Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Joyfully, His ‘Les Miz’

September 13, 2022

Denise Stair-Armstrong

A Rompin’, Rollin’ Encounter

The moment I entered my new friend’s apartment, I could tell that Gabby was the life of the party there. I lost calories just watching her do cartwheels, parading her fashion dolls and savoring her fries and fish sticks. Her eyes twinkled with a million thoughts and unanswered questions, which she eventually directed at Siri, when her mom begged for reprieve. 

The sight of Gabby doing hula-hoop gyrations on the balcony, as she later waved good-bye to me, made me burst out laughing. Her Mom rolled her eyes, “She definitely blows any of the middle child theories!” Her joy seemed unstoppable. I marveled even more when my friend explained that though Gabby had missed a much-anticipated playtime at the Romp’N Roll gymnasium that afternoon, she had taken the disappointment very well and had almost immediately started to celebrate how much she was going to enjoy it when she would get there the following week!

On my ride home, Gabby still filled my thoughts, because of one of her million questions which had stayed with me. It was innocent enough but had flushed up darker ones of my own. As a believer in Jesus, I was embarrassed by my own lack of sparkle, vim and zip. The dark train of thought had come from Gabby’s wanting to know if my mother had had a nickname for me. In fact, she had had at least two and I had spat them out quickly, caught up in the pre-schooler’s zeal. “Yes, she called me ‘Les Miz’ or abizdid!” We all laughed: at the first, because of the association with the classic, Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’ and at the second, because it was such a fun, onomatopoeic, nonsense word. Later, however, as I drove home, old concerns that I had not been characterized by joy even from childhood, nibbled afresh at the corners of my mind.

Resembling Jesus

Preachers often make a point of admonishing their congregants to not present a dour face to the world. “Jesus laughed a lot! Little children would never have been so drawn to Him had He looked like He had been sucking on lemons!”, I heard one minister express. So, what did it mean for me, that the first personality test I ever did classified me as ‘melancholic’ and the most recent, as the only member of my immediate family who had little to no ‘Otter’ (party animal) in my personality profile? It seemed I did not ‘resemble’ Jesus.

Thankfully, my thoughts were soon directed to the only truly safe place at such times of self-doubt. I prayed. “Lord were you really always the laughing, congenial guy of Bruce Marchiano’s portrayal in the Jesus films I have seen?” A verse from the New Testament came promptly to mind — 

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

I realized that subconsciously I had always read that passage as teaching that Jesus saw joy way, waaay over in the future, and used that future joy to endure life here on earth.

This passage made clear that He had difficult times to endure and shame to despise yet was able to keep His present suffering in perspective by living in the light of that future joy. 

Gabby’s childlike example underscored why Jesus said we would not enter His Kingdom except we become as little children; her somersaults and round-offs that day anticipated the even greater joy she fully expected the following week. Though there may have been sorrow when the disappointment was fresh, her broad smile belied any sense of enduring; she was already there, rompin’ and rollin’, fully trusting her mom that ‘it’ was coming and was going to be great! 

Old Notes Freshly Delivered

I gave thanks for the fresh understanding, though as I sought to press bravely into my day’s chores, I still felt a hovering sense of dissatisfaction with the idea that I did not exude joy; I have never been the hula-hoop-gyrating, somersaulting type — not even when I was four! I knew I was engaging in the folly of comparison, to a child no less, yet I yielded to the weakness. 

The sorter and order-lover in me reached to remove a piece of blue note paper that jutted from a journal I was straightening on a shelf. It was a four-year-old note from a single, young adult friend, written just prior to her going off on foreign missionary adventures with God. I am sure I must have expressed some wistful longing regarding her mission for she had written, encouraging me from Scripture.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire”.

The word ‘worship’ stood out to me as it is the spiritual connotation of my own name.  Her next sentence arrested me, considering my recent concern– “I think as you worship Him, He is going to turn your sorrow into joy… great joy.” 

My heart quickened as I sensed the personal nature of this communication from God through this old note. I savored it for a moment then opened my current journal to slip it in. That’s when I encountered two other notes, handed to me the previous year at a church workers’ Valentine event. One, written by choir director, Joan, spoke of ‘seeing Jesus in my eyes’ – ‘inviting, welcoming, tender’, were some of her words. The other, from a vivacious youth-leader-Mom, spoke of feeling comforted when she was around me by what she described as my ‘gentle way.’ If my middle-aged hips would have cooperated, I would have turned a Gabby cartwheel right there, in the middle of the family room floor! My service and spiritual worship did spawn joy…viewed from perspectives a little beyond pre-school!

Overwhelmed with emotion by the Father’s impeccable timing and ability to orchestrate circumstances, (even old notes!) to our good, I laughingly lamented my vulnerability and shallow memory and tearfully gave thanks for His clear affirmation of who He created me to be. How unwise it is to believe that this awesome Creator God, who is also a consuming fire, is not capable of perfecting His image in His children.

He, through our obedient response to Him in the midst of life’s trials, burns away the dross and brings forth His own nature in us — the fruit of His Spirit, through any personality type, at any age.

Gabby brought smiles to my face; my young friend spreads the joy of the salvation through Jesus Christ in faraway places, and my presence and service blesses our home, fellow believers and neighbors. 

Man of Sorrow, Lord of Joy

Jesus gave Himself to the full range of human emotional experience — He wept over Jerusalem, angrily routed avaricious vendors from the place of prayer, sang hymns, lavished love on His disciples washing their feet, groaned in intense prayer, entreated a traitor, compassionately healed an enemy’s ear, anguished over separation from His Father, and forgave a fellow convict — all within a week, mere hours and minutes before finally surrendering to torture and death on the cross. His trust in the promise of the Father, the bringing of “many sons to glory”, focused and sustained Him through it all. His joy was the prospect of our ultimately being transformed into His likeness: resembling Him! This was the reward of His suffering, the joy that was set before Him. He saw and welcomed us then and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, savoring and anticipating even greater future consummation of joy, with all who similarly are going all out today, not just for the gold, but for the joy.

Featured image is courtesy of Tommy Darin Liskey and used with his kind permission for Cultivating.

This piece first appeared in a 2019 Joyful Life online publication, under the title ‘Does Joy Always Look Like Happiness?’


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