The 16-Month Journey Back to Joy

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each of us in profound, life-changing ways. For our family, we were pressed, molded, and shaped by time and space and circumstance due to travel restrictions that began in March 2020.  Instead of returning home to South Africa, we’ve been in the United States for the past 16 months. There will be more to share how the Lord led us during this month-after-month-after-month-after-month interval. Yet, the uncertainty of this time shook us.

For our youngest son, Caleb, the security and blessing of what was known and loved in living in his South Africa home was shaken loose.

His clothes

His bedroom

His bed

His stuffed animals

His X-box games

His Wii games

His front garden walking, jumping, and ambling space

His Jubilant Academy School Room

His routines

His home

None of these things have been within Caleb’s reach for the past 16 months. Caleb has missed his South African life – a lot. We all have.

So much so, that the joyful delight that burst from Caleb’s soul and blessed us all, disappeared for a time.

Trials come in all shapes and sizes. For Caleb, it took a gigantic, world-wide pandemic-sized affliction to deflate his spirit.

Here is our JoyBoy in 2009 – cheerful, content, happy – at Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa

James wrote an exhortative word to Jewish Christians who were scattered abroad and experiencing suffering in the early first century. Although their placement and suffering stemmed from altogether different reasons, Caleb and our family relate to their situation.  They were separated and scattered from all that was known and familiar. We take heart from James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds – because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

New International Version, James 1: 2-4

Joy comes from the Greek transliterated word, charan. Although charan can be defined as joy, gladness, and delight, James assigns a deeper, more strengthening meaning as he wrote to encourage those who felt lost, alone, and fearful for their future. James wasn’t about to negate their very real, very present suffering. Yet, he wanted them to remember that charan points to the source of where their true joy emanates from – an awareness of God’s favor, grace, and presence in their lives.

They were not alone – strengthening, assuring, comforting joy was present.

Their God was with them – even in their situation of being separated and scattered from all that was familiar, known, and understood.

Just like us

Nothing about this pandemic has been familiar, known, or understood.

Yet, James reminds us:

We can be glad in the presence of God.

We can rejoice in the blessings of our God.

We can delight in the assurance and care of our God.

We can rest in the grace of our God.

We can choose to be conscious of our Lord’s presence in our lives despite our challenges, our losses, our worries, and our fears. Jesus, Himself, imparts his strength and love to endure in any and every circumstance. Such times of pain, separation, and discombobulation actually cause us to lean in closer to Jesus – even to the point of pressing all of our weight upon Him. We need His embrace. We need His care. We need His touch. We need His hope.

Our Caleb needed his Savior.

Caleb needed to know that Jesus was near. And not only that, but that Jesus was working something good out of this pandemic-sized struggle in Caleb’s heart, soul, and mind to re-ignite Caleb’s beautiful and heart-inspiring joy once again. As Caleb persevered and stayed close to his Savior, he needed to know that Jesus was going to work everything out, too.

Yesterday, I noticed Caleb was happier. Brighter. Lighter.

His eyes glimmered with joy.

I asked, “Caleb, you look happy today. In fact, you have been joyful throughout the day. Has something happened?”

Caleb replied, “Mom, I decided to take control my unhappy feelings and I decided to be a joy-boy again.”


What did my third-born son say?

He decided to take control of his runaway feelings and choose joy.

Had his situation changed?


All of Caleb’s favorite things are still in South Africa.

We don’t know when Caleb will see his dear, stuffed animal friends or play his games or experience the full comforts of home again.

We don’t.

But despite the never-ending uncertainty that Caleb has been living with for the past 16 months, Caleb made an important, life-affecting decision. He chose to remain steadfast in the struggle – under the care of Jesus – and be aware that he is not alone.  He can still choose to be joyful.

Has this choice made a difference?

Well, today, Caleb is still choosing joy.

He is happy.

He is glad.

He is joyful.

Our Joyboy is back.

It’s been a looooooooooooooooooong time coming – 16 months, in fact. However, Caleb found his way back to himself and depended on his God to help him get here.

Here is Caleb now – a different beach, a different set of rocs – but the cheer, the joy, the delight is back!

Friends, how are you doing?

Do you relate to the challenges of Caleb’s 16-month-journey-back-to-joy during this pandemic life that we’ve all been living?

Are you aware of God’s presence in your own struggle, loss, and fear?

The secret to experiencing joy in all types of situations – pandemic-sized or not – is to acknowledge the presence of God in the very thing that is wearing us out. Even in the struggle, the grace and favor of God rests upon us. His strength and power uphold us. He helps us keep moving forward – even when we cannot see what is ahead. As James contends, perseverance must complete its divine work as God molds, shapes, and develops us into all that He desires as He works in, through and for us.

It’s all about trust, isn’t it?

Caleb decided to trust that God could help him.

Caleb chose to reach out for the sweet, comforting, infinite joy found in the Lord.

And Caleb found it.

Friends, how about you?

Are you ready to reach out and take hold of the joy found in the presence of God in your situation?

May it be so.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds – because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

2 thoughts on “The 16-Month Journey Back to Joy

  1. I love this! So relate to Caleb. And with the “new” decison of the Governor of TX I was back into the “dumps.” That TX cold freeze killed most of my beautiful flowers. We bought a house instead of building so the flowers would be full grown. Now…most are brown and we wait to cut back to see if they will come back alive. I was looking at what was joy…all over again. And also at Paul’s words to be “content” in every circumstance. I know we are blessed that we did not have frozen pipes. We had friends who let us know if our power did not come back soon we could go to their house. Thank you for this. And tell Caleb I am on that Choosing Joy road with him!

  2. Shirley Hethorn March 6, 2021 — 10:30 am

    What a joyt o read this “update” ! I am so happy that the “joy boy “is back!! I understand his struggles. My family has been slowly falling apart and I have been so beside myself because I can’t do any thing up pray for them. They don’t want to hear what I might have to say. It is angonizing being cut of…, but GOD is my strength,A very present help in trouble. I have prayed more in these last few months than I probably ever have in my whole life time. IT IS GOOD it is joyful to be able to TRUST. I have learned a whole schoolful of wisdom and most of my conversation is with GOD! I am so happy for the joy that has returned to Caleb and thus to your family! And the Lord DOES answer prayer. He has done it regularly for me and He will do it in this.

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