One of my favorite Thanksgiving songs has a verse in it that always grabs my heart.
I thank Thee, too, that all our joy is touched with pain.
That shadows fall on brightest hours, that thorns remain.
So that earth’s bliss may be our guide, and not our chain.
–From My God I Thank Thee Who Hast Made, by Adelaide A. Proctor (1858)
Recently as the song ran through my mind, I realized that I had always thought of that verse as pain-touched-with-joy but it’s really talking about joy-touched-with-pain. Maybe not much difference exists between the two, but I like to think it does.
Joy-touched-with-pain implies that joy is stronger, that through the worst pain we ever feel, joy will come sneaking in the back door, surprising us when we least expect it.
That’s how I feel about this past year. To be honest, some things I went through this year were brutally hard.
The first part of the year I battled depression worse than I ever have yet, and all the normal coping skills weren’t enough. I think a lot of it had to do with facing some tough memories from the past while revisiting a community I hadn’t been to for a long time. Somehow going to an area from my past brought up old pain and sad dreams at night and random crying spells.
In the spring we welcomed a beautiful little girl to our home, and loved her, oh so much! But again, we faced separation this fall. Foster care has brought heartbreaking losses, and many times I wondered if I was strong enough to follow Jesus in this way.
A few months ago I discovered that my aging cochlear implant was becoming obsolete, and felt the pain of not knowing what the future held for my hearing. I wasn’t going to be able to get new parts or get the processor serviced anymore. Nobody likes the idea of losing one of their five senses…it made me feel vulnerable and scared.
Twice this past year, people I loved and trusted shocked me with their crushing words about who I am as a person. I’ve had to accept that even if I love people, I can’t make them love me back. If anyone dislikes me because they disagree with me, I can’t change my beliefs just to earn their love. It wouldn’t be the real deal if I did.
Yet in all of these circumstances, joy has surprised and filled me more than I thought possible.
A listening ear and kind words along with a prescription helped my depression. I found a close circle of lady friends always willing to listen and help me process things that I was going through. They never preached at me or tried to change me, but shared their insights and ideas, and slowly but surely I climbed out of the hole.
Many wonderful, good-hearted people pitched in and helped pay for my implant upgrade. My friends far and near raised a whopping $17,000! I used about half of that for my updated equipment, and the rest was safely stowed in a savings account marked for hearing needs only. In the fifteen years Will and I have been married, we have always paid all my hearing expenses out of pocket. Sometimes I waited a long time for what I needed, but God always provided. This outpouring of kindness was one of the most overwhelming gifts I have ever experienced. To have enough for now and plenty left for later made me feel loved and cared for in a way I can’t describe. I caught a glimpse of God’s massive, joyful, and healthy church that I’m part of–a church that isn’t limited by geographical area or denomination.
The hard words from people I loved were miraculously accompanied by completely unrelated emails from friends across the globe who wanted to bless me where God has me now. I also experienced God’s working in my life so that I was better able to look at the criticism and glean what I could from it without letting it tear down my spirit. It’s truly God’s mercy that I’m not consumed (Lamentations 3:22).
And the little girl…I still miss her achingly much. I don’t know how God is going to redeem that. However, I know that He is still in the business of redeeming. Someday I will see His goodness in the situation; if not in this world, then in the next.
So while parts of my story are yet unfinished and often bring tears to my eyes, I have a deep, deep joy that comes from feeling safe in Jesus. I am able to give to and receive from the many people He has placed around me. I don’t have pain-touched-with-joy, but joy-touched-with-pain.
Thank you, Jesus!