Does God Care about Our Happiness? A Book Review of The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee

Does God Care about Our Happiness? A Book Review of The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee

your happines matters

I have to confess: I have always been a bit of a happiness skeptic. Sure, I know that God intends us to have deep and abiding joy. But somehow the term “happy” seemed to be joy’s cheaper, less durable knock-off.

In addition to this, there have been plenty of times in my life that the joy I know God has for us seems to be a thing meant for heaven, meant for later. In the meantime, there are people starving and orphaned children and corrupt governments and human trafficking and refugees and children working in sweat shops and I have a hard time not letting that get me down.

I’ve struggled with depression throughout my life and, perhaps as a result, have always been slightly skeptical of people who seem happy all the time. How does that work? Are they faking, or are they blissfully unaware of the state of the world?

All things considered, I might have passed over a book about happiness if I didn’t know Jennifer Dukes Lee.

Jennifer is no faker.

A former reporter, Jennifer Lee has seen a lot of hard things and she’s not a stranger to adversity. She’s a deep thinker who understands that the world is a hard place in which to live, and she’s not one to gloss over hardship. She’s seen a lot and she isn’t afraid to get in there and put herself in the midst of it, to make a difference despite the sadness. In fact, Jennifer writes:

“I wrote this book because I needed this book. I needed to know if my happiness mattered. And if it mattered, how could I go about finding it and then living it out in a place pulverized by pain and heartache?” ~Jennifer Dukes Lee, The Happiness Dare

I needed this book, too. The Happiness Dare is not a cure-all for depression, and it’s not going to automatically fix you if you are at a place where you are clinically depressed and in need of help. If you’re in that place, then friend? I give you permission to go get help. Get help spiritually, physically and mentally, because all three matter and nobody…not you, not anybody, deserves to live in the kind of anguish that depression causes.  It can get better, I promise.

Does God Care about Our Happiness? A Book Review of The Happiness Dare by Jennifer Dukes Lee

That said, I think that a whole lot of people are living in a not-quite-clinically-depressed but nowhere-near-happy place, a sort of gray zone where the colors are all there, just muted. Maybe you’re recovering from depression and you can’t quite remember what it was like to be happy. Maybe you can’t quite believe that God cares about your happiness…after all, you’ve got it pretty good and maybe it feels like asking for too much that you be happy along with it. Maybe, like me, you’ve got undiscovered hang-ups about happiness in general, and you need someone to come along and expose them for you…so you can savor the life you have.

Because, friend? Yes. God does care about your happiness. {Tweet this} Just like we care about the happiness of our own children, only more so because he’s God! I’m thrilled that my husband and I can provide for our kids, but it brings me real joy to see them really enjoy what they have, not just go through the motions. It brings me joy to see their happiness.

My kids’ happiness brings me joy. And God is the perfect Father, so imagine how much joy our delight brings Him! 

Yes. He cares.

In reading this book, I discovered that I’ve been holding back when it comes to happiness. I’ve had a wrong view of what God wants for me, his child. And in loosening up the bonds that wrong-thinking had put around my happiness, I’ve been able to enjoy life more…the colors are brighter. I’m more free to enjoy the gifts my Father has given me, to linger a little longer and laugh a little louder because I know my happiness brings Him joy, too.

Some happiness-growers you’ll find in The Happiness Dare:

  • The importance of realizing God cares about your happiness
  • How to linger in the good
  • Know your style…understand what makes you happy (check out this free happiness style quiz!)
  • Rest in the fact that good enough is good enough
  • You have permission to be happy

You know what? You should get this book. Because happiness is a thing that we could all use more of, and it’s too important to leave un-examined. The Happiness Dare is well written and fun to read, Jennifer’s sense of humor will make you laugh and her tender stories will go right to your heart.

Want to know more? Check out the book on Amazon, or stop by Jennifer’s blog. Also, there is a Happiness Dare book club going on at (in)Courage…join me and the dare-takers there?

13903440_10208160572586764_2307108162503948183_n

Memories of the Philippines (a poem)

Memories of the Philippines (a poem)

This poem comes from a conversation that I had tonight with dear friends, she is from Iceland and he’s from the Philippines. Listening to memories of a childhood spent picking mangoes and swimming in the warm sea was poetry in and of itself. Memories of what grew in Iceland and Montana were remarkably similar and un-poetic: Rhubarb and crab-apples don’t lend themselves quite as nicely to verse.

