Have you ever been so bone cold that even warm socks, fuzzy pjs, and 10 pounds of blankets can’t warm you up? Yeah me too. It happened just the other night, actually. My faithful hound and I took an arduous jog-walk in 33 degree temperatures. The first 10 minutes were miserable…but eventually the snot froze on my face…and my toes lost all feeling, so I kept trudging along merrily to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” After I got home…I stripped off my workout accoutrements, put my sweaty hair in a ponytail, made some scrambled eggs and flipped on Wheel of Fortune. (What? I’m a Wheel Watcher. No shame.) I didn’t notice it at first…the freakish cold. Without thinking about it, I just grabbed a blanket and got back to scolding one of the contestants for wasting money on a stupid vowel. By the bonus round, I was shivering from head to toe…and by the time Melissa won a new Ford Explorer…I was frozen to the very marrow of my bones. Despite 15 pounds of clothing and blankets I just couldn’t get warm...and I was miserable. So, I did what everybody does to cure a deep, bone cold...I got naked. And after a long…glorious…steaming…hot shower, my once catatonic bones wallowed in sweet, penetrating warmth. And I just couldn’t help it…I had to sing.
That got me to thinking about joy. More specifically, it got me thinking about something I read recently by Dan Allender: “Joy is chosen, and one prepares for its arrival by rigorous suffering. Do you want joy? Then open your heart to suffer.” (Sabbath).
So, why does a hot shower feel so much better when we’re bone-cold? I think it’s the same reason that slippers feel so much better after wearing high heels all day…because of suffering. And what’s more…sometimes to experience that sweet joy, we have to choose do something that feels counterintuitive. We have to get naked.
I talk a lot about suffering in my blog posts. Mostly because I see it everywhere I look…in my own life and the lives of people I love. But I hope you understand that I only “open my heart to suffer” so that I can taste the sweet, penetrating warmth of JOY. And…oh man…sometimes I just can’t help it. I have to sing.
So, if you’ll indulge me for a few minutes, I’ll like to “sing” out some of my best moments of joy…in a list. I like lists almost as much as I like Wheel of Fortune.
My Joy Song:
1. Joy = my nieces and nephew. When I’m having a particularly hard week, I find myself just craving the innocence of my nieces and nephew. Neck hugs, giggles, baby noises, and sloppy grins are my healing balm. On one particular day, when I was feeling overwhelmed and insecure, my doppelganger niece, Gillian, looked up at me and said very earnestly, “Aunt Alissa…I’m soooo glad you exist.” For a moment, seven simple words canceled my suffering…and I felt joy.
2. Joy = silent dancing. A very good friend of mine recently experienced freedom from something that has bound her in shame for many years. She said that she was so overcome by joy…that she went to her room, closed the door…and danced. Life is soooo fridiculously hard sometimes…but, man, sometimes we dance.
3. Joy = the Sisterhood of the Sparkly Shorts. There are three women in this world who are so full of the love of Abba that joy seems to spill out of their very beings…and sometimes it even spills onto their clothing choices (i.e. Sparkly Shorts). They know suffering intimately…but they choose joy daily. I’m honored to know them…and in two months, the four of us are going to board a plane for Europe to celebrate life together. The shorts will be coming with us.
4. Joy = corporate worship. When I’m sitting in a room full of broken humans…who are collectively focused on worshiping the God of the Universe…my heart feels like it stops beating, just so that it can hear the music better. It is a living, breathing thing…worship. And the more I suffer…the deeper it penetrates.
5. Joy = sloppy sighs. This one may disenchant some of you…especially those of you who don’t love dogs. But, thankfully…joy is unique to the person who chooses it. One of my favorite moments every day involves the night-time rituals of my dog, Chickadee. Every night, without fail, she buries herself under the bed covers…snorts three times, smacks her lips once or twice…and then let’s out a very long, satisfying sigh. I love it. I love that in a world of chaos and unpredictablilty...my dog does the same thing every night before she falls asleep. This constance is often a comfort in my worst moments. And sometimes…I think joy can be that simple.
6. Joy = bald eagles. Earlier this week, I was driving down the highway…minding my own business…trying to psych myself up to survive another Monday…when I encountered the majesty and grace of a soaring bald eagle. It flew right above me…so close I felt like I could reach out and touch it. As far as I know, bald eagles aren’t very common in this part of the world…and, hot dang, if I didn’t count it as a personal gift from the Father! I audibly exclaimed my gratefulness…as I tried to crane my neck to watch it without crashing. Waterfalls, sunsets…and bald eagles…all make me want to stand up and clap.
7. Joy = Julie Andrews. I’m a total and complete sucker for all things musical (except the show Glee…bleck). I love me some singing and dancing. I love the moment in a musical when the actor or actress pauses…the music starts…and instead of talking, they start singing. This is often a source of consternation and discussion with my friend, Anna. Despite loving music, she can’t wrap her mind around the random bursts of singing. I think the reason I love it so much is because…even when the dogs bark and the bees sting, Julie Andrews is still singing about her favorite things.
So, there you have it…a list of some of my joy. It’s not an exhaustive list, by any means…and many of you who are reading this blog are often the source of my joy. Thank you for that, by the way. I guess I just wanted you to hear about some of the things that warm me up when the cold settles into my bones.
For those of you out there who are bending with the weight of your suffering…take heart...joy is nearer than you think. Don’t settle for contentment. Don’t long for mere happiness. Stop piling on more blankets to ease your suffering…it won’t work. Get naked. Choose joy. Clap for bald eagles. Burst into song. Put on your sparkle shorts...and dance.