Sunday, June 3, 2018

Flecks of Gold: Finding Joy

I noticed a trend in New Year's resolutions this year-- rather than just setting goals, I saw many people also deciding on themes for the year.  One of my friend's posted that her theme was to "Strive." Rather than feeling like she had to achieve a set number of goals, she wanted to simply work on "striving" to be better and improve in many areas of her life.  I love that idea! 

I've thought a lot about what my goals and life's theme are for this year.  (I know, it's June- I'm a bit behind as usual).  Goal setting is especially hard for me right now-- not because I don't have goals or ambitions (recovering overachiever here!), but because my body has so many physical limitations.  It's honestly pretty soul-crushing to put my hopes into something that may never come to fruition or easily slip from my grasp due to circumstances out my control.  Though my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) symptoms have improved a bit over the last few years, there are still many days I can't get out of bed, and a good 3-6 days a week that I am rendered useless when my chronic headaches turn into debilitating migraines. 
Photo credit: Sean Peck. This was after a late spring snow storm.
 I think it's a beautiful depiction of blooming despite hardship.
My daily goals are usually pretty simple-- make it through my inbox of work emails and projects, get some very "light" exercise in when possible, enjoy dinner with my family, read to and sing songs with my kids before bedtime.  Some days, even those goals are a little too lofty for me though.  But it's really the failed plans like, "attend my daughter's concert" or "make it to my twins' school program" that are especially hard to swallow. For some reason, after 2.5 years of dealing with the repercussions of this chronic illness, it's still hard for me to grasp the concept that just because I felt good enough to do something yesterday, doesn't mean I will be able to do it again today (in fact, because I did something yesterday, I will probably won't be able to do much today!)

But as I've thought about goals and themes, the word that keeps chasing me down and poking me in the ribs (or sometimes just taunting me) is JOY.  Joy is what I have been looking for the past few years as I've tried to come to grips with my crippled life.  It's what we all seek, right?  It's the seemingly intangible holy grail.  I'm not just talking about the thrill you get on a roller coaster ride, but that deep down warm, happy, content feeling in your heart. 

Photo credit: Sara Young
This chronic illness journey has given me a lot of and ups and downs… and downs and ups and downs and downs. It's hard not to get depressed or lose hope when you feel so cruddy all the time. It can be hard to feel happiness and joy when there's sludge running through your veins and an ice pick chipping away at your brain. 

Not long ago, after a particularly rough string of bad days, I happened upon a talk by M. Russell Ballard.  It was exactly what I needed to hear. 

He told the story of a young man who sold all his possessions and left his home in Boston in 1849 in search of gold in California.  He worked tirelessly, day after day, dipping his pan into the river and coming up empty.  After many fruitless days he became discouraged and distraught. He had spent all his money, put in so much time and effort, and was seeing no reward.  The young man was just about ready to give up when he came upon an old prospector with a bulging pouch of gold.  He ask the old man how he had found so much gold. 

Photo credit: Sara Young
The prospector replied that you just need to know where to look for it.  He then picked up a rock from the young man's discarded pile and smashed it to reveal the flecks of gold within. 

"But," the young man protested, "I want to find  large nuggets of gold like you have in your pouch, not just tiny flecks!"

The old prospector took the bulging pouch from his waist and opened it so the boy could see that it did not hold large nuggets, but thousands of tiny flecks of gold.  He said, "It seems to me that you have been so busy searching for nuggets of gold that, you have been missing out on all the precious flecks along the way."

Sometimes my life feels like it has gaping holes.  I'm sad about missing out on those large nuggets of gold.  I am incredibly wanderlust- I love to travel and have adventures, but anymore I just feel confined in my home and claustrophobic from cabin fever.  I want to  vacation with my husband and family.  I want to go hiking or ride my bike around the lake like I used to.  I want to get in the car and drive myself to a store, spend an hour shopping, and drive home.  I want to make it to all my kids activities and events and help at their schools.  I want to have the energy to go to an exercise class or run around with my kids in the back yard.  I want to see my mom again and feel her hug and hear her tell me everything is going to be alright.  I want to not be light-headed every time I stand up or have anxiety about passing out every time I'm in public.  I want to be able to better serve my family and friends.

But I know that when focusing on those elusive nuggets, I am missing out on all the precious flecks of gold around me.  These are just a few of those flecks that bring me joy:

  • I find joy in being a rock star in my own home. (I love when my twins shout "Mom!" and run to hug me every time I emerge from my room.)
  • I find joy in getting and giving hugs to my kids.
  • I find joy in reading stories to my kids and our nightly bedtime ritual when everyone piles on my bed and we sing songs and say prayer together.
  • I find joy in days with blue skies and sunshine.
  • I find joy from floating in the pool and staring up into a cloudy sky at sunset.

Photo credit: Sara Young (Sarah's pictures always bring me joy!)
  • I find joy in watching my kids make good choices or show kindness to others.
  • I find joy in family game night.
  • I find joy in hanging out or joking around with my teenagers.
  • I find joy in visiting with thoughtful friends.
  • I find joy in the days I'm able to feel productive.
  • I find joy in the times I can leave the house and return home without incident.

Oh happy day! I made it to the Tulip festival with my family last month.
  • I find joy in the matching little electric scooters that my daughter and I got to cruise around the neighborhood. (I can't go often or for long, but it gives me a sense of freedom I haven't had for a long time.)
  • I find joy in my amazing husband-- how much he does to make our family and house run, for comforting me constantly, and for making me laugh every day.
  • I find joy in the small acts of service I'm able to do or when I can occasionally feeling like I have helped someone else.
  • I find joy in my faith and testimony of Christ.

Photo credit: Sara Young
 Russell M. Nelson said, "When the focus of our lives is on Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives…. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year!  The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives."

I testify that this statement is true.  My illness is horrible, but that does not mean that my life is horrible.  I can find joy and peace in my life, despite my circumstance.  I may not be happy every single day, but I can choose to rely on my Savior, have hope, and appreciate the small miracles, amazing people, and tender mercies He places in my life.  I can find joy.