Choose Joy

let's celebrate

I decided earlier this year that life is too hard and too short not to celebrate the wins when they come. 

And so I’ve toasted friends' completed work projects and successful accomplishments; I’ve cheersed for good news and strong finishes and job promotions and friendiversaries; I’ve danced it out for simply making it through a difficult week. “Let’s celebrate!” has come out of my mouth more in the past three months than probably the entire three years prior.

So my recent foray into real estate called for a celebration.

A new house sits waiting for a family to call it their own, and the most adorable silver bullet camper is (finally) sitting pretty in her new backyard home.

And while I have no plans to live in either, this enormous (and—GULP—frightening) step couldn’t go by unacknowledged.

So some of my closest friends gathered to celebrate with me this weekend. These friends have encouraged me, championed me, and stood firmly in my corner as I’ve navigated all this, and I am so unbelievably grateful to have them in my life. 

We filled the furniture-less house and power-less camper with pizza and wine and music and laughter and love.

We danced it out.

And we celebrated.

four years

Four years.

Four years since I’ve heard your contagious laugh, seen your face light up about football/family/Oreos, texted with you in the middle of the night (sleeplessness used to have its perks), been lovingly slapped around by your wisdom, and been impressed by your matchless potty mouth. 

Four years. 

So much has changed and yet so much is the same… The lists of things I wish I could talk to you about are too many to count. These years have held so much life, love, and loss, and it all feels a little less-real without you to tell it to. The sorrows feel more bitter and the joys less sweet, and my heart is heavy with the weight of all the things (both good and bad) that it wishes it could share with you.

Four years.

I’m thankful to have had in you in my life as long as I did. From the bombs you’d drop to the laughter that would ensue to the heart-talks late into the night to the tears we’d share, my life is richer, fuller, deeper, and a million times better because of you. And that is a gift I carry with me — no, you are the gift I carry with me — for always.

Four years. 

The missing isn’t worse today — because I miss you and your perspective and your championing and your steadfastness every single day — so it’s not that it’s worse on significant days like this one… It’s just that it moves to the top of the pile. (Somehow, I know you’d get what I mean…) 

Four years.

And you remain the bravest, strongest, most faith-filled and joyful person I've ever known. I want to be just like you when I grow up.

I'll start by swearing more...

And hopefully end by learning to choose joy in all things, love others well, and trust God wholeheartedly.

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]

choose joy pendant

My heart is so full right now that my eyes are overflowing tears... There's a bittersweet mixture of grief and joy in there, but if I've learned anything the past few years, it's that both often reside together. And no one modeled that for me better than my friend Sara. Despite illness, pain, and so much loss, she made the continual decision to choose joy. I'm not talking about a plastic facade of happiness. Sara had the kind of genuine joy that comes from the simple but oftentimes hard decision to trust that God remains in control even when everything is spiraling out of control.

In her life and also in her death, Sara taught me lifetimes' worth about trusting Jesus, loving well, and choosing joy. I know she did the same for so many around the world. Being homebound only extended Sara's reach, and thousands of people have continued to embrace and live out her mantra: Choose joy.

I've been working with the incredible artisans at Tag...You're It Jewelry to create a custom pendant in Sara's own handwriting. And I just got to see the finished product. What they came up with is beautiful and inspiring and completely Sara...

The pendant is formed from scratch out of precious metal clay; then stamped and fired in either bronze or silver. Its shape is organic and imperfect, and because they are handmade, each one is slightly different. Sara would love that subtle reminder of the beauty in our imperfections.

I'm so happy with the way these came out—such a beautiful token of Sara's incredible life, legacy, and heart. And of course a constant reminder to choose joy.

Tag...You're It is offering a 30% discount to Sara's global community. Use the following coupon codes:

For 30% off the silver pendant: GITZENGIRLSILVER For 30% off the bronze pendant: GITZENGIRLBRONZE

Visit Tag...You're It's online store to place your order.

This one's for you, Fritz...

God is good

My friend and fellow Deeper Story writer, Seth Haines, wrote a post recently that really resonated with me. He wrote about the unintended double-edged sword of proclaiming God's favor. "I’ve heard the creeping theology of prosperity in the averted tragedies of others. They spill wonder-filled, mystical stories, recounting God’s graciousness in piecing together the impossible jig-saw puzzles of life."

You need to read his entire post to really get it. The comment I left there ended up being long enough for a post of its own, so I figured I'd share it here as well.

... ... ...

I have found myself in the wrestling ground of this very issue for the past few years. I haven’t even been able to find words for what I’m grappling with, and I certainly haven’t come to any answers or conclusions.

But having walked through infidelity and then divorce, while surrounded by countless others whose infidelity journey (thankfully) ended in restoration/reconciliation, I am left with a pit-in-my-stomach feeling over my former position on the favor and goodness of God. Because as much as I’ve heard the seemingly careless remarks, I know I’ve made them in my lifetime as well.

“God is so good, and our marriage is better today than it ever was before.” “By God’s grace, we caught it in time and they got all the cancer.” “God is so faithful, and provision was there right when we needed it.”

'May God help me!' photo (c) 2005, Bashar Al-Ba'noon - license: the provision doesn’t show up—sometimes the bills don’t get paid and the ministry God had clearly started is forced to close its doors. Sometimes the healing doesn’t come—like my beautiful, faith-filled friend who passed away last year or the chronic pain I live with daily. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t get restored—sometimes he really leaves to begin a new “happily ever after” with the other woman.

So do those outcomes mean that God isn’t good or faithful? Do they negate His grace or His love or His kindness? I know that they don’t. Because I know I can’t trust the God who gives without also trusting the God who takes away. He is one and the same, and His goodness is in anything His hand extends (and even in what it withholds). I know that He is both good and sovereign. The challenge lies in believing He is both of those at the same time.

I know that my gut-level cringing reaction to those seemingly flippant remarks about God being good when His favor is evident says more about me than the one who says them. Because I know they don’t mean them flippantly and I know they are right that God’s goodness is evident there.

The gritty sandpaper grating I feel inside is because I’m left wondering if I could say the same thing had the outcome been opposite. Or really, it’s because I’m left fully aware that I haven’t always done so. Even now, can I honestly and truly say I believe God’s grace, goodness, and faithfulness is evident in the way things turned out in my marriage? Maybe evident isn’t the right word. If “faith is the evidence of things not seen”, then I need to believe His goodness is there even if it isn’t evident.

And so I wrestle.

He is good. And He is sovereign. And both are displayed when the protection, provision, healing, and restoration shows up. And both are displayed when it doesn’t.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.