August 7th, 2018 I woke up to my alarm going off at 5:45 am. We had just gotten to Disney World the day before for a mini vacation and I was exhausted. Between walking through the airports and our first day in the parks, I had walked 8.5 miles the day prior and I just wanted to sleep in a little. Plus, I hadn't even set my alarm- so why was it so annoyingly demanding that I get up?
Suddenly, my annoyance turned to wonder. Why had my alarm gone off? I certainly hadn't set it, nor could I remember the last time I had set it for that time. Maybe there was a reason I was supposed to be awake.
We were staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and we knew there were animals that roamed around the property, so I decided to open the blinds onto our little balcony to see if any animals were out and about yet. Quickly, my breath was taken away. It was still dark out but I could just spot three giraffes lounging directly in front of my balcony. Giraffes are my absolute favorite animal and here they were, just staring at me. I spent the next thirty minutes watching them in complete awe. As the sun began to rise, more creatures joined them but those thirty minutes were a forever kind of memory, one that to this day, almost four years later, still brings tears to my eyes.
I've been wondering lately about joy. What is it really? How does one find it? And once you have it, how do you hold onto it? A few weeks ago I was reading a book someone recommended to me. I've also been doing a reading plan that brings you through the Old Testament of the Bible in a year. I was struggling through the book and I was also feeling like I wasn't getting much out of my time in the Bible. But I had finally made it to the last chapter of the book and it was on joy. Now, there are plenty of verses in the Bible on joy and the author could have chosen any one of them. But he used Nehemiah 8:10. And guess where I was reading in my Bible plan that day? Nehemiah 8. I knew this could not be a coincidence. The full verse reads, "Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
For the joy of the Lord is your strength. What did that mean? How could I not only find joy, but joy that was so all encompassing that it would strengthen me?
I was talking with someone recently who was expressing how she felt the joy had been stripped from so many areas in her life. I think many of us can relate to that, now more than ever. The days we are living in are unlike any that have gone before us. We long for the simplicity that we used to take for granted. But how can we get back there? I think our desire goes beyond just longing for pre 2020 days. In each of us is planted the seed of eternity, the Garden of Eden. We know this is not how it is supposed to be. We get glimpses of the beauty we were created for when we smell a freshly cut rose or hear the laughter of our nephews or view an original Van Gogh, but all too soon, the veil is placed back over us. We return to a world that feels like it is fundamentally lacking something, even if we can't quite put our finger on what it may be.
I started reading a book entitled "The Surprising Power of Joy: Reclaiming the Forgotten Fruit of the Spirit to Release Heaven's Atmosphere" by Roland Worton. At the end of the chapters, Worton includes some things to ponder. Today he encouraged us to "reflect upon a time when you encountered creation in a powerful way" (p. 48). I immediately thought of my experience with the giraffes. Of all of the 972 rooms in the main Lodge of Animal Kingdom, these giraffes had stationed themselves outside of my room. And while I didn't know it then, I was three weeks away from receiving the life changing diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer. Reflecting on this experience, I knew without a doubt it was a sign God had given me. A reminder that He saw me, that He cared so much about my heart, that He wanted to give me a gift before entering into a challenging season. That half hour brought me such deep joy and I do believe it helped strengthen me for the days ahead. If my God cared enough to send me a 5:45 am wake up call to spend thirty minutes with three of my favorite animals, why wouldn't He care enough to help me through my trials ahead?
I know how easy it is to give into the despair surrounding us. But I want to fight for the joy He has promised me. Every day may not be full of such prominent reminders as the day of my three giraffes, but if we allow ourselves to be still, I believe we can experience a new infilling of joy each morning. I'm pressing in, will you join me?
All my love,