My first home was a murder scene.
The parsonage where my husband and I lived as newlyweds was the same house where the previous “pastor” had shot his wife in the head and passed her death off as a suicide before he ran off to his internet girlfriend. (He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.)
The little church my husband pastored had once been in a respectable part of town. Over the years the neighborhood had deteriorated until drug addicts and drunks walