Many of my years were spent somewhere between the edge of unhappiness and a dark abyss. Those dark moments began in the eighth grade and ended at the age of twenty-five. In fact, I remember the day they ended. It was a very strange moment of realization. It was my 25th birthday, and I had just gone to dinner with my sister. I remember it being a sad occasion, wondering what I had accomplished in my short lifetime that had made any difference to me or the world. I don’t remember what she said that night, but I do remember the moments afterward, alone in my car and climbing up the West Hills of Portland, Oregon. And in that moment, I think I discovered Joy’s Treasure Map.
Last night, my three-year-old waddled into my room at 9:30. For us, 9:30 may as well be midnight. Our house was completely dark, every light turned off, and every soul asleep except my toddler and me. The conversation began this way. “Mommy.” It came out as a raspy whisper. The kind that makes a parent roll their eyes and need to scream “What now!?!” (Insert pulling out hair, watering eyes, and the need to begin raving, “Why can’t you just GO TO BED!”) His little voice followed up the word by saying, “I can’t find my bunny.” Of course he can’t find his bunny because it’s in his bed where I tucked him in an hour ago, hoping upon hope that he’d actually fall asleep. (And we all laugh recklessly at this point. At least I do.) Of course, bunny is probably wadded up in tangled sheets that have been dragged off the bed for the one millionth time and are now lying on the floor (Which is exactly where I found Bunny at 12:30 later that night).
I’m not going to lie and say that I immediately saw this moment as an opportunity. Oh no. The truth is that I actually pretended to be asleep. But then he was right next to my face, peering at me with blinking eyes and calling my bluff. And that’s when I saw the opportunity. Sometimes I feel like a Venus Fly Trap. The boy gets too close, and I snap.
“Come on, baby.” I patted the bedside, he crawled in, and I snapped him in my arms. He immediately began wiggling and talking loudly. I had to hush him a hundred times so he wouldn’t wake up my sleeping husband. Finally, I offered back tickles, and thirty minutes of coaxing him to sleep later, the magical moment happened. My baby fell asleep, his body tucked against mine, his arms hugging mine like a teddy bear, and I found heaven.
Snuggles are hard to come by with my boys. Actually, they are darn near impossible. I’m a feeler. One of my love languages is touch, and so my boys aren’t surprised when I pour it on them. And whenever the Venus Fly Trap snaps, they usually do everything in their power to buck out of it.
Last night I lay in bed long after I usually go to sleep so that I could drink in my toddler’s snuggles. And once again, I was reminded of Joy and all the places I find it. If you are like me and have struggled with depression, then this list is a reminder to you too.
Joy begins early in the morning when it’s still dark and quiet outside and the whole house is asleep. I creep downstairs, open the fridge, and make myself a cup of Joy that usually takes the form of a Tazo chai latte. Then I open up my laptop and find my latest project (Either Emerald of Viridian or its sequel, or the Cardboard Box Brothers), and I immerse myself in a world of adventure, wonder, and excitement. For those that have found writing to become work: Remember the Joy you experienced when you first began your journey. If you are writing fiction, I think Joy might be easier to find because of the creativity and excitement that world-building brings. Even bringing fictional characters to life and having them live your dreams brings me so much Joy, that it sometimes creates bubbles of excitement throughout my day.
Joy is found on hot summer days sitting outside beneath an oak tree and watching its leaves swish in the wind. It’s seeing my boys climb trees, wield sticks, and run-bare foot through green grass (Although I will say it’s not when they bring said dirty feet into my house and all over the white carpet.)
Joy is in making chicken tortilla soup and watching your family gobble it down, knowing you haven’t just nourished their bellies, but also their souls.
Joy is in apple picking, jigsaw puzzles, play dates, sword fights, Lego creations, matchbox car races, and watching your kids eat grapes that they’ve stuffed in their cheeks until they bulge like chipmunks.
It’s in studying the faces of your sleeping children. It’s in watching them play and grow.
It’s in opening the door to your home and allowing neighbors to run freely in and out. It’s in having friends over and going to their houses. And it’s in welcoming family at any time, rain or shine, day or night.
Joy is in watching the pouring rain slide down your window panes and thanking God for a warm home. It’s in taking these moments and using them to make a hot cocoa and curl up around a blazing fire with a good book.
Joy is in baking something wonderful on cold, gray days. It’s also in going outside on these days puddle jumping or looking at the lights on in the neighborhood homes, thankful for a community that cares.
It’s in Seasons: watching the leaves fall, picking your favorite pumpkin, spicy lattes, cinnamon bread, Christmas trees, Valentine’s cards, Easter baskets, and glittering fireworks.
It’s in watching snow fall from the sky.
Joy is in praying with your kids each night and asking God to guide them to become young men and women after His heart.
Joy is in the book I pick up at night, my soul thankful for the creativity of so many men and women who dared to dream big and who fought for that dream until it was finished.
If you look hard enough for it, you’ll find Joy’s Treasure Map too. And you’ll be surprised at what it shows. Because it will show you the place you dwell, and if not, it will show you the possibility of your dream. All you have to do is open your eyes and find it.
It’s okay to be sad someimes. But it’s more fun to be happy.