David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Joy”

K.I.S.S. (2016-01-20 Daily)

              Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

—Confucius

 

“Dad,” Hannah called excitedly. “There are fourteen gifts under the tree for me! Fourteen!

“Yes, love,” I acknowledged, crossing my arms and eying the pile of wrapped packages hugging the base of the tree. After all, this was two weeks before Christmas, and every gift lying there had been purchased by Mary and me, my parents, or my in-laws. Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet. Had we gone overboard this year? I wondered. Had we diluted—or, God forbid, distorted—the true meaning of Christmas? Had we crossed the line and succumbed to the rampant commercialism oft lamented by Christians trying to hang on to the hope, joy, peace, and love that Christmas represents? Had we set a new precedent in expectation? Had we made the celebration of Christ’s incarnation confusing? Or worse, meaningless? I pushed away the nagging thoughts. “Remember, sweet pea, it’s not about the number of presents you get but about the birth of Jesus.” I sounded like a cheesy Christmas card.

Christmas morning Hannah dived into the trove with relish, unwrapping package after package while Mary and I juggled the camera and the iPad, hoping to capture the moment in way too many formats we’ll never consolidate. “Yay!” Hannah squealed. “A Q-BA-Maze!” Glad she knew what it was. I hadn’t even heard of it ‘til we ordered it on Amazon. “Wow!” she shouted. “Another robot!” Grandma and Grandpa had loaded her up with four robot kits. The kid loves technology and she’s all about the science. “Dad! It’s Simon!” she yelled, holding up a gift from Santa Claus. That and Battleship and Spirograph stirred up memories of Christmases past. Finally she gutted her stocking. “Just what I wanted!” she laughed. “Nano Bugs!”

Hannah opening Christmas gifts 2015

Without a moment’s pause to consider the morning’s haul, Hannah and I jumped right into figuring out what the Q-BA-Maze thing was all about. Then we built a domino run with her two domino sets. Next, she constructed a Lego Space Needle. Then we sat down to watch Inside Out. “Why don’t we play with your Nano Bugs?” I suggested after the movie finished.

“I didn’t get a track,” Hannah said.

“We can play with them without a track, right? I mean, we can just let them loose on the floor and see what they do. Right?”

“I guess,” she relented. She peeled a Nano Bug out of the package, switched it on, and placed it on the floor. Immediately it bee lined for the oven and disappeared into the netherworld underneath. When we finally fished it out, we discovered, much to Hannah’s disgust, that it had captured a rather large clump of dog hair complete with a mummified wolf spider embedded in it.

“Eww!” she screamed. “See, Dad, this is why we need a track.” Or rather, this is why Daddy needs to pull the stove out from the wall more often to let Mommy clean behind it.

Three weeks passed. One afternoon Hannah interrupted me as I passed through the house on my way from the attic to the bathroom. We were taking advantage of the cool weather and a string of unfettered days to declutter the space above the garage and improve its storage capability (and prevent me from stepping through the drywall again).

Winter 2015 Attic Project

“Dad, can I play with the boxes on the back porch?” Hannah asked. I’d piled dozens of boxes we’d cleared out of the attic onto the back patio to be burned.

I shrugged. Several robots sat on her craft table, unopened and untouched. A kitchen science kit, a gift from at least a year ago, mingled with the stack of new presents, still wrapped in clear plastic. I hadn’t seen the Q-BA-Maze since Christmas day, and most of the other gifts she’d been so excited about had disappeared altogether. I’m sure most of them ended up on the Island of Misfit Toys.

“That’s fine,” I answered. “Just be sure to put the boxes up when you’re done.”

Excitedly she ran out the back door and spent the next hour or two building what looked like an elaborate Habitrail fashioned from discarded cardboard and masking tape. A few days later, Hannah transformed a large cookie sheet and several boxes into a functioning Nano Bug habitat. I watched, fascinated, as the cockroach-like toys scuttled around the track, dodging in and out of an inverted box’s rough-hewn hidey holes.

Hannah working on a Nano Bug habitat

Watching those bugs reminded me of Hannah’s fascination with paper wads and cardboard boxes when she was two or three. A simple ball of paper could keep her contented for hours. A playhouse I’d constructed out of an unwanted carton entertained her for months. Heck, it entertained me for months! As the Nano Bugs buzzed and dodged and hid and re-emerged, I was reminded that life is best enjoyed when lived simply, when intent is stripped down to nothing more than loving God, loving others, and delighting in the life He so graciously entrusted us with. “Our life is frittered away by detail,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Simplify. Simplify.”

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” advised the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV®). When I first read that passage so long ago it shot straight to my heart and has been lodged there ever since. “Be content with what you have.” Yes . . . .  Be content with the roof over your head, the food on the table, the clothes on your back, the labor you’ve been given. Be happy with where you are in the moment, with the blessings God has already rained down on you, with the relationships He’s placed in your life, with the surprises He’s planned for you and is revealing even now. For what is life but the day-to-day triumph of simple moments lived fully?

By the end of this year I hope to have the attic organized and the junk occupying it pared down to what we actually use. I plan to clean out my garden shed, purge our closets, and, to Mary’s delight, downsize the sentimental detritus I’ve accumulated over the last 40 years. I plan to spend time more intentionally with my family, just enjoying who we are and who God made us to be. I want to live life with a more intentional simplicity to make room for what really matters, to cast off the “stuff”—all the stuff—that so easily entangles. And as for Christmas this year, well, I don’t know how easy a paper wad will be to wrap, but an old cardboard box should be a cinch.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes

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Joy for the World (2015-12-18 Daily)

 

Be joyous always, and serve God with joy.

