Easy Joy

It’s simple to make my heart smile. I’ve realized this so clearly over the weeks spent at home.

Let me drive away.

Let me walk aimlessly through nature for hours on end with the people I love (or even alone).

Stop by my front yard with your kids and their smiles and talk for twenty minutes from a relatively safe distance.

Let me do some small, kind thing for you.

A full day spent working hard in my garden…

My sweet husband came home one day after two friends had made short visits and he said that he could see it in my smile. He knew that I’d seen friends and was happier because of it. It was true that I couldn’t stop grinning.

Yesterday my littles and I drove away, took the advice of a good friend and made the trek to a new-to-us state park. We wandered for four hours and could’ve stayed much longer, but the teeny was spent and the oldest had blisters from a bad shoe choice. We loaded back up and took the long drive home. My joy felt bubbly and full in my soul.

What are the things that are bringing you happiness during this messed up time? Have you stopped for a minute to think about it? I know there are more, many more, small things that I find goodness in everyday, but these are the big things. The things that make an obvious difference in my behavior.

I write them here as a simple reminder that there is still goodness and happiness and joy. And so I remember that I have the power to make these things happen. Joyfulness is not dependent on some outside force, I can actively seek out the joy that I am looking for.

Ice

Today I drug my over-tired, crabby, mopey self over to the rink by our house. The kids needed to move and I know the temps are dropping so I forced myself to go.

You just never can tell where you might find your smile…

Sometimes you simply must do the thing so that you don’t succumb to the dark place bubbling inside of you.

This day it was necessary for me to take the sleep-deprived, frozen, close to angry version of myself and lace up skates. Without this excursion I would have curled up under the covers and cried, not even kidding a little.

The ice was good, the shadows deep, the sunlight filtered, the air just cold enough. Our laughter was loud.

My time outdoors is short in winter, but today it was good, today I was thankful for clear ice and sharp skates. I’m a smidge worried about the cold ahead and how hard it’s going to hit me, maybe skating will help. I’ll at least hope that it does.

Peace in the cold is a good thing to find. For a few minutes today, out in the cold, it wasn’t really so bad being “stuck” in this place. It was almost joyful, maybe even fun.

Gratitude, a Practice

How do you place value on a day? An hour? A moment? Is it in all that you accomplish? Does the weight of your day mean more or less because you’ve checked off so many of the boxes on your list? Is all lost if, as you look around your life, the same things that needed doing yesterday need doing again, or still, today?

Do you know a moment is good because of the happiness that comes from it? Joy being of more importance than pain on our scales of blessing. Can feeling frustrated, angry, ill-at-ease, cause you to count this minute, this hour as a loss? While a smooth, cooperative, easy day leaves you trusting that God has smiled on you in however small a way.

Could it be something more? Not in how you feel or what you’ve done, but could the inherent goodness of your life be something simpler? Something that is so far beyond our control we often struggle to believe it even could be, let alone is.

What if the value of your life, of mine was not found in these common assesments? What if the goodness of our moments, was ultimately, simply, found in our Creator. What if, however much we eff up, however much we fail in human sight, however much we hate the way our corner of the world is spinning…what if those things can’t impact our peace, because God is good?

I’ve kept a gratitude journal for several years now. I can remember a time when coming up with three good things each day was a challenge for me. When the length of the nights and the pulse of my day made me stretch myself to come up with this handful of daily blessings. In the practice of being thankful though, I’ve become more. In looking for the good I have been able to see that most of it is good.

This has been a slow thing for me to learn. In the scratching out of thankfulness it has taken those few years for me to become accustomed to seeing it all as good. As we have struggled through our challenging years, I’ve come to see, to firmly believe, that even the hard or the percievedly “bad” is often a gift if I choose to look at it from the lens of God. I have needed a great deal of practice with this though.

I’ve written about my lack of sleep before, and how I now am able to see it as an opportunity. This has happened because I have allowed God to work in my heart, begged Him even, to do so. He has shown His goodness to me in so many other ways. Ways that I certainly would not have expected, but more than that in ways that I have not always seen, at first, as His goodness.

In my head right now I am making a list of things that have happened in my life that I would not have written in my gratitude journal, the list is long and I will not share it here. I will tell you that I have put myself in some bad situations as far as my safety, my financial security, and my mental well being are considered. I can see, in the looking back, how God used all -okay most- of those things for good. How the lows have only brought me closer to Him, and how that is really all He wants from and for me.

In my previous life I had sunk pretty low on the gratitude scale. I have deliberately climbed a ladder of thankfulness to be at this place, where I can see how some of those bad situations, weren’t. That He was working good for me in all things, even the heartbreaking things.

I don’t know if this practice of writing down thanks is enough to get me through something terrible. I pray fervently that my faith is never tested in a handful of specific ways. Because while I believe I am strong in my faith now, I also know pretty well what it would take to break me. That’s another reason I practice gratitude though. With the hope that in continuing to be thankful, I could continue to be thankful through any of the worst. It is a goal, and a gamble of course. There are no guarantees that I could experience life-shattering news and be at peace enough to immediately find the glimpses of good.

