The Many Faces Of Joy

 

You know when you’ve got it. It’s not based on circumstances, possessions or possible activities. Those can all disappoint after a time.

It’s centered around great relationships that you can count on. Those people who graciously provide satisfaction and delight with their presence that’s beyond what’s happening around you.

True joy.

It comes from being known.

I watched my oldest daughter feed her seven-month-old son, and the joy on his face made me smile. It wasn’t just the food (though flavorless rice cereal would put a pep in anyone’s step) but the fact that recognized his mom was right there, feeding him and carrying on a conversation which made him giggle. If she looked away, his face would drop into a frown. If too much time passed before she glanced back, he’d let her know his displeasure.

He wanted time with his mom. 

It was joy my girls shared (minus a very missed sister-in-law) when they celebrated Courtney’s pregnancy. A baby they’ve all prayed for. Knowing their sister, this baby is being anticipated with incredible delight.

Joy is the look on the face of cousins who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Sizing each other up and remembering the fun that once was–and would be again.

Joy is friends and family being reunited after too long a separation. The chance to do life together, even for a short time. Cherishing moments and shared memories.

Joy is the hope of relationships restored and made better. People who are forgiven and accepted. Individuals recognized and respected.

Family relationships are tricky. Some folks get along well with theirs; others, not so much.

The challenge or ease of kinship doesn’t take away from our need to be known and loved.

It was Cal’s eye contact with his mom that grabbed my heart. He had to see her. She was his safe place. The one he counted on most for comfort and food.

If I’d been feeding him, he’d have been looking for her.

Real joy isn’t an entitlement; it’s a gift. It isn’t something we can demand; it’s something we receive with gratitude.

Jesus called joy one of the gifts of His Holy Spirit that can be part of the lives of those who follow Him. Joy is a fruit grown in the soul that matures as we learn to trust the One who has given His all for us. It ripens as we walk with Jesus.

Joy can’t truly be experienced apart from a genuine loving relationship. An opportunity to be really known, totally exposed, and still loved without conditions, without any expectation of performance. Being loved freely, known fully, and accepted completely. Exactly as I am.

The only One who can love like that is God Himself. Through Jesus.

Does it ever get any better than that?

Happiness is fleeting. It’s derived from what life holds for us in the moment.

Joy, however, is worth the time and pursuit of greater understanding of who God really is. What His heart’s desire is for us.

That’ll bring a grin any day.

 

 

 

 

 

Pack It Up–It’s All Yours

The reason for going to California was stellar. Our good friends were celebrating the marriage of their youngest son. Showing up was important to us.

The wedding was amazing. Scott and Melissa were the image of marriage excitement, not just wedding thrill.

Leaving and returning become the wrench in the works. The part of travel that causes my inner groaning. Airplanes are convenient but not comfortable.

I’m rather short of stature. John always tries to sit in the bulkhead or exit rows so he has room to stretch his legs.

I’ve no need for that. I’m lucky to touch the floor. Plane rides, at best, aren’t times of relaxation. They make me tired and sore.

When we arrived at LAX, with a gazillion other folks, we headed for baggage claim with the anticipation of the wedding and seeing friends we don’t see often enough.

We encountered something akin to a cattle drive. People funneling into a small space to receive their bags. Bumping one another, few conversations, eyes focused on luggage coming onto the carousel.

They were coming quite rapidly. So many bags, so little space.

There were three chutes that fed into the circling carousel, spewing bags out with passion.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Several flights worth of baggage were being delivered at once, and it was mayhem. A box circled that had “Fragile” written in bold letters on every side I could see.

I don’t think it received the treatment it deserved.

Bags piled on bags. People climbed on the edge to pull out luggage that had gotten covered by other random pieces. A gentleman next to us was laughing as he pointed to his bag under the pile, clearly unreachable.

I loved his attitude.

It took a while to unearth our luggage. The experience definitely put us in a humorous mindset–you can’t script that kind of activity.

Some folks were quite upset by the occurrence. Others saw the humor in what they couldn’t control. The folks with the “Fragile” box could have been understandably upset. No guarantees on what those contents looked like.

