It’s a Hurting World. But don’t let that Discourage You.

Due to some technical difficulties, none of my blogs for 2021 ever actually posted. So, the good news is that I have a backlog of posts all written and ready to go and never yet viewed by another human being. The bad news is that life changes so quickly that what I wrote a year ago seems dated and irrelevant.

In fact, reading my unposted News Years’ post for 2021 felt a lot like pulling out leftovers from a delicious meal only to realize that 45 seconds in a microwave will not do much to revive the cold lumps of has-been cuisine. It’s over. Let them go.

But interestingly, I read a much older New Years post I had written (you can read it here) that still seemed to resonate with me. You see, even as I said “Happy New Year” while bustling through the airport on the first of January, I carried a certain guilt in throwing around the shallow greeting when I know so many hurting–truly hurting–people.

It seems all the dust kicked up in 2020 was settling in unpleasant places in 2021. Friends were dealing with life threatening issues. Friends lost jobs. Some battled with deep inner struggles. Some had difficulties in their marriages or in parenting. We all agonized over a world ever losing its mind.

If I am choosing to be happy, is it because I’m shallow and uncaring? Out of touch with reality? Still on a sugar buzz?

On the other hand, it hardly seems like a good idea to just let myself be down and discouraged. As the fun of the holidays passed and we returned to normal life again, I found myself wanting to choose joy in a hurting world and yet feeling a little awkward. Is it okay to be okay?

I watch my girls often as they laugh and play completely oblivious often to my own inner hurts and struggles much less the mayhem of the world we live in. And then I often have to force myself into sympathy when I see how distraught they become over the silliest of things.

And so it occurred to me…who I am to judge in my feeble mind what is the right placement of hope and grief? Even though I care about my friends and their struggles, I confess I don’t know what is truly best for them. I feel like my sense of what is important and what is not is more sophisticated and mature than my kids’ drama, but then, that’s not a very high standard. How often am I worked up about something only to find later that it doesn’t matter?

My thoughts turned to Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore.

David, at the time of this writing, is arguably one of the most influential people in the world. He’s the king and Israel is reaching the pinnacle of its importance. He’s amassing wealth that his son, Solomon, will use to build a temple that will bring onlookers from remote parts of the earth. He is considered a military genius. He has experienced incredible blessing of the Lord that enabled him to kill a giant with a sling shot and a lion and bear with nothing but his savvy shepherding skills.

Yet, in Psalm 131, we see him humbling and quieting his soul, confessing that there are things he does not understand, and choosing to hope in God despite his inability to fully comprehend the world around him.

He even chooses the analogy of a small child– I envision a toddler placing his hand in his mother’s, not fully understanding everything that it going on and yet realizing that he doesn’t need to. He can walk along cheerfully–maybe even skip–with the quiet confidence that his mom knows the way.

Maybe that best describes me in the dawn of 2022. I don’t have the naivety to think that the problems of 2021 will evaporate. But I do believe that we can calmly walk on–maybe even skip–knowing God doesn’t expect us to know it all. He encourages us to calm and quiet our souls knowing He has given us everything we need to live joyful, fulfilled lives.

Joy Bells

As a teenager, my dad took us to a small church across town on Sunday evenings. When I say small, that is what I mean. There would be about a dozen people, and seven were my family. The rest were over the age of seventy.

They were sweet people and they loved to have us join their Sunday evening routine. We would open our hymn books and the pastor would take favorites. My sister would accompany on the piano as we picked the same handful of songs. Despite the age of the group, it was not unusual for us to sing “Arky, Arky” and strain our voices to reach the high notes of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.”

After we were sung out, Pastor Dana would preach to us and then the “whole church” would go to Denny’s.

I remember all the members of that small congregation. Best of all, I remember the pastor’s wife, Louise Dana.

I first met Mrs. Dana when I was in kindergarten and I had liked her then.

She always dressed smartly. Her two inch pumps would match her dress and her chunky earrings would match her necklace. She was pleasantly plump—she didn’t bother with any diet that came between her and a banana split. And she had an amazing laugh. She laughed loud and she laughed often. Wherever she was would be a party.

When we started attending some ten years later, Mrs. Dana had not changed a bit and probably neither had the evening routine. Mrs. Dana knew the staff at Denny’s by name and they knew her. We would talk and laugh and she would eat a banana split.

Then came the news that Mrs. Dana had Lou Gehrig’s disease. I didn’t quite believe it–she was so full of life and I just couldn’t imagine her anything but her boisterous self. But she seemed to handle the news well. She would be there every Sunday evening happy.

The effects of the disease came on gradually. Her speech became a little slurred and she became less mobile. We never talked about it at church. Everyone knew; we just didn’t know what to say. Things stayed at their “normal” routine, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” and all.

Her speech continued to get more slurred although she tried hard to communicate. When we couldn’t understand, we’d nod and smile. The evening outing to Denny’s just wasn’t the same though when the boisterous storytelling was replaced by a few laborious phrases. Her mind was still sharp, but everything she wanted to say and every laugh she wanted to laugh was trapped inside and it couldn’t get out.

Then one week we got a new hymn request— “Joy Bells.” And she requested it every week after that. It started, “You may have the joy bells ringing in your heart and the peace that from you never will depart…”

Mrs. Dana couldn’t sing, but she started bringing a bell to church on Sunday nights and she would ring it every time we said “joy bells” and at the end of every line of the chorus. It was her way of letting us know that even though she could no longer laugh, she still had joy in her heart.

One bell was not enough. She brought two…then three…then four…and each week she would ring her bell to make her request and make us ring the bells as we sang. Honestly, it wasn’t very musical. But from Mrs. Dana it was joyful.

Time continued to waste away and so did Mrs. Dana. She had her husband bring Krispy Kreme donuts to church because it was all she could eat and she wanted to share them. Even on a Krispy Kreme diet, she was now less than 90 pounds. She would sit silently in the pew and when we said hello to her, she would do her best to give a slight nod. But when we sang her song, she would ring her bell. That was all she had left.

When I rang my joy bell, it was neither musical nor joyful. I would be too choked up to sing. I felt strongly for this dear woman whose body could no longer communicate in the ways she loved best.

Or maybe it did. I doubt any of us who knew Mrs. Dana will ever forget the joy that was her strength in the most difficult of circumstances. She expressed it in a means and with a fervency that none of us will ever forget.

That was probably 16 years ago, and I haven’t sung “Joy bells” since her funeral. But I’ve thought of it many times—always with the collection of souvenir handbells ringing in the background. And I know that in heaven, Mrs. Dana is talking and laughing again. And on earth, her memory is reminding us that despite our circumstances, we’ve been instructed to “rejoice always.” Even when you cannot talk and cannot laugh—no excuses. Find yourself a bell and let the world know that you are joyful—even when it is through tears.