This week I allowed the world to peer into one of the bleakest times in my life. I left Writer’s Boot Camp at the end of October energized and motivated to write, but with also a nagging burden to liberate myself from the story that was holding me captive. It had been over a year since my return from Argentina and I felt as if I could talk about it without bitterness in my heart.
So when the opportunity to write for Bedlam arose, I knew that it was time to take a deep breath and put it all on paper. The day the article ran, I was all nerves. What would people think? Would it blow up in my face? I didn’t want to incriminate anybody or reflect poorly on my old sending organization. I was at work, truthfully not getting much done with the big knot in my stomach. On my way home from work that song “Ghost” by Ella Henderson came on the radio as I pulled into the driveway.
Let me tell you.
That song is MY JAM.
It had been a slow, tense, nerve wracking day and I left my thoughts for a moment and just started to sing along with my girl Ella. I pulled my car into the garage just as the first chorus picked up and I was not about to turn off the car. I put that sucker in park, cranked up the volume, and had a personal dance party in my car. You know that goofy, sitting-down, only-moving-the-top-half-of-your-body dancing? Yup, I did that.
That little joy-moment changed my posture and I was able to exhale the breath I’d been holding in all day.
I read a couple of Margaret Feinberg’s books in college and have been a fan of her writing ever since. But she transformed from a familiar name to a familiar face just two months ago when I went to Denver for Writer’s Boot Camp, which she co-led with Jonathan Merritt. While there, I was privileged to get to know her, play with her sweet pup, eat dinner at her dining room table, and hear first-hand the story behind her new book, Fight Back with Joy. She sent me an early copy and I’ve got to say–I haven’t been as excited about a book that didn’t take place at Hogwarts.
As the title suggests, Margaret set out to write a book about living joyfully and embracing everyday opportunities to experience joy . . . and then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly joy seemed far out of reach, as she was overwhelmed with the shock of the diagnosis, the daunting task of finding medical professionals to treat her, and enduring the painful effects of treatment. But God was teaching her something special: that “life’s thorniest paths can lead to great joy.”
If you know me personally you can attest: I’m not the most bubbly of personalities. I’m an optimist. I’d love to think of myself as thoughtful and encouraging–so I’m definitely not a Debbie Downer. But I’d describe myself as witty, sometimes snarky, and a little sarcastic. We’ll go with snarcastic. The idea of a book about joy upon first impression had me a little dubious. I wondered if it would be a little too butterflies and rainbows and Carebears for my sometimes cynical self. I need to see joy in a way that is real and relevant to the suffering and the heartbroken, not just warm fuzzies to the privileged.
But the gravity of Margaret’s suffering validates her teaching in this book. Through her transparency we see that joy is so much more than whimsy, or silliness, or rose-tinted glasses to shut out reality. Joy is the companion of grief and provides us with the energy to celebrate in the midst of suffering.
-More than whimsy, joy is a weapon used to fight life’s battles.-
As I read the book I can pinpoint these truths over the past year of my life. It has been a transitional year of difficult healing for me. Last week for the first time, I shared the details of what happened to me in Argentina. (Here’s a link to the article in Bedlam Magazine.) I came back home to America a wreck. But in this year God has placed joyful guideposts and surprised me with joy in a time when it seemed the farthest thing from my mind. I’ve been accepted into grad school, gotten more serious about my writing, been blessed to lead a bible study of some pretty rad young adults, and I’ve also found myself surrounded by the most-wonderfullest group of girlfriends ever. These chicks pretty much always make me laugh and always remind me of my value when I need to hear it most. (We call ourselves the Sexy Six. There are seven of us, but that detail is insignificant.) All these little blessings have been my manna–God’s provision in this transition into the promised land of healing and wholeness.
So often we think of joy as an end goal, something we attain at the end of our struggles, when the goals are achieved and the ring is on the finger and the money is in the bank. But Margaret is right–Joy is the weapon we take into battle when these are nowhere in sight. It is the hand we hold along the way when the terrain gets rough. It is the daily choice we make to search for and see God at work in our less-than-perfect circumstances, and we can have it NOW.