The lady across the street from my childhood home owned an organ. Her name was Joan. We must have been at Joan’s house for a Christmas party because I vaguely recall many people gathering around as she sat on a little bench. Then, her feet pressed long boards which made sounds like a cow.
Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king!
Joan’s organ wheezed while everyone sang.
Ever since, Joy to the World has stirred up odd associations: Pants suits and root beer. Feet and cows bellowing. Adults you never heard sing, singing.
December was off to a strange start. One of my children was scheduled to travel far away and I was nervous. It’s a tough month, anyway. Three of my four grandparents died in Decembers-past and they did Christmas well. One grandmother was lavish with her gifts and time. She baked cookies and decorated them gorgeously. Each was a work of art. My other grandmother covered her sparse national forest-obtained trees in jewel-toned German glass and mesmerizing bubble lights. She placed delicate dishes on tables and filled them with dainty hard candies that looked like they were painted by fairies. Her favorite Christmas music spun on a turntable in the corner. Chorales sang old carols in minor key. The needle made popping sounds as The Coventry Carol or What Child is This hummed out into her small, hot, living room.
I wanted to go back to a kitchen table and sneak swipes of almond-flavored cookie frosting. I wanted to go back to that living room and sit quietly and gaze at a tree in the dark. My heart was prepared in those places by thoughtfulness, generosity, beauty, and love and now it was up to me, with these great women of God gone, to step in.
They loved Jesus so much, they are with him now.
I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to my kid and I didn’t want to start cobbling together our family Christmas when I felt so lonely for my grandmothers and afraid about my kid going so far away.
I prayed and I waited.
One evening, close to sunset, I went on a walk around a lake near our house. It was cold. The lake held up thin sheets of ice patches, especially near the reed-lined shore. Ducks hid between tall stalks and goose braved the center of the lake. Where the water wasn’t frozen, it was so cold that when the geese swam, the water parted behind them and didn’t flow back together instantly. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.
It was beautiful. Clouds reflected off the glassy spots of water. As the sun dove behind the mountains, the clouds and water turned orange. I veered off the gravel path down to the edge of the water. Just as I reached it, a breeze swelled and stroked the tall brown flat stalks growing out of the water. Each brushed another in a wave. It sounded like a whisper and Jesus was there. I felt him even though I couldn’t see him. The breeze stopped and so did the waving reeds.
…and heaven and nature sing!
Joy found me.
I get irritated by the message of “choose joy!” Okay, I tell myself as I inventory all my choices. I can be gritty, grim, dark, skeptical, uneven, pessimistic or hey! How about this? I take it off the shelf and unfurl. I’m going to choose joy!
This joy thing is as easy as a cardigan, they imply. It isn’t.
Joan’s feet pushed blonde wood boards to make the organ moo Joy to the World. Joy is root beer, pants suits, and Legos strewn around and I didn’t choose any of it. My parents took me across the street and I heard them sing.
When you tell someone lonely or afraid all they have to do is choose joy, it’s a bit of a punch in the face. Happiness can be a vantage, a choice, a state of mind where you choose to see the upside of situations. Contentment is also something people learn to settle into. It’s a groove in soft brown wood and you, the little silver ball that has finally landed in the carved out cup. Game, won.
But joy? It’s the kind of thing angels bring to shepherds on hillsides. It’s good news that embraces you. It’s what makes you run run run down the hill to the barn under the star and you don’t remember how you got there.
Suddenly, there’s a baby lying right there on a pile of long sweet stalks. They waved in response to a kicked-up breeze, whispering their destiny and mine.
“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.”
― C. S. Lewis from Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
May the ‘about to be’ come in a whisper filled with lavish quieting and stirring love.