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Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. And, you know what? That’s a really good thing.

Writing has been a light in the tunnel, a path through the storm, these past 18 months.  It is putting words to page that has been the anchor to connect me to God’s purpose and goodness in the midst of my world falling apart. Like a woman possessed, I’ve just had to get my world in writing, to process, to understand, to emotionally unload the aftermath of losing my son. And, although I have seen the Lord’s hand through it all and experienced his comfort, grace, and love –

I haven’t felt joy.

Maybe in moments, yes. But not deep down, in my soul.

Weary

Every day, for 18 months, was about reminding myself of God’s faithfulness and promises, of disciplining myself to focus on the present moment rather than get sucked in to either the past or the future, of forcing myself to focus on my blessings rather than my burdens. My inner world, since Dominic’s death, has been one of tremendous effort and struggle – knowing (and even experiencing) I was being held by the Hand of Love, yet that somehow not translating into a zest for life.

It was like grief had wrung all the life out of me and left me soul limp.

Don’t get me wrong. I have certainly had moments of happiness and have gained a depth of love for my Father that I have never before known. The things I have learned, gained from this journey are, I suspect, the things of the next world – the things that truly last – and I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of what good the Lord has worked (is working) through it all.

But, truth be told, if I could stamp a word describing where I’ve been after 18 months, it would be…

Weary.

And then, recently, that changed.

Surprised by Joy

The realization came upon me in late January, on the way back from a day ski trip as a family to Winterplace. We were driving back home, reminiscing about our wonderful day of skiing with the kids, and it suddenly hit me…

I was feeling joy.

And, I realized, I had been for a while.

The realization stunned me. As I started processing it, I began seeing that, somehow, things had changed. Days weren’t so much effort to get through. I wasn’t waking up in the morning wishing I could just go back to sleep. I didn’t have to give myself the “You have beautiful children and a wonderful husband and a lovely home and a zillion blessings, so buck up” pep talk. I didn’t have to hole myself down in the basement and write like a crazy person. I felt a sparkle instead of unyielding weariness; I was… enjoying. No, more than that. I had joy – in spite of what was going on around me.

This is new. And surprising. And unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

An Unlikely Gift

I have, for most of these 18 months, pinned my joy on the possibility of having another baby. Every bit of light I saw in my future surrounded that desire, and my soul lay in wait, like a Buchenwald prisoner staring through the bars for deliverance, for the child that would fulfill the loss I’d endured – for the infant that would at least bring me closer to my longing for a large family.

It hasn’t happened.

Yet here is the amazing part – I’ve still begun to feel joy. Nothing has changed – no baby, no financial windfall, no nothing, really. My circumstances are no different. My stressors are the same (in some ways, there are a number of stressors that have increased).

Yet, somehow, everything changed.

 

  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10

It is a radical, fresh and visceral awareness – true joy is a gift from God. It is that from 1 Peter 5, exactly – a restoration. A recapturing of life, an instilling of vitality, a grace-filled miracle of God’s Spirit working, even amidst brokenness, to bring about goodness. There is an aspect of which joy is a discipline, as well – the spirit that makes the conscious choice to daily attempt the path toward joy even without feeling it is, I believe, in a better position to receive the gift when it is bestowed. But this change in my heart – this turnaround to inner joy was, foundationally, the grace of Christ, completely irrespective of any circumstances around me.

My soul is different…lighter. I am beginning to think that I have never experienced true, God-given joy before now, but simply a circumstance-bound happiness that shifted according to how well my own selfish needs were met. “Joy” came when the outcome worked out the way I wanted, when life went according to my plan and the universe aligned to my desires. When it didn’t – that “joy” evaporated. Yet, suddenly, there has germinated a desire to engage in life, to embrace it, to revel in it – even though nothing about my world had changed.

 

  • “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Through Him who gives. Gift. Undeserved, unreserved grace, to experience joy, no matter whether things go the way I want them to or not. Joy, simply because He Is.

 

  • “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

Evidence of the Gift

I’ve seen the change in so many ways.

Writing has been the major avenue that has helped me keep on keeping on with what I know rather than what I feel. Yet as I pondered my recent surprise of joy, I found something else profound…I don’t have to write, anymore.

As in, I won’t curl up into a little ball and simply disappear or fall into a dark abyss from which I’ll never emerge, now – if I don’t write. All of the effort that it has taken to put one foot in front of the other and engage meaningfully in life suddenly hasn’t been quite as necessary. Life has been happening, yet I wasn’t having to pull myself away from it to process and pray and cry and work so hard to stay in it.

This is wow.

I have begun to invest in life. To want to be here. To not just know that life is good – to feel it. I’ve started to scrapbook again. I have been getting a great amount of satisfaction from homeschooling. I’ve started back up my photography. I’ve been going out with friends instead of wanting to be alone. I’ve begun volunteering at the Blue Ridge Women’s Shelter.

I’ve been able to see a future – one with joy – even if we don’t have any more babies.

There is nothing to which to attribute this phenomenon other than the grace of God.

 

  • “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
  • “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! People of Zion…you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.” Isaiah 30:18-20

The past 18 months have been, without a doubt, the bread of adversity and the water of affliction. But my Teacher is no longer hidden, and He has given me the gift of joy.

“The poor and needy search for water,
but there is none;
their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
and the parched ground into springs.
19 I will put in the desert
the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
the fir and the cypress together,
20 so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this.” Isaiah 41:17-20

Indeed, the Lord has done this.

 

  • “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy.” Nehemiah 12:43

So if I’m not writing like I was before, just know…

It’s because the Lord has given me new joy, new life – and I plan to live it to the full in praise of Him.

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