When Joy Breathes Life into Barrenness

by | Jan 7, 2015 | Encouragement, Joy


Coffeyville, Kansas: Population 10,295. An industrial town on the Verdigris River just across the border of Oklahoma, depending on which way the wind takes you.  An hour and thirty minute drive for me and twice that for my friend, LuAnn – because it’s been a year since we’ve seen each other and I’m “in the area.”

Tavern on the Plaza is the destination for a three hour lunch carved out of my family road trip from South Carolina to Arizona. She arrives first because I get lost.

While I am scouring tables for blond hair and the familiar sound of her voice, she walks past, following the hostess through the restaurant. Time and place become insignificant when we stop, smile, and wrap our arms around each other.

Seated in a booth surrounded by a bay of windows, we exchange Christmas gifts and honest confessions about life.

Three times, our waitress approaches, asking for choices from the menu. Instead, we apologize and laugh. In the early moments of reunion, being present overshadows growling stomachs.

I haven’t laughed like this for months. The wilderness of a waiting season can trick you into thinking your identity has shifted into a skeleton of your former self, unrecognizable and less than. But LuAnn reminds me that being truly known and loved deeply, it breathes life back into barrenness.

In Fight Back With Joy, Margaret Feinberg writes, “We need people who will reach out and hold our hands whenever we find ourselves walking in the dark. People who are quick to put our hearts at ease and swift to remind us how much we are loved. These are the friends who refresh us deep down when we need it most.”

Before the owner apologizes for turning the lights out in the emptied restaurant, our waitress leans on the wall, holding a water pitcher and admits, “I just want to hang out over here with you two, you are both so nice.”

Extending invitation to talk, her vulnerable responses about being a weary, single mother removes awkwardness inherent between strangers.

“In the fights of life, people can be conduits of great joy and deep refreshment. ” ~Margaret Feinberg

Parting with lumps in our throats, LuAnn and I walk away in opposite directions. We each drive back through a vast expanse of empty wheat fields illuminated golden. Light slants and we are overcome by His nearness.


Phoenix, Arizona: Population 1,445,632, the sixth most populous city in the United States. Thirty-two hours for me; six hours from San Diego, California for Kelly. We meet with our families at a new-to-us restaurant and wait two hours for a table. Decide, tomorrow at an outdoor mall is better for a focused conversation between us.

Strolling through Macy’s, Kelly exclaims, “Oh my gosh, where did you get those adorable pants?” The sales clerk wearing them turns around and discovers Kelly is not shy with compliments and noticing details.

Five minutes later, she escorts us to her personal shopper office. Travels on the escalator, retrieves two pair of the same pants after she tells us they are on sale for $13.00.

She leans on the wall outside the dressing room listening to us laugh and then tells us, “I want to hang out with you two, you make me feel so good about myself.”

“The Great Joy giver is parachuting people into your life to remind you that you are not alone.” #FightBackWithJoy

Smiling as I watch her ring us up, I ask Kelly, “Remember that time when you and I were shopping with LuAnn at TJ Maxx in Kansas? We were laughing so hard, a stranger walked up to us, handed each of us her business card and asked if we would call her the next time we go shopping.”

Joy is contagious and removes distance,  no matter the town, population or place.

book2-300x272As I read Fight Back With Joy, I can’t help but see myself reflected back. Though I’m not fighting breast cancer like Margaret, I am fighting to harness joy in the midst of a difficult waiting season, instead of waiting for joy as an outcome of fulfillment. Margaret writes, “I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense that we are fiercely loved by God,” which is something I know but don’t always live as though I am convinced. Whatever your struggle or situation, Margaret’s vulnerable story of walking through the realities of a difficult diagnosis is an empathetic shoulder; hope when joy seems elusive.

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  1. Shelly W.

    Margaret is such a beautiful testimony to God’s faithfulness (as are you, my dear). She came to speak at Wheaton this fall, and I absolutely loved hearing her. Your post is so wonderful–reminds me of many times with my friends. Joy is a testimony too, isn’t it?!

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes she is Shelly and thank you for that compliment. You are a lucky woman indeed to hear her speak. She is so wise and generous. I am truly humbled by her friendship. And yes, I think that is what my friends have taught me, especially on this last visit. Joy is a testimony of God’s love living inside of us. We are rich when we have friends like that.

    • MargaretFeinberg

      Thank you sweet Shelly. Hope our paths cross again soon!

  2. Mary Gemmill

    We all need such friends !! Glad you have them and glad I have them…they are truly such a gift to us, for sure.

    • Shelly Miller

      We are blessed women indeed Mary.

    • MargaretFeinberg

      Indeed, Mary!

  3. dukeslee

    I fell in love with this book, Shelly. I emailed Margaret to tell her that I laughed and cried several times just in the first few chapters. I was so moved by her story, her encouragement, her tenderness, and her vulnerability. The words came at just the right time for me, as I’ve felt especially tender these days, with so many people hurting.

    I’m so glad you had those moments of laughter with your friend, and Scott and I treasured our brief visit with you and H in Phoenix. xo

    • dukeslee

      P.S. — I wrote about Margaret’s book too, tonight, for #TellHisStory!

      • Shelly Miller

        I love the way God brought you and I together as friends Jennifer. And that we got to meet with our husbands, what a gift I will always treasure. I hope God allows us the extravagance of a repeat one day, that would be amazing.

    • MargaretFeinberg

      Jennifer, again, I am just so thrilled Fight Back With Joy has resonated so deeply with you. Continuing to pray for you and your loved ones today.

  4. Lynn D. Morrissey

    I loved meeting both you and LuAnn in Nebraska, SHelly. What beautiful, blue-eyed encouragers you both are, and your joy is contagious enough to reach anyone your life touches. I feel so fortunate to have been a recipient. And I’m so glad you had this, no doubt, bittersweet reunion before you head to London–joy for the journey. But just think: LuAnn can be your first visitor from abroad. You’ll just pick up from where you left off, tete a tete, joyous heart to joyous heart. Wow, will it be wonderful.

    • Shelly Miller

      I love that LuAnn has been able to peek inside my writing world a bit. It brings me such joy, the way God has allowed our worlds to collide for two decades. And yes, I think she may be one of our first visitors along with her daughter who may be staying with us for an extended period. I think our guest room will be busy!

  5. Natalie

    So much that did my soul good here–a peek into ebullient friendships, contagious joy, and these words: The wilderness of a waiting season can trick you into thinking your identity has shifted into a skeleton of your former self, unrecognizable and less than. Stopped me cold. I feel so worn and less than I used to be. As I shared with a friend through some surprising tears last week, my season of waiting changed me; I am not who I once was in some very good ways, but some also in some that are not so good. Perhaps some of those are really a trick.

    • Shelly Miller

      I get this Natalie. I think the isolation inherent in waiting seasons tends to make us feel forgotten and question our identity. Until we are put back into community and we pop right back. The work of waiting transforms us into better people when we allow God to change us.

    • MargaretFeinberg

      Lifting you up in prayer today, dear Natalie.

  6. LuAnn

    You are a gift! Our time together is a gift! Our friendship is a gift! I thank the Lord for them all. And I thank you for writing so beautifully about us.

    • Shelly Miller

      Right back atcha my dear friend. Love you so!

  7. Mary Bonner

    WOW!! Shelly, this is such an uplifting post for me this morning. Thank you. It touches me in ways that I cannot describe. Thank you. Just…thank you.

    • Shelly Miller

      So glad to know that Mary, thank you for telling me.

  8. MargaretFeinberg

    Love, love, love this Shelly. So grateful for this. And honored and humbled by you!

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