unspeakable joy

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unspeakable joy

Well, hello out there!  Look, I do have a blog!

You may remember (in what, unexpectedly, turned out to be my last post of 2009) that I said I had a couple of projects in the works.  I have this thing, when I’m working on something, that I don’t want to spoil the surprise of whatever it is.  I distinctly remember feeling that way about these particular things, especially this one.


In fact, before the whole thing really got rolling I had this belief that somehow I would get through this whole December and no one would really know who was behind The Joy Project.  It would all be so mysterious…ha!

I had to let go of that idea about as soon as I sent out a mass email inviting people to join in this with me.  I mean really, how did I think I could keep it a secret? So by now, I’m sure you know at least some of this story.  But for my friends who may not be close by, and of course, for the official record – well, I’d like to put some of it down here.  I talked about the Joy Project in church last Sunday – what follows is roughly what I said there, with a few additions. Bonus features, if you will.


Today brings us to the end of our Christmas season here at church – a season in which we have really tried to look at Christmas in a new way, to frame it differently than we have before.  And so, I want to tell you a story about something that has been a big part of framing my own Christmas season this year.

Back in September or October, Bryan and I watched a video on YouTube, a commercial that had been shot in a train station.  We had both seen it before, and other things like it – and it just made us smile every time we saw it.  This is such a great idea, I kept saying – and Bryan said – you need to do that here.  At that point I was thinking literally here, at Fellowship North.  So I said back to him, When?  When could we do that here?  Christmas, he said.

That could have easily been the end of it – it’s really easy for me to get excited about an idea and then never do anything about it.  But this was one of those ideas. It wasn’t mine – in the sense that I saw it on YouTube, but also in another sense – it was one of those ideas that feels like it comes from outside of you, and just keeps on knocking on a door inside you, waiting for you to open up.

That’s not all what my creative process is — I’m not the pipeline!  I’m a mule, and the way that I have to work is that I have to get up at the same time every day, and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly. But even I, in my mulishness,  even I have brushed up against that thing, at times. And I would imagine that a lot of you have too. You know, even I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I honestly cannot identify. And what is that thing? And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but, in fact, might actually keep us sane.

– Elizabeth Gilbert

And so I cracked the door.  I started to talk to other people about this idea, to show them the video.  Sometimes responses I got were very enthusiastic – one person asked me “when can I invite my friends to come and do this with me?  when do we start?  Others were more hesitant – asking me questions, trying to figure out what exactly I was trying to do and how it was going to work.  And both types of responses were what I needed. The fact that other people thought it was a good idea was an encouragement, and those who asked me questions helped me to figure out what I really did think.

I didn’t want it to be just for our church, or just for people who go to church. I wanted it to be for anyone who wanted to do this – to share the joy of Jesus at Christmas by dancing like a crazy person. I began to refer to this idea as “a gift of joy to our community at Christmas.”

And now here’s where I need to tell you just a little bit of what I’m really like.  Because I don’t tend to use the word joy, especially at Christmas.  I tend to brush off joy (wrongly, I might add) as shallow and superficial – as someone who thinks they have to be happy all the time because they are a Christian.  And that’s just on a normal day.  At Christmas, I can be even worse.  I am a cynical person, and there is much to be cynical about at Christmas.  I tend to want there to be a deeper meaning to everything, and at Christmastime, many things seem very shiny and shallow to me.

And now I was talking about joy and Christmas in the same sentence.  Somehow, in the middle of this idea that I kind of fell in love with, God tricked me.  He gave me a new way to frame this Christmas season.

Things began to happen: a couple of people I met through Twitter helped me name this thing ‘the joy project.’  One of them began tweeting quotes about joy every day during December.  I can’t tell you how many times that day’s little quote was an encouragement to me to keep going. We found a choreographer who was excited about the possibilities and was able to come up with a dance quickly.  One that all of us could do.  I made a mix with GarageBand. And then I made another, and another. And finally found someone who knew what they were doing to smooth it all out.

I am always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.

– Pablo Picasso

And then, most amazing of all, people began to say yes to this idea.  It’s hard to know exactly, but my best guess is that between 150 and 200 people learned this dance.  Many of you here. And you brought your friends, and neighbors, and people you work with. And we began to dance.  On the first night we went out and did this in early December, we ended up in a Kroger parking lot doing the dance for a Salvation Army bellringer and a couple of grocery store checkers.  Not a huge crowd.  It was easy to feel a little ridiculous.  But then, that bell ringer started ringing his bell and dancing along with us, and later that night he left a note on the joy project website.

You not only made my night and brought me joy, you have prepared for the Christmas Season, and I will always remember seeing you dance….I even attempted to join in and dance but you guys definitely were much better and had much more practice. Thanks again for the joy you bring and brought to me.

– Sean Smith [bellringer]

At that point, I remember thinking, “Ok God, if this is all that happens from this whole thing, it was worth it.” But of course, that wasn’t all that happened. God used this crazy idea – all these people dancing – to change my Christmas.  At first it was as simple as “Stop snapping at your kids.  You can’t do this thing called Joy Project all during December and then come home and yell at your kids.”

This was such an incredible experience and something so completely out of my comfort zone. I’m so thankful to be involved as a ‘visitor’ to your church. I’ve met so many nice people in the past few weeks.

– joy project dancer

But then it became more.  There’s a line in a song toward the end of our dance that says “unspeakable joy – rises in my soul, never lets me go” And that’s what this has become for me: a reminder that there really is joy at Christmas, joy that never lets me go.

So sweet to me that he is invited to the party.  He loved doing it so much on Saturday and I thought later that he’s probably never been included in something like that in his life.  The fact that anyone can do this makes it a little like heaven to me!

– joy project dancer [speaking about another dancer]

And hopefully, that’s what I’ll keep from it all – that even though I said “I” a lot in this post, the things that happened in December are really not much about me, but about what amazing things can happen when we are finally able to say yes…

I am convinced that each work of art, be it a great work of genius or something very small, has its own life, and it will come to the artist, the composer or the writer or the painter, and say, “Here I am: compose me; or write me; or paint me”; and the job of the artist is to serve the work. I have never served a work as I would like to, but I do try, with each book, to serve to the best of my ability, and this attempt at serving is the greatest privilege and the greatest joy that I know.

– Madeleine L’Engle


  1. Being a part of this was hands down the highlight of our Christmas season at the Chino House. 

    Thank you so much for laying the groundwork for our Christmas JOY!

  2. I am so proud of you – that you put yourself out there this way and risked failure for the sake of spreading JOY! Even though Wylie and I only got to physically participate once, we will always remember that as one of the best parts of our Christmas this year – and we were always rooting you all on for every performance even though we couldn’t be there in person!  Love you friend!!

  3. What a beautiful Christmas gift you brought to so many people in Little Rock! I’m happy to have even had the smallest part in it. I mostly happy to know you and your fabulous family.

  4. kat

    You look super cute on the Teeee-Veeee.  I wish I could have seen you all dance – such an awesome and inspiring idea and so motivating to see an IDEA happen, right?!?  Awesome.  Er, extra awesome as your husband might say?

  5. pretty much sums it all up for me– i was one of the ‘broken’ ones this christmas that chino house daddy talked about one sunday morn– this kept me out of the darkest depths this year for sure!

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