Happiness Is a Direction

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Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower.
A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.
Happiness is a direction, not a place.

-Sydney J. Harris




I wasn’t expecting to see my favourite wild flowers blooming so early. It’s been a harsh winter in the eastern part of the province. We all feel a bit traumatized. Spring flowers, understandably, are also reluctant to poke their heads out.

I found myself in the Okanagan this week on a bit of a detour from the usual routine. There, beside the pioneer’s cemetery on a hill overlooking the city, happiness turned its face to the sun and bloomed its heart out.

I share it with you.


Exercising Happiness

Photo: Babes in the grass

Exercising Happiness

I was avoiding doing the boring stuff, stuff I had done yesterday and, barring anything fascinating or catastrophic invading my day book, would probably do again tomorrow. My favourite way to avoid the inevitable is to click on “Stumble”, an internet search program that leads one to hitherto unknown sites determined by the user’s chosen areas of interest. I’ve spent many happy, unproductive hours collecting more trivia than my brain can store. That morning I “stumbled” upon a writing exercise: Describe a happy moment.

Hmm.  Happy moment.  I’ve enjoyed many happy moments in my life such as falling in love or seeing my babies for the first time.  Oh, and there was that profound moment when I realized, in Sally Fields at the Oscars manner, that God loves me, He really loves me. That was a supremely happy moment, but these examples seemed too obvious.

I searched the cluttered files in my mind and found one labeled, “Remember this.”

Our son and his wife entrusted the care of their two precious little ones to Grampie and me while they took a group of teens to Mexico to build an orphanage. Grampie and I were thrilled to have the grandchildren all to ourselves. We stuck blank plugs into all the electrical outlets –and remembered how hard it is to get those wretched things out when you have to actually plug something in. We locked up the medicine –and noticed there were a lot more little brown bottles in there than there used to be. We erected a child gate at the top of the stairs –and carved a round chunk out of the wall in the process. After stocking up on toys and picture books we were ready to be cuddled and entertained by the most wonderful children in the world.

I regret now putting the mother’s curse on my boy.  The mother’s curse?  That’s the one Erma Bombeck wrote about: May you have children just like you. My boy’s kids also have only two speeds: “high” and “off”, and they acquiesced to “off” mode most reluctantly.

We felt harried and somewhat tense as the little ones dove directly for the things we hadn’t recognized as hazards. Our son and daughter-in-law trusted us with their most valued possessions. That made the babies doubly precious and put us into an exhausting hyper-vigilant state, lest one of them receive a dent. Grampie and I resorted to working in shifts so one of us could take a nap occasionally.

One hot afternoon we took them to the water park.  That water is cold.  Little kids don’t always like the shock of a cold spurt of water catching them unaware.  We were about to try something else when we noticed the little guy standing ankle-deep in a puddle.  He squealed in triumph over his fear of frigid water and plopped his chubby feet up and down. Meanwhile, his sister was collecting water in a pop can for her Grampie’s baptism.

Later as we swathed their goose bumps in sun-warmed towels, a pink swim suited child skipped up to my granddaughter.

“How old are you?”

“Three,” the Princess answered from behind my leg.

“I’m four. Let’s play!”

She pulled our sweet girl by the hand to a grassy area after I gave her permission to go.

I wish I could make friends like that.  I imagined myself going up to a stranger and asking her how old she was.

“Fifty-eight,” she would say.

I would say, “I’m fifty-nine.  Let’s play!”

The girls giggled with glee as they tossed handfuls of clover flowers torn from the lawn into the air. Somehow I resisted the urge to warn them about bees. Instead I stood nearby holding Little Man in my arms.  He rolled his shoulders forward tucking his arms between our bodies and rested his perfect round head on my shoulder. A warm summer breeze enfolded us.  My beloved mountains surrounded the valley like a protective purple fence. On the edge of the park the sound of wind in the swaying trees was like distant applause from approving angels in the grandstands of heaven.

“Take a picture of this,” I told myself. “Take a mental snapshot of this moment. This is happiness. This is joy.”


Photo: Tam O’ Shanter Creek

Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through him we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand,

in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future.

