We count it a blessing to see, in the church where God has planted our family, how many saints walk faithfully and joyfully through very hard things. Their faithfulness, endurance joy, and faith encourage us to press on looking up to Jesus, knowing that He is near us.
Kate has been such a faithful mom through a long trial, and her testimony of God’s faithfulness sustaining her family is a gift to the church. I trust that you will be encouraged to read this.
The Great Gift (of Small Joys)
By Kate Nieuwsma
“When my anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19
“But how can they survive?” I asked myself. A few years ago, three faithful women in my community lost their babies within a few weeks of one another, all in truly tragic circumstances. What I saw unfolding for them was my deepest nightmare. The death of one of my children is something that – if I let it – will keep me up at night in a cold sweat. (Pretty sure it will do that to most parents!) Part of why it scared me so much is that I had seen this trial unfold before, and I thought I knew what came afterwards: despair, chaos, spiritual death. I cringed at the loss of faith I thought was fated to follow on the heels of such grief.
But instead? I was given one of the greatest spiritual gifts I have ever received. Every single one of those women showed bone-deep grief. But they also showed us joy. In the months that followed their loss, they told us the sharp-edged sorrow, but they wrapped it with the joy of God’s provision. They showed us laughter with their families. They showed us dignity in loss. They spared us the gritty, public play-by-play of grief lauded in our culture as being the only “authentic” reaction, knowing that we didn’t have the grace to bear that, and they pointed us to Christ instead. When they could have – without guilt – buried us in the heaviness of legitimate grief, they chose instead to hand us joy. Not pretendy joy. Not false laughter that doesn’t admit the difficulty. But that deep, sometimes weeping joy that says “This is a dark night, but Christ is the light.” We saw them cling to Christ, and then we saw them stand strong in joy.
I held onto this gift of joy in trials, but I had no idea how much I would need it. About 8 months ago, my then-2-year-old daughter was suddenly diagnosed with an acute kidney condition. We thought at first it was temporary, but it has become clear over the last few months that this is likely to be a constant throughout her childhood, and perhaps her entire life. Our last few months have been full of pain and pain management, hospital stays, numerous infections, pancreatitis, pneumonia, thousands of blood tests, IV sticks, PICC lines and bandaids and insomnia and hard hospital beds and difficult visions of the future. There was a very real danger of losing her several times in this journey so far, and the possibility for permanent disability or a shortened life is always present.
I remember standing by her hospital bed a few months into her journey after a difficult night and an even more difficult morning blood draw. Things were hard, and the temptation to be weary and weepy and ask for others to join with me in that tired, frustrated pain was very real. But then I looked up and saw her sitting there with a case of simply legendary bedhead, double-fisting some juice and water, and giving me a classic look of hilarious, near-drunken morning bleariness. There was nothing to do but laugh out loud and take a picture (and show it to her – she laughed too!). That morning, I remembered the glory of those faithful women handing out a glimpse of the joy that comes in sorrow, and I decided to pass that along in a tiny way. I posted that picture of my little one with the very real and cleansing laughter that came with it rather than the bid for sympathy I desperately wanted to post. It was a simple act of finding joy in the midst of difficulty, a preschool level attempt at mimicking the great acts of faith that I had seen, but I can’t tell you how many people have thanked me for that funny little picture and others like it. There is something foundationally comforting about small joys in the midst of a trial. They tell those around us that we will be ok, and it also tells them that they will be too. It tells them that when their turn for trouble comes along (and we all know that it will), that they will make it through. That Christ will be with us all even when things are hard. That in the darkest cave of trials there is still the light of God, the relief of holy laughter. That when pain is real, heaven is more so.
Joy reminds us that Christ will make it right.
Joy is both submission and rebellion, a sword and trowel. It faithfully plants seeds in the midst of a snowstorm, and it guards the soul like a watchdog. It shakes the fist at the type of “rawness” that insists that glory is not possible in the midst of difficulty. That your truest feelings are only the ones that happen when self-control is lost.
And the best part about joy? When you go in search of it in order to pass it on, seeking the beautiful gems of laughter and provision and comfort in the dark cave you’ve been thrown into, you always find far more than you’ve been looking for. Joy is like the stable in C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Last Battle’: far larger on the inside than it is on the outside. When you crack open that door in order to battle the darkness, you find that you’ve actually stumbled on a place of feasting. You find that Christ has “set a table in the presence of your enemies” (especially those enemies of the soul – bitterness, ingratitude, fear, cowardice). Even small joy opens the door to great victory.
This race of faith that God has called my daughter and the rest of our family to may be a long one. We honestly don’t know how far this road will take us or what it will contain. But we have seen the faithful runners ahead of us in this race of faith, and we have seen their faithful obedience of joy. Because of them, we know that we will be ok. We know that Christ is here, because they have shown us His joy. Make us like them, Lord!
Light this darkness with the flame of Your joy.