We didn’t really know what to expect when we stepped into the house. We only knew it would be a unique experience.

A Nigerian family from our church had invited us to celebrate the 50th birthday of their oldest sister with them. She is visiting America for the first time from Nigeria, and they planned a night of unabated joy.

As the evening wore on, more and more people poured through the doors, all of them dressed head to toe in traditional clothing. The women’s dresses were handmade by one of the sisters, their head wraps bold and bright, heels high, and jewelry big.

We began the evening with a hymn, following by praise songs, words of wisdom from the brother and our pastor, then words of affirmation for the birthday girl from anyone who wanted to speak.

They were effusive in their praise, voices singing loud. No one cared if they were on key or not. It wasn’t about a perfect rendering of the song. It was about praise. It was about joy.

It was a celebration.

“We want to thank God that you are still alive today!” they said, over and over. “We praise God because He could have taken you before today, but He didn’t. He gave you 50 years, and we thank Him for that.”

They pulled out drums and sang, the women all gathering around the celebrated sister, and they danced, laughing and clapping. The younger brother dropped to his knees, his arms raised high to the sky. It was worship. It was celebratory. It was praise.

It was joy.

And I sat in the corner with tears wetting my cheeks because this is the joy I long to fill my home. These people come from a country that has seen deep and lasting hardship, but you wouldn’t know. There was nothing melancholy or solemn about the evening. Only smiles that split wide their faces, and the overflowing joy that comes with praise.

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It’s something I’ve seen before. I don’t know why, but I’m forever amazed at the ability of those who have walked through pain and suffering to live in the present with great joy and gladness. But what do I expect?

Bitterness? Anger?

Why do I look for these things in those whose backgrounds have been less blessed than my own? Is it because I’ve been so immersed in the American mentality my whole life that I falsely and wrongly believe that hardship must naturally be dwelled upon? 

Is it because I have seen so many people I know, people who have been unendingly blessed, dwell on hurt feelings and heartaches, simmering in anger rather than living in the blessed beauty of forgiveness and joy?

Oh, America. How much we miss when wrapped inside all our ‘blessing’.

We miss the opportunity for joy when we aren’t willing to look past our anger.

We miss true, unadulterated praise when we get stuck dwelling on the heartaches of the past.

We lose sight of every good thing when we constantly look toward an unknown future in fear.

I’m saddened to think that my country is missing out on a great deal of celebration because we’re so blinded by ease.

Easy Street has made us boring.

“In a word, the future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. Is is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flow, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Our nation is caught up in the uncertainty of the future right now. We’re rolling in our hopes and our fears, and it’s stealing joy, siphoning it right off before our eyes.

We spend so much time looking into the past, hoping that it will dictate the future, that somehow we seem to have forgotten how to enjoy the present, which is bright with the rays of eternity. The present is where love takes shape – it’s where memories are made, life is lived, and joy is found.

Oh, friends. May we all experience the joy of living in the present today. May we let go of the anger and hurt of the past, and fear not the uncertainties of the future.

May we touch eternity today, right now, in this very moment.

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