the vulnerability of joy

fleeting joy

Vulnerability is far bigger than owning my weaknesses. 

I’ve discovered that vulnerability also includes owning my joy.

On a deep level, joy taps into my very worthiness. I question whether I even deserve it. I can think of so many who are worse off, and it feels unfair that anything should go my way at all. Who am I to have good things happen? Who am I to be happy? Especially when so many I care about are currently going through their own challenging and dark times.

The contrast of joy against others’ pain makes my heart ache. And I instinctively dim the brightness of my joy because fully feeling, acknowledging, and expressing it seems wrong. Immodest. Arrogant, even.

The battering ram of the past 4 years left my heart tattered and torn. Grif and heartache consumed everything for so long that, without even realizing it, I became afraid of joy. In its place grew a deep, underlying foreboding… a proverbial holding of my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So when good things happen, of any variety, I find myself dismissing them. It’s too good to be true. This won’t last long. I shouldn’t be happy. I don’t deserve good things. 

Somewhere along the line, I unknowingly convinced myself that being happy in this “new life” means I’m glad my “old life” fell apart. That enjoying Nashville is somehow an acknowledgement of gratitude that I’m no longer in Africa. Saying it out loud, I know it’s ridiculous and untrue. My own journey of the past few years has taught me rather vividly that joy and grief usually reside together. I can be completely joyful and grateful for today, while still grieving over yesterday. One doesn’t nullify the other.

And yet, still, even when joy comes, I don’t embrace it. Knowing just how fleeting it can be, I send it on its merry way and close my eyes, cringing, for whatever might come next.

This is no way to live…

So I am intentionally forcing myself to lean into the vulnerability of joy. To look it straight in the eye, pull it close, and hug it tight. To allow myself to feel it and own it. To smile, to lift my eyes, to give thanks.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or if there’s another shoe waiting to drop, or how long anything in this life will actually last. But I do know that the God who gives and takes away wants me to be fully present in the moments He’s woven into my story.

It’s not up to me to control what happens. But it’s up to me to choose to live wholeheartedly—honestly accepting and embracing all that comes my way.

And so today I’m leaning in, embracing the risk, and owning my joy.

[photo credit]


62 Responses to “the vulnerability of joy”
  1. Mary G. says:

    I enjoy the freshness of your writing. Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey.
    Warm Regards,

  2. Linda Stoll says:

    joy. it’s not going to leave. it’s a fruit of the Spirit. and He’s come to stay. no matter how unsettled and disappointing and maddening life is …

    thank You, God!

  3. Ooh – I like what the previous commenter said. But what I was going to say before is that I’ve sometimes found myself in a situation with a person who is perpetually “down,” and I come to be embarrassed by my positive attitude, like I don’t have a right to be happy or for things to be going all right in my life. Which is funny, because I doubt that being a downer is any way to help another downer. :)

  4. laura says:

    Joy gives us hope and when others see you have joy, it gives them hope that their situation will be better or something great WILL happen (at some point anyways….)

  5. This is SO GOOD. The culture that I live in is definitely one where you don’t proclaim your joy too loud. After all, we are good Christians who don’t brag. How sad.

  6. Shannon says:

    “It’s not up to me to control what happens. But it is up to me to choose to live wholeheartedly.” Sigh. Yes. It’s always a choice. Thank you, beautiful one, for the reminder. So thankful for your honesty, for your heart…

  7. You are not alone, Alece…I have felt the same as you much too often the last couple of years. But I think the truth is that I need to stop accepting who I think I am and what I think I deserve and instead embrace the idea that if I let go of my need to tell God how I think my life should operate or look, then He will transform me into what He knows I’ve always been meant to be…and perhaps maybe then I will have a easier time accepting all the goodness He’s blessed me with.

    Thank you for sharing this awesome post…it’s blessed me today.

  8. Mandy says:

    So. Much. YES. ” I can think of so many who are worse off, and it feels unfair that anything should go my way at all. ” <- Yep. Yep yep yep.

  9. Sheri Morrow says:

    Hello Alece,
    I love your post. I am so touched by your words, your heart and I have experienced these in my journey too. Learning to BE. Finding BALANCE. Being ENOUGH. SO well written.


  10. Apostrafee says:

    James 1:2-4
    Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

  11. Laura Pedersen says:

    Sara is proud of you and so am I!!!:-)

  12. David says:


    Wow! This really spoke to me a lot! As I was reading it, I thought that this is exactly who I am. I want to make this like the headline of my story. So many bad things have happened to me over the past 4 yrs and every time a blessing comes my way, I dismiss it as, it won’ t last long, or God must have accidentally given that one to me, intending it for someone else. I absolutely love this reading! I will embrace it and allow your words to captivate those moments of joy and blessings in my life. Thank you so much for this today!!!

  13. Joan says:

    Lean in, embrace the risk and own my joy… it!!

  14. kim says:

    I’m feeling this way right now. I just had a big, exciting move. One that I have been looking forward to for months. Now I that I have what I want, I’m afraid to enjoy it. I love what Brene Brown says about leaning into joy. I just wish it wasn’t so uncomfortable. I can take pain any day of the week. Disappointment? Bring it. But true joy? Watch out. I appreciate your honesty on this.

