Happy Like This

I’ll never forget my first encounter with Ann Voskamp and her book One Thousand Gifts. It is no secret that I love this author and her writings. I’ve written about my love for Ann many times before now.

I remember sitting in Barnes and Noble, book in hand, settled deep into an overstuffed chair. I opened One Thousand Gifts, a gift from my sister, and began to read words that line by line, page by page changed my heart and changed life. Instantly absorbed in Ann’s words of hope, and joy, and thanksgiving, I sat and read transfixed.

I remember, distinctly, the passage that broke my heart wide open. Referring to her camera as a hammer, Ann writes about her husband finding her spellbound by a plate of grated cheese:

“When he comes in from the barn, the Farmer finds me with my hammer in hand, leaning over a plate of cheese grated and sitting in sunlight. It is true. I do feel foolish. I mean, it’s curls of mozzarella and cheddar piled high in a pond of golden day. And I’m changing the settings for macro, pulling in for a close-up frame. He’s fed 650 sows with one strong arm this morning, flicked on a welder and melded steel. It is quite possible that the God-glory of a ring of shredded cheese may be lost on him.

It isn’t.

“I like finding you just like this.” He wraps one arm around my bowed middle, draws me close and up into him strong.

“Crazy like this?” I blush silliness, and he brushes close with four-day stubble. He laughs.

Perfect like this.” He nods toward the cheese plate. “You being happy in all these little things that God gives. It makes me very happy.”

Happy in all these little things that God gives. Ridiculously happy over slips of cheese. That I am, and it’s wild, and, oh, I am the one who laughs. Me! Changed! Surprised by joy!

Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap, the gift given: joy.” ~ From One Thousand Gifts pg. 56-57 ~

Despite the public world around me, I poured out tears of knowing, tears of longing, over these words that stripped me bare before God.

I saw in these words my husband, Chris, and me like we were the ones in this story. I could see this being him, and I wanted, so badly for this to be me, but I knew that it wasn’t. These words, spoke to me of something my heart was desperate for. To be found happy. In the eyes of my husband, in the eyes of my own heart, in the eyes of my God, happy.

Chris had told me, years ago, in the newlywed days of our marriage, “Jen, I don’t need you to be perfect. I just need you to be happy.”

I knew he was telling the truth. For Chris, to find me happy is to also find me perfect.

I remember hearing his request. I remember finding it impossible. What does he mean, happy? What does that look like? I can pretend, and masquerade happy, at least for a time, but true happiness? Sustaining, unshakeable happiness, the kind of happiness to which he was referring? I didn’t know how to do that, to be that kind of happy.

Time passed, and I struggled. Always wanting to be happy. Always striving, grasping, and trying to make it so. When I read Ann’s words, and my heart cried, “Yes, Chris, I get it now. And, yes, I want that. Oh, how I want this too.”

What followed in Ann’s book, and in my life, was an awakening to happy, to joy, to hope, and thanksgiving. A realization that true happiness flows from a thankful heart, a life of what Ann calls “Thanksliving.Of living in the love of God, of living in love with God, of seeing God’s love and grace in each and every aspect of my life.

For a while now, I’ve felt the change, the overall switch to happy, the overall switch to joy.  I’m learning and growing, and so often I fail, but more and more I see it. Last weekend, perhaps for the first real time, my love, my Chris, saw it too.

On a whim, we piled our girls in the car and ventured out on an early spring afternoon to the city of Chelsea, MI and a store called Mule Skinner Boots.

For quite some time Chris has been on the hunt for a pair of cowboy boots. I love being married to a cowboy so when we read about this store online and discovered that it stocked over 3,000 pairs of genuine boots, we decided to go and check it out.

We found the store, nestled into the quaint and charming main street of Chelsea, and went inside. The staff, warm and welcoming, made us feel right at home. As Chris roamed the aisles in search of his perfect pair of boots, I wandered into the women’s boot section, curious to see their display.

Knowing, my affinity for footwear, Chris instructed the kind saleswoman helping us to, “Keep an eye on her.”

