Joy to the World

Last week I had the pleasure of hearing a local school choir perform its holiday concert. I was filled with happiness before the kids sang the first note. They were dressed for the occasion in Santa hats and holiday sweaters. Hot cider and sugar cookies were served. Snow fell gently outside. The scene could not have been any more perfect.

The first song they sang was “Joy To The World.” While listening to the song and soaking in the innocence of their voices, it occurred to me that inner joy is the key to ongoing happiness. When we are joyous, we feel good. If you learn to experience joy in some moment or experience every day, then pretty soon you will start finding MANY joyous moments every day. Surely that will lead to happiness throughout the week, the month, and the entire year.

Once you obtain that heightened level of joy and happiness, you will attract more positive people and goodness in your life. It really is true that you get what you give. It simply depends on our attitudes, our perspectives, and our reactions to others.

As the children in that choir sang their hearts out and the words washed over me, I gazed out the window at snowflakes drifting toward the frozen earth from the gray Midwest sky, The weather man said Sunday could be the coldest day of the year. Suddenly my thoughts of positivity and finding joy were interrupted by frightening thoughts about what it must be like to live on the streets during our brutal Chicago winter. Iwas about to walk home through frigid temps. The difference for me was that in a few minutes, I would be holding a cup of hot cocoa on our comfy sofa and warming myself in front of the fire. Homeless people downtown don’t have that luxury.

If I am going to find daily joy, I must find it on days likes these, So I decided that on Sunday I would hit the streets with a few gifts: hot tomato soup, warm grilled cheese sandwiches, new socks, and a holiday card with a message that hopefully shared a little joy with those who are struggling on the streets. They are human brothers and sisters who have the right to enjoy a laugh and take pleasure in life’s simple joys.

Early Sunday morning, I happily extracted myself from under the bulky warmth of my comforter and got out of bed at 6 a.m. on the coldest day of 2016, The local TV news forecast was warning of a wind-chill advisory and temperatures of -9. I made two pots of creamy tomato soup and a couple dozen grilled cheesesandwiches. I had purchased socks and holiday cards. It was important that the people I meet receivea card. Inside was a message from the heart to give them hope, confidence, and optimism.

A friend and team member, Taylor, was kind enough to join me. In an effort to experience a bit of what the homeless have to deal with, I walked the streets wearing no gloves. I can’t imagine what it must be like to spend one night, let alone months or years, withouta home.

I walked past more than 20 tents in a makeshift campground underneath an overpass. Some inhabitants left their frozen shoes in front of the tent flaps so as not to track snow and mud inside. Some of the shelters were summer tents suited for a family camping trip in July, and not designed to withstand the polar vortex weather we were experiencing.

Horns from passing cars played a cacophonic symphony from traffic-choked streets in The Loop. Pedestrians waiting to cross Michigan Avenue jostled for position while making their way through the canyon of concrete edifices lining the Magnificent Mile. Locals and tourists alike rushed from store to store, purchasing gifts and seasonal clothing. Perfectly proportioned mannequins modeled the latest in 2016 winter attire in brightly lit store windows.

It was like the Hollywood version of an ideal big-city Christmas. Except for the occasional cold, weary person sitting on the freezing cold ground – the person without a high credit limit and a dozen party invitations.

Those are the people I wanted to connect with.

We poured soup, shared sandwiches, and gave out socks. Every person we met was truly touched. I asked each of them to read the card that evening before going to sleep, and said I would pray for them.

After depleting our supply, we walked past themassive 25-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln statue currently installed at the Pioneer Court plaza on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. As I stood in front of Honest Abe,I remembered a quote he used when asked about his religious code. Lincoln said he once heard an old man speak at a church meeting in Indiana, and the man said: “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion.”

That philosophy makes a lot of sense to me. Whether you call it your gut instinct, an inner voice, or the little man on your shoulder, we all have some innate wisdom about what’s right or wrong. For me, my inner voice said it was time to stop ignoring the people in those tents downtown.

Times like these are when the lessons I learned from Granny Ashton guide my decisions. It doesn’t matter to me how the homeless ended up in that place or what life decisions each of them has made. They are people, it is bitterly really cold outside and the wind is screaming, so they need some comfort.

I’m not trying to make myself out as some kind of holiday hero. The truth is that I am only one man among 7.5 billion people on this planet. I just do what I can to make a difference with the people I encounteras I move through life, and I hope you do the same. Now let’s carry this holiday spirit forward and commit acts of kindness every day. We should find joy and create joy for others 365 days a year.

Blessings to all of you, and may you have a very merry Christmas.

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© 2016 Jon Ashton