“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11)
I often get a lot of questions from people in regards to happiness. I tend to be a very happy and upbeat person most of the time. I’m sure my family has seen the darker side of my struggles as I muddle through difficult times; but in general, within a few hours of tragedy I have handed it to Jesus and allow him to turn it into a triumph. My life hasn’t been an easy one and the fact that I lost my right leg to cancer at the age of four certainly makes for an obvious “question mark” as I walk about smiling despite the obvious tragedy that has befallen me. Some people think that I am happy because I lost my leg at a young age and therefore grew up knowing no other way of life. While that certainly would be ideal I can honestly say nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, growing up without a leg means missing out on much of what other children and adolescents experience. The difficulty performing every day tasks certainly doesn’t set up parameters for a happy life. Neither does the blatant reminder every step I take that I am not “normal” or even capable of doing things such as carrying my own beverage without assistance or devices of some sort. (Jeremiah 31:13) So the question usually remains, “You have one foot in the grave, quite literally, and are still not bitter?!”
Let’s first take a bit of a journey into my everyday mindset. My husband and I recently took a trip to Alaska. We stood before glaciers in awe and filled with wonder as hundreds of waterfalls cascaded down the mountains around us. As our ship sailed through the bay sea otters and bald eagles floated past us on icebergs. Orcas and humpback whales were everywhere as they surfaced. Dolphins followed our ship and schools of salmon raced for river mouths in order to spawn. We hiked on a mountain top and watched the morning dew drip from the grass and leaves. The fog lifted slowly and revealed to us the surrounding valleys and river that the Gold Rush started in! In short, we realized exactly how insignificant we are in the great scheme of the created world. (Psalm 24:1)
Our God is so magnificent and amazing that while I stood on the mountain with my hands and heart raised to Him not a single person in the entire city below could see me I was so far away. Yet there I stood with the God of all creation watching and even caring about my small gesture of worship! (Matthew 6:18) I realized how busy God must be maintaining all of His creation and He cared about me in such a microscopic way during that hike. I felt such a peace in my heart and body as the trail was rough and the prosthetic leg started to rub me in all the wrong places. The Lord cared even for my pain and nudged me towards resting places and gave me the strength to go on. Small sights of beauty seemed to throw themselves in my path to give me a moment of pleasure as I pressed onward. I realized more clearly than ever that I am not simply an error or screw up because of having one leg; I am a part of this great creation! Not as a “survivor”, not as a “one-legged girl” (AKA Pirate), but rather a uniquely created human being with a purpose in this world only I can fill. I am not accepted in spite of my disability, but because of who I am through my disability. The God of this entire earth not only cares about me but sent His son to die that I might live life fully and enjoy it. (Jeremiah 1:5, Job 33:28)
It is so easy to be joyful when we are surrounded by the grandeur of nature or being waited on hand and foot in a dining room. But you know the thing that impressed me the most was after we returned home. With the house freshly cleaned I stood in the kitchen working on the first meal since our return. I stood over my great grandmother’s cast iron pans and looked around. I saw the remains of our fruitful garden from the kitchen window, the coziness of fall decorations scattered about my home, the dogs laying expectantly at the very edge of the kitchen in hopes for a call or a crumb…and I realized I felt the very same feeling that I felt when standing before the glacier. I was in awe. In awe of a God that would bless me with so much in such small ways! In awe that no matter what the circumstances are I have the peace and joy of the Lord within me!
Why am I full of joy? Why am I always smiling despite being thrown under a train from the age of four? Because I decided along the way that God would captain that train and I wouldn’t be crushed but I would be a co-captain! (Romans 12) Jesus died for me to have a purpose and to fill the one spot in the Body of Christ that no one else can fill (two legs, no legs, survivor or celebrity); only I can fill the place designed for me. As I grow older I realize that because of this I can accept my past, present, and future without worry or fear, and along the way encourage others with the simplest act of my present smile despite past pain.
Happiness, I believe, is dependent upon circumstances. Things make us happy, people make us happy, and situations make us happy. But joy flows from within. It springs forth from inside of us because it is a fruit of the Spirit. No matter the circumstance, no matter the situation we can live in a state of joy. (Zech 2:10) Not because of denying the circumstances but because we know our life is surrendered to the God of all creation and He alone is in charge of the outcome. He alone will work every evil thing that has happened to us in our life for good. (Rom 8:28) It is awful to see people suffer from so many things that they didn’t deserve. Traumas, handicaps, abuse, etc. are rampant in our world today but I know in my heart that while God didn’t intend for these things to happen to us He will make our paths so straight that when we finish the race of life our outcome will be supernaturally better than it ever could have been had we remained untainted. (Prov 4:11) How is this possible? Because our God is the creator and He will create a beautiful journey and polish a shining finish brighter than we can imagine!
Instead of focusing on the fact that I have one foot in the grave I choose to focus on the fact that I have one foot in the future! As long as I remember I have always wanted to dance and I believe I am whole in Christ and will one day dance before Him! (Psalm 30:11) So I ask you to smile with me, express the joy that is within you and let go of your circumstances. Be blessed and focus on every good thing so that you too may bless others. Let’s dance together through the finish line!
“I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”(Acts 20:24)
“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’” (Psalm 126:2)
*Ashly P Ash