He knows me so very well, for as I meandered the aisles, a special pair of boots caught my eye. I like to say, that I didn’t find the boots, the boots found me. I’m not kidding; it was love at first sight.

I think Chris knew, by the look in my eye, that he was done for, and sure enough, less than an hour later, we were headed home, with two pairs of boots in tow.

As Chris strapped our girls into their seats, I slipped my feet into the luscious leather of my new boots. The whole way home I was giddy and so very much in love. In love with my boots, my husband, my life.

One of the precious lessons Ann’s book has taught me is that in these moments of love for things that make our hearts soar, for our loved ones, for precious moments of life, our love for all of this harkens back to our love for God and His love for us.

Chris looked at me, his smile wide, and said, “I love it when you’re happy.”

Hearing these words, from him, from him, made my heart swell to a new depth of joy, for I knew in that moment that it was happening, that it had happened, that he was seeing me now, as the Farmer saw Ann, curled and hunched over her plate of cheese. “Crazy like this. Perfect like this. Happy like this.”

I smiled back, my crooked smile, looked him in the eye, and again, again, I fell in love. Because this is how to be happy. This is how to find joy that permeates, even in the hard, the sad, and the dark.

Joy is given, and happiness is found in moments, (and cheese, and cowgirl boots). Moments of Thanksgiving. Moments of falling, again and again, in love with God.


Today, Monday, April 15, as I sat down to write this week’s post I received a call from my husband. “Jen,” he said, “You need to turn on Fox News right now. There’s been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.”

I left my computer and turned on the television. For several minutes, I stood and stared at the TV, as chaotic images of innocent people, hurt and in pain, flashed across the screen.

My husband and I are both runners. We’ve both crossed the finish line of a prized and coveted 26.2 mile run. We know, firsthand, how marathons are supposed to go. They are supposed to be jubilant, thrilling, triumphant.

I watched the news for awhile. My girls were down for their naps, and usually I savor these quiet moments of the day to write for an hour or so. As I watched, I kept thinking that I should be writing, but whenever the idea popped into my mind, I countered it with the tiny, but significant, question: “Why?

When tragedies like this one strike, so often the question we collectively find ourselves asking is, “Why?

Why, did this happen?”

Why, are there people out there, who would do this sort of thing?

Why, the suffering, the pain, the death?

As I experienced today with my writing, it is also easy to look at our own lives, in the midst of the evil and darkness we see in this world, and ask ourselves, “Why?

Why write (or whatever it is you do)? What difference is it really going to make in a world where cancer feasts, and children starve, and bodies are blown to pieces?

“Why fight for beauty, and love, and justice, when injustice runs rampant and seems to win the race?”

“Why try to fix these problems, when there always seems to be more death and destruction lurking in the shadows.”

I love The Lord of the Rings movies. Towards the end of the Two Towers, the second film in the LOR trilogy, there is a scene I was reminded of today…

King Theoden and Aragorn are at the end of greatest battle they have yet had to face in the war for Middle Earth, the Battle of Helm’s deep. On the brink of defeat, Theoden has all but lost hope.

Theoden turns to Aragorn and says, So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?

Aragorn replies, Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.”

What I think the noble-hearted Aragorn is saying here is that, yes, there is evil, and no, there may not be a whole lot we can do to change it. Maybe we can’t fix it, or make it go away, but we can stand up against it. In our own way, right here, right now, we can stand up against the evil. We can stand up against the darkness. We can grab our armor and our swords, and we can ride out to face it.

Seeing the hope in Aragorn’s eyes, Theoden fills with hope himself and says, Let this be the hour when we draw swords together.”

So how do we draw swords in today’s darkened world? It will take a noble heart, to be sure.

In order to tell a good story, six essential questions must be answered: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. And since we’re all living not just our own stories, but God’s story (HIStory), I thought that these six questions might help us determine a way to draw our swords.

