No Greater Joy

(This post is part of Margaret Feinberg’s Partymob for her brand-new book and Bible study, Fight Back with Joy. To join the celebration (and learn more), click here: http://www.fightbackwithjoy.com. To grab a copy of this book, click here: http://mar.cta.gs/0bi. )

I suppose if I were to mount an expedition to search for true and lasting joy, I would start in Walt Disney World… that or I’d watch people at Christmastime.

Surely between “the happiest place on earth” and “the most wonderful time of the year” you will find people so full of joy that they’re dancing or skipping around, whistling or singing a song, and laughing with goodness pouring out onto all they meet? And if you go to a mall at Christmastime and watch people, surely you would find that the season of joy, the celebration of the Savior, brings out the most courteous, humble, and giving side of people?

It doesn’t.

I used to think that joy was a fleeting superficial emotion like being happy or sad, that I could summon it when I needed to, despite how I actually felt, and that joy would somehow magically become my disposition when things were going right. I was wrong. It took a long dark path, full of thorns, to lead me to great joy.

It took me moving to the far opposite corner of the country and waiting till after my 29th birthday for me to find Mr. Right.  We got married and then, after telling all our close friends and family that we’d wait 5 or 6 years to have kids, had our oldest daughter 10 months after our wedding!  It was a quick journey of life-changing events, but it wasn’t quite over yet.

Our wedding was outside on a lake in Tennessee and completely beautiful, except for the fact that my Dad was so sick with cancer that he could not make the trip from Washington.

It was almost a year later, when our daughter was about 3 months old, that we got the dreaded call saying Dad had taken a turn for the worse and would probably not make it another month. We got on a plane and took our small infant across the country to meet her Grandpa. We enjoyed our time as best we could. We took pictures of Grandpa with Grand-daughter, spent a lot of time talking, and even had church at home and shared the Lord’s Supper. Getting on the plane to return home to Georgia was one of the most difficult journey’s I’ve made. Two weeks after that trip I returned to Washington for Dad’s funeral.

My Mom and step-Dad spent a lot of time in Georgia during this time. I had spent all of my time as a teenager with one of my older sisters and her babies, but somehow that didn’t translate and I was a nervous wreck as a new mom. I had lived in a different state for seven years by this time and so I *loved* having my Mom around! The last time she and Jim visited they put an offer down on a house not far from us, and returned home to Washington full of anticipation.  I anxiously awaited the years of joy ahead of us, once again living in the same city. But it was not to be.

A few weeks after her last visit, seven months after Dad’s funeral, Mom passed away suddenly from what we would later learn was Marfan’s Syndrome.

My world came to a screeching halt. Two and a half years prior to this I had been single with no view of marriage on the horizon. I met the perfect man for me, we got married, we had a baby, I lost my Dad, and now Mom was gone. All of it happened before my second anniversary. It was too much. Hope seemed lost. Joy eluded me. I looked in the mirror and did not even recognize the person staring back at me. I wondered, how do I act as the Mom? The wife? A 31-year-old with older siblings, but no parents. I didn’t know. I cried out to God. I got angry. I wanted to know why.

Then somewhere, in a place I didn’t even know existed, a voice began whispering to me. I was reminded of Job and how he lost *everything* and was still able to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed is the name of the Lord.”  I thought about my own situation. I had been alone as a single person at age 29. But God saw fit to bless my life with a husband AND daughter before taking both my Dad and Mom. Two people gained. Two people lost.  I said the words out loud, willing myself to believe them. The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

An amazing thing started happening. Slowly, over the following months—and even years—I started believing it. Even though my path was dark, and my way seemed dim, God in His infinite mercy had been gracious to me. The pain was still there, but how much more would it have been if I was still single and alone. The name of the Lord was indeed to be praised, I could see that more clearly while walking the thorny path.

In the movie Last of the Mohicans there is a scene where an Indian chief demands the heroine (Cora) be burned at the stake for atonement. With her are the man she loves, Nathaniel, and the man who loves her, Duncan (who also happens to be a soldier). When the chief demands her death, both men begin arguing to take them instead and Duncan wins out due to the fact that he is a decorated soldier. The men begin to haul Duncan away to tie him up and Nathaniel and Cora are set free.

The first time I watched this scene it cut me to the heart. I imagined myself in Cora’s place. How would I feel after having such an experience? Wouldn’t I spend the rest of my life telling everyone I knew, my children and grand-children, and even great grand-children, that I was only alive because of this man’s sacrifice? How could I ever truly despair or feel worthless if such a thing ever happened to me?

The reality hit me like a slap in the face.

It has been done for me. It’s been done for us all. Jesus came and took our place just as the chief was demanding our lives. Jesus went to the cross, willingly, and suffered a horrible death—so that we might live.

That is where true joy lies.  In taking that journey through pain, darkness, and doubt and realizing God is actually on your side, carrying you through as a parent carries a sick child. That there IS someone who loves you so much, that they gave up their own life so you might live.

I love Christmastime. I love all the many references to this deep and true joy that comes through much pain.  The angel appeared to the shepherds, scaring them half to death, and proclaimed, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of *great joy* that will be for ALL people.”  The songs on the radio shout joy to the world, the Lord is come. And another says “Because our God loves us so, there is *no greater joy*.”

I go to Disney and I am so thankful that God inspired such a man as Walt Disney to create such a magical place. I feel the joy that I used to long for, and I want to spread it around to as many people as possible.

I was so excited last year when I learned that Margaret Feinberg’s new book would be called Fight Back with Joy.  She has been to some dark places, and made it through. She is willing to share her dark night of the soul, in order to spread hope. And joy. It takes great courage to share the most intimate struggles of your life, and for that I applaud her.

The book does not disappoint!  It is a great read, with a great message. After you read it, share it with all you know.

When we make the decision to fight back with joy we are declaring that the darkness does not win.

You can purchase the book using these links:

http://mar.cta.gs/0bi.

http://mar.cta.gs/0bh.

6-Session Bible Study Kit: http://mar.cta.gs/0aq.

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