Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Wednesday 29th January 2014

#TellHisStory: Tears, When You Least Expect Them

So I wasn’t planning to cry. I mean, I wasn’t at a wedding, or a kindergarten graduation ceremony, or in the dark confines of my living room, watching one of those tear-jerker Hallmark commercials.

I was at a cheer competition.

My niece Rachel was performing, and I took my daughters to the “big city” to watch their cousin.  Rachel is one of those “trick flyer” girls, who is tossed into the air throughout the performance. My first inclination during these heart-stopping stunts is, of course, to hold my breath while small humans wearing short skirts fling my even-smaller niece up into the rafters. My second inclination — after I remember to breathe — is to pray like a crazy woman. This is the main job of an aunt.

And then, somewhere in the middle of all of that not-breathing and remembering-to-pray, my heart comes alive. My heart sort of unhooks itself from my chest cavity, lodges itself in my throat and threatens to spill out through my eyes.

What I’m saying is: I want to bawl my eyes out at these cheer events.


When we went to see her perform for the very first time,  I was completely taken off guard by this deep urge to cry.  I only get to see Rachel perform about once a year, and she’s about the sweetest thing ever, so that’s part of the reason. But there had to be more to it than that:

Was it the bass-thumping music? The fancy lights? Who was the wizard manipulating things in the background to play with my emotions?

Most times, I successfully navigate my emotions, holding back the tears like Moses at the Red Sea. Sometimes, I lift my forehead a little, and look straight up at the ceiling, like I might be able to use the earth’s gravitation pull to keep the tears from falling.

I mean, it feels foolish to cry over a cheerleading event. Who does that? … Apparently, people. That’s who. 

Turns out, we’re the only species on the whole earth who were made with the ability to cry tears from a happy place.

Turns out, our tears know us pretty well — sometimes better than we know ourselves.

Turns out, we cry because, Love. We cry because, Joy.

RAchel2 photo (31)

It happens.

It happens in musty sanctuaries, when an old hymn grips you by the throat, dislodging some stubborn thing that has been stuck maybe a bit-too-long in a too-dark place.  It happens at the father-daughter dance during the wedding reception. It happens at the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and also, when you watch those silly flash mob things on the Internet.

And, apparently, it also happens at cheer competitions.

It’s that airy, spirit-quickening feeling that brushes you up against something greater than yourself. It’s a sneak-peek at Heaven, a sunrise in your soul, a slide down the arc of the rainbow. It’s like you’re touching noses with God. And all because you let your life slip out on your tears. 

We cry. Because we all want to be part of something beautiful.

And we want to know we’ve been in the presence of something beautiful — not just tolerable — but downright exquisite. That’s why do things like start the standing ovation at the fifth-grade band concert.

Sometimes? You just gotta stand up and clap loudly. And cry. You gotta cry the happiest, most grateful tears — the kind that might just embarrass your own children, and might embarrass yourself.

It’s a way to become more of who you really are. And afterward, you feel gentler. Like maybe your soul needed a bath after all.  And your tears were the water.

That day at the cheer competition, I sat in the second row, and while I wasn’t planning to cry, I decided in advance that it was far too much work to try to stop it.

My niece was doing her thing. And she was shining. She was in her element.  She was at the top of her game (but not at the top of the rafters for too blessed long –– Praise Jesus. )

There was music and bright lights and the high-pitched voices of a thousand fans, all of them screaming at the top of their teenaged lungs.

But it wasn’t the stuff happening on the outside that mattered. The mattering part always happens on the inside.

I felt my chin tremble, and my face flush, and I let it come out slowly, this soul of mine spilling out bit by bit. I held back some; I won’t lie about that. But it was a start. I cried a little, and it came from deep down in myself, like maybe more of my hard parts were melting. Like maybe there’s a very thin line between our tears and our prayers — or maybe no line at all.


So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer or a grammarian to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here.

  • I know how you feel, Jennifer! So many times, they have risen to the surface…unbidden, unannounced, and unwelcome, too! Sometimes at the most inopportune moments…and moments when no one around me seems to be affected. I have learned that if the tears come, there is a purpose for them, and the best thing to do is let them flow…freely…unashamedly. As the old song says, “Tears are a language, God understands.” So true! So thankful He does! God’s peace to you, Cheryl

    • Good for you, Cheryl. I’m slowly becoming less stoic. I still fight back emotions more than I should.

