Tuesday mornings arrive before I’m ready. I roll out of bed in the dark and prepare our downstairs for a herd of 7th grade girls to make their appearance. Before school they come. Tired eyes. Ready hearts. Heavy loads.
They drop their two-ton backpacks in a pile, eye the goodies with their journals and Bibles in hand, and they sit on the couch, creaky piano bench and wherever they fit. The back of our second-hand couch is beginning to peel from the love of these nearly and newly crowned teenagers filling a chilly morning with warmth and laughter. My co-leader, Kara, and I often just sit back and smile at the discussions of memes, boys and loads of classwork. We hear it all, and it’s an honor.
Last week impressed us. The kind of impressing that leaves a mark stamped into the heart’s depth. In preparation for this Advent season, we’ve been talking about Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. It was the week to dive into Joy.
“Who can tell me the difference between happiness and joy?” I ask my squirmy, need-to-focus crowd.
Two hands explode into the sky.
“I remember! I remember!” they both shout.
I choose Kind Girl.
“Happiness is like eating a cookie. Joy is like a hug,” she states.
“Oh my goodness, you remember that?” is all I can muster. In perfect choir unison they all chime in and recall in detail …
Over a year ago, when these seventh graders just entered sixth grade, we watched a short, silly video every Tuesday for 12 weeks with a talking turtle and elephant on the book of I John. I honestly didn’t think much stuck. They giggled more than they listened. One of the weeks discussed happiness versus joy.
And, well, it stuck like gum on the Pike Place Market wall!
“On a more serious note,” Courageous Girl says, “Joy is what my parents experienced when they brought me home for the first time.”
Courageous Girl was adopted two years ago. Her mom is a dear friend, and I had the privilege of journeying with her mom from the beginning of the adoption process from a hands-open prayer until now.
I swallow hard and clasp my hands to my heart.
“You’re so right,” I say, holding back my eyes’ dam as I think about the waiting, the longing and the hoping on both sides of the world.
Another hand extends to the ceiling.
“Sometimes we go through hard things for the purpose of bringing Joy to others,” Brave Girl explains. “In first grade when I had HLH, [a rare form of cancer], it was a really hard time for me and my family. We met a man who was also going through cancer, and we were able to bring him Joy.”
So right. Joy is meant to be shared with a weary world waiting for Hope, longing for Love and crying out for Peace.
Oh the wisdom of these 7th graders. I have Hope for this next generation. There are dooming, real statistics of depression, anxiety and all they’re facing more than any previous generation, and it’s honestly quite freaky to be a parent in the midst. But my Hope isn’t the staying-on-the-surface-kind like a rock skipping across a pond, but a deep-seeded, mysterious yet amazing Mariana Trench kind. Come into my house on a Tuesday morning and you just might feel it too.
We wrap up the too-short morning and one of them kiddingly suggests staying here all day instead of going to school. I glance at the peeling of the couch behind their movements. I hope the whole couch falls apart from discussions like these.
When we acknowledge the good amidst the hard, the character building despite the pain, and the trust in the foundation of Jesus never shaking or moving even in the middle of our worst earth-shattering storm, that is when Joy moves in, sets up shop and places a sign in the window, “Open for Business.” Joy gives hope for a weary, waiting world.