Joy Stealers

Me and Jeff with new car

Joy stealers.

They’re real.

Since I talked to you last week, I have had some serious frustrations come galloping into my life in an attempt to trample anything that resembles joy.  If you believe in karma, you might think shouting my promise of joy for all to hear set off a series of cataclysmic happenings that can only be described as “a series of unfortunate events.”   It’s like the moment I reached out to claim joy, the universe decided I needed to be taught a lesson.

Or several.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean.

I woke up Wednesday, the exact day my joy blog was to publish, with no voice.  Totally random.  I had no cold or cold symptoms, no warning signs, just no voice.  This is especially tricky since a large part of what I do for a living is talk to folks and answer the phone. 

Not real pleasant to squawk out a sentence when you sound like your vocal cords have been left over an open flame and are now an entire octave lower than normal.

In my neck of the woods, the flu is running rampant, so when I opened my mouth to speak I could vividly see the horror on the face of the one listening.  I’m pretty sure they would’ve run for it except for the unspoken, but very real, code of manners southerners have burned into their soul from infancy.  It is this code that forces us to stand and listen to even the most unpleasant conversation.  Feelings are a big deal here and we try our best to never openly hurt anyone’s.  

I assured soul after horrified soul they were not being exposed to the flu and I was certainly not sick, no need to cover their entire body with sanitizer after speaking to me. 

I just had no voice. 

But, even with laryngitis, I still tried to praise the Lord for what He had promised, joy was on the way!

I got a new car. 

I haven’t made a big deal out of it because, well, I just didn’t want it to be a big deal.  We’d been looking for just the right car for months and came upon our dream car and a deal we couldn’t pass up all at the same time.  We’ve been driving the shiny beauty for a couple of months now.

I love it.

The seats are comfortable for this old lady and it still sort of smells new and that just makes me happy.  We don’t buy new vehicles very often and maybe that’s why I’ve been so protective of this one.  I know it’s inevitable.  You know what I’m talking about.  It’s inevitable that someone or something will put the very first “ding” in the door or a shopping cart will be drawn to the bumper like a magnet leaving its trail of destruction on the fresh perfect paint.  I knew I it would eventually happen, I just wanted to avoid it for as long as possible.

And my plan was working too!

I would park in the back, the very back, out where only the cows were grazing and hoof it for a country mile from my parking spot to the front door.  I’d done this in rain, sleet, snow and shine…literally. It was a small price to pay to keep my brand new shiny car, brand new.

So last night my daughter and I got home after dark.  My husband was out of town for the night and the next day was trash day.  My girl gathered all of our loot from shopping and headed in the house and I promised to follow as soon as I rolled our trash can out to the road.  Trash day is religious around here, you get one shot every week to dispose of all your rubbish and you better not miss it.  It’s a long time until the next trash day, trust me.   

We have a long skinny driveway and more than one car sits on it on a daily basis so wheeling our one hundred pound giant blue trash can filled with another hundred pounds of garbage down the skinny pavement filled with cars is no small feat.   Okay, so maybe it just FEELS like two hundred pounds.  This night my shiny new car was parked especially close to the edge of the drive where I needed to wheel the trashcan.   I made my way under the carport, grabbed a hold of the blue monster and started to tug it down the dark long driveway.  When I got close to my new car I made sure the trash receptacle cleared it by at least a foot.  It was exactly then the giant wrecking ball hit a root and stopped dead in its tracks. 

It weighs as much as me at this point so close to trash day, so when it stopped, I was jerked to a stop as well. At this point I was aggravated but not to be outdone by this plastic beast.  I mustered my strength and pulled hard, really hard. Brute strength and sheer will slowly pulled the can over the root but unfortunately also set it off balance.  Since there was only a foot of clearance between the shiny new car and the destruction on wheels, you can guess what happened next. 

The giant can filled with a week’s worth of garbage began tumbling toward the front fender of my precious new vehicle.