  • “We cry. Because we all want to be part of something beautiful.” Oh, yes, Jennifer! We can feel embarrassed by what feels like misplaced tears or we can embrace them as a window into the tender hearts God gave us–a reflection of his own. Like you said, “It’s a way to become more of who you really are.” Oh, yes! Thank you for this sweet and vulnerable reminder.

    • Becky … You words here are a wonder, and I’m cupping them in my heart: “a window into the tender hearts God gave us…”

      Thank you for that.

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  • I have cried at basketball games when they introduce players and sometimes during the national anthem. Yes, it weird how we can tear up at the most unexpected places.

    • Me, too! Do you tend to hold back? Or do you let the tears fall, Debbie?

      • I let them fall then discreetly pat them thinking everyone is looking right at me when in all likelihood they are not.

        • Ah yes. I suspect you’re right. Thanks, Debbie.

  • Amy Hunt

    You saw someone doing what she was called to do. You saw glory. You witnessed it. I so get this. And right here, your telling of this — your being humbled like you are and were — is so good, is so beautiful . . . and seeing your spirit worship like this brings ME to tears. Seeing glory does that.

    • Watching someone doing what she was called to do…. That is definitely part of it, Amy — probably a big part of it. My niece has worked really hard to overcome some obstacles. I’m so proud of her.

  • Beautilful, Jennifer. I thought you might also say that you cried when you saw those 2 overlapping “Y’s” at the top of that first photo. =) xox

    • Patricia! How could I have missed that?

  • I am such a cryer too, Jennifer! My daughter was a flyer in cheerleading competitions for years. They were very emotional days for me. Thank you for your sweet story and reminder!

    • Candace,

      I have discovered that I’m becoming more of a cryer with each passing year. I used to be so stoic, and would do ANYTHING to avoid crying. Look at the ceiling. Blink, blink, blink. Clench jaw. Think about something else. Run from room. Repeat cycle.

      For some reason, tears had become a source of shame and embarrassment, and I don’t know why, because I don’t recall my parents shutting us down emotionally at all.

      It’s still not easy for me to cry when others are watching, but I’m less inclined to fight against my emotions. It takes too much energy.

      Glad you’re here.

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  • Kim

    The tears have been flowing around here this week, and they reflect the whole gamut of emotions. I’m thankful for the sweet release of tears – happy or sad. Thanks, also, for the opportunity to link up, Jennifer.

    • I’m NOT glad to hear that your tears run the gamut of emotions, for that means that at least some of the tears are rooted in pain and suffering. But I AM glad that you let them flow. And I am praying, right now, that God uses your tears to cleanse your inner being. I am also praying for whatever is causing pain in your life, Kim. I don’t know the details, but I know the One who does.

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  • Yes! Those tears creep in when I least expect them – it always does my heart good to have a happy cry! There have been times in my life where my tears and my prayers have intermingled – happy, sad, scared, and relieved tears. Thank you so much for the wonderful reminder that there is a thin line between our tears and our prayers. And thank you so much for the chance to link up with your wonderful series! I’m new to #TellHisStory, but I’m looking forward to reading through the past stories. *hugs*

    • Ginger! Welcome to #TellHisStory. I look forward to reading your post. I try to visit as many of the posts as I’m able to each week. And I love connecting with everyone on Twitter and Facebook. How can I find you on those social-media channels?

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  • Monica Sharman

    I’ve totally done that. The reason I cry at competitions like this is the same reason I cried when I saw the video of JPL/NASA people when Curiosity landed on Mars. In both cases, it’s a couple of minutes representing months and years of long, long hours of hard work, teamwork, working through glitches, persevering through problem-solving, doing the same thing perfectly, over and over…and then the thrill of the big day you’ve been working for (like comp day, or Mars landing day). Okay, I’m tearing up now, just thinking of this stuff. It might be a little taste of what it would be like to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant! Well done!”


    • Oh my goodness. You are so right, Monica. I think that’s a huge part of — months and years of hard work, culminating in one glorious moment. Yes. YES!

  • I shut down one emotion when I was young…but actually you can’t just shut down one without all emotions being shut down…it’s been a long journey….my heart of stone becoming a heart of flesh…for so long tears wouldn’t come…but little by little God connected what was disconnected…these days I feel water works…feeling deeply again …and I am glad I finally can cry tears of joy…like at cheerleading competitions.

  • Oh, Jennifer, this is beautiful! I’m so glad you let the tears loose like healing rain – releasing all the things that make us think of who is watching, and just living and loving openly just as we are.

