Refrigerators and Sisterhood

Refrigerators: a family’s wall of fame. In elementary school, I put my scribbled stick figure depictions of my family on there, proud of my artistry. In middle school, the refrigerator was instead filled up with report cards that showed off our good attendance and A/B averages. In high school, it was filled with weekly schedules of each member of the family: Who had work, school, and other priorities we needed to know about to figure out who got the cars and at what times.

In college, the refrigerator now showcases no report cards nor stick figure scribbles. There are no schedules to see. Instead, it is filled with life: wedding invitations, condolence cards, birth announcements, graduation pictures, and prayers.

I don’t live with my family anymore but looking at these moments of life that hang on my refrigerator door, I am reminded that while I may not live with my biological family, it doesn’t mean I am without one.

I live with faith-filled women who desire the same thing I do, a relationship with God. Looking at this refrigerator, this wall of fame, I come to realize how blessed I am to have this other family of mine.

We walk through this life together as sisters in Christ. The pictures and cards that hang on the door are proof of this.

We celebrate love, we rejoice in new babies and when a life is lost we hold each other close offering a shoulder to cry on. We are there for each other through the joy and the pain. We suffer together, we laugh together, we study together and we pray together.

We come home at midnight and pray a rosary in the quiet darkness of night. We dance in the living room, we cook and bake, we praise and worship our God, and we leave notes of encouragement and prayer for each other when we need it.

This family I am blessed to be apart of is a family because we have a beautiful sisterhood in Christ. As sisters we ask questions like, “how can I pray for you today?” and do so with sincerity and genuine love.

Having true sisters in our lives are important. We need people to pray for us, and not just to pray for the most mundane things in our lives, but for the deep, dark gritty stuff we don’t want just anyone to see.

The past few months have really proven to me just how much I needed this sisterhood to surround myself with. All three of us have gone through our own trials; whether that be financial stress, relationships, anxiety, grieving, or work conflicts.

Satan had been dragging us through the mud and without the sisterhood we have, life would have been so much more difficult. We aren’t meant to do this on our own; we all need community. We need others to help us to lift our crosses, to carry us to the finish line and to lift us up in prayer as we go about our days.

If I didn’t have someone to talk me down from my emotional freak out about work and school or someone to lift me up in both affirmation and prayer, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today. When I fall, I have sisters all around me to push me back towards Christ.

Find that sister who can come home from work late at night and serve you up an ice cream sundae when you feel like you’re drowning in school work. Find that sister who writes uplifting messages to you on the bathroom wall with the steam from a hot shower. Find that sister who looks you in the eyes and truly cares about the trials you’re facing in your life.

Live your life with these sisters in such a way that when you look back on the memories you’ve made and the experiences you witnessed, you’ll see both the joy and the suffering.  You’ll know you’ve walked, crawled, been carried, and supported each other in this life together and that the refrigerator you see keeps only a vague snapshot of the emotions and stories you hold close to your heart.

 

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Are You Radically Accepting Your Imperfection?

I have never been late to a class before.

Yep, that’s right. I, Sarah, have never been late to a class.

This statement was true…until one unfortunate morning.

I was driving to school at my usual departure time. There was no hurry, I knew I would get to school with about 20 minutes to spare, just as I did every morning (my philosophy: being early is on time and being on time is late).

I pulled away from my house and got on the highway, entering into something out of my worst nightmare: unmoving cars.

Traffic was almost at a standstill, red brake lights lit up the freeway as far as the eye could see. I looked at the clock on my dashboard and nervously tucked the fear away as I slowly merged on. I had an extra twenty minutes planned into my schedule just for instances like this. I assured myself I’d be fine, I’d get to school on time.

My outlook slowly started to change and panic slowly set in as I realized just how long I would be stuck in this traffic.

Some of you are probably thinking I sound ridiculous (and you’d be right). I’d only be a little late to class, it’d be no big deal. Professors don’t care whether you’re in their class or not, and in most circumstances I would agree with you. Unfortunately, my philosophy class was a little strict. My professor gave us daily ten point quizzes at the start of each class over the reading we were assigned from the class before. If you’re late or miss a class, those ten points go down in the grade book as missed.

