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While I wrote this during the summer of 2020 for (in)courage, I think acknowledging this tension and pondering what it looks like within our own lives will always be of critical importance.  ***********

My weekend encapsulated one of those magical moments that little girls dream about their whole lives – their wedding day. With months of uncertainty and questions about gatherings due to the COVID-19, the celebration was sweetened by the intense way my niece and her fiancé pushed through struggles and challenges, tears and fears. It was finally their day!

With her faithful father by her side, my niece floated down the venue stairs. Robed in white, her shimmering eyes sparkled with a kind of innocent joy that’s rare these days. She glanced at her daddy and then stepped toward her future groom, clutching his hand with a little excited squeal thrown in for good measure. Long before he knew the name of his daughter’s future spouse, my brother had been praying about the possibility of this day. From start to finish, it was the glorious affirmation of all they’d prayed for — the good and the beautiful that is at the heart of all covenantal wedding days. It was pure joy.

But my weekend also included one of life’s greatest sorrows — the sudden loss of my dear friend’s child. I was at the rehearsal dinner when I received her text. My gasp was audible, so I quickly walked away so as not to dampen the celebratory mood. As I was doubled over with grief, music and dancing, laughter and giggles echoed all around me. But on the other end of the phone, my friend’s heart was splayed open from the devastation over her loss. Her daughter was gone too soon, never to have a rehearsal dinner. We have no guarantees.

Laughter and lamenting. Toasts and tears. All the “firsts” amidst such finality.

How could such emotions co-exist? How was I to function?

With fourteen people staying at our home for the wedding, followed by a Sunday worship service (held in our backyard) for young families we mentor, I spent the wee hours of the weekend flushing out Ecclesiastes 3 in my heart. As I begged the Lord for wisdom on how to hold the grief and the joy, I was granted a gift.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 (NIV)

As I texted my grieving friend on the morning of the wedding, I shared that while I’d have to compartmentalize my feelings in order to celebrate, my heart wouldn’t be far from hers.

Her response came from someone who has spent decades deeply rooted in a biblical worldview that laid a solid foundation for her theology of suffering. She was understandably angry, completely devastated and living a parent’s worst nightmare, yet she also desired that through her darkest hour her Savior would be glorified.

She texted back, Jen, go rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We will have plenty of time for mourning later.

My memories of that wedding week are so complex, but they’ve taken me to a deeper level with the Lord than I’ve experienced in a long time. We want happy fairy tale days, and though our Lord does graciously give good gifts to His children, we are not guaranteed a life without grief and loss.

We’re all walking through such varied seasons right now, but one thing is certain: God is intricately involved in both our suffering and celebrating.

I’m reminded that we must ask tough questions in our faith now so that we can have a strong foundation when we face impossible situations, including death and loss. Then, He can comfort us in our most challenging times when we cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?”

I’m sitting in that tension on a more personal level as well. Prior to my niece’s wedding, I had received some scary medical results. I’d wrestled with pain under my left breast throughout the shelter-at-home quarantine, but since all non-essential appointments had been canceled for months, I decided not to worry my family unnecessarily. Once I finally got my appointment, the results of my mammogram showed a small mass where the pain was located.

It could be just a fatty tumor, but honestly, life holds such a perspective shift with what this mass could mean. It’s a gift to process all this even as I write now.

And as I wait for results*, I wonder what’s to come. In complete transparency, I’m worried. Yet, I’m not allowing worry to be used as a weapon to harm me. Satan is trying his best, but instead, I’m taking every single worry for myself, my dear friend and her family, for our future, and wielding it as worship with my eyes fixed on the only Waymaker.

He is here amidst our laughter and lament, amidst our worry and our worship. I know this to be true and choose to continue anchor my heart in His Word. There, I find grace for myself, and there is grace for you too.

*Edited to add: To everyone’s shock and relief, I got my mammogram results, and they were benign. Thanking God for His grace!