When Joy & Pain Dwell Together

It is difficult to experience two opposite emotions simultaneously.

I’m reminded of the classic Mary Tyler Moore TV episode featuring the death of Chuckles the Clown – where Mary can’t help but laugh uncontrollably during the funeral. She grieves the loss of her television co-worker, but she is also overcome by happy memories of the joy he brought.

My recent journey home to spend time with family was – as journeys often are – a time filled with both laughter and tears.

Reuniting with my two sisters and celebrating Mother’s Day and Mama’s 94th Birthday brought on hours and hours of family stories, memories, and a deliberate recounting of God’s faithfulness. In the middle of the visit my sisters and I went to the beach for three days to rest and reconnect. We laughed, finished each other’s sentences, took hundreds of photos, and listened to the tape recordings of our lives (Daddy once curated a cassette reel for each of us spanning 30 years.)

One night I was sitting in the hotel room while Cathy and Susan dressed for dinner. I had just listened to my 6-year-old self proudly perform from my very first reading book, “Come and Eat” (which was nothing if not prophetic.) Then, all of a sudden the year was 1979 just before I left for Thailand, and the cassette featured me singing “Blue Christmas” with Daddy on vocals and harmonica, Glen on the guitar.

My voice is young and clear (and pretty darn good, actually) but it is the sound of Daddy’s strong and comforting voice that causes me to collapse in a puddle of tears. Even as I have missed him for more than a decade, I am able to thank God for every time he spoke or sang words of blessing into my life. All I can think is that I am the most blessed of daughters.

We girls spent most all of our visit with our sweet Mama. She is increasingly frail and weary of her constant battle against chronic pain. But while we were there, this soul strong woman drew upon deep strength and rallied for a few special outings with her daughters. Joy!

However, sometimes pain won.

And we who love her most feel utterly helpless to fix the situation. So, we gathered around and held hands, shared our words and our stories. We sang and prayed over her. And sometimes we wept together. But never without hope. Because we believe that God will make all things beautiful in His time.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.

Ecclesiastes 3.1-5, 10

On Mama and Daddy’s 50th Wedding Anniversary back in 1999 I dedicated my then-new book “Quilts from Heaven” to them. One of the quilt patterns I wrote about in that book is “Sunshine and Shadow.” It is a beautiful combination of both dark cloth and pieces of bright, colorful fabric, interspersed together. Surprisingly, it is the very contrast of the two extremes that allows the true beauty to emerge in this fabric art.

Our lives also include bright and dark – both sunshine and shadow.

And God – the Master Quilter – indeed takes all the scraps and pieces (including the ones we’d rather omit – struggle, regret, failure, pain) and weaves them together into a beautiful pattern of depth, color, and texture.  While we are in the midst of daily living, it’s hard to comprehend what the finished masterpiece will look like – we are just so busy concentrating on the immediate square of the moment. And then one day, we turn around and time has passed ever so swiftly…

Mama’s life quilt is vast, so beautiful, and perhaps nearer completion than I would hope.

Perhaps that’s why Douglas McKelvey’s prayer spoke to me so tenderly today: “Your designs, O Lord, extend beyond our vision. In the mystery of your grace you have forever knit our lives. And for this we thank and praise you. Father of All – for the irreplaceable gift of this your child, so loved by us in our shared pilgrimage. Your gifts, O God, are gracious and good. Now guide us tenderly, Jesus, that journeying together this last sweet mile, we might be present to love and to serve one another in thoughtful humility and in a dignity of grace, our right grief mingling freely with the leavening hope of eternal glory. Give grace, most merciful Father. Give grace, O Lord of love. Amen.”

from “Every Moment Holy, Volume II”

It has been 23 years since I first wrote metaphorically of God piecing together the parables of our lives into a patchwork of beauty and meaning. But I believe these words from the prologue of “Quilts from Heaven” still ring true:

Pieces of My Quilt

If quilts could talk I’d like to think I’d hear just what they’d say, “I’ll hold you close within my folds and wipe your tears away. I’ll keep you warm and give you strength to face another day.” If quilts could talk…

If quilts could sing I’d like to think I’d recognize each tune, The lullaby or funeral dirge or wedding march in June. Both sweet and haunting melodies I’d listen to them croon. If quilts could sing…

