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Foreword: this is a follow-up to Anticipating Joy which I wrote just a year ago as we looked ahead to Katherine’s senior year. With high school graduation and college matriculation now behind us, I can speak at last as a mom who’s been there/done that/bought the t-shirt—at least once, anyway!

You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, until the clouds roll by a little.

That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love. 

At long last, the big day has come and gone. Recently we helped our oldest daughter Katherine move into her new college dorm for the very first time. Since our return, I’ve been fielding a lot of kind inquiries from sympathetic friends: “I’m thinking of you. How are you doing? Are you okay? I’m praying for you.”

Such comments imply that I am struggling, hurting or even devastated. And why not? Isn’t that the norm for parents like me? Honestly, though, while I appreciate the concern, the biggest trouble I have is with the questions themselves. Because my response seems anything but “normal.” My current state doesn’t exactly fit the protocol for such moments. So here I sit, searching for an answer that is at once both sincere . . . and sensitive. I don’t want to be disingenuous; but then again, I don’t want other moms to smother me with a Space Bag.

Because the truth is, I feel . . . happy. That’s right. While many admit to the conventional “bittersweet” and others confess it’s been awful—even agony—for me it has been wholly, almost shockingly joyful.

And there’s something almost disrespectful about that. We don’t flaunt victory in the face of defeat—it’s downright unsportsmanlike. Even as a very new mom I knew better than to admit Katherine was a “first-try conception” baby to those struggling with infertility. And no matter how much I loved being pregnant with her, and was a little sad to see it all end, I would never dream of saying so to my friend who endured nine months of round-the-clock morning sickness.

It is not, as the French put it, “comme il faut.” Or as we say here in Texas, “t’ain’t fittin.’”

Is there a proper place for my happy?

At last I find both the words and the justification for my happy in a scene from one of my favorite movies: the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The Drayton household has just received a startling announcement from daughter Joey. The bulk of the story takes us through the reactions of various characters as each of them comes to terms with the unexpected news. Joey’s mother (played brilliantly by Katharine Hepburn) is the perfect spokesperson for me when she makes the following declaration to her husband, Matt:

“[Joey’s] always been a happy human being. She laughed out loud before she was six months old. She was happy as a baby, happy as a little girl, happy all through school and college. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen her quite as happy as she is right now. And I have to be happy for her, Matt. And I am. I feel happy for her. And proud of the fact that we helped make her. And whatever happens now, I feel glad . . . that Joey’s Joey.”

Under normal conditions, there would seem to be nothing exceptional about such motherly sentiment—but these are uncommon circumstances. The complex situation inspires all kinds of mixed emotions, and Hepburn’s response distinguishes her from the rest of the cast. We soon learn that not only does she feel happy; she has to fight for it. Even when others dismiss her position as foolish and unrealistic, she refuses to back down, going toe-to-toe with those who take a less positive view. It is this tension between the “bitter” and the “sweet” that drives the plot, keeping us all in suspense to find out which will triumph in the end. Intuitively we sense that a “happy ending” is impossible unless someone comes forward to champion joy.

Hepburn’s stirring articulation gives voice to feelings about my own Katherine. She has always been happy—and made us even more so. When she entered the world and the doctor announced, “It’s a girl!” I wept with indescribable joy. From that moment on, happiness took on a name and a face. Happiness moved into our family and lived among us. Every major milestone has been marked by happy. We’ve been blessed with eighteen years of happy. Why would this moment be any different? It seems that sending her out is destined to be just as joyful as welcoming her in.

Just as Christina did, I prepare to fight for happy—but I must pick this battle carefully. As I said, it’s definitely not the conventional response. So far I’m the only mother quoting Katharine Hepburn, and I’m afraid I’ll sound foolish and naive. (Even my own inner skeptic wonders what will happen once we say goodbye to a different child—especially the last child.) Meanwhile, I worry about being insensitive. Will my song of praise sound out of tune amid the chorus of laments? What if my shouts of joy drown out another’s weeping? Can I make room for happy without causing further unhappiness?

I find the answers to these questions by turning to God. When the complexities of life leave me baffled and defensive, He comes forward with perfect wisdom. When my responses refuse to conform to protocol, I surrender to the authority of my unconventional Lord. When I am lost inside the mysteries of the human heart, His voice helps me navigate with sincerity and sensitivity. Most importantly, He points out that it’s not my job to champion joy, because He has already done so. With more clarity and eloquence than even Miss Hepburn herself, He explains how He will put sorrow in its place to make way for joy.

First of all, He points out that there is a time for tears (Ecclesiastes 3:4), even calling us to shed them in sync with others when they mourn (Romans 12:15). Meanwhile, He reminds us again and again that joy will always triumph over sorrow in the end:

  • Sorrow is temporary, but joy will last. (Psalm 30:5, Isaiah 35:10, John 16:22, I Peter 1:6)
  • Sorrow is only a precursor to joy. (Psalm 126:5-6, John 16:20)
  • God has the power to transform sorrow into joy. (Psalm 30:11, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 31:13)

Whenever we struggle through sorrow, he fights alongside us as the undefeatable Champion of Joy, assuring us all the while that His happy will always win. The real “story of love”—His love—is the sure promise of a Happy Ending. Then the glory of His love is revealed as He makes good on that promise. At last we can all laugh (and cry)  in perfect unison, singing together as we rejoice:

God’s redeemed . . . will be happy forever, forever free from sorrow and grief. Isaiah 51:11

Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song . . . for the Lord has redeemed his people, he displays his glory. Isaiah 44:23

Coming up next: Thankful for Joy and Counting Blessings: Looking Back