You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11 NASB
I pulled on a flowered gauze skirt and tank top, the lightness of the materials belying my heavy heart. I was tired physically and emotionally, but loaded my Children’s Church bag with snacks and activities, grabbed my iPod and headed out the door. It was my Sunday to teach and I hoped the lesson wouldn’t be hindered by my own fatigue.
Soon I was following a dozen, mostly energetic, second-through-fifth grade young people out to a little playground where Scott and I hoped to diffuse some of their wiggles before settling down for a lesson and classroom activity. The Colorado sun was a delicious degree of warmth, while a crisp breeze ignored my solemn mood and audaciously rustled my skirt. Most of the children clamored atop the colorful equipment, shouting and squealing about a sinking Titanic and abandoning ship and women and children first. For a brief moment I imagined what it would be like to lay myself down on the little cement wall, the one curved like a C, and lined with mosaic tiles painted by the hands of verdant, hopeful children: primary colored stick figures and flowers and smiley faces on smooth white squares. I imagined lying there and letting the sun simply dissolve me onto the gray slab, leaving behind a juxtaposed puddle of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, peace and frustration, confidence and regret, dripping downward until the breeze evaporated it into nothingness. Yes, I was tired.
But I plopped myself down beside Ana, a reserved young woman who always observed for a bit before entering into any activity. We chatted awhile and her face lit up in smiles before she headed off to join the others. I watched her and forgot about dissolving.
The amazing thing about joy, is that it cannot be silenced; it is not a temporary place like conditional happiness. And even when there is a momentary eclipsing, a shadow of sorrow that passes by, true joy is steadfast and permanent. I felt it rising up as the dozen children sat attentively around a table while I shared from the heart a message from the Word of God, and my husband told me how gifted I was with them; I felt it in the playfulness of the breeze and tasted it in the richness of white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake; I heard it in the laughter and camaraderie of my grown-up son and his friends as we broke bread together. It was there in grand baby kisses and snuggles, and husband hugs and photography lessons from friends. I felt it in the rain as I walked my trail, in the beat of the drums pounding through my headphone, the tightness of my muscles.
Oh, the other, the sorrow, hasn’t simply disappeared.
But as I hurried along my trail tonight, and thought about my day, I found myself smiling and even giggling at particular moments, wincing at others. Then I noticed the dark clouds just off from a setting sun that lit the sky various shades of pink; I saw spots along the way where freshly mown, carpet-like grass brushed up against an expanse of brown weeds taller than me. I became aware of the places where I could see nothing but trees and sky and the canal itself, yet a glance in the opposite direction revealed a weathered, dilapidated fence barely able to stand.
In all its beauty, life can be messy.
Especially when we don’t know the end of the story, and especially when we don’t like the end of the story, when it isn’t how we would write it.
The prince doesn’t always kiss Sleeping Beauty awake, sometimes the glass slipper doesn’t fit, and maybe, just maybe, Belle’s love isn’t powerful enough to transform the beast.
Maybe there is no happily ever after, fairy tale style.
But there is always joy.
Always, always joy in a heart that has been transformed by grace.
And as I sped along, mostly for exercise but also because it is therapeutic, I realized that I had to let go of some things.
I had to let go of the idea that I have any kind of power.
Somehow, I had unwittingly taken e-mails and messages and conversations and notes of gratitude from people for counseling them or helping them, and I had sewn them into a cape; an I Can Transform You superhero cape.
Truth is, I wasn’t even capable of transforming my own self – that was a God thing.
A woman recently shared a story with me, how after retiring from teaching she decided to volunteer with a suicide hotline. She helped hundreds of people.
But there were those two.
Two people who had killed themselves on her watch.
And had written the suicide notes to her.
She was so devastated that she walked away from the volunteer position, feeling it was somehow her fault, that all the people who had NOT killed themselves were null and voided by the two who did.
Truth is, she couldn’t save anyone, and the deaths were not her fault.
But when we long to see people made whole, when we love ‘em and pray for ‘em and support ‘em and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that wholeness is possible, and they still remain broken, we feel as though we failed.
Truth is, only God can make anyone whole. Sometimes He uses us and sometimes He doesn’t.
There is a tremendous amount of freedom in letting go of expectations -expectations of others and self – that have been gripped tightly in the fist like the strings of birthday balloons; there is an exhaling in the opening of the hand and watching them rise until they become nothing more than colorful dots in the distance, a memory of childhood.
I need to keep a proper perspective of just how small I really am in the overall scheme of things.
(One of the kids in photography class took this photo without my knowing it. I thought it was a beautiful reminder.)
I don’t know how my story is going to end; I don’t know what is around the next bend on this winding dirt road.
But that is okay.
‘Cause the joy is still there, towering over it all.
Thanks for journeying with me.
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. Jesus (John 16:33 NLT)
Grateful for this wonderful life,
Marie with a 🙂
It is so true. The joy of The Lord is our strength. We take the emotion of happiness or satisfaction and substitute it. Then we find ourselves bitter, disillusioned, exhausted. May we follow hard after Jesus and leave the results and evaluations to Him.
Pingback: The Grandma Who Ate Grass (A reminder from the boys, King Neb and Zech) – A Tenacious Joy