It was right then that I started thinking about Thomas Jefferson on the Declaration of Independence and the part about our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I remember thinking how did he know to put the pursuit part in there? That maybe happiness is something that we can only pursue . . .

-Christopher Gardner, The Pursuit of Happiness

We never count on good weather when we go to the beach in March. We’re not necessarily there for weather. Rather, we come for the roar of the ocean, overwhelming and larger than anything we will ever hold. We go to feel the salt on our faces and the whip of the wind, to know our footprints still hold weight. We write Caleb’s name in the sand, hoping that maybe — just maybe — the same waves that will wipe his name clean from this beach may write our names on the shores of heaven for him to see. We bring our grief, our living hope, to spill out like a bucket of seashells upon the shore. We return to the sea to feel it all and wash it away and return home clean.

This past March was our 6th year. I can’t remember another year when the sun has shone as brightly as it did that day, right in the middle of Caleb’s week. We ran, all four of us, like a bunch of starved refugees, to fill our toes with sand and eat the light of this August-like March afternoon. Two-year-old Miracle and I sat deep in castle-making, his toddler gibberish dancing with the wind. I turned to watch Jack teaching our four-year-old Rainbow how to fly his first kite and caught a feeling I hadn’t hoped for.

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I can’t tell you why the sight of my tiny boy flying a cherry-colored kite, with Daddy crouching over him, struck me so. Was it the sunshine or the wind that wound me up into — dare I say it? — happiness? Was it that after so many Marches gray and salty, this beach surprised me with bright? Or was it that for the first time in so long, I could feel sand and absorb light and laugh at cherry red in blue sky?

What is happiness, anyways? Is it real? I remember happy, believed it was possible. But for me, now? Maybe not for me. Maybe what I could have, I thought and prayed, was just a bit of joy to make the days more bearable. And so, a whole year before this moment at the beach, I started to pursue joy – what it means and how to get it. I found 242 mentions of joy in the Bible, but only 6 mentions of happiness.

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. {Job 8:21}

But when a lifetime’s worth of Marches string out, how do I laugh and visit my child’s grave? Will there really be joy again?

I once sat in this house, in this room, with no children stomping down the stairs in the morning. There were no smudges on the windows, no little feet. I survived on the words of Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares The Lord, “plans for hope and a future.”

I learned I can hold onto God in an empty house or kneeling at my son’s tiny grave. I believe in His goodness through bed rest and preeclampsia and the terminal heart diagnosis of our thriving Miracle because I know He is working it all out for His glory, my good, and a forever past every tear.

The sun rose this morning, pinking up the sky over the backyard fence. I sipped my coffee and marveled at how this house rocks with boydom, kisses offer themselves up from little boys’ fish lips, and tiny voices cry “Mama” when they’re scared. These hardwood floors I picked out so long ago, swollen large with a baby who would never come home, are covered with crumbs and the tiny trails of chubby feet. This hunk of a man who partnered it all with me, bore the burdens and the tear-soaked nights, still comes home, parched through for us.

I get it now, how simple it really is.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. {Psalm 34:8}

Yes, I still wake hard some mornings to the loss of my sweet child. But I know now that the Son shines in winter, and joy breaks me open to see it. No matter the day or the loss or the break, I know that living in joy is the only way to pursue happiness.

This post first published December 2, 2014 on (in)courage.me