Memories of the Philippines

It was too hot to water

the vegetables until after five-o-clock

the sun would burn tender leaves and the heat

was too much for a small boy

carrying buckets of water, pulled from

the well which teemed with frogs.

Siesta time was at two, and a boy could lie

quietly beside his mother, waiting until her breath

turned even, heavy with sleep and then slip

quietly, softly, from her side

to roam the deserted streets. Some days we

would steal fruit, which hung on every tree…

star apples, custard apples, mango, papaya

coconut and jackfruit

the sticky evidence of which was erased

with a swim in the warm sea.

Papaya trees grow fast, so fast that

they can be planted as a fence

and the green fruit is eaten like a vegetable.

Strip the green fan from a papaya leaf and use

the hollow center as a straw

(for breathing under water, they will

never see you coming).

Banana flowers are good to eat,

squash flowers and vine flower.

The blossoms of the Ylang Ylang tree

are golden cascades, so aromatic

that they are often found pressed

between the pages of Bibles,

a fragrance pleasing to the Lord.

 

Chicken

Chicken

Chicken

“are you chicken,”

he taunted.

squint-eyed and red cheeked, with all

those freckles splashed across his pug nose

i look from his leering grin to my

yellow flip-flop, bobbing in the pool

like a duck in azure water

just beyond my reach.

do I stretch out to retrieve it, risk

the shove i know is coming

or go home, shoeless

and face the wrath of mom?

everyone is watching as i stand paralyzed

by indecision and then, suddenly

he’s gone. submerged in a splash of water

his fat arms pumping, mouth yelling

my sister shoved him in

and the tidal wave of his humiliation

brought the yellow flip-flop to my

waiting hand.

 

Flash Fiction: On the Dock

Flash Fiction: On the Dock

 

This dock’s been in my family for a lotta years. A lot more years, I reckon, than most’ve the families who own cabins here on the lake now. You can see who’s old and who’s new by the way the outsides of the cabins look…old families, our cabins look like cabins. The new ones, they buy an old fish’n cabin and then they fix it up t’ look like a time share on Maui, only decorated with rustic look’n grizzly bears cut outta pine wood. My family? We’re the folk whose hundred-somethin’-year-old collapsed barn provides the “reclaimed” wood that lines the new folks’ cabin kitchens, all half Ikea sensibility and half Montana wild west. It ain’t a pretty marriage.

Used to up come here, when the kids were little. They’d sit here on the dock too, all four of ’em learned to dive right off the side here where the water’s deep. I’d take the kids in this beat-up fish’n boat, and we’d row out to the middle of the lake where you can’t see the shore in any direction. They’d throw bread crumbs to the fish and we’d feel like we were alone out in the middle of some ocean somewhere.

Kids are grown, now. The youngest, she got herself a scholarship to a college back East. Didn’t get those brains from her mama’s side of the family, mine are simple ranch folk who never thought twice about Rhode Island, I can tell you that much. She packed up her Subaru hatchback and hugged me tight, asked me “Mama, what are you gonna do with yourself now that all of us are moved out?” Well, I told her not to worry, ’cause I got a lotta ways to spend my time.

Thing is, I feel like I’m float’n out there in the fishin’ boat again, without a shore in sight. Last night in the cabin, we were talk’n and someone asked “If you could do anything you wanted to, what would it be?” Everyone seemed to have some great plan, like they’d been think’n a long time about what they’d do if suddenly they didn’t have a ranch to run, or if they quit sell’n insurance and had nothin’ else to do. The subject changed long before the conversation came ’round to me, but y’know? I didn’t have an inklin’ what I’da said if it had, not the slightest clue. If you’da asked that question ten years ago, I could’ve told you a lot about what I wouldn’t do if I had the chance. Like make four sack lunches every weekday of my life, with one child allergic to peanuts and one who got the hare-brained idea to be a vegetarian. Who ever heard of a vegetarian who lives on a cattle ranch? But I can’t tell you the last time I knew what I would do, if I could choose.

