Thursday, January 24, 2013
The Year of Joy
On January 1, 2013, my husband tripped in the attic while putting away our Christmas decorations and put his foot through our upstairs bathroom ceiling.
I was standing in the hallway and saw his foot and calf come down in a hail of dust and insulation. I swore. My husband did not. Happy New Year!
This all happened about one hour before my parents were expected for dinner and five minutes after I had got a call from a neighbor. Neighbor asked if she could come over for a cup of tea and refuge from her chaotic house, where she was half-way through a kitchen rennovation. I opened the door for her just moments after the ceiling puncture and told her perhaps she had come to the wrong place.
Thirty minutes later, as I swept up toxic insulation dust garbed in my husband's face mask and safety goggles (see mess at right), I felt a wave a gratitude come over me. Gratitude because (1) Jeff was not hurt and didn't fall all the way through (a la Tom Hanks in The Money Pit); (2) Neither had he come through the ceiling in our bedroom, just a few feet away, which would have necessitated many loads of laundry, but rather in our easily contained bathroom; (3) It was Jeff and not I that had made such a critical slip, so I didn't have to feel guilty about it; and (4) we had the money to fix the ceiling so this wouldn't constitute financial hardship. (Not that this is the way we would like to spend the money but still...). Then, remembering the sight of the foot through the ceiling, I began to laugh.
We had had a beautiful, healthy, peaceful Christmas break. Throughout December, I felt God had been speaking something to me about the coming year: "This will be a year of joy." Now, that is a good message to get from God. Funny way to start off though, with at attic accident at the absolute end of a 10-day vacation.
I don't actually have trouble, typically, finding joy and gratitude -- or at least humor -- in the trials of life. For some reason, I struggle more to experience joy when all is well. The externals of my life have been marked by blessing (Thank you, God!): physical health, healthy children, marriage to a good man, financial stability, a safe home, a wonderful community, a sense of mission and purpose in the world. And I am grateful.
But I have lived in seasons where I can see all that I have is good, and yet am unable to rejoice over my blessings. I have had a sense that under all the present goodness was something sinister, a dark truth about the universe and the nature of God that made joy impossible. It felt like a chain around my ankle, just like they show in those animated depression medication commercials on TV.
The reasons for this inability to enjoy a life that should produce joy are complex: a combination of brain chemistry, learned behavior, and a spiritual stronghold. The first I do what I can to manage. The second likewise. The third, I needed God to do the work.
What I needed was a dose of truth, and the ability to hear it. My daughters just memorized the statement Jesus made in John 8:32: "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." Over the last few months, I've been asking God to speak truth to me, because books, teachers, friends, my spouse and psycholgists have, but I needed to hear it straight from Him. I believe He answered me. And I believe I am free.
Over the last three months, I've been having a running dialogue with God, and what He spoke was startling, never the response I expected.
Dialogue Part First:
me: What more can I do, Jesus? I know my faith has so many holes in it.
God: I am pleased with you. Your faith is pleasing me.
I was expecting a review, Jesus with a clipboard, casting a critical eye over my life; like a spiritual life coach here to help me achieve higher potential. His answer shocked me into tears. I know it came from something (Someone) external, because it was the last thing I would have thought. And this He followed with, "Your new name is Joyful One."
Dialogue Part Second:
me: God, show me what you are like. I'm still afraid you are not good.
God: You are precious to me.
me: Thank you. I think I know that, but that's not what I asked you. What are you like?
God: You are very precious to me.
me: Really, is that what you want to say? That's not what I asked you!
Dialogue Part Third (this one God initiated, at 5 in the morning in December)
God: I chose to love you.
me: I don't like that word "chosen." I don't understand what that means.
God: I have the right to choose you. Be chosen. If I want you for mine, you'll be mine. Be mine!
me: I don't understand what that means.
God: I'm not going to explain it to you, sweetie. But if I did, I promise, you would approve.
After part third, I went peacefully to sleep, until my husband roused me almost two hours later. And I can't explain it, but something about the way God spoke to me, the tone and tenderness in His voice, took the fear out of me. I've been wrestling for years with big questions about the universe, believing I knew that God loved me, but wanting to know that He loved the whole world as well.
As it turns out, I didn't know He loved me. Not like I do now. And as it turns out, if He loves me (Me! Me?) enough to speak to me in the voice that I heard, then He loves the world. What is He like? He's the kind of God that loves me. And if he loves me, well, I trust him to love anybody. I don't understand God. But He's nice enough -- sweet, actually, gentlemanly, gracious -- to tell me that if I were able to see Him fully, I would like what I saw.
So joy. I've got it. And I keep testing to make sure, poking around thought pockets that used to be rubbed raw with fear and sadness, like you might poke a sore muscle to see if it's healed. And I think there's some scar tissue there, but it doesn't hurt anymore.
Meanwhile, blessings continue to abound in my life, and small, ridiculous trials are abundant as well. In the 24 hours since I began writing this, in the same bathroom in which my husband broke the ceiling 23 days ago, I destroyed the floor. I dropped a shoebox full of nail polish from a high shelf. One bottle -- hot pink, of course -- exploded. The rest fell in the toilet. I couldn't make this stuff up. I spent the afternoon scrubbing grout with acetone and sanitizing my nail polish collection in a kitchen colander (which then went through the dishwasher on hot). And I laughed.
The Bible says we will experience joy through trials. So the year of joy shall likely be an adventure. I'm expecting it. And expecting also to be surprised. Bring it on. And happy new year.