 This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles.

Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance;

this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope,

a hope that will never disappoint us.

Already we have some experience of

the love of God flooding through our hearts

by the Holy Spirit given to us.

(Romans 5:1-5)

A Gold Shirt

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Mom said I sang a lot when I was a little kid. My favourite song was apparently “Que Sera, Sera” which I belted out in my bold three-year old voice from the backseat of Daddy’s cavernous Olds. Since I am now officially closer to one hundred years old than three, what will-be-will-be, at least on this green earth, has probably mostly already been –and it’s been mostly good.

I also remember singing something about a “blue bird of happiness.” I found the actual lyrics today. The chorus goes like this:

Be like I, hold your head up high,

Till you find a bluebird of happiness.

You will find greater peace of mind

Knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.

And when he sings to you,

Though you’re deep in blue,

You will see a ray of light creep through,

And so remember this, life is no abyss,

Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Happiness, crappiness.

I was crying with my friend a while ago. It was the anniversary of the death of her little girl. She showed me pictures of her little one’s last day. There sat a disheveled version of my friend in a rocking chair. Her boyish husband stood beside her, stunned-faced, hand on her shoulder, as they tried to gaze into Lily’s eyes which were closing for the last time. The child was still connected to tubes; you could see a nurse’s hand on the edge of the frame supporting them. Not exactly a blue bird moment.

My friend’s blue bird, like all flighted birds, done flyed away. She has no desire to pursue happiness right now. Their pursuit of happiness was a journey that led to an abyss where the chirping blue bird, flitting high and out of reach in his very own personal sunbeam, mocks her.

Your story may be equally painful. The devil has an uncanny ability to custom-make horror and toy with our fears.

I wonder if we fear disappointment more than pain.

Hope can hurt –hurt too much to risk raising that flag again sometimes. I didn’t dare unfurl that one for nearly twenty years myself. If I saw a “ray of light creep through” I just ignored it as one more creep.

Yet Jesus promised joy and a peace that passes understanding when we trust him. Well, I kind of ignored him for a long time, but when I was finished my dark night of the pout, he was still waiting, willing to talk. Nothing else was working so I decided to listen. I read, in the book of James in the Bible:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Pure joy? You’ve got to be kidding!

I began to wonder if there is a difference between happiness and joy. Nowhere does God guarantee happiness all the time, but he does promise joy in the midst of trials. It seems to me that while happiness might drop by for a visit, joy is willing to move in.

So I asked, “What is joy?”

I think I am beginning to see it. Joy is wearing a gold shirt.

Remember the first Star Trek shows? I’m not allowed to forget. My husband spent weeks taping them all, then bought the boxed DVD set anyhow. He puts them on, turns up the volume, and promptly takes a nap on the couch. I’m the one who can recite the dialogue. The actors in the red shirts seldom came back for a second episode. It is much easier to feed those characters, for whom we have developed no fondness, to the aliens. But we loved our Captain Kirk and his emotion-free sidekick, Spock. Week after week they faced the perils of where-no-man-has-gone-before. Week after week their lives hung by a half-blasted plasma conduit or dangled by a thread of non-linear inspiration until Scottie swooped in –all Deus ex machina and beamed them out of there. We could breathe again.

How could we survive the tension?

Because we knew that our beloved characters were played by actors who had a contract until at least the end of the season –or even longer in the case of syndicated Star Trek spin-offs that still play out during hubby’s nap time.

This is the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is sunbeams and singing blue birds, and lo-cal non-fat lactose-free ice cream that tastes just like the extra creamy cookie dough stuff.

Joy is the excitement of hanging over a cliff all summer until the opening show of the new season when we know, we just know, that God has a creative solution in his script. Joy is the anticipation of seeing how he’s going to get us out of this one. Real joy is seeing the big picture, the reeeeeeeaaaaaally big picture on the really big screen of eternity, knowing that we have a contract with the Producer/Director. He gave everything for this relationship because he has a vision for character development that goes way beyond this season. It goes on forever.

I saw my friend smile the other day, when she talked about Lily in heaven.

See the big picture. Joy. It’s exciting really.