Black Eyed Peas, Joy in a Jar, and Doin’ the Happy Dance…

It’s that time again.

The time of the year where everyone is aware of the extra pounds gained over the holidays. If you survived the season unscathed, kudos to you! But for most of us, we came out of the season and 2021 a little “fluffier.”

If we didn’t already know this, it hits really close to home when trying to zip up jeans. We are reminded with fear and trepidation when the pants are finally closed, but stretched to the limit, that the metal button might possibly give in under the stress and pressure of the too tight fit, and fly across the room like a bullet, endangering anyone in its path.

And then there are the non-stop commercials from Nutrisystem, WW, Slimfast, and Noom. The never-ending pitches to lose weight. I’m not knocking these programs and plans, but Marie Osmond and Oprah always make me feel a little fatter and more slovenly than I did just weeks earlier.

I’ve lived most of my life thinking about my weight. It’s a daily struggle. I have the metabolism of a sloth and am short, to boot. Yes, my weight awareness is partially due to vanity, but it’s mostly about trying to be the healthiest version of myself.

This past year, I was in the groove. I was strutting my way through 2021 making healthy choices, which also helped my overall attitude. In addition, I changed some other habits, such as limiting social media, changing the radio station, and being more intentional with each day. Being proactive rather than reactive in both my thoughts and words.

And then came Thanksgiving and December. It seemed we were on the road every weekend, and away from the daily routine. And for me, that’s dangerous. I thrive on a routine.

But we were with family. And we were welcoming a baby girl. We were spending precious moments with our grandson. We were making memories, and macaroni and cheese. We lived in the moment, soaking it all in.

And I decided to let go. I wanted to enjoy it all, and not worry about food. I wanted to count blessings, not calories or carbs.

Needless to say, I packed on a few pounds, and now am dealing with the aftermath of my month of freedom. While I’m beating myself up in many ways, I always look forward to new beginnings and challenges. I do have a pretty good plan in place, and when school starts back, I will welcome back that routine I so desperately cling to.

But in all the anticipation (stress) of the “new year/new me syndrome” that appears from out of nowhere just nanoseconds after the ball drops and January arrives, I feel as if this year will be different.

I’m not anxious. I don’t have that feeling of failure or doom. While I wish I had made a few better choices in the last month, I’m putting that behind me (literally! LOL) and looking ahead. I don’t regret the corn casserole, the sinful sweet potatoes from Paula Deen’s cookbook, nor the gluten-free chocolate pie that my husband made for me. I enjoyed every bite (and shared with others). I am, however, keenly aware of the fact that in order to be my healthiest, I have to begin again. Start over. Take it one day at a time. And I must do this without too much self-loathing.

We (Americans) spend a lot of time and money on “resolutions,” and we make a lot of companies really rich on our quest to make changes in our lives. Hopefully, these changes are for the better.

Sadly, in the midst of reviewing all our flaws and failures of the previous year, we seem to forget the good things, as well. We overlook the days we succeeded. The times we helped someone. The moments we smiled, and gave hope to another who was sad, or heartbroken. The seconds and minutes where we laughed and experienced the joy of a child.

We tend to look at ourselves and define ourselves by our flaws when we should focus on the beautiful, wonderful, fabulous parts of us. The things on the inside. Our heart. Our soul. Our mind.

So, on New Years’ Day when you’re eating your black-eyed peas for luck, and your cabbage for wealth, be sure to stop for a moment and congratulate yourself for making another trip around the sun. You survived another year, and you made it better and happier for those around you. And if you didn’t, well maybe you should work on that.

However you assess 2021, remember this:

I’m going to try something different this year. While I will include and continue with healthy eating habits, exercise, and a quiet time in my daily schedule, I am also hoping to challenge myself to find joy in each day. Every. Single. Day.

I understand that on most days this will be easy, but on other days, it might seem impossible. Throughout each day, whether it’s good or bad, happy or sad, I will search for joy, and if it’s hiding, or refusing to be found or noticed, then I will make a point to try to somehow bring joy to those around me.

This idea isn’t original, but I am going to start a “Joy Jar.” It’s nothing fancy. I will begin with a plastic jar that once housed those soft peppermints that melt in your mouth. I might eventually step it up, and find something prettier, or bigger. We’ll see how it goes. But for now, I will focus on what goes inside the jar.

