Joy is My Birthright

Every year for my birthday, Chef finds some way to celebrate big. Having never wanted attention focused solely on me, I have battled with him over this inclination, become frustrated that he throws a surprise party, that he includes many people, that he refuses to let the day slide by quietly as I would wish. Except here’s the thing, he is right. (Can we all agree never to tell him I said that?) My therapist was talking to me about my sense of self-worth, that I was created for joy and not merely to stumble from one trauma to the next. She shared with me that a friend has a tag line or that bit of something after her signature on every email she sends, that reads “Joy is your birthright.” My mind expanded immediately by the arrangement of those words, by the idea that joy is not something I could guiltily seek or grasp tiny moments of, that God did not make bad things happen to me but His desire for me, for you, was joy. He created me with the expectation that I was worthy of joy, every day, in the morning and as I drift off to sleep. He is angered that I, His child, have been fed lies, have been abused and damaged in such a way that I struggle to find my place with Him. I am heir to the Kingdom, as it is my birthright. As I grappled with this new way of thinking, demolishing old paradigms as acceptance grew, I realized I must celebrate my birthday. If I was to accept the basic premise of my birthright, I must shout out that I am worthy of celebrating because God made me and that alone is enough. I deserve joy. This was to be the big year for me to say yes to whatever Chef came up with and I was going to lean in to the friends who gathered, accept their presence as a celebration of our God and His promises. Then Arrow died, three weeks before my birthday and mostly all this work has unraveled.

Deep in the throes of my grief, angered at a God who didn’t protect my son, I obviously had no desire to mark this day or allow joy to enter into my space, my soul. Yet something unexpected happened as I sought to reject God and His joy.  I received Fb messages and texts that reminded me I am valued and people understand I am hurting. Folks were sensitive to my inability to celebrate, the pain of every days magnified by a special event and still they reached out. People were determined to let me know that I am loved and valued. Much as a skein of yarn looks attractive in color or maybe feels wonderfully soft, it isn’t until the knitter or crocheter begins to work with it, connecting stitches together, that something of real beauty and usefulness emerges. My friends from near and far sent tiny bits of joy that reinforced this transformation of me that God is seeking. Together they spun a thing of beauty out of my unraveled pieces, they told me what I was refusing to hear from God. I am still heir to the Kingdom, I am built for joy even in my sorrow.

This year more than ever I am deeply touched and so very grateful for all the birthday wishes and messages. You all keep sending out life lines and in spite of myself, I am grasping them. You are doing holy work right now, my friends. And just so you know, joy is YOUR birthright too. Shall we all hold each other tenderly and accept this new day?

Joy Drops

I am a planner. I begin preparing for any upcoming event with several days of thought, imaginings of the food, the environment, any special needs. Next comes the recipe search, digging through my big box well organized by course and all the books I have acquired. List making comes next, menu and then ingredients, all the items for decoration to create the mood. Music selections, a whole different list. Next comes the gathering and finally the by the time of the event, I have given so much attention to all of my prep, it goes pretty smoothly.  That is my system. It works. Until I am given less than a week to throw a bridal reception for 20 people and I already have many of those planning days taken up with my Plum’s birthday events and a couple of days of wallowing in self-pity. Little time to do this event justice. I added a first step without realizing it, though, I asked for prayers about it all, sharing it as a joy Sunday at church.

I rushed about on the day of, yesterday, and made phone calls when I knew I was in over my head. My friend who’s home exudes beauty and warmth, I called her in to handle creating something out of the senior high classroom where we were celebrating in just a few hours. As we talked she said what I was doing was holy.  Not only did she agree to come and help, she slowed my anxiety and gave me perspective. She transformed that funky room into a place worthy of any wedding venue. It was special, it was magical, it was not on my list and it was so incredibly meaningful to have her hand in this union.

I called in Janet, asking for a quick hour of help to do something artsy with the huge chalkboard in the room. She dropped whatever she was doing and created a gorgeous backdrop that will be forever remembered in pictures but more than that, included a reminder of the love God bestows on all unions created in His name. Her thoughtful spontaneous gift added to the magical room, transformed something not on my list to a prayer for this young couple. To have her hand in the preparations for this event added another piece of the foundation of prayer, prayer that will continue long beyond the party.

I ran by the flower shop of an amazing woman in our congregation, she had offered to create a bouquet for mama, her gift to the new beginning. She has shared her love with us many times in the past, clothes for Plum, flowers for events created with real love. She prays for our family and puts her prayers into action. I was beyond grateful for this gift, I don’t have an income, flowers were not in anyone’s budget. I cried when she offered her livelihood to us, not something to be taken lightly. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed with the beauty she had created, even more so with the little buds she included for the groom and my Plum. Not on my list, on hers though and she added to the beauty, created magic in this last minute rush to celebrate a union. My tears were joy drops, words unable to capture my thanksgiving at having her hand involved in this day.

I rushed about in the church kitchen, without a real list completely unsure where to start. Our Associate Pastor wandered in, listened to me babble and then reminded me that many were praying for all of us on this day. His steady assurance, so calm and sure, slowed my anxiety, washed my frenzy away and allowed me to focus. Later, my miscommunication led to my friend not being at the church to take over when I need to leave to rush home for a shower. The back up crew of my Pastor, the small groups leader and my decorator took over. They shooed me out, I trusted something good would happen while I was at the ceremony. When I returned two different friends were there, the food was all arranged, better than I could have hoped, dishes were done, it was magical. No cake server, my sweet pal ran home and got her mama’s. A legacy, a tradition she shared with us, a piece of history well loved to start the union of this couple. Gifts of time and talents and love given so freely, I didn’t even ask, people just showed up.

This couple may never realize all the hands that went into the evening, they don’t attend our church. They don’t know all of my friends, the people who attended the event don’t all come either. We showed them the love of Jesus, the amazing hospitality of folks who just love, love new beginnings  and love to support each other when times are crazy and no one has a list. Sometimes I ask too much of my friends, often I forget to ask at all. I forget that I have friends who will support me, that I am worthy of their time and gifts. God takes over at those times, nudges people into action who live out His desire that we be the hands and feet of love. His grace lit up the church last night, brighter than the candles and little white lights strung about. His grace came in the form of friends who showed up and threw a last minute wedding reception for a couple they didn’t even know, a couple they will continue to pray for as the wedding ends and the marriage begins. I didn’t make a list that included God’s grace, that included prayerful loving hands touching every aspect of the evening. God fixed that for me, He had a plan all along. I couldn’t feel more blessed.