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.” (Psalm 126.2)
Leona was a twin born in rural Mississippi on Leap Year Day 1900. When the midwife saw her sister crowning quickly behind her, she wrapped Leona in a towel and placed her snugly in a boot to attend the other’s delivery. The nickname “Boots” stuck. Hardscrabble life as a black sharecropper’s daughter endowed her with two mighty gifts: determination and dreams. In the mid-1920’s she boarded a train for Chicago to make a better life among thousands who migrated north to find work. I got to know Boots a half-century later, when I volunteered to drive her to church every Sunday evening. I’d go by her house early to listen to her stories. Her mind was razor-sharp, but she often retold the tale of arriving in the big city because it was her favorite. “Tim,” she’d say, “when I looked up at all those tall buildings, I said, ‘Boots, your dream’s coming true!’” She’d chuckle to herself and add, “God sure is a good God.”
Boots wasn’t your typical church lady. On the contrary, she was a salty old gal. She called things like she saw them, usually tossing in a few phrases many considered unbecoming. Beyond her love for God and people, her passions were baseball and chewing tobacco. When I could swing by her place to watch the game with her, someone—a niece or nephew, neighbor or friend—invariably knocked on her door to ask for help. Rent was overdue. They needed bus fare to get to work. Their phone was shut off. “Hand me my pocketbook,” she always said. Seeing this pattern, I said, “Boots, you need to look after yourself.” She gave me a wise grin. “When I look after them, God looks after me. I’ve never gone hungry a day in my life and I never will. I know they think I’m crazy. Half the time they think they’re tricking me. But what they do is on them. I’m going on anyhow.” She was determined to let nothing stop her from living her dream of having enough to share. Boots viewed each request as a personal favor to her. She was a Christian through and through.
A Happy Road
Sometimes, if our conversation ebbed, Boots unconsciously sang to herself. She couldn’t carry a tune, but her song soared on wings of beauty. It was always the same:
And He walks with me and He talks with me
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known
If she caught me smiling, she’d laugh and say, “No sense in feeling sad and sorry when it’s a happy road.” And that’s precisely where the author of Psalm 126 is—on a happy road. He sets the scene in the first verse: “When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.” He and his fellow travelers are like Boots when she got to Chicago. They can’t help but rejoice as their dreams of freedom and restoration start coming true. “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy,” verse 2 says. “Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’”
Ironically, they’re returning on the same road that led them away. Being forced to leave their families and homes for a strange land made their journey mournful and frightening. One imagines they traveled in silence, terrified of making a sound, trembling with fear of what lay ahead. Yet though it’s the same road, their return bears no likeness to their departure. Laughter and exuberance fills the air. They sing without hesitation. They’re headed home. No doubt their unbridled joy seems crazy to others. Most likely they meet people who try to take advantage of them. Yet despite any opposition or derision, they keep going. There’s no denying God has done great things for them, and nothing or no one can steal their joy. They’ve got every reason to laugh and sing. They’re on a happy road.
Which road are we on—the mournful one leading from home, or the happy one to a joyful life of freedom and restoration? Are we traveling in silence and fear? Or are we laughing and singing, going on anyhow, no matter how nutty it seems or who’s playing tricks? Since it’s the same road, direction determines the nature of our journey. And we differ from the psalmist in one major aspect: we choose which we way we want to go. When we realize fear, doubt, and oppression are pushing us down a harmful path, we turn around. With determination, we head in the opposite direction, straight toward our dreams.
The Lord has done great things for us. He will continue to do great things for us. He walks with us, talks with us, and tells us we’re His own. The joy we share with Him fills us with laughter. It inspires songs of joy. I have a song. You have one, too. Your song is your weapon. It’s your defense against uncertainty and sorrow. It lifts you above your troubles and celebrates your hope. It bubbles over in your soul and changes your perspective. It enables you to envision your dreams coming into fruition. No one or nothing can steal your joy when you decide to travel the happy road. No one or nothing can silence your song once you’re committed to this path. What others think, say, or do is on them. It has nothing to do with you. Go on anyhow. Choose the happy road. Sing your song.
Choose the happy road. Sing your song.
(Next: Wisdom's Ways)