Joy, The Promise of Joy, Words of Endurance

What is it that enables a man who
cannot walk, cannot speak, cannot
breathe, and cannot eat to live a life
that is so filled with joy that it overflows
to brighten the lives of others?

For Charlie Wedemeyer, who for 18 years has fought a physically debilitating battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, living in joy has been part gift and part choice. During the early years, the battle robbed Charlie of joy. At one point, he told his wife Lucy that he would rather be dead than to live as he was. Her response was that she would rather have him as he was than not to have him at all. When Lucy expressed that love for him, she gave Charlie a precious gift that prompted him to make a conscious choice to not only live, but to live life as fully and joyfully as possible. And the Wedemeyer family does live life with abundant joy.

Humor in all forms, from jokes to pranks to just plain silly fun, helps brighten the hard work of helping Charlie live. Charlie’s motto, “any excuse for a party,” made zany parties a trademark of the Wedemeyer household during their children’s teenage years. One time Charlie insisted on sneaking into a hospital long after visiting hours to throw an impromptu party for a teenage friend. No one on the hospital staff ever thought to stop a nurse pushing an obviously sick man in a wheelchair down the corridor! Even the balloon bouquet Lucy carried didn’t give them away.

Another time, Charlie was released from an extended hospital stay so that he could go home “to die.” Two days later, the whole family, including two nurses and all of Charlie’s medical equipment, boarded a plane for a vacation in Hawaii. Their first stop was at the airport gift shop where they purchased a beautiful tropical beach postcard that they mailed to Charlie’s doctor!

Through it all, Charlie is convinced that God can salvage good out of any circumstance. Believing that God has chosen him to bring His message of hope and encouragement to others, Charlie has chosen the path of joy.

“Sometimes,” he warns, “we’ll all be faced with some circumstance that will seem too difficult to cope with. When that time comes, we have to make a choice because God gives each one of us the power of choice. We can choose to be miserable, feel sorry for ourselves, throw our own private pity party, and cause everyone around us to be miserable, too. Or we can choose to face our trials with God’s help, knowing that we’ll come out the other side as stronger people for the experience. We all have that choice.”

As Charlie’s friend, Tim Hansel, reminds us, “Pain and suffering is inevitable, but misery is optional.” Charlie stands as a powerful testimony to the importance of making that choice.


Depression, Joy, The Promise of Joy, Words of Endurance

Joys are always on the way to us. They are always traveling to us through the darkness of the night. There is never a night when they are not coming.
Amy Carmichael

If joy is a promised gift from God, then it was one that for most of my life was either hidden from me or that I hadn’t yet learned to open. And I’ve met countless others who have felt just as I did. The journey of discovering true joy was, for me, long and difficult. I share it with you in the hope that it might make your journey of discovering joy less of an obstacle course than mine was. I share it as a way of offering hope to those who believe that joy is an unattainable gift.

It is amazing to me that many people who meet me now say, “Jan, your face radiates so much joy . . . it gives me hope.” But it has not always been this way. There was a time, after the deaths of my parents and during Dave’s battle with cancer, when I experienced an oppressive depression and knew no joy. I remember lying in bed, feeling a black fog engulf every part of my life. Nothing looked good; life had lost all joy. I couldn’t feel God’s presence, and I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to believe in Him. Nor could I remember what joy felt like.

Total exhaustion, burnout, and depression drove me to my bed for a solid month, but staying in bed wasn’t helping. So I forced myself to get out of bed, although I was still very weak. I sat at my dining room table, sipping a cup of tea and gazing out the window at the flowers in my backyard garden. I sat there wishing life could go back to the way it used to be. The leaves on the trees were swaying in the breeze and shimmering in the sunlight. Their lovely spring green was deepening into a shade that heralds the coming of summer. I watched a sparrow hop from branch to branch, stopping to chirp as if tuning the notes of his song. He seemed to sing a song of joy, a song I couldn’t yet sing, but his bright song reminded me that joy was still alive somewhere. For that, I was grateful.

