Happiness as an Animal? Meet the Quokka

A writing friend sent me some writing prompts. One in particular caught my eye: “Compare happiness to an animal.”

My animal-loving son sat nearby as I read her email. I love animals, you may love animals, many of us love animals. My son takes loving animals to a whole different level. Like to an animal whisperer, animals emerge from the tall grass when he’s nearby so they can share an encounter. It’s a rare moment when I witness him learning about an animal he’s never heard of before. He can correctly name animals that have been misidentified elsewhere, for example, on a TV show. Once he even accurately described why an animal had been mislabeled in a natural history museum.

So I read the prompt to him. I expected he’d talk glowingly about his Bullseye Tabby cat, Phoebe. About the particular smell of her fur and its calming effect on him. The way she naps during the day on his pillow. How her belly wobbles side-to-side as she limp-toes through the house on arthritic legs. How she follows him room-to-room to be near him, like a dog.

He could also have talked about our three rescue dogs, particularly Rudy, who he calls Big Chicken for his large eyes that grow even wider when startled. Especially when he passes gas and jumps, looking accusingly at whoever is closest.

He might have talked about his ball python collection, or his newest snake-pet, a beautiful Reticulated Python he named Rhea because all his animals have mythological names. Rhea means “flowing” in Greek; in mythology she was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. His Rhea will eventually grow to 25 feet in length, hopefully long after he has moved out on his own.

He might have described the simple lazy joy of a lizard basking in the radiant heat from a summer warmed rock. Instead, he repeated the prompt. “Happiness as an animal? Quokka.”

When I didn’t understand, he insisted that I look up quokka on my phone. He had to spell it for me.

Wikipedia was the first site to pop up. I summarized: “Oh, a quokka is a wallaby, specifically a short-tailed scrub wallaby!” I have long been familiar with wallabies from our many trips to the San Diego Zoo and from all the animal documentaries we’ve watched together.

He protested. “No, not a wallaby. Look at its face!” I glanced at the image again and shrugged. I supposed the quokka’s face might be different from other wallabies but I was looking at a side view and not a quokka version of a profile picture. I showed him the Wiki site and he got frustrated. He took my phone and searched for images, then flipped my phone around to show me one photo after another. He handed back my phone and I continued looking at images, flipping my phone towards him so we could laugh at picture after picture. We laughed so hard we almost cried.

Quokkas look like an adorably happy cartoon character. They smile for the camera, and their bright and shiny black eyes look delighted to see whomever is taking their picture. The size of a house cat, they stand on their back legs like a kangaroo which leaves their front paws available to reach out to you in what resembles a welcoming hug. They’re also available to receive a eucalyptus leaf on offer, or to hold your water bottle while they take a sip. In some pictures they appear inquisitive, like they’ve just asked what adventures lie ahead for you today and can they tag along? Or maybe they’ve just told you a joke and they’re giggling at their funny little selves. The joke might even have been a teensy bit dirty. They’ll never turn down your request for a selfie.

Photo by Natalie Su on Unsplash

We looked at pictures of quokkas and belly laughed till our sides ached. At one point in the night, I woke myself up laughing about quokkas. We’re still laughing about them today. I even followed an Instagram account dedicated to quokka photos and art that will continue to provide opportunities to smile in response to these darling creatures.

We have a small menagerie of pets that adds joy to our lives, cats and dogs, snakes and a rabbit. At this moment, an animal lounges in just about every room in our house and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. However, since reading aloud that writing prompt last night, quokkas have definitely increased the happiness quotient under our roof. We haven’t even met one in person … something to add to our life adventure list.

Cover image by Tracey Wong from Pixabay

Easter is Over

Jesus died for love of us.
Jesus beat death for love of us.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

Easter is over … yet your season of grief may continue.
I’m sorry. Life is hard, and there are so many occasions for grief.

Jesus longs to turn our wailing into dancing, to swap our mourning clothes for radiant joy. But he doesn’t wave his hands over us and zap the grief like a bug in an electric trap. Sometimes we have to move slowly through the sorrow.

The good news? He is in the sorrow with you.

We are Easter people, but sometimes we walk through the valley of shadows. Still, he doesn’t leave us alone in the dark.

Jesus is sad with you.

That simple sentence was an earth-shaking revelation for me when I found myself in a season of sorrow. Jesus wasn’t just sad about what I had gone through, what I was feeling and experiencing as a result of the mess. He wasn’t just sad for me.

