A Chance to Choose Joy

Birthday Girls: Heather, Rachael, Laura. September 25, 2011.

Mourning and Dancing
On September 25, our beautiful daughter-in-law Rachael celebrated her 29th birthday (honest!). Her parents hosted a party at their home. 
Our initial plan for the day had been: 
Go to church.
Go to the cemetery.
Go to Rachael’s party.
In 2006, Rachael was widowed on her birthday. Her husband was my husband’s oldest son, Sean. And so, each year, we visit Sean’s grave. Then we celebrate Rachael’s birthday.

This year, our morning began as it always seems to on this day. The morning was quiet, tearful; at the proper hour, we washed our faces and drove to church. I squeezed my husband’s hand, feeling for the edges of his heartbreak, as we worshiped our God together. 

After church we returned home to prepare for our trip. We gathered our gift for Rachael and loaded drinks into an ice chest. 
“Are you ready?” I asked. 
“You know,” Rich said. “I’d like to go to the party first. When we go to the cemetery first…..well, I hate bringing all that to Rachael’s celebration. Maybe we’ll go to the cemetery afterwards.” 
I nodded. 
We drove to Rachael’s parents’ home. We ate. We swapped news with friends and family. We watched our grandchildren play. The sun made its way through the clouds, shining on us all. 
Phil, Jeffrey, Jordynne, and Ayden. 
We watched Rachael and her friends and birthday neighbors, Heather and Laura, open gifts. We ate cake. 
Granddaughter Carly and Friend Enjoy Cake.

And then it was time to leave. The cemetery lay another ten miles east; our home, fifty miles west.

Rich eased our car into the westbound onramp, and we headed for home. 

This post is in memory of Sean, and in memory of Sara Frankl, who urged us always to choose joy.

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, 12 That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever. 

Psalm 30:11-12 (NASB)


  1. Wow. Well, you did the right thing, I think. Birthday Girl looks happy. And the best, brightest, most important things of her husband aren't at all in the ground. Thank you for sharing. I did read the back story. (I hate motorcycles!)

  2. Thanks, Brandee. In my family, we have a lot of these bittersweet days. My mother died on my grandson's birthday, for example.

    God keeps showing us the relentlessness of joy.

  3. Jennifer @ GettingDownWithJesus.com

    Mmmm … So tender, Sheila.

    This weekend, at Laity Lodge, Jeff Overstreet read an essay from Buechner about being a "good steward of our pain." What do we do with the pain?

    It's not easy, for sure, but I think what you're doing here is a touching example of this.

  4. Thank you, Jennifer. I read the Buechner piece this morning. If you see a bit of that philosophy reflected here, then I am humbled, and honored.

  5. Sandra Heska King

    So bittersweet. And then this: Rich eased our car into the westbound ramp, and we headed for home.

    That idea of being a good steward of pain has resonated with many of us.

    Love to you.

  6. Ah, yes, Sheila. The choose joy/move through piece. Beautifully written, so sweetly told.

    At my daughter's wedding this summer, my husband and I walked out of the church just on the edge of tears. We both had the exact same response: Isn't this a glorious celebration of redemption after pain….and….isn't it sad at the very same time?? That such loveliness comes out of death?

    Mark's sister and family graced Lisa with their presence at this wedding – which was so beautiful of them. And as she came out, I thanked her and tried to share what we were feeling in our mixed up emotions. She looked me right in the eye, held my arm and said, "Yes, I know what you mean. But today, TODAY is about joy." Oh my. choosing joy, indeed.

  7. After my Dad's death, my mom only visited his grave once. She said going there only caused her to feel sorry for herself. She remarked to me, "after all, your dad is not there, because he is in heaven."
    Your husband did the right thing to turn toward home and he chose joy instead of sorrow.

  8. Stunned silence. I believe you chose wisely.

  9. Sandy,
    Thank you. Bittersweet, yes. Good stewardship, I hope so.
    Love to you, too.

  10. Diana,
    Thank you for sharing your sweet story. The anthropologist in me is working out the kinship parallel. In your story, Rich and I would be like Mark's family was at your Lisa's wedding.

    I hope your Lisa is as dear to them as our Rachael is to us. It sounds as if she is.

    Choosing joy. Yes.

  11. Hazel,
    Thank you for your comment. We can't choose away the sorrow. It is with us always.

    But we can choose where to focus. And this year, we chose joy.

  12. Nancy,
    Silence from you is almost unnerving.

    And I mean that in the nicest way.

    Love to you, friend.

  13. So sweet. These earth moments can be all mixed up with the bitter and the sweet. It's odd how they mingle together sometimes. I think the sweetness of your day lingered somehow on the edges of the rest of it…

    So nice of you to honor Gitz here along with Sean. Your heart is a wonderful place, Sheila.

  14. Heather Barnett


    That was so very moving, I just want to say that Im so blessed to be apart of your familys lives..Im truely greatful to have Rachael in my life, we have grown so close and have become the bestest friends. I know that her bday is on a day that reminds her of a horrible tragic time in all of your lives. There are things that we cannot change, take back or even forget. Alls we can do is move forward and love one another and live life the way God intended it to be for us. My goal is to share in on Rachaels bday and make it as happy and remarkable as I can to help ease the pain that comes on that day every year.And just know that every year will get easier. She is very blessed to have such amazing family like you. Liked the pictures of us three=)

  15. Heather,
    Thank you! You're a sweet, sweet bonus to our love for Rachael.

    I'm glad you liked the pictures.