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k birthThirty years ago today, my first child – a girl, was born to my wife and me. From the moment we knew “we” were carrying her, and were to care for her, we were filled with anticipation. What a humbling gift to know you will have a child.  What an frightening realization that, although we did something to instigate the creation, we were in reality, uncontrollably un-responsible for the awe that birth was becoming.

Some try for years to have children to no avail; we, on the other hand, decided to start a family and virtually overnight we had one developing in Mercy’s womb. Though this person was a stranger to be given to us, we named her. We named her, and not herself. We named her with the word that most closely described our feelings – we used the New Testament Greek word for Joy: χαρα ~ Xara – which we trans-mutated into Kara.

A month before she was to arrive, she broke the amniotic fluid sack in which she was developing. Since she hadn’t managed to turn herself into the diving position in time (head down), she was delivered by emergency C-Section.  She came to us small enough for her little head to fit in one hand, and the rest of her body, in the other.  As vulnerable as she was, we were scared and delighted at the same time. Even this fills me with awe, knowing that before the last century, one of the most common causes of death for women was child birth – the helpless irony of life and death at the same intersection.

She turns 30 today, a number that represents odd things in our culture, a kind of time marker that some make too much of.  In those 30 years we stumbled, blundered, and figured out a few things, and by the time we might have felt like we were getting the hang of it, she was ready to leave.

But I am getting ahead of myself. When Kara was about 3 months old, Mercy took her to visit relatives in Calgary. Being the new dad that I was, I suddenly found myself missing her. I am prone to think too much about things, and so I thought and thought, and even wondered what I would say on her wedding day in some distant future. This song was the fruit of all that (and I was able to sing this at her wedding last year – complete with the added third verse fit for the occasion):

Little bundle of Joy,” doesn’t tell half the story – Of all the joy that you have brought to me; Once you fit in my hands, now you don’t even fit in my heart – It overflows with thoughts of love for you.

“Little bundle of Joy,” don’t time go by – When a little girl becomes a friend of mine; Don’t time go by… all of a sudden – I can’t imagine life without you.

Imagining you, with all the hope of joy – We prayed and watched and walked in faith with you; Look at you now – grown up and married – Not a little girl or bundle now.

Joy is a big idea, and wide open emotion. It represents a major theme of the Gospel, and is essential to life. James Friesen’s writes a lot about joy in his book “Living from the heart Jesus gave You:”

Being human and wanting joy are inseparable. We are creatures of joy. At its essence, joy is relational.  Joy means someone is delighted to be with me and I like it! Our creator made us with brains that want to operate with joy in charge, and our lives want to be filled with relationships that lead us to joy.

Orbital Frontal Cortex

Orbital Prefrontal Cortex

His research identifies that the joy expressed – received – and returned, goes back and forth “at amazingly fast rates – six cycles per second in nonverbal, face-to-face exchange – all the time growing stronger “joy” between both people.”  Neuroscientists have identified the “joy centre” located “in the right orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain. It has executive control over the entire emotional system.”

But more than that, as interesting as the neuroscience is, we were made for relational joy with the One who made us for Himself. From the first word that Jesus is “good news of great joy” – to the encouragement to “fix our eyes on Jesus, who, because of the joy set before Him, endured the cross” – joy is the theme of the Spiritual life.

So Kara… happy birthday!  May you live up to your name-sake, and may we all know the joy for which we were created.