Who? The “Who” in our story is God. God, who promises us, in His word, that in this world we will have trouble. God, who tells us to take heart, that He has overcome the world. God, who brings each of us into HIStory by creating us in His image, by creating us with a calling all our own. These callings are not just our jobs, hobbies or our ways to pass the time until Christ returns. They are the very way in which God intends for us to battle the darkness.

What? Whatever God has called you to. Whatever it is that puts you in the center of God’s will. Whatever it is that brings you your greatest joy, and meets the world’s greatest need. Do this thing with ALL your heart.

Where? Here, where you are, right now. Whatever it is God has called you to do, do it here. Do it there. Do it anywhere and everywhere you can, because God’s Kingdom is IN us, and this is how we carry God’s Kingdom in and to the world.

When? Now, and tomorrow, and the next day. Whatever it is God has called you to do, do it now. Don’t wait, because you are needed.

Why? Because who you are and what you do matters. It matters to God and it matters to our hurting world. Whatever it is God has called you to do, do this thing especially on the days that leave you asking, “Why?

How? By the grace of God. With God. Through God. Stay close to God. Seek God, follow God, and He will show you that He IS the answer to each and every question.

If days like this one leave you asking “Why?,” remember King Theodan and Aragorn. There is something we can do. There is something we must do. We may never have the answer to all our “Whys?,” on this side of Heaven, but we can grab our swords. We can ride out to face the evil.  We can ride out to face the darkness.

When the Battle of Helm’s Deep was over, Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins shared the following exchange. I am choosing to close with these words because it is my hope that in the midst of the “Whys?” they will remind us of that which is worth fighting for.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really matter. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, the shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances to turn back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”

“What are we holding onto, Sam?”

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”


Downton Abbey? A post about Downton Abbey? Oh yes, I’m guilty as charged. For I, like the rest of the world, have fallen in love with this British display of pure delight.

There is just something about this wildly popular TV show that strikes a chord with me. Simply put, when I watch Downton, I’m not just drawn into the story line, the characters, and the drama. No, something more happens. Each and every time, my heart is stirred and a longing for tranquility, beauty and romance rises to the surface. Considering the show’s popularity, I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Desire can be tricky, and poses the question of what to do when longings arise. Do I pretend they aren’t important or that they don’t exist? Do I let Downton fill my heart with cheap satisfaction and counterfeit joy? Or do I take my longings to God and let Him fill my heart with His peace, His goodness, His love?

In answer to these questions, this is what God is showing me:

The Tranquility of Downton and the Tranquility of God

The residents of Downton Abbey encounter their share of chaos, but there are also many scenes that present the Aristocratic family enjoying breakfast in bed, leisurely strolls, or a good book on a plush chaise lounge. It is scenes like this that make my heart long for a taste of tranquility.

Tranquility is NOT the word I would use to describe my current phase of life. Maybe someday my picture of tranquility will look a little more like that of Downton, but what if, right now, God is meeting my desire for tranquility in ways just as sweet?

What if tranquility, right now, looks like a walk on a spring afternoon with my girls and a stroller? What if tranquility, right now, looks like an oversized chair, my girls on my lap, and picture books piled high? What if tranquility, right now, looks like my words on paper and the satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing the work I’m called to do?

The Beauty of Downton and the Beauty of God

One thing that makes Downton a joy to watch is the beauty that fills every nook and cranny of the show. The clothes, the rooms of the estate, the scenery of the grounds…each and every aspect of the show cries beauty.

When I look at my surroundings I don’t always see beauty. I see dust on bookshelves and dirty clothes piled high. I see bank accounts running low and an endless stream of ordinary days.

God meets my heart’s longings for beauty each and every day, whenever I’m willing to open my eyes and see. While my surrondings may not be the lavish settings I see displayed in Downton, they are certainly no less beautiful. Even dust bunnies and dirty clothes can take on their own brand of lavish goodness when I view them through eyes that are focused on God and His displays of beauty.

