Today is the anniversary of the Atlanta spa shootings. Anniversary feels like a bizarre word to use for something horrific, but I’m mentally too exhausted to find a better suited word. What does it look like to fast my armor and surrender my defenses today? It looks like feeling my feet on the ground, and remembering the space I get to take. It feels like forgiving myself when I’m not smiling even though it’s spring warm temperatures. It feels like not being apologetic when I’m angry with rude people. It looks like not smiling. It feels like taking a chance at feeling joy today whether it’s from being grateful for the time to write or having the financial access to buy this too-expensive cold brew. If feels like hoping that things will be better, even if the world throws lots of sad and bad at us. It feels like trusting that there are good people in this world. There are many good people. I like to believe most people are good. It means forgiving others when they forget the pain I’m in being an Asian woman in this world. It means forgiving myself when I forget to love being an Asian woman in this world. It means forgiveness. It means taking deep belly breaths and being present, even if that feels extra full.
Last year at this time I started training with Completely Ridiculous and a class that really pulled me out of my sadness and self pity was a clown-based class. The heart of the work is to come back to delight, wonder, and hope. I think that’s also the heart fo life: coming back to the awe.
I may not walk around with a smile glued to my face nor recite Christian phrases like, it’s the joy of the Lord that does it for me! Praise be to those folks who genuinely hold that close to their heart and on their sleeves. I probably, once upon a time, was that too. Once in high school someone thought I was fake because I smiled all the time until he realized I was genuinely happy and wanted to be my friend. (Goodness please if you are reading this, remind me when this was because high school simply felt awful!) People would say my joy, my smile were infectious. Last year, a friend said, “Nancy…you seem….sad.”I think he meant more than the general allowed sadness we had; I was gray. I was heavy. I am still those things. These past 2 years, life in general, have dampened my outward infectious smile, or shortened the consistency of it.
But this new reality has made my moments of awe and wonder that much more powerful. Awe and wonder and delight can strike me at a moment’s notice, and I’m tearing up by the grace of god. I am more sensitive when wonder smacks me and pulls me up for air. Wonder by Bethel music gets me every time. Coming back to the present moment, like really coming back to it, gets me every time. Because I know the opposite. I’ve gotten comfortable on the other side. And the along with the doubt and despair plagued on the other side, I have also deepened my relationship with god in a way I need never to justify to anyone anymore. It can be lonely at times, and still I wouldn’t trade it for another journey to faith.
Today I will chase delight. Today I will smile at cute dogs. Today I will imagine that on the other side of this loneliness and lost land is gracious provision that will leave me saying, OH MY GOD. WOAH. WOW.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
I give up pursuits that don’t lead me back to the joy of the Lord. I give up ways of thinking that are not founded on the joy of the Lord. I give up finding strength in things other than the joy of the Lord. What is the joy of the Lord? It is the certainty that good prevails. It is the certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow. It is the faith that God has incredible mind-blowing plans for each of us. It is the faith that choosing love and goodness and kindness and vulnerability are better! May the joy of the Lord soothe my tender broken parts, and give me a courage to share my love and self generously.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
I give up boxing in and holding down my joy in anticipation of disappointment. I give up lessening my joy for fear of losing it. I give up holding in my joy for fear of it being taken away. Let us revel in joy not to get the spotlight, but to share the spotlight, and to be a reminder that goodness and hope prevail even if in this moment they seem faint. I give up squashing celebration. I give up partying small. I give up gatekeeping my joy when it can be an encouragement.
And [Hannah] made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look at your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.’
1 Samuel 1:11
Why would Hannah want something so much only to give it back to God? What’s this immense desire coupled with outrageous promise of surrender? How can one want so much and also keep that want connected to the larger picture?
There is a faith, love and trust required to hold something you love loosely. Each moment is precious. Each moment is meaningful. Because every moment might be the last moment of holding this thing so close. Hannah knew that whatever she received was from God and therefore belonged to God’s purposes. Hannah didn’t just want a son; she wanted a son who’s life was going to be magnificent. She wanted her dreams fulfilled while the world was also impacted by her blessing. She knew that her blessing was to exist to be shared.
So what if it’s not that our desires and wants are too big, but actually not big enough? What if we dream so big it is inevitable that it would require faith and love to endure? What do you want that is so big that it will not only impact you but call into power and presence the purposes of God? Can we dream so so so out of this world that it would feel like God made it happen? Can we dream so big that it would require our priorities and focus to shift towards faith?
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’ And the disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven and a few small fish.’ And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over.
I find myself at this story every time I’m in a resource bind or a mindset of lack. Today I was listening to a Brene Brown podcast with Dr. Sonenshein about the concept of “stretching,” being resourceful and creative with what you already have. Stretching requires scrappiness, a clear focus on purpose/goals and a heart check on what really makes you joyful and full. Dr. Sonenshein touched on meditating on a time when you were stretchy. What were you feeling then? Who were you with? Can that power that is possible come flowing back now?
