Upwardly Dependent » walking the delicate balance of absolute truth and overwhelming grace.

Masthead header

When Grief & Joy Get All Mixed Up

I haven’t written much about my baby girl turning the big O-N-E.


To be honest, that was a week I wish to forget. I was one big hot mess of nostalgic outbursts and emotional fits.

There should seriously be a Pinterest tutorial for How to throw your first party in the developing world without losing your mind.

My dear friend Amber had texted me from the Target party aisle in mid-May.

What do you want for Eliza’s decorations?

I couldn’t believe I had already forgotten what I could find in Target. I mean, what I wouldn’t give to sleep on the dirty cold floor of that store right now. My love affair with the venti latte + beautiful everything shopping is very real.

Really, I’m fine over here shopping around whole iced fish and miniature shopping carts and weird flavor combinations. Ugh…I digress.

So I had no idea what to ask her for.

Um…could I just get some pink plates? And maybe some pink napkins?

Praise the Good Lord Above that woman was smart enough to include a paper banner and a polka-dotted lantern thing. It felt like America exploded out of that package and into our living room just in time for the big day.

But I sat in my guest room, staring at all of the decoration stuff without a clue of what to do with it.

What can I do with tissue paper? Oh, yes! Paper tassels! {Who in SE Asia is going to give a flip about paper tassels????}

That was my week: complete confusion as to what I should plan for the American party in the midst of what would actually translate for our local guests.

I cut up brown paper bags to use as the mounting for invitations and made plans for a taco bar in hopes that an Asian/Mexican fusion would work nicely.

And let’s talk about the cake.

I despise baking.

Go ahead and rip my woman card away, but the thought of perfectly measuring sugar and flour and holding my nose just right while I adjust an oven’s temperature in Celsius makes me want to reach for a bottle of Xanax.

I have forever deferred this responsibility in our family to my brilliant husband {who actually can knock the socks off your grandmother’s banana bread}.

So the night before the big party, he went to baking two layers of beautiful devil’s food cake. I’d been saving the Duncan Hines boxes since we moved here in March.

He also whipped up the most delicious buttercream icing. And I do mean he whipped it up {we have no electric beater}.

My only job was to ice the sucker. And this was my inspiration:

  little lamb cake

A short five minutes later, in a kitchen that I know was at least 103 degrees, I was staring at this:


Could there be a better #pinterestfail than this? I mean, how does this even happen????????

Now you have every valid reason to rip that woman card.

I stuck the disaster of a cake in the fridge, hoping I could somehow paste it back together in the morning. I turned on the wall aircon, laid underneath it with my face on the floor and experienced come-apart number 1,839 for the week.

Oh, Gavin…he wanted to help. What’s going on? Why is this party so stressful for you?

And maybe it would have been easy to answer if it had been just one thing. But there were so many emotions compiling into this one event I just didn’t know how to answer his question.

I don’t know how to do this! I cried. I don’t know how to throw a first birthday party. I’ve never had a kid before. I definitely don’t know how to do this in a foreign context. I don’t know what the norms are or how to make people feel comfortable.

I want our kids to have everything they deserve. But I don’t ever want to go overboard. I hate that our families are missing this. I feel like I’m robbing them of so much joy.

Have we given Eliza enough? Will our parents be ok? Are our guests going to know what to do with this taco stuff? And what in the world is Eliza going to smash???? 

He assured me in his simple, matter-of-fact way that everything would be just fine.

The next morning I rode out on a friend’s motorbike and bought a very Asian but very beautiful cake for $12.50. And we bought a huge pan of fried rice with shrimp and baby octopus for our local guests to enjoy.  And fried spring rolls. It really was an Asian/Mexican fusion.

And the party was a success. And our guests all had a great time. And we celebrated the life of our beautiful daughter with friends new and old.

  bday1 bday2 bday3 bday4

And I shed one more tear when my parents Skyped in for the Happy Birthday song.

Finally I was left with some leftover cake, a remaining portion of grief, and a whole mess of unexplainable joy.

  leftover cake


How is it that grief and joy can coexist? How can such opposing forces be present in the same heart at the same time?

I’m no therapist, but I know it’s possible. Because I believe in calling.

And calling means that you have a job to do. Calling means you have been given certain gifts for a purpose. And calling means you are doing your best to live that out.

But calling isn’t a free pass to easy. It doesn’t stop for holidays or celebrations. And it often means you create new traditions as others partake in the *normal* life.

When your calling is to live abroad, it’s likely you will find complete joy in it. It’s also likely you will experience deep grief in the midst of it. And I think it’s ok for the two to coexist.