I will have slips of paper in a drawer next to the jar, along with a pen. Each day, I plan to write down “the joy” I experience, find, discover, shake out, or share. I’m hoping that the jar, at some point, will be overflowing, and out of necessity, I will have to find something much bigger. And I might proclaim it my “big-ass Joy Jar,” which would make me laugh, but will also send my mother to the church prayer room.

For now, the joy jar won’t be decorated in an elaborate way. Just like me, I want to make it about what’s on the inside. That’s my goal for 2022.

And the real joy will come next December, when as a family, we spend time reading the slips of paper that have lived in this jar of joy in 2022. My purpose is to remind myself of all that I have, and to make this a new tradition— one that other family members might also embrace.

You know, it’s simple and true: when you have gratitude and give thanks for all you have, your life turns around.  Joy will appear out of nowhere. It will rain down on you like confetti, every single day.

There’s a song out now by Pat Barrett, and the title encompasses my New Years’ Resolution: “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly.”

My goal/resolution/daily effort to become better in all ways lies in these words, which are inspired from Micah 6:8:

“It all comes down to this,

What you require of me.

Love my neighbor as myself,

And you above all things.

Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly, With you, God.

In all things, in all ways, walk humbly with You, God.

And years from now we’ll see,

The fruit our hands have sown.

Faith just like a seed,

The only way it grows.”

Click here to listen to “Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly”

As I wrap this up, I want to share a little story about one of my friends at school. He just turned eight, and is a tow-headed, little-for-his-age fella. His eyes are blue, and twinkle like stars. He has a slight speech impediment, and even on the worst days, he finds a way to smile, and makes others smile with him.

The week before our grand-daughter was born, I informed the students I meet with individually that I would be out the following week. I explained why, and most of the kids didn’t respond at all, or became extremely awkward as I shared this personal information with them.

But my little friend with the flaxen colored hair, blue eyes and smile that could light up the entire continent replied, “I really hope you don’t get fired. You probably should just stay here and do your job!”

(except where there was supposed to be an “L” sound, he said it like a “W,” and it was the single-most precious sentiment I had heard in some time).

I explained that I had days saved that I could use to miss work, but he didn’t back off. He truly was afraid I might lose my job.

When I saw my friend the week before Christmas, he was a little sad. He matter-of-factly stated what he really wanted for Christmas was to get to see his mom. She left when he was very young, and this void and absence accompanies him on all the days that end in the letter “Y.”

But even though my friend is sad a lot and has a hole in his heart from feeling abandoned and forgotten, he ALWAYS finds the good in things. And along the way, brings goodness to others.

I have a little plastic button-type thing on my desk. It’s sort of like a bell you might ring in a place of business when you need/want service. On the button is the word “Worry,” and it has a red circle around it, with a slash mark across it.

I see fourteen students individually on the three days I work, and this friend was the first one to notice and then ask about the button. When he did, I flipped it over, and turned it on. I set it down on my desk and told him to press down on the word “Worry.” When he followed my instructions, a huge smile spread across his angelic face as the song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” began to play.

My little friend was covered in Joy. He smiled, and then asked if he could do it again. Of course, I said yes, and we listened again to the words:

“Here’s a little song I wrote, you might want to sing it note for note,

Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Since that day several months ago, that’s how my friend and I end every session. He asks if he can press the button, and then he begins to dance. He does the robot, and spins around, and does a little “cabbage-patch” type move. And he loudly belts out, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Except where there is an “R” sound, it sounds like a “W.”

Whenever I’m feeling a little sad, wishing I lived closer to my grandchildren, hoping the world will be kinder and gentler, and that I might rest easier, and throw my own worries in the wind, I remember my little friend, Jack, and my heart is filled with Love, and Warmth, and Happiness and Joy.

I haven’t written it yet. I’ll wait until January 1, 2022. But the first slip of paper that I will place in the “Joy Jar” will be about the second-grade boy who not only finds joy, but also spreads it. I’ll remember my friend. And I will remind myself each day, to not worry. To be happy.

Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe it’s all here right in front of us. Waiting to be discovered.

Maybe we don’t have to get rid of things to be happy. Maybe the things we need to change, only need to be tweaked. Fine-tuned. Polished.

Maybe finding joy is as easy as pressing a button. Maybe we just need to find the right song. The one that makes us dance. Even when we’re a little bit sad.

As I close, my friends, I want to celebrate you—-the person you are right this second. You are beautifully and wonderfully made. Sure, we all have things we’d like to improve upon. But don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember those three things: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. When you do this, you will find immeasurable joy. The way down deep in your heart kind of Joy.

And if the devil doesn’t like it?—

Well, you know what he can do…

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