There’s a wonderfully HUGE event happening in Matthews, NC this weekend, and my husband and I are so excited to be a part of it. Our church family, along with scores of volunteers from the Charlotte-area, will throw a big party for 800 guests with special needs. “Joy Prom” is truly a full-scale prom with music, evening attire, dancing, formal pictures, and some special extras like a dessert reception, a red carpet introduction for every guest, tiaras and jewelry for the ladies, and shoe shines for the gentlemen. Guests will travel from many miles away (like Canada!) for this incredible evening (and some of them arrive in limousines – so fun!) This is the fifth year that my husband and I have participated in Joy Prom, and we always say by the end of the evening that the aching of our feet doesn’t compare with the aching in our faces from smiling for hours.
Joy Prom has been on my mind often this week as we prepare (as I write, my husband is out shopping for a bow tie to go with his new suit – I love that!) I’ve spent the afternoon baking cookies for our guests’ caregivers who will sit back and relax in the hospitality suite on Friday and Saturday nights. As I’ve mixed and stirred, I’ve also been thinking about Sunday morning when my friend and I will share stories and pictures from our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Whenever I think of our mission in the Dominican Republic, I remember Psalm 126:
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.
During the mission trip, one of our team members read Psalm 126 aloud. The psalm served as our devotion before we began another day of hand-fitting wheelchairs for people with severe disabilities who had never before had a means of mobility.
I re-read Psalm 126 several times over the course of the trip; it was so beautifully fitting and hopeful. When the Israelites were freed from captivity, says verse 1, they “were like those who dreamed.”
The people of Israel must have dreamt of
A fruitful Promised Land
Are our dreams not the same for ourselves and our children? We are still longing for the Promised Land. In her book Believing God, Beth Moore describes the New Testament concept of the Promised Land. Followers of Christ can experience the Promised Land this side of Heaven. It’s not necessarily a physical place found on the other side of the river or exclusively a spiritual place entered into on the other side of death. The Promised Land can be known to us today as a life-place of freedom, fruitfulness, favor, safety, security, and a home with Jesus.
From my American perspective, it might be natural to think of the Promised Land in terms of nice house, safe neighborhood, healthy family, couple of dependable cars, full pantry, etc… But the concept of the Promised Land transcends history and culture. It surpasses the dream of health and wealth.
The true Promised Land is the place where we can say, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” It can happen even in – perhaps more authentically – in the midst of illness or hardship or disability.
Among impoverished people in the Dominican Republic, I witnessed mouths filled with laughter and tongues singing with joy. Mothers and fathers arrived with heavy burdens, in more ways than one, as they carried their disabled children into the church. But many of these families received not only the gift of mobility but also the gift of an everlasting relationship with Jesus. As an older woman saw her son placed in his new wheelchair, she said, “He’s never sat so straight. He looks like a king, and I feel like a millionaire.” The love of Jesus became tangible to her, and her joy made her the richest woman in the world.
The day after I came home from the Dominican Republic, I returned to my work-study in pastoral care at the hospital. At chapel service that morning, the chaplain read Psalm 126! As I sat in stunned silence, I realized that joy can be harvested even in a hospital, a place where many tears are sown. God, I prayed, send me out to plant seeds of joy – not just in a village hundreds of miles away, but in my home, my neighborhood, and in the sterile hospital rooms I will enter today. And I witnessed again how the Holy Spirit, through suffering, tills the soil of a soul, uproots the weeds of bitterness and discouragement, pours out the love of Christ, and cultivates His joy. A patient cried as I prayed with her, but through her tears she praised the Lord. “Praise You, Jesus,” she whispered, “I prayed for someone to show me love, and You sent this girl.”
Joy Prom is a large-scale banquet prepared for those who have sown in tears. Our guests have dreamt of and prayed for someone to show them love, to treat them like millionaires. At Joy Proms past, we’ve said that the event seems like a picture of heaven although we know that doesn’t really fit because there will be no disabilities in heaven. Perhaps what we’re experiencing, no matter how abled our bodies are, is the anticipation of ultimate joy. Every one of us is handicapped by sin, but in Jesus we will be fully free. We are all dreamers, and there will be a Day when we awake to His glory.
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”