a prayer for spreading full blown joy
I love so many hurting people. And the impulse I have, because it’s God obliterating me, is to bring them joy. I want to grab the heavy shadows shrouding them and rip them apart with my hands. I want to free them from the grip of the things that steal their laughter. I want to punish the greedy thief. That’s what I live to do, but mostly, I feel like I bungle it.
I am a dreadfully awkward warrior.
In the afternoons, the wild wind dances through our open windows, lifting our hair. Riley and I sit waiting while Adam walks toward the van after school. The sun glows, warm on our legs, and I am full thankful, counting gifts:
Hair flying, sunglasses, warm skin, bird song, fluttering wings in the grass, dandelions.
Dandelions. This last bit of grace unwrapped makes me laugh out loud, remembering what Kevin said, smiling, when, in the half-light of morning, dandelions made Riley’s gifts list too. “I object,” he’d said, eyes twinkling, pointing to the word dandelion. “Those are weeds. I don’t think we should be thankful for weeds.”
“Hey,” Riley said, and that was all, and the smile I wore over Kevin’s poking at her broke into laughter. I can’t hear Hey tossed out as a statement like that without thinking of us all pressed into each other on the couch, watching Duck Dynasty. Our kids beg to watch with us just to see Kevin and me dissolve into laughter, just to reach out and touch us, collecting the sticky sweet abandon on the tips of their fingers. They catch the humor in their throats until contagious laughter binds all five of us together in a heap, full blown giddy with joy. And they don’t even really understand the jokes.
I love the way our shared laughter builds, the way it echoes still in the middle of the day, in the car under the glowing sun, hours later. Another gift, another treasure plucked up, washed in on oceans of grace.
Dandelions are weeds. Or they’re wishing wands.
In all our living, it’s all a matter of what we choose to see and whether we see with God’s eyes or our own. The truth is that I’m blind, and these might as well be empty holes in my face. Every where I look I see nothing but weeds until He touches me. These gifts I list, they’re what I see through His eyes. They are wishes for my joy, blown by His own breath.
Riley hears me laughing and turns, smile blooming, radiant.
Daughter next to me. Another gift. And laughter (yes…laughter, this gift God grants to remind me of freedom), and that smile.
It’s just a whisper, but I breathe it deep, the hopeful promise of Job’s friend. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy (Job 8:21). Oh, He does. He does.
Riley’s is the prettiest smile I’ve seen, light and free, like the laughter that follows it when I lift my hand and touch her cheek. I absently rub her shoulder with my fingers, and this is what Adam notices, climbing in the van, popping his head between the seats. He drinks in her laughter, thirsty.
I watch my dear friend walk down the sidewalk on her way to my open window. Her curly hair looks wind-tossed too, fiery in places where the sunlight crowns her head. I am still counting gifts:
Real, abiding, free-to-be-me friendship. Light like fire.
We do little more than exchange greetings, compare notes on the day, before I feel Adam tugging at my hand. He reaches from behind me, lifting my fingers, placing my palm on Riley’s shoulder. He leans over, watching her face. Riley looks serious, studying the landscape of school children walking, climbing into cars, waiting. She’s cataloging. I know this. I give her a gentle squeeze and turn back to my friend, letting my hand fall. Riley’s memory. Another gift.
Before I can speak, Adam leans in on me, turning my face with his hand. “May I have laugh, please,” he says, looking from me to Riley and back to me.
Adam lifts my arm, holding it in his hands like a tool. He moves my fingers back and forth in the crook of Riley’s neck, leaning over to study her expression. He grins, bright, showing her. “Ha ha ha ha,” he says, the syllables deep and punctuated. Then he dissolves into genuine giggling, trying to get his sister to catch his eyes.
“Tell her,” I say to him, smiling. “Tell her, ‘I like it when you laugh.'”
“Like it…you laugh,” he says hopefully, looking to Riley.
I make him look at me, insist that he say all the words. “I like it when you laugh.”
He looks at Riley the way he always does these days, eyes full of stars. “Riley, I like it when you laugh.” The words come a little mechanically, but they’re all there.
She grins, that same beautiful smile, the one that travels all the way to her eyes. “I know you do, Adam,” she says.
Adam drops my hand and rubs her shoulder himself, with his own hand, in just the way I’d done moments ago, energy making his circles smaller, more rapid. Riley smiles, but the movements are too rough, too quick.
“May I have laugh please,” he says to me again, and I can see that he means to watch, to learn.
I reach over and lightly tickle Riley’s leg with my fingers, just barely touching her, and she giggles. Adam’s hands flap, excitement pushing its way out, starting at the beaming smile on his face.
He reaches for her, moving his hands back and forth over her leg, but again, his movements are too aggressive. He waits, eager, but she only smiles, appreciating his attention.
“May I have laugh please,” he says to me again, more urgently, glancing over at Riley, who has returned to studying people out the window.
I smile, touching his cheek with my fingers. “You need to be more gentle,” I say to him, and he turns back to Riley, trying again, moving his fingers more slowly, placing his hands with less pressure. The expression on his face, as he looks back to me, says Like this? Riley allows a tiny laugh, looking back to Adam for just a moment.
“See?” I say to him, but I can tell he isn’t satisfied. He wants deep, consuming laughter, abandon, freedom. He wants full blown, unhindered joy.
“May I have laugh please?” He says again. And I know then that yet another Adamism will seep into our speech, that soon we’ll all be requesting laughter like water. Somehow we all prefer his simple, efficient, strong words to our own.
“Try again. But more gentle, like this,” I say, reaching for Riley’s arm, walking my fingers up the underside. She guffaws, turning to me, squirming, the laughter breaking her gaze from the window. Adam grins, sitting tall. He looks like he might fly away, I think, watching his hands flap, if joy could carry him off.
And then it hits me, the understanding that nothing makes him happier than her laughter, that he wants to bring her joy so much that he practices, asking me to teach, desperately studing how.
I remember when Riley first discovered that she could be the cause of a smile, that she could inspire joy and relief. Her verbal skills were stronger, so she tried jokes. For a while, she told the same joke every day. But after a few days, the humor faded for everyone except her. So, we downloaded an app that offered a new, clean joke every day, so that–mercifully—we might do away with the repeat offender. I explained to her that variety was the key, that a worn out joke just wasn’t funny any more. Meticulously, she copied the jokes onto index cards every morning, testing them on Kevin and me for efficacy before tucking them into her book bag. I remember being touched then by how hard she worked just to share joy, just to bring light hearted moments to other people.
Our children are wishing wands held in God’s hands, and their lives the seeds of joy, blown by the breath of the Spirit. God uses them to redefine words I thought I knew, words like important and worthwhile and sacrifice. And He blows right through me, using my children to plant this deep:
Nothing should make me happier than bringing joy to someone else.
Nothing is more worth my study, my time, my practice.
His planting makes me desperate, thirsty for the joy of the hurting. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve stumbled through the trying, my movements too aggressive, my words worn and overused. But God holds me in His hands and the Spirit blows, and my son teaches me what before I could not see, that the best way to be a joy-giver is to carefully watch it given by the One who knows how to do it best. No one knows better how to cast light over darkened hearts, how to give gifts. Without Him, we aren’t warriors at all.
So now I reach awkwardly for God’s arm, to use His fingers instead of my own. And from my lips, as I look into His face, the strong efficient words of my son, a prayer for spreading full blown joy:
May I have laugh, please.