Welcome to Imperfect Prose on Thursdays. This week’s prompt is JOY, and today’s guest post is written by our lovely Imperfect team member, Kelli Woodford.

“Within the Everlast”

The sun shone in my eyes that day last week when the manila envelope landed in the mailbox.

An understated arrival, for its contents were precious.
The hand-written letter beckoned as soon as I ripped the seal, tucked under a photograph and the scrawling craftsmanship of a woman with a pen and an eye for beauty.  Calligraphy.  Oh, I’ve always swooned over this romantic art of letters and decorative nuance.
I read the letter first and she tells me of their lives and how the days have swayed and calmed since the hurricane of change.  How the new year settles down under their feet and they feel the strength to walk one step at a time.  Yes, for that is what we each have.  Only a step at a time.
I notice her post-script and it’s an explanation of the calligraphy.

“This quote reminded me of you,” she writes, her words dropping off the bottom of the page, like an afterthought.

It peeks at me from behind the photograph, and I pull it out with velvet fingers.  Tender, gentle.  Like the beauty might evaporate with my touch or my breath.
And I love that it’s Annie V’s words.  I smile at the memories of her book, for we had studied it together.  Learned to count grace and give grace and keep in step with what today brings.  Ah, the days gone by.
But the quote is about letting joy live loud in your soul at all times, and, though I set the beauty of her carving on a dresser until I find a frame, the words, they stick closer.  They travel with me in the sunshine.
Until Sunday.
On Sunday I can’t seem to get past the hazy gray sky and the cold penetrating wind.  And the tears.  Tears that fall from heaven and water the earth.  How they make things grow, these tears.  And I wonder, even if a little bitterly, about my tears.  Do my tears make things grow?
And what about that joy, the kind that is supposed to be living loud in my every moment?  Where’s that?
Because I’ve never been more familiar with sorrows or well-acquainted with grief as these last weeks have found me.  Grief from so many devastations this past year, now catching up to me on a silent Sunday morning.  I’m watching these tears splatter their hope, wasted, all over my windshield, knowing that my eyes, too, are brim-full.
And I spill a few into my blackberry tea at Mom’s, breaking pieces of the chocolate between my fingers, like pieces of my pain, molded into words so I can ease the pressure a little.  And she’s so good to me. She listens.
But I’m holding out this concept of joy at arm’s length.  Studying it with a skeptical eye for the first time, through my tear-stained perspective.  And it becomes clearer through the drops.
That as Jesus was a man who gave a full frontal embrace to sorrow and knew a grief as an old friend, I am not alone in my struggles.  When the tears fall from heaven, they are a reminder that He cries with us in our pain, and doesn’t push us toward joy until it’s time.  For joy is never the result of compulsion.  It can never be harvested in a field roughly plowed under obligation’s firm tilling blade.
And I have understood it this way.
As if Jesus, His tender touch and compassionate eyes, were relegated only to the tidy, smiling places; but is denied admittance to the places of pain, disappointment, loss, and grief, to the untucked corners of my life.
And it has been a cage to me.*

There is a time when ashes give way to beauty, but before we hold that in our hand and call our cup overflowing, I believe we must fully mourn what has been consumed by the ash.  There is a time for me to dance and sing and praise with joy AND there is a time to beat God’s chest with my angry, misunderstood fists, pounding out the pain, squeezing tears from frightened eyes and snot dripping off my chin.
And know that I am held.
For there is no joy in that part.  There is sorrow.  And grief is present.  But a word of joy can not be assigned to us to say any more than scripting a cue card for the passionate “I love you’s” of an intimate moment between reconciled lovers.  And maybe sometimes our railing and our crying in our messiness is sweeter to Him than a hallelujah spoken through have-to lips.

Maybe the tears are sowing something deep.
By the time I leave Mom’s, the rain’s more like ice.  I steer carefully.  The children sleep.  The drone of the day seems to be hushed by the crunchy splattering that has somehow turned me softer to His embrace.
And I know, now, the way you know something whether anyone ever agrees with you or not, that joy is not what lasts.  Joy is nice and sunshine is good.  But it is not eternal.

What remains, what has always remained, like those arms that hold us in everlast, is love.
And it settles down under our feet, and we find the strength to walk one step at a time.
*Note from Kelli: This is in no way a challenge to Ann Voskamp or an affront to my dear friend who sent me her beautiful words.  In all probability, it is not they who misunderstood the place of joy, but me.

every thursday, we gather together to celebrate redemption. here are the details:  

1. link up a post (old or new) that relates to this week’s prompt (or to a similar theme)
2. put the ‘imperfect prose’ button at the bottom of your post, so others can find their way back here (see button code in right-hand column of my blog) 
3. read other’s prose, and encourage them!
 so won’t you join us, as we “walk each other home”? (ram dass)

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**Thank you to all who have been praying for Joey’s and Jin’s mom, re: last week’s post. Unfortunately, her boyfriend would rather she aborted than let her child be adopted, so now she is deciding whether or not to sacrifice her boyfriend and keep her child, or go through with the abortion. She is in a very hard place. I told her we’ll love her no matter what she chooses.

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