What images does this word spark within my mind?
Lemon-scented bubbles glinting sparkles from the sun, rising from the frothy warm of dishwater bathing my chapped hands. A chocolate bar all chewy with coconut and almonds. Butter-colored tresses flapping in the breeze, streaming behind the laughing face of my one-time supervisor in a summer children’s program. (Joy was her name.) But in the realm of the abstract, joy is a concept that the writers of many inspirational articles like to point out as distinct from happiness.
If the writers are correct, it is not joy rushing through me as I sink my teeth into that creamy chocolate, or catch between them those shaggy strings of coconut….Nor when I drink up through my nose the scent of lemon dish detergent, or delight in the smooth liquid gliding over my hands….Nor when Joy (the human one) praises the quirky little pictures I have sketched for the pages of her curriculum.
No. According to the writers, these are all occasions for mere happiness.
From what then come the moments of my joy?
Is it joy I experience while loping along bike trails, exulting in rustling leaves and sunpatches and birdsong, in the soothingly rhythmic patterns of my stride? Or when I praise my Creator for this freedom of movement and for blessing me with the beauties of His creation? Is joy caused by those things that bring a smile to my face and make me want to skip and clap my hands? Things like walking and singing and reading my favorite stories, like stroking my soft kitties and spending time visiting my friends?
I love all these things and I want to rebelliously claim they cause me joy--especially since I don’t like getting nitpicky with words. Yet suppose even one were snatched away from me?
My friend Moira cannot use her arms or legs. She cannot skip or stride or draw quirky little pictures. She cannot even clap her hands, let alone use them to glide a rag over sudsy dishes or scratch a kitty’s velvet chin or clutch a candy bar between her fingers. Night and day for weeks and months she lies imprisoned in her body and her bed. She’s unable to feed herself, to flip over to one side, to even so much as scratch her nose. She breathes in only sour odors not of her own choosing and views the same brick building through her window. Left alone, unvisited, she hears only the humming of her oxygen tank. Everything that lends my life what I glibly call joy has been cruelly snatched away from her.
In her position, I would scream.
I would curse.
I would beg to be allowed to die.
Moira doesn’t scream. She doesn’t curse her life, her existence as a lively mind embalmed within a flesh-soft living tomb. She doesn’t beg for release from the inert shell that is her body.
Instead, Moira smiles.
Her smile reflects what I feel bubbling deep within my spirit as I strum a praise song on my guitar. But Moira can sing praise in her quiet whisper-voice without the need for rhythmic strumming.
Her smile reflects what I feel surging through my being as I bounce my merry way along the trails. But Moira can hike ahead on farther-reaching trails without twitching a tendon of one toe.
Her smile reflects every sun-dappled leaf, every sparkly bubble, every lemon-scented fragrance, every creamy-chewy flavor, every note I’ve heard warbled from the beak of every sparrow, every fuzzy puppydog or purry kitty that I’ve stroked, every word I’ve read aloud or to myself while clutching a treasured book between my hands. But it also reflects something more, something that lasts when the leaves and scents and bubbles and hikes and candy bars and cuddly critters and warbled songs and words have faded gone.
Her smile reflects the smile of the One who made every living beauty, including the beauty who is Moira herself. Her smile reflects the smile of the One who will live on forever, who will love her forever, who is Love Himself and the sole Source of all her joy. “He has already healed me,” she’s told me often in her breathy whisper-voice, and her smile convinces me that He has indeed.
I go home and continue to pray for my own healing, crying past my happiness to the Source of Moira’s joy.
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