He was sad *with* me. He held me and wept with me. He walked with me and listened to me. We sat silently together. We walked and talked some more. It was healing. He walked me back into joy, though we put a lot of miles on a few pairs of shoes before we arrived.

Something I learned along the way: it’s okay to find, or create, a small bright spot of joy in the midst of pain. It doesn’t betray your experience, and it might be just the thing you need.

Sit outside. Look at pictures that remind you of joy. Listen to music. Pet your dog. Wash your face. Write or draw or paint. Read a book. Eat chocolate. Do one small joyful act every day. It will help. It will remind you that you’re not alone and that this season will pass. Because it will.

Tulips image by shannynkm from Pixabay

5 Healthy Habits for 2021

Last year I set a goal to drink more water. I wobbled for a while before the habit took hold. Initially, my skinny water bottle needed to be filled 4 times each day to meet my goal and I kept losing track – was I on bottle #3 or #4?

Eventually, I recognized the bottle was the problem. I switched to 32oz Nalgene bottles and now I am crushing my hydration goals. The Big Moods stickers make me smile, too.

I drink one full bottle before lunch, and another 1-2 after lunch. While making dinner, I switch bottles and fill it with spa water – we keep a pitcher of water in the fridge in which we soak fresh sliced lemons and ginger – and I top it off with a generous splash of unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Apparently, this concoction has a name: Switchel. It’s shocking in a good way, tart and refreshing. It provides a jolt of energy for my evening, as does the happy music I dance to during dinner prep.

After dinner, I finish up whatever’s left in either bottle, and end the day with herbal tea. Add in my morning coffee and evening tea, I’m drinking a gallon+ of water each day. I used to not like the taste of water. I drank coffee or soda, or sparkling or flavored water, anything but clean, clear water. Now I think it tastes great.

What tips do you have for staying hydrated?

One by one, she gingerly removed all the tomatoes from her salad. My eyes must have asked the question my manners wouldn’t, so she explained: she loves fresh-off-the-vine summer tomatoes so much that she can’t stand bland winter hothouse tomatoes.

I didn’t get it then, but having grown my own juicy-explosive sun-ripened tomatoes over the last few summers, I understand now. I no longer add tomatoes to my winter salads.

Seasonal produce = delicious!

Right now I can’t get enough of Cara Cara oranges. I eat them as snacks. Some nights instead of a salad alongside dinner, I slice up several and our family chows down. I put them in smoothies (pictured: golden wellness smoothie). I add them to salad (pictured: spinach and arugula with oranges, tangerines, chopped nuts, pomegranate seeds; before eating I dressed it with peanut sauce).

You can find lists of in-season produce here. What in-season fruits and veggies have you been enjoying? Any favorite recipes?

When I created a habit tracker for 2021, I decided to add or emphasize positive things in my life. I also recognized that I’d be more inclined to stick to the habit tracker itself if, in addition to new habits, I included habits I already had underway (i.e., hydration) and activities that add joy to my life. Writing and reading daily add joy to my life.

My best days almost always include both, lots of both, with variety. I write to understand how I think/feel. To hone my craft. To connect. For work. And I add joy to my writing by stretching myself in new ways, trying new prompts or styles.

The top “book” in the stack is my well-stocked Kindle.

I take a similar approach to reading. I read to nurture my soul. To educate myself. To travel the world and throughout history. To live vicariously through others’ stories. To develop empathy. I read for pleasure.

I have to shake things up. Of course there are times when I’m engrossed in a book I can’t put down. Or I get involved in a writing project that demands my focus. Still, my life flows better when I engage with an array of words; my writing flows better as a reflection.

I wrote a blog post all about joy here: 21 Ways to Jump Start Joy. What habits add joy to your life?

As a child infinitely content to snuggle up with my nose in a book, I required endless encouragement to get outside. When my grandma asked for help trimming green beans, she sent me outdoors. I thought she didn’t want cut bean-ends flying about the kitchen. Not so, my mother explained. Norwegians believe we should be outdoors all the time, all year round. It’s a philosophy known as friluftsliv (free-lufts-liv).

I experienced it for myself when I visited family in Norway. We hiked and swam in rivers. We heard stories of children snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to school. When it rained, we bundled up and went outside anyway.

So I had to laugh when I woke up to pouring rain on the day I’d planned to post “Get Outside.” I also suspected that I could wait a little while. Even on the rainiest NorCal days, we generally get breaks between downpours. And we did.

