“We have our lives to bear, our bags to burden. But we just buy and wear the plastic version of love, hope and understanding. But we can’t survive on candy” Gavin DeGraw
Candy and a hot, old, stinky yellow school bus–that got me to church. I am not even a candy eater, but it is the reason I got on that bus to go to church from downtown Jacksonville. I affectionately refer to them as “Safe Sunday’s”. Safe from all that life threw at me the other 6 days of the week.
So, I didn’t mind the hot bus. I didn’t mind that it felt like we were constantly driving over potholes and curbs at street corners. I didn’t mind how loud it was. We got on the bus and we got candy, or breakfast as it often became. That was the deal, bags of candy connecting me with safety, a meal and Jesus. Suffice it to say by the time we crossed over to the “good side” of the train tracks, our leaders at church inherited a bunch of kids on sugar highs.
It was an elaborate scheme, though; because once we were there they had plenty for us to do to burn off that candy. Games, competition and singing waited for us as we stepped off that old bus and onto a much safer piece of soil we’d left behind us. Those games burned every Now and Later, Lemon Head, gum or fire ball that we had consumed. Those Sunday mornings are some of my favorite childhood memories. It was a reprieve from locked doors, empty refrigerators and angry men. That bus ride was worth every bit of sweat and motion sickness.
First up were always games. It is with both pride and a little embarrassment that I admit that winning those games was, um, fairly important to me. It is because of those “games” I have scripture memorized, scripture that is hidden in my heart. Scripture verses that I cling to and have clung to when I’d thrown my Bible across a room or couldn’t find one. The verses that I memorized on “Safe Sunday’s” became the same scripture verses that followed me when I certainly wasn’t following Him. Because as the years progressed that kid on the bus and God became strangers. Life just couldn’t be fixed by candy.
After we played games, we sang songs. Those songs, also hidden in my heart, have gotten me through hospital stays, life threats, “stand-offs” with God and a crisis of faith.
If you were to ask most people “what is the first physical attribute you notice about Amy?”. Overwhelmingly, the answer would be “her smile”. I look in the mirror and I see evidence of that smile as I vaguely begin to see evidence in the way of well-earned smile lines; but I notice I don’t have any evidence of a frown line. If you were to ask those same people that same question in the form of a non-physical attribute, that answer would be that I love to laugh, and that I like to make people laugh.
I would say those people would be accurate. If you know me outside of work, I don’t take myself too seriously. And I am always up for a good laugh. But sometimes there is a perception that there isn’t a reason to smile or laugh, and to that end, I begin to wonder when the frown lines will appear.
I could tell you when this happened, and the event that made it happen, and somewhere along the way, this event stole from me. It stole my my smile, and quieted my laughter. A few months ago a close family member said, “you don’t laugh anymore, you don’t smile anymore” I knew my facade was blown. After she said that I looked in the mirror and it was evident that some of the light in my eyes was beginning to dim. I could explain it to you, and maybe I will, but what I did know was that I needed to go to the mat with the one Who made me and figure out where the signature smile was hiding and how to learn to laugh again.
I’d managed all these years, through all the trauma, so why now? Where is my joy, and what does that even mean?
On “Safe Sundays” we used to sing…
“I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart…. and if the devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tact…”
So, I am left on a journey to answer my own questions about joy, true Joy, where it went and how to get it back. I know I have it; it’s a matter of finding it; and confronting the things that steal it.
It’s time; it’s time to practice deep-water faith in the shallow end. Candy can’t fix this, but the sweetness of the gift of the Holy Spirit can fix it. And so I say:
“Holy Spirit you are welcome here, come flood this place into the atmosphere, Your heart is what my heart longs for to be overcome by your presence Lord”
It’s a journey to find, understand and live true Joy. And when I do, the signature smile will be back all the time. But for such a time as this, it’s time for me to remember, Joy comes in the morning.