  • Karrilee Aggett

    What a beautiful tribute to your love for your neice – but even more so – your passion in seeing someone following their dreams and giftings! I tear up at those kinds of competitions as well… plus – you know, the Olympics are starting too… I love seeing someone do amazing things that you know takes investing and determination and not giving up! It’s inspiring!

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  • Tears…yes, they come when I least expect them. They come when I am sad, when I miss my Mama, when I feel alone. BUT…they also come when I am happy, when I see something lovely, when words flow from the heart, flying heavenward. In those joyful tears, why do I find the need to tell someone who is concerned that I am crying that they are joyful, happy tears? I think tears are a way of expression that truly only God understands the real reason why I am crying at that moment and that’s okay. I cannot imagine not being able to cry. They explode from the inside the reflection we see on the outside. You know, when you look into a water drop on a branch and that tiny picture is upside down but it is clearly there. That is a tear…an upside down reflection of what is felt on the inside but showing up on the outside, just not quite so clear to any onlooker!! This was a beautiful post today and, for me, wonderful, Lisa! REALLY!!! I will ponder this and reread your words.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  • I cried at Sea World when Shamu jumped out of the water. And at Yellowstone National Park when Old Faithful erupted. These are powerful displays of my Father’s handiwork, and I just couldn’t hold back the tears.

    Then again, maybe I’m just a dork 🙂

  • soulstops

    Oh, Jennifer, I loved that you cried at the beauty of it all and your line about how tears give our souls a bath…yes 🙂 And I do get it because it has happened to me…most recently as I heard “Amazing Grace” sung…

  • oh Jennifer. I can’t tell you how much I “get” this, how beautiful this is. I feel like you just gave me permission to be as I am. I cry every single time I read my children’s worldview book to them. All that stuff about being made on purpose for purpose, saying it to their little hearts? It grabs me by the throat every time, and the tears always spill–it’s the Truth that breaks me open. It’s love and redemption that cracks my veneer.

  • You make me feel less weird now. Thank you for that! So often, I get so choked up at the silliest things, but I see this now in a new light. A soft pull of God using the beautiful things of this world to remind me that He sees me.

  • For me it’s drum and bugle corps or marching band competitions.

    During a spell of depression — despair, probably — I was unable to cry. This went on for months. Strangest thing. Horrifying, really. I felt less than fully human. The first time I cried again, that was one of the clearest signs that I was getting better.

    So now, I usually let ’em flow and give thanks for the ability. Did you know that the chemical composition of emotion tears is different from, say, cutting-onion tears and grit-in-your-eye tears? True. More protein-based hormones. So there is some physiological benefit — some design — in flushing some of that stuff out through tears. Google “chemical composition of tears” and a bunch of links will tell you more.

    One of the things I will want to know about in the life to come is the tear bottle in Psalm 56.

  • I’ve written at length about this subject after two solid years of crying almost daily. I learned so much about tears and what God is saying with them. I cry about the oddest things and then I realized, they aren’t odd at all, the tears carry a message. This is lovely Jennifer, just like your tender heart.

  • Holly Solomon Barrett

    What a great story, Jennifer! I’ve cried at my daughter’s dance recitals, at my kids’ ballgames, at their military ceremonies, so I can totally relate to the wondering where the tears come from…holding them back…and then just letting them go anyway. So true that there is such a thin line between our tears and our prayers. I think God likes it that way.

  • Oh my word, I love this. It totally reminded me of the time Noah’s entire school did a flash mob dance at an fundraising fair at the school – I was completely taken aback and I BAWLED like a FOOL. Brad was like, “Um, honey? Are you ok?” Seriously, I could not get a hold of myself for like 15 minutes.

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  • SimplySaidMom

    Jennifer- thank you for sharing your heart words today. I can relate and appreciate those tears and have cried them many a time 😉

  • What a beautiful post. I remember crying many times upon seeing my daughter in a school or church play. My mom always cries when marching bands pass by. There is something moving about music and rhythm and, yes, even cheer competitions.

    Thanks for hosting this community.

    • I’m a marching-band cryer too.

      thanks for being here, Dayle, and for linking!

  • Alyssa Santos

    I cried all the time when my daughter danced ballet. Yes, we want to be part of something beautiful. And, I think, the being a part of the sweat and tears and work involved in producing something meaningful — that gets me teared up:)

    • I think you’re right. Good observation friend. Can’t wait to talk to you soon!

