A tiny foot is wedged into the bottom of my ribcage, prompting me to surrender to third-trimester insomnia and rise with the spring sun. I make coffee, pulling down the same two mugs I always do for my husband and myself. It is a daily rhythm serving as an anchor in these strange times where one day bleeds into the next.
Today the coffee has to brew over the gas stovetop because of a neighborhood power outage—a small inconvenience, but I have lived abroad long enough to expect interruptions. It comes with the package when signing up for the expatriate life.
But how troubling it is the first time the veil of certainty is stolen from our startled hands and we realize we were not as in control as we once thought. How troubling it is when a novel virus carries itself invisibly from street to street, city to city, and we all find ourselves behind the closed doors of our homes, our routines wholly and completely upset. “Normal” holds a new definition now, the old meaning tossed aside. One day it was and the next it was not.
My husband and I have had good practice braving the onset of life’s interruptions. Prolonged uncertainty breeds isolation but we have learned to receive it. Along with living in a foreign country, we got married amid a controversial travel ban, paddled the choppy waters of immigration visas, and are now bringing a child into a worldwide pandemic. Uncertainty is an always-present third party perched on top of the couch, a visitor who has missed the cues and overstayed its welcome.
Like brewing coffee, walking outside each day—perhaps more of a waddle, belly propelling me forward—has been another anchor, a sacred cadence for the soul.
Neighboring homes stand stoic and taciturn as families tuck themselves inside. The unusual silence cloaks everything like a stubborn layer of dust. There are masked faces, parks wrapped in police tape, canceled plans, and disappointments.
But when looking a little more closely, there is also a wave of a hand from a watchful grandma behind glass, a clumsily colored rainbow taped to a window, a softer and gentler greeting between two people as they pass six feet apart. A turtle ambles across the rocks. The lilac trees blossom into soft purples. A collared dove perched in an evergreen calls out in a long, slow lament.
Having weathered many upsets in life, my husband and I know the feeling of juggling juxtaposing emotions. At the beginning of the year, we received news that caused the seams of our life to unravel and the ground beneath our feet to shake. The heartbeat of every one of our prayers for the last few years was for a single door to open. And now, after one phone call with an impassive immigration clerk on the other end of the line, that door was closed shut.
Yet life went on and my belly grew a little rounder each day. A week after receiving the devastating news, we held a party with our close friends where we bit into cupcakes to the count of three and cheered when little pink sprinkles spilled out from the middle—a girl. We celebrated with frosting decorating the corners of our laughing mouths, sprinkles falling into cupped hands. And I remember feeling these words dash across my mind for just a fleeting moment: This is kind of nice.
When receiving the difficult news earlier that week, all our future dreams dissipated in front of us. We could no longer plan ahead. The curtain of certainty was stolen and replaced with an unending today but never tomorrow. But this—celebrating the coming of a new baby girl with pink cupcakes and laughs and prayers—was nice.
The late poet, Mary Oliver, writes that joy should not be compared to a crumb. Recognizing the scattering of little joy crumbs on the counters of our lives does not need to be embarrassingly brushed into our hands and down the sink or quickly wiped from our lips before anyone has noticed. “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,” she pens, “don’t hesitate. Give in to it.” We have permission to recognize the little bit of beauty in the struggles of life.
Spotting joy—there it is and there is another!—does not overshadow the weight of grief, disappointment, and pain, for these too, are important to hold. Feeling one thing does not negate the other because both/and fits comfortably on our laps.
Joy makes space for these heavy things. We can lift it onto one hip and sorrow the other, our arms wrapped around both like a mother gathering her children to her. It is in the tension of life’s complications where the scent of God is. It is here—right here, at this moment—where the Creator speaks, for he holds it all together. At this crossroads is where we can partake in the glory that will be revealed at God’s coming again.
Joy is in the kick of a tiny baby’s foot, the slow brew of morning coffee, a power outage, the daily rhythm of rising and opening curtains. It is in a leisurely walk, the still small whisper of God’s voice, two mugs set out on the table, frosting on a cupcake. Perhaps looking for these is a way to fight back against the heaviness of life. Perhaps it is okay to see a morsel of joy in the middle of pain.
So when you do see little joy do not hesitate. Give in to it. Grab on to it.