I WAS shocked at her simple beauty. Even through the 1920s styling of her clothes and the yellow tint of the photograph, she stood there smiling and confident with an expression of being at peace with the world. The faded image bore no outward resemblance to the woman I had come to know.
I was her pastor. I had visited in her home many times, talked with her, prayed with her and sought to encourage her. But the woman I knew was nearing the century mark. Time had ravaged her body and robbed her of even the mobility to leave her tiny home. The silent thief of Alzheimer’s disease had stolen the best part of her mind.
I knew from the often-repeated stories that she was an orphan, her mother dying in the process of giving birth. She was raised by friends of the family, never enjoyed the company of a brother or sister. She never married, never knew the companionship of a loving husband or the tender touch of a nursing baby. She never traveled, and she saw the ocean only once in her 100 years.
She was never able to finish high school as the need for an income outweighed the need for an education. She worked in a factory making shoes. I make more in a few days than she ever made in a month.
She has no retirement, no savings and, apart from the family of church, no one to care for her. She survives on a small Social Security check and prayer.
I have wondered if this is the future she envisioned as she posed for that picture somewhere in the distant past. A future of loneliness, hard work, hard times and poverty? A future without the fulfillment of the dreams that most of us hold dear. The expression in the picture is one of confidence and hope; from every outward standard of measurement, her life has been anything but marked by happiness.
But if you knew her, in spite of a spotty memory and confusion, you would know that she has something money and achievement cannot purchase. Her spirit was one marked by an inner strength, a peace that goes beyond my ability to understand.
In spite of it all, she is content. In fact, she is joyful and thankful, rather than petty and bitter. She is always focused on what God has given her and not for a second on what God chose for her to do without. Her only disappointment is that God has seen fit to leave her here so long when she wants to go home.
The outward expression on a time-worn picture is a reality that is now seen in the inward images of the heart. This woman has found joy! The kind of joy I want to experience every day, every moment. I have come to her to give, to minister. Instead I have been ministered to. I have been encouraged and I have been wounded. I have been rebuked by how often I have taken the misguided path that believes lasting contentment and joy can be found in the trinkets and experiences of this world. Her life, the one I can see as whole from the picture I hold in my hand and the face that is before me, teaches me that joy can come only from things that touch eternity. It comes only from a person beyond this Earth and beyond this life. It only comes from a relationship with our Maker.
Psalms 16:11 expresses the idea in divine terms: “In Your presence is the fullness of joy.”
One ultimately finds real and lasting joy in being with the God of the universe. It is not found in the stuff of the world. It is not found in possessions, in achievement or position. It is found in a simple dependence and contentment that has its origin in Him.
Why not take a few moments and take a look at the joy level of your life? Please do not confuse joy with happiness. The comings and goings of happiness are determined by the circumstances of this life. Joy is determined by our being in His presence and is independent of the circumstances of life. Joy is attainable, but only through a relationship with our Heavenly Father, gained through Jesus Christ.
She found this joy and lived it and lives it still. This is the goal I wish to pursue. I encourage you to make the journey as well.