hold them in two hands, in two faces, back to back.

Photo Credit: Flickr user johnjodeery, Creative Commons, cc license

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  1. Michelle Barringer on February 22, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Jennifer,

    I've been following your blog for awhile now. I want to tell you I understand so much about joy and sorrow. I wrote about the same topic on my blog.

    Thank you for sharing. I'll be praying for you.
    And I may actually see you at Set Apart next week. I'll be attending for the first time.

    Just know, our Lord loves you deeply and cares passionately about you.
    Michelle Barringer

  2. TC Avey on February 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    How true this is!
    Being a parent is teaching me that I can be both happy and sad, at peace and full of worry (does that make sense? I can list the things I'm worried about, I can see the trials and yet God's with me and I have peace).

    Thank you for sharing and thank you for being there for others.

  3. Jennifer Dougan on March 4, 2017 at 12:39 am


    Thank you for this kind comment. I clicked over to your site last week when I saw your comment and had fun browsing through many of your posts. Yes, that holding joy and sorrow in the same hands is so true, huh?

    I saw you walk by me at Set Apart when you left during one of the keynotes. I tried to whisper your name but you didn't hear me. I'd love to talk with you more.

    Jennifer Dougan

  4. Cheryl Barker on March 10, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Jennifer, I'm so sorry to hear that you and your family are going through a painful time right now. I pray that God will be very close to you all and tenderly minister to your needs. I'm thankful that joy is touching your days as well and that you're trying to fully enter into that while you deal with sorrow as well. That can be tough to do. Sending hugs!

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