Today is my mother’s birthday, and I would give anything to pick her up, sit at Sonic, and share a hot fudge sundae and gigantic diet coke. We could visit some antique stores and talk about life and have the loveliest of days.

But today I have been asked to learn another language and find some strangers to love deeply. This doesn’t make me greater and it doesn’t mean I have stopped being human.

My heart can swell for the people of this nation while it aches to be near those I have loved for so long.

Yes, grief is a huge part of living abroad. But I pray it can always be balanced by the joy that comes through answering yes to a divine call.


Today I’m linking up with The Grove at Velvet Ashes, a safe place for women who live abroad to connect. What are your thoughts on grief and joy? Do you think they can coexist? Have you felt this opposition tugging at you as you live out your calling? 



Michele @Family, Faith and FridaysJune 27, 2014 - 8:56 am

Oh bless you! You are not alone. My daughter’s first birthday cake was a red velvet cake that split just like that and looked horrible. She is now 20 and perfectly adjusted, I promise! 😉 We also stopped doing big parties shortly after that and make them sweet family affairs. And yes, grief and joy come hand in hand. I am reminded of that every time our family moves- about every TWO years with the military! May The Lord protect your heart, give you joy and continue to do BIG things through your ministry!

LindseyJune 27, 2014 - 10:10 am

Lauren- thank you for this. I have felt so much joy and grief combined since moving to SE Asia last month. You said a lot of what I’ve been experiencing. My only baby turns one in August and I fully expect to have several breakdowns that week! And I never even thought of getting party decor sent over- however, even if we were in the States his party would be pretty basic since I am a huge Pinterest mom failure. :) Thank you for sharing this!

AprilJune 27, 2014 - 10:37 am

Happy 1st birthday to your precious little girl! Looks like she was surrounded by lots of love and friends and the cake looks yummy! My heart burst and aches for you as you experience both ends of the spectrum of emotions. I can’t imagine how hard that week must have been for you all. I have been in touch with your friend and have your address. I hope to send you a package from the states soon and I will make a mental note of Target.

2copelands@gmail.comJune 27, 2014 - 10:52 am

Hi Lauren, I am Anna Wright’s mom and as a former worker to Brazil (1981-1987), I enjoy reading your blog. Your most recent post reminded me of this verse from 1 Thess. 1:6: “You paid careful attention to the way we lived among you, and determined to live that way yourselves. In imitating us, you imitated the Master. Although great trouble accompanied the Word, you were able to take great joy from the Holy Spirit!—taking the trouble with the joy, the joy with the trouble.” (The Message) Life is a mixture of joy and trouble, that’s for sure. God bless you!

Kim EdwardsJune 27, 2014 - 10:59 am

Sweet Lauren! I could have written this post in September 1984! Only it was our son’s 2nd birthday- I had no recipe, no measuring cups- and ended up with a monstrosity topped with icing with huge flecks of butter. It was NOT like the cake I’d made for his first birthday- and I cried, and cried, and cried. My tears were for all the things I was saying no to, because of what we had said yes to. It had a happy, funny ending. I went to a local bar and purchased a cake. When our guests bit in to it they had a sweet surprise as it was filled with liquor:) Many years later, a woman in attendance, now an elder’s wife in Searcy, AR, shared it was the best cake she had ever eaten:) After nine years in Italy, and several in Greece, what triumphs all the doubts and fears and tears is the knowledge that we were following His will for our lives, and the blessings that have flowed from that decision can not be expressed in words. God is using you and Gavin, and you are just where He wants you. Our prayers continue for your family!

Patty StallingsJune 27, 2014 - 11:01 am

Lauren, thanks so much for sharing with the Velvet Ashes gang today. Such a rich example of the wild mix of emotions this life brings.

“My heart can swell for the people of this nation while it aches to be near those I have loved for so long.” LOVE THIS!

