At one point during the meal Rose pointed to her partly empty pant leg, eyed me with humor and said "This leg doesn't own me, - I own this leg. This isn't a wheelchair, it's my chariot which takes me wherever I want to go. I know whose I am and who I am."
"You mean you're a child of God," I commented. She nodded vigorously. Being God's much loved daughter and having Jesus as her personal Savior is the bedrock of Rose's life, the source of her strength and her joy. Through God and in God, her life has meaning and purpose. No trial enters her life that she can't re-interpret as a new opportunity for grace and growth. Rose, God's child, is in charge of her attitude, her leg, and her life. Rose, God's child, rides in a chariot, not a wheelchair; she is a Victor, not a victim, someone who smiles instead of someone who sneers.
Joy is a choice. Victory is a choice. Either we are in charge of our own attitudes about our lives, or we slide down into the pit of victim-hood and self-pity. Either we greet each day and each person with serenity, joy, and thanksgiving, or we crawl into a cave, angry, paranoid and afraid of the light. There are days when we back-slide - who doesn't? But if we've made the fundamental choice to live as God's child filled with joyful gratitude, no matter what our circumstances may be, we're on the way to having a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Knowing that we are personally shaped into life by the Hands of God, we can ask those Hands to lift us beyond the walls of protection we may have built around us. Walls keep us from fully confronting our reality in all its gloom and glory. Walls keep us from daring to risk to love because walls are constructed of our own personal baggage. Surrendering to God's Divine Hands, daring to love Him, we can trust that God holds us safe, no matter what may befall us. God our Father and Mother will not desert us, even if we're in a hospital room, a prison, a drug rehab, or a nursing home.
St. Philip Neri (1515-1595), the Patron and Apostle of Rome, Italy, said once "A joyful heart is more easily made perfect than a downcast one." And, both humorously and realistically he said "Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow."
Neri was a priest who founded the secular clergy known as the Congregation of the Oratory; the Oratory was their special Church. Neri traveled throughout the city, day and night, visiting with and making friends with people from every neighborhood and social class, from rich young nobles to prostitutes, from peasants to bankers. Fervent in prayer, he'd nevertheless "leave Christ for Christ" by immediately going to greet and aid anyone who came to the door. His great desire was to bring as many people as possible to repent of their sins and have the joy of knowing they were children of God.
Neri used joy and humor to humble himself, because he eventually became so famous that he knew he needed to be humble. There are stories of him wearing ridiculous clothes or walking around with half his beard shaved off. The greater his reputation for holiness, the sillier he wanted to seem. When some people came from Poland to see him, they found him listening to another priest read to him from joke books.
My friend Rose and Philip Neri, in their humor and humility, can teach us that if we have a deep, prayerful relationship with God our Father, we can go through life with a light heart and a light-hearted spirit - because we trust our Father! We trust that our Father has given us a life filled with meaning and purpose. We trust Him to guide us and guard us from evil and sin. We trust Him to teach us how to have a positive, thankful attitude towards our lives, to know that if we can just get through today, we will have enough strength for tomorrow. The joy of the Lord is our strength!