Past Sorrows and Present Joys

She caught me in the church parking lot a few weeks back, waved at me as I was unlocking the car door, walked over to say hello. It had been some time since I’d seen her last and she had never met Katie, so she commented on her smile and her amazing infant Mohawk and the dimples in her thighs. She asked me how life was treating me these days, and I responded with my usual answer: that we are blessed, that being home with my daughter is a joy and and privilege, that things are good. She paused then, held my eyes with a knowing look, smiled.

“I knew it!” she said. “I knew it. Back last year, when you were sending those updates out, asking for prayer – I knew it! I knew God had something good coming, that you just needed to wait. You were so sad, so heartbroken in your emails, but I knew it wasn’t the end of the story, that God was doing something!”

I offered a half-smile, made some noncommittal noise, reiterated my statement that we are grateful for this sweet little girl who has taken up residence in our arms and in our hearts. This wasn’t the first such comment to be made, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

* * * * *

A bit of honesty: I do not always know how to respond to such statements. I try not to read into them, but my heart has such conflicted feelings, such a mix of emotions even now, nearly fifteen months later, that expressing my thoughts in a short, simple conversation (or even a short, simple blog post) seems nigh unto impossible.

Still, an attempt:

I am ever so thankful that the deep, deep pain in my life was followed by deep, deep joy, for I know it does not always happen this way. Most days, I can recognize His hand in the timing of Katie’s conception despite all of the conflicting emotions I felt when it happened (which is a story for another time). I have been given so much, been entrusted with so much. My life is full, and the last thing I want is to seem ungrateful or bitter in any way.

And yet, there’s a part of my heart that rebels against the underlying ideas, the hidden messages in what my friend expressed, though it was offered with the best of intentions from someone who loves me. There is joy, much joy, in my life now, but that does not negate the suffering. That suffering, that pain, that deep confusion about why things ended the way they did? They are still valid, and real, and important. The questions matter. The hurt matters. The wrestling matters. The good that came into my life does not explain the bad that preceded it; to imply that it does devalues the sorrow, forgets the pain.

Katie will never, could never, replace A, just as no future child could possibly replace Katie, because Katie and A are not “just babies” to me, not just little ones to care for – they are my daughters. Every child is unique. Precious. Irreplaceable.

* * * * *

And so it comes to this: most days, I do believe that God brought this precious child into my life to love and to hold, that she is, indeed, a blessing and a gift. Last August was not the end of my story, was not the end of A’s story either. Neither is today.

But Katie being brought into my life does not explain A being taken from it, does not erase the heartbreak of losing her, does not answer the questions that swirl in my mind regarding divine will and a fallen world and the power of prayer, and I am trying hard to walk this tightrope, to find the balance between remembering past sorrows and rejoicing in present joys, between clinging to faith and allowing room for hard questions.

I have not reached the end of the story. There are pages yet to be written, chapters of joy and chapters of sorrow, tales of defeat and tales of victory. In each moment, may I choose to remember, to value the good and the bad, to continue to wrestle and to question and to grow. Who I am today has been shaped and molded by the experiences of my past; may I not cheapen them by settling for quick explanations or easy answers.

A note of clarification: I was not offended, and am not offended, by the comments people make, and I know they are only offered in love. I try hard not to read into them. People want to see reason, to see happy endings – and Katie certainly seems to provide those things. I don’t begrudge them that, nor do I think they necessarily mean to discount the heartbreak we experienced. But something in me rebels whenever I hear a “look what God has done!” kind of statement, and I needed to work through why that might be.

8 response to "Past Sorrows and Present Joys"

  1. By: sarah marie Posted: November 6, 2014

    I remember really balking at comments people would make when Mom was in a coma. “I know the Lord has healing planned for her!” “We are praying, and we know God will act mightily to save her!” And then, when she did begin a recovery: “See! We knew it!” It’s just… tricky. Like you said, the line between faith and asking the hard questions. If Mom had not ever awakened, ever recovered, I would still have had to look for a way for faith in it all. And though she did live, her life is not and never will be the same, and that too should not be brushed aside as though it were insignificant in light of her recovery.

