Thursday, August 9, 2012

Choosing Joy

This has been a rough post to write.  I have no problem sharing our quirkiness, but sharing from my heart to the unknown internet world is not as easy, so bear with me. 
First of all, let me throw out an apology for not blogging since my sister passed away.  I haven't had the motivation to share but will update on things soon!  God bless those who have thought about us and remembered us in their prayers.  They have been so appreciated.
Now to the meat.  About 4 years ago, my life was in a rough spot.  So there you go.  I'm not as pulled together as I appear.  My grandmother had passed away, my husband was battling depression, my marriage was on the rocks, and then I became pregnant.  I couldn't see the forest for the trees.  At that time, I was advised to make a daily gratitude list.  It could be anything but should be at least 5 things I was thankful for.  And each of my kids couldn't count so I couldn't list names and be done with it.  Some days it was hard.  Some days it was easy.  Some days the things I was thankful for were meaningful and some days they were less so. The exercise served a two-fold purpose.  The first was the immediate result in that I realized I had some really great things going on in my life.  The other purpose I only realized later on and that was that I had more than 5 things because as you CHOOSE to be grateful you realize how much more you have to be grateful for.  Learning to choose joy got me, my husband, and my marriage through that turmoil.  God was working in me in a mighty way, but I didn't know that at the time.
I also learned that every day when you wake up you make choices.  And I don't mean what to wear or how to fix your hair.  You shouldn't be living a life on auto-play.  Choose how you want to live your life and then live it.  I'm telling you right now that if you're living a life that is operating on doing things the way you've always done them or based upon other people's expectations then you aren't doing yourself any favors.
I'm not saying this to "toot my own horn".  I'm not always happy or agreeable. But I am beyond blessed and by choosing to live a joyful life, I've forgiven people and situations that other people wouldn't have and I've let grudges go that other people would have hung on to. I haven't forgiven and let things go for the other person, I've done it for me. I learned back then that I can't live with that kind of poison in my life. You decide what portion of your soul you feed. I choose not to feed the one that would make me petty, miserable, spiteful, or cruel. I believe that every 60 seconds of my life that I spend in that frame of mind is a minute of my life that I've wasted. Being this way doesn't mean I'm weak. It means I'm strong enough to be a better person.
I am the only child of the marriage of my mother and my natural father.  I have a half brother and sister from my mother and my step-father (who has raised me since I was 6 years old) and a half brother and sister from my natural father and his second wife.  I am 7 years older than my next sibling so statistically speaking I always assumed they would outlive me or we'd all be really old and decrepit before I lost one.  That changed on April 30, 2012.  I don't live with my cell phone attached to me and half the time I can't even find it.  That particular day, I had let my battery get really low and plugged it into charge just before I went to bed.  My ringer was off for some reason. At around 2 AM on May 1st, my home phone rang.  I knew when my great-uncle's name showed up on caller ID that something was really wrong.  Strangely enough, my first thought was, "Something happened to Danielle."  I don't know why unless God was mentally preparing me for what happened next.  I said hello and my uncle said, "Honey, Danielle is dead."  I just kept saying, "What do you mean?"  I know my uncle's wife asked if I had my brother's number and I went to my phone and realized that he had been calling and texting for over an hour.  But other than that, I'm not even certain what happened after that.  The whole thing is a blur at that point.  There are lots of black space in my mind and I can't put anything there.  A friend said that she believes it's God's way of protecting us and maybe that's so.  That's a level of hurt that I can't even explain.  We're over three months away from losing my beautiful and vivacious sister and I still can't describe the ache that I feel.
My first conscious plan was that I had to do something to honor her.  I didn't want her to be famous because of how she died.  I wanted her to be famous because of how she lived.  I prayed that God would show me the way to cope and to honor her.  I logged into Facebook and the very first post was one from Lil Blue Boo.  From the Lil Blue Boo Facebook page, "Ashley recently has had some crazy curveballs thrown her way that have made her consciously decide to “choose joy” as a way of life. She has chosen to write publicly about her loss, and the nitty gritty of unexpected surgery and chemotherapy in hopes that her experiences will help others."  I have been following along with her journey for about 2 years now and I enjoy reading her blog because she has confirmed to me that you can choose to lead a joy-filled life and that I'm not completely crazy for thinking so.  Or maybe we're just the same brand of crazy, but at least she makes joy work for her too.
I understood in that moment that the Lord wanted me to continue to choose joy and to do it in this situation as well.  Danielle had a lot of crazy curveballs thrown at her all of her life and she always knew how to take lemons and make lemonade.  She lived a life of joy because that was the kind of person she was.  She wanted to LIVE a life not merely exist.  What better way to honor Danielle than to inspire people to do just that?  I wrote this entry 4 days after I got the news.  I'd love it if you'd read that and pass it on.  I want there to be so much positivity that no one remembers her by how she died but by how she lived instead.  By choosing joy in this, I was choosing to honor her.  But I'm also not doing it for her.  I'm doing it because experience has taught me that choosing joy is the way I can get through this.
I've been choosing joy for so long now, that it really has become a part of my life.  I'm not perfect though so some days choosing joy is H-A-R-D.  Some days I want to be the biggest pile of uselessness that I can be.  It's called being human. Those are the days that choosing joy becomes a truly conscious decision.  But I choose what part of my soul to feed and I don't choose to feed the part of me that wants to hate the drunk driver who killed my sister because there is no honor for Danielle in that.  When you choose to feed the "bad" part of you, you only grow that part.  It grows so large that you don't have any more room for "good".  Eventually the "bad" will consume you until you don't have anymore "good" to feed.  You can't feed the "bad" a little bit.  You have to starve it.  I know from experience that I can't be in a place like that where the bad part of me is crowding out the good.  I choose joy because I choose to feed the good part of me.
You'll be seeing a "Choosing Joy" tab at the top of the navigation bar from now on.  Occasionally, I have these "choose joy" lightbulb moments that I jot down on Facebook and someone inevitably says that they really needed to hear that.  God has put me on a path of choosing joy and extending love and grace through Him.  It's also a way to continue to honor the sister I love and miss so much.
Emphasize the positive and eliminate the negative. Choose joy.

Peace and Love, Jen

P.S.  I realize this is long so if you've hung in there until the end, you're too awesome!  Also, I realize it's a little all over the place.  Unfortunately, I keep it real by writing the way I talk and this is exactly how my brain traveled.  :-)