Lola-MargaretJune 27, 2014 - 12:18 pm

Just to name a few: #1 I always made all the grandchildren’s awesome (well some were awesome while some were awful!!). This was #2 grandson’s 2nd birthday here in the US. Near Christmas so I decided a drum (little drummer boy) was appropriate. Christmas, why not a red velvet cake, it is so good and moist (which is why I am sure Gavin’s had an earthquake). This cake was 4 layers of gorgeous red with white cream cheese icing in between and lathered all over. Turned my back to pick up some of the mess and I think I actually heard the quake. It looked exactly like Gavin’s only red! I grabbed some wide Christmas ribbon, which thankfully happened to be handy and tied that sucker together and lathered on another layer of icing and went to the party, crying all the way. Of course I had to tell what happened as everyone was going to wonder why there was ribbon under the icing. We all lived through it. #2 In India and my dad’s birthday. He had been gone for nearly 15 years but I never forgot that every birthday I had made him a cherry pie. His birthday was almost on George Washington’s so the cherry thing was just right. Even some birthday’s since I have done the cherry pie in his honor. Stupidly, I told this story as we were nearing that date in India. Our Indian family has always jumped to try to make everything perfect for us, so on exactly Feb 19 (they don’t have pie in India) at dinner they brought in a cake with cherries all over the top. Such a precious act of love. Me – I cried like a baby, emotionally worked up as well as in my mind I was saying “this isn’t a cherry pie,” its a bad try at a great memory. How selfish is that? Truly I love them for it and we all lived through it. #3 Christmas Eve day and I am saying what are we doing here? Christmas, for the most part, is not celebrated in India, and if it is it is so far from our idea of it. All of our family and I literally mean “all” have always been at our house around our Christmas tree – for 50+ years. What am I supposed to do to get through this day. How am I going to leave cookies and milk out for Santa? Yes, I still did that at 70 something. This is going to be the most horrible evening and day of my life. And I found every possible moment to cry about it. We had been out for some reason or other – my husband was probably trying to distract me as he really doesn’t know what to do with me when I am on a crying jag. We climbed the stairs to our rooftop home and were met by the two children of our Indian family grinning from ear to ear and standing beside a total “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” randomly lit (I was always very articulate about placing the lights exactly evenly). What did I do? I burst into tears. But this time I was not resenting the lack of this tree being like the one I have in America. I was totally overcome with emotion that Priyanka and Billhall would even think to do this for us. Where in the heck did they get this tree and the lights and stuff? When the tears cleared, I just stared. It was truly the most beautiful Christmas tree I had ever seen, because behind it was true love. As opposed to perfection waiting for everyone to gasp at my beautiful creation. And we all more than lived through it. It is that Charlie Brown Christmas tree that I will always remember when the site of all those “perfect” ones have long faded. Okay, so what did I learn? That all my cakes are not perfect (sure hope you still ate Gavin’s because I bet it was absolutely delicious), and that love shown in the best way it can be makes a cake covered with cherries and a Charlie Brown tree is the best ever. May not sound like much of a lesson to most, but anyone who knows me, knows God taught me what mortal love really is – get over yourself, Lola-Margaret

Jeannette WilsonJune 27, 2014 - 6:06 pm

I agree that joy and greif can coexist. I have a very involved son with CP. While my family and friends can do all normal things, I am often confined to our home with his equipment nearby. However, i find great joy in taking care of him, and seeing him progress in his own slow time. It has given me a profound appreciation of the little blessings we experience each day. I ca

CassanndreJune 27, 2014 - 6:11 pm

Thank you so much for writing this blog! This post of yours touched me. I’m not quite sure what it means to me, but it really did touch me. Keep blogging and keep following your calling!

MaDonnaJune 28, 2014 - 10:01 am

I think Joy and Grief do go hand in hand many times. I have found that the mixture of the two sometimes brings crazy emotions out of me….Then later, after I calm down, I realize once again how fortunate I am that God sent the perfect man in my life to bring reason and peace by speaking truth and being extra patient with me.
I think you are right, knowing where God wants us to be and trusting him to work out all those things is pivotal in remaining and doing the work that he has called us to do well.

Anne MillerJuly 1, 2014 - 8:56 am

I saw Lori Knerr linked you on my FB, came over here, and while in a different context…yes, joy and grief…


KateJuly 4, 2014 - 1:01 am

Hey, girl! You won the FB Joy in the Journey giveaway of my leather cuff!! And after reading your post, I feel like it was meant for you!! You need to go claim it or they will choose a new winner! Be blessed, friend! ❤️

NikkiJuly 9, 2014 - 9:47 am

We, as moms, put WAY too much pressure on ourselves for our children’s birthdays, especially the first. In the States, I invited way too many people and went entirely overboard for my son’s first birthday. For the second, it was family only (they’re all local to us) and it was SO much better. I think the only thing a child needs on their first birthday is to be surrounded by love and to be allowed to smash in some cake! Well done mom!!

Don’t forget to give yourself grace and remember the amazing experience you are giving your daughter in living abroad. I had the great joy of traveling to South India and France in college and I so wish I was brave enough to give my children the experience of travel and living abroad. My friends Kimberly and Tim are that brave (and his career in the Navy helps). I think you’d enjoy her blog, especially how she does her girls’ birthday parties with family in the states – http://thecultivatedmother.blogspot.com/. I hope it helps you, as I know her perspective on parenting helps me.