Meeting Joy

With mainstream media flooding our electronic devices with notifications of tragedy, loss, pain, and injustice, it’s easy to lose sight of joy, hope, promise, and life. When reminded of the uncertainty of tomorrow, I found myself most grateful to have my father and mother, brother and sister-in-law, nephew, nieces, and Charming around my dinner table this weekend to celebrate Mom’s 65th birthday.

There are these unforgettable, unrepeatable moments in life. Moments you wish you could pause just to savor a bit longer. Moments when, despite every failure and heartbreak and insecurity that came before, joy is genuine. Those who know her will agree that my mother, Joy, was appropriately named. Spend a half hour with the video montage ode to Joy that family and friends contributed to for this occasion, and it’s irrefutable.

A week ago, I petitioned those who have been influenced by my mother to share their favorite memory of her. Dozens of those unforgettable, unrepeatable moments were catalogued in the video project. Sitting beside her on my couch, her hand in mine, Charming’s arm around me, the giggles of toddlers often overtaking the audio, I recognized this as one such moment. A moment of joy with Joy and some of the most influential people in my life.

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The human experience is a social one, necessitating interaction from infancy into adulthood. My mother’s life is a testament to our ability to positively impact our immediate world by walking out our character. Mom loves the Lord. Her lifestyle and habits reflect godly qualities. Those aspects of God reflected in her as she’s traversed life this side of heaven have made an impact.  She is patient, kind, generous, loyal, and forgiving.

Perhaps because her concern is always for others, Mom was most moved by the rare tribute, wiping clumsily at happy tears fresh for each new face on the video honoring this woman who had touched us all in this social experience of life. And I wished I could click a cosmic pause button.

To put the evening in context, this was the night my family met Charming. As he helped me blow up balloons and hang streamers, I was unconcerned with the introduction to come. In the kitchen, pulling the lasagna out of the oven, he asked if there was anything he needed to know before my family arrived. “Like me, if you don’t want my mother to fall in love with you, you’re going to have to actively try,” I replied with a sassy smile.

His presence added a pleasant dynamic to the celebratory meeting. When I was married, there were even numbers at family gatherings. In the past few years, I’ve felt an empty chair at the dinner table, even when all seats were filled, where I would have had a better half. As I flitted about with dishes and silverware, I’d look up and catch him talking to my father or brother and just smile. He fit the picture. And not just anyone would.

That’s why Charming would have to intentionally try if he was to make a bad impression on my mother. She knows me better than anyone. The man he has shown himself to be lines up with the best she’s always wanted for me, and he’ll have her vote until he presents differently. He is the first guy I’ve ever brought to my father knowing he’d get a stamp of approval.

Though the video celebrated Mama Joy, my dad managed to endear me further to him with his anecdote about the first time he met Mom nearly fifty years ago. Beneath the humor was a current of deep, abiding love and admiration for my mother that moved me to tears. He’s always been a man of few words, but that just makes them count.

During my senior year of high school, Dad used to take me out to breakfast on Thursdays before school. That’s where I heard the bulk of his words, just the two of us. Those are moments I cherish. In the social interactions of the human experience, my father evidenced the capacity for positive impact. In fact, it was through him I ultimately learned what grace meant. When faced with the demise of my marriage, he could have said, “I told you so”; instead, he said, “I’ll support you.”

My sister-in-law also emulates those characteristics of God that have proven her to be a light in the darkness for me and so many others. Our Tuesday night talks preparing dinner for her family are more of those joy moments for me. Like tonight, when she recounted a story from when she was dating my brother, and I got to glimpse her trust in God for the uncertainties and fears that grip us. She sees the best in my brother and in me. When I had lost my faith, Gabrielle never wavered from the belief that God would draw me back to him. She’s been the consistent faith factor for me.

My brother was my best friend in high school. Though we grew apart after college, we’ve had ample opportunity to make up for lost time with dinner three times a week. He shares his family with me. In his video memory, P.J. recounted all the video projects Mom used to do with us when we were younger. I vividly remember laughing with him through every one in silly costumes with silly scripts. He taught me what qualities were most important in the making of a man of God. I followed him to Wheaton College, not bothering to apply elsewhere.

Were it not for Wheaton, I would never have met Charming fourteen years ago, never accepted a Facebook friend request, never received a message arranging a meeting, never had him sitting next to me this weekend in my home alongside these people who have positively impacted my life in profound ways.

I imagine Charming will, too, more so than already. If we create a formula for positive influence from these relationships, then ground zero is loving as God loves, without condition, extending grace, donating faith, walking out godly character. In a few months’ time, he altered the trajectory of my life. While a future with him is full of uncertainties, he effectively disarmed my defenses and inspired me to dream again.

It’s easy to lose sight of joy, hope, promise, and life in the midst of tragedy. But we’re gifted with moments, like at my mom’s 65th shabby chic birthday party. And like the next day, after Charming and I did schoolwork together, him preparing to teach his first college class, me preparing for a department meeting. Before he embarked on the three hour drive that would leave me back in the solitude of days absent his smile, we cuddled on the couch for a nap.

I know he fell asleep because I could feel his breathing slow against my cheek. Eyes closed, head at his chest, wrapped up in his arms, I can’t recall the last time I felt so at peace with the world. This was one of those unforgettable, unrepeatable moments. A moment I wished I could pause just to savor a bit longer. A moment when, despite every failure and heartbreak and insecurity that came before, joy was genuine.

When tragedy, loss, pain, and injustice flood the horizon, when the future is uncertain, if we use that cosmic pause button on the world and remember these moments, perhaps we will be reminded of the joy, hope, promise, and life latent even in the dark days.

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