We all have baggage. We pack it as we move through life. Our experiences, families of origin, who we are as people, all add to what we carry with us. What we lug from place to place as we’re on our individual journeys.

There have been many times when I’m like that “Fragile” box, wanting others to treat me with kindness when I’m hurting. But unless I share what hurts or feels broken, no one can know what’s in my box.

I don’t unpack my stuff with everyone I meet.

Vulnerability is a gift we give to others. We let them know our truth, our reality, so there is freedom to respond to the known rather than guessing at what we hide.

That’s becoming harder to do culturally. We’ve made a practice out of managing our images. Our baggage.

Jesus lived with vulnerability. He didn’t hide who He was–He ticked off the religious leaders with His honesty. Yet His truth is what has made His truth and mission so long-lasting.

He’s the only God who offers to help us bear our baggage.

I can travel with that truth.

 

Come On, Just Move It, Move It

 

Moving from one home to another evokes a wide range of emotions in people.

Our first four years of marriage we moved six times. We were young, didn’t have a lot of belongings, and what we did have wasn’t all that valuable. And no kids. All part of the job.

Lots, of complaining and tears, though. On my part.

I work with a group who has the chance to move to our headquarters for the next ten months. They’ll have jobs, be coached and developed through the process, and will become part of an instant community.

All are moving into their apartments during a two-week period. They have the option of furnished apartments, but some choose to bring their own things. About half are coming from an overseas assignment while the rest are being transplanted from various parts of the U.S.

My team has been helping move folks into their new homes. The preparation for this has been intense; so many details, so little time, so few people to do all the tasks needed.

Everything was ready for families and singles to move in.

On our end.

What we couldn’t control was how people would show up. To a temporary home with people they don’t know. Being engaged in a program that some have anticipated with hopefulness and others, well, not so much.

It’s the trauma of transition. Great change, expected or unexpected, and dealing with a new norm.

On good days, such a transition represents adventure and possibilities.

On harder days, every little difference feels overwhelming.

I’m not going anywhere, but this will be a change for me, too. New people to get to know quickly, being available to listen and encourage, becoming a safe person for folks who may not have felt that sense of safety for some time.

Am I ready for the transition? Willing to begin fresh? It feels like a new classroom of students facing a teacher they may have heard of but have never personally encountered. Or even harder, the new kid in class who’s just moved into town, with no friends and a real sense of dread about that first day of school.

I empathize with these folks. Even the adventuresome ones have details that need to be completed. Getting a Florida drivers’ license. That first horrid trip to the grocery store when you’ve got nothing. Establishing a routine that doesn’t feel comfortable. Meeting people whom you’ll see every day for the next ten months.

Even as I’ve anticipated the difficult, I’ve been amazed by the hope and generous hearts many of these folks have already had toward one another. People who’ve moved in the day before showing up to help new folks move in. Congregating in the parking lot to introduce themselves.

Jesus calls it being one in spirit. Unity. Genuine community.

Change is hard, and I don’t enjoy going through it alone. It helps to know someone has my back, someone knows what’s happening in case I stumble and fall.

Because I will.

The camaraderie of like-minded people trumps anxiety and fear. Because together we’re stronger than we are alone. Especially with Jesus.

Bring on the change. I’m not an island.

Hail, Hail The Grands Are Here

I thought I was a flexible person. Not overwhelmed by the chaos around me.

Who was I kidding?

We’ve got all six of our kids here for a few days. With most of the grands. I’m passionate about my family–I truly enjoy my kids.

I know what happens when I make categorical statements like that. A wrench gets thrown in the works which either makes me look like a liar or a person needing to be put in a padded cell for my own protection.

With so many young children running around the house, my insightful husband decided to purchase several blow-up water toys. Slip and slides, pools, and floating things.

I didn’t know whether to commend him for his insightful purchases or wring his neck for adding more stuff that required clean-up.

Here’s where my easy-going, come-what-may attitude went out the window. The kids were running in and out of the house, soaking everything in their path. Loads of soppy towels in the laundry. Continual grocery runs to keep them fed.

