That morning, I took a leap of faith and trusted God to provide what I did not have. My joy reserves were at an all-time low, but if I offered them to God, perhaps like fishes and loaves, he could grant me a full belly and feed 4,999 others at the same time.
I swung by the local party store on my way to the infusion center and picked up a bundle of red balloons. Intent on passing out these helium-filled gifts, I approached the long corridor of chairs filled with infusion patients.
A frail woman occupied the first year. I estimated she was in her sixties – matted silver hair and sunken eyes, but an inviting countenance.
“My name is Margaret, and I’ve had a really difficult time in treatment. I’m in the fight of my life,” I declared. “I don’t want to be here today, and I bet you don’t either. I want to give you this red balloon in hope that it would bring you joy.”
The woman’s thin lips curled upward as she extended her arm: “I’d like that.”
Turning to the man next to her, I repeated my offer, with a different result.
“Not now,” he said with bone-tiredness, “but thank you very much.”
I approached the woman across from him, since I was having more luck with female patients.
“I don’t need a balloon, but I do need a hug,” she preempted.
I reached down and wrapped my arms around her neck, knowing that we shared so much more in common than geography. The man who rejected by balloon cleared his throat, interrupting our moment.
“Wait,” he protested. “I didn’t know you were giving away free hugs.”
I walked over to offer him affection too.
Next in line was a family of four surrounding their grandfather. Bags of poison hung next to him while his three-year-old granddaughter stood guard beside his bed. When she saw my balloons, her eyes widened. The girl swept her bangs to the side and flashed me a glance, afraid to ask a stranger for a toy but hoping that I’d offer. I knew my next balloon wasn’t for Grandpa.
One by one, I shuffled my way down the row, introducing myself and handing out balloons for nearly an hour. Some accepted with little more than a nod. One rejected my gift without even the courtesy of eye contact. A few took time to share their stories with me and listen to part of mine.
The final balloon was the most memorable. A woman from Nebraska received treatment while her husband sat beside her. She was in her fifth fight with melanoma and drove more than ten hours each way every week for treatment. They were optimistic that the clinical trial she was enrolled in might save her life. As I tied my final balloon to the arm of her chair, I paused to savor the way her husband gazed at her with “I love you” eyes.
When I walked into the hospital that day, there was no bluegrass emerging from within my heart, no scent of tulips wafting from my soul. Yet somehow, somewhere along the way, the Great Joy Giver filled me with an unmistakable sense of blessedness and gratitude. As my balloon bouquet shrank to nothing, God filled me, lifted me, and refocused my attention outward and upward.
Joy is a gift we can offer even when we don’t possess ourselves. When we do, something mysterious happens. I always thought of the container Jesus mentions as external, something we hold as we watch it being filled, pressed down, shaken, and filled up some more. I never considered that we are the containers. God fills us. Sometimes the effects of being pressed down and shaken around are necessary in order to receive more of the abundance God is giving. The blessedness Jesus describes overflows through, in, and all over us.
Like me, you may not always feel it. The day you need joy the most may be the one you want to offer it the least. Give anyway and give generously.
Take the leap.
Watch Margaret this Tuesday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg. Copyright ©2015 by Margaret Feinberg. Published by Worthy Books, a division of Worthy Media, Inc. Used by permission.