Growing up, I was an average-type athlete. I might make the team, but usually not the starting lineup. Although loyal and hardworking, I was never the star on the court or on the field. But the summer after fifth grade, I had finally risen to the top of the pitcher pile for the Harper Youth Softball team. I wrote in my diary that I was “the #1 pitcher.” I practiced with the pitchback every day, braving the scorched front yard in the dry June heat. I worked hard at practice to make sure I didn’t disappoint. The summer of ’76 was mine. And then the unthinkable happened: I broke my arm one day while I was babysitting. I was crushed. My career was over. I never played softball again.
Just a few weeks later, my little brother was at an auction playing on some equipment for sale and fell. To my mother’s utter astonishment, he broke his arm. That summer everyone asked if we’d all been in a car wreck. What really happened that summer is that I formed a lifelong bond with my little brother that I may never have done, sans the broken limbs. I wasn’t so grateful in 1976, but I sure am today. My brother is a close friend and encourager even though we haven’t lived in the same city since high school. Those casts represented a gift that I didn’t recognize at the time. And that summer while all my friends were going to the pool or the softball field, my joy went with them.
As much as we can try to protect our joy, sometimes it seems to evaporate when we’re not looking. Other times it takes a major life event to steal our joy. We are not alone. We are not unique. David talked to God about this in Psalm 51: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” David wanted his joy back. His may have slipped away amid poor choices and the resulting consequences, but he knew it. This man after God’s own heart saw something missing in his own and wanted to have it again. The takeaway here is that David recognized that his joy was gone before it was too late. We all feel joy fade and disappear during our lives. It can happen for many reasons. But we must relentlessly pursue it until we get it back.
I have found the best way of reclaiming lost joy is through gratitude. I have signs all over my house to remind myself to be grateful. It is so easy to drown in our pain or in our comfort, and forget to be grateful.
As I have journaled over the past two years, sometimes I’ve been angry. Many times I was scared. But as I reread some of it now, I am often surprised at the times I was grateful. A journal entry after I attended a WomenHeart Champion Symposium at Mayo Clinic last October:
Gratitude has always been in play here, and I was reminded of its importance this weekend. They played a Ted Talk on the gift of a brain tumor. It was raw and real and hit surprisingly close to home. I do feel like my illness was a gift. I would never have had it Amazon–primed to myself, but I am grateful that it arrived at my doorstep, regardless of how this all ends. I have learned to trust, God and people. I have learned that I don’t have to be in control and it will be ok. I’ve learned that I can and should let little things go, but more importantly, never let go of the little things. I have learned to deal with my own form of PTSD and survivor guilt. I have learned that everyone is dying a little inside regardless of what they look like or say on the outside. By the end of the weekend, at the closing banquet, we were all exhausted and full of information and even more questions. Mostly, we had an overwhelming sense that we are all going to die from this, but until then we are determined to make a difference for someone else.
Truly, we’re all going to die from life itself. We can resist change and live in fear or we can embrace new opportunities and forge ahead. We can focus on what’s missing or focus on what we have. We can choose to see the plaster cast on our arm or the little brother in our home. We can reclaim our joy or finish our lives without it. It’s as simple and as challenging as that. Whether we ever play softball again or not.