Getting outside stimulates the senses. The crisp air felt invigorating, as did moving our bodies quickly to keep warm. The world smelled fresh-washed, like wearing clean pj’s in front of the lit fireplace. We heard flitting birds in the bushes and saw raindrops glistening on winter flowers. I didn’t open my mouth to taste the light raindrops that fell before we returned home, but I did anticipate pouring myself a warm drink.

Which leads me to another Norwegian word: once you’ve partaken in friluftsliv, you come home to koselig, the Norwegian version of the Danish hygge, or getting cozy-comfortable.

What’s your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

Gratitude is one of my favorite habits. I’ve kept a dedicated gratitude journal since January 2017. Most mornings I write at least three things from the previous day for which I can be grateful. I could do this in the evening before bed, but mornings work better for me.

To make this habit stick, I put my gratitude journal and planner next to the chair where I sit to sip my morning coffee. The convenience factor makes it more likely that I will pick up my journal. The reason I keep this habit on my habit tracker is to work on consistency, to record gratitude not just regularly but daily.

It’s such a simple thing to write three points of gratitude for each day. I try to make them unique, for example, not just another walk but the uniqueness of that walk, like the neighbors we greeted along the way. I’m often grateful for beauty that bursts through the days’ sameness, like the now-blooming tulips from the bulbs my husband purchased.

My next step: not checking my phone until I’ve written down my gratitude. Since gratitude is well on its way to being a daily habit, I bet I can piggyback phone-resistance to it and increase the likelihood of both.

What are you grateful for today? Or how could you increase the convenience factor to make a desired habit stick?

21 Ways to Jump Start Joy

During the last week of 2020 I greeted neighbors with a sing-song, “Happier New Year!”

One replied, “It’s got to get better, right?” to which I responded, “I’m not sure how it can get much worse.”

My husband raised his eyebrows. “Don’t tempt fate,” he warned.

We knew to expect that 2021 would continue the strange Blursdays experience that began in 2020. We also have hope that help is on its way, possibly soon. However, we have watched slack-jawed and wide-eyed as 2021 has already pitched a dramatic tantrum and hurled worse our way.

Like me, you may ride the roller coaster of all the Big Feels: frustration, anger, anxiety, shock, concern, helplessness, exhaustion. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond, how even to keep moving forward hour by hour.

Here’s my suggestion: make joy a priority. Stir a heaping spoonful of joy into your morning coffee or tea and sprinkle it on every meal and moment throughout the day. Snack on joy. Toss joy like confetti in each room of your house, in each relationship, in every arena of your life. As counterintuitive as joy may feel in these odd times, that’s exactly what makes joy so important. Practice joy even when you don’t feel it. Consider it a spiritual practice, necessary soul care.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

How do you practice joy, you ask? Check out this list of 21 simple tips to spark joy:

1. Go for a walk.
2. Light a candle.
3. Add a potted plant or a vase of cut flowers to every room.
4. Stand up and stretch. Do some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing.
5. Spend a few minutes on a swing.
6. Diffuse essential oils.
7. Snuggle a furry friend.
8. Drink a glass of water. While you’re at it, splash some water on your face.
9. Bake something. Or make something.
10. Read a book or magazine. Read the Bible.
11. Pray.
12. Phone a friend.
13. Write a thank you note to someone who adds joy to your life.
14. Write a thank you note to yourself.
15. Take a few deep breaths.
16. Journal what you’re grateful for.
17. Commit an intentional act of kindness.
18. Watch clouds. Name each cloud a worry and watch it float away.
19. Draw a picture of yourself as a child absorbed in your favorite activity.
20. Do that thing that made you happy as a child.
21. Turn on some happy music and dance.

To that last point, you may already have a playlist of mood boosting songs. I’ve been asking Alexa to play various upbeat artists as I prepare dinner each night. I did a search for Happy, Feel Good music and offer this list of 21 songs I’ll be dancing to in my kitchen:

1. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Martin Gay and Tammi Terrell
2. “All Star” by Smash Mouth
3. “Best Day of My Life” by American Authors
4. “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake
5. “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang
6. “Dancing Queen” by ABBA
7. “Good Feeling” by Flo Rida
8. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
9. “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince
10. “Livin on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
11. “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers
12. “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas
13. “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross
14. “I’m On Top Of the World” by Imagine Dragons
15. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
16. “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.
17. “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
18. “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson
19. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
20. “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & The Waves
21. “You Make My Dreams” by Daryl Hall & John Oates

@apeaceofwerk

This is Day 4 of a 7-day writing challenge with Hope*Writers. Today’s prompt is Twenty-One. Follow my Instagram for more.