I couldn’t force control into any of these scenarios. The more I tried to keep up with the mess, the less enjoyment I experienced with all my family.

For instance, our grands are passionate about their jelly beans. The little flavor bombs from Jelly Belly are a source of enjoyment that Brach’s couldn’t produce. Ryken, at three, will do just about anything for jelly beans. When he asked for more and was denied, he stuck one up his nose Because he could. And sniffed. John helped him sneeze it out after several tries of trying to dig it out. When told he couldn’t stick things in his nose anymore, he nodded agreeably, picked up the snot-covered bean and ate it.

I laughed, but I was appalled. I try to break the habit of kids eating boogers, not make it more enjoyable.

Dirty dishes, wet, grassy towels, food left out, sticky somethings any time I put my hand somewhere.

My patience hit the wall.

My kids noticed it. Saw I wasn’t enjoying the family like I usually do.

And called me on it.

I’m not proud of that.

Getting caught up in trying to keep things in an order I thought was necessary wasn’t working. Forcing others to operate in my structure wasn’t helping anyone.

I needed to let it all go.

Jesus related the story of two sisters who were His close friends. One, named Martha, was all bothered about doing things right, serving the perfect meal, being the hostess she thought was expected. Her sister, Mary, chose to sit close to her friend, Jesus, and listen to the things He was saying.

Martha complained to Him, telling Him He needed to make her sister help.

He lovingly told her she was worried about too many things. That her sister had actually chosen the better way to spend her time at that moment.

I know to enjoy those who are with me now is the greater good. Worrying about what I can’t change only drags on my heart and soul.

If I don’t keep Jesus as my focus, my mind sees the junk more quickly than the good.

That’s a chaos I don’t want to live in.

 

 

The Capricious Challenge Of Catching Zzz’s

Sleep. We need it.

This isn’t as obvious a comment as one might think. As a young mom, I managed to go long periods of time without it. I’d feed a newborn in the middle of the night, then rise and shine with my older kids in the morning. Keep moving through the day till night comes. The kids went to bed. I’d hit the hay–till the littlest woke up for his 2 a.m. snack. Begin again.

As the kids grew, I became busier. School, extracurricular activities, and responsibilities at work. Fudging on sleep became a habit that I felt unable to give up. The extra time in my day felt necessary, even though it was often masked in bleariness.

I told myself I’d gotten used to five or six hours a night. I couldn’t see any adverse effects on my behavior. I was busy all the time, and being a profound people-pleaser, I said yes to more than I could do well. I pushed through. Weekends, which were the busiest with soccer games, became the time I hit the wall.

I’d left myself no margins.

As I’ve gotten older, sleep is not a safe friend. I either toss and turn all night, unable to shut my mind off, or I resent waking because I’ve just gotten to the point of being relaxed.

Awareness has come with age. I’m not always nice when I don’t get enough sleep.

What a surprise.

My husband just returned from a trip overseas where he moved forward thirteen hours. After ten days, just getting oriented to his new norm, he had to fly home. He wakes up every night for several hours, reading his Kindle in bed. His body is exhausted but his internal clock is messed up.

What’s funny is how flexible kids are. My oldest and her family of eight just returned from leading soccer camps just outside Barcelona. Only a six hour time change, but the parents were struggling with getting enough sleep while the kids slept when they were tired. The younger they were, the easier it was for them to sleep and wake on a cycle that fit them. Easing back into their time frame.

Kids don’t have as many concerns on their minds. Their sleep isn’t filled with thoughts about work deadlines, budget concerns, or family needs. They don’t have to work at making margins for rest–they take what they need. That sweet gift flees as they get older, as concerns, relationships, and activities fill their waking hours.

The more burdens I carry, the less freedom I give myself to let go of worries and rest.

It’s why I dump my cares on Jesus.

This isn’t a crutch issue. It’s an opportunity for me to have confidence that Someone else is in this race with me, running by my side, never leaving me. I’m learning to draw on his strength. Mine isn’t enough.

I’m not willing to go through life bearing more than I can handle. I don’t help anyone like that.

With Jesus willingly sharing my burdens, the load is a lot lighter.

That might lead to a better night’s sleep.