When Sadness & Joy Coexist.
A lot of the most important things I’ve learned over the years have not come welcomed.
At any point along the way if I had the choice to choose between the easy way, or the path where wisdom grows, no doubt I’d choose the easy way. Even though I’d consider myself a person who follows the mantra of “work now, play later”, when it comes to the really hard stuff – hands down I’d rather avoid the pain altogether. Especially when it involves my children.
I remember telling God just over 6 years ago when we were told Joy was no longer available for adoption, “If you are going to do a miracle, do it now. I don’t want to wait until Joy is like, 9 years old, and some crazy miracle has unfolded. Even if it somehow helps other people, I’d rather have her now. It’s not fair for her.” Apparently I should have just shut up.
Have you ever seen the movie ‘Inside Out’? Oh. Ma. Gash. It’s so good. Most of the time when I watch kids movies, I completely zone out, but ‘Inside Out’ totally grabbed my attention. Essentially it is the story of five characters that live inside a little girl named Riley’s brain. Not weird, right? There is Joy, Disgust, Anger, Fear, and Sadness. Each take part in controlling Riley’s emotional reactions and decisions as life unfolds. While Riley is little and growing up, Joy takes centre stage, controlling a lot of the emotions she feels. However, as she gets older and begins to go through more mature life experiences, Sadness starts to have a lot more say. There is tension between Joy and Sadness as they argue over which emotion Riley should feel. Joy thinks Riley should always be optimistic and on to the next fun idea, whereas Sadness takes hold of hard circumstances and allow’s Riley to really feel them out and cry. The real clincher (and tears – on my part) come when they are recalling one of Riley’s old memories. Riley had lost a hockey game and was so sad that it was all her fault. She sat alone by a tree, crying, but when her teammates saw, they came over and began cheering for her, allowing Riley to feel joy from the support and love of her friends. This was a memory where both Joy and Sadness were equally involved. It wasn’t one or the other, but made much more beautiful by the intertwining of both.
It’s not usually an easy experience that reveals to people that “Sadness” (or pain/grief/suffering) can coexist with “Joy” (or happiness/gratefulness/pleasure). It’s like our brain and emotions are fighting for one or the other. There have been many times in my life where I’ve been on the brink of allowing sadness to take over; where negative thoughts play on repeat in my brain, such as “I have no idea where Joy is”, or “Joy is living in South Sudan, she’s not safe”, or “adoption is so expensive, how can we afford this?” Those have been some of mine, but we all have our own mix tapes of negativity that taunt us from time to time. They have left me at times feeling completely defeated and overwhelmed.
There was a long period of time that I did give in. And I think that is, in part, a normal process of grieving. I wasn’t really able to see the colour in life anymore, and it seemed like my purpose had been stripped from me; I had failed at my utmost instinct of protecting my child. Everything seemed hopeless and the circumstances were impossibly beyond my control. I didn’t think I would be able to love like that again. It would be a betrayal, I felt. How could I give the part of my heart that belonged to Joy, away to another child? I had to allow myself to go through those emotions, and I believe it was healthy for me to do so. Our future with Joy was worth grieving over, and I didn’t want to put that on another child.
Eventually, over time and with the peace of God, we came to realize that we would never have to give that part of our hearts away, but that our hearts would grow to make room for another.
Samuel and Iris are living proof that life and joy can coexist with pain and suffering. I have found my heart restored in their smiles, the twinkle in their eyes, healing my soul. For the entirety of their lives, we have been fighting for Joy in one way or another; whether that was to find her, to bring her out of South Sudan and into school, and now as we jump through the hoops of international adoption. We’ve gone through a lot of hard things over the years, but we have also said yes to the joy and life our children bring.
And look at them! How they have grown into such sweet and beautiful souls. How they have brought so much happiness and love. They have lived full lives, love not withholding. They have not suffered because of our fight for Joy, instead they have known adventure. They have known patience and that the best things in life are worth waiting for. They have known travel and different cultures. They have exercised their own faith in their prayers. They have seen reckless love modelled, and the pursuit their mummy and daddy have after their children.
This journey for our Joy, has become their journey to their sister. It is personal to them.
On mornings we’ve heard bad or frustrating news about our adoption process, when I just want to wallow or go into fetal position, there are two little people staring at me with big beautiful eyes, demanding me to be present. The ability little children have to say just about anything and have it sound cute, is basically medicine. “Mo yogutt peeeeeaazze Mummy?!?Oh! Sank you!” or "I love you Mummy, my beauty" – just a little more restoration of my soul right there.
But don’t get me wrong - my own emotional well-being certainly does not come before my desire for Joy’s happiness. Every day I praise God for Joy’s dormitory mum that takes care of her. For her teachers who love her well. For her speech therapist that gives her extra attention. For her friends who run around and play with her. But when I hear news of Joy being sick, my heart breaks. When I hear she is acting out after holidays, getting readjusted to having less one on one attention, my heart breaks. When I talk to her on the phone and know there are no words I can say to make her understand how much we love her, my heart breaks. Some days, it’s enough to have me fall into depression, but then I hear Joy’s giggle and realize there’s happiness there too.
I know I’m using a lot of examples from my children about the things in life that bring joy, but of course there is more than that. My husband. My family. My friends. The sun streaming through the window. The feeling I get when I add the finishing touches to a painting. Watching a pie bake in the oven. The “ah that’s so true!” moments of a good book. Dancing in the car to a song I haven’t heard in forever that's surprised me on the radio. A good talk over tea with a friend. An idea that suddenly clicks. The smile lines on Tim’s face. On and on it goes. Those joys can stand on their own – I don’t have to let pain steal them away.
In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes “As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible […] The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here in this messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be –– unbelievably –– possible!” I love that so much! In our quest for our daughter Joy, we do not have to allow joy to be stolen from our presents. Through gratitude for every little & big thing, joy can be with us here and now as well! Coexisting with the hard, coexisting with the messy, the bruised, the frustrated, joy is still a gift to be received.
I feel like in the loss we have endured –– and surely it is a loss to spend these days… years… being separated from our daughter, and her from us, due to insufferable bureaucracy –– we have been given a gift also. A gift of understanding. That the dream of Joy as our daughter, wasn’t ours to have taken away. That Joy is first and foremost, God’s. That this whole thing is out of our control. And that Jesus is faithful. Not just through us, but in spite of us. Through that surrender, and in giving thanks in all things,