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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Would She Find Joy?

What do you do when life gets tough?

I’ve wondered about that lately. Because honestly, I love being happy. It’s my thing. I love being excited about every new day. I love family and nature and life. I love Jesus and children and babies. And chocolate chip cookie dough! Oh and I love my husband. He’s my best friend and I’m always lifted up around him. I think he’s super cute and thank heavens, the feeling is mutual. My kids are my world. I mean, what’s not to be happy about with all this goodness going on.

So, what if someone who’s usually really happy like me, one day, just doesn’t feel like being happy anymore. How does she get it back?

Why did it go away?

Let’s just pretend for a minute and since I’m a writer, let’s bring in some worst case scenario stuff, just for fun and of course I’m just being super random, not wanting to be too specific here because I don’t really know anybody going through this, but let’s just say what if there was this woman who was a mother and, I don’t know, she had a baby and it was a super tough pregnancy. Not just because she was older, but because life was overwhelming. She stays positive, for the most part, but out of necessity gives up on all her personal dreams, like teaching, working for a variety of non-profits and she feels her dream of becoming a New York Times best-selling author slipping away because her family needs her, so she starts to fall into automatic mode. Life becomes one giant pile of dirty dishes and dirty clothes, but she listens to Christian music, so there are still days she smiles and dances with the kids in the living room. She gets super big and fat when one day she’s told she’ll have to have a c-section because, the baby might die if the doctor doesn’t get her out that day, so, this mother, faces one of her biggest fears EVER and has this c-section. Yes, the baby lives and the little thing is perfect, but to make it a bit more dramatic, let’s say this random mother contracts staph twice and even still when she sits up, there’s a pain that makes her wonder if she’ll every feel normal again. To add insult to injury, the mother is still big and fat, even with the baby out.

And maybe this mother, who loves her kids like nothing else in this world, gives someone she loves, like maybe her oldest child to a cause so special, like a mission that helps the poor and those searching for hope, for Christ. 

This kid, again, let’s just say to make this scenario more dramatic, he’s her oldest son and he’s amazing. He’s been such a support in her life. He’s pure sunshine with the biggest smile (actually she’s nicknamed it the “million dollar smile”). This kid of hers can practically read her mind and even though he’s just a teenager one of his life’s purposes is to love his mom and to make her smile every day. 

Not just because he tells her he loves her every time he walks out the door, in the door and calls, but he is so helpful, running errands, babysitting, doing the dishes every night and he is the reason the mom can get so much done for the other kids. He’s the reason she’s sane. He’s the reason the mom even has time during the day to take a walk or think or take a shower. There's never been enough time in the day for her to truly tell him how much she loves him.

Let’s say this oldest son leaves one day and goes halfway across the world to volunteer to love others as Christ does, but the mother can’t talk to him, except in letters and she knows she won’t see him for years. The siblings of this oldest child are a wreck too because of course he meant just as much to them as the mother. 

So, her kids are crying themselves to sleep, missing him like crazy, writing him notes and art work as therapy to learn how to live without him. This mother has to dig deep because it would be a really good time to feel sorry for herself, or to worry sick about her son because he’s in a third world country you know, eating fish off the floor and using a mosquito net just so he can sleep through the night without being bit to death. 

And remember, this mother just had a baby too. And she’s still fat, but now she’s also very tired.

I’m really digging here, but imagine if, I don’t know, if this mother’s other child, because she has a lot of them (remember, she loves babies), let’s say it’s her three year old little boy who is like her beating heart, is having life-threatening seizures. He might be facing a terminal illness and every night when she goes to bed (if the newborn is not awake of course) she isn’t sure when she wakes up in the morning if that child will still be alive. Because she’s seen him almost die three times. For dramatic effect, add a couple of lengthy hospital stays in the pediatric ICU. Let’s take this story up a notch and say another one of her children has ADD that presents itself in pretty big ways every day, another one of her children is getting bullied at school and the mother, realizes pep talks and prayers aren’t working anymore for the situation. Super crazy, but this mother hates conflict like the plague, but let’s make her get out of her comfort zone and confront this bullying situation (now remember, I’m just pulling this stuff out of thin air), and maybe on just any given day her husband tells her the funding to his work may be getting redistributed somewhere else and he’s not sure how he’s going to get paid (now that’s a good one to conjure up).  What else can I imagine? O.K., pretend this mother who loves food decides to give up sugar, and while she’s going through some pretty tough %$#*, she decides she’s done being fat. 

Because being fat is starting to manifest in a way that shows how dysfunctional things are. She’s having achy joints, insomnia, foggy brain and low energy. And she asks herself, “When are you going to start making yourself a priority?” That would be tough, huh. I’d feel bad for someone going through that. I mean give that girl some cookies!

She sits at the park, day after day and watches her little three year old play and she wonders “How can we live without him?” 

Sometimes, her mind wanders and she imagines the worst case scenario, nothing I could think up on my own, but she can. Running through her mind are images of sick kids she’s seen on the internet. Against the doctor’s orders, she has researched the heck out of this illness that is haunting her son like a ghost. She knows it all, how it starts, how it grows and how eventually it kills. She stares at his MRI for hours and compares it to those she finds on the internet. When she kisses the top of his head, she imagines the love she feels for him can travel through his skull into the white matter of his brain and heal it. She'll even hold him in her arms and press that kiss so tenderly into his head at that very spot where his MRI shows his white matter is abnormal and she pleads  with God that love will and can heal. Her heart does this weird thing where it pauses long enough to skip a beat and she feels like she might suffocate. So, she takes a deep breath and pretends he’s not sick at all.She knows there are people in the world going through way more bigger challenges then this and she tries to keep things in perspective. 

