The Secret to Choosing Joy - Mary Carver at

My friend — and fellow (in)courage writer — Sara Frankl passed away in 2011, but she is still teaching me about choosing joy.

As I worked on the book that tells her story and shares her message of hope and joy, I was amazed and moved to read about the incredible strength Sara drew from her faith. That inner strength allowed her to withstand immeasurable pain both physical and emotional — and to choose joy through it all. I invite you to read an excerpt of our book today, where Sara and I share a common question — How DO you choose joy? — and her answer.

If there’s one phrase Sara used most often in her blog, it was, “I am so blessed, people.” I lost count of the times she began a post giving an update on the latest hard thing in her life, something that had me in tears and would bring the strongest person to her knees, and still wrapped up her thoughts with, “I’m so blessed.”

My reaction to that kind of gratitude and joy, more often than I’d like to admit, was astonishment. “Who DOES that?” I’d ask my computer screen. Though I was talking to myself each time that happened, I wasn’t alone. Family, friends, and blog readers alike found Sara’s joy unfathomable at times, and wanted to know how she managed to stay so positive.

I talk a lot about being grateful and choosing the joy. And we’ve talked a lot about different ways to keep that focus in our lives. But I don’t just plop my feet on the floor every day and see sunshine and rainbows because I’ve chosen to live a happy life regardless of circumstance. It’s not quite that simple – but I realized that in all my talk about this, I have never mentioned the number one thing I do to stay positive, keep my joy, and focus on gratitude.

I ask God to help me make the choice.

I seriously about slapped my hand to my forehead and gave myself a V-8. I can’t believe I forgot to tell you my step one, the step that matters! I want to make sure you all know that before I’m able to make the decision to choose joy, before I am able to look at that silver lining I’m always grasping to see, before I can stop and see the blessing in the midst of the rubble, I am asking Him to open my eyes.

I’m asking Him to change my heart, to change my vision, to create the desire in me to be joyful when I want to close my eyes to all that surrounds me. I close my eyes and open my heart and ask the One who is the only answer. I ask Him to help me. Today, as my pain was crazy and my soul was tired and the exhaustion clouded my mind, I asked Him to allow me to be the person He made me to be. I asked the One who gives us everything to help me see everything the way He sees everything.

I also remember that this life is not about me and choose to give thanks to the God who loves me. That is what keeps my spirits up. It’s my focus on praising instead of dwelling on my own circumstances. It’s not always easy, but it is something I have to choose to do if I am going to live the life He needs me to.

When things are going smoothly, when things are difficult, when life is in that in-between we don’t know what to do with, the fact remains that God is good all the time. And that is worth praising Him for. That knowledge, that belief, and that attitude of praise is what shapes who we can be in this life for Him.

He knows my past, present, and future. He is surprised by nothing. He is with me, never leaves me even when I feel alone, and holds me up even when I think I am standing on my own two feet. He is good. All the time. I am going to ask Him to help me see that, and I will praise Him through all of it.

Choose Joy - Recommended Reads at

If you enjoyed this excerpt from Choose Joy: Finding Hope & Purpose When Life Hurts, you can purchase your own copy at the DaySpring store or read more about the book and its authors at

Sara Frankl passed away in 2011 at the age of 38, but her legacy of choosing joy lives on.  Known as “Gitzen Girl” or “Gitz,” Sara was a writer and an artist, a doting aunt and godmother, and a devoted fan of frozen Oreos, cute jeans, Harry Potter marathons, and the inspiring quotes she used to cover canvases, blog posts, and her walls. Though an autoimmune disease stripped Sara of the potential for a family and a future, she didn’t let that stop her from developing deep relationships through online communities that, even today, are inspired by her message of hope. Sara learned — and then shared — that a life full of joy is a matter of choice and no painful circumstance can take that from us. You can read Sara’s story on her blog, Gitzen Girl, and support her ministry with the Choose Joy Foundation.

Mary Carver is a writer, speaker, and recovering perfectionist. She lives for good books, spicy queso, and television marathons, but she lives because of God’s grace. Mary writes about her imperfect life with humor and honesty, encouraging women to give up on perfect and get on with life, at She is also a regular contributor to (in),, and Mary and her husband live in Kansas City with their two daughters.

  • Pamela

    Sara touched me deeply. Her dowloaded words were something I came across a bit ago and reminded me of her joy. Joy is something I am deeply seeking presently – attempting to find or create here and now even thought I feel very differently. Mary, thank you for keeping Sara’s message, Jesus’ message alive. Thank you.