At that moment, an impression came to me unbidden. It was this: All your life, Jan, you have tried to be in total control, to remove pain and create your own happiness by manipulating people and circumstances. It has been like a juggling act for you. But Jan, it’s not up to you. You need to let go. If you let go, I’m going to show you a joy you’ve never known. . . .

Letting go was not easy. It wasn’t something I knew how to do. Letting go meant learning to trust God and His promises no matter what my circumstances were.

I did not learn this overnight, but God proved Himself faithful. And one spring day three years later, I was sitting at my dining room table, sipping a cup of tea and looking out the window at the mountains. The pine trees surrounding our home were swaying gently in the breeze, and the flowers in the pots on my deck were blooming, heralding the coming of summer. I had a sense that I had experienced this day before.

Then it dawned on me. This day reminded me of the day I was sitting at my dining room table in Ohio, the day when the Lord told me to let go, the day He promised He would show me a joy I’d never known.

As I recalled that promise, I realized that the joy God promised me had become a part of my everyday life, a joy that comforts the soul. I have a joy in knowing that God is my Father, that He cares for me. I have joy in knowing that I don’t have to be in constant control of other people or every situation and in knowing that I don’t have to fear the future or strain to make it unfold the way I think it should. I have joy in knowing that the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders—but on His.

Today, I focus on living, loving, and trusting God. I enjoy what each day brings, and cast all my cares on God as they come. This is the joy I’d never known!


Joy, The Promise of Joy, Words of Endurance

In his book, Turning Toward Joy, David Jeremiah quotes what he calls a prescription for unhappiness. “Follow this prescription faithfully for two weeks,” he promises, “and I guarantee you unhappiness!”

  • Make little things bother you; don’t just let them, make them.
  • Lose your perspective on things, and keep it lost. Don’t put first things first.
  • Get yourself a good worry—one about which you cannot do anything but worry.
  • Be a perfectionist: condemn yourself and others for not achieving perfection.
  • Be right, always right, perfectly right all the time. Be the only one who is right and be rigid about your rightness.
  • Don’t trust or believe people, or accept them at anything but their worst and weakest. Be suspicious. Impute ulterior motives to them.
  • Always compare yourself unfavorably to others, which is the guarantee of instant misery.
  • Take personally, with a chip on your shoulder, everything that happens to you that you don’t like.
  • Don’t give yourself wholeheartedly or enthusiastically to anyone or to anything.
  • Make unhappiness the aim of your life, instead of bracing for life’s barbs through a “bitter with the sweet” philosophy.

Lord of Joy . . . You promise joy in the
midst of our suffering, so please let me know
your joy today as I persevere in faithful service
and as I demonstrate true commitment in my
tasks. Give me your smile, let me feel your
peace dancing in my heart. That, for me will be
true joy.
Joni Eareckson Tada


Joy, The Promise of Joy, Words of Endurance

So my heart exults, my very soul rejoices,
my body, too, will rest securely,
for you will not abandon my soul…
you will reveal the path of life to me,
give me unbounded joy in your presence,
and at your right hand everlasting pleasures.
Psalm 16:9-11, Jerusalem Bible

When we suffer, one of the things we hunger for the most is the feeling of joy. We long to experience happiness, to laugh, to feel lighthearted, to feel comforted, to feel hope, to look forward to the future with delight rather than dread. But suffering is not conducive to joy. Suffering is one of the challenges on the journey of life that makes joy very hard to find.

This was true for me when I was in and out of the hospital, fighting my battle against cancer. I felt fear, anxiety, frustration, doubt, uncertainty, but I rarely felt joy. It was true for Jan when she fought her battle against depression. She felt the vast, dark emptiness of depression, but she couldn’t feel joy. And the feeling of joy has been just as elusive for many, many others who have journeyed through suffering and pain.

But the good news about joy is that it is out there – somewhere – even when we can’t feel it.