Back in the car, after what seemed like hours of me driving full of panic, I finally pulled into the university’s parking lot and walked as fast as I could to my class. My shoes squeaked across the floor of the quiet building from the melted snow that was trampled in by me and other students. I opened the closed door of my classroom and almost everyone turned around to see who was arriving late (by the way, having everyone stare at you is the worst thing ever for a girl who always chooses to sit in the back of the class).

I sat down and quickly pulled out my pen as my professor quietly wished me a good morning and handed me the quiz. The first three questions were marked off. He had already asked those questions and I wouldn’t be allowed to make them up. Despite his wish, it wasn’t a good morning for me.

I was so angry.

I was angry at the traffic I had to get through, (I even took a detour but the traffic was still backed up there too). I was angry at the driver in front of me going fifteen miles under the speed limit. I was even angry at my amazing professor for always starting class with quizzes that commuters like myself could potentially be late to, for reasons outside of our control.

I kept telling myself, if only I had left three minutes earlier, I would have arrived on time and received all of the points I was allowed. If only I would have gotten up 3 minutes earlier, I would’ve been there at the start of class.

Now here’s some back story to the situation: I had a 103% in the class. Every quiz I had taken in that class I had been on time for, and received full credit plus the bonus question. On top of this, at the end of the semester, our professor knocked off the two lowest quiz grades too.

Now, you are allowed to call me ridiculous because looking at it now, I agree. I was so distraught over a quiz that would have no impact on my grade.

Clearly, I’m a little bit of a perfectionist. Everything has to be perfect. I need to do everything right the first time and achieve the unachievable status of perfect. I need to get an A in every single class, I need to always be on time for the lecture, I need to answer every question correctly when I’m called on.

I’m not just a perfectionist in my education. I also strive for perfection in my work and in my spiritual life.

My prayer life isn’t perfect and it bothers me. The amount of work I put in at both of my jobs is not perfect and it bothers me.

When I make mistakes I critique myself very harshly. I play the mistakes over and over again in my head and put myself down for not being better.

The desire for perfection is easily one of my greatest causes for anxiety. Most of my anxiety comes from me worrying that I’m either letting someone down, not doing my job right, or  saying and doing the wrong thing.

When I was beginning my new job as a youth minister intern, the same thoughts were taking over my mind: “what if I mess up?” and “what if I make a mistake and something bad happens?”

It bother me so much that during confession without any intent on sharing how I was feeling about my new job, I just dumped it all in the lap of the priest. I basically emotionally vomited on him.

He looked at me while I was on the verge of tears because I was finally telling someone what had been bothering me for so long. I had no idea the hold it was having on me until I let it go and felt a weight fall off of my chest.

He kindly smiled at me. “Sarah,” he said, “nobody’s perfect.”

He told me we all make mistakes, and that’s how we learn. There’s almost a beauty in making mistakes. It humbles us so we can become better christians.

He looked at me in the eyes and said it again, “nobody’s perfect, we’re only human. I make mistakes too.”

When he said this, it finally sunk in. Never once had I stopped to think about everyone around me and their own imperfection. I have yet to meet someone who’s never made a mistake in their life.

A few months later I was promoted to a management position at my retail job. Once again I found myself worrying about the mistakes I would make in my new role. I just had to be perfect, I couldn’t ever get in a disagreement with other managers or finish the day without reaching all of our goals.

It consumed me. The anxiety of trying to achieve perfection was once again eating at me. I’ve been trying and failing to remind myself that it’s impossible to achieve perfection, to know I’m only human.

I was talking to a friend of mine about this recently, discussing how we shared in each other’s suffering of anxiety. I was telling her about how perfection was definitely a factor in my personal anxiety. We came to a similar conclusion that we need to learn to continually accept our imperfection.

We’re going to fail and we’re going to make mistakes but that’s exactly how we learn and grow. No one on this earth is free of making mistakes. We need to embrace the fact that we are all imperfect. That conversation inspired me to write this blog and as I was writing it a few days later while sitting in the student center, that same friend texted me, asking a simple yet profound question: Are you radically accepting your imperfection today?

 

I was caught me off guard by the beauty of that question.

I found that asking myself this question was a great way to evaluate myself and challenge my views on my imperfection. Am I radically giving my life over to Christ? Am I continually accepting to love God over my desire for perfection?