    • Mary Carver

      Pamela, thank you for your kind words. I’m constantly encouraged by Sara’s words and am grateful to hear how she continues to change hearts even now.

  • Amanda

    Sara was a dear friend to me. When her illness was at its worst, I was going through an untimely liver transplant at age 23. (Also due to an autoimmune disease) Even on her hardest, most painful days, she would send me encouraging emails, and we would exchange prayers and thoughts together. I’ll never forget what a gift to the world God sent us in Sara, even though her time was so limited. God’s ways are perfect, and He showed us that by sending Sara. Sara let God use her in such beautiful ways. I’ll always miss her, but we take joy knowing that she isn’t in any pain anymore!

    • Mary Carver

      Thank you for sharing part of your story with us, Amanda! I’m so grateful Sara touched your life in such an encouraging way!

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Mary, thank you for sharing this amazing post, and the graphic. Such simplicity yet, profundity in the asking for the eyes to see. The heart to choose. When I don’t understand why He’s allowed friends to get sick, and be in pain, to walk through such hard things, I must remember (and maybe be the reminder) that God is Good. All the time. When we can look beyond our circumstances into the truth of who God is, then we can see His goodness. Then we can ask Him to help us choose joy.

    I’ll be meditating on this post today. Thank you so much for sharing Sara’s words.

    • Mary Carver

      You’re so welcome, Jeanne! Spending so much time with Sara’s words has helped me make this – the CHOOSING – more of a habit. But even so, I must keep asking Him to keep me focused and help me choose!

  • Anna Smit

    Mary, your words and those of Sara are so uplifting and encouraging. I am so sorry for your deep loss, but thankful to God for using it to His Glory. Your words (especially: I asked Him to allow me to be the person He made me to be.) remind me of one of my Mum’s favorite Scriptures from Philippians 4 (she passed away from brain cancer):

    “Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”

    And one of my new favorites from Colossians 3:

    Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. HE is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.

    For the first time really, I noticed that one little verse: “HE is your life.” And because HE is our life, nothing, absolutely nothing can defeat us or overcome us. Praise God!!!

    • Mary Carver

      Beautiful scriptures to focus on, Anna! Thank you for sharing (and I’m so sorry to hear of your loss as well).

  • Nancy Ruegg

    You’re right, Mary: Step One is to ask God to help me choose joy. On the tough days, trying to muster up joy by sheer will power doesn’t work anyway. And asking him to open my eyes will no doubt open the door of my attitude as well, so negativity can be dismissed, and positivity welcomed. Last, praising God no matter what is a powerful joy-maker. Thank you, Mary! (Now Lord, may I put into practice what I know to be true!)

    • Mary Carver

      I’m so grateful for this reminder from Sara! It’s so simple – and so easily overlooked as the way to follow through on our commitment to choosing joy!

  • Diane Lynn

    I’m sorry that I didn’t know Sara. She sounds like an amazing person.

  • Rinske

    Here we are on January 12th, which is 7 days after the book release, and until now I managed not to buy it but wait and put it on my wishlist. But right now? I failed :). Just ordered it, unfortunately now I have to wait 5-7 days until it arrives here in the Netherlands.

    I remember watching her story on Youtube for the first time, and I was a mess, feeling kind of “sad” I didn’t had the chance to meet her (whether online or in real life), because I joined the (in)Courage community just over a year ago, but I’m looking forward to hug her in Heaven.

    So grateful God brought this online community into my life. Thank you Mary for sharing Sara’s message!

    • Mary Carver

      Seven days after the release sounds like the perfect time to “give in” and buy it. Thank you! I hope you are encouraged by Sara’s story in book form!!

      • Rinske

        Oh no doubt about that, I think it will be the perfect time to learn her lessons looking at where I’m at in life. (Yay anxiety disorder…)

        Now where am I gonna find the patience to wait another 5-7 workdays until it will be delivered at my door….

  • Rachel Lundy

    I just finished reading this book for the second time last night. It is so helpful, encouraging, and filled with joy. Thank you, Mary, for helping to tell Sara’s story! Your words wove the story together beautifully.

  • Beth Williams

    Thank you for this great post of one amazing woman. I often don’t choose joy in the midst of my troubles! Her story is so inspiring!! I will strive to be more like her and ask God for the strength to choose joy in all circumstances!! Only God can help us dismiss the negativity of life at that minute!!
    Blessings :)