Where Does Our Joy Come From?
My mom passed away a few weeks ago after a 2.5-year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a rare neurological disease that for unknown reasons shuts down the nerves responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movements. Muscle weakness and wasting slowly deteriorates movements in the limbs (muscles needed for holding, grasping, and walking), in the mouth (muscles needed for talking and swallowing), and eventually, the diaphragm (muscles needed for breathing). ALS does not affect the brain – a patient becomes a prisoner to the body – fully present and aware of everything happening.
Month by month, we watched in sadness and desperation as my mom’s “favorites” were taken from her. Her ability to cook all our favorite meals, her ability to spoil her grandchildren on shopping sprees and fun outings, and her ability to travel – they were stolen from her.
Her joy, though, did not fade. My mom had a faithful, authentic relationship with God. Her Bible was weathered and filled with highlighting, underlining, and notes in the margin. Even when she could no longer hold a Bible in her hands, her TV was always on a Liturgy or Sermon commenting on a passage of the Bible. Although my mom was obviously suffering – she rarely looked unhappy when friends came to visit. She had the biggest smile on her face the second anyone entered the room and she fully relied on God for everything always answering, “pray” – in all things “pray” was her response – sometimes to her Type A family’s annoyance.
Praying without ceasing, reading the Bible, listening to liturgies, all these things to our control-freak family seemed like “passive” things – but my mom knew better. In her full life, she was devoted to her relationship with Christ and read her Bible and said her prayers daily. But… it was in these last few moments with her I saw with my own eyes what it meant to trust in the Lord with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind – and lean not on your own understanding. Her joy came from the Lord – and we know that because when these "favorites" she loved in life were stripped away from her, the smile of joy remained.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4b
My mom was unable to eat for about 15 months before she passed – we used a feeding tube. As I came to realize, my mom was consuming far more important nourishment. Nourishment we need daily, nourishment that requires slow, meditative consumption, nourishment that reflects the prayer life of our Orthodox Church, and nourishment meant to be consumed together. Her joy came from the Lord because He was the food that gave her true nourishment.
The month of November we developed a Crossroads unit called, “You are What You Eat,” which is all about teaching teens how to study the Bible – how to consume this nourishment we all need. November also happens to be the month of my mom’s birthday. I could not have planned it any better. I dedicate this series to her and to the joy she showed us on Earth – joy that comes from the nourishment of our Lord.
“Food” for thought – what could be taken away from you that would steal your joy?