She has a roof over her head, a loving family, food (well not sugar), clothing, love and she tells herself “You’re just going to have to hang on, think positive and leave it up to God.” Then, she stops and the cold wind blows through her hair, “God, are your there?” She knows He is because when life has been tough before, He always made himself known. He’s just never put her through anything this serious before.

Crazy how my mind gets working when I’m writing, but now I’m imagining this “mother” finds out there’s a tree root stuck in the plumbing underneath her house. It’s a pretty old house, but this mother loves big trees and vintage homes, so here she finds herself with a plumber literally jack-hammering up the floor in her hallway. I’d imagine the sound of a jack-hammer is a horrible way to wake up in the morning. Of course, the project gets dragged out (is there really a plumber who finishes a job when he says he will) and she’s carrying the newborn, or maybe it’s the sick three year old (I’ll have to work on the specifics of that scene later) and she’s tripping over the crumbled cement in the hallway. She stops and feels that broken floor kind of represents her life. Has she crumbled too? I mean, she did spend two hours that night doing the dishes in her bath tub, while the newborn baby was crying and the three year old who has seizures was offering to “help” (we all know how helpful it is when a three year old wants to help). 

And she can’t even eat some chocolate that night to help her get through it all. Remember, she’s still fat.

As a writer, I’ve learned a lot about character development and how to create conflict, so I would create something with the husband, who has always been her rock, maybe he could start to crumble too. He has anxiety because he’s worried about the three year old. The amazing thing about this kid is everyone feels like his best friend.

The husband has too many sleepless nights and starts to have his own break downs. They manifest through intense crying anytime, well, especially before bed so he can’t sleep very well, which only escalates this situation of anxiety. His normal joyful self is now this long-faced puffy-eyed man every time he walks through the door. He literally starts scheduling time at work where he can cry and pray. His wife worries about him more and more because she’s never seen him like this.

So, how would that woman, that mother, that daughter of God who really just wants to be her best self and rise every day to the challenges presented to her, how would she find joy in all this muck?

If I were to experience something like this, I would be thankful I’d spent years of my life focused on the teachings of Jesus Christ because through Him, all things are possible. JOY! That would be my focus. ABUNDANCE! CLARITY! PURPOSE! MIRACLES! LOVE!

(artist is Liz Lemon Swindle)

Because random people like family, friends, neighbors, church members are sooooo good. They make meals, offer to go grocery shopping, stop in for visits, bring gifts, offer to help give your kid a ride to school EVERY DAY (yes, stuff like this really happens). They take your other kids to the park, bring fresh citrus, music, bath balms, baby clothes, they even stop in to see if they can take your laundry to their house so you don’t have to wash it in the tub! The kindness of people manifests through loving texts, fresh flowers that last for weeks, love notes, a clean kitchen, giving the three year old a hair cut because he needed it so bad, prays, fasting, hugs, messages, guacamole and more.

JOY! Can she find it? If I were in this situation, could I?
The night before his last seizure.

The next morning (heartbreak)!

I think I would have to, because if I didn’t I would die without hope. I would be stuck in the worst feeling of despair I’d ever experienced. Forget the plumbing, the job, the sleepless nights, I mean I’d really have to learn what was important. Life, Love, Children, Health, Family, Jesus, God.

Strangely, going without sugar would probably be the best thing for this mother. She would start to have more clarity and her health would slowly return. Giving up this addiction is good for her. And daily intermittent fasting, since the last time her son was in the pediatric ICU, that would help. A vision board. Writing down goals. Positive affirmations. Serving others. Forgetting about self. Starting a business? Selling shampoo? 

What!?! Crazy, but it would give her a new focus and she would understand it’s good for her to do things that help her develop herself, because she’s forgotten so much. She's been drowning in sorrow. Yes, these are the things. And more. Great music, sometimes listening to the same song over and over again, dancing, playing, sunsets, hugs, researching sugar-free recipes,  it’s all there to help if she’ll just let it in.

And of course God would work his magic. He’d give her dreams and impressions. She’d pick up on the subtle messages in songs, words would just pop out to her, she’d feel things so deep and wonder why? 

Her children would respond with such tenderness, she’d actually start to see some hidden blessings in all this muck. Then, God would tell her why. She’d cry and realize she was on a path towards Him, that everything going on pushed her in the right direction.

Admist all this, does she find joy? To her surprise, she does. She had to. But it’s not like birthday party joy, or “you’ve won a new car” joy. It’s like a quiet pondering, where love grows in abundance and even simple signs of beauty create a big response from this mother. She hears her three year old sing a song and she closes her eyes to block everything out. All she wants to do is to hear him sing. He runs into her arms and she holds the entire world. He picks her a flower and he’s given her his heart over and over again. 

Her newborn baby giggles and smiles like her life depends on it. 

Every smile is like a sign everything is going to be alright. 

Her husband becomes more tender, more sympathetic, more caring (which she didn’t think was possible) then every before. 

Her children are like beautiful lights walking in and out of the door – to school, to play with a friend, to church – and the mother knows she is blessed beyond measure. This is the joy the mother finds. It's a joy that presents itself in every moment, but she has to look for it and when she finds it, it’s a joy like non else.