The Romance of Downton and the Romance of God

The famous couples of Downton portray the kind of love stories that stir my heart. Tell me, who wouldn’t love to be called “Darling,” every now and then. How I would love to be pursued, treasured, romanced like that.

I love my husband, and I know he loves me, but sometimes I wonder, does our love story read like the stories of Downton? Has he ever called me, “Darling?” Does he even think of me like that?

My husband will be relieved to know, that he’s off the hook on this one. While it is always wonderful to be romanced by him, and I do long for this sort of attention, there is no other love story like that of my Savior. He pursues me, He treasures me. He looks on me, with love, and calls me, “Darling.”

My sweet friend, Ashley, recently shared the following quote on Facebook. I love this statement because it speaks to what I believe, in one way or another, is the ultimate desire of everyone’s heart.

“As I was cleaning my bathroom and listening to Disney Princess music, I was thinking of how I wish I lived in a fairy tale; awaiting my prince to come sweep me away to a castle. Then I realized…My prince saved my life many years ago, and now I’m awaiting his return. And I get the feeling that the kingdom He will take me to is way more beautiful than the castle I was dreaming of today.”

No matter what stirs our hearts, no matter what our hearts long for, God is the answer. Because what do our hearts ever really long for, but more of God?

Foolish, But Free

Last week I shared a story about Doubting Thomas, and how I struggle with the issue of having faith. I also shared about my recent struggle with fear and doubt over my desire to have another baby.

This week, I would like to share the rest of that story, the part of the story that taught me the importance of abiding in God.

When I began to think and sense that I might be pregnant, I shared my heart with a close friend. I knew that my friend had been through a similar experience and would support me, encourage me, and pray for me no matter what happened next.

On a particularly difficult afternoon, I sent my friend a text message and shared with her my feelings of doubt and sadness. She responded: You shouldn’t be sad. You need to pray and wait!!! I’m afraid that if you aren’t pregnant you’re not going to be prepared.

The words of my friend went straight to my heart. I knew, in that moment, that I wasn’t prepared for the possible reality that I might not be pregnant. Quite the contrary, my heart had already embraced the idea of having another baby.

It seemed, at the time, that God was speaking to me, telling me that it was okay to want another baby, and I was trying my best to trust Him. Would I be able to except God’s answer, if it turned out to be “No”? Would I still be able to trust Him? How do you prepare your heart for the possibility of pain and disappointment?

As I considered the ways in which I could prepare my heart for the reality of not being pregnant, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could either begin to guard my heart from possible pain and disappointment or I could choose to abide in God.

Whenever we are waiting and praying for God to give an answer, for the desire of our hearts to come true, we are faced with this choice. It is easy in these moments to self-protect and guard our hearts from pain.

I do believe that God intends for us to guard our hearts from sin, but I don’t believe that He intends for us to guard our hearts from pain. Instead of guarding and protecting our hearts from pain and disappointment, I believe that God intends for us to bring our broken and hurting hearts to Him and allow Him to be the healing we need. I believe that he longs for us to find, and know, and trust that He is the only true healing there is.

The concern my friend expressed for my heart and my preparedness to deal with the possibility of not being pregnant was offered with the best of intentions, but instead of preparing my heart to face the possibility of pain and disappointment in a way that I could handle, I found myself choosing to prepare my heart to abide in God.

In the end, God showed me, that it was okay to embrace my hope and desire to have another baby with all of my heart, and He also showed me that it was okay to risk the hurt. Either way, He would be with me, in my hopes and in my hurts, if I would but choose to abide in Him.

Sometimes taking a leap of faith feels foolish. Allowing our hearts to embrace something that could very well end in pain, is just the sort of thing we like to guard against. But isn’t it okay to be foolish over God?

We think so often in terms of handling our hearts, but what can we do to protect our hearts from pain? What can we do to keep our hearts safe? What can we do to fix a broken heart, but trust that broken heart to God?

I’m learning that the best way, the only way, to protect my heart is to abide in Christ. I’m learning that faith may make me feel foolish, but it also makes me free. Free to hope, free to hurt, free to live in Him.