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About the Author
Margaret was named one of "50 Women to Watch: Those Most Shaping the Church and Culture" by Christianity Today, one of "30 Emerging Voices" by Charisma Magazine, and one of the "40 Under 40" who will shape Christian publishing by Christian Retailing. Margaret lives in Utah with her husband, Leif, and their superpup, Hershey.
Read an Excerpt
Fight Back With Joy
Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears.
By Margaret Feinberg
Worthy Publishing GroupCopyright © 2015 Margaret Feinberg, LLC
All rights reserved.
WHY WE LIVE JOYLESS LIVES
New Year's resolutions are so last year, according to my friends. Many of them instead choose to live by a single word, one that embodies what they most hope God would do in their lives during the coming year.
My friend Sarah selected love last year, which led her to mend ties with her estranged father. Then there was John, who chose balance. He hung a chart on his kitchen wall to track his days and make sure he spends enough time with his family. And after Patty picked hope, she enlisted friends to help her see the sunny side of every situation. When her pessimistic tendencies emerge, her friends give her a "hope nudge."
Seeing how this practice enriched my friends' lives, I dreamed about which word embodied the work I most wanted God to do in my life.
I had spent years listening for the sacred echoes, the repetitive voice of God in my life. I'd set out to scout for the divine, searching to better understand God through lesser-known biblical texts. And I had worked to shake myself from spiritual slumber and encounter the wonder of God all around.
During these God-journeys, a word kept bubbling inside me and fluttering about everywhere I turned. Only three letters and one tiny syllable: joy.
Could this be my word?
For most of my life, I had thought of joy as a natural byproduct of a life well lived. A complementary add-on, a tacked-on freebie. Like one of those late-night infomercials that promise, "But wait, there's more!" Maybe such a bonus was included: I never seemed to find it amid the packing materials.
With the holidays in my rearview mirror and a New Year just ahead, I determined it was time to pursue a joy-filled life. No need to wait for joy to arrive mysteriously in the mail one day. I needed to try spiritual practices that might nurture joy.
Only a few months in, I was less effective at living out my word than my friends had been. Some joy experiments were disasters—like creating a homemade worry-o-graph that raised my anxiety rather than lowering it, and trying to mandate kindness, which backfired and made me a crabbypants.
The silliest fiasco was the two weeks I committed to saying yes to everything. When I asked select friends and members of my online community to join me, I received a unanimous response: "That is wackytown!" Okay, only one person used that exact phrase, but everyone else hid behind excuses like "spread too thin," "too busy," and "no way I could do that."
Their responses surprised me, because I am that friend—the one always plotting the next caper. I'll call you at midnight to see if you want to try indoor skydiving, go on a ten-day juice fast, or score cheap airline tickets to Iceland. Sometimes I won't ask or tell you what we are going to do; I'll just send details on a treasure map of when and where to meet.
The chorus of "No!" should have alerted me that the Yes Experiment wasn't sustainable. Discouraged but not defeated, I decided to embark on the venture by myself.
I explained the details of the Yes Experiment to my husband, Leif.
"You're doing this? You're crazy, you know that?"
"Of course, but I'm your crazy."
"You're going to say yes to everything?"
"Within reason. Don't worry, I won't sell our house for a dollar."
"Do I have to say yes to everything?" he asked.
"You can say no to anyone and anything you want," I explained. "But I'm agreeing to every request, including e-mails, texts, phone calls, tweets, and mail that's addressed to me."
"Does that mean when I ask you for something the answer is yes too?"
Leif stared at the floor, his mind sprinting through the implications. I wondered how long it would take him to figure out the possibilities for bow chica wow wow.
Within 2.8 seconds, a boyish grin slipped across his face.
Like a Florida kid caught in a Michigan snowball fight, I was ill-prepared for the assault of requests that came from all directions. Coworkers. Friends. Readers. Strangers. Solicitors. Salespeople. In the first few days, I made so many donations I had to start selling furniture and clothes on eBay to fund the Yes Experiment. I helped save animals and refugees and fund microloans. At least I think I did.
"Do you want to donate a dollar to Easter Seals?"
"Would you read my fifty-thousand-word book on North American flora and see if you think it's any good?"
"Would you like to leave a tip on the dollar granola bar you just purchased?"
"Would you like to supersize your order?"
Those types of asks were the most manageable. The great onslaught came from the office. My inbox exploded with requests for Skype calls, book endorsements, reprints, donations, mentoring, coaching, and more. While online, I said yes to every request to click, vote, or post. Within a half hour I knew I needed to stay far, far away from social media.
The Yes Experiment was causing me to do a lot without getting anything done. The unsustainable pace left me exhausted and empty, but my stubbornness prevailed.
I drove downtown to run errands on day four of the experiment. In a congested area of Denver, I noticed a man standing at the intersection, holding a clever cardboard sign that requested money for spaceship parts. As long as the light remained green, I could drive past and not have to buy a muffler for his intergalactic aircraft.
