Joy remains

Wednesday was a great day. If somebody, somewhere is keeping a record of best days in history, Wednesday ought to be added to the folder labeled Thomas. It was fall break for metro schools, and on Monday I had checked the weather forecast for the week – cloudy with a chance of rain every day, except on Wednesday: Sunshine, mid to upper 70’s. It looked like the perfect day to go kayaking with Miles.

Wednesday morning I got up early and looked out the window – very promising! Miles and I loaded the kayaks on the car, put the paddles and the rest of the gear in the trunk, and took off to Percy Priest Lake. First thing I did when we got there, was send a text to Kaye, Hope, and Greg telling them I would not be coming in (no worries, I wasn’t playing hooky; it was a make-up day). Miles and I put the boats in the water and started paddling across the lake toward the dam. The sky was clear with just a handful of fluffy white clouds, the lake was smooth, and not a jet-ski in sight; it was gorgeous. I took a couple of pictures to send to Hope, Greg, and Nancy, but that was it. I didn’t think about stuff, let alone worry, I just paddled and enjoyed the view, the quiet, the sun on my face, the breeze on my skin, and that Miles seemed to have a good time as well. We had a little snack break on Bear Island before paddling back to the boat ramp at Hamilton Creek park and driving home.

Wednesday was a great day. Friday, however, was something else altogether. Friday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.[1] I had made plans to power wash the stone columns in the entrance to the sanctuary. They have some stains from algae growth, particularly on the west side. So on Thursday, I checked the power washer in the basement. It didn’t have gas in it, and I made a mental note to get some in the morning. Bob Lyons had told me I could use one of his trucks for the day, so I could pull a boom lift from Home Depot to the church. We swapped vehicles on Thursday night, and Friday morning, after a quick stop at the gas station, at around 7, I signed the rental agreement with Home Depot tool rental for a 35-foot boom lift. I backed up the truck, the hitch and the trailer fit like they were made for each other, when suddenly the guy from Home Depot told me that he couldn’t let me drive off the lot with the equipment: “Sorry, buddy, your truck doesn’t have the proper towing package; you can’t use a bumper hitch mount.” Uh-oh. Where do I get another truck on Friday morning? It was too early to call anyone, so I started texting: “Bob, do you have another vehicle I could use?” “Jack, could you help me pull a boom lift from Home Depot to church?” “Joe, I hope you continue to do well after the knee replacement and I hate to bother you with this, but could I borrow your truck?” Bob had a van with a trailer hitch, but it wasn’t available that day. Jack hadn’t looked at his phone yet, but I got a call from Joe: “Sure, you can use my truck. Just come on over and get it.” Perfect! So I drove to West Meade, left Bob’s truck in the driveway, took Joe’s truck and returned to Home Depot tool rental, signed another rental agreement, paid the deposit, and pulled the boom lift to the front of the church.

It was 9:30 by now, and I hadn’t done a thing yet; but I was ready. I hooked up the pressure washer and filled the tank with gas. Then I positioned the boom lift on a level spot and proceeded to lower the outriggers.

“Strange, that key doesn’t seem to fit,” I mumbled. “No, they wouldn’t give me the wrong key, it’s probably me.” Well, it wasn’t me, it was the wrong key. So I drove back to Home Depot where the guy apologized profusely and handed me the correct key. “Sorry, buddy, we’ll definitely adjust your rental time.” Oh, that’s so generous of you, I said to myself, but I was eager to get back to church and didn’t say anything.

So I drove back, positioned the lift on a level spot, pulled the parking break, extended the outriggers, and tested all the controls. Everything seemed to be working just fine. Excellent! I turned on the water, ran it through the pressure washer for about thirty seconds, and prepared the small engine. Power switch on. Gas line open. Choke valve open. Pull starter rope. One. Nice rumble. Two. Three. Well? Four. You know, of course, what happened. Exactly, nothing. The pressure washer didn’t start. I waited a minute and tried again. Same result. Could be a clogged air filter, I thought, or perhaps a bad spark plug. Who knows when that thing was last used. I didn’t have the tools to check the spark plug or the filter, and did I mention that it was raining the entire time? I walked around the building to see if the tree guys were still there. They were taking down a big tree by the playground, and they know how to convince a misbehaving small engine. They were already gone.

I played with the idea of renting a pressure washer, but then I calculated that another trip to Home Depot would take another hour, and by the time I’d get started, I’d have to think about returning the lift. And I didn’t have all afternoon anyway, since there would be a wedding rehearsal, and while they would love to notice clean columns, they certainly would’t want to see me there. So I turned off the water, rolled up the hose, rolled the pressure washer to the storage room, pulled in the outriggers, hitched the lift to the truck, and drove it back to Home Depot. Then I took Joe’s truck back to his house, and Bob’s truck back to the warehouse, and drove home in my own car.

I had been busy for something like 7 hours, and I hadn’t got anything done. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. You’ve had days like that, haven’t you? Days when just about everything that can go wrong, does in fact go wrong? And you know what was playing in the back of my head? “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). I carried that word with me all week; I wanted it to be the backdrop for anything and everything I would encounter day to day. Oh, and Wednesday, glorious Wednesday, enjoying a lovely late summer day with Miles, immersed in the beauty and peace of creation, I rejoiced and my heart sang, “Lord of all, to thee we raise this our song of grateful praise!” Who wouldn’t sing when the lake reflects the blue and white of the sky, the shore line is dressed in every color fall introduces early in the season, and everything, everything glows in golden light? Who wouldn’t rejoice and sing?

But on Friday, well, on Friday rejoicing was a stretch. Rejoice always? Paul was no pollyanna. He wrote those words from jail, facing capital charges, knowing that he might die soon. “But even if I am being poured out as a libation” – he speaks of his own possible execution here – “even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you—and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17-18). Like a thread of gold, joy is woven into the text of this letter from jail, and it shines in places where you’d least expect it. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5). The source of Paul’s joy is the nearness of God.  The horizon of Paul’s world, even in the confines of his cell, is the nearness of God. “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything; in everything, let your requests be made known to God. The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). The horizon of Paul’s world is not determined by the particular circumstances of each day, but by the nearness of God. According to Paul, joy is not an occasional emotional outburst, but something both bigger and deeper that grounds our experience; it is a discipline of perception, a fruit of the Spirit, a gift of grace. Joy rises when we remember that Christ has made us his own; when we know that we are not children of circumstance, but children of God. Joy rises from the nearness of God in any circumstance.

Friday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day – but only because I wanted to get those columns cleaned and things didn’t go my way. But at the end of the day – and believe me, it didn’t dawn on me until late in the evening – what’s a stained column against the horizon of God’s reign? Yep, it’s exactly that: a column that will have to get washed another day. But wasn’t it great to talk with Joe on the front porch about physical therapy and small engine maintenance? Wasn’t it great to drive back to Bob’s warehouse and talk again about that crazy day, groaning and laughing? “Go home and have a beer,” he said when I was about to leave. “I think I’ll have two,” I shouted over my shoulder. Later that night I told Nancy the Reader’s Digest version of the story, and that’s when it dawned on me: it wasn’t such a bad day after all. It allowed me to notice again and be grateful for Joe’s generosity. It gave Bob and me another story to tell the grandkids after the one about the great flood of 2014. I discovered again after sitting with the day’s events and processing them quietly, what a gift it is to share all of it with Nancy. And what’s all that against the horizon of God’s reign? It’s the stuff that matters. It’s the joy that remains. Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice.


[1] This is no endorsement of the current movie, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The book, written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz, was published in 1972.