Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What is Joy?

I have been living the life of a creative business owner for 3 years now. And it has been one of the most amazing things I have ever done. My life has used me up every day. But while I have enjoyed all the growing and stretching, I realized there was a deep sadness growing inside me as well. 

In order to get everything done, I had to commit to projects months in advance. I had to live by my schedule book every second of everyday. I had to pray that the Lord would help me to know "what to do when" over the course of my day so I could get it all in. And I almost always got it all in. And the days I didn't, that was OK too.

But there was no spontaneity. I would wake up with an idea I wanted to try and I'd have to write it down and hope I got to it sometime after the barn sale was over. If my kids wanted to pick apples during barn sale season, we had to give up a soccer game or something else on a Saturday to make it happen, and most of the time the opportunity cost was too great. There was no freedom. 

And for me, that is a problem.

I kept wondering where the joy was that everyone promises you comes when you start doing what you love. It reminded me of a time not so very long ago, when my children were small and needed a tremendous amount of my time and energy. I felt suffocated by their needs and my inability to be what I'm like. I felt very little joy then. 

These two periods of my life only have one thing in common. They left me very little freedom. They required a great deal of structure and self control on my part all day, every day. And that is not what I am like. It is the opposite of how I see myself. 

And yet, I feel full of gratitude that I was able to have both stages. "Full" is not a big enough word. I am completely overcome by the gratitude I feel for having been able to stay home and raise my children myself. And I am still astonished and filled with wonder that I am allowed to take my life on this course of barn sales and art and blogging. Yet both periods have been excruciatingly difficult for me. What is the source of the gratitude I feel now?

I have been thinking about that a lot lately. And I got my answer from the most delicious source. The most refined and delightful octogenarian I know, my sweet friend JM.

As you guys know from my trip to Groundhog Mecca last year, my birthday is Feb 2. Well this year, the party was a bit more toned down. In fact, with teacher work days and my kids home the two weekdays before my birthday, two parties for kids to get to stacked across Saturday (making it difficult to do anything exciting), and the first Sunday of the month being a day I fast for the first two meals of the day and Super Bowl Sunday to boot, I was pretty concerned I wouldn't be able to celebrate at all. But a week before The Day, I got smart. I asked JM to be my guide at the National Gallery of Art the Tuesday after my birthday. 

JM has spent her entire life filling her mind with beauty and excellence. She taught for years and years in the public system, preferring to be in areas where the kids had less at home and really needed her help lighting that candle of learning in their hearts. She has spent so much time in the best museums and galleries of the world, the masterworks have become her friends. As an aspiring artist, I would be a fool to not spend time listening to this woman. And I got to spend an entire day with her, geeking about about great art. It was quite the birthday gift.

As I was driving her home, I finally had the presence of mind to ask her the one question I had prepared in advance. "JM, what do you think joy is?" She thought for a minute, surprised by the question. I can't remember her exact words, as their meaning came across to me more in pictures and memories. 

As we talked about it, I saw the day I turned 40. Two girlfriends and I headed up to a charming town, a village really, to go antiquing with my then 3 year old daughter in tow. My friends had fallen in love with a shop selling vintage jewelry, so I left them there and took my Little to get a snack at the nearby convenience store.  As we walked along a small highway, snow neatly along the roadside, I was completely taken by the moment.  It was a perfect midwinter day, crisp and clear, but not uncomfortable in our cozy coats. The sky was that idealized sky blue from picture books and the sun shone merrily, glinting and sparkling off the snow. We walked past small houses made from the stones cleared from the land by the first people to live there and wondered about all the lives those houses had kept protected. I remember the warmth and fun of my daughters's small hand in mine as we walked, seeing the pleasure in her eyes of being included on a "big girl date" with mommy and mommy's friends. I can remember purposely memorizing that moment with my mind as I realized there was no where in the world I'd rather be than right there, right then. 

And I had 100 other moments just as glorious as I looked back across my life, in case this one wasn't enough to convince me.

What I learned from JM and my own memories is that I was looking for the wrong thing in the wrong way. Somewhere along the way, I had decided that "Joy" was earned by being a good person and that it came across as a constant feeling of happiness and well being. This distressed me, because I had been doing things that were very hard for me and making huge sacrifices for the good of those around me for a very long time and my well being seemed to come and go randomly. Surely I had earned "Joy" by now? (Don't you love the sense of entitlement there?)

But my friends, true joy is a gift of this life. It can be cultivated, but not earned. Anyone can feel it, regardless of who they are or what they've done.

True joy must simply be noticed. 

It is present so very often, if we will just see it and recognize it. It is those beautiful moments, both simple and full of wonder that make our heart beat fast and our eyes tear up with pride or amazement or wonder. It is a fleeting thing in time, but if recognized can live in your heart as a part of you. 

It was such a relief for me to realize I wasn't "Doing it Wrong."And I connected that the reason I feel such gratitude for those difficult parts of my life is because somehow I managed to notice some of the joy along the way. I showered my Littles with flowers as the petals dropped in the spring. I blew bubbles with them and watched the colors change from green to blue to purple to magenta as they floated through the air and popped. I watched their world grow as we made cookies together and as I helped them learn how to read and grew flowers and food in the garden. I got to see the excitement and sometimes the tears in the eyes of my artists as I handed them the first check they ever got selling things they made. I've stared at my barn sale all beautifully staged and hear the shoppers comment about how extraordinary it all is, validating all my effort to bring it into existence. I get to hear my customers tell me how looking at a piece of art I made makes them happy every. single. time. they see it, even after owning it for years.

These moments, my friend, are joy. Your life is filled with them now. And the more you look for them, especially the simple things like how much you want to embrace the person who invented the warm shower, the more you will find them. 

So look. 

They are hidden in the sky at sunset and in your child's "dirty from playing in the forest" hands and in the way your curtains blow just so in the sunlight and in the ice crystals hiding under your mulch. 

Joy is not constant. But it can be all around you, especially when you least expect it.

Joy is just there, no matter who you are, if you have the eyes to see it.

Fill yourself with moments. When you look back, it will feel like 
you have years and years of joy inside you. 

And remember, joy doesn't always make it easier, 
but it sure helps to make it worth it.

I hope this little connection helps you all. It has sure helped me. Thank Heavens for wise women willing to share light on their younger sisters in the world. And thank heavens for all of you, willing to read my ramblings. You too are a gift and I 'd love to hear about your joy.

Thank you all,
CM Shaw

1 comment:

  1. Well Daaahling...you never cease to amaze me! I certainly needed a joy jumpstart today. It is cold again here in Alabama but no snow like my northern friends. Life is stressful and I certainly am guilty of not spotting the joy frequently enough. I get too caught up the "to do"list and I run from project to project and store to store. Thanks for reminding me to stop and spot the joy!

    I spot joy in the sweet 80 year old lady who shops at Blu...she tells me stories about the items in my store. I see joy also in the four young children wandering through the store spotting treasures as mom educates them on items her grandma had years ago. I'm feeling lots of joy with the daffodils and grape hyacinths popping up all around my yard. And I feel much joy in reading the blogs and experiences of sweet friends who inspire me! Thank you Marian! Gotta run...I'm on a joy hunt!