—Chaim Kramer, Crossing the Narrow Bridge

 

I looked down at the gray LCD display on the elliptical’s control panel. 15 minutes had passed. 15 minutes I still had to go. I shifted my eyes to the odometer: 0.9 miles. My goal for the morning was to hit the 2 mile mark, something I hadn’t done in, gosh, years. Sweat gathered on my forehead and led a charge down my cheeks. It beaded on the backs of my hands and slicked up the elliptical’s metal handles. It rolled off my face and dripped on the floor. My heart pounded to the rhythm of my stride. My breath ebbed and flowed in strong and even measures. My legs no longer ached, warmed by the 4.1 mile-per-hour pace. I was loving it!

Yes, this morning I woke up actually looking forward to my every-other-day flagellation on my Horizon EX-56. After a slow buildup that had started weeks ago, I was close to reaching the 30 minute climax of my fitness goals. The agony had long passed; I now felt one with the elliptical, my body a well-oiled machine pounding away on a not-so-well-oiled one. As I pedaled the squeaky piece of exercise equipment, I tore my eyes from the odometer and fixed them on the wall hangings mounted behind my desk: posters of two of my books, Melted Clowns and The Epiphany of Joy. I smiled. The emotion washing over me at the moment was endorphine-fed bliss, but undergirding that elation lay a growing foundation of pure joy, one not based on current circumstances but on the One Who allows me to experience these circumstances for my benefit and His Glory. “You make known to me the path of life,” King David wrote in Psalm 16, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, /  with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11 NIV®).

I looked at the butterfly on the cover of The Epiphany of Joy—a Question Mark perched on a pale violet lilac bloom against a defocused green foliage background—and realized I’d never fully shared the story of how that butterfly had gotten there. I figured it was about time . . . .

Three years ago, as I was turning the crank on the book’s manuscript, I hadn’t given much thought to the cover until I received an email from my sister, Linda. My sister, a spiritual person who’s in tune with the unseen as much as she is with the seen, had written about a dream she’d had. In her dream, a beautiful woman, perhaps her guardian angel, stood before her with hands closed. The woman smiled, spread her arms, and opened her hands. “Butterflies!” she declared. Books fell from her hands and landed on the ground in front of her.

“I’ve read some information about the symbolism of butterflies, and it’s amazing,” she’d written in her email. “You need to look it up.” So I did, and besides the obvious symbolism of transformation, the butterfly is also a symbol for . . . JOY! I asked Linda for her blessing to use a butterfly on the book, and she eagerly agreed. Then the cover’s wings began to unfold right in front of my mind’s eye.

The butterfly I picked to represent joy is the Question Mark, chosen because of the pearly white question mark prominently displayed on the underside of each hindwing, and because the book is a compilation of my three-year search for joy (What is joy, exactly question mark, question mark, question mark). I pictured a white cover featuring the butterfly in profile perching on a limb. Since the underside of the Question Mark is a drab brown, I wanted to use this angle to represent not only my questioning, but also my uncertainty about joy—what it is, how we achieve it, how we live it. For much of my life, joy was elusive, until I discovered I’d possessed it all along.

I’d also planned to use a drawing of a Question Mark butterfly with wings spread open on the back cover, illustrating my newfound understanding and reception of joy in the upper wing’s vibrant red-orange spotted in black. I commissioned my niece, Emilie L. Hughes, to create these drawings, and she met my expectations. Problem was, my publisher had a different vision for the cover.

Talk about a struggle! I held on tightly to my concept, proud of all the symbolism I’d incorporated into both the front and back covers. When my publisher strongly suggested I use a much more vibrant stock photo of a Question Mark butterfly instead of the purposefully drab illustration, I pushed back. “It’s a book about joy,” she explained. “The cover needs to be bright and colorful. It needs to call out joy! What reader is going to want to pick up a book about joy if the cover doesn’t reflect it?”

I understood her position but felt I would be compromising my vision (and Linda’s) if I gave into it. I discussed it with Mary. I put on my grumpy face. I pondered and thought and contemplated. Finally I relented and okayed the change, feeling somewhat like I’d sold out just to move the project forward. However, when the publisher asked me to select a photo from two stock pictures she’d sent, I knew we’d all made the right decision. The book cover exudes joy, reaching out to the reader with its vivacious colors while still featuring a Question Mark butterfly. Inside, my niece’s illustrations adorned the flyleaf and the crown of each chapter.

Life’s trials and challenges, even the small ones like finalizing a book cover or building up to my goal of running for 30 minutes on the elliptical, make joy all that much more delicious. “Without experiencing sorrow and mourning, there’s no way for us to appreciate its opposite,” says Chaim Kramer in Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. “We have nothing with which to compare our happiness. Therefore, we must experience suffering. Only then can we know the true taste of joy.”[1]

As I suffered in bliss for the last five minutes of my morning run, finally hitting both the 30 minute mark and my 2 mile goal, I remembered that joy is available to everyone who would receive it. And as we again prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, our ultimate Joy—Jesus Christ—stands at the door and knocks, offering His presence and His promise of eternal joy. All we need to do is answer.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

[1] Kramer, Chaim. Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 1989. 27.

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