One Saturday this winter, I was on dad duty watching my two little twin boys, August John and Abel James.
The Elliott men, when left alone, plundered the kitchen cabinets for treasure and ate our fill of string cheese, deli ham, and Biscoff cookies. I even snuck August and Abel some bites of ice cream (don’t tell their mom). I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a Pinot Noir with notes of plum and pepper if you care to know, and the boys each had a glass of warm milk, with some nice earthy tones.
After dinner and dessert, I decided to stream some live music performances from Youtube on our television. Now I need you to know that whenever I put music on for the boys, whether on the TV, our Homepod, or my record player, I sing and dance. They love watching me, and I love seeing their faces smile in joy. Daddy dancing has been fully incorporated into the Elliott family liturgy. That night as soon as the music started so did my feet. My queue played and feet shuffled as sweat steadily dripped off my head.
I decided to take a break.
Sitting on the cold floor, I rested my back against the living room loveseat. I smiled watching my two boys ecstatically play, talking to each other with an unknown language while fighting over a bag of zip ties (you would have thought the zip ties were gold the way they were fighting over them).The boys kept playing, and I stayed seated, a content dad; happy to see the joy on my sons faces. While I was enjoying this moment, the song “Nothing Stands Between Us” started playing.
If you aren’t familiar with the song, it’s the last song on John Mark McMillan’s Mercury & Lightning album. The album is a musical journey through John Mark’s existential crisis of faith; a journey through his feelings of disconnection and distance from God. “Nothing Stands Between Us” is the culmination of the album, where John Mark finally exclaims that it’s not God who has been distant, but rather he was the one being distant. Through all life’s joys and sorrows, God has been there. He exclaims, “You always find me, in between the thunder and the lightning.” In the quiet calm between a mighty clap of thunder and the bright flash of lightning; in that calm God is there too.
Right then, it happened.
My son, Abel, walked over and gently placed his forehead directly on mine. He just stood there, forehead to forehead, smiling and looking at me. While Abel was doing this, his twin brother August ran over and placed his head on my shoulder.
Emotions overwhelmed my heart. Tears intermingled with the sweat streaming down my face.
It was as if in this one moment my whole life played itself before my eyes.
Memories of my dad came flooding into my mind. My dad coming home from work, putting his foot on my stomach and shaking me on the ground as I laughed hysterically. Crawling onto my parents water bed in the middle of the night. Watching the Patriots game with my dad on a tiny 20 inch tv. Falling asleep on my dads arm, with my brother next to me, as we make deliveries in North Boston at 5:00am on a Saturday morning.
I saw my dad waving goodbye to me one last time as I enter kid’s church. Seeing my dad in a casket, not understanding why everyone is watching him sleep. Seeing that casket lowered into the ground. A gray, granite tombstone marking my dad’s resting place.
Then I saw years of pain: no dad on Father’s day; no dad at my graduations, my engagement, wedding, the birth of my sons; anxiety attacks; panic attacks; thinking I’m dying of a heart attack, just like my dad. I saw deep sorrow tied to my existence, to my experience.
In that moment I tasted sorrow. Salty tears streamed into my mouth; sorrow quite literally coated my tastebuds. My soul was overcome with memories of hurt and pain.
The song, Nothing Stands Between Us, continues, “River of gladness, take control
There’s a cup of joy for every taste of sorrow.”
For every taste of sorrow there is a cup of joy.
My boys smiled at me as I cried, and then proceeded to spin to the music while screaming at the top of their lungs. And, in that moment I tasted joy. Joy unexplainable. A joy so deep and unexpected, it can only be explained as supernatural. I felt the presence of God in that very moment. God telling me, “Nothing Stands Between Us!”
The Apostle Paul writes about this truth in the book of Romans.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:36, 38-39 NET)
Gregory of Naziansus, a Turkish pastor in the 4th Century, wrote a poem called Desire for Death, in which he writes,
“For I am stuffed full of all that the present world offers, of wealth, poverty, joys, of things that bring no joy, honor, humiliation, enemies, and friends…If I am nothing, my Christ, why did you form me thus? If I am precious to you, how am I pressed by so many evils?”
This truth that Paul wrote two-thousand years ago, and Gregory expounds on in his poem, I finally understood in my heart. To be human is to suffer. No matter how often we try to explain this away. Humanity is broken, and we all experience sorrow, sadness, and evil. But, nothing in this life can separate us from the love of God, because Jesus, God in the Flesh, tasted the greatest sorrow for us. We have a God who assumed humanity and with it, tasted our suffering, so that we may taste of the very life of God and the joy he brings!
So although to be human means to taste sorrow and suffer, to be human is also to experience joy and love in Jesus Christ and God’s beautiful creation. It is a beautiful dance. The same way the darkness of the night leads to the light of day, or the cold of winter leads to the warmth of summer, so to suffering and pain lead to joy.
And, I think I’m finally okay with that truth!
Sometimes you experience moments where you feel God’s divine presence in the small things, in the ordinary. This was one of those moments. What started off as a night of singing and dancing with treats, turned into a night of contemplating God and enjoying his presence; and, I’m not complaining. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to see God right in front of us, whether in a beautiful sunset, in the hand we’re holding, or in the face of our children.