My family likes to tell the story about the day, back when I was a girl, I decided to follow a rainbow to find the pot of gold. I put my rainboots on, my cowboy hat, and walked myself half-way to town. My parents got the call to come pick me up at the Sinclair down by Jackrabbit Road. I lay there think’n about it all night last night, after everyone else had gone to sleep. I laid there, try’n to remember what it was I’d do, if I had the chance.

And I remembered, when I was little and my dad used to take me out on this dock real early, when the fish were bitin’. I’d sit there and dip my toes in the cold water while he cast his fly rod, and watch the sun rise. The sun would make this golden path right down the middle of the lake, and I remember thinkin’ how I’d like to follow all that gold, see where it comes from and where it leads to. It looked magical, somethin’ from a fairytale.

So here I am, about to get in a rowboat and follow the sun’s path down the water, as far as it takes me. It might get me to the fairyland I imagined as a child, and it might get me nowhere at all…far as I’m concerned, doesn’t matter which. I’m just gonna follow the light and see where it leads, ’cause at least I can say I tried (click to tweet)…and that’s about the best a person can do, ain’t it?

 

746 words…Photo by Darlene of Simply Darlene. Thanks, friend, for the photo prompt and introduction to flash fiction! 

On Autumn (the dying of the year)

On Autumn (the dying of the year)

There is beauty everywhere, in unexpected places, yes even in the spaces where it seems least likely of all.

All around me, the leaves are falling. This is a season of dying, of beautiful dying: the colors burn from every tree, they fly like sparks through brisk air scented with woodsmoke. It is beautiful, all this color, breathtaking. And what is autumn, if not the dying of the year? There, where only a month ago bees bumped against the blossoms on this tree, the branches now show patches of bare black against a brooding sky. And the oak tree, whose green shaded the whole yard, burns with the last orange-red of Fall. A breeze stirs, and the leaves, with their beautiful colors, spin slowly downward.

We go so far out of our way, these days, to avoid death. We don’t want to talk about it, think about, and we certainly don’t want to see it. I admit: I fear it, not what happens afterwards but the process, not the eternal but the loss, the change.

But I’ve seen the beauty, too. My friend, she watched her mother die last month. I sat with them on many nights and I saw the most beautiful picture of redemption in those last days. I saw that death is part of life, I saw the way that my friend’s ability to walk with her mother through that hard path was a gift to them both, and I saw that when we let go of everything we take hold of God’s hand. It’s always waiting, there.

“I’ll never doubt that there is a heaven, now,” she told me one on one of those long nights. “I’ve seen the look on her face, how she reaches out and calls.”  If she’d have given up this hard path, left death at the hospital and not taken it home with her, not embraced it as part of life, she would have missed out on something as beautiful as it is painful.

I do not understand, no I don’t…when death takes those who had so much more life to live, when suffering cripples families and little children are struck down and families lose loved ones too soon. I’ve seen people go through one loss after another in a short time and I don’t know how we can live with it, the prospect of death looming over us every day. Short of Jesus, I don’t know how we can. But then I see the leaves, how the light filters through all that red-gold fire and how a single leaf, caught by the wind, is borne up and over the trees. How it rides on the invisible breath of breeze, higher and higher until I can see it no more.

And I know:  I don’t have to know. I only have to let go, trust, embrace the beauty even in the brokenness. The leaves will change and they will fall, the winter will come and then, too…the Spring. To let go and take His hand means to be reborn. To trust Him when everything around you screams out “why” and when nothing seems good or right or beautiful, is to know that the last breath you take is actually your very first.

Lord, when I don’t understand, when I can’t see the beauty, lift me up in a breath of grace and give me a tiny glimpse of You.

Rubicon

Rubicon

Rubicon
I have worn out my soles
pacing this pebbled shore
eyes grown weary
watching the distant other
I have the courage, I think
to cross the water
cast my paper boats adrift
 set them afire, watch them
blaze down the river
like burning stars against
a watery blue sky.
all that holds me here
is the fear of one day standing
on that other shore
and (improbable as it seems)
longing for this one

 

seeds

take them in your hand
spilling over
through trembling fingers they pour
sliding, one over another
smooth brown seed coats
flow

broadcast them wide
sweeping out
let them fly through open hands
released, a gift
cotyledon-encased embryos
sow

wait for them now
taking root
in rich soil while your hands, empty
fold and rest
know that where you cannot see, they
grow