The disciples might have been too tired to think outside of the box. They might have lacked stretchy-ness because they were focused on their circumstances and their limitations. They might have been worried about Jesus’ well-being. When their guard is down and they blurt their truth, Jesus always makes room for a teaching moment. Jesus followed through with his compassion for the people. His feelings flowed into faithful action.
But what I rarely think about is the crowd. They have been with Jesus for three days. They are tired, hungry, surrounded, stranded, yet still there. They followed without knowing when their next meal would come. They were stranded in a desolate place with so many strangers. Yet here they are. They followed. They had faith. And they did get fed.
I don’t know where your plans and where life have taken you. You might feel stranded in some desolate place when you felt that you were following God, or what was the right thing to do. You’re surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Maybe worst, you feel alone, even though you seem to be surrounded by voices. God is preparing a feast for you. You are part of their miracle. You are not forgotten and your faith has indeed taken you to places no human mind could conjure up.
And [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
A peacemaker is one who makes peace. A peacemaker creates a place of undisturbed freedom and brings an end to war because peace is not yet the reality. Therefore, the journey of a peacemaker is in battlefields and tension-filled spaces. They exist in places of conflict digging tunnels towards peace. They recognize and call out the lines of division so that we can move towards a place of co-existence.
The job of a peacemaker is difficult and dangerous. It requires dropping yourself into the pits of despair and divide. It requires trust and faith. Imagine a hostage negotiator. Imagine a divorce lawyer. Imagine a baby boy dropped into an earth destined to hate him. But if you do this work of bridging those seemingly on opposite ends, you will experience most fully the freedom that follows conflict resolution. The relief. The release. The joy.
Prayer: God equip me to be a peacemaker in places of division and conflict.
Where have you conflated being peaceful with being a peacemaker?
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. And Nehemiah, who was the governor and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. On the second ay the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.
Last night I went to a block party where neighbors and people who have heard about this party came out on the streets of St. James and Greene to dance, cheer bus drivers who drove by and listen to speeches of Black leaders. When I first got there, I was self-conscious because I didn’t know the purpose of the event. They have this every night. I found a friend of a friend and felt a bit safer. Then I saw a young girl dancing without bounds. I stepped then stepped, stepped. Then I joined the cheering as the B52 bus drove down Greene. Then I threw my hands up for Michelle Obama’s “we go high” words. My heart warmed hearing Andrew Cuomo’s words about the love in New York, New York strong.
This was joy and community personified. All ages. All races. All kinds of dance moves. This gave life. It reminded me why we fight: for each other, for this speck of heavenly joy on earth which is possible only if it is possible for everyone. JOY is heaven on earth.
JOY must be at the center of our work. JOY must be why we fight. JOY must be where we fight from. JOY is our rest. JOY is our motivation. JOY is the fire beneath our fight and our work. It will sustain us on this journey to fight against oppression and to expand love to the ends of the earth.
When have you felt a joy this week that made you lit up to fight?
When have you felt a joy this week that made you grateful for life right now?
When have you felt a joy that made a lack of plans an exciting adventure?
When have you felt a joy that exposed the path you are to walk?
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Prayer: Quiet my body, my heart, my mind and my soul to feel the safety and peace you promise. Help me to feel without entering into shame. Help me to listen without judgment. Help me to soften and surrender in the midst of chaos and the cacophony of voices.
As you read this passage, what cry resonates with you?
And [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I find deep joy in this poor widow. She is poor and is acquainted with deep loss, yet gives everything she has, everything she has to live on, on God. If Jesus were not there, the disciples might not have known her circumstances and even judged her meager offerings.
Joy isn’t neglecting nor wearing our circumstances on our sleeves. Some may know what we’re going through and others might not, yet still the same we act. Joy isn’t necessarily showy and can be seen in our small acts. Joy isn’t necessarily for others and can be seen witnessed by others. Joy builds up our own integrity and courage. Joy requires faith. It requires being present in the moment while not being bogged down by the present situation.
Joy is quiet and full. Joy is found in the small moments of difficult decisions. Joy is a trust that things will work out. Joy is seeing beyond what you can presently see. Joy is the ambient hum of love and wholeness through all situations. Joy looks differently on everyone, but when you are in the presence of genuine joy, it quiets your own anxious stirrings so you can hear the faint melody of hope always playing throughout.
Prayer: God I pray for joy that helps be let go and surrender. God I pray for joy that expands all that I already have. God I pray for joy that centers and expands my capacity to love.
Character: Where is your focus on poverty and loss?
Grace: Who has shown you tremendous joy recently? How did it make you feel?