The light blinked yellow, and in a flash, an invisible force overtook my right foot. I stomped on the accelerator and sped through that red light with the gusto of Danica Patrick.
Why did I just do that?
Saying yes to everything was causing me to spend time and energy on the inconsequential, ignoring the people who mattered most. Rather than increase my joy, the Yes Experiment made me hypervigilant to avoid anyone who might ask for anything. This discipline was elbowing me away from the virtue of joy I sought.
My friends were right: this caper was flawed.
* * *
Joy is one of those words that has been overused, distorted into a cliché. Plastered on coffee mugs, necklaces, T-shirts, decorative pillows—even dish soap, this critical quality has been transformed into a trinket we rarely notice and almost never take seriously.
Many people live joyless lives because they don't understand what joy is, what joy does, how to discover joy, and what to do with it once they find it.
C. S. Lewis once described joy as "serious business," yet I assumed I could take joy lightly, capturing it in my free time like fireflies in a mason jar. I learned that you need much more than an experiment to unleash the power of joy. You need chutzpah, you need backbone, you need intentionality—and sometimes you need a crisis.
My crisis came in a flash flood of irony. I set out to conduct a joy experiment, but I became the test subject, the bubbling beaker of blue liquid, the living lab rat. Through a life-shattering diagnosis, I tumbled into uncertainty, anxiety, and pain. Along the way, I discovered what true joy looks like.
My crisis exposed the myths I believed about joy—such as the belief that fullness of joy is only available once we are in heaven and the illusion that joy is an emotion that exists apart from circumstances.
During the last year and a half, I felt my way through the darkness of despair and stared death in the face. Somewhere along the way God unveiled a spectrum of joy I had never experienced—from the joy expressed as lighthearted laughter in an impossible situation to the joy gained from hearing the deep voice of God during times of great pain. Through it all, I learned something startling:
More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life's battles.
Sure, the virtue of joy is an upbeat companion for life, but that is not the whole story. The true power of joy supersedes a chirpy disposition, candy-coated emotion, or saccharine fantasy. It's far more tangible than any magical notion of clicking your heels and discovering your bliss.
Joy serves a useful and mighty purpose. Sometimes it comes through others as a gift of grace, but just as often it requires intentionality.
God is an unconventional teacher. He uses paradox to imbue us with common sense, propels healing through pain, and hauls clarity into our lives through the most confusing circumstances. In my case, God interrupted my misguided joy experiment in order to take me on a joy expedition. This journey was fraught with depression and loneliness, tears and turmoil—using unlikely circumstances to deliver joy instead of destroy it.
But in order to realize that, I had to face the moment everyone fears.CHAPTER 2
A CHOICE THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
As the July sun peeked over the horizon, I received the dreaded call.
My upper arm itched a few weeks earlier, and when I scratched the area, my thumb brushed against a knot. I paused, afraid to reach back and explore further. I willed myself to move. My fingers probed against my right breast, outlining the nickel-sized circumference.
Anxiety clutched my body. A second and third touch confirmed the solid intruder's presence.
Calm down, Margaret. It's probably nothing to worry about. Who gets breast cancer in her thirties?
I turned to my husband of almost a decade—my Leif, always a solid rock of strength in fearful moments—hoping he would say I was overreacting or hallucinating.
"Can you feel this?" I asked, pressing the tips of his fingers against my chest.
Concern shadowed his face. With his nod, I reached for a phone to schedule the mammogram.
Three days later, before a technician, I stood half-naked, skirted in a paper- thin hospital gown with icy bare feet. I initiated chitchat, but what do you discuss with someone tugging at part of your womanhood like it's pizza dough?
"Have you felt anything unusual?" she asked.
"Nothing like this," I said wryly. "I try to keep my lady parts out of pancake makers."
Without cracking a grin, the nurse clarified, "I mean any lumps or bumps."
The details of the discovery stuck in my throat. Maybe if I didn't say it aloud, the lump would disappear. Perhaps if I clung to denial long enough, the mass would vanish.
"Well, there's this, um, one small area," I confessed.
She jotted a note on her clipboard.
"I'm pretty sure it's nothing."
"Most lumps are just thick tissue," she explained. "But we have to be sure. Because you informed me, we're required to schedule an ultrasound."
"Is there a way to uninform you?" I asked.
A letter arrived in the mail two weeks later. The images returned clean: no signs of lumps, bumps, or thick tissue. I later discovered that 20 percent of mammograms miss finding dangerous masses, which is why speaking up is crucial.
Just as the technician predicted, the office insisted I return for an ultrasound. This time I found myself sprawled on a table with my arm raised high above my head like a schoolgirl begging the teacher to recognize her. Only I didn't want to be recognized. I wanted to disappear.
I eyed the screen but had no idea what I was seeing. The click of the digital camera froze a portrait of the lumpy villain I had found weeks before, but it also revealed a second hardened criminal. The radiologist excused herself, returning with the doctor. When I asked, "Is it cancer?" he avoided the question. I needed to schedule a biopsy.
