As I ran, storms threatened and the sky darkened. I kept my worried eyes trained on the greying sky. The clouds pressed down and made me feel hurried and agitated.
At the halfway point, I turned around.
I remember a “WOW!” escaping as I exhaled.
The blue of the sky caught me by surprise. Fluffy white clouds only served to accentuate the bright blue of the sky. Sunlight filtered through the clouds causing the pine needles to shimmer and shine. The air seemed lighter and I felt a sense of calm take over.
All I did was turn around.
I was standing in the same spot when I took those pictures within an instant of each other. In the first, I faced my camera to capture the storm, in the second, I merely turned the camera and snapped another picture. I was just choosing to focus on different things.
This was a great reminder for me.
How often in life do I forget this: I have the ability to choose where I focus my heart and mind.
I love reading and learning about people who while enduring unbelievably difficult circumstances still found joy. Real people like Betsy and Corrie Ten Boom who while imprisoned in the Ravensbrück concentration camp were thankful for fleas. Fleas! While they were IMPRISONED in a Nazi concentration camp! (If you haven’t read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom you definitely should.)
In real life, these joy-filled people are magnetic and easy to be around. Some of these people have had more than their fair share of suffering and disappointment. Others have had the normal run-of-the-mill sadnesses and disappointments. These beautiful people come from all walks of life.
When I took those pictures on my dirt road I just physically turned around to find the calm and the beauty. In real life, though, when darkness threatens, what does this change of focus look like?
Not one person alive has had a life free from all sadness and disappointment. So what makes some people joyful and others not so much. I’ve observed that the degree of suffering and hardship a person experiences isn’t unequivocally associated with the level of joy the person experiences in life. It’s not as if a comfortable life or a financial windfall guarantees joy. The thing that I can unequivocally associate with a joyful person, though, is gratitude.
Life is complicated, but I think this is pretty simple. Simple, but not always easy.
Actually, sometimes I think that to choose joy in the midst of comfort is difficult for some people. When a person lives a life of relative comfort and ease (which is the case for most first-worlders with leisure time to read a blog post on their tablet or phone which is located in a home that contains some snacks and plenty of clean running water), everyday mundane occurrences can derail joy; life’s beauty and goodness are taken for granted. And there is no joy.
As I had been running that afternoon, I was thinking of a sadness that looms in the near future.
Caroline, Josh, Winston, and Ella are leaving Colorado to move to Washington, D.C. next month. Every time I think about it I subconsciously take a deep breath, the kind that starts with a sharp intake of breath followed by a slow exhale as my eyes focus on some far away point. I am going to miss them so much. I’m going to miss hearing the excitement in Winston and Ella’s voices as they arrive and declare that, “We get to sleepover at Grandma’s house!” I’m going to miss our weekly dinners and dance parties. I’m going to miss having them climb into bed with me in the morning for a few minutes of snuggle time. I’m going to miss kissing their tiny toes when I buckle their sandals. I’m going to miss the way they get excited about each and every thing we plan to do during our day.
Instead of dwelling on the sadness, I remind myself over and over that this year has been a precious gift. I’m so thankful that Josh’s clerkship was here in Colorado. I’m thankful that Josh has a good job waiting for him in Washington, D.C. I’m thankful that Caroline’s job (both her paid employment and her work as a mom) allows her to be flexible. I’m thankful for airplanes. I’m thankful that there will be opportunities to visit. I’m thankful that I’ll get to experience a familiar part of the country through Winston and Ella’s eyes. I’m thankful that I’ll get to see my friends who live in the D.C. metro area more often. I’m thankful for how much Caroline and Josh love each other and their children. I’m thankful that they love God and look to Him for direction and guidance in all things. I’m thankful for FaceTime and phone calls and text messages that keep me connected to my family all over the world.
So, I’m filled with joy when I think about their move. A joy that can bear the sadness, and for that, too, I’m thankful.
The same sky holds both the grey clouds and the sun. The same heart can hold the sadness and the joy if that’s what we choose.
Choose to be thankful in all circumstances.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
And, seriously people, God’s will for us is always what’s best for us.