How can sorrow and joy co-exist? In our circumstances? In our souls? Read on as my friend, Leah Robin, leads us to honor both emotions in our beings.
By Leah Robin
I had a hunch.
We had gone to look at rings together. My December calendar was booked with mystery date invites: nights at the symphony, fancy dinners at restaurants on my bucket list, weekend skiing. I was constantly spying on him in cahoots with my friends - secretly whispering and plotting. I was over the moon ecstatic. Thirty years a single woman, with a fair share of heartbreak and long laments to the Lord asking "when?" had finally plopped me here: finding the man I was meant to marry. And the bonus joy? I had always dreamed of getting engaged at Christmas-time. It seemed as if the world was conspiring to bring me the perfect proposal.
Then the email came. It was the beginning of the undoing.
He forwarded me an email from the jeweler; due to the holiday production schedule, my ring wouldn't be ready until mid-January. I tried not to show it, but I was sorely disappointed. I watched the holiday proposal elude me with the click of a mouse.
But then real tragedy struck. Exactly one week before Christmas, we got the phone call. A close family member had unexpectedly slipped away from us. I will never forget the horror, the pain, the disbelief of that moment. Our life was irrevocably changed by the absence of another's.
The week that ensued was a blur of grief. We hustled to pack and book plane tickets to Chicago. We spent time with family, enduring a nine hour wake with unrelenting lines of people saying goodbye. The funeral was tragic, even though the gospel was presented. The preacher spoke on Jesus' reaction at the graveside of his beloved friend Lazarus. In the verse famous for its brevity, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35), we see Christ incarnate experience deep soul-crushing grief even though he knows minutes later he will bring about resurrection life and joy. The most human One does not gloss over the tragedy of death, but weeps over its costly destruction.
We made it back to Colorado and life resumed. Altered, but still good. We celebrated Christmas. And just a few days later, he managed to surprise me with a day that was unbelievably lovely and me. It culminated in the most beautiful proposal, the kind that little girls dream about. I cried with sheer joy. We celebrated and toasted with friends and I thought my heart might burst with love and happiness.
In the days and months following, I've struggled to stretch my heart around the full range of emotions - both sorrow and joy, holding them together in the same cocoon of memory and attention.
I remember a lesson from my friend, Lindsay, a former missionary to the Dominican Republic who now helps missionary families assimilate back into the States. To help children visualize the sad and the happy things of life side by side, she gives them two yellow duckies in a pool of water. One is the "Yuck Duck" and one is the "Yay Duck." Yuck duck can be missing old friends or their old school. Yay duck is perhaps making a new friend down the street or finding they love their new backyard. Yuck duck and Yay duck swim side by side. This is what another friend calls the duality of life: "sorrow and joy swimming together."
I'll be honest, I often wish there was another way. My heart aches for the fulfillment of Christ's promise: "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more crying or mourning or death or pain. For the old order of things has passed away," (Rev. 21:4).
But in this in-between time, where we live with both tragic phone calls and joyful proposals, I look to the One who shows us what it means to be truly human. I observe my Yuck and Yay ducks floating together, learning to both mourn deeply and rejoice greatly; allowing Christ to expand my heart, giving birth to unshakeable hope.
Leah Robin is a creative, writer, and entrepreneur residing in Denver, CO. A graduate of Denver Seminary, she loves bringing beauty into the world via floral design and coaching women to step into all of who God created them to be. More about her florals, workshops and blog are found at elledesignflorals.com.