"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
~ Romans 15:13
Ten years ago I was recovering from a series of setbacks following a health crisis that did more than just change me physically. I was also changed emotionally and spiritually. I can remember days struggling to find the strength to get out of bed, curtains drawn, and not even taking the time to turn on the television. Opening the drapes and turning on the television seemed to remind me that the world was continuing to carry on without me, and I felt isolated and alone.
Depression had become my friend, and I allowed it to convince me that things would not get better, and somehow, I no longer saw myself as having worth.
My family had tried to get me to come out of this place I seemed to have created for myself, thinking that the change in scenery might do me good. I soon learned that it had nothing to do with the scenery around me. It had to do with what was inside.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months. Each day was the same. Endless moments of finding things to numb me from the day, and the hope that somehow someone or some thing would change my life.
Those were very dark days, and I will admit, to think of them now still leaves me feeling the pain, and I think about what I lost along the way. It is a chapter in my life I wish that I could resolve in my mind.
Funny how the solitude of those days seems to invite me to consider the life that I am living now. With so many of us now working from home, limiting our contact with others, and focused on covering ourselves to shield us from the unknown. I will admit, many of my days now remind me of those days a decade ago, except this time, even my neighbor seems to understand what this experience feels like.
During that time I met a man who turned out to be a large part of my recovery from those days of isolation. It's at this time that I remind myself to tell others that therapy can be beneficial. For me, I know it saved my life. While sitting in Tony's office one day, he asked me, "Todd, what is it that brings you joy?"
While being focused on my pain and loss, I failed to remember that even while living through these moments, I could still seek joy. I just remember looking at him and thinking, "Has he not been listening to me? I'm really messed up right now and he is asking me 'What brings me joy?'"
During these days where we all seem to be focused on what we have lost, I am reminded of this question over and over again. Tony went on to remind me that sometimes we just "have to seek our and name what it is that brings us joy."
At that time I had an aging schnauzer named, Sully, that required me to take him on walks throughout the day. Often waiting by the door, and then coming into my bedroom and nudging me to come out. As soon as the leash was touched, he would begin to leap and dance. Every time was the same. I can remember thinking, "If only the thought of walking outside would make me this happy."
I had lost my home during my illness, and was now living with a friend who lived in a Jewish community that was filled with older neighbors who would often start conversations with me all because of Sully and his wanting to be friends with every person we would encounter. I would often hear stories of survival, as many had immigrated to the United States following WWII.
Sometimes I would talk to Tony about them, and then compare their strength of overcoming dark times to my weakness of just trying to find a way to be happy. Time and time again he would ask, "So, what brought you joy today?"
"Again with the joy?" I would remark.
One day he finally said, "Look, the next time you're out with Sully I want you to take your phone and take a picture of something that brings you joy. I don't care what it is. Just snap a picture and bring it in and let's talk about it."
I agreed and thought to myself, "I'll show him what a crazy therapeutic idea this is."
I took a photo of a bumper sticker, "Save the Ta Ta's." Knowing Tony was gay, I thought that a bumper sticker for breast cancer awareness would make him role his eyes at me and realize how crazy this this suggestion was.
I printed the picture out on a piece of letter size paper, folded it and placed it in my pocket. I arrived at his office and when he asked, I made the big reveal. He laughed out loud, and exclaimed, "Yes! This is awesome!"
His response made me laugh, and suddenly I discovered that joy had shown up in spite of my own determination to cause the experiment to fail. In my own mission to fail, I had discovered success.
For the next several months he would continue to ask, and I would continue to take pictures and bring them in. Before long, I looked forward to my walks with Sully. Sapping photos, and seeking out the things that no longer served as something to make Tony question why I took the photo. Instead, I found that I was looking for the things that truly brought me joy.
Nearly ten years later, I start my day in much the same way. While both Tony and Sully have since died, my desire to seek out things that bring me joy each day just has become part of my life.
I will admit, I still have my moments, and having some of the same feelings that I did ten years ago about being "stuck" at home due to the pandemic, I still find the need to seek something that brings me joy each day. I also keep that first picture I took available to remind me of where I "started," the journey and where it has brought me.
Seek out what brings you joy!
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2020
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain at Essential Hospice, Webster, Texas, and is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.