Jesus would never want us to live in our anxiety-filled hearts because he made us for greatness. Let that sink in: he made us for greatness.

If you also struggle with anxiety stemming from perfection, take a moment and reflect on this. Ask yourself what Christ desires of you. Humbly remember that you are not perfect and continually take into consideration this question: are you radically accepting your imperfection today?

 

 

 

“I Forgive You”

What does a college student do when there are impending due dates lurking around the corner, a stack of books needing to be read, and a pile of dirty laundry that needs washing?

Watch a Disney movie of course.

And that’s just what I did one sunny Saturday afternoon.

After much deliberation on deciding what to watch, I went with the new live-action version of Cinderella.

Ever since the first time I watched it, I fell in love with the more complex set of characters than those in the original cartoon.

What I love the most though, is how virtuous they created Cinderella to be. She’s kind, more kind than I think I’ve ever striven to be.

I’ll sit there in frustration as I watch her slowly fall from a girl living a fairly wealthy life, into her new role as housekeeper extraordinaire.

I watch as she willingly gives up her room for her stepsisters, only to be placed in the attic or when her stepmother purposely knocks over her plate and without a second thought, Ella goes to clean it up out of sheer kindness.

Coming from a woman who’s stubborn and always needs to get in the last word, I found myself more than once yelling at the TV and wanting nothing more than to shake Cinderella by the shoulders and say, “Stop letting them push you around! This is your house, fight back!”

The first time I saw it, I sat there waiting for the end of the movie when she would finally get her prince, and that awful stepmother would deserve whatever she got.

I was surprised when I witnessed a completely different outcome.

As Cinderella leaves her house for the last time with her prince, she turns around to stare at her stepmother and says, “I forgive you”.

WHAT.

No revenge? Not even a sassy one-liner executed perfectly as she walks out the door?

You can imagine my frustration.

But the more I sat on it and thought about it, I realized how perfect those last words were.

Forgiveness.

It was never my favorite word, growing up I hated it. Whenever I got in a fight with my sisters or brother, my parents would make the instigator apologize. That was fine with me because it seemed like I was always the one being antagonized. The only problem was that after they said they were sorry, my parents would make me say, “I forgive you”. Stubbornly and through a dramatic pout, I would utter those three “awful” words.

It is something I still struggle with today.

Sometimes it’s easy. For example, when your sister eats the last Pop Tart for breakfast and you’re stuck eating two boring old pieces of toast that leave you hungry an hour later, you learn to get over it and forgive her quite easily.

Other times, it’s not so easy.

When someone’s been bullying you or hurting you deeply for some time, it can get a lot harder to forgive.

When I’ve been wronged by someone, I find it’s so much easier to turn to revenge, thinking I’ll feel better once they get what they deserve. I never do feel better but that doesn’t stop me from thinking it; I’m not one for turning the other cheek.

But even if I want nothing more than to fight fire with fire, God asks us to do the opposite. He wants us to forgive others and He’s got a good argument for why we should:

If we are going to ask God to forgive us for every time we’ve hurt him, which is all the time (aka. sin), it would be hypocritical of us to never forgive those who hurt us. Why should we beg for forgiveness for our sins and receive mercy but then turn around at those begging for our forgiveness and keep that mercy to ourselves?

Forgiveness is so important that Jesus told us to include it in our prayers when he taught us the Lord’s Prayer. We pray it every time we go to mass: “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Once Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive our brothers. To get the message to us that we should forgive over and over again, he tells us a parable in Matthew 18:21-35.

To sum it up, a servant is in debt to his king. When the king requests to be paid, the servant begs for mercy as he is unable to pay. The king shows mercy and forgives the servant his debt. The forgiven servant then turns around and punishes another servant who owes him money rather than showing him the same mercy his king showed him. When the king finds out, he punishes the servant for not sharing in the same mercy he received.

This parable has always been a good wake-up call in my life because as I’ve said, I am not so forgiving.

There was a day where I was incredibly angry with another person. I was texting my sister about it, how angry I felt. She texted me back and said, “for someone so little, you sure do have a lot of rage”.

Never has a truer statement been spoken.

