On Choosing Joy

“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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may mature and not lack anything.” James 1:2-4

Many years ago, a desperate and afraid teenager girl was handed a card on the streets of Camden by an elderly woman who stuck out like a sore thumb. The double-sided laminate card resembled one of those bookmarks that sold for 25 cents at the school book fair in elementary school. You know the ones that sat right by the register and were adorned with some sort of animal. For an extra 10 cents you could get one of the 3D lenticular effect ones that move depending on the angle it was held. The thought brought her back for a moment to a time when things that were complicated were interwoven with routine and stability. She looked down at the card in her hand. One side held a bible verse that was quickly dismissed and the other side was neon pink with the words “Choose Joy” written in cursive. “Ha!” she said bitterly as she tossed the card into the street. In that moment she couldn’t think of one thing to be joyful about. Her baby boy was dead, she was homeless, broke, and in a bad state. Anger and resentment started to build up inside her towards the woman who handed her that card. Easy for you to say, she thought.

 She has seen the term “Choose Joy” before. In fact, at one point it was sprawled on her binder written in whiteout. It is one of those mottos thrown in the same category as sayings like, “Follow your heart” and “Live, Laugh, Love.”

These words look great on mugs but do they hold any real meaning?

There is a big difference between happiness and joy. Happiness often depends on external factors, in other words happiness happens to us. Even though we may seek it and pursue it, feelings of happiness is not a choice it’s an emotion. God made us with big emotions but his intent was for us to use them as gauges not guides. When we make decisions based on how we feel we can miss so much of what God has planned for us.

The bible warns of this in Jeremiah 17:9 which reads: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” All of our lives many of us were fed the lie to “follow our hearts” when that very mentality separates us even farther away from our Father.

 If we walked into every situation in life applying the “how does it feel” method instead of God’s truth we are setting ourselves up for failure and to live a life full of inconsistencies. The truth is many days we aren’t going to feel like doing things. We may not feel like working out, spending time with a friend, going to church, serving, or spending time with God. If we live life based on how we feel each day nothing beneficial would be accomplished.   

Our emotions are meant to turn us to God and lucky for us, through Jesus, we were given a better way to lead our lives, through the Holy spirit. Thank the Lord, many years later the scared girl (me) in the story above was given a chance to find out what it meant to “Choose Joy.” When we spend more time with our Father and learn to listen and live spirit led lives wonderful things begin to happen. I’m not saying that it will always be easy or that I will always want to be obedient. Sometimes I drag my feet kicking and screaming like a toddler. But Father knows best and, in the end, it’s always worth it.

Joy is a choice and an attitude of the heart and spirit. James 1:2-4 says, “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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may mature and not lack anything. “

Is it possible to feel joy in difficult times? I believe it is all about shifting your perspective. Gratitude is at the heart of Joy and if you look hard enough there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for. Waking up every morning in prayer followed by reflection in a gratitude journal is one way to remain Joyful. Philippians 4:13 is one of my favorite verses. “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” The bible refers to Joy as contentment in Christ above all else. It is faith that God will give us strength in hard times and if we give up our worries and burdens to Him that is one less weight, we need to carry for ourselves.

Everlasting Father, I thank You for the breath of life that I am fortunate to have every morning. Remind us to continually rejoice in our salvation and to bring everything to you in prayer. My lips sing praise and I give thanks for all you have done for me, Father. Weeping may last overnight but joy comes in the morning. I praise you for strength to face another day. May I continue to praise your name forever. Amen.

A Nurse’s Hands

Not long ago I was out at the mall with my son when we passed by a mall kiosk. I was in kind of hurry so I looked down and tried not to make eye contact. It was clear out of my peripheral vision the woman was trying to get my attention. Before I knew it, she waved to my son. Shoot I’m done for now, I thought. I was right, my sweet boy will say hello and talk to just about anyone. He has been this way all of his life. At 3 years old he proudly yelled in Starbucks after a nice older man held open the trash can lid for him, “See mom! Stranger dangers are NICE!” True story and today was no different. The woman asked my son if he was enjoying his summer and I could see she was holding a bottle of luxury hand lotion. Once he was finished giving her a detailed account of his summer, she quickly made eye contact with me and asked if I was interested in trying the lotion, for free, of course. I felt obligated at this point seeing as her and my son were now besties, so I obliged.  

As she began to massage my hands with the thick cream that smelled of lemon and green tea from the $25 a bottle lotion she held, she made a face. “Your hands are very dry! What do you do for a living?” “I’m a nurse,” I answered. She nodded, “That explains it.”

Often unpolished, dry, and cracked from constant handwashing a nurse’s hands are vital to perform an array of tasks. It is a physical and very hands on trade.  A nurse’s hands hold steady as we inject a vaccine into a squirming toddler with gentleness and accuracy.  Hands that guide our stethoscopes over the hearts of babies and the elderly alike. With these hands we squeeze the bulb of a sphygmomanometer to get a precise blood pressure reading on a patient with a splitting headache.  Our hands pass out lifesaving medications, dress wounds, remove stitches, and apply oxygen masks. Our hands have seen more bodily fluid then one would like to admit. These hands have applied pressure to stop bleeds and held urgent lab reports. Hands that cramp up at the keyboard from the massive amount of documentation required and hands that administer chest compressions 2 inches deep during CPR, desperately trying to save a life.

Anyone who has been to a doctor’s office or hospital has witnessed a nurse performing one or all of these tasks, but our hands can tell you stories far more than what meets the eye.

These same hands that perform lifesaving tasks do much more than you will ever learn in nursing school. You see these hands have held a sick child rocking them to sleep when their parents couldn’t be with them. These hands have held the hands of the dying and embraced mourning family members. These hands have brushed the hair of those who could not do so themselves and patiently fed those who could no longer hold a fork. These hands have held story books and played peek a boo trying to make a child smile.

These hands have held the salty tears from our eyes after particularly hard shifts and have been clasped together tightly as we fall on our knees and cry out in prayer for our patients.

I don’t ever expect to be remembered by my patients but if I am, I hope it is for these things and not the skills that are required of me.

I left the mall that day with a bottle of expensive new hand lotion and a smile on my face. At least I know the next time I hold the hand of a patient I will have the softest hands they will have ever held, or at least that’s what the saleswoman told me.

I would love to hear from you! What are some things you hope to be remembered for by your patients?