Advent 2021: How Great Our Joy

My mother’s favorite Christmas carol is “Joy to the World”. Joy to the world! The Lord has come! This is one of few triumphant traditional Christmas hymns. Most of them are songs of hope and expectation, but this one…oh, this one! This is a song of celebration! Of adulation of God’s plan accomplished, of the banishment of sorrow, and the raining down of blessing. It is a song of literal joy, both in its tone and in its directive.

As Advent comes to a close this week with the beginning of Christmas, let’s allow ourselves some joy. In the midst of all that must still be done, let’s pause and breathe and let joy glow within us, no matter what form it takes.

As I put my daughter to sleep recently, I sat on the edge of her bed and, before I could sing her a lullaby, my mind cast itself back into my childhood Christmases — the concerts, the programs, the recitations — and, automatically, a familiar childhood voice began to remind me of just what Christmas is all about: “And there were, in the same country, shepherds abiding in the fields…” As a child, I memorized this section of Luke 2 through Linus’s recitation in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Charlie Brown, frustrated by his seeming failure at Christmas, demands to know just what Christmas was all about, and so Linus tells him. As I recalled his smile at “I bring you tidings of great joy…a Savior which is Christ the Lord”, I felt my heart swell with that self-same joy. And I found myself wanting to linger there in that silence, in what Shakespeare calls the “perfectest herald of joy”. 

As we embark upon the beginning of Christmas week and celebrate the work commenced by Christ’s birth, in all the hustle and bustle, let us not lose sight of the joy — both silent and exultant — that filled that corner of the world and Heaven on that night. If we allow it, it can overflow our hearts today. Let Heaven and nature sing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.

As you move into Christmas, dear Friends, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

Card image by Hallmark

Advent 2020 ~ Surprised by Joy

Have you been surprised by good things this year? In those moments when we laugh and smile and, for a glorious little while, things feel…normal? The word normal feels like a dangerous one these days, as though we are afraid of it because it might not be graspable, at least not the way we remember it. But, even if normal feels fleeting, joy is still here. Advent is a season of hope, of expectation. What are we expecting, though? We are expecting joy. Whether it be in the transcendent meaning of the Christmas season, the beauty of our homes, neighborhoods, or houses of worship, or the elation of children on Christmas morning, we normally expect joy to come from somewhere. This year, perhaps we are hoping rather than expecting. Perhaps we are praying, pleading, yearning for joy. Romans 15:13 blesses us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

No matter where we are in our lives this year, joy is still here. It may not be where we expect it to be. Rather joy can be where we choose it to be, where we need it to be.

Joy can be in a child’s thoughtful prayers for others who are suffering or have less than they.

Joy can be in the belly-laugh of your partner, their face bright with a smile.

Joy can be in the wrapping of the perfect gift for a loved one, no matter how simple it may be.

No, Friends, joy may not be where we expect it this year, but it lingers where we need it.

Joy is still here.

Lessons from “Calm Down”

I have been watching Inside Out with my toddler girl–or, as she has renamed it: Calm Down–for the past few days and I am finding that, while I am trying to teach my daughter lessons about emotions and feelings, I am learning and relearning some important ones myself. While one can learn to be emotionally awake and mature, I believe that there are always lessons worth revisiting as we grow through life.

*It’s okay to not be okay, even when people ask or want you to be okay.

*Just because you’re sad about something, it doesn’t mean your feelings are wrong.

*Just because you forget something or don’t think about it anymore, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t beneficial or important or that it didn’t do you any good at the time.

*It is entirely possible to feel two things at once and have both of them be “right”.

*Crying is OKAY! Sometimes we just need to cry, and it really does help.

*It’s all right to not have all the answers.

*It’s all right to be scared and sad when what we have loved ends for whatever reason.

*It’s perfectly okay to look for the fun and to try to find the joy in situations if that is what you need to do in order to cope.

*There is no shame in your personality, interests, hobbies, etc., changing as your life goes on. It’s part of growing.

*It’s also okay to not be willing to look for the fun and the joy in a situation for a time. We need to feel sadness, too.

*It is all right to need someone just to be there.

*We can sit on the bench with someone and not try to fix things or make things better. Sometimes someone just needs their sadness to be heard and felt and their tears shared.

There is so much that we as human beings are still learning about ourselves, our feelings, reactions, relationships, and growth, even as adults. Our personalities shift and expand and deepen. Our interests vary. Who we are and who we choose to be may change and that is all right. The truth is that we never stop growing, learning, feeling, or changing. And that is okay. We are okay. YOU are okay.


(Disclaimer: Inside Out and its images are the creation and property of Disney/Pixar. None of it belongs to me.)

Lessons from Rainbow Tails

Have you ever had a balloon? A shiny prize that floats in the air and bounces on the end of its string, all weightless and buoyant and free?

That was my daughter’s joy yesterday: a bright orange balloon that she received from a server at Pizza Hut for eating most of her spaghetti lunch. It bounced and floated and played with her all the rest of the day and evening. This morning, however, my girl was in utter despair to find it wilted and lackadaisical on the floor of the kitchen. Then she discovered that, if she ran, the balloon would “fly” again, and so she spent the next fifteen minutes just running in a giant oval around the living room, through the kitchen, and back. Not too long after, she ventured outside onto her grandparents’ carport and made another amazing discovery: if she stood there and held on to her balloon, the wind would lift it up and fly it all around her, much to her delight.

