Joy is a birthday party.
Do you know a child who could have a birthday and not be giddy?
Around here, we start planning our birthday parties 11 months in advance. We don't always keep the same plan. But we do plan...
...dwell in joy while we dwell in possibilities.
A few weeks ago, Connor climbed in the car after school and said with purpose, "Mom, I've decided what I want to do for my birthday."
"You have, buddy?" I asked, my blue eyes searching out his coffee-brown eyes in the rearview mirror. "What do you want to do?"
"I want to have a breakfast pajama party, and all my friends can come to our house in their pajamas and we can eat breakfast and play video games and it will be AWESOME."
It was the perfect idea. Connor loves breakfast. He would stay in his pajamas all day if I let him (and sometimes, on lazy summer days, I did). And a morning party would mean we would have the rest of the day to play and enjoy this so-beautiful-my-heart-aches autumn.
So it was that four boys inhabited my house Saturday morning, wearing pajamas and eating pancakes and exuding joy. (If you want a detailed post about how to plan a breakfast pajama birthday party, check back; I'll have the skinny soon.)
Connor is seven now. He is still a jabberwocky. ("Mom? Mom? Mom? Do you want to be the green guy or the red guy, Mom? You can't choose green though, because that's my guy.") He has huge brown eyes and he makes friends so fast, it makes my head spin. He is super smart (he's been reading so long, first grade is a breeze), and he loves to build Legos and play video games and pretend he's a super hero. He doesn't like chocolate but he loves fruit. He is a terrific swimmer. He has a temper and a strong-will (which he gets from his father) and we have had our share of battles this year, for sure. But he continues to bring us so much
The burden of knowing.
Knowing that millions of children are going to bed tonight without a father or mother.
Knowing that a billion people don't have clean water to drink today.
Knowing that, as an American, I am one of the richest of the rich, with access to free education and caring doctors and healthy food and warm clothes and the right to worship and vote as I choose.
It's good to know. It's wise to live with eyes wide open, to feel God's spirit stir a desire to live radical, to taste God's crazy love and want to share with the world.
But sometimes, the knowing feels like a weight in my soul. It makes me sigh. I live bowed low. My steps are wearied and worn.
I think that's because I've forgotten about joy.
I'm re-reading one of my favorite books right now, "The Life You've Always Wanted" by John Ortberg. I often joke it's a great book with a lousy title, because while it sounds like something Joel Osteen might write, its contents directly contradict prosperity gospel.
Instead, John Ortberg (good gravy, even their initials are the same), talks about how ordinary people like you and me can be transformed to be more like Jesus through the spiritual disciplines.
This morning, the chapter I read talked about the spiritual discipline of celebration, a way to grow more of the spiritual fruit called joy.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, you need joy. I need joy. It's not optional. It's a necessity. The joy of the Lord is our strength. (Need some strength? Focus on joy.)
God Himself is joyful, the most joyful person in all of creation.
More joyful than Connor on his birthday last Friday? More delighted than Kieran when he sees his Daddy's face? More excited than Teyla when she spies a butterfly? More filled with laughter than Natalie when she makes a joke?
All that and more. Our children's joy is but a drop compared to the ocean of God's joy.
Maybe you've seen this famous quote by G.K. Chesterton. (Surely, if you are a parent, you can relate to it.)
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be tht He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.Joy -- even though He sees poverty? Joy -- even though His creation is hopelessly broken? Joy -- even though His ultimate sacrifice is rejected again and again?
In fact, joy bubbles up strongest in the midst of suffering. John Ortberg writes, "Friends of Mother Teresa say that instead of being overwhelmed by the suffering around her, she fairly glowed with joy as she went about her ministry of mercy. One of the English officers imprisoned at Flossenburg with Dietrich Bonhoeffer said of him, 'Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive.'"
It seems counter-intuitive. But then again, God's seems to do His best work backwards. He hardly ever works the way we expect Him too. After all, He's not a tame lion.
Which is why I'm starting to understand with a fresh portion of hope that God's answer to my soul heaviness over poverty isn't only action. It's joy.
Because He is good. He has written the end of the story. He hasn't forgotten. He always keeps His promises.
Though the cherry trees don't blossom and the strawberries don't ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I'm singing joyful praise to God. I'm turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God's Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
Light-seeds are planted in the souls of God's people, Joy-seeds are planted in good heart-soil.
“So how’s it going with four?”