    Somehow it seems similar in a small way — not only, as you said, that the presence of K in your life doesn’t eradicate the pain of losing A, but also, even if K had not come along as she did, I know you would have continually sought after God nonetheless. The unanswered question, I suppose, is — what if no good thing had come your way soon after losing A? Then what would friends be saying? Could we still be blessing the name of the Lord and declaring belief in his goodness? And is there something one-sided about the assumption that the very good thing that came into your lives, although in the same general size and shape as the one you lost, somehow replaces or redeems the sadness? (The other side being that it is not just your lives affected by the loss, but hers, too.)

    • By: sarah marie Posted: November 6, 2014

      oh man, sorry for the absurdly long comment!

    • By: Jenn Posted: November 7, 2014

      Yes, exactly, Sarah – to everything you said. What about the times when the healing or the good does not come? God is still good.

      Jonathan and I have talked about your last point many, many times. If this entire thing were all about us having a baby, then maybe I can begin to see how it all was designed to bring about this happy ending. But it is not, and never has been about that – as you said, A’s life was deeply affected by the loss, much more so than ours, I believe.

      Hurray for long comments! 🙂

  2. By: Amber Posted: November 7, 2014

    Comments along those lines bother me for two reasons –

    a) it objectifies Katie, turning her into a consolation prize (and if you had been able to keep A and hadn’t had all that suffering, imagine all people feeling sorry for you and saying “poor dear, what a handful – two babies in a year!” comments you would have gotten… and no one saying, “oh what a gift that Katie gets to know her big sister!” Perspective is such a funny thing, isn’t it.)

    and b) I think that looking for happy endings on earth to our sufferings seems to put all the focus on earthly outcomes, and not on the only happy ending we can hope for. We’re not meant to have lots of happy endings here on earth, we’re made for Heaven and that can be our only happy ending. Sure, there can be happiness along the way, but we can’t expect that to always be our life. I’m reminded of Romans 5:3-4 – St. Paul doesn’t say that suffering and trials produce consolation prizes or good (earthly) things, but that they ultimately produce hope. And what else can we hope in, but hope in God and our salvation?

    Ah, another long comment. I should probably pay attention to my children now. They are only running slightly amuck. 🙂

    • By: Amber Posted: November 7, 2014

      And a further thought (since I’m already writing long comments!) if we try to short circuit the work of suffering by only trying to point to whatever good things we can find, what does that do to our ability to grow and build towards God? How do we build that hope that St. Paul speaks of?

      I have no idea what the short answer is to this though – is there a way to change the perspective of the conversation – shining a light on role of the suffering and Katie’s intrinsic value (rather than demeaning her by only allowing her a relative value) – or is the only response to smile and nod and pray for the person?

    • By: Jenn Posted: November 8, 2014

      Well said, Amber. That’s what I continually come back to – we’re made for heaven, and so many of the promises we try to claim for the here and now were really meant for a much more eternal perspective.

      Really, it feels as though it objectifies both girls – Katie as the consolation prize and A as having worth only in what she brought to us. As Sarah pointed out, the situation was horrible because of our loss, yes, but even more because of the losses A experienced and will continue to experience.

      And smiling and nodding and praying has been my default response. I don’t know if there’s a better way of handling it or not – these types of interactions tend to be brief, and it seems to do anything else requires more time and depth than are typically present. But I don’t know if that’s just my non-confrontational side speaking or not.

    • By: Amber Posted: November 11, 2014

      That’s a really good point about objectifying both girls, Jenn. And it is so hard to discern the whole non-confrontational tendencies vs. a response that is appropriate for the time and place. I struggle with that too.

  3. By: jywatkins Posted: November 17, 2014

    It’s so hard to speak to someone’s suffering. I love how you say that the blessings don’t erase the sufferings. It’s so true. We all can find so much to be thankful for but that doesn’t mean our suffering is any less since we all also go through times of grief and pain. I often don’t know what to say when I know a friend has been through something hard, but just acknowledging it without belittling it or excusing it is a good place to begin.

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