I was visiting a counselor in Minnesota one cold January day in 1991. We were talking about the present and speculating about the lessons to come. She grabbed my hand and looked at me, looked right into my eyes. “This I know for sure,” she said. “You’ve been through enough pain. Now you’re going to learn about joy.”
One week later, my son Shane died.
Mixed in with my grief was rage. I was so angry with her for saying that. It was another instance of getting my hopes up that I could finally be happy. Now, I felt tricked and let down.
The years passed slowly. I lost almost everything, including my desire to write. Nichole graduated from high school. Then she moved out of the house, and to New York. Life kept changing and moving along, in spite of how I felt.
One year I noticed that the anniversary of Shane’s death had passed, and I hadn’t become depressed. Then I began to notice something else. I was beginning to feel alive, vibrant, awestruck with life. It wasn’t a naïve assumption that whatever I wanted, I’d get. It was a newfound ability to surrender to each moment and enjoy what life brought my way. I made new friends. My relationships with old friends changed. What inspired me was my new relationship with life. I stopped looking for outward circumstances to provide me with happiness. I began to see that I held that key myself.
If you’re going through something in your life that isn’t what you planned, a transformation is at hand. While we might prefer to be transformed in the twinkling of an eye, it usually doesn’t happen that fast. It takes all the moments added together, and sometimes those moments go on and on. But one day when you least expect it—a phoenix rises from the ashes. That phoenix is you.
Some of us encounter a lot of pain. Some of us have less. If I could sit across from you right now, I’d look into your eyes and say these words to you: “I know you’ve been through a lot. But there’s a new cycle coming. You’re going to learn about joy.”
Life is going to take you on your own journey of personal transformation. You may have to let go of some things. But don’t worry, you’ll get some of those things back. And sometimes when we think something is lost, it’s not. It’s just moved to a different place. No pain, no gain, is what many people say. And usually they say that because when the lesson is learned, the pain stops. But then something happens. It just clicks in. The moments start getting better and better. And it’s not because of what we get. It happens because we’ve surrendered. And although it looks like what we’ve surrendered to is pain and heartache, we’ve really surrendered to God’s will.
There’s a world out there—right outside your door. And the key that opens that door is in your hand. The ultimate lesson is learning joy. Put your fears aside. Live your life, whatever that means to you today. It may happen today, tomorrow, next week, or in ten years. But you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll throw your hat up in the air, look around, and shout, “Oh my God, how sweet life is.”
God, help me get through my lessons, one by one. Then bring me to that place where I learn about joy.