As a little kid I often wondered why people would cry when they were happy. At weddings, baptism, or graduations, I’d ask my mom, “Why are they crying for?!” It seemed backwards: I only cried when I was sad, usually because I was in trouble or because I had hurt myself.
But tears of joy? What are those all about?
I can’t say for sure why others cry when they’re happy, but I can tell you why I do—and why I cried, uncontrollably, this past Sunday. And, to be honest, why I’m crying as I type this.
Twelve years ago, in late July of 2004, Sarah and I drove from Niceville, FL, to Jacksonville, FL, to have two little embryos placed inside her. The previous year (when just three years into our marriage—I was 25, and she was 23), we discovered, to our great grief, that we couldn’t have kids.
That was so very hard.
Then through a series of providential events we learned that there were about a half million frozen embryos in America “left over” from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures that had been done in fertility clinics throughout the States. We started calling around to fertility clinics in the Southeast, and we found one in Jacksonville that had a sizeable number of embryos that had been legally released by the parents and “belonged” to the clinic.
And we were able to adopt two of them. Each embryo had a 1 in 3 chance of survival. And, wonderfully, both made it: they are our amazing twin daughters Lydia and Rosemary. That was 2004.
Then in May 2011, while we were living in Cambridge, England, Sarah flew back to Jacksonville, FL, to have two more embryos, neither biologically related to our twins, placed inside her. One embryo didn’t make it, while the other did: his name is Winston, the greatest little boy on the planet.
Then (yet again!) in February of 2013, while we were living in Durham, North Carolina, Sarah flew back to Jacksonville to have two more embryos, both biologically related to Winston. Again, one embryo made it, while the other didn’t: her name is Julianne, and she’s our little drama queen.
This past weekend our entire family caravanned to Jacksonville, FL, to drop off our two cars at the port to have them shipped to San Juan, Puerto Rico—our next (and, we hope, very long-term) ministry stop. On a very quiet Sunday afternoon we were able to stop by the fertility clinic, located at the Baptist Medical Center in the downtown area.
It is mysterious—and most beautiful—to me how a geographical location can evoke such an assailing squad of emotions, to all of which I readily surrendered. My tears of joy were—and are—tears of profound gratitude, springing painfully from a sharp contrast between what I deserve and what God has actually given me. There arises within me an acute sense of shame and guilt for the countless ways I have impatiently and impetuously persuaded myself that I know what’s best for me, filling me with accusations against God of incompetence and indifference, even animosity.
But it seems that God might have actually known what he was doing. The whole time.
(Is this not the sanctification process—to learn at a deeper and deeper level what we mistakenly thought we already knew? As T.S. Eliot says, “There is only the fight to recover what has been lost / And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions / That seem unpropitious.”)
And with this there returns the conclusion that I have reached at several key junctures in my life: I am like the patriarch Jacob: he is the jerk who gets all the blessings.
For our wedding ceremony Sarah’s mother Trudy, a gifted musician and songwriter, brilliantly suggested that we have the congregation sing the hymn “O God Beyond All Praising.” I have made these lyrics my own.
O God beyond all praising,
we worship you today
and sing the love amazing
that songs cannot repay;
for we can only wonder
at every gift you send,
at blessings without number
and mercies without end:
we lift our hearts before you
and wait upon your word,
we honor and adore you,
our great and mighty Lord.
Then hear, O gracious Savior,
accept the love we bring,
that we who know your favor
may serve you as our king;
and whether our tomorrows
be filled with good or ill,
we’II triumph through our sorrows
and rise to bless you still:
to marvel at your beauty
and glory in your ways,
and make a joyful duty
our sacrifice of praise.