  15. Julia says:

    this has been my heart lately as well. i even have this prayer, or rather something i assert, that sounds remarkably like what you wrote. it says, “God, I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop, because I trust You”. I am constantly having to remind myself that my joy is actually a BLESSING to others. Your joy is a blessing to others, because it points to God and the blessings He pours on His children in His timing, and because it liberates others to be free with expressing their joy!

    i love how you talk about leaning into the vulnerability of joy. The other day, I was contemplating Heaven, and one characteristic of Heaven is, I believe we will live in the eternal present, as God does. The only reason we dwell in the past or the future and often fail to live in the present is because we’re bound by this humanness in this temporal world. SO, when you are basking in your joy in the present, Heaven touches Earth in those moments.


  16. Honey – embrace it all!! If you’ve got good stuff happening, revel in it, thank God for it, shout it from the rooftops. And then, when something hard happens, let that hang out there, too. I am delighted – absolutely DELIGHTED – that you are finding joy again. Big smile over here in CA.

  17. Mark Allman

    Great post. It is so easy to try to run from pain at times; we succeed some but to really deal with pain we have to sit with it; let its weight fall upon us; let it bleed through us and in time it bleeds out. Some pain and scars will always reside with us as I believe they should. Part of life is learning to deal with it as it does. I think also we shy from joy because we all know it will not last regardless if it is and hour or a month or a season. We seem to hate the moving from one to the other no matter the direction. We do need to do as you say Alece; we need to relish where we are at; if that’s a painful time let us relish it and sit with it and hopefull grow through it. If it is joy lets relish it and share all we can.
    I know at times we have both at the same time.

  18. “I don’t deserve good things.”

    I read that line and I cried. Because for so long, I’ve endured and put up with and played the hand I was dealt…
    I don’t know what changed in me, to realize… that yes, I do deserve good things… But something did and I folded my hand and am trying to figure out what comes next….

    I deserve good things. I deserve to laugh and be happy and this life doesn’t have to just. be. so. dang. hard. all the time.

    In the midst of all this craziness, somehow, I’m at peace. My current situation is not one I’d wish upon anybody, but I’m at peace… The Lord is making His In-Control Self known and I’m learning to lean…

    Joy. Even in the pain.
    Light. Even when it’s dark.

    Especially in the pain.
    Especially in the dark.

  19. Andrea says:

    This is so where I am at. You took the words right out of my heart. I’ve gone through several life-changing difficult things the past seven years, and I have realized that I have been increasingly reluctant to embrace joy and good moments because I have felt like that meant I did not “properly” grieve the past. Your post helps me see how ridiculous that thought is! Thanks for sharing.

  20. Dre

    mmmm. love this. I wish I could say I totally understand, but I don’t. But I DO know you deserve good things and joy. YOU DO. As cliche as it sounds, and everyone will say it, I’ll say it again. :) And not only do you deserve it, but all good things don’t necc. come to an end! This is where I get stumped. I think oh this is cool, but it won’t last long! I put up these guards with relationships and friendships because I think they’ll leave just like everyone else before, but…. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to see clearly.

    I love you. And as always love your heart.

  21. Sara

    So I know I ALWAYS tell you this, but I could have totally written this post myself! I’ve been afraid of joy, bc ultimately, isn’t pain always involved? However, I’ve learned to embrace my “new” joy, and have even allowed myself to again be vulnerable. Hurt and pain MUST occur so we can experience the true meaning of joy. Both aspects are necessary for growth, development, and just to simply know that we are, in fact, living. :)

  22. Gosh, I really love this. It’s true. I have struggled to enjoy blessings knowing people I loved were hurting. It’s almost like survivor’s guilt. And, being grateful that God brought us through something painful is not the same as being glad it happened. It’s just another example of God making beauty from ashes.

    I have followed your story for years, Alece. I’ve seen God at work in your life and your writing. It’s okay to say “yes” to joy.

  23. bethany says:

    Oh Alece, you wrote my heart today. I journaled this morning about how scared I am to want things, to dare to hope or embrace joy because I’m terrified that it will invite pain and grief and loss. I’ve hoped for things before, I’ve embraced joy before, and I have only to visit my mother’s grave to remind myself how that turned out for me. It’s so hard.

    Thanks for sharing this. It reminds me that I’m not alone in it. And that gives me hope and joy. <3

  24. Alicia G says:

    Thanks Alece. I’ve been struggling with this very issue right now. Tapping into joy despite circumstances is hard, but I know it’s possible. I saw it the last couple years of my mom’s life and walking with her through Alzheimer’s. I was intentionally looking for moments of joy then. Maybe I’m not looking in the same way now…

  25. I find myself like you describe. It’s been a tough couple of years here in Paraguay. I thank God for the blessings but with one eye open bracing myself for the next blow. It robs the joy of the blessing/success. It has been a season to unexpected hardships but He has been faithful and I should be to Him as well. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Great perspective Alece. I totally get it.

  26. Angelique says:

    Alece I’m from South Africa and I have been feeling the same way..!!!May God Bless You

  27. Danielle says:

    How very vulnerable. Isn’t it odd how our minds convince us, even without our own active mental participation, of these things? Even being aware the thinking pattern exists is a hurdle to truth.

    I love you!

  28. Laurel says:

    WOW – just found you in a round about way.

    The joy blog, totally get it.

    It’s like the skin of my soul was burned so deeply, I was scared to feel any other way. Can’t be vulnerable bkz that really hurt.
    But then, after several years, I’m feeling great chunks of joy and can finally welcome them as they are meant to be. Just joy…no ulterior motive.

    God has this and has me and is taking care of me…SO when He sends joy my way…I’m TAKING it!!!


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