This is the last excerpt from my book that I will be sharing on the blog. Thank you for allowing me to share my family's story these past few weeks, I hope that it has been an encouragement to you!

When my wife was seven months pregnant and still in chemotherapy, we went to an amusement park called Dutch Wonderland, so named for its proximity to Pennsylvania Dutch country. I tried to have a good time while there, but found it impossible to ignore the stares of every person we passed by, their eyes inexorably drawn to this heavily pregnant woman with a shaved head who walked by my side. They stared so long and shamelessly I swear I could almost hear their thoughts: Why did this pregnant woman shave her head?

One woman stared so long that I hissed to her, “IT’S CANCER.” Her eyes went wide with shock, and she scurried past us. It is hard to put into words just how satisfying that moment was for me. But honestly, who can blame her for being unable to look away from this jarring juxtaposition of cursedness and blessing, of health, and sickness. Of life, and of death.

But these are not the only memories I have of this time. I also remember the dancing.

When Carol was receiving chemo, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” was at the very height of its popularity. Sophia demanded we hold nightly dance parties that featured just that one song, played on infinite repeat. And so we did. Even at four, Sophia was a graceful dancer who could imitate the moves from the “Single Ladies” video with uncanny precision, especially the syncopated downward fist pumping/knee raises. Katie had no interest in dance moves—she wanted only to jump. She would clamber up on the sofa, and once there, would leap back down to the carpet, always sticking the landing while wearing the same manic smile on her face that she does to this day.

Carol and I were much too exhausted to dance with the same enthusiasm as our daughters. We tried our best to keep up, shuffling about tiredly, our heels rarely leaving the floor. Mostly, we just watched them and smiled.

As hard as those weeks and months were on Carol and me, our daughters filled our home with laughter and joy. We would bake Christmas cookies with the girls, their cheeks stained red and green from the sugar they would lick from their creations. We spent hours playing in the four-foot snowdrifts outside our house, where Katie would constantly get stuck and cry out for someone to lift her out onto cleared ground. After treatment sessions, Carol would often go to bed before the girls did, and in those situations, the girls would be the ones to read their mother a bedtime story, positively bursting with pride each time they did.

As hard as that season was, our daughters flourished and were happy. And this made both Carol and me deeply happy in turn, blunting the impact of what might have been a terribly depressing season for us both. Their joy and laughter became ours, a kind of blessing bestowed from children to parent, rather than the other way around.

There is a passage in Romans 12 that testifies to this dynamic, when Paul commands us not only to weep with those who weep, but also, to be happy with those who are happy (verse 15). What a blessing that it is not just sorrows we can share vicariously with others, but joy and happiness as well. And so even in seasons where we may have little to smile or laugh about in our individual lives, we are not robbed of all reasons for joy. We have the joy of others, which can become ours in turn.

God used my daughters to teach me an important lesson, that deep pain and deep joy can coexist. I often have a very binary view toward life, where either I am happy, or I am sad. Either things are going well, or they are going badly. Either one or the other, but never both. And this dualistic perspective often causes me to miss out on so much of life. When I am doing well, I forget the open wounds I and many others still carry; when I suffer, I am blind to the joys that are right in front of my face, and feel it is somehow immoral to crack a smile.

The reality is blessing and suffering often coexist with one another. And one image captured this lesson perfectly for me. In our yard, we have a small mulberry tree, which typically bears a dark purple and very sweet berry. But I knew the tree would never bear fruit because it was completely overtaken by a wisteria vine which encircled the tree from its roots to its branches, so entwined that it was difficult to tell the vine from the tree itself. We were certain the mulberry was as good as dead. But as summer approached, we noticed the tree was growing leaves, and then pinkish berries that would eventual ripen to dark purple. And not just a few mulberries, but bushels worth, bending the branches with their weight. Even though the tree was encircled by that nasty vine, it was bearing fruit.

I thoughtfully regarded the tree from my living room window and realized that this was a perfect metaphor for my wife and her own struggle. An invasive form of breast cancer had taken a hold of her, spreading its tendrils from her chest to her arm, threatening to spread and choke the life out of her. But she resisted and refused, fighting its influence, and even becoming pregnant. I saw my wife in that beautiful tree and wept at the power of the image, and the strength of my wife. And then I immediately took my axe and chopped the wisteria to bits, and burned those bits to ash.

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This is life: blessing and suffering, joy and sadness, the mulberry and the wisteria. Learning to accept this comingling is to learn how to live fully. It is to find that you are in a painful place, but that small but precious blessings are still to be found, even in a wasteland. It is to be lonely but happy, sick but at peace, filled with joy and compassion, hopeful yet sober. Christians are often loathe to adopt this mentality, believing that acknowledging human brokenness and pain somehow diminishes the victory of God. But we forget our church history, how saints would suffer terribly and then praise God in the very same breath. They did so because they understood that God is present in all moments of our lives, valleys and mountaintops alike. God’s presence and power are not confirmed through one positive moment but then invalidated by a negative one.

He is Lord over them both, and over all.

Third Culture
Third Culture looks at matters of faith from the multicultural and minority perspective.
Peter Chin
Peter W. Chin is the pastor of Rainier Avenue Church and author of Blindsided By God. His advocacy work for racial reconciliation has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, NPR, and the Washington Post.
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