This past weekend we had the pleasure of having my two younger sisters, my brother-in-law, and our little nephew down for a visit. My spouse made a delicious lunch complete with a beef brisket that we all shared and enjoyed together after a group of us got back from taking my nephew to Autumn Acres out at Stam Garden Center.
I, personally, had never been out to Autumn Acres (I always thought I would look kind of silly showing up with no kid), but it really did not disappoint. There were cannons and slingshots and sandbox filled with corn. There was a corn maze, goats and a donkey, a hay bale run. And, of course, there were tractors.
This, by far, was my two year-old nephew's FAVORITE part: The tractors. There was a tractor that we sat behind on a trailer as part of a hayride through the corn. There was a tractor staged just for picture taking. And there was a lawn tractor pulling a train of modified barrels for children and their adults to ride.
Near the end of our time at Autumn Acres, my nephew saw the tractor we had ridden behind for the hayride pull up to the loading area to take a new group of people on a ride. Before any of us could blink, off he ran, trotting down the hill with abandon, just as fast as his little legs could carry him, pointing and joyfully shouting "Tractor, Tractor!" all the way down the hill.
As I watched him running, I couldn't help but smile. Then I began to wonder: When was the last time I went after anything with as much abandon as my little nephew went after that tractor? When was the last time I was so filled with joy? But all the while I was scanning the memories of my heart and my mind for the last, great, joyous moment in my own life, I was missing the fullness of this joyous moment with my nephew.
Brene Brown says, “Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the bursts of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration and faith.”
Sometimes I think we get really focused at finding the next big, great moment--the next big experience, the next big event, the next big milestone--that will bring us joy, but I wonder if while we're looking for joy, it's happening without us? Maybe we're so busy running with abandon toward the next extraordinary moment that we think will bring us joy that we're missing the little bursts of joy happening right in front of us in this very ordinary moment? Maybe the only reason joy is missing from our lives is because our presence to the current moment is also missing?
In Psalm 30 the psalmist reminds us that "Joy comes in the morning." We often read that as a future promise, rather than a right now truth. But friends, what if "the morning" that the psalmist is talking about is THIS morning? What if joy is here right now, in the simple act of waking up next to the person you love the most for another day? What if joy is here right now, in a steaming cup of coffee? What if joy is here right now, in something as innocent and frightening and wonderful as a little boy running down the hill after a tractor?
May you run with abandon toward the joy that is permeating your life in the ordinary little moments, and may those moments take your breath away.
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.