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I think when most people hear the word “joy” they think of those moments when we are, as Elizabeth Bennet so beautifully puts it in the movie “Pride and Prejudice”, incandescently happy. Joy is happiness that wells up and spills over. Those celebration moments that we’ll remember forever, the mountaintop experiences that make us pause to soak in, gasp in wonder, or give a deep sigh of contentment…those are moments of joy.

The standout moments in life that covered me in the heart-bursting, gold-sparkling, warm, fuzzy, happiness type of joy are when I walked the aisle with my dad toward my love and when each of our babies was born and we heard “it’s a girl!” for each one.

I had an experience of overwhelming peace and love one summer in the San Bernandino mountains, alone with God by a creek, laying on a rock in the sun. I can’t describe how close I felt to God that day, like I was laying right in the palm of His hand.

I couldn’t even cry the day our oldest daughter got married because I was so full of happiness and love I thought my heart would burst. And if you know me, that’s saying something. It doesn’t take much to make me cry.

Those were definitely joy unspeakable moments.

As I’ve walked this path called life, particularly the path beside and behind Jesus, I’ve learned there is another side of joy. I would not have guessed when I was young that joy would often be accompanied by, or preceded by, sorrow and pain.

Sitting in a waiting room after getting a cancer diagnosis, heart beating hard, mind racing, God gave me a vision of Him standing on a path lined with grass that curved off into the distance. He stood turning to look back with a hand reaching out to me as if to say, “Come on. I’m going with you.” A golden sun shone so brightly behind Him all I could see was His silhouette. Peace washed over me and I remembered I belong to Him. He sees me, He cares. I’m not alone. Joy.  (Even now as I remember and picture it I’m comforted)

I’ve heard stories of a family gathered in a hospital room praying together, holding one another, singing hymns while they surround one they love who is peacefully, sometimes even eagerly, reaching for Jesus and going to heaven. In the deep shadow of hurt and loss, a faint light grows when they think of their loved one finally home where they belong, completely whole and with God. They are thankful this person lived, thankful for all the memories, so thankful the one they loved knew the Savior and they will be reunited with them one day. Even amidst sobs they thank God and have joy.

Joy is born in thankfulness. It is knowing you belong to God, the affirmation that because You are His He loves you, will never forget you or leave you, and is right with you ALL the time, no matter what. Belonging. Love. Hope. Joy.

Joy gradually emerges in surrender and sacrifice when things turn out differently than you hoped or dreamed, but instead of falling into bitterness you turn to Jesus. You are willing to give in and remind yourself you’re not in control, you’re not God, but You know Him and He IS in control…and He is good. You yield, you surrender to God’s ways, you trust and thank Him anyway. Joy.

Remember Stephen, the martyr? He practically exploded with truth when he testified to the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus. They tried to silence Him by killing his body. But as Stephen’s heart stretched to bursting with love and worship, he seemed to ignore the rocks bruising and cutting him as he looked up toward the sky and exclaimed, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God!” He was captivated by the truth and by His Savior. Even in his painful death, He had joy.

I’m still learning about joy: genuine, rich, enduring, deep-from-the-gut-and-soul joy that comes from choosing to walk with God in gratitude whatever the circumstance.

There have been hard, sad times in the past, are some now, and will be some to come. In those times we can’t rely on our emotions, but on what we know. My husband and I can agree that we know God loves us, He cares, He has always been faithful to us, He will make a way and He has given us so much to be thankful for.

We may not always feel like dancing or shouting or even smiling, but we thank God and trust Him…

and so we have joy.

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:4,6-7 NLT