My brand is Maui Jim. Here’s a fun fact. The world class sunglass manufacturer, suggesting a Hawaiian connection, the one with a tropical parrot as part of their logo, is headquartered in Peoria, Illinois — a place not exactly known for it’s persistent sun or it’s tropics.
I’m brand loyal when it comes to my sunglasses. In my amateur opinion, Maui Jim sunglasses are the best. And once you try the best, and fall in love with the best, an imposter even if less expensive, never satisfies. I’ve tried.
My love for Maui Jim sunglasses was born out of gratitude. Years ago, while living in Peoria, a friend Lisa attended a meaningful weekend called the Great Banquet, hosted by our church. She was so blown away and full of gratitude from her experience that she gifted both Doug and I with a pair of brand new Maui Jim sunglasses. I know, right? — an outrageous thank you. We too were blown away. But even our jaw dropping, we can’t accept this reaction to her gift, fell upon deaf ears.
Lisa’s heart, newly fertilized with loads of gratitude, erupted with uncontainable joy. I remember our phone conversation. “Lisa, a thank you card would have been adequate.” She laughed and I remember her saying something like, adequate? I wasn’t exactly going for adequate. That is how JOY works. It doesn’t go for adequate. It bubbles up from down deep and often doesn’t make logical sense. I accepted her generous gift and easily fell in love with the sunglasses. I’ve been a loyal Maui Jim wearer ever since.
Gratitude and Joy
On thanksgiving, the day when it’s acceptable and even popular to take inventory of what we’re thankful for, I’ve been thinking on the subject. Conveniently, my circumstances have been especially turbulent. You’ll have to trust me on that statement as the details will take you down a ‘you’ll miss my point’ bunny trail.
How does someone whose reality is clouded by present day pain; who is deep in the pit of awful circumstances; who loves God but also struggles to reconcile his goodness with their situation, experience Joy? If that someone is you, I’m right there with you.
Joy, the supernatural gift
The way I see it, joy is a supernatural gift given by the ultimate gift giver, God. I’ve heard the somewhat cliche’d explanation — Happiness is based upon circumstances and Joy is possible in spite of circumstances. BUT HOW?
Since I have a heightened awareness of my control freak tendencies, the way I see it, gratitude is my responsibility and Joy grows from it. Just like the bumper sticker SXXX happens, I believe Joy happens. But it requires a little more intention than some fiber in your diet. It’s as if Joy is my reward as a gift from God — a gracious benefit to my obedience. Cultivating a heart of gratitude is a decision, a matter of the will. It’s a learned skill that takes discipline. What good news. In other words, if you want to experience real Joy, Joy you can’t contain, Joy that persists in spite of your circumstances, you have a role to play in it.
Raise your Ebenezer
And then I found an Ebenezer, which in the bible means “stone of help” as illustrated in 1 Samuel 7:12. For the Israelites their Ebenezer was a stone they raised as a tangible reminder of God’s power and presence. I found Ian’s gratitude journal and it too, is a tangible reminder of God’s power and presence. I remember, as Ian’s scribe, writing daily what he was thankful for. Yes, I did it for him. But, it served a mighty purpose for me too. Last year at this time Ian was past the 3 month mark of his arduous recovery. And on Nov 22, the day before thanksgiving 2017 it reads… “Today my nurse smelled nice.”
Count it all Joy
James 1:2-4 2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
In the Darkness Even a Little Light Will Shine
Scripture suggests that troubles are an opportunity for great joy. Really? How is that possible? In my experience, in the darkness even a little light will shine. It is that truth that made the daily habit of recording in a gratitude journal a fruitful exercise. We were finding a little light in the darkness. And when everything around you is dark, that little light is a beacon. As an act of obedience, we were recording things to be grateful for — leaving the Joy up to God.
Carly, the 3 legged dog
Last month our family traveled to Baylor to visit Becca. Wanting to avoid the overpriced hotels on a football weekend I found an Air BnB ten minutes from campus. The place was special. Actually on second thought, the place was NOTHING special but the host, was so VERY special that our stay was unforgettable. Mika, our JOY filled host, was a lovely twenty something former college student. Her parents and family support lived in Haiti as missionaries. Mika was forced to move back to the states to pursue medical treatment for her constant pain. After many years and many doctors, she is no closer to either relief or answers. And you would NEVER know it.
I was completely taken by Mika. She epitomized JOY. She had what seemed to be an amazing ability to rise above her circumstances. Mika explained, “Oh believe me, that’s where I started, deep in the pit of self pity. But it wasn’t long ’til I realized not only does it do no good, it’s also a joy killer. To remind me, I’ve rescued Carly.” Carly was Mika’s Ebenezer. Carly, a spirited 3 legged dog is just happy she has been rescued. “And I am too,” Mika added.
Perspective changes everything
The opportunity for great joy that the apostle Paul suggests, starts with the gift of a heightened understanding of what matters. Paul’s perspective was perfected from the dark confines of a prison cell. Mika, credits her excruciating circumstances for her mature life changing perspective. As if she now views all of life through some rose colored Maui Jim sunglasses. And Joy happens.
I have loved tennis for many years. But recently I’ve noticed a joy on the court that I can’t explain. It may sound hokey, but I think it’s because of having to step away from it. I no longer take my court time for granted. Because of a season of trial, my tennis time is even more precious. I can honestly say today I play with Joy.
Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff
To reflect on what you’re grateful for is to review God’s accomplishments and to discover His heart. When you discover His heart you realize it’s not just good gifts but the Good Giver.
Thank God for his gifts, sure. But then thank God for Himself. To thank God for His gifts and then stop, stops short of the exclamation point, the biggest gift of all. That is why, no matter how cloudy, I can say with complete confidence, there is always something to be grateful for. And it’s from the depth of that place where Joy erupts.
Learn to Recognize an Imposter
It happened. I hung my Maui Jim glasses in the chain link fence after the sun had set. And yes… I forgot them. Ouch. The loss stung and wanting to move past sunglass-less living quickly, I bought an inexpensive replacement. I hated them. Not only were they inferior, but they were a constant reminder of my loss and how I had settled.
Our attempts to take the short cut towards Joy can feel like that. Skip over the discipline of gratitude and without intention you become bitter, selfish and dissatisfied. An ungrateful heart is a thirsty imposter. Attempts to quench that thirst with what the world offers never satisfies. Thank God lesser loves don’t satisfy otherwise we’d have no craving for God Himself. An ungrateful heart is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything. It’s also the quickest route to killing the gift of supernatural joy.
Consider this… Thanksgiving 2018 put on your Maui Jim’s and see your life through the lens of gratitude. Better yet, continue the habit even after thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll notice your Ebenezers that are all around you and may have been there all along. What can you point to as evidence of God’s power and presence in your life? For me they’ve become obvious — Ian who by all medical accounts, should not have lived; Becca whose outspoken love for Jesus is contagious; my marriage that is stronger now than I could ever have imagined; my childlike delight for a sport I love. Have a grateful heart. Then, JOY happens.