I feel like I watched it in slow motion.  I think I even yelled “Noooo” in slow motion. 

I found myself diving between the can and the car only to realize the can was going to land on me if I didn’t handle this carefully.  I twisted and turned and fought the blue monster to no avail and then I watched helplessly as the beast landed on my shiny new car and then headed for the ground.  It was dark, I was freezing, my car was scratched and I wished I had the strength to take the trashcan and throw it far, far away.  But, I didn’t.  I wanted to cry so bad, I’m pretty sure I did on the inside.  I wrestled it up from the ground and rolled it out to the curb muttering under my breath the whole way. 

Life seemed real hard at that moment.  I had the trashcan woes.

Once I slammed the beast against the curb, I walked back over to my car turned on my phone flash light and assessed the damage.  In the dark I got down on my knees and started rubbing the scratches in hopes they would disappear.  They didn’t.  It’s so ironic to me that I was the one to cause damage to my car, all of my protective measures couldn’t protect it from me. 

I sulked the rest of the night and had to apologize to my husband the next morning for blaming ALL of the whole world’s problems on him, including the trashcan, even though he wasn’t even in the same state. 

It wasn’t until a good friend called later that evening with an important prayer request I realized how completely silly I was being.  I told my friend my story, and she got so tickled and suddenly I began to see the humor in it too.  I mean, who else would go out and kneel by their car in the dead of night, with a phone flashlight stroking the fender?  She said, “You know Sandi, the Lord knows how to help us keep things in perspective.”

Isn’t that the truth?

I could tell you several more “incidents” that have happened this week, things that have tried to steal my joy.  But, I’ll spare you the gory details. 

I’m not going to give it up that easily.  I’ve waited years to feel the strengthening joy of the Lord flow through my soul and I’ve decided to praise Him with or without a voice.  The scratches on my car will be my vivid reminder of what really matters.  Next week when I wheel out the trashcan I’m going to thank the Lord for all the good in my life, so much that I have some left over to throw away by the curb.

I’m learning joy doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does help us to see the beauty in the world around us.

I guess it’s all in how you look at it.

“You have filled my heart with greater joy.” Psalm 4:7

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Bubbling Joy

me and mom

As 2017 stumbled to an end I am sure I heard the whisper of the Lord in my ear.

“Joy.”

Trust me, a word like that is music to the soul of a girl who has been through the deepest valley of grief.  If the word was tangible I would’ve reached out and grabbed it from the lips of my Heavenly Father and hung it somewhere to be seen every day.  But, instead I leaned in closer to hear it again, just to make sure it was real and I wasn’t imagining it.

Sure enough, I felt the word spoken again, “Joy.”

Ever notice how the Lord speaks in a whisper?  Or, many times it’s an impression on the heart.  I’ve also heard his voice through circumstances or a repeating theme I cannot ignore.  I’ve never heard his voice audibly, although I’ve certainly read His voice through His word many times. But, this time was different, it was a whisper through my mind.  Like a gentle breeze blowing through the flimsy curtains of an open window in early spring.

This year would bring joy.

I should’ve been happy to hear it, but my reaction surprised me.  Instead of being excited, I began to feel afraid.  Joy; that’s something that slipped away from me a long time ago.  Oh, it raises its head every now and then, just long enough to remind me it’s still there, taunting me with memories of how life used to be.   But, so much pain has covered it, I didn’t think it would ever come back to stay.

And I wasn’t sure I could trust it if it did.

When you’ve gone through something really hard, something that feels like a blow that may never heal, the thought of joy seems impossible, outlandish even.   Once pain has shattered your heart, brokenness and sorrow become your constant companions.  One day you’re walking along and all the people you love are right beside you; your world is right and good.  Then, before you can process it, someone who kept your world in proper orbit is gone.

Just gone.

And then you can’t breathe.  You’re pretty sure you may die along with them.  But, after no specific period of time, your breath finally returns.  It hurts like a jagged knife in your chest to take anything other than a shallow breath, but, at least you’re breathing.