Cover image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Advent 4: The Light of Joy

Photo by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Week 4 – The Light of Joy
December 20-23

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light four candles: We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, who comes into the darkness to shine the light of hope, life, glory, and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 2:8-21
(Shorter reading: Luke 2:8-14)

Read: On an ordinary dark night at work, the shepherds huddled around a fire for warmth while the sheep clustered together, some bleating and shuffling their hooves to kick up nibbles of grass, others leaning in for support as they slept on their feet. Into this ordinary every night darkness, angels burst forth to explode the inky-black sky, heralding the light of extraordinary joy: the long-awaited Messiah’s birth.

Pray: With the angels we sing–Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests. Messiah Jesus, in your name we joyfully wait and pray. Amen.

design by @thecreativeresource

Monday 1 John 1:5-7 What do you do to keep walking forward in the light?
Tuesday 1 John 2:9-10 How are light and love, darkness and hate, parallel? Who do you need to forgive so that you can walk in the light of love?
Wednesday Revelation 22:5 How do you imagine eternity with God in heaven?

To see the complete Advent devotional beautifully designed by The Creative Resource, click here.

“…God dances amidst the common…. The angel came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason.” –Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven

Image by svetlanabar from Pixabay

Cover image by Jan Zatloukal from Pixabay

Choose Joy

I have a full day in progress, some work and mostly mundane chores that still need to get done. I also received hard, sad news yesterday, had strange dreams that shocked me awake with my heart fluttering, and had a pressing headache–from the tip of my nose down to my aching shoulders–before I even opened my eyes. None of that changes all the tasks ahead of me today.

And so I will choose joy.

@apeaceofwerk

I may require extra coffee and ibuprofen, notes to self to unclench my jaw and stretch, and refilling my water bottle more than normal. But I will still choose joy.

I will set timers to be productive and take breaks.

I will involve the kids, turn on music, and transform cleaning into a dance party.

I will offer myself periodic rewards for work well done, something as simple as a head massage in the shower I won’t get until this afternoon.

I will step outside and feel the warmth of the sun.

@apeaceofwerk

I will notice gratitude–for the sun, for the new crop of grape tomatoes growing in our container garden that will explode deliciousness in our mouths, for the company of the people I love living under our roof.

I will breathe deeply.

I will engage my senses–what can I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch that adds beauty to this very moment?

I will pet the pets and laugh at their antics. Maybe I’ll look up silly animal videos on one of my breaks.

I will give myself bear hugs.

I will say YES and Thank You to whatever this day holds, all the imperfections and the missed expectations and the mess and the wild and precious ordinary 1440 minutes (or however many are left) in this day.

@triciarobinson

How will you choose joy today?

Lent 2020

I’ve been reading, studying, digesting, listening to and learning from the Bible over my entire life. I’ve been glad and mad, confused and convicted, by its words. I’ve had conversations and arguments with God and others about what it says and doesn’t say. I’ve read scores of books about the Bible. I’ve attended Bible studies, taken classes on the Bible—I have a seminary graduate degree—and written about the Bible.

One of my goals for 2020 is to interact with a different translation of the Bible. I need to shake things up. I’m still studying and reading and writing about the more traditional/adult versions of the Bible, but the Spirit is nudging me to bring some joy back into my dedicated time with Him.

So here I am, during Lent, picking up one of my very favorite Bibles: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

We discovered this Bible when our youngest son was four years old. As I read the first few stories aloud to him, I delighted in the words and illustrations. This is no ordinary kids’ Bible. This is a work of art.

I have since recommended this Bible to everyone I know who is even slightly at all interested in the Bible. Because of my enthusiasm, our church preschool gives one to every graduate and our sanctuary pew racks contain copies, indicating to families that children are always welcome. It is also our go-to new baby gift.

This Lent, I’m going to read for five minutes a day, as many stories as that allows, and then write for another five minutes about what stood out to me, and then I’ll share posts a few times a week. A sort of lectio divina light, playing and creating with God. Play with me?

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases. 

Laugh More

Last week our family saw a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at CalShakes, my favorite Shakespeare play at one of my favorite theatres.

CalShakes always makes for a great family outing: time together over a picnic in the grove and a good show, and my kids both enjoy live theatre which feels like a parenting win. This wasn’t a perfect production, but it contained some terrific performances. Best of all, I heard myself belly laughing throughout the show.

