Choosing Joy: Mama’s Unexpected Lessons

It was our turn. Of course it was. In the four short months since our wedding, every one in my first family had been under seige. Heart attack, life-changing injury, the end to a a long relationship. What was next?

What was next was Tom’s company going out on strike. In the early days Tom’s salary supported both of us. Strike meant no income whatsoever. We were devastated.

Like most young couples we were anxious to demonstrate our independence. And like some young couples, we weren’t really prepared for unexpected changes to the status quo of our world, especially so soon.

It was the first of July, and hot. Of all the crazy things I could have expected Mama to advise, she told us to go swimming! Not get out there and find a job. Not tighten our belts. Nothing like that. Go swimming!

HISTORICAL NOTE: Gas was way less than a dollar, and jobs were few and far between.


Mama knew Tom’s family, like ours, loved to go on picnics, and Tom had often spoken of a nearby lake where they went swimming (for free). Mama also knew there was no way she and Daddy were going to let us starve. 

Mama told me to just to enjoy the time we had. What! I didn’t think Mama knew the meaning of the word “enjoy’.

Flash forward eight years. A congenital birth defect had cost the life of our first child, and our second pregnancy also had its challenges. Now we were expecting our third, and last, child. Because of complications with the earlier pregnancies, I had to undergo prenatal tests.

Following one of the tests, the specialist said (almost casually) that it looked like our pregnancy wasn’t going to end well. (Actually, he didn’t say it that kindly.) Then he walked out the door.

The car was filled with heartbreak and silence as we drove to Mama and Daddy’s to pick up Mary, our second child. I was stunned from the specialist’s report. Sadly, I don’t think I even hugged my happy, healthy three-year old.

Over three decades later, I can still tell you every detail of the room, what we were all wearing, where we were sitting. I didn’t know if I could stand it if we lost another child, despite the bright and beautiful one who blessed our lives.


I can hear Mama’s voice, “Alice, look at me, Baby. Look at me.”

I drug my eyes from the pattern in the rug, and my heart from the sterile procedure room at the hospital.

“Baby, sometimes you just have to stand there and take it. Did you hear me? Sometimes we don’t have a choice about what happens, but we can choose to stand.”

Much of Mama’s life had been beyond sad. Some might say downright horrible. But along the way, Mama had learned that we didn’t just seize joy; we choose joy.


Dear Reader, I don’t know of a single person whose life hasn’t been tainted by pain. Choosing joy isn’t easy when pain threatens to flood our lives. If you are needing encouragement from ones who understand the challenges of choosing joy, get your hands on a copy of Choose Joy, by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver.

What works for me is to know we don’t have to go through pain and disappointment alone. What works for me is to know others who have faced the same questions and doubts, and decided to choose joy. What works for me is to lean on others, when I’m having trouble standing on my own.

How have you gotten through the disappointments or sorrows of life? What would you tell someone who is going through sadness right now?

This week I’ll be linking this post to Giving Up on Perfect and Coffee for Your Heart.  I’m excited to be linking up with a new friend, Lisa at Life in the Blue House.

0 thoughts on “Choosing Joy: Mama’s Unexpected Lessons”

  1. What a powerful post! Thank you for sharing your heart and for the reminder that JOY is a choice. 🙂 And thank you for linking up with us at Mom Monday. xo

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