It’s a question I get a lot these days, especially from people I know. (Strangers just stop and stare when I’m out with the whole family.) The question can be tinged with curiosity or fear or even incredulity that I survive daily life with four little people.
(Read the rest at 5 Minutes for Parenting....)
These little people?
Oh. My. Heart.
They are my whole world.
There are times I look into their bright eyes and I am overcome.
It is sheer gift that I get to watch them grow, listen to them laugh, wipe their tears, know them.
It is a gift being their Mom.
"This is the way it was meant to be," my soul whispers. "This is right. This is good."
But I know this isn't the way it is for millions of children around the world today.
I know this in my head, and I know it in my heart because my husband used to be one of them.
And it shatters me.
I sometimes look at Corey when he doesn't know I'm watching and I wonder how deep the scars are. How could a boy grow up diseased, abused, neglected and forgotten and now be a man who fathers his own children with tenderness and love? How did he survive? Why is he here today to make jokes at my expense and be my partner and my friend?
The answer is multi-faceted, but it all comes down to this: Someone acted on his behalf. And that changed everything.
On Sunday, November 7, you have the same opportunity. That day, thousands of churches and individuals in America and beyond will come together to stand for the orphan. We will celebrate the love of a God who "sets the lonely in families" (a verse that makes my eyes well with tears) and calls us to do the same. Orphan Sunday seeks to make the Gospel visible as Christians explore and respond to God's heart for the orphan through adoption, foster care and global orphan ministry.
And -- here's the best part -- you have a role to play. Just take the burden God has given you for orphans and make it known. Maybe that means you'll call your church today and see how you can make Orphan Sunday a big deal for the people in your faith family. Maybe you've been impacted by the Compassion bloggers. See if you can share that during the Sunday service. Maybe you are starting down the road toward adoption. Tell others how God has carried you on that journey. See if you could put an insert in the bulletin or share a video during the service. Or make it more personal and request a copy of "Answer the Cry" DVD (hosted by Francis Chan) and show it during your small group or at a gathering of your neighborhood friends or at your Bible study. Or browse the scores of resources available at the Orphan Sunday website and brainstorm your own approach to this day of action.
In the meantime, if you are a blogger, would you add this button to your blog and spread the word about Orphan Sunday?
You can also follow the Christian Alliance for Orphans, the nonprofit behind Orphan Sunday, on Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on developments. (Disclosure: My husband is one of the newest members of the CAFO board of directors, which is nothing short of God showing off his power to make beauty from ashes.)
I am so humbled by this opportunity. It is huge and it is overwhelming. But I refuse to believe the lie that my small effort won't make a difference.
Because someone threw a pebble in the pond 30 some years ago in Korea.
And I am washed by the waves of that decision every day.
Defend the cause of the fatherless....
I will be posting more about Orphan Sunday as November 7 draws near. Wouldn't it be amazing to have a carnival November 8 and share stories about what we did to make the cause of orphans known?
For more on Orphan Sunday, check out these post by my dear friends Jo at Mylestones and Megan at SortaCrunchy.
We are thankful for the companionship. Emily, Luke and their kids Silas (3) and Eliana (1) are a total joy and a huge help.
But it also means we are go-go-go all day every day. So far, we've cruised the St. Croix on a perfect fall afternoon, we visited an apple orchard, we spent about four hours today at the Minnesota Children's Museum. We've eaten at Cafe Latte, Cosetta's, Byerly's (for breakfast, of course) and they brought us back three bags of donuts from The World's Best Donuts in Grand Marais. And all of that? Doesn't leave much time for blogging. (Not does it do much to push me toward losing that baby weight. But that's OK. I can lose it in December, right? Bwhahahaha.)
I did write a little ditty today for 5 Minutes for Parenting about what happens when Mom gets tired. (Are you sensing the theme here?)
I also wrote a piece for 5 Minutes for Parenting last week about why fall is making me slightly nauseous this year, and the week before that, I recorded all the wisdom I've gleaned over the years about breastfeeding. (Warning to my brothers: Do not click that final link. Hey, did you hear Randy Moss just got traded to the Vikings? Go read about that instead.)
And someday soon, I'll be writing here again as well.
In the meantime, if you need to sink into some deep thoughts, go read what my friend Jo at Mylestones wrote about wasting our lives, one list at a time. Or if you would rather party, check out the reason Allison loves a certain gummybear.
I hope you are enjoying your fall as much as me. And that bedtime is gentler to your tail.