The key to joy


The song “Gratitude”  always brings me back to hot and dusty late afternoons in the dry season in Africa.  To the kind of day when a neighbor’s baby had just died, and dozens of people had asked me for help I didn’t know how to give, and rats had nibbled at most of the food in my pantry and I had found a baby cobra in the dress up box and my child had a fever and we were pricking his finger to check for malaria, again.

It was on these days that I felt lost. Despite a natural strength and optimism, despite a wonderful family, and supportive community, despite the evidence of the goodness of God, the weariness of life had overcome me.

Strangely I have similar late afternoons here in rural California. When a child’s medication brings on nasty side effects that leave us struggling for answers, when I just can’t stop coughing, when constant supervision of our newest little one is required and when pulling together dinner before evening activities feels overwhelmingly daunting.

Seems the constant is my humanity.  Whether in the bush in rural Uganda or the Bible Belt of Northern California, life can feel overwhelming and daunting anywhere.  Life can BE too much.   Even a simple, good life. As Nichole says,

“Send some rain

Won’t you send some rain

cause the earth is dry 

and needs to drink again

and the sun is high 

and we are sinking in the shade

would you send a cloud

thunder long and loud

let the sky grow black 

and send some mercy down?

surely you can see that we are thirsty and afraid.

And isn’t this the ordinary truth about us humans?  We are thirsty and afraid, punctuated by moments of deep joy and satisfaction and then, thirsty and afraid, again.  Often unsure, often left feeling alone.

But on this sweet Veterans day, when my heart is swollen with gratitude for the sacrifices of so many (including my sweet husband who gave away 23 years of his life to our military) I reflect on the antidote to this ordinary human condition of uncertainty, weariness and fear.

Gratitude. May we lower our expectations and lift our eyes.  May we have the courage to let go of the death grip on our dreams and reach out with open hands for our current reality.  May we accept the ‘imperfect now’ with joy.

“Daily bread, give us daily bread

Bless our bodies

keep our children fed

Fill our cups, and fill them up again tonight”

The simplicity of gratitude we feel when we have lived through hard times is stunning in it’s beauty.  We become thankful for breath, for uninterrupted sleep, for a simple meal, for the absence of danger.

As Nichole sings, ” Oh the differences that are often are, between everything we want and what we really need.”

To wake each day, thankful in abundance and in need, grateful in pain and in hardship, present in danger and in celebration, walking through life with hands open. To be unafraid of the un-lived life, to be unaware of the not-yet, to be fully present to the beauty of now; that’s what I look towards, that’s what I seek.

What would it look like to reach our with even more trust?

Let’s find out.