Happiness and Joy

You can find hundreds of articles across the internet about the secrets to being happy.  There are lists for singles, couples, relationships, marriages, and for being healthy.  But being happy and finding joy can be so much more difficult than following a short list that someone made.

In my journey, I found that there is a stark difference between happiness and true joy that lasts through the darkest of days.

Happiness is the feeling that you get when you watch someone come back from the brink of death.  Joy is knowing that it is still part of God’s plan when the hand that you hold goes cold and death claims the last breath of those we love.

The simple secret is that we may never find eternal happiness in this life.  There are going to be times of darkness, grieving, and pain.  There will be times when the world feels like it is going to crush you beneath the weight of all your doubts, fears, and nightmares.

But through all this, you can still know Joy.

I found joy through faith in God.  I know that no matter what I do, my relationship with God will sustain me.  He has made me who I am, and I am satisfied with His work in my life, both the light and the darkness.

I can be either happy or sad, but I know that deep in my heart that I have found joy.  This is what sustains me.  This is what drives me to continue on.  This is what allows me to continue to live despite the circumstances of the world around me.

Yes, I still get upset.  I still feel sad.  I continuously have doubts.  I am still human with a full range of emotions.  But none of that can overshadow the joy that I hold in my heart.


The Things (and People) That Define Us

Last week a good friend asked me why I act the way I do.  It wasn’t anything offensive, she just noted that I am comfortable in environments that stress many people out.  She stated that I am quiet and introspective even when the chaos closes in around me, allowing me to respond with (what seems like) clarity.

I smile because I don’t really have an answer.

It’s just who I am.

Each experience that we encounter, every obstacle that we pass, every tragedy that we face, and every scar that we bear bears witness to what defines us.  Every person that we have befriended in our journey, every face that we have come in contact with, and every bridge that we have fought for, built, and burned to the ground has guided us on our path to discover who (and what) we are.

I can hear you asking, even now:  What defines you?

Many things have shaped me into the man I am today:  Moving every two years during my childhood.  Being a part of a military family.  Running away from God.  Finding Him again.  Missions Trips to Honduras and Uganda.  Being Baptized by one of my best friends.  My professors at Anderson University.  My time aboard the M/V Africa Mercy.  All the beautiful people that I met aboard the ship.  My AmeriFamily.  Joplin.  Wildland Fire Fighting.  Responding to Super Storm Sandy in Breezy Point and the Far Rockaways.  And so many more.

Just about 3 years and a week ago, my niece and nephew came into this world as preemies.  In the past couple years, they have given me something to fight for, to be an example for (not that they need a better example of strength than their mother, my sister).

A year ago, a beautiful woman whose courage and joy was the banner that carried her love to change each life she came in contact with, passed from this world, causing ripples to spread throughout the tight knit military family that she was a part of.  She continues to be an example to live by through her children and the legacy she placed in each person’s heart that she walked beside.  I strive to carry that same banner of love wherever I go.

In just over a week, it will be the anniversary of the Yarnell Hill Fire, where 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots perished in the flames.  It hit closer to home, given the fact that I worked beside one of them two years earlier up in Crown King, AZ.  His constant smile is a reminder of the joy we face, even when danger is upon us.

I was once paralyzed by fear.  For almost a year, I woke up with the sound of a mothers cry piercing the silence, a memory of a child lost in Uganda.  Memories and worst case scenarios constantly haunt me.  At times I find that I am, indeed, afraid.

All of these makes me who I am.

I am confident because the past has allowed me to be so.  I am quiet because the silence allows me to think and to process what is before me.  I am determined because the banner of love is only defeated by indifference.  And when the chaos swarms in around me, I know that if I do my best, I cannot wonder if there was more to be done.

There’s nothing secret about it, but the past makes us who we are in the present.  How we act now defines who will be tomorrow.

As a quote from an unknown source states:

Don’t be ashamed of your scars; they are proof that you are stronger than whatever tried to kill you.