Jan and I have found that the ultimate joy, the promise of joy that will never fail, is found in the salvation that Jesus Christ offers us. True joy comes in knowing that God cares enough about me that He has opened the doors of heaven to me. The promise of joy is that someday, no matter what good or bad experiences I go through on this earth, I will live with Jesus in a place where there are no more tears and there is no more suffering.

Because God’s ultimate promise of joy is out there, it is possible to see glimpses of joy – even when we suffer. I am not in any way saying that experiencing joy is easy. To experience the feeling of joy in the midst of acute suffering is very difficult. For example, I couldn’t fix my thoughts on things that would allow me to experience joy because I was so consumed by the suffering itself. But at times I did experience a sense of joy, and it came through the loving care and comfort of others.

Those precious glimpses of joy came through friends who, even though they may not have understood, still allowed me to talk about whatever I needed to talk about. It came through the faces of those who loved me and didn’t beat around the bush but helped me deal with reality. It came through the words of the Bible that were shared with me when I didn’t have the energy to seek them out myself.

When we receive comfort and encouragement from others, we receive a bit of joy. The love, concern, and encouragement of others stands out to me as the clearest reminder of God’s care and concern for me. And this is true for many other people who have endured a time of suffering. So often people say, “I don’t know how I would have gotten through this had it not been for the encouragement of the people around me.” This is just the way the Bible tells us comfort will come. The Bible describes God as “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NIV).

That comfort is part of the joy Jan and I, and the staff at Outreach of Hope, want to share with you. We know how easily pain and suffering can rob us o joy. Because we discovered the reality of joy in the midst of our personal struggles, we want to share that joy with you. As Christmas, the season of joy, approaches, we hope that you, too, will discover the reality of joy. Our desire is that the stories and insights of others that we share with you through this issue will point your heart toward joy.


Endurance for the Journey, Grief, Hope, Lighten Your Load, Love, Words of Endurance

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith,
let us strip off every weight that slows us down

When your journey takes you into the valley of suffering, it is so important to assess the load that you are carrying and discard any needless weight. Needless weight will slow you down and eventually burn you out. I know this from my own personal experience.

I always felt responsible for everyone and everything. I honestly once believed that whatever came across my path – God wanted me to take care of. And up until we entered our valley of suffering I did a pretty good job of juggling and carrying all that life threw at us. God soon showed me how ridiculous that belief truly was.

After Dave’s comeback, the breaking of his arm and subsequent surgeries, he required a large amount of care and attention. During this time, Dave was incapacitated and unable to do anything, I was Dave’s caregiver, the single parent to our two young children and also ran our household alone.

But the load became unbearable when I also tried to continue to meet the needs of extended family, friends and even mere acquaintances. Any request that was made of me I tried to fulfill – I could not say no – I wanted to please everyone. I remember thinking – isn’t this what God expects from me?

Of course, I could not sustain that unrealistic load and I collapsed under the weight of it all. In order to be restored and endure this journey, I needed to establish what my priorities were, reassess the load I was carrying and strip off any needless weight.

I was surprised to learn that while my top priorities were my husband and my children, my own personal health was a priority too. I needed to take care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually so that I would be strong enough to take care of Dave and the kids – this was not being selfish but selfless. What a relief – it was OK for me to take care of me!

“…love your neighbor as yourself.”

I casted needless weight when I learned the truth that the extra burdens that I had been carrying had not been placed there by God but by me. God did not expect me to take care of every need that came across my path. I had the right to set boundaries and say no to lesser priorities so I would be able to take care of my higher priorities. What a revelation for me – what freedom!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
JOHN 8:32

Praise God that He is not the taskmaster that I thought He once was! I learned the complete opposite to be true …

Then Jesus said,
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you.
Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
MATTHEW 11:28-30

Praise God for His Truth. He helped me lighten my load and enabled me to endure. Establish your priorities – allow Him to lighten your load so that you too may endure your journey.

On the journey with you,
Jan Dravecky