Each year I try to choose a word to define the year ahead, a word to guide me through the next twelve months. Last year (2016), I chose JOY. But I looked in all the wrong places for it and, sadly, I couldn't find it.
At the end of the year, my mom bought me a devotional book for Christas by Sarah Young called Embracing Joy in His Presence (part of the Jesus Always books). Now that I'm coming to the end of the year-long devotional, I've learned the secret to finding that joy I so desired.
It's only found by sitting at Jesus' feet with a heart of gratitude for all He's done, is doing, and will continue to do.
It doesn't mean life is wonderfully joyous because I'm grateful. Some days life is just plain hard. It throws curveballs at you that you never saw coming and leave you speechless and heartbroken. Some days life can bore you, leaving you stuck in a rut with no excitement, meaning, or adventure. Other times it's terrifying, wondering which choice ahead of you will lead you in the right direction and what will happen if you make the wrong choice. Or God may be asking you to take up your mat and walk a road that you don't think you have the strength to handle. Or He's asking you to step out in faith to do something that logistically makes no sense at all.
This year (2017) has been one of the most emotionally diverse years of my life so far, leading me to the highest of highs and to the lowest of lows. But through it all, I found so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude fills me with a joy I can't put words to.
If you haven't noticed, I don't write much anymore. I only blog when I have something exciting to share or when there's something tugging on my heart that I'm wrestling to process and put into words. I've backed up a few steps, gone against all book marketing advice, withdrawn from a lot of activity, and pushed forward toward answers to things I'd been praying about for a very long time. This year changed me and helped me see and hear God like never before. For that, I am grateful, because that's where I found joy.
Today on Thanksgiving Day, I'm reflecting about the top things in life that changed me the most over the last year.
- My adopted son graduated from high school and started his first year of college at Dallas Baptist University. Less than fifteen years ago, Mike and I moved to Texas penniless, deep in debt, and with a very broken marriage. The fact that we adopted a child in the years that followed and actually have enough funds to get him through this first year at a private Christian university is beyond anything I ever could have imagined in those hopeless days. I wish I could say he's doing exceptionally well and thriving, but there's definitely some maturing that needs to take place first before we can see that happen. There's no better place to watch him experience this year of life and freedom, though, than exactly where he is. God has a great plan for him, and I pray that this year transforms him in ways he can't even imagine. For this, I am thankful for how God redeems and restores our broken lives.
- My dad is alive and well. No one ever wants to get that phonecall from their mom, hearing the words, "Your dad is in the hospital, and it doesn't look good." It was a day marked on the calendar to celebrate my son's graduation, and instead of preparing for his party with a cheery attitude, I sat in my room sobbing, wondering if I'd ever see my dad again. I waited too long to make a decision to head straight to St. Louis with my brother and sister-in-law, so I thought I'd missed my chance. Thanks to the advice and generosity of friends who attended the graduation party, I made it out on a late flight that night not only to see my dad again the next morning, but to watch him recover more quickly than any of us expected. The road ahead was long and difficult, leading him to retire from his ministry of almost 47 years. Now he's only weeks away from moving here to Texas to begin a new chapter of life surrounded by family. For this, I am reminded to be grateful for each day because each one is a gift. I watched other friends lose a spouse or parent over the last few months, but for some reason, my dad is still here, and God still has plans to use him on this earth. I look forward to having him and my mom close by after many years of living so far apart.
- I chose to step away from teaching a summer Bible study and decided to travel to Guatemala on a mission trip with my son instead. That trip will follow me for the rest of my life. When I pick up my gratitude journal each morning that I bought in an open air market in Guatemala, I am reminded to be grateful for the clean floor I put my feet on, for the bathroom I used to bathe and shower in, for the stove I used to make my breakfast, and for the clean, fresh water I drank to take my daily medicine and vitamins. I am thankful for the food available for my cat and my dogs and for their health, even if we struggle with bouts of fleas every now and then. Suddenly, my house doesn't seem so small, the repairs don's seem so big, and the messes don't seem so bad. Instead I wake up thankful for a beautiful home, for warm blankets, clean clothes, and healthy food readily available.
- Finding Laura again, reuniting her with her brother, meeting her family, spending intimate time with her and her mom in her home, having her back in my own life, not just Juan's--all of the above fills me with more gratitude than I can even contain some days. I look at the pictures of our trip to Spain and catch myself breathless, realizing that all of that really did take place. The pictures we now have are absolutely priceless, treasures that I will never take for granted. God gave her back. He answered my prayer. When I asked Him for anything, even just a picture, to let us know something about her, that was the day He opened wide the door to help us to begin searching for her the right way. Having her in our lives brings me incredible joy, but the greatest joy came from knowing that God heard my prayer and answered me, very specifically, that very day.
Life still carries struggles, disappointments, heartache, difficulty, exhaustion, stress, and fear each and every day. But in the midst of it, may I never forget what God has done in my life up until now. He's been real, He's been big, and He's always intimately involved.
It's in the daily practice of gratitude that we find joy. Not just in November. Not just at Thanksgiving. But every single day.