Worst-case scenarios raced through my mind. I thought of a friend who died from cancer the previous summer, her body ravaged by treatment. Now I could see myself in her: the emaciated cheeks, the thin oxygen tube, the inability to lift a spoon to my cracked lips. I clenched my eyes tight, chasing away the mental images.
Time slowed to a leaden pace in the following days as I waited for the next appointment.
* * *
My third visit to the doctor's office played out like Groundhog Day. Again, I raised my hand in uncertainty. Again, I asked about cancer. Again, the doctor dodged the question.
The doctor located the first mass with precision, the image taunting me from the screen. He lined up a gauged needle and shot it through the center of the dark, uneven circle over and over. My chest became a pincushion.
When the doctor located the second mass, an unedited comment slipped from his lips: "This is the one I'm concerned about."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
Unaware he was thinking aloud, the doctor stiffened and backpedaled.
"More than ninety percent of our biopsies turn out to be benign," he said. "You have nothing to worry about."
I knew I did.
Toward the end of the procedure, he asked a nurse to let him see one of the syringes. I strained to catch a glimpse of the narrow tube. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched a somber expression sweep across his face.
That was the moment I knew.
I held out hope that perhaps I was wrong, that maybe I had misread the doctor's countenance. But deep inside, I knew.
The nurse said the weekend would slow results from the laboratory. She instructed me to call on Tuesday afternoon. But Tuesday never came.
Early Monday, the phone rang showing an unfamiliar number. I almost didn't answer. Leif and I were at Mount Hermon Conference Center outside of Santa Cruz, California, where more than forty of Leif's extended family members had gathered for the first family reunion in ten years. I was scheduled to teach morning sessions at the conference center that week, the first of which started in a matter of minutes.
As a rule, I avoid taking phone calls just prior to speaking, but the unknown number piqued my interest. I answered on a whim.
"This is Dr. Jones," the voice said. "Is now a good time?"
No. No, no, no.
As the physician spoke, my head dropped into liquid amber. Time halted. The conversation blurred.
I'm sure he said more, but after carcinoma everything grew fuzzy. After the call, I stared at a wretched souvenir of the conversation: a scrap of paper on which I'd scrawled two recommended surgeons' names.
Dazed, I beelined to the field house, where Leif was busy preparing the PowerPoint slides.
"I have your microphone ready," Leif said.
He glanced up. I couldn't hide my apprehension.
I took his hand, led him outside where we could be alone, and looked into his sky-blue eyes. I never spoke a word. Leif just knew. He always knows. My eyes are his second language.
He cloaked me in his arms and we stood motionless, knowing we had crossed a threshold through which we could never return. In the warmth of his strong embrace, I wondered where God was in all of this.
Did God ignite my heart's desire for joy in preparation for this moment? Is this why so many of the joy experiments didn't work out the way I hoped they would? Perhaps God was pumping the brakes, ever so gently, readying me for this moment, for the hard journey ahead.
"What if we fight back with joy?" I said to Leif.
"We're in this together no matter what," he replied, eyes swollen by tears.
With the morning session minutes away, I phoned my parents to inform them. My sweet, longtime Christian mother responded the way I suspect many moms whose guard is down would: with an expletive.
"Breast cancer doesn't run in our family," she protested.
The diagnosis busted a family myth—cancer happens to other people.
I delivered my talk that morning. Barely. Tears surged down my cheeks with the opening music, and holding myself together required my last ounce of strength. We corralled Leif's family to deliver the news at lunch. Everyone wanted to know what they could do to help.
"More than anything, I need each of you to be your funny, ornery selves," I said. "That's how to help us fight back with joy."
Throughout the rest of the week, Leif and his two bulky brothers exchanged love punches and razzed each other. We toured grand sequoias and took silly photos inside hollowed tree trunks. We threw a Mexican fiesta. Over the course of those precious days, we played Apples to Apples, grilled steaks, and ate way too much Alaskan smoked salmon.
Excerpted from Fight Back With Joy by Margaret Feinberg. Copyright © 2015 Margaret Feinberg, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Worthy Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents.000 | Why We Live Joyless Lives,
.001 | A Choice That Changed Everything,
.002 | The Living, Breathing Gift of Joy,
.003 | Three Simple Words to Set You Free,
.004 | The Biggest Myth about Joy,
.005 | When You're Tearing Your Hair Out,
.006 | How to Throw the Best Party Ever,
.007 | The Side of Joy No One Talks About,
.008 | One Prayer You Don't Pray But Should,
.009 | You've Got to Give This Away,
.010 | When Nothing Means Everything,
.011 | Life Is Too Short Not to Do This,
.012 | Where I Never Expected to Find Joy,
5 Things to Say When You Don't Know What to Say,
8 Things Those Facing Crisis Can't Tell You (But Wish They Could),
6 Lessons I Learned from Crisis,
A Letter from Leif,