  • Kelly Greer

    Jennifer – “or maybe no line at all.” Relating with you. I am the crybaby of crybabies….really, ask my family. And it is mostly because of the wonderful things that God is doing in us and through us. Life, joyfully carving it’s mark on our hearts. The performances and the performers that move us to realize how very blessed we are to be alive! I love how you put that experience in words.
    BTW – my family does this thing. They always know when I’m about to cry, so they all begin to thin out their upper lip to mimic me. These silly people of mine…..:-)

    • Oh my word. What a sweet story about your family. I love you, Kelly Greer!

  • juliea

    I would count it a blessing to cry happy tears once again. Seems I haven’t found that happy spot in a long time.

    • Juliea … I apologize for not responding earlier to this comment. I just now saw it, and my heart aches. I am praying for you now…

      Dear Lord, Please wash Juliea with your peace. Surround her with your love, through the power of your spirit and through the body of Christ. I don’t know the details of her pain, but You do, Lord. Bring Juliea to a place of joy and happiness. … Amen.

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  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    I keep thinking……oh, surely this is the most breathtaking thing Jennifer has ever written with each of your posts, and then you write again, and I’m floored. And yes, when I read this, tears welled up.

    I do cry happy tears at unexpected times, and then predictable tears (like how I always cry when Kris Kringle talks Dutch to the little girl in The Miracle on 34th Street) or how everyone sings Auld Lang Syne in It’s a Wonderful Life and Clarence gets his wings).

    But indulge me today for tears I’ve cried that were not happy. Today, on a frigid January morning, I attended a funeral: The death occurred in a Missouri divorce courtroom, where I witnessed the demise of the thirty-two-year-old marriage (actually, tomorrow is the anniversary) of my brother and his now ex-wife. The judge, with the flourish
    of a pen and with just one little exhale of breath from her mouth declared: “This marriage is dissolved.” Just. like. that. I was trying to grasp how thirty-two-years can be dissolved into oblivion through one tiny pronouncement that didn’t even last one minute to exhale. My brother would have been willing to fan the flames, but the *law* doesn’t permit his preferences. What God has joined together, no man can tear asunder. Ironically, though, a judge can dissolve it–like acid on the heart.

    When we left the courthouse, and after my brother had stepped aside under a nearby awning to take a smoke, I heard the most awful, most unearthly sound….like a bellowing moose that had been shot–a deep, anguished wail. It was horrible. My brother was shedding tears. I pray that they will be tears to wash his soul of excruciating pain.
    Later this evening, after we took him to dinner and back to my mother’s, we went to Whole Foods for a few groceries. I stood alone at the pastry counter and in answer to the cheery saleslady’s, “How was your day?” I shared my pain over my brother. I just couldn’t help being honest. She was so kind and empathetic, assuring me things would get better for Brian. I was so grateful for the kind, listening ear of a stranger. I thanked her and went about my shopping. And then, when I turned round and looked down into my cart, I saw that same lady’s hand reaching for the pastry box she had just given me. She said, “This one is on me,” and pasted a label with her name over the bar code so it wouldn’t register. And in that moment, Jennifer, I cried tears of gratitude once again for the kindness of a stranger who wanted to give me a taste of sweetness to counteract the bitterness of divorce.
    Thanks for sharing happy tears today. I loved reading about them and your beautiful niece. And thanks for listening about our tears of grief.
    Much love,

    • Pam

      Lynn, I’m so so sorry for all you and your family are going through with this… you know my prayers have been and are surrounding you among so many others….

      Just wanted to say, I cry at those same two movie scenes you mentioned, little Natalie Wood and IAWL auld lang syne… Pam, apples of gold

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Pam, you are such a precious friend…and so sensitive. Thank you for always reaching out with your heart. I’m so grateful to God for you!

        • Pam is a gem, isn’t she? As are you, Lynn.

    • Oh Lynn… How had I missed this pouring-out of your tender heart in my comment box? I am so sorry for all that this week has brought your family. I continue to pray for you and all of your family. Love you.

      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Jennifer, thank you so much. I’m so grateful for your loving compassion.

  • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

    Our youngest daughter was in competitive cheer for several years. She wasn’t a flyer, but she was amazing. Takes great strength and skill to be a cheerleader {but then, a little birdie tells me you know that!}…and I think tears when we are proud are a sweet sign that we have a tender and loving heart <3 I sure love yours!

    • I didn’t realize how much time and work went in to cheerleading of this nature until my niece became so involved. We didn’t have cheer teams like this at our school when I was growing up. It’s been a joy to watch her all these years. She may cheer in college, too. We’ll see. If so, Aunt Jennifer will cheer her on!

