At first, the story I’m going to tell you will sound like a sad story, a hard story. This story has been both of those things: sad and hard. But like most good stories, there have been surprises along the way, and that’s where the story gets good.
Can I tell you more?
If you read my blog or follow me on social media, you know that my family has been trudging through a season of hard lately. Dad underwent a leg amputation, and because of complications, he is still in a wheelchair. Meanwhile, my mom was hospitalized on Christmas Eve with a life-threatening infection. She’s much better, but still in the hospital. Over the last eight weeks, there have been cry fests, and meltdowns, and pleading prayers. We’ve been plagued by worst-case scenarios and – we confess – sometimes we’ve worried about things more than we’ve prayed about them. That’s the bummer part of this story.
But wait; there’s more.
While Mom recuperates at a small rural hospital near my home, Dad has been living with us. I consider it a privilege to care for Dad during these difficult days.
Mondays are laundry day at our house, and on Dad’s first Monday here, I happily washed his clothes. But I couldn’t get over the fact that after I pulled all of Dad’s clothes from the dryer, there wasn’t a single sock match! I mean, this is sort of a chronic problem for all of us, right? One always has to wonder where all those sock matches go. But a whole load? Without a single match? I was stumped.
I told Dad about it, shaking my head, just absolutely flabbergasted and apologetic over the Mystery of the Lost Socks.
To which he raised his amputated leg in the air, laughed, and said, “Jennifer. Jennifer. You didn’t lose the socks. I only have one foot. And therefore, I only wear one sock at a time.”
This is one of the best surprises I’ve learned on this journey: you don’t have to wait for life to be perfect to decide to be happy. You don’t have to wait for the perfect bill of health, the perfect house, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect church, the perfect body, or the perfect job. We all have a choice: to live a life of wild freedom – the kind that has your smile climbing all the way up into your eyes.
Looking at that picture of Dad, I see what it means to choose happiness in the middle of the hard. Dad is one of these incredibly optimistic people. But choosing happiness under circumstances such as these is difficult, even for an optimist. I’ll state the obvious: Dad did have his leg partially removed. He is in a wheelchair. His wife is facing the biggest physical battle of her life.
Yet, he lifts that stump of a leg in the air and gives the world a smile.
One of the things that makes Dad’s happiness so real and durable is that he has always made a space for us to cry. He doesn’t just tolerate our tears; he invites them. Which reminds me, we probably all need to draft a joint resolution that states the following: “It’s okay to not be okay.”
Like most wise people I know, Dad realizes that the price of admission to life on earth is this: some amount of suffering. But he also knows that, in some way, this suffering readies your soul for a deeper joy that you would not have known otherwise. Rumi once said: “Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter.”
I imagine it like this: Suffering hitches a ride on your tears, floats downstream, and then at last, there’s room within you to experience the joy for which you were created. Your eyes have been washed clean by tears, and only then, can you look around at your own beautiful life, and see that God is standing nearby. He did not leave you alone down here! Your fresh eyes find slivers of happiness, making your ordinary life glisten. You find arms opened wide enough to fall into. You find places in hospital hallways to have a good old-fashioned meltdown, and then, surprise! You’re suddenly laughing at a doctor’s well-timed joke.
This is real life – a surprising mix of the hard and the happy, the suffering and the sweet. Sometimes, that switch flips in the same day, the same hour, the same minute.
Where are you today, friend?
Maybe, like me, you’ve lost the socks. Maybe you’ve lost your sanity. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Or maybe you’ve lost a little faith along the way.
Go ahead, now, and have a good cry. If you want to cry with someone, imagine that you’re sitting with me and my parents. We’d cry with you, my friend, and we’d pat your weary head for a good long while. We know you’d do the same for us. Let sorrow hitch a ride on your tears, and then wait for the big surprise. It’s coming, I promise you, and it will be good. When the time is right, you will lift your stump to the sky – or maybe you will lift your calloused hands, your tear-streamed face, your tired eyes, your hard-earned smile. Whatever you have, lift it up. Lift it all up! It’s your offering.
And then wait for it: one more surprise. See Him there? God is looking upon you, saying with great gusto: “I’m so glad I gave life to someone who truly appreciated the gift.”
YOUR TURN: Where have you found happiness, or even laughter, in an unexpected place? Also, do any of you know where the lost socks really do go?