Written in April 2022
I walk into church the wind blasting my face, so forceful it might knock me over. This is my first Sunday back to church. My stomach is tied in knots; the familiar nauseating anxiety climbing up my insides. I take a deep breath. I walk, with each step, reminding myself I stand in the love of Christ. This truth helps stabilize me. I am greeted by the familiar faces of people whose warm gazes meet my eyes, reminding me that this is a safe place. I walk across the threshold, hoping no one sees me. I want to camouflage into the crowd, find my seat, and sit down. A dear friend spots me from across the room. My stomach churns and my hands shake; I am not ready for someone to ask me how I am. I wait for it; for the question, but it never comes. Instead, her arms embrace me. “It is so good to see you,” she says. “I feel like I’m going to cry,” I choke out, fighting back tears, “It is so good to see you too.” And in that moment, the layers of perfection, striving, and worry fall to the ground; discarded, so that I can walk forward shameless reentering the body of Christ. Her embrace reminds me that I am not alone; we all need Jesus and we all need one another.
I quickly walk into the commons, locking eyes with my husband and sitting down. With my head down, trying to avoid eye contact, my trembling hands begin to pull out snacks for the kids. “Kristen, can I give you a hug?” a voice breaks through the nervous rush pulsing through my body. I turn and there is a young woman who I have admired for years from afar. We are acquaintances, but in that moment, this truth surrounds me—she is my sister in Christ. “I would love that.” As she squeezes me tight, again, I can feel the love of Christ surrounding me.
Worship begins, music filling the commons from the wood floor all the way to the vaulted ceilings. I watch my kids as they grasp Froot Loops, pushing them into their mouths, breathing in the sounds of adoration for our God. We have been watching worship from our home for the last several months; they are giddy with excitement to finally praise God as a family.
“There’s joy in the house of the Lord today,” this familiar melody drifts through the air, reaching my ears. There is joy today and not because I have human-found joy inside me, but because of a deep jubilation inside my soul from God alone. Joy resides inside my soul in company with sadness and grief. Joy does not mean an absence of depression, but instead, this spring of jubilee flows from remembering that God is with me, despite depression. Much like the church body, He embraces me, never leaving me, flooding my soul with joy. Listening to these truth-filled lyrics and with tears glistening in my eyes, I lift my hand heavenward, praising God for continuing to carry me daily and for bringing forth joy in His house.
As the service concludes, I begin to gather our Bibles, pens, crayons, paper, coloring pages, and snacks, trying to push them in my bag; another ordinary task that feels foreign due to depression. Again, another acquaintance who I see in a new light, as a sister in Christ, comes up and asks me, “How are you doing?” Her query is genuine, concern painted across her face; as if God Himself wanted to know the answer to this question. The care of this woman fills me with a soul-quenching love—mirroring Christ’s own safe-keeping toward me.
“I hate to interrupt, but I just need to give you a hug,” these words drift into my ears from a dear friend. “Of course,” I answer. She squeezes me tight, as we both savor this moment. Within this lock of believers, I feel cared for, seen, and known; again, the embrace of God fully covering me.
My husband scoops up our rambunctious two-year old and I rest my hand on my daughter’s golden hair. As we exit the church building, the outside of my body is tense, blasted again with cold air. However, my soul is still, resting in the beauty that joy and sadness can coexist. Because of the sweet embrace from my church body, my soul is embraced with God’s comfort. Friends, let’s embrace one another with squeezes, bear hugs, and above all—God’s love and remind one another that joy and sadness can cohabitate within us.