Laughter is the best medicine, right? But somewhere along the winding path of personal and professional stress, I fear I misplaced my sense of humor. I may have become too serious for my own good. I used to be silly and laugh easily; I need to unearth that version of myself.

Besides, laughter is healthy, and life is too short not to enjoy; there will be plenty of time for being grave, well, in the grave. (Although, I just wrote a ridiculous line because I plan to spend every non-second of the afterlife whoopin’ it up for a grand ol’ eternity).

How about these quotes:

Laughter is an instant vacation. –Milton Berle
I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter; it has made the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong. –WEB DuBois
A good laugh is sunshine in the house. –William Thackeray
A day without laughter is a day wasted. –Charlie Chaplin
Laughter may not add years to your life but adds life to your years.
You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.
Sometimes I laugh so hard the tears run down my leg.

[Are you laughing yet?]

Psychology Today outlines some of laughter’s benefits for body and mind:

Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.

To that end, I am making play my work. I am actively eliminating stress from my life and spending time with my pets and my loves, outdoors and in. I am looking for opportunities to laugh, whether I’m cracking myself up or laughing at funny things outside myself.

Like this clip from The Ellen Show:

And who doesn’t laugh at laughing babies?

So how about you? What makes you laugh?

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Advent 2018 Wk3 – Faith

The year C20 had his first birthday, Guy and I both turned 30 a few weeks before and after. Our birthdays span November to January so Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s got wrapped up in the fun. We created a list of small celebrations we could enjoy each day during those eight weeks, simple activities like sweetening a mug of hot chocolate with a candy cane, going for a walk together, or watching an animated Christmas movie. We celebrated our lives and the holidays with flair.

As I spent this last week reflecting on joy, I realized that I might be doing Advent wrong. Or, at least, wrong for me at this time.

Other than chomping the daily chocolates in our Advent calendar, I didn’t grow up with an Advent tradition. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas was simply Christmastime, when we listened to Christmas music and shopped and wrapped and enjoyed the season.

I appreciate Advent for its thematic focus, its intentionality, its lens on waiting for Jesus. But over the years, our church has adopted a fuller Advent tradition, limiting Christmas music to Christmas Eve and the following Sunday (and the annual Christmas concert, the one exception to the rule) in favor of Advent hymns. And since there are only two popular Advent hymnsCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel–the music sounds like the rest of the year. So even though I used to start listening to Christmas music in October while I planned the church Christmas materials, I have mostly stopped listening to Christmas music before Christmas.

And I’m missing it. I’m missing the joy. I’ve employed the discipline without reaping the benefit, and I’m sorrier for it. I feel dry and dour.

Perhaps traditional Advent observance might also necessitate the observance of the Twelve Days of Christmas–Christmas celebrations commencing on Christmas and lasting until King’s Day on January 6. But I’m not there; when Christmas is over, it’s over. And since so much of life necessarily involves waiting for Jesus, I want to enjoy Him now. I want to celebrate Him today. I don’t want to wait any longer.

Besides, there is way too much good Christmas music to limit it to a day.

Those of us who follow Jesus live in tension between the already and not yet. Jesus has come, and He will come again. We have the joy of salvation now, but we won’t experience the fullness of life in His Kingdom until the second coming. So we wait.

But why in the world am I intentionally limiting the joy of celebrating His birth? Sure, His birthday is next week, but He’s already here. This year the discipline feels a little absurd, like not talking to my son for the month before his birthday just because his birthday hadn’t yet happened… What sense would that make?

This week’s focus is faith, that God will direct our paths even (especially) when the way seems foggy. I’m staring intently down some foggy paths of my own, and I do believe that Jesus will show up, that He will hold my hand and walk gently with me. And I’m going to celebrate that reality today, with some Christmas music, even as I wait for His eventual arrival.

Week 3 – Joseph’s Faith 

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light three candles (two purple, one pink): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope, joy and faith.

Read Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Read: A good man, Joseph found himself in what looked like a bad situation. While he quietly planned a way out, an angel assured him that he had no reason for fear: what seemed like bad news would be good news for everyone. Mary’s baby wasn’t just any baby—this would be God’s baby, Immanuel, God with us! When we accept God’s plan, God turns our fear to faith and our faith to joy.

