Surprised by Joy

Little did I imagine what would unfold when I agreed to do a room dedication at the Buddy Foundation for a parishioner.  The Buddy Foundation is a wonderful local shelter that provides for homeless and abandoned animals, committing to their care even if homes cannot be found.  They often receive animals from the Pike County Shelter in Southern Illinois, where dogs and cats are euthanized if they haven’t found a home.  So on the Wednesday of Easter Week, a few volunteers and family members gathered in the multipurpose room before moving into the cat side for the room blessing itself.  Afterward, he invited me to walk through the dog side.  I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t.  Dog after attentive dog looked through the bars, quietly or aggressively or just curiously.

Then there was one face that tugged at my heart.  A black lab mix, I noted, about three years old.  I moved on, but my heart stayed back.  They were closed for the day, and I had commitments to attend to, after all.  Finally as I was leaving, I ventured the question:  Would there be someone who could tell me something about her, by chance?  Not that day, as it turns out, but was she ever a sweetie, came the reply.   Whew.  Well, sort of. Later I floated the idea to Jim, thinking somehow he would talk sense into me, but he didn’t hesitate at all. The kids were overjoyed at the possibility.  I was flying to spend two nights seeing mom—who remains the same—early the next morning, but Jim, Howie and the kids went to meet this sweet little one (well, 80 pounds isn’t that little!) after school that next day, setting up a video with me so I could get a sense of how it all went.

Bailey came home with us Saturday afternoon, and the two dogs played so well together that Howie might as well have been three—though I suspect he was a lot more stiff and sore afterwards than she.  She has been amazing, surprising all of us with her sweet (yes, she is very sweet), joyful disposition.  She’s taken to training beautifully; and even Howie has embraced a little training refresh that was long overdue.  She loves to cuddle—something Howie only tolerates—and is eager to soak up all the love we offer, pouring it back out as generously as she receives it.

Aside from the fact that she tends to spill huge amounts of water out of her mouth a good ten feet beyond her drinking bowl—we had to create a runway of indoor/outdoor rugs in an attempt to stem the flood—she is an Easter miracle in our life, a surprise we were neither looking for nor anticipating. And given that she was picked up in Pike County as a stray, she seems equally enthralled with the resurrection miracle she found in us.  We cannot imagine life without her in it.

C. S. Lewis, a prolific novelist, scholar and theologian, wrote a book entitled, Surprised by Joy, wherein he outlines his journey of searching for joy through painful childhood losses to a youthful atheism and, finally, to a strong, vibrant and mature faith.  Lewis writes:

I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. Apart from that, and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is. 

Joy is something most of us have tasted and want more of.  The promise of joy is woven throughout scripture. Jesus says, I have told you this that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. Not pleasure or happiness, but joy.  When I think of the joy unleashed in our household by our Easter surprise, it reminds me that Jesus connects true joy to abiding—abiding in God and with one another.  It isn’t a theological proposition but an experience of the heart—of belonging, of knowing and being known, of being loved and loving that is unshakable even by death.

Sometimes I think I’m searching for joy in all the wrong places—thinking I can achieve it or earn it or secure it. But joy is a gift, freely given and available to all of us, even when we are blind to it.  Love never ceases drawing us in, showing up in our lives in expected ways that we might taste joy and, in tasting, awaken all the more to its ongoing presence.

God, you sent your Son into the world that we might live through him: May we abide in his risen life so that we may love one another as he first loved us, and know the fullness of joy. Amen.

May you be surprised by joy…and abide in it!

Hope to see you Sunday,

Pastor Elizabeth