A new friend to me is Margaret Feinberg, speaker and author of the just-released Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.
As a young thirty-something woman she faced a great fear—being diagnosed with cancer! This diagnosis plunged her into a search for the best weapon to propel her to a place of overcoming—and she chose joy. Margaret says: “You have joy not in spite of your circumstances, but because of them. You are drenched in the grace and mercies of God.”
Most of you know I faced a different kind of fear—the arrest of my son for first- degree murder and a conviction of life without parole. I know what it’s like to be at a crossroads: Will I choose joy or will I choose fear? Will I cling to my faith or will I give up on God? I understand what Margaret is saying in this book—making a conscious decision to choose joy every day changes everything about the way you live your life.
I’ve discovered a deeper meaning of the word, “joy.” It’s experiencing God’s peace in the middle of impossible circumstances and sensing His care when life is anything but fun. It’s discovering that we can delight in what He is doing in the middle of formidable obstacles. It’s experiencing internal security because we are not alone. It’s celebrating His powerful hand at work even when we don’t understand why He allows certain things to happen. A word that is sometimes substituted for “joy” is happiness, which connotes the idea of “well-being and contentment.” That is the kind of joy I’m beginning to experience, and I’m realizing that Jason (my son) is learning a new definition of joy, too.
In one of his letters I was once again struck by his growing maturity—which includes an ability to recognize joy as the presence of Christ in surprising places and in unlikely people.
…Prison is a place few of us would really call “home,” unless we are making a sarcastic joke. Yet, in this very place I’ve seen God show up in unexpected ways, where few would expect Him to visit. The greatest surprise and joy to me here is when God’s presence is demonstrated in the life of another human being.
Sometimes I see Him in a tough, violent, street-wise prisoner who has recently experienced Christ as his personal Savior, but he’s still figuring out how to process what’s happened to him as he talks some inmates out of beating up a prisoner with a conviction that incites convicts to respond with violence. Sex offenders convicted of crimes against children are hated in prison.
I find joy in seeing a former addict who unexpectedly finds the strength to turn down a joint for the first time in his life. There’s a pattern-breaking discipline in him that’s new, powerful, and exciting—because of Christ.
I experience joy when a perpetually angry guy (who we all steer clear of if we don’t want to be contaminated by his attitude) has a personality that’s a pleasure to be around, with laughter accompanying his conversations.
Joy, for me, is knowing as concretely as I know my name and my birthday that God is real and that He loves me personally, and that I’m never alone and He can be trusted with my heart.
Mom, in spite of the agony I feel on my bad days, I’m grateful for what God is doing in my life. How I wish that pain of this magnitude didn’t accompany my personal growth, especially the suffering of my victim’s family and my own family. But I am reminded of something Tim Hansel wrote: “Joy is a process, a journey—often muffled, sometimes detoured, a mystery in which we participate, not a product we can grasp. It grows and regenerates as we have the courage to let go and trust the process. Growth and joy are inhibited when we say ‘if only,’ enhanced when we realize that failures and difficulties are not only a critical part of the process, but are our very opportunities to grow.”
I’m discovering that any joy in the midst of this horrendous ordeal is a surprising gift from God. The only way I can recognize and embrace the gift when it comes is by recalling and practicing what Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Mom, I desire for all of us healing and rest. I pray that your heart will smile.
If you are in the middle of having your own joy challenged, read Margaret Feinberg’s newest book, and better yet, get a group of friends together and do the DVD teaching series as you rediscover the adventure of choosing JOY. You’ll be glad you did. #fightbackwithjoy
Question: What is stealing your joy right now and how are you dealing with it?