Yes, there can be a lot of hot-headed stubbornness in me when I’m angry. Forgiveness is always the last thing on my mind. But then I read that parable Jesus gives us or I watch characters like Cinderella turn around and forgive their enemy of everything.

I am reminded of our call to love. And in that call to love comes the call to forgive others.

Just as God forgives us time and time again, so should we forgive each other.

Bow to no enemies

I really need to stop eating chocolate before bed.

As good as it tastes, chocolate makes my dream world a little crazy, and not to mention, vivid.

I blame chocolate for the time I dreamt of talking frogs (which I’m terrified of) who attack me in my bed, for the time I ate my own teeth like candy, for the time carrots were growing out of my legs, and for the time I dreamt this:

I was wearing a simple tiara and a long evergreen dress, the kind you see Queen Susan wear in Narnia. I was staring out of a large window, overlooking the village below me.

I looked out with fear; an enemy was attacking my village. I watched from my window as my villagers fell from the invading warriors.

A soldier came up behind me to sneak me out of the castle so I wouldn’t be taken as a prisoner but he was too late.

Enemy warriors came marching into my castle and surrounded me. One grabbed my arm and pulled me down the stairs and outside.

He threw me on the ground in front of their leader: an old woman with the likeness of an evil Julie Andrews stared down at me from her horse and said, “bow down to me, I am your new queen.”

I didn’t move but only looked at her.

She said, “bow down to me or die.”

So here’s where it gets epic:

I grabbed the crucifix that was hanging around my neck, stood up tall and yelled loudly, “I bow to no earthly man.”

Great dream, right?

That morning my roommate and I laughed as we tried to find a meaning behind the dream. (It’s a usual past time of ours, trying to understand the dreams I have).

Well here’s what we decided:

I had just finished an amazing summer. I was doing great in my prayer life, I was hanging out with friends, and I had plenty of time to grow in my faith.

As school crept closer, I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I would have time to pray like I had this summer, it was going to be such a busy school year.

The dream was an analogy for me:

The village I ruled over was my life.

My soldiers were all of the good practices I had developed over the summer: a better prayer life, healthy eating, time in adoration with Jesus, etc.

The enemy queen was one of my real enemies. Her name is busyness and I am terrified of her.

I had a good defense; good soldiers to protect my village. I had good practices to keep my life in order until Queen Busyness came to conquer it all.

I watched as my village crumbled, my life slowly falling apart from her arrival.

I tried to run but she took me anyways.

But when she asked me to bow down to her, I knew I couldn’t. There was only one I would bow to, and that is Jesus Christ.

Jesus was speaking to me in this crazy chocolate-influenced dream I think. I was so incredibly scared to jump into the new school year with my new ministry job and my new extra-curriculars. I was going to be so busy but Jesus knew that, and knew me.

As long as I have him with me, I will never bow down to any of my enemies. They might make it hard sometimes to live a good Christian life but Jesus is standing by our side when these earthly things that fill our lives do conquer us.

Maybe you too are incredibly busy. Maybe your queen is the struggle to be pure in a relationship or she’s the insecurities you’ve been hiding for years.

Whoever she is, she’s going to be hard to fight.

You might have a great defense system but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever be invaded by these enemies.

As you struggle and fight, know God is always right beside you.

My life is busy but I know God will never leave me alone, he is right there helping me through it. He won’t ever give me something I can’t handle.

I don’t bow to my enemy queen. She may have invaded my life but as long as I’ve got Jesus, she’s not winning anything.

Who’s your enemy queen?

Take some time today to stand up to her and say, “I bow to no one but God.”

You are sacred.

I was in the mall the other day shopping with a friend. The first store we went into was Forever 21.

I walked in, looked at the front mannequins, and wanted nothing more than to walk back out. I didn’t, instead I entertained my friend’s request to keep looking around.

What I found was pretty disappointing. With summer right around the corner, the store was full of clothing prepared for the sunny months ahead. There was absolutely nothing in the store besides crop tops, shorts that can hardly pass for actual shorts, and swimsuits that made the shorts and crop tops look classy .

While my friend looked around at the clothes, I found myself looking around at the people who were shopping instead.

It was painful to say the least.