To be clear, I don’t write down the good and, “poof!” there is less bad. Rather, in making notes on my days, my interactions, my difficulties, I am looking for those flashes of good which are always there, should I choose to see them. This affords me the quiet and the space I need to really evaluate a negative encounter or experience, and hopefully, see it for what God needs it to be, for what it truly is, in my life.

Each year I start over, allowing the days to tick off their own goodness, counting up seemingly mundane moments along with the highest of the highs.

…the teensy sleeping through a night

…fresh, cold air

…skates on the ice with my littles

Do you have a gratitude practice? I’d love to hear about it sometime. To know how it has grown you, changed you. How it’s helped you to find contentment or joy or some small space in your head that has been taken back from the sadness of the world. Sitting down now to pray peace over each of you who takes the time to read my ramblings this year.

Contentment

Y’all have been here for awhile. You know me. I don’t like the cold. I do not look forward to sweaters and boots. I could easily walk away from this state for several months each year and live happily (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that). Last winter was a hard one for me, I went into it with a much better attitude and I held onto that positivity well into January. The season dragged on though, it always does. Do what you will to save your own sanity; stay in Autumn until the winter solstice, reach out and grab Spring while there is still a foot of snow on the ground. The ice and snow, sub-zero temps, layers upon layers…I can not love it.

I do hope to avoid the endless slog of sadness this winter though. I’m going to make an attempt to photograph and write about the things that bring me joy. Joy on the journey; that’s sort of one of my “things”. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go, but I have some ideas. My hope is that in sharing the things that are beautiful and warm and meaningful here on this page I can stay afloat just a bit higher this year. I want to look at this winter as a season of rest, a time to nourish and refresh. Instead of as the cold, dark place in my soul that I fall into and struggle to escape.

Please understand that I will not anticipate or be loving the winter, but I’d like to do more than survive it. The last few days I’ve felt myself slipping into bad winter-time habits; hiding indoors, sending my children out while I stay in, bundling myself in with books and blankets, not stepping out around the fire on the deck for fear of the chilly bite in the air. I am not going to do this for the next six months, I am not. I mean, except for the book part…totally going to do that.

As Autumn continues to swirl the yellow leaves in my yard as opposed to swirling snow I am choosing now to look at each good thing for what it is, not at what it is not. The leaves are crunchy under my feet, my scarf is soft and warm, the sky is clearest blue…these individual joys hold merit on their own. They do not have to be made better by comparing them with the cold-that-is-not-quite-yet-here. I know this now, but I’m posting reminders on my calendar to come back and reread these words, lest I forget.

My attitude change toward winter is a hard fought battle for me, you all know. Earlier this Summer, in deciding to stay, I found that Paul’s words came to me again and again; “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” (from Philippians 4). Don’t get me wrong, winter is nowhere near the conditions Paul is referring to, I get that. I will not compare my minuscule “suffering” to his. What I did do though is realize that my struggle with winter was not what God wanted from or for me. Yes, I believe He wanted to hear all of my complaints, to trust Him for a way out, to listen to His peace spoken in the still, small hours of frozen mornings. He also wanted me to learn, to grow, to not stay in that place where I could not, at least, be content regardless of the weather outside.

To be content has become my goal for the season ahead. I am reminding myself that contentment comes from Christ. I can (and oh! have I) worry over all. of. the. things., but this will bring my soul no rest. There is no contentment in my old fallback anxiety. I worry still, that I will succumb to the darkness and despair over the winter as I have in the past. In this worry I remembered some more of Paul’s words though and they reminded me how very not-alone I am. Both in my hatred of the season and in my desire to find joy in it.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (from chapter 4, verse 14)

I have an amazing circle of women who I will rely on to keep me on a positive track and who will allow me to complain a bit too. I am hopeful that they will continue to “share in my troubles” and that we will lift each other up without fear of giving too much. I will beg a lot of grace from my family when I don’t want to go out, and they remind me of these words, and I regret writing them because it means actually bundling up and going out, and they will give it because they are so, so good to me. It will be so good of all of you to share in my troubles.

Ultimately, I have no idea how to make this Minnesota winter, and the many I can see in my future, positive. I’m open to suggestions that do not involve actually going out into it! I’m looking for ideas that will be fulfilling, while remembering who I am fundamentally. So, while I will likely take the kids ice skating a handful of times, I have no desire to purchase snowmobiles or an ice fishing shack. Though I will take them sledding, I will still be happier to make the cocoa when we get home. There will be long underwear under my jeans and there will be stocking caps on my head until May, and I refuse to be happy about either, but I will choose to be content in the love and peace God continues to offer me.

My kids on the beach in South Texas last year…one of my favorite wintertime memories!