The circle of life continues but you feel paralyzed in place, like if you move the pain might be more than your soul can bear.  You look around willing your feet to move from this painful spot, yet the fear of moving in any direction overwhelms your heart.   I mean, how can life return to any kind of normal when there is NO MORE NORMAL?

It is then you find yourself going through the motions: going to work, cooking supper, hauling the kids to any number of practices, being the daughter, the sister, the wife, the mom, the friend.  The expectations don’t end.

All the while your heart is crushed.

Your life looks so tidy and pulled together on the outside, but at night you go home and cry and scream into your pillow.  How could a good God take away the person who literally brought you into the world?  And how am I supposed to go on without her?  And why is everyone else going on like everything is the same…but NOTHING IS THE SAME.

Still the sun sets, another tearful night passes and then it’s time to rise again.

The days press on.

Time shows no favoritism.

Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it has been a year.  You would trade some of your existence, some of your precious days on this planet, just to see her again.  Merciless life just keeps passing by.  It is in this cycle you feel there will never be anymore laughter; not the kind that makes your sides hurt, and no anticipation of a new year; not the kind that feels fresh and new.  Everything feels stale and falls flat as you look around for your person only to be reminded again of their absence.

Life is gray.

Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it’s been another year.  You find yourself reminiscing even smiling to yourself as a memory falls like rain into your thoughts.  There is almost a chuckle when you think about an especially fun time and happiness sneaks up on you for a minute.  But, grief is a villain, and the happiness is short-lived.

Days roll into weeks and weeks turn into months and then you realize it’s been a third year.  It’s in this third trip around the sun you realize something – you didn’t die.  Oh, there were days you thought you might, and at times you may have even wanted to, but you didn’t.  You also realize it doesn’t feel like a jagged knife to the chest when you take a deep breath anymore.  It’s still painful, but it’s become more of a dull ache.  You finally stood her picture back up on your dresser because you want to see her face instead of hiding from it.  You laugh and cry in the same sentence as you tell someone how beautiful her life was.

It is in that moment, that exact moment you realize something.

Your pain has birthed joy.

That sounds so upside down and impossible, but I am here to tell you it’s true.  Not fleeting happiness, but joy, the kind that bubbles up like oil hidden underground and gives us the will again to live.  The kind of joy that makes us appreciate every moment we share with another human being because life is good and it is also short.  It’s a reminder that life is meant to be lived, not endured or taken for granted but really experienced, with each day having your full attention and investment.  From the most mundane summer afternoon to the most outlandish birthday party, and all that happens in between…life is meant to be enJOYed.

So if pain can bring the joy that heightens my senses and helps me to see in color, then it has been worth the cost.  Would I bring my mom back today if I could?  I don’t know anymore, to ask her to leave heaven seems almost cruel.  I would give anything to have another conversation with her.  I want her to know I’m healing and learning to live again.  I will never be the same, I am forever changed.

She has left me, but I am richer for having known her.

  1. I can’t believe you’re here. You’re the year my Lord has promised me joy.  I have no idea what it will look like, but you can bet I’m holding onto that promise with BOTH hands. 

My daughter read a book recently that defined joy as thankfulness.  That definition really resonated with me.  I have so much to be thankful for in this shiny brand new year.   I have a family that loves me, friends who care and a husband who supports me through the thick and thin.  And you know what else?  I have a heart FULL of wonderful memories.   It still hurts to talk about them, but these days I want to pull them out of the depths of my mind where I’d buried them, dust them off and share them.  I know now that life goes on, just like the seasons: winter, spring, summer and fall.  Each of these cycles brings its own beauty.  The dying of one ushers in the birth of another.

Death has taught me about life, REAL LIFE, the kind worth living.

Pain has birthed joy within me, sustaining, strengthening, beautiful JOY.

Joy has taught me to see in color and the landscape of my world is beautiful.

 

Isaiah 61:3:

“To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.”