This morning, I remembered a moment during the April training when I felt overwhelmed by apathy. Matt was playing guitar, and everyone around me chatted with joy about the new and strange road ahead. Everything seemed to excite them: the food, the language, the challenges, daily living a life of service. They were staring the future in the face and felt infused with hope. I remember holding my knees and thinking about the brief moments when I told someone about my plans. When I spoke about it, my sentences were flooded with ellipses, awkward smiles, and compulsive head nodding. I didn’t feel particularly thrilled. I just felt like I knew what God was asking me to do, and for once, I was going to be obedient. His promise to change me and use me was interesting, but I couldn’t sense the brightness behind it.

When this memory crossed my mind, I was in the process of taking down some of the many Christmas coloring pages taped to the door of our apartment. We had four Christmas parties with our friends this month and two with our American friends. We shared the true meaning of Christmas and saw the Holy Spirit speak through our friends lips. I remembered reading the Beatitudes at one of our more intimate parties after our friend Virginia started to laugh and said to Qiu, “I almost called you meek, and I have no idea why. I don’t even really know what that means.” I remembered the cheek-to-cheek smiles on the faces of the 20 people who got water baptized on Christmas Eve. I remembered the feeling of Liang Shan’s hand in mind as she told me that I was an angel to her. And I felt overwhelmed joy and the urgency to share that joy.

Joy can be a strange thing. It can feel oddly absent and unattainable when we long for it and it can consume us when we least expect it. However, I learned this season that joy is a gift freely given. Our Father hands it over to us with his love, and with his love, hope, and with his unfailing hope, joy. This Christmas, I was able to live out that promise and see His word made real in our friends’ hearts. He’s working in them and in me, and I am blessed to see it happen.