“Come back, Joy.
Come back, Gratefulness.
Come back, Energy.
Come back, Zest.
I’m looking for you.
And I won’t stop until I find you.”
–Rachel Macy Stafford
Lately, I've received an influx of messages from readers that contain a painful truth: Many of us have lost our joy. Many of us are simply going through the motions. Many of us see the way our irritability hurts the ones we love—but we continue our unpleasantness anyway. We taste the bitterness of our words before they come out of our mouths—but we say them anyway. Many of us can’t remember the last time we were the party … the gathering place … the heartbeat of our family. Many of us have lost our joy and haven’t the slightest idea how to get it back.
I know the feeling.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I recently reflected on that difficult period of my life while out for a walk. A handmade sign stapled to a telephone pole caught my eye. Franklin the cat was missing. I stopped and studied the lovingly made poster despite the winter wind trying to move me along. My eyes became wet just thinking of those who loved Franklin and desperately wanted to see his furry face again.
Come back, Franklin. I pleaded in my head. Come back.
I’d pleaded those same words about Joy a few years prior. Oh how I’d longed to see Joy’s optimistic face and feel her enthusiastically squeeze my heart and hand.
When I got home from my walk that day, I wrote a poem. It seems fitting to share it today.
Like They Do For Lost Pets
Peace left my house without so much as a goodbye.
I haven’t seen Patience in quite some time.
Stillness doesn’t come around much anymore. It’s always go-go-go ‘round here.
Hope is scarce.
Self-love is a stranger.
Enthusiasm has gone and left me spiritless.
Courage is missing.
Focus has completely abandoned me.
I think I’ll put up a sign like they do for lost pets.
“Come back, Joy,” it will read.
Come back, Gratefulness.
Come back, Energy.
Come back, Zest.
I’m looking for you.
And I won’t stop until I find you.
Because life’s just not the same without you.
I vividly remember how I felt when I woke up each morning during that difficult period. I’d crawl out of bed irritable, ungrateful, tired, and bitter; I dreaded the day ahead because I knew it would be much like the day before. One morning, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a long time. I decided to put a note in my daughter’s lunch box. My pen hovered over the sticky note as I debated on what to write. I thought about drawing a smiley face, but that seemed so far from the truth given the current status of my smile. So I wrote four words instead:
I love you Avery!
Because that was truth. My love for this child was still there. It would never, ever go—no matter how far away my smile was.
When I cleaned out Avery’s lunch box that night, I discovered the most remarkable thing. My love note had multiplied. Apparently there had been a blank sticky note attached to mine. Avery had written back to me. It said, “I love you, Mom,” but it might as well have said, “This is worth living for.”
I couldn't explain why, but I urgently taped her note to the kitchen cabinet. Then I got another one of her notes and put it on my closet door. I placed another one on my bathroom mirror. What I know now is these signs served as tangible reminders to look for Joy. The signs reminded me to be aware, be present, and awake. Much to my surprise, I found Joy in the smell of my husband’s aftershave when I hugged him, so I breathed it in. I found Joy in muffin tins so I accepted Natalie’s invitation to bake something together in the kitchen. I found Joy in my own poetic scribbles so I wrote a little bit each day. I found Joy in a small handprint on the sunroof of my car against a backdrop of white clouds. The more I looked for Joy in unexpected moments, the more it came around. And now, six years later, I am grateful to report joy lives here permanently.
My friends, I did not plan to write this post today. Nor did I plan to share that old poem and story, but something encouraged me to do so.
It was a message that arrived in my inbox this week. It was addressed to me, but as I read it, I felt certain it was not just for one heart. The owner of this hopeful story graciously gave me permission to share it with you.
“I turn 40 this year. I have a busy job and two young kids. Over the years, I’ve gradually become more overloaded, more tired, and more stressed. As a result I have withdrawn from ‘my’ life, and given myself over to my family and colleagues. I’m cold, distant, and walk around doing tasks like a robot.
I’ve been reading your blog for over a year. I agree with everything – I nod and smile and sometimes I cry. Sometimes I share your blog with my husband or my Facebook friends. I never actually do anything different though, I don’t know where to start. My kids are happy enough, but there’s something missing in me, and I worry that one day they’ll notice. I just never knew what to do about it. I have to keep getting all the jobs done, right?
