A week ago, I was one of the last of 25,000 Lutherans left in New Orleans. I was supposed to be gone the day before but Southwest imploded and the apocalypse was impending and, well, I’ll get to that later.
25,000 Lutherans were in New Orleans because of the LCMS Youth Gathering: a conference that nine years ago I rolled my eyes at, three years ago I realized was pretty fun, and then, this past week, made a real actual impact on me. In my defense, nine years ago I rolled my eyes at literally everything. And in my offense, I still roll my eyes at most things. For instance, a moment ago, I ordered a medium mocha because there’s a torrential downpour outside which makes me want warm, cozy things, yes, even in the middle of July. The barista asked me if I wanted homemade chocolate whipped cream on top. Come on, obviously. So I rolled my eyes in true Tina Fey fashion and nodded in such a way as to accurately portray my deep, deep desire for homemade chocolate whipped cream. He said, and I quote, “Wow, that is one of the best eye rolls I’ve ever seen.”
I’ve got that going for me.
The theme of this year’s Gathering centered around the idea of joy, identity, humility, and community being centered in Christ alone. These are my favorite things. I could (and probably will) end up writing about each and every one. But today: joy.
“Joy” is also occasionally referred to as, “The only tattoo Emilie has ever fostered the idea of getting but is still too afraid to actually go through with as of now.” I’ll admit, it’s only referred to as such in very small, specific circles. But joy has been a mantra of mine for quite awhile now. I want to “live a life of contagious joy.” (I stole that line from a random prayer at the Austin Stone a few years ago. I’m all about giving credit where credit is due but I straight up do not know who said that. Sorry ’bout it.)
Last week at the Gathering, I was on the social media team. We did not sleep much. We did not eat at normal intervals. The food we did eat was primarily peanut butter M&M’s. We walked over twelve miles a day in the heat of Hades, I tell you. We applied make-up like war paint so that the civilians wouldn’t notice the extreme bags under our eyes during times of excessive selfie-taking.
And there was so much joy.
The people I worked with were incredibly talented, creative, and hard working. Not only that, but they were hilarious and knew all the lyrics to “Popular” from Wicked. Every day was a downright joy to work and sweat and not sleep with those folks.
Then, after the Gathering, I tried to leave New Orleans and go back home to Tennessee. Southwest Airlines, however, was not into that plan. Their systems were down or aliens invaded or something, I’m not sure what. Either way, the airport went absolutely bonkers. I stood in one line for three hours. After being in the airport for over ten hours, I got rebooked for a flight the next day. (“Next day” because it was technically 1am when I got rebooked. Oy.) Friday morning, I woke up to a text saying that flight had also been cancelled. We rented a car and drove from New Orleans to Nashville.
And there was so much joy.
A stranger also trying to get to Nashville became a wonderful new friend. We heard stories and made memories and ate candy. We drove halfway up the country and sang songs and shared fears and laughed a lot.
Somehow, joy was still easy to access in the midst of extreme exhaustion and travel turmoil. When stress or tension should have had the reigns, joy still called the shots.
And then I came home.
I sat on my couch or at my desk or at a coffee shop. I tried to write but couldn’t. I tried to make music, but couldn’t. Emails had piled up and frustrated voicemails filled my phone. I was stepping into a new role at the church and felt overwhelmed and inadequate just thinking about it. I stepped on a cockroach with my barefoot my first night back. Hold on for a second: DID YOU HEAR THAT, FRIENDS? I STEPPED ON A COCKROACH WITH MY BAREFOOT MY FIRST NIGHT BACK. MY BAREFOOT! MY FIRST NIGHT BACK!
I still feel strongly about that particular incident.
This morning I woke up clear headed, quite possibly for the first time since getting back from New Orleans.
After a cup of coffee to become even more clear-headed, and a quick dive into the Word to get more clear-hearted, I realized I hadn’t actually grasped “joy” at all. Joy: this constant mantra in my life. Joy: the thing I have had in various quotes on various walls since high school. Joy: the only thing I’ve ever been slightly tempted to tattoo on my body. Joy: the theme of the Gathering I had worked at for a week. Joy: my favorite character from Inside Out.
Since I naturally find positivity pretty easy to access, I’d missed the deep, raw, undying joy completely.
Friends, that kind of joy comes from Christ alone.
Does that manifest itself in the community that surrounds us? Yes. Does that manifest itself through people sharing and honing God-given talents? Yes. Does that manifest itself through worship nights full of thousands of young people praising Jesus? Yes. Does that manifest itself through road trips full of both vulnerable and hilarious conversations? Yes. But it does not depend on those things. It doesn’t depend on big crowds or good music or inside jokes. It depends on Christ: his death and resurrection. His deep, radical, forever love for us. His forgiveness. His sovereignty. His simple but extreme goodness.
He brings joy that can’t be undone. His joy embodies hope and passion and identity. His joy permeates normal life, routine, tragedy.
On a grand scale, the world is bats**t crazy right now.
On a small scale, your life might be crazy. Or maybe it’s mundane. Or maybe it’s unsure.
In the midst of whatever life is, we have access to joy because we have deep and immediate access to Jesus. The veil has been torn. Joy came pouring out into our world. We can drink it up and dance it out. The real stuff. Whole milk joy instead of… I don’t know, apple juice joy.
Your joy is not naive. It’s raw and unfiltered and through Jesus, it’s not going away. So continue to get to know Jesus and then go ahead and share it. The world needs it right now.
“Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with j o y.” Psalm 34:5a