Count it all joy even when life is hard or unfair. That’s what we are encouraged to do throughout Scripture.
It’s not easy, but I find when you try to focus on the simple things that bring you joy, life is much more bearable and tolerable. But can there be joy while you keep vigil for days while a loved one clings to life and ultimately passes from this life into eternity?
Yes, joy and sadness can co-exist simultaneously. And it took that sobering reality to resurrect joy in my heart and soul when for far too long joy had been elusive. I’d been praying to find it again after a series of trials left me depleted to no avail. I’d let it escape me until God used another valley experience to help me realize joy is present right alongside sorrow, and it can rise to the surface even in the simplest of things.
God called my brother Chris home in the summer of 2017, but not before He gave him his final assignment here on Earth. God commissioned Chris to teach those who loved him how short life is. Chris taught us how we are not promised a long and easy life. He taught us how to hit our knees when God is all you have left. He taught us how to hope for the best, how to let go and how to die with dignity.
While in hospice care, it was the simple things that delivered the most joy in my brother’s final moments. During the three weeks I spent by his bedside, savoring every moment we had left together, he taught me more about love, life and finding joy than some people learn in a lifetime. What few words he uttered came in whispers. He could not move his arms or legs nor speak much, and yet he spoke volumes. Even his eyes, when he was able to focus, spun a story about love, gentleness and serenity.
Those things that elated and lifted him in his final days are the same things I will cherish for the rest of my life. One day I asked him what he wanted as I was headed out the door to run errands. I told him I’d bring back whatever he desired or if there was a certain someone he wanted to see, I’d make every effort to bring back that special someone. He whispered, “Mom. Bring mom.” Mom was his joy and his comfort.
Mom, who suffers with dementia, visited as much as she was able. And that day, Mom would come once again.
The things that brought my brother joy in those final days and hours were simple and easy. Things so many of us take for granted lit up his eyes or resulted in a smile that transformed his whole face. For him, this is where joy arose:
Joy was in the Hershey chocolate bar that made his tired eyes dance with glee and his parched lips smile in anticipation of the gooey sweetness.
Joy was in the comforting scent of baby powder rubbed into his chest and shoulders.
Joy was in the laughter of his nieces, nephew and grandchildren as their chatter about sports, boyfriends and high-school activities swirled around his hospital bed.
Joy was in hearing Dad talk about football season and his favorite teams.
Joy was in knowing Mom was there in the chair sipping coffee even if he didn’t see the sporadic tears pooling in her worried eyes.
Joy was in the sunshine beaming down from a cloudless sky and warming Chris’ face and arms while he sat in his wheelchair outside the hospital.
Joy was in the frothy, frigid Frappuccino that cooled his dry mouth.
Joy was in his favorite songs played on our smart phones while he soaked up a July sun in the courtyard.
Joy was in the hand massages administered by his doting sister.
Joy was in the John Wayne western played on the iPad that rested upon his chest.
Joy was in his sister’s declaration that he was the best big brother a girl could ever want and her gratitude for always protecting her as they grew up together.
Joy was in the exchange of “I love yous” during one tender, quiet lucid moment between a brother and his sister when no one else was present.
Joy was in breaking all the rules.
It’s been almost a year since my big brother passed, the heart still hurts and the tears still spill.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and how he touched my life. I will be forever grateful to him for reminding me to seek joy in the little things. For me, joy arises in these moments:
It is the smell of coffee brewing, a puppy’s breath and a granddaughter’s first wave with her tiny hand.
It is shooting stars and sloppy wet kisses.
It is driving with your top down in your convertible along a tree-lined country road.
It is a piece of hot apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a cup of homemade hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.
It is a romantic fire in the fireplace while you’re swaddled nearby in a chenille blanket.
It is the feel of sunshine on your skin after a week of gray skies.
It is road trips through the mountains and the smell of fresh-cut grass.
It is witnessing a full-submersion baptism and a newly married couple’s first kiss on the altar.
It is hearing your youngest daughter strum a guitar and sing a simple lullaby.
It is seeing your oldest daughter cuddle her suckling baby and momma resting her weary eyes as she feeds.
It is a lakefront picnic in the park with the mountains in the background and a midnight snowfall that blankets your back yard.
It is spring’s first blooms and winter’s last frost.
It is a freshly plucked strawberry on my tongue and a Pink Lady apple cut into wedges.
It is the sound of your husband breathing quietly next to you in the middle of the night after falling asleep holding hands.
It is roasted marshmallows around the fire pit and long walks on the beach.
It is a brother’s last “I love you” to his sister before the final curtain closes.
It is knowing that tears may come at night, but joy always comes in the morning, according to Psalm 30:5: “The night may be filled with tears, but in the morning we can sing for joy!”
Trials will come. Brothers will pass away. Our faith will be tested. But the comfort of Christ will overcome the darkness and give us fresh hope as is promised in James 1:23: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
The night may be filled with tears, but joy comes in the morning. — Psalm 30:5