In Response to Joy

I struggled to publish that post on Sunday night. But after four days (now going on eight) of domestic contentment & joy (dare I say bliss? I try not to overuse that word) I just couldn't hold back the dam any longer.

I seems almost manic, swinging as I did from discouragement into joy but that's just how it happened. And hey, I'll take it however it comes.

Having come through a difficult month right on the heels of an incredibly intense year of huge upheaval for our family this release of joy is unexpected and all the more sweeter because of that.

I wonder "why now?"

Is it because we have realized a series of family goals and dreams? Is it because we are creating a simple Christmas season and mindful Advent?

Is it the daily outdoor activity and healthy diet? Is it because we're starting to make friends and connections in our new community? Is it just a response to the wonderful snow that blankets the fields and woods around our home? Is it simply my new socks?

If I'm to be totally honest, I question joy's origin because I'd like to know what unique combination of events produce it so I can "work at" recreating it again.

However it comes, I have a hard time releasing myself fully and completely to joy. Joy without reserve and no holds barred.

One reason I hold back is because I have a strong internal fair compass and have carried a torch (waxing and waning through seasons) for justice since I was a child. I am keenly aware that while I experience joy, others experience pain. Not just those unnamed and unknown, but family and friends whom I love. Struggling right now.

I am well fed and contented, surrounded by love. Others die of starvation. Or worse, watch their children die. Untold others live in slavery and suffering. In this day and age.

I ask myself, is it ok to feel this much joy in my life when so many people are without? Without love, without joy, without food, without security, without beauty.

This is a tension I will always carry. How can I not? It's not fair that I have so much and others have so little. That I carried babes in womb and babes in arms when others cannot. That I eat and others go hungry. That I experience joy and others feel pain.

I don't know what to do with this knowledge. This injustice.

I also hold back from releasing myself with abandon to joy-filled living because I'm insecure. I want to be accepted and people who live lives of purpose and joy are sometimes scorned. Granted, this rejection comes from those in less secure places - principally from a place of emotional and relational insecurity.

Which circles back again to the first point. How unfair that so many people live without the true knowledge of who they are. Their innate beauty, their worth and how very loved they are.

I hold back my joy because I fear. I fear the inevitable loss of joy. I'm a bit of a pessimist and I know that on this earth nothing good lasts forever. Life, hard life, happens and I am tempted to guard my heart from that pain by guarding my heart from this joy.

But that's not wholehearted living. And I have decided to live and write from my whole heart.

I still don't know how to reconcile my inner fair compass with my blessed life circumstance except to say that to those whom much is given, much is expected. I guess I fear falling short of those expectations also.

I'm tired of that ugly word fear stealing (or threatening to steal) my joy because I know there is no fear in love. That perfect love drives out fear.

I need to open my arms wide to that perfect love.

Joy: I question the fairness. I look for the source. I fear sharing it. I fear losing it.

Skiing through the woods (my santuary and cathedral) on Sunday afternoon, I watched the winter sun, setting pale yellow. And the Spirit whispered clarity to my confused soul, "you can't solve this riddle of joy right now, so simply say thank you".

This truth hit hard and deep. Tears streaming down my face I felt like bowing in the snow. I couldn't with those skies on, so I opened arms instead.

Thank you from the core of my being. Thank you with this beating heart and these breathing lungs. Thank you with my words. Thank you with my very life.

I felt like the psalmist trembling before my Maker and Creator. And in this place of worship and surrender I did something that always scares the living daylights out of me. I prayed, "not my will but yours be done".

Bowing. Surrendering. Submitting.

This is scary stuff for me. Fear of a different kind. The fear of losing self (control) for the gain of God's purposes and will in my life.

But really, what else can you do with a full heart? With a life of joy? You give it away wherever you can and ultimately you circle back to where the blessings come from to begin with and you bow.

A couple days after my encounter with God in the woods I found in my journal these words from Ann Voskamp "joy is always given, never grasped". Words I had read and recorded months ago and now remembered and truly understood.

I go back to the book (pg. 57) to find the quote in full.

Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.

I cannot grasp this joy. I cannot recreate it through all the right actions. I cannot answer my questions about its fairness.

I accept it for what it is, a gift. I can live in fullness, unashamed and secure.

And I say thank you. And surrender, again, my very life back to the gift giver. 

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