JOY… To The World!

One of the most iconic Christmas carols, Joy to the World doesn’t mince words. Like Linus in Charlie Brown’s Christmas show, this song knows what Christmas is all about. It’s about the Lord coming, and about our chance to make room for Him in our hearts. It is also the chance for heaven and nature to sing from the same praise book. Joy!IMG_1884

Joy can be hard to find at Christmas. When a loved one is missing from our Christmas gatherings, we remember old times and regret that we cannot share the current fun with the missing one. When we seek to please everyone and find the task overwhelming, it’s hard to feel the joy. When depression rears its head for no apparent reason, joy hides from us.

Happiness, often mistaken for joy, comes easily to some during the holidays. Many people are smiling and offering unusual kindness to strangers, there are

fullsizeoutput_6cb7delicious foods and treats to be had everywhere, and gifts begin appearing on doorsteps and under indoor fir trees.

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And to be honest, there are times when the happiness is elusive also, especially when my carefully laid plans and expectations for myself go awry.

 

Do you think of joy as extreme happiness? Or something deeper? Or something else entirely?

I think joy is sorrow turned inside out.

I believe Jesus understood joy when he talked about it in John 16:20. “Your sorrow will become joy.” The sorrow he was talking about was the grief they would feel when he had died. He said the world would rejoice. There would be a stark contrast of feelings when Jesus was taken from them. Some would be glad, but they would be mourning.

It was this sorrow, he said, that would become joy. There would not be a replacement of the sorrow. There would be no whitewashing of the sorrow with a smile or outward happiness. But the sorrow itself would become joy. The disciples would have a miracle worked in their hearts. The pain would turn to joy. It is not the absence of sorrow that makes for joy, but the transformation of it.

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So can we expect that same miracle today? This Christmas? Can the sorrow of grief, of unmet expectations, of exclusion, poverty, or depression be turned to joy? Can the coming of Christ at Christmas

be the trigger?

I think yes, we can expect it, we can find it, and it will be God’s gift to us, yet again. The miracle of Christmas is God with us.

Joy to the world and to you, my friend.fullsizeoutput_6cb0

A Library Box of Blessings

“God works all things together for good.”

Yes he does.

Here is the latest example in my life. Over the past year I have heard a little bit about Debbie Macomber. I learned that she is a writer. And a Christian. And a friend of World Vision.

But that was about the end of it. Usually I feel a bit inferior when learning someone is a published author, since a writer is what I claim to be, though I have only been published once, a short meditation, through The Upper Room, and all my other work has been self-published. Real authors, I assume, will be kind, but inwardly will look down upon these meager accomplishments.

Then at World Vision’s annual conference, I met Adele, Debbie Macomber’s daughter. We were placed randomly (really?) in a small group together and I learned more about Debbie’s widely read novels. Adele mentioned that Debbie’s novels are especially loved by women in the Middle East. Both Debbie and her daughter are huge supporters of World Vision, and so are my husband and I. Adele expressed wonder and delight at the way God was using her mother’s work in the world. I became curious.

I had never picked up, or even looked up, the work of Debbie Macomber.

So it was startling to find one of her books staring back at me in a roadside library box less than two weeks later. It was actually my first time depositing books I had read in this take-one-if-you-want-one box. Realizing it was surely no accident, I brought home this perfect condition paperback by Debbie Macomber.

Then I read it. Though romance novels are not my usual reading fare, I was drawn into the story. Debbie has written over a hundred books, many in series, and the book I picked up is Silver Linings, part of the Cedar Cove series, which has become a Hallmark Channel television series. I found myself wondering why Middle Eastern women would enjoy these books.

I was about halfway through the book when a package arrived in the mail for me. Our World Vision representative, Robin Folkerts, had send me a birthday gift. It was a “Blessings Box,” a lovely collection of items put together by none other than Debbie Macomber.

fullsizeoutput_5753The Blessings Box contains a lovely contemplative journal, written by Debbie, along with some incidental items like a candle, jam, tea bags, recipes, a pen, stickers and a tote bag. A precious box of things to make you joyful, which is no coincidence, since Debbie’s word of the year is JOY.   I would be buying these same boxes for many of my friends if they were still available, but sadly the last one has been sold.

I finished the book and learned how Macomber makes her books so popular. She portrays characters who have honest feelings, who get angry, who forgive, who love deeply, who find loyalty and honor and humor and happiness. The book I read has a thread involving military deployment in Iraq, and relationships with Muslims there. I can see now why the women of the Middle East find Macomber’s books captivating.

Anyway, I love the way God weaves our experiences together for maximum impact. It turns out that Debbie Macomber donates $5 from each Blessings Box to World Vision Education efforts. And she is a spokesperson for World Vision’s Knit for Kids program.

I am awestruck by how God uses her talents to bless the world.

I wonder what he will show me next.

Mardi Gras Joy

IMG_5657Today is Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.  Another king cake season is ending and beads and doubloons will be put away or recycled til next year.

I am learning to see more in Mardi Gras.  What other event draws out both the grieving widow with her grown sons and babies less than six months old sporting “my first Mardi Gras” shirts while ensconced in Baby Bjorn front packs?  How do native-born New Orleanians watch dozens of parades from the same location year after year and never tire of reaching hands up to catch beads?  Why is it still exciting to even the most elderly to make a sign and find a friend who is handing out glittered shoes off Muses float 20?  Gigantic marching bands with 3 or 4 groups of dancing, twirling or cheering girls behind rows and rows of IMG_5673tubas, trombones and drums, parade night after night during the week leading up to Mardi Gras.  Even kids as young as five will don a uniform and carry an instrument or flag or what have you.IMG_5667

Mardi Gras is truly a celebration of life itself. These parades are not for show, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade or the Rose Parade.  They are not done for TV.  The floats are sometimes beautiful, but mostly a little tacky.  They are functional carriers of masked, costumed people and beads to be redistributed to the masses lining the route, especially to the wildly waving children atop their ladders.

And traditionally, because of snarled traffic and crowded streets, people picnic for hoIMG_5655urs along the sidewalks and the medians (neutral grounds) eating king cake and fried chicken and drinking whatever suits them.  Neighbors and tourists and family open up and talk, eat, and laugh together.  It is a party like no other.  Inclusive, integrated, intoxicating.  It brings people together.  Colorful wigs, tu-tus, and hats give the impression of insanity, while making everyone feel comfortable.

If you have never experienced Mardi Gras in New Orleans, you should add it to your bucket list.  And we should all celebrate life a little more intentionally, spending more time with people than with our electronic devices.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone!