A couple weeks ago, I found myself in the trenches. Drama started with a phone call every parent dreads. “Hello, I’m sorry but your child has lice, and we need you to pick her up from school immediately.”
My scalp itched just hearing it. Distress followed: Am I imagining bugs crawling on my head? Do my husband and other daughter have lice? Are bugs crawling all over the house? Can dogs catch lice from humans? Can humans catch lice from dogs?
My husband and I washed bedding, stuffed animals, and clothes. We swept and vacuumed furniture and floors. We shampooed and meticulously combed hair, grossing out over writhing bugs and dozens of nits. Hours later, I began coughing. Exhausted, I went to bed with a mean flu, leaving my husband to wing the chaos alone. We hadn’t eaten dinner, or helped the kids with homework, or packed up the Christmas tree (as planned).
“How long will I be sick?” I moaned. “Please God don’t allow anything else to happen.”
I awoke the following morning to sad news that a beloved cousin had passed away.
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It couldn’t have been better timing for me to read the opening chapters of Margaret Feinberg’s new book Fight Back With Joy. Honestly, I thought of backing out of a commitment I’d made to write a review of it last November. Initially, the thought of fighting back with joy exhausted me. Wasn’t it enough that I was fighting lice, pneumonia, and grief? Why not just pull the covers over my head and indulge some self-pity? Curiosity soon got the better of me, and I decided to explore what Margaret had to say.
What is joy? How do we get it? What does it do for us? What do we do with joy once we find it?
Margaret embarks on a search for true joy. She first conducts experiments aimed at lowering anxiety and mandating kindness. A homemade worry-o-graph actually raises her anxiety. A commitment to saying “yes” to everything and everyone results in exhaustion and getting little to nothing done. Margaret discovers that attempts to nurture joy actually carry her further from the virtue of joy she longs for.
She encourages us to take serious inventory of our definitions of joy. It isn’t something we magically catch “like fireflies in a jar.” Rather, it is something we gain when we lean into Jesus especially when we least expect to find it. She writes: “In my case, God interrupted my misguided joy experiment in order to take me on a joy expedition.” p. 8 Margaret goes on to share what she learned about joy while staring down the unimaginable–a diagnosis of breast cancer.
Contrary to popular thinking, Margaret discovers that joy is not a fluffy feeling or the byproduct of a life well lived. ”More than whimsy, joy is a weapon used to fight life’s battles.” Sometimes it comes to us through others “as a gift of grace.” Just as often “it requires intentionality.” p. 7
Even when facing depression, loneliness, tears, and turmoil, the “tigerish love of God” works fiercely in our favor. God guards us, protects us, grows us, strengthens us, and compels us to walk in greater trust and holiness. No matter the fight, God is with us and for us. In the midst of battles, we discover that God’s character and affection is more than we ever imagined. Fighting back with joy emanates from the truth that “the darkness does not and will not win.” p. 19
Turning to Scripture, Margaret demonstrates that God’s character and all of creation is founded in joy. God percolated with delight when knitting together the world. “Joy springs from God and all that exists is born with joy.” p. 21 Even those who don’t know Jesus receive wonderful gifts (a cheerful word, a surprise birthday party, a good day’s work, sweet wine, extra virgin olive oil . . . and more). Those who know Jesus are guaranteed a new dimension of “life and joy including forgiveness, restoration, salvation, comfort, the law and decrees, God’s presence, and homecoming.” p. 22 Margaret explains that joy is our heritage, purpose and destiny. Although none of us trip through life unscathed, the truth that we are loved by our Creator—fiercely loved—imbues us with joy to rise above any circumstance.
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One discouraging morning, last week, I ran to the grocery store after realizing the cupboards and refrigerator were bare. While selecting some produce, something gently floated into my cart. Looking up, I marveled over a runaway red balloon hovering beside me. It was as if Jesus whispered, “I see you. Don’t worry. I’ve got this covered.”
Life is far from normal. We’re still catching up on laundry. Thankfully we have seen no further signs of lice. Two weeks and two rounds of antibiotics later, I have recovered from pneumonia although I’m swimming in deadlines and my Christmas tree still stands (oh well). While I continue grieving the loss of my cousin, I have an utter sense that he is well with Jesus. I’m grateful to friends and family who offered practical support and prayers. I’m glad too for the wisdom contained in Margaret’s Feinberg’s book Fight back with Joy. Above all, I’m indebted to the One who makes joy possible even in the trenches.
This post was written as part of Margaret Feinberg’s blog tour for the release of Fight Back with Joy. Purchase a copy of Fight Back With Joy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Or for the 6 week bible study DVD series for your small group, click here. Don’t miss the Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.