Thursday, September 3, 2009

Joy and Sorrow

Yesterday I received some very bad news. My aunt Ginny, who has been very much a mother to me in the past 30 years, raised my sister, and has been a grandmother to my children, has terminal cancer. What she initially thought was a rotator cuff problem turned out to be a bone tumor, which was actually a secondary tumor, having spread from one in her lung. We got through the initial shock of that, and she was starting radiation for the shoulder, when more tests turned up tumors in her brain, liver, adrenal gland, and lymph system. The estimate is that she has between 3 and 12 months to live.

Needless to say, it has been a hard time for all of the family, none moreso than her husband Jim. I've been fighting a sense of deadness over this news. I haven't really been in denial, but I've had trouble grasping the reality of it. This is a vital, vibrant woman. She has had some tough times in her life, but has always fought back hard, bringing joy and blessing to all those around her. And she will continue to do that, I'm sure. It's not within her to be morose and self-pitying. Her biggest concern is for those she will be leaving.

It is hard for me to imagine a world without Ginny. She has been Nana to my kids since my oldest was born. After my parents died, she traveled down to Mexico to take care of my sister Alison, who was injured in the crash that killed our parents. She and Alison have shared a special bond since then. When my new wife and I moved to this area, we naturally leaned on Ginny, and really chose to go to Richland Hills Church of Christ because she was there. What a blessing that has been!

It was in this semi-dazed, somewhat mournful frame of mind that I went to our Wednesday worship service. I spoke to a couple of people coming in, answering their "How are you's?" truthfully with "I've been better." As the worship started, take a guess what the first song was.

The Joy of the Lord.

Here I am, grieving over the news I still have not completely taken in, and we sing The Joy of the Lord. If you're not familiar with the song, these are the beginning lyrics.

The joy of the Lord will be my strength
I will not falter, I will not faint.
He is my shepherd, I am not afraid
For the joy of the Lord is my strength.

It continues in that vein. As you might guess, it is a very joyful, exuberant song. Not exactly in line with my mood, right? And yet as we sang the spirit of the song overtook me, and I began to sing wholeheartedly and with conviction. Before long I lost myself in the joy of the Lord, in praise and worship of the one whose gift is joy.

Joy comes not from easy times, or from a life that lacks hardship. There is no such life. Joy is sometimes unexpected, but always welcome. It can come through new life, as when a child is born. It can come through beauty, as when the sun shines through clouds to highlight a flower. It can come through laughter, through meeting old friends, through victory, through learning. It can even come through sorrow.

I am reminded of the time the family had gathered for my Grandma Gill's funeral. It was a time of sorrow, to be sure. We were saying goodbye, and that always hurts. But a time of joy also came out of that sorrow. Several of us gathered at Grandma's house (a trailer, really), and went through her things. Understand that Grandma was not wealthy by any means. She had no great store of possessions, and what she did have was of no great quality. But there was meaning there. We all found little things that meant something to us, often gifts we had given to her and Grandpa over the years. I came away with a cheap weather set, barometer, thermometer, and hygrometer, which I had give to Grandpa for Christmas many years before. We found old snapshots, jars of Grandma's pear preserves, rusty knives, beat up fishing lures. All worthless, all precious. And we found joy in the midst of sorrow.

That's not quite what it was like for me as I sang last night. The joy I found came not from memories. It came entirely as a gift from God. I cannot truly explain it, but I did feel joy in the moment, joy in praising God, and strength that came from somewhere else. It certainly didn't come from me. It didn't eliminate my sorrow. But it made the sorrow seem more distant and infinitely more bearable. It's odd, but joy and sorrow can coexist. But joy so outshines sorrow. Sorrow becomes like the moon in daylight. You can see it, but it's not the light source.

There's more here, I know. There will be more sorrow coming. That is the condition in which we live. And there is more God wants to teach me about both joy and sorrow. Because sorrow, too, can be from God. I pray I am open to the teaching. And I pray peace for Ginny, Jim, and our whole family. I ask for your prayers as well.

1 comment:

  1. I will pray for Ginny and your family. Perhaps the joy you have in the Lord will give her comfort and peace as she goes through this difficult time. Maybe that is why the Lord keeps laying that song on your heart.