What hurt my heart the most were the mothers shopping with their teenage daughters. I watched as these mothers pulled out crop tops and looked at their daughters and said, “this is cute, try this on.”

In that moment I gave thanks to God that I grew up with a mother who made sure everything I owned respected my body. I had a mother who took me prom dress shopping and refused to buy anything that had too low of a neckline or showed too much skin in the back.

It got me thinking about the standard of modesty we hold today. Even our mothers are telling us it’s okay to go out with our body on display.

As my friend was shopping, she looked at me and said, “keep your eyes open for a scandalous top, I need one to look hot in when I go out and party.”

Is that why we buy into this notion of immodesty? Are we only “hot” and “sexy” when we showcase our bodies to the world?

It made me want to go up to every single woman in that store, look her in the eyes, and say, “You are beautiful. You are more than beautiful. You are so beautiful that you should be respected. You deserve others to look at you and see the beauty of your face, not the curves of your body.”

Modesty is not covering up because our brothers can’t handle themselves. Modesty is covering up because you are precious indeed.

One of my seminarian friends told our girls just this during their women’s session.

Get this. This is what a man told us.

He told us to think about what is veiled in a church. There are three things veiled in a church: the tabernacle, the chalice, and the altar. Why? Because they are incredibly sacred, they hold life (aka. Jesus Christ).

Well guess what, as women we are incredibly sacred, we too hold life. That is why we should veil ourselves with modesty.

The next time you pick up a questionable top on the sale rack, remember that.

Modesty is not covering yourself up because people can’t control themselves. Modesty illustrates the sacredness of your body, asking those around you to respect it rather than objectify it.

 

Are you beautiful?

Hi, my name’s Sarah. I love long walks on the beach, drinking piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain.

Wait, nope, that’s not right, (except maybe the whole getting caught in the rain thing).

Let’s try this again.

Hi, my name’s Sarah. I love long walks through rainy woods, cinnamon in my coffee, the sound of violins, old churches with stained glass windows, and the beautiful writings of Shakespeare.

That is my idea of beauty.

I say my idea because we all have a different perspective of what beauty is. While it’s true that I find joy in quoting a 16th century poet and playwright, I’m assuming many others would rather be reading the label off of a paint can.

And this is good. The variety of beauty we have on this earth is breathtaking. Some people fall in love with the stars on a clear, dark night. Some fall in love with the beaches at sunset. Maybe you’re like me and you fall in love with Sherlock Holmes’ setting in rainy London.

Stand back and look at everything God has created for us. Creation is indeed beautiful.

And the most beautiful part of creation? That would be us.

Everything in creation was created more beautiful and complex than the last. Humans were created last; we are the most beautiful part of creation.

Think about that. You are more beautiful than the sky, the trees, and the waterfalls.

Do you believe that? Do you look at yourself in the morning when you get up and say, wow the Great Barrier Reef ain’t got nothing on me.

Probably not. I know I don’t.

I remember about a year ago I was sitting in a classroom and staring at all of the faces around me. I remember thinking that every face I stared at was incredibly beautiful: the girl with bright blue hair, the guy with that fantastic sense of humor, and my tablemate with the big, dark eyes.

I thought about how they all had someone in their lives that thought they were beautiful too. I also knew some of them probably didn’t they were that beautiful.

Fast forward a year with the bible study group I lead. My co-leader looked at one of our girls and told her she was beautiful. The girl kind of shrugged it off and looked confused as if no one had said it to her before.

How many of us are like that girl when someone pays us a compliment? I know I’ve done that before.

A few years ago, a boyfriend had given me a compliment and I had just kind of brushed it off. I remember him saying, “You’re really bad at taking compliments, Sarah.”

Yes. I knew that, and I knew why. It was because I spent so much time in the mirror picking out any flaws. There was no way I could be beautiful.

Everyone around me was beautiful. Everything God ever created was beautiful, except me.

It was a comment from my sister one day that really solidified how wrong I was about that.

I was telling her about the crush I was having on the guy I sat next to in class, trying to get advice on the matter. Essentially, she was telling me to stop pining, strike up a real conversation with him and ask him out.

I told her no way. He was cute, funny, and smart. He’s that guy everyone loves.

Then she said this: “And you’re Sarah! Part time model/writer/motivational speaker/hottie.” (Model is just another word she says to mean beautiful.)