Unfortunately, amazement led to heartbreak as she loosened the bobbing balloon from her wrist, a gust of wind ripped it from her small hand, and blew it down the street before lifting it up into a tree where none could reach. Her balloon, her treasure, her resurrected glory, was gone! My girl came inside in tears, insisting that I put on her shoes so that she could go in search of and rescue her stolen balloon. When I explained that no one could reach it and it was gone, she collapsed into hysterical tears, hiding herself under her img_0754favorite blanket and turning into a sobbing bundle on the floor while I patted her back.

Then, of course, Grandma and Grandpa came to the rescue. Grandpa blew up a brand-new blue balloon, bigger than the one she had lost, and Grandma pulled out her ribbon stash from her craft things to allow my girl her choice of ribbons. She picked four (pink, blue, orange, and yellow) so she “could have a rainbow” attached to her balloon, the most beautiful tail I have ever seen gifted to a balloon.

Have you ever had days like that orange balloon? Those days where you are flying high one day, life is good, and joy abounds. Then, the next day, the world seems to come crashing down around your ears and things sit on you and sap your light and energy and joy. The floor you’ve collapsed onto is cold and hard and sad. Those moments, big or small, can be so very hard, so deeply downcasting, and so incredibly lonely. I’ve been there, I know those feelings, those dark nights.

And then something happens. A word, a touch, a helping hand, time given, your words listened to, your heart heard, your pain seen. It’s like that fresh morning breeze that lifted that poor orange balloon up into the air and set it to flying again. That encouragement can save a heart, kinds words folding into our souls, and helping to peel away the layers we have hidden behind but that have failed to protect us. Those words and actions of love set themselves upon the cracks in us, soothing their pain, and, maybe, even starting their healing process. We are helped up to our feet, given strength or someone else’s to borrow and lean on for that difficult moment. Eventually, we may look back some day and find that something is different. It might be our circumstances, our path in life, or maybe it is us as a person. But something is lighter, brighter, different; and maybe, just maybe, you might find yourself with a brand-new rainbow tail trailing in your wake. Then you know what the fun part is? Rainbows are light, light spreads, and, soon, the world will turn round and you will have the chance to gift someone else with a rainbow tail, too.

Hymnal Thoughts

Before now, I have been hesitant to state which is my favorite Christmas hymn, and honestly, that is because I couldn’t decide. But now I have an answer. Definitely have an answer.

As I drove around through the cold January air, the rain falling in sheets and the sky a slate grey blanket above me, my car was full of warmth. Yes, I was listening to Christmas music in January, plainly breaking the family “rule” about no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. (When I am alone in my car and no Doc McStuffins soundtrack is being requested, I shall listen to what feeds my soul, thank you very much!) This song came on and stayed on repeat for most of the rest of my errand trip. I couldn’t get enough of hearing it, of singing it, of feeling it.

Without a doubt, “The First Noel” is my favorite Christmas hymn. There is no song that elicits that sense of thrumming anticipation and elation that the season embodies like it. No song that fills my soul to the brim and overflowing with that peaceful expectation, that serene joy that is all that Christmas means to me. It feels like song reaches into every part of my soul, flooding it with warmth and the desire to see light and love and hope everywhere, to see with my heart rather than just my eyes.

I want to keep that song, keep its core, its joy, anticipation, and watchful spirit alive in my life all the year through, not just Christmas. I want it to echo in my heart and in my life and spread out to others in the way I live each and every day.

PS. Thank you to my music teachers all through school for teaching me how to find and carry a part in a choral arrangement! I cannot tell you the joy I had finding that I could still sing along well enough to enjoy vocalizing along to this wonderful group of vocalists in their beautiful rendition.

Daily-quasi Writing – 7/2/2012 – “The Joys of Organization”

My new fridge calendar. Yay for organization!

So, this past week, I bought a hanging file for our fridge for our bills, as well as a monthly calendar, to get ourselves all organized and to keep things in order. I’m already pretty organized as a person but I figured that we can always be more so, especially since we are going to be parents in December.

I find a particular joy in organization and paperwork, in filling out my bills and knowing that they are taken care of. I love to be able to find all my appointments at a glance, to be able to see my obligations and plans all in one space. I love having everything in its place and tidied away. I feel a particular type of triumph at being able to fit all my books somewhere on my shelves, getting my laundry folded and put away. There’s  a sweet satisfaction in a tidy and orderly house that I can’t quite explain  but it’s there. I remember when I was in graduate school, on Saturday mornings, I would throw my windows open to air our my room and clean – sweep, dust, Febreeze, do laundry, and tidy up. It just made me feel wonderful and accomplished to be able to take care of my life and my living space, and it still does now. As a wife, I do enjoy taking care of our home, making sure everything is where it should be and yet reasonably find-able when it’s needed. I mean, how would the hubby get along without me, since I know where everything is?