The January wind blew across the yard, a winter storm unfurling. Our friends stood on the rug inside the front door, shivering the cold off their shoulders.
Their daughters’ suitcases and backpacks sat on the floor between us — along with a hundred hard, heavy questions about all the uncertainty in our world. There were words shared between us, too — words of prayer promised, and of thanks, and of we love you guys, and don’t-worry-your-girls-will-be-fine-while-you’re-gone.
We hugged long, all four of us. And out the door they went, into the cruel wind, leaving their sweet girls with us. They drove north to Mayo Clinic, before the storm hit, to see some doctors and — we pray — to get some answers. We took the girls in, as friends do.
So we’ve hunkered down here, with a couple extra kiddos. We have had days of being snowed in, of making a mess in the kitchen with cake pops and colored sprinkles, of learning each other’s habits, of finding out who hates jelly on the sandwich, who laughs loudest, who sings soprano. There are so many bits of gleaming glory, and I’m scooping them all up as treasure.
On Monday, I hid away in the office, crying. The tears, they didn’t feel like sorrow, but like eternity, leaking — like tiny rivers linking flesh to God. I don’t know. I don’t have the right words for it. But the tears kept coming, and I felt a coming-alive. Because of this:
For all the heartache in our world, there is still joy here. There is still Joy to the world.
There is still joy, because there is still Jesus. And He is our only hope.
All week, I’ve been looking through the dim mirror, spying Jesus on the other side, a silhouette visible through the haze of pain.
The girls’ mom and dad call every night, from their hotel room. The mom and I talk, too. About the tests and the doctors. And we talk about the faces of the people in the hallways and cafeterias. Every night, she wants to talk about the other people’s faces.
“It’s so hard to see the defeat on the faces here,” she tells me. Her words make me cry again.
You and I both know that some of the faces are waiting to find out answers to the heavy questions — How much more time? How many more treatments? Will there be pain? Will I see another Christmas?
And some of the faces have been slapped with dreaded news, so they sit at dinner tables in Mayo’s cafeteria, stirring soup into slow, cool circles.
Last night, my friend told me, there was this couple — about her parents’ age. And they were sitting at the next table over. The man wore sadness and a camouflage shirt, and he said nothing when his wife tried to talk to him.
When our friends went to pay their own dinner bill at the cash register, they paid for the couple’s bill, too. Our friends left them a note, letting the couple know that two strangers were praying.
It’s what another friend, Margaret, calls “defiant joy
.” Margaret wrote a whole book
about that — about how you’ve got to fight back with joy. How you’ve got to poke holes in the darkness, with joy, to let the light leak out.
“Practicing defiant joy,” Margaret writes
, “is the declaration that the darkness does not and will not win.” <—- This, from a woman staring down a cancer diagnosis.
Life’s thorniest paths can lead to joy, Margaret writes.
I think that’s what my friend and her husband were doing, when they paid someone else’s bill and left a handwritten prayer. They were fighting through their own battle, by bringing light to someone else’s darkness.
And that’s what Kara Tippetts is doing, in her brave-beautiful dying. Kara writes:”What better way could I spend my last breaths than in thanksgiving.”
And that’s what my friend’s grandpa did when he had a month left to live, and he spent every last ounce of energy making every visitor know that their one life mattered.
“A person has many chances to properly show people how to live,” the grandfather said. “But I only get one chance to show people how to die.”
We are all terminal. Whether we are in the hospital bed, the Mayo cafeteria, the MRI tube, on hospice, on the front door rug, on the sprinkle-covered kitchen floor, with frosting in our hair, while singing the harmony.
This is it. We only get so much time. And if you are reading these words right now, YOU STILL HAVE IT. You have time, and this is our time. What will we do with it?
Ann writes it like this, today:
“You have absolutely only one decision to make every day: how will you use your time? Time is certainly one of the most precious gifts you ever get, because you only ever get a certain amount of it.”
So what are we going to do? What are we going to do when the storm brews outside, or within, and the roads are long to the clinic, and the time is short, and the answers stay hidden?
Maybe we can listen to our own lives. Maybe we can fight back with joy.
Maybe we can buy a meal at the cafeteria, and leave prayers on sticky notes, and cry with the neighbor when the words won’t come. We can press our ears up to what makes us alive. We can burn the candles. We can live well, and we can die well — because we only get one chance to do that. And maybe we can wonder, truly wonder, live in wonder, aim for wonder, get swept up in wonder — the wonder of it all. We could look around the room so we don’t miss the faces wearing defeat, and then we can do one small thing to bring another joy, even when we’re stumbling down our own thorny path.
And maybe we could remember that days are mere blips,
and that we could live more poetry in our own skin,
and color outside the lines,
and not despise the crooked paths of our lives.
And remember that the wind blows hard, but it also blows soft and sweet.
This is life: a delicious tangle in the wind. Feel it in your hair now, the joy blowing through.
Fight Back with Joy
This week — between cake pops and tears — I read Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, a new book by Margaret Feinberg.
I alternated between tears and laughter, and can’t recommend her book highly enough. It’s so, so good — vulnerable, tender, transforming, hopeful.
This book will be a beacon for anyone in darkness, for anyone in the fight of their lives, and for anyone who has crawled through the trenches ... to rediscover the startling joy of God.
“Through vulnerable storytelling, a difficult diagnosis, and a good dose of humor, Margaret Feinberg reveals how joy is more than whimsy. It’s the weapon you can use to fight life’s battles.”
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