Of Cancers and Suicide and Where to Find Joy that Sustains

In noisy bustling houses, we’ve poured more coffee and settled in close.

Photo Credit: Ell Brown, Creative Commons cc license

In a sunken living room last night at a friend’s house, I pushed my grey footstool closer and we talked of kids, of this last year, and of the future. Pulling photographs from her purse, she showed me her son’s senior pictures. We pored through eight or nine of them. His tousled blond hair caught the sunlight, and we debated which shot best captured him. Our talk moved on and, in between hope for the future, we voiced the hard things too. She laughed and ran hands through her hair, fatigue written between her eyes. I nodded and stretched out toes, arching ankles in a physical therapy habit from a decade ago after a sprained ankle. Hours later, after jokes, games and countless trips to the snack table, a church party crowd of us cheered in the New Year. Glittery plastic and streamer-lined kuzuus shrilled as children danced and bounced around us in a cacophony of noise.

Earlier on Christmas Eve, we brewed more coffee, laughed at the short intervals between meals, and slid up chairs around the dining room table. My tall twenty-four year old son and my gentle dark-haired daughter-in-law joined us. Newly-twenty-one year old daughter Morgan flopped onto the black couch beside Kate, and the young women grinned and worked on their art alongside each other: Morgan with digital pen and Kate with a crochet hook and soft yarn. My blue-eyed Irish Mom, my husband and I, and our two sons sorted playing cards into suits and calculated. My youngest, eleven year old Daniel, vacillated freely between clasping soft new toys, assembling plastic building pieces, and joining us at the table for games.

I watch them, my growing kids, and my heart swells with love so much it hurts and thrills me. These four that we get to call ours now — they bring such joy. We delight to spend time with them, we love that they like to hang out here, and we are always honored when they ask to talk.

And I hear it, in my suddenly choked up throat in Sunday singing this week, how the joy and sorrow can be intertwined so deeply. Who ever said that life was simple or easy? Joys don’t negate sorrows. Joyful hearts don’t preclude the hard things in life. Standing, mouthing worship lyrics this past Sunday, I spoke them to Abba God, because the hards were crashing in.

Faces and names rose up in my mind, my heart sad with them. An acquaintance’s suicide on Christmas day, her present from me still unwrapped and ready; her texts still lit in my phone. We waited her arrival in vain. Another friend watches handfuls of her blonde hair fall out from chemotherapy, her small children and husband looking on. Other family friends watch brain cancer steal away their dad’s personality, saying small goodbyes each day now, even though he is still there.

In the row at church, I swallowed and talked honest to God. Choosing to worship You doesn’t mean that life is easy. Choosing to thank you and to see the joy doesn’t mean that life is blissful and pain-free.

And at home with journal and Bible, I stretch toes, twist ankles in habit therapy, and write out your words too. Seeking you out, speaking out the hard, naming the many good, stating again and again that you are good, that your character and promises are enough, that you are faithful to sustain, to be There, to walk with us through the hard, to carry my friends through their pain and yuck and sorrow… this is my therapy to untighten the hard, to loosen the tough, to move into the pain.

Joy is still there too. I watch blankets of snow drop silence and beauty, coating trees in white wonder. Slim black-capped chickadees and charcoal dark-eyed juncos dive-bomb red cranberries in the snow on my deck. I write out your words, seek You, and lean into the habits you’ve been teaching me, reminding my heart. You are trustworthy, you are good, you are here, you walk with us. Your heart can be trusted and you sustain and fortress your people.

And it slips joy in.

Hey, is reading the Bible more consistently one of your New Year’s resolutions? Join me Monday nights, starting Jan. 6th, as we dive into the New Testament in my Cover to Cover Bible study group. Registration closes this week, so sign up now. It is open to all, and Village Schools of the Bible offers financial aid too. 

Join me? I can’t wait to dig into the fast-paced true accounts of Jesus’ life and death here and to watch the exciting urgent action of the early church growing, fleeing Roman emperors, and building lives centered on the truths and joys that surmount everything. 

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  1. Cheryl Barker on February 26, 2020 at 4:53 am

    "Choosing to worship You doesn't mean that life is easy. Choosing to thank you and to see the joy doesn't mean that life is blissful and pain-free." Amen, Jennifer. I think God must find our worship most precious when we lift tear-stained faces to Him and worship in the midst of grief and pain. So thankful we can always find joy in Him!

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