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  • June

    “Touching noses with God” I love that! I totally identified with your story! I used to cry over those wonderful Toys R Us commercials. And I cry every time they play the star spangled banner… I could go on. You get the idea… Thanks for sharing this.

    • 🙂

      I cry during the Star Spangled Banner too.

      Don’t get me started on the final scene of Toy Story 3. Have you seen it?

      • June

        Oh, yes, and I’m with you there! Love the Toy Story trilogogy – Rex is my favorite 😉

  • I don’t understand why I cry every time I watch American Idol. Whether they get accepted or rejected, I cry. The intensity of watching human emotions triggers something deep in us. And it is beautiful, yes, Jennifer. Love this post.

    • You and me both!

      Thanks for being here, Lisa.

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  • This post made me cry, Jennifer! I so get what you are saying. And I agree with Monica…”well done, good and faithful servant!” just might be something like this.

    • Absolutely, Mary! Well done, good and faithful servant… will prompt quite the cry-fest. 🙂

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  • Pam

    Love this story, Jennifer. You could be describing me watching my friends kids at so many performances over the years (mostly ballet and music) – that aunt-by adoption (for me) feeling. 🙂 Pam, apples of gold

    • Hi Pam! Thanks for stopping by. A joy to see you here, as always. Have a great weekend, and may you shed a few good tears of joy. 🙂

  • Lately, I’ve been crying on the treadmill. Sweat and tears all mixed in with each other, and I can’t tell the difference between the two. But I know there’s something different about them. And, all I need now is an ocean.

    I was a cheerleader, and so was my sister, and my daughter. If I have grandchildren, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them making their way onto the field or the court at halftime. I suspect it’s in our DNA. For such a long time, I’d cringe when people said stuff about how silly cheerleading is, or, how cheerleading isn’t a sport. I’m glad you felt the passion in that gym of skirts and high-flyers, Jennifer.

    • Oh yeah. I’ve had the Treadmill Cryfest. And not just because it hurts. 🙂

      I was a cheerleader, too. We didn’t do the tricks. We were more “yellers” than cheerleaders. Did you do this cheer?

      that the Chargers are…
      And the Cookie Monster says that the Wildcats are …
      the itty-bitty crumbs at the bottom of the jar.”


      • Caryn Jenkins Christensen

        WE had that cheer at my high school too Jennifer! And we would say “Great big cookies…” in a deep voice and “Itty bitty crumbs” in a high-pitched voice.

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  • Rachael

    Oh my goodness! You are telling the story of my life in this post. I cry at the darndest things and am learning that it is okay. Cross country meets when those elementary runners cross the finish line gets me every time! I am learning the art of listening to my tears and learning more about myself in the process. I surprise myself sometimes when the tears come at the least expected moments.

    • More and more, I’m prone to cry. Why in the world was I so stoic all those years? … Have a wonderful weekend, Rachael, and may you shed a few tears of joy. : )

  • sincerely_jenni

    I’m a crier, which I believe most definitely I have inherited from my mother. I cry at everything, and I’m sure these last few months of my daughter’s senior year will result in the Klennex industry’s highest-grossing sales ever. 🙂

    • Tears are a soul-bath, yes? Thanks for stopping by Jenni. Always a joy to have you here in the comment box.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    I think happy tears are a touch from God. We become like those fancy faucets that turn on with just a tap! And those God-taps mean something–he’s joining WITH us in the gift he’s just bestowed. In your case, he gave you the thrill of watching your niece take great joy performing, using the abilities he gave her. When we cry at something joyful, beautiful, or especially meaningful, I think God is communicating his love.

    • Love the imagery of a “God-tap.” Thanks for that Nancy! Have a lovely weekend, friend.

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  • Megan Willome

    Nope, “no line at all.” I cried all through my daughter’s first performance as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.” She lit up the stage. I actually started praying the fairytale because it made more sense at the moment than any Bible verse.

  • Jeri@got2havefaith

    Um, I have cried at ice skating events, school talent shows and cross country meets. I do that!

  • We cry a lot at our house — commercials, e-mails, random stories on the news. Tonight, we both cried at church when the played a video testimony about a church member who felt led to pay the water bill for a family who’d come across hard times.

    It’s good to cry over the beautiful. I am thankful that He makes all things beautiful in His time… 🙂

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@jenfulwiler You model this well, Jennifer. Loving Jesus and serving him boldly with your gifts.