Joy and Suffering on a Birthday.

We have had a week mixed with extremes.


Last Saturday, May 31st, was Maddie’s birthday. Her actual “day”, although we knew we were going to celebrate a week later because life has been hectic. Still. This was the day of her birth, so it already shone a little brighter. I mean, Madeleine Jane was 3. Great joy around our house.









This little one who has brought so much joy into our lives; this one who is teaching her brothers to love in a way that we as parents never could. She has taught them tenderness and kindness and laughter they never knew, right alongside fierce protectiveness.




This one, Maddie, is three.



The same day, Zach and Steve were headed out to the ice rink to get in some practice time before tryouts for ice hockey.  Then this happened:



A car driving on a separate freeway missed an overpass and came airborne over an embankment and struck Steve and Zach in their Jeep. How they walked away with minor scratches and aches is truly beyond us. The police officers who arrived on the scene expected fatalities. There should have been.


A day of joy and celebration marked by an instant of stark reality. Our lives are a mix of suffering and joy.

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” – Frederick Buechner



There have been a few times when the mixing of this suffering and joy have occurred:

Walking through the experience with my family, even from a distance, of my mother’s dementia, has been wrought with suffering and yet also surprisingly with joy. We have connected as a family, even though we were already close, more deeply and more honestly than we might have otherwise. Suffering brings out an honesty that makes room for joy. Although I would much rather have my mother whole and with her mind bright and her laughter full and her wit intact…there have been moments of laughter and of joy in the midst of this journey and I am thankful for them.


When we were in the midst of the clean up of the flood here in Nashville; our hearts were overwhelmed by the loss around us, including the immediate loss my husband’s parents were experiencing. We were literally throwing away priceless items by the wheelbarrow-full, and yet in the midst of that there was joy that they had survived and there was joy in the fellowship. There was joy in the community of suffering, because we were bonded by something inexplicable and yet immediate and intimate. I still remember the Pizza Hut truck driving through in the afternoon offering free personal pan pizzas to everyone who was working on cleaning up, and our cooler filled with waters and Gatorades and ice which never seemed to go empty in the blazing Tennessee heat.

BellevueFlood1 BellevueFlood










Lastly, childbirth. This has been the ultimate mixture of suffering and joy for me. Clearly there was suffering and pain, more so with my oldest two where we had natural childbirth. The pain was different than any other I have experienced, however, not simply because it was quite painful…but because it was so completely filled with anticipation and with joy. Even as I write this, I know that there are those who have experienced childbirth filled with fear and with trauma, and with no joy. I understand that, and my heart goes deeply out to them.


newmaddy 7

Our experience, though, has been suffering ending with this amazing transformation into parenthood…filled with its own fears and sufferings and trials, but filled with such a deep joy.


Which brings me full circle.  One week ago was Maddie’s birthday, and one week ago Steve and Zach had a brush with death. Suffering and joy side by side.  I do not know why sometimes we are spared suffering, or why suffer only a little at a moment rather than more deeply…any more than I know why we sometimes are blessed with such deep joys and such inexplicable wonders.


“Joy is a mystery because it can happen anywhere, anytime, even under the most unpromising circumstances, even in the midst of suffering, with tears in its eyes….”- Frederick Buechner


We will never be able to explain away every question or every pain; we will never be able to explain every joy. The brokenness of our world is right under our fingertips, and yet, the wonder is right there as well. The mark of redemption and the hand of the Creator. The knowledge that all things will be made whole, that ache that we have that things are not right…it will be fulfilled. Then there will be rejoicing complete. I wonder, though…if that rejoicing will still be informed by our suffering.

“Our dream life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing. But that cannot be true. I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether. That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking. Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life. “ -Marilynne Robinson,  Gilead: A Novel

The fact that Jesus, after His resurrection, still had his scars of the Crucifixion seems to say that we may have reminders of the suffering…but transformed and with knowledge that makes it complete. Until then, we walk in mystery, thankful for joy and trusting in suffering.


3 thoughts on “Joy and Suffering on a Birthday.

  1. sarahkwolfe says:

    Thank you, Dread.


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