I was floating down the river with my younger sister. We were floating down that river on our backs & looking into the clear water below. And, because it was a dream & made perfect sense, we could see all kinds of sea creatures beneath us. And as we floated down the river, my sister was carefree and relaxed, laughing and marvelling as she pointed out all the wonderful sea creatures that surrounded her - the dolphins, the vividly coloured starfish and a kaleidoscope of multi-hued tropical fish. I could see them too, but to me they appeared faint and unclear. In contrast to her delight and pleasure, I was filled with terror and tried to hold myself up out of the water as I stared at their companions - the sharks & stingrays swimming stealthily beneath, and a minefield of jellyfish who floated menacingly close. I thought I knew what that dream meant, on waking, during a particularly difficult time in my life.
The other night I was lying in bed, thinking about the year to date. And upon my reflection, this year, all three months, had been pretty disappointing. And that wasn't really fair because this year was supposed to be different. Different from the previous three or four that had been so challenging. We'd had winter-long sicknesses, recurrent croup and asthma, emergency ambulance trips, financial difficulties, relationship struggles, upheavals and uncertainties, (can you relate to any of this?) moving houses, moving cities, moving islands!!! Not to mention all those 'aftershocks' and really, anything over 4.5 on the Richter scale in my opinion, is not an aftershock. An aftershock sounds too much like an afterthought - insignificant. When you find yourself leaping out of bed & running down the hall, into the kids' bedroom & then unable to decide who to grab first? That feels scary. When you hear your little girl screaming in terror because she's all on her own when an ugly jolty one comes? That feels significant (and we weren't even here for any of the big ones).
I mean, seriously, this year had to be different! On New Year's Eve, I decided against any of my usual resolutions - to lose weight, to be friendlier, be a better wife, remember my family members' birthdays, to read my Bible more, to stop swearing (or at least, stop swearing within earshot of the kids). All resolutions that I failed at time and time again. No, this year I was simply going to lighten up, live a little more spontaneously, be a little more wild. . . But then the kids all came down with the chicken pox. And Sunny's eyes, as he says, started 'playing tricks' and there were doctors visits, and specialists visits and an impending MRI. And being told that he would need to have a general anaesthetic and our family history of complications with that - my brother's loss of life . . . And why did they need to do an MRI anyway? Could I trust the doctors to do it right? & what would they discover? What was WRONG with my beautiful boy?!? And . . . and . . . and what happened to this year of carefree craziness?
I lay in the darkness in my bed, feeling overwhelmed & considering that maybe all this hard stuff, maybe its just life. Maybe life is dark and mean and ugly. I may have had a very quiet little tangi to myself right there in my bed, in the dark. This year, all less-than-three months of it had been shitful. And it was not supposed to be that way. This year was simply going to be 2014 - MY YEAR OF FUN. My year of fun. . . something about that phrase. I reached for my phone, squinting in the sudden, harsh glare of the screen and scrolled through my notes. And there, on my phone, I found what I was looking for.
Day 26 - yelling out 'boo' & giving Avei such a big fright that she fell over. Laughed so hard.
Day 27 - seeing Lorde win pop song of the year.
Day 29 - Sunny saying, 'If you were a proper mum you would do whatever we told you to.'
On and on I read. And as I read those notes that I had written, I began to remember. And my perspective began to change.
I have a friend, Ruth & the sun shines when she is around. She is fun, dynamic and energetic. Oh, how I long to be like her. How many times have I wanted to be someone different than Melancholy Meg? Growing up, I knew that joy was more than just feeling happy and I knew that if you were a Godly person you should be joyful no matter what was going on in life. Until recently, I would pray, 'God, give me joy. Help me to be joyful.' Like I honestly thought He was going to flick the joy-switch and suddenly I would give a merry chuckle and skip lightly down the street, forever-more viewing life through a rose-tinted lens.
2014. My 'year of fun'. At the start of the year I had decided to write down a fun moment or two from each day. That was all. Lying in bed that night, reading through those joy-filled moments, a small thought began to grow and as I mulled over it the next week, I had this revelation. Joy, like love, is not a feeling but a choice. And you may be shaking your head, wondering 'It took you 32 years to work this one out?' Me too! & I don't mean a grit-your-teeth 'I will be happy, dammit!' kind of choice either.
Experiencing joy starts with gratitude. Choosing to be thankful for the moments of fun, laughter, love, & beauty. I've heard it said that our perception is our reality. So, if we want to experience joy, then we need to change our perspective & in so doing, alter our perception. And how do we do that? By being thankful. By practising gratitude. By celebrating the Grace that's been shown to us, which means that in the end, everything is going to be ok.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 - Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
See, you don't just 'get' joy. Unlike happiness, which is a fleeting feeling & is determined by our circumstances, joy is experienced when we practise thankfulness and gratitude. It can be experienced regardless of our circumstances. In Ben Patterson's words 'joy is what you experience when you are grateful for the grace that has been given to you.'
As I lay in bed remembering all those beautiful moments in what had otherwise been a cloudy three months, I felt a change occur - a fresh hope & renewed strength for the days ahead. & I was reminded that yes, life can be dark and mean and ugly. It can hurt. But it can also be beautiful.
So, I am choosing to remember and reflect on the beautiful moments, and practise gratitude with those around me, and to celebrate God's goodness, His love & His faithfulness.
I am choosing joy.
Psalm 9:1 - I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.