Pray: Holy Spirit, where we feel fear, plant your seed of faith. Grow our faith into joy in your presence. In the name of Jesus, we wait and pray. Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 7:8-9 How does God’s faithfulness inspire your faithfulness to Him?
Tuesday Psalm 93:1 How do you hang on in faith that God is in control?
Wednesday Isaiah 26:3-4, 12 What worries do you need to put in God’s hands?
Thursday John 14:27 Let go of your troubles and receive Jesus’ peace.
Friday Colossians 1:3-4 Who can you thank God for as an example of faith in Christ?
Saturday Hebrews 11:1 How do you define faith?

Suggested Activities
Make a list of things in which you put your faith, for example, that your alarm will go off in the morning or that the lights will come on when you flick the switch. Try to count as least ten. Then ask: Is it (or, why is it) sometimes easier to trust in these mundane things than to trust in the God who sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior?

Incorporate silence into your daily routine and use it as a chance to talk with God. Drive with the radio off. Go for a quiet hike. Sit in silence with your morning cup of coffee. Read your Bible, and let God share with you His perspective on what you’re facing each day.

Journal
When have you seen God show up in your unexpected or unwanted circumstances? Where do you need to experience His presence currently?

“It is faith that what happens to me matters to God as well as to me that gives me joy, that promises me that I am eternally the subject of God’s compassion, and that assures me that the compassion was manifested most brilliantly when God came to us in a stable in Bethlehem.” –Madeleine L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

Advent 2018 Wk 2 – Joy

Lately I have been impressed with stories of joy: people enduring difficult circumstances with genuine smiles lighting their faces and claims of, “Laugh or cry, I choose to laugh,” or “I was born a happy child,” or “I choose to do something I enjoy every day.” People who, in witness to others’ difficult circumstances, decide to get their hands dirty and serve, to make life that much easier or better for someone else, and discover joy in the shared experience.

Unlike happiness, tied to experiences that easily elicit smiles and laughter, joy is a choice. A decision to rejoice even when the circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. A connection to God who is the source of all true joy.

Like young Mary who, when greeted by a mysterious messenger with mind-boggling news–Hey, Mary, you’re going to birth God’s baby…–responded, Let it be, and My spirit rejoices in God who has remembered His humble servant…

Happy comes easy. Joy requires intention, effort.

I wore an audaciously bright pink scarf to church today (atop a gray/black pant/sweater set) and mentioned to someone that the scarf was in honor of Mary’s joy. Eyes wide, she chuckled, incredulous that I would match my outfit to Advent. Well, I suppose that’s an insight to the odd workings of my mind!

And, yes. We can find hot pink joy against a dark background. We can find joy in a cute Christmas mug filled with messy clumps of hot chocolate. We can find joy in the homemade and gifted decoration even though the mirror has cracked. We can seek–and discover–joy in the clumpy, broken, messy, difficult parts of life… That’s kind of the whole point: we rejoice in God with us, because God walks with us through life.

 

Week 2 – Mary’s Joy

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light two candles (purple): We light these candles to celebrate Jesus, the Light of the world, who comes into the darkness to bring hope and joy.

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38, 46-49

Read: The angel announced, “Mary, highly favored one, the Lord is with you,” and Mary rejoiced at the role she would play in the coming of the Son of the Most High. God’s Spirit whispers to each one of us, “You, too, are God’s servant, with a special role to play in God’s story.” The story may turn and twist in ways we can’t anticipate but let us say “Yes!” to God’s calling and rejoice in His presence.

Pray: We rejoice in God our Savior who has been mindful of His humble servants. In the name of Jesus we wait and pray, Amen.

Monday 1 Samuel 8:6-7 How can you rejoice in Jesus your King today?
Tuesday Psalm 5:11 How does God’s protection increase your joy?
Wednesday Habakkuk 3:17-19 How can God increase your joy even when times are difficult?
Thursday Acts 16:33-34 How does believing in God give you joy?
Friday Galatians 5:22-23 Ask the Spirit to increase your joy.
Saturday Jude 24-25 Read these verses aloud as joy-filled praise to our good God!

Suggested Activities
Make a list of ways you can spread Christmas joy, such as:
Take a Christmas treat or poinsettia to someone who lives alone.
Find a way to serve someone, for instance, clean an older neighbor’s gutters.
Invite friends to join you for a cookie decorating party and/or viewing of a favorite Christmas movie.
Create handmade thank you cards and attach candy canes for your teachers or church leaders.
Gather a group and go caroling.
Pray over each Christmas card you receive, inviting God to rain joy over each household.