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.
As 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.