I doubt she realized how meaningful that response was.

It made me realize how normal we all view ourselves. We compare ourselves to others. We tell ourselves everyone is so amazing and beautiful but we’re just plain old us.

While I looked at my fellow classmates and saw them beautifully and uniquely made, they probably were thinking exactly what I thought: Except me.

My co-leader of my small group thought that girl was beautifully and uniquely made, but she responded how many of us would: Thanks, but I don’t believe you.

That boyfriend? He believed I was beautiful when he said it to me, but all I could think was, I’m wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, what are you talking about.

It’s easy to assign beauty to things unless that thing is us.

There are countless books, songs, and quotes that beg us to try and see ourselves as beautiful but many of us don’t listen.

Instead of just trying to force yourself to see your beauty, try and remember what others see. When you see beauty in another person, don’t tear yourself down because you think you aren’t as beautiful. Instead, know that person is probably thinking the exact same thing about you.

When you see a picture of yourself with a group of people and you think you’re the only one who isn’t photogenic, remember every other person in the group is probably thinking the same thing.

We all have different views of beauty. It’s why I wear combat boots and Chuck Taylors and why my sister wears cowboy boots and sandals.

We’re all unique; we all see different things as beautiful. What you see as flaws, others might see as fascinating.

I’ll tell you this too. We may all have different views of beauty but our Creator doesn’t.

He has just the one, and everything on this entire earth falls into his view, you and me both.

 

Choose Joy, Not Happiness

I was sitting in my early morning philosophy class the other day, regretting my decision to try and fail at creating a new coffee flavor that tragically ended up tasting like grape jelly. I went to class with dangerously low amounts of caffeine, unprepared to do anything but sit in my chair and force my eyes to stay open.

We were discussing the conflicting views of Socrates and Aristotle in regards to happiness. According to Aristotle, part of what we need to be happy is a bit of luck. The other part is to live a virtuous life. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well not according to Aristotle who claims a virtuous life means we must act on all of our desires, but all of those desires must be good.

For example, we’d need to have the desire to wake up early in the morning before school to be virtuous. The good desire here is wanting to wake up early in the morning. Most of us may wake up early in the morning, but I doubt all of us have the good desire to do so. Really, we just wake up because we have to, there’s no desire in it. I have yet to meet someone who wakes up and starts belting out a good morning song like a Disney princess.

So basically, in the wise words of Aristotle, none of us will ever achieve complete and whole happiness, at least I won’t.

Here’s the philosophical question of the year then: would you even want complete and whole happiness for the rest of your life on this earth?

My answer? No.

Now don’t mistake me for crazy just yet. Not wanting complete and whole happiness does not mean I desire to be bitter and sad for the rest of my life.

Life just isn’t life if we can coast through it with big smiles on our faces 24/7. If we were happy for the entirety of our lives, would we even be able to distinguish when we’re actually happy? If it never rained, would we ever think it’s a beautiful day outside when the sun is out?

I want to go through trials of hardship, anxiety, and pain because that makes the happiness worth it.

I also don’t want to be miserable, so instead of happiness, I want to choose joy. Being joyful is different than being happy. We can be joyful when experiencing other emotions. We can’t be happy through sadness, but we can be joyful through it. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” Choosing joy is learning how to dance and rejoice through our suffering.

2 Corinthians 6:4,10 says, “in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet enriching many, as having nothing and yet possessing all things”

In other words, as Christians, we present ourselves to others as disciples of God and part of being a disciple means we rejoice in our sorrows.

We can’t escape suffering and sadness while we live on this earth, but the trials in our lives lead to so much goodness. How else do we gain humility if don’t undergo the suffering of rejection? How can we be compassionate if we first don’t go through the pain of insensitivity? We can’t appreciate sleep and the wonders of caffeine if we don’t have days where we lack sleep.

To be a disciple means to follow Christ and to follow Christ is to suffer. We can’t escape suffering, but just as Jesus embraced his cross on the way to Calvary, we can embrace our own suffering.

One day when we reach those pearly gates, we will receive what Aristotle describes as complete and whole happiness. We’ll say goodbye to the pain and suffering,

Until then, let’s choose joy.