On Friday, I went into our local thrift store to drop off a bag of clothes and right there beside the books was a bag of unopened sparkly pompom balls. I am not religious, but I decided right there and then it was a sign from God that I was supposed to buy the balls and use them to recreate the kindness jar you shared recently. It was amazing. Just the presence of the sparkly balls was enough to cheer up my children on a cold winter day. Since then, we’ve had 4 days of kindness in my house. And I started it! I actually did it. And it didn’t cause my to-do list to self-destruct, and nobody went unfed or unclothed, and I didn’t lose my job. It just happened, and it was a good thing. So far so good …
Moving on – my husband. Where do I start there? I think I started ignoring him the day I became pregnant! I just don’t have time/energy to show him any appreciation. We’re happy enough, but I see the damage I do to him. Only criticism – never thanks. We’re growing apart. He feels like a failure, yet he is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. This morning, something amazing happened.
Today he woke up early, full of energy and enthusiasm as he always does. He’s a morning person, and I am not. On the radio, the presenter announced that in three minutes, in our local area, we should be able to see the international space station pass overhead. It was a freezing cold, clear morning. My husband shouted to the kids to come quickly; he was so excited. He already had the windows open so he could see it. I got out of bed (reluctantly). We stood there at 7am, all 4 of us, staring at the ISS moving slowly through the sky. The rest of the morning was brilliant. Instead of struggling to get them to school on time, they skipped happily along the road and seemed delighted to go. When I got to work I realized my day had got off to a great start because my husband is such a great father. I’m lucky to have him in my life. I felt grateful. I saw the notification from Hands Free Mama in my inbox. I decided to do something. I sent this email to him at work:
‘Thank you for this morning. You have an amazing ability to be happy and enthusiastic as soon as you wake up. I can’t do this – I need time to come round, have some tea, etc – but you can be exciting and interesting and fun right from the start. N loved seeing the ISS and on the way to school. R said you are the best Daddy ever because you are fun and you make her laugh.
The babies were so happy this morning and that made me happy.’
I got this reply from my husband:
‘That’s the 2nd time I’ve cried at my desk this week. Thank you for possibly the nicest email I’ve ever received. I will look at that whenever I’m feeling like a failure.’
I am a bit overwhelmed. I’ve honestly become so closed off that this feels like an awakening of an old version of myself that I thought I’d never get back. It’s time to come back from wherever it was that I went. I don’t really know what the next step will be, but I know it will be a positive step forwards, and not a retreat. I'll keep reading your words and try to make up for lost time.
With much love,
My friends, finding my joy again began with one small step: posting Avery’s love notes throughout my house. This action was powerful enough to awaken my lifeless soul, overpower my inner critic, and inspire me to connect with my loved ones. For the woman who emailed me, finding joy began with sparkly pom poms balls and a message of gratitude to her spouse. I truly believe everyone has one action that will help him or her catch a glimpse of what seems lost.
Maybe it’s joy you’re missing. Or maybe it’s enthusiasm … or peace … or gratitude … or connection … or focus.
On Franklin the cat’s sign there was a description of what he looked like. I think describing is a good start when something is missing.
What does joy look like to you? What does peace feel like? What does connection resemble?
(When you know what you're looking for, it’s much easier to spot.)
Maybe enthusiasm looks like a push on the swing, a loving goodbye, or a trip to Starbucks together. Maybe connection looks like helping her with her shoelaces or sitting beside him as he eats his cereal. Maybe peace looks like an offer to rub her back or a few minutes to read side by side. Maybe joy looks like time on a yoga mat, taking a long walk, or going to a matinee movie. Maybe focus looks like turning off the notifications on the phone to shut out the world for a spell.
Today I ask you to think about what is missing, what it looks like, and one small step you could take to bring it back.
Then do it.
One small action—put it out into the world.
It just might multiply and come back to you as a sign that Joy is waiting around the corner … just waiting to make its way home.
I recently completed my third book, ONLY LOVE TODAY, which is designed as a daily inspiration book without the pressure to be used daily. Organized by seasons of life, the reader can simply turn to a particular section to find encouragement, inspiration, practical strategies, and direction for what is lacking in his or her life. Unlike a book that requires cover to cover reading, this book has a flip-open, read-anytime/anywhere format for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love despite everyday distractions, pressures, and discord. “Only love today” began as a mantra to overcome my inner bully, and now it is the practice of my life. It can be yours too. Pre-order at Amazon or Barnes and Noble (a few signed copies still available). Email a receipt of your pre-order to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the gorgeous hand lettered reminders, bookmarks, and coloring pages pictured below. Offer good until release day (March 7, 2017).