If quilts could write I’d like to think I’d read the words they’d pen, Of life and love and motherhood, of mystery without end. And, oh the drama they could share of everywhere they’d been. If quilts could write…

If quilts could pray I’d like to think I’d feel each heartfelt prayer Of thankfulness or great concern for those within their care; Petitions to a loving God – the One who’s always there. If quilts could pray…

The quilt of my own life Finds voice to talk, sing, write, and pray, As it weaves a hundred stories in its own eclectic way. And with each stitch of grace and hope my legacy is built; All fragments finally made a whole… the pieces of my quilt.

~ Lucinda Secrest McDowell, 1998

Oh friend, are you struggling with conflicting emotions right now? A roller coaster up and down of joy and pain? There is room in your heart for them to dwell together. Draw near to the One who sings comfort over you and wraps you in the warmth of His never-ending love.

You are held.

May the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the friendship of the Holy Spirit  bring you comfort and strength, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

©2021 Lucinda Secrest McDowell      www.LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com

Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” She has authored 15 books including “Soul Strong – 7 Keys to a Vibrant Life” and “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.” She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and shares encouraging words at LucindaSecrestMcDowell.com


  1. Cathy Ray on May 18, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    This is so beautifully written, Cindy. I actually cried tears of joy as I read it, reflecting on our recent trip together. You are such a gifted writer, sister. I love you!!

    • Lucinda on May 18, 2021 at 10:22 pm

      Thank you sweet big sister! This means the world to me… Loved our reunion🌹

    • Maggie Rowe on May 21, 2021 at 1:07 pm

      So appreciated this, Cindy, and your sunshine and shadow analogy is perfect for these emotions that coexist but also seem to war within our lives sometimes. Quilts From Heaven is one of my favorite books. A brilliant concept then and still is now.

      • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 8:01 pm

        Maggie, thanks for being in my corner. Now you live in the land of quilts and quilters!

  2. Deb Dufek on May 19, 2021 at 11:27 am

    I. too. am wiping away tears. Hasn’t life flown by? Your picture reminds me of my sister and precious Mama and me…such love! She left for Heaven September 8,2000 and I rejoice that she’s with Jesus. I can’t wait to be together once again! Your words are filled with grace and love and your stories of days gone by strike a chord within my heart. Thanks for all you do to strengthen Gods own dear ones!

    Deb Dufek

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:53 pm

      Oh Debbie, may our Lord hold you close as you continue to miss your mama and as you share His love with others.

  3. Gail MacDonald on May 19, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    So touching, Cindy! Each of us who is facing the same things your sweet Mama is are very moved and rejoice that you and your sisters were wise enough to have those days of remembrance together. Yes! How wise to give thanks to each other and to our loving Lord for treasured lives of shadow and light. A beautifully proactive way to live-! So no matter one’s age I know I will copy it, reread it, pray over it and then place it in my file “Aging” for a little while until I need it again. And thank you for adding Douglas McKelvey’s words from Volume two of his works Every Moment Holy. Oh, I’m loving them too. ! Thank you for sharing! Grateful for our years of being encouraged by you!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:52 pm

      Gail, how priceless to hear such encouraging words from you. YOU wrote the foreword to my very first book back in 1995 – “Amazed by Grace” — and have continued to be a grand spiritual mama to me. Blessings all over you and Gordon today!

  4. Patricia Wick on May 19, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    WOW!! God has certainly gifted you with an incredible ability to write so beautifully!! Waking up this morning, having my coffee and reading your devotional was pure joy and a great way to start my day🥰. Thank you for sharing God’s love for us and the encouragement !!
    Truly you are a gifted story teller!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:51 pm

      Patty, I am honored you would start your morning with the Lord and my humbly-offered words. Blessings!

  5. Rebecca Snyder on May 19, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing your heart beat through your words, truly inspired!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      And thank you, Rebecca, for reading them.

  6. Denise Ann Goosby on May 19, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    You have such a lovely way of capturing the emotions that come upon us as we experience life. Bless you!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      Oh Denise, I am truly blessed. Congrats on both your new books!

  7. Carol H Hinson on May 19, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you Cindy. I can always count on your writings to fill me with what I need for the day. I love the picture of you and your sisters with your mama. I hope to get by and see her soon.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:50 pm

      Thank you Carol for your encouragement and especially if you get to see Mama.

  8. Adria Wilkins on May 20, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    This looks like a beautiful book to read and hold close.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:49 pm

      Thank you Adria. Yes, I believe “Quilts from Heaven” (which was in print for about 20 years) sold the most of all my books.

  9. Mary Harker on May 20, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    So beautifully written. I lost my mom in 2004 and still miss her and think of her often. A blessing for you still have her. And what a blessing to be with your dear sisters. I’m the middle of 3 as well (with an older brother) and we always have a great time when we are able together. Blessings.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:49 pm

      Thank you, Mary, and please give a hug to all the “Soul Strong” gals in your group.

  10. Heather Dunn on May 20, 2021 at 12:26 pm

    God is such a weaver of good and indescribable gifts amongst our pain and sufferings of this world, and somehow he has gifted you to write these things down and acknowledge the paradox oh so well.
    Thank you for sharing. Heather Dunn

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 20, 2021 at 12:48 pm

      Yes, dear Heather, I know you know these feelings all too well. Praying for your continued healing…

  11. Cleo Lampos on May 20, 2021 at 4:11 pm

    I am going to order this book. Your words are so powerful. I write about quilts and the quilters who make them. Love the alliterations.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:52 pm

      Oh Cleo, thank you for ordering the book. Blessings!

  12. Donna Moore on May 20, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    Life is full of these beautiful, sad, poignant moments. Thank you for sharing from your heart & blessing me once again.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:53 pm

      Donna, sending you lots of blessings and thank you for reading.

  13. Dee Gordy on May 22, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Tears for both your blessings and my losses. But God uses everything for good. I did not have a good childhood, nor good memories with the relationships with my parents or grandparents. But I am who I am today for all that He has allowed to and protected me from in the past. I am so fortunate to be where I am, with the family I have, and the advantages there are (even if I am not that computer savvy, tech savvy, whatever you want to call it). It does make me laugh when I fumble. Hello, if I had only taken advantage of the time I had when I had it. Made different choices, but then I am who I am. Someone else said that didn’t He? Just I am…..be still and take a deep breath and listen.

    Thank you for all your wonderful posts and the encouragement you give..

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:57 pm

      And, Dee, I thank you for reading and commenting. May the Lord hold you close.

  14. Maureen Miller on May 22, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    “If quilts could talk… sing… pray…”
    But oh, through YOU, dear friend, they DO!!! Thank you! So so beautiful! And I’m so thankful you had this special time with your momma and sisters. What a gift! ❤️❤️❤️

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:51 pm

      Thank you sweet Maureen, for your constant encouragement. Wish I could see you at BRMCWC next week…

  15. Maureen Hager on May 22, 2021 at 7:45 pm

    I am reminded that while God is called “The God of Hope”, He is also called “A Man of Sorrows”

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:57 pm

      Yes Maureen you are so right. He knows all and He is all we need.

  16. Ellen Parker on May 22, 2021 at 10:23 pm

    I commented earlier via email but not sure that counts. All I can say is that I am currently living that joy/pain journey right now. Every day. Thank you for your words of wisdom and insight.

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 23, 2021 at 7:57 pm

      And I know God is with you in the paradox. Blessings and Hugs, Ellen.

  17. Joan Skrobat on May 24, 2021 at 3:22 am

    Dearest Cindy, Firstly a very happy birthday and many years! You bring such blessings of love and encouragement to so many. My dear Godchild is an exquisite quilter. Her work is crafted with so much love. She lives in Florida and her family is in CT. Currently her daughter is going through some very difficult medical issues. She can’t be with her daughter, but some very special quilts are with her. So her daughter wrapped herself up in the quilts of love and has secured strength from the Lord. What a charming photo of you, your siblings and precious mother. God bless. In Christ!

    • Lucinda Secrest McDowell on May 24, 2021 at 1:39 pm

      Great to hear from you, Joan. And I shall be praying for your goddaughter’s daughter. It is so very difficult for families to be apart. Blessings.

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