God Bless and PEACE

Head Held High

I was hiking out of the Bald Knob Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest after a long day of clearing out a trail when I noticed something that troubled me:  We were all looking at our feet.

After hiking in almost three miles, cross cutting and lopping limbs for a full day (no power equipment due to it being a Wilderness Area), only to discover that we had been working downhill the entire day, the simple fact is that we were all exhausted.  The trail needed a ton of work, so our footing was never completely sure due to shifting mud, unstable river rocks, and roots that stuck out to entrap our weary feet.

So we all had our heads down, focusing on putting one step in front of the other.

And in doing so, none of us were looking up at the beauty that surrounded us.

Too many times I have found myself watching where the next step will be, making perfectly clear that my feet were placed on the path that God had set before me.  And I missed the beauty that was before me.

It’s human nature to get focused on the little things, so much so that we miss the big picture that envelops our journey.  We miss the beautiful views that are before us, the people, the moments of life that cannot be replaced or duplicated.

We go and go and go until one day we look up and are lost.  We’ve followed the path, but we have no clue where we are.  We don’t understand what surrounds us.  We no longer recognize our place in the chaos of life.

And we shout into the sky: “God?!  Where the [edit] am I?”  We find ourselves saying: “God, I followed your path, but I’m completely lost.” And we blame Him when it’s really our fault.

Have you ever just started walking and trusting that your feet will find the way?  What would it look like if we were to do the same thing and trust God with our feet?  Would we find that we have more time to savor the journey?  Would we finally see the beauty that surrounds us?

It’s something that has to be relearned.  We have to retrain our thoughts and our actions.  And we have to be willing to open our eyes every once in a while.

Those Whom I Never Would Have Known To Have Existed

My journeys over the past 5 years (and the odd twenty or so before) have allowed me to meet some amazing people.  Across my path has traveled many  individuals, each with their own story and road to travel.  Looking back, I see many that have come and gone, a beautiful web of trails through life.

I spent the past two weeks on a ten-day project down at the Chadwick ATV Use Area, part of the Mark Twain National Forest’s Ava District in Southern Missouri.  We spent our days working on the ATV trails, building fences, cutting out the overgrown brush, reclaiming old trails to prevent erosion, and sweltering in the humidity and the sporadic rain.  It was there at Cobb Ridge Campground that another path crossed my own, and I have been blessed by a chance meeting once again.

The path was one of a family who has taken up the reigns of the nomadic life, putting my claims of being a nomad to shame.  For the past six years they have traveled, all eight of them together in a 42 foot camper, across the United States, serving and volunteering throughout their adventures.  (Visit The Lemonade Digest to follow this beautiful family through their adventures.)

On several occasions, I sat and listened to their stories, their adventures, as they praised their children and poured out love to those they had met on the road.  And in those moments, my heart leaped with a joy that I had not sensed in many years.

There is a joy in meeting new people.  It’s as if you discover something lost deep within your soul and the warmth of a strangers smile melts away your fears and assumptions with every passing conversation.

I’ve been blessed with many friendships that span the world: from the children of Agule who called me Lion to the men and women I served with aboard the Africa Mercy, the various members of several different teams throughout my time in AmeriCorps to those I studied and lived beside through college, this web of paths have crossed so many barriers that I could have never faced myself.  Each one has brought joy to my heart, even as our paths parted and the world continues to turn.

Something that they said last week has echoed ever since:  While talking of their journeys, they shared a beautiful response that their daughter gave when asked about how felt about this several year adventure and traveling full-time.  She stated that, if it weren’t for this adventure, she would have never known these people ever existed.

If I had not had the courage to travel to Uganda, join the crew of the Africa Mercy, or serve with AmeriCorps, all these people that I have met over the years, and all the blessing that have come from their presence, would be foreign to me.  I would not know them.  I would not even know that these people I now consider friends and family ever existed.

You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of living and knowing people in more than one place.
– Miriam Adeney

I pray that our paths cross again on this journey of life, each friend that I have encountered.  My heart leaps for joy because I know that when the day comes, we will share our stories with one another, laugh and love one another to the fullest.