One day, last week, it happened; spontaneous joy over an everyday mundane. One of my children was straining over the hand-held cheese grater, trying his best to keep it over his soup bowl while simultaneously press the handle with one hand and turn the crank with his other. His eyes were almost crossed with consternation. I think his tongue may have been poking out one side of his mouth.
After great effort and unasked for help from siblings, shredded cheddar finally came ribboning out in delicate threads, curling into one another, falling like wood shavings from a master carpenter’s workbench. It delicately piled atop soup (I think ham & bean), with only a little missing the bowl, decorating the table. I thought it looked almost too lovely to eat, deserving a professional photo-shoot and spot in some warm and lovely home-living magazine.
In that moment – the child grating cheese moment – my heart lifted and nothing but joyful praise swelled within my soul. The looming clock stopped ticking, the “next thing” stopped hounding. For a moment, I lived free.
In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp recounts similar moments. I think she even has a cheese moment and I think I remember rolling my eyes slightly when I read it. It’s been months since I’ve read the book, over a week since I’ve added to my own list of gratitudes (I think I’m hovering somewhere under 100); but the spontaneous joy I felt reminded me of her list-making of thanksgivings – iridescent bubbles and old men in grocery stores, giant moon nights and, yes, I think even cheese.
I loved my cheese moment. I wish I had more of them; times of living completely in the present; drinking in the gift of now. Instead, my mind is a mad race to stay ahead of life – everyone’s life – while I struggle to make sense of my own.
For nearly two years after my Ethiopian loves came home I lost touch with all such joy moments. Life became about survival then about control then learning to release such tight-fisted living – over and over and over again. A little after year one, the crushing shoulder weight bared down less hard and after year two it pressed even lighter. Somewhere in the middle I managed to feel a nudge towards writing in more than just my journal. I came home one day from Barnes & Noble with four books on writing, because all life’s adventures must start with several books to aid in inspiration and guide the way.
I began writing more carefully on my blog. I tried writing an essay on adopting my only daughter and it was horribly trite and shallow. I tried to figure out what kind of writing I like and am good at, which I am still trying to figure out to this day. With the help of another writing friend, I pitched a local paper with a ‘mom’ column, which was passed onto a local magazine publication and from there, I began writing travel articles, human interest stories and, most recently a sarcastic quip on military cologne (deep, I know). I wrote regularly over the summer for Patch.com and will have my first national publication piece (written on one of our wounded warriors) appear in spring. Last month I took a really big leap and joined The Redbud Writer’s Guild. I say ‘big leap’ because joining felt like coming out of the I-wanna-be-a-writer closet and actually wearing the shirt: I AM A WRITER.
Opening the writing chapter of my life is very exciting and God-given. Somehow, in my hands, however, it’s easily squished, flattened and compartmentalized; then stressed over.
Outwardly, life is moving along fairly well – whatever that means. Our children are happy, busy, active, smartly growing people, Superman’s career is forever moving forward, I’m over my broken foot, back to running and seem to have a little ‘career’ of my own working on taking shape. Why not more joy moments? Why so much quiet haranguing and louder grumbling? Why are there always so many darn flies in my ointment?
People often say my voice projects. Friends can hear me across soccer fields. But, if you think my outer voice is loud, you should hear my mind. It deafens me with concerns: What does this behavior mean? Is it because he’s adopted? Are we still bonding? Why does she make me so angry so quickly? Where will we be in two years? Will we still homeschool? Will I ever run any faster? Why do I care? So what if I do care? Why am I writing? What if I fail? What if no one likes my writing? What should my niche be? What if I suck? I must build a platform? Why? So I can jump off it and be done hearing all this d@%$ noise IN MY HEAD!!!
Richard Foster, in his book, Prayer, offers the “Prayer of Rest.” In it, he says, we learn to live in the “eye of the storm” – while all is chaos and confusion around us, we live in deep serenity and stability. Even in the midst of intense personal struggle, we are restful and relaxed.
One of the practices he mentions for leading one into the Prayer of Rest is the practice of “silencio, or the stilling of… ‘creaturely activity.’” It is not the silence of words necessarily, but the silence of earthly grasping and manipulative control over people and situations. Standing firm against our need to control everyone and everything – especially those things which feel out of our control. In the practice of ‘silencio’ we still every motion not rooted in God, silence our souls and cup our ear to hear the quiet direction and voice of the One who knows and cares deeper than we could ever worry.
My head-noise keeps me from experiencing spontaneous joy. It certainly keeps me from living serenely in the eye of the storm. Yet, in those moments of heedless, spontaneous praise, I know it’s possible and — even more — it’s essential. All those questions may or may not have answers, but one thing’s for certain. They won’t be resolved by direct force and more loudness. I suspect they won’t be answered by fearing what others ultimately think of me, my writing, my living, or my choices, either.
My children love hearing me laugh. “Mom, I haven’t heard you laugh that loud in a long time!” one said the other day. That made me a little sad and then my head tried to turn it into more noise, but I stopped it. Instead, I continued in the spontaneous joy and laughed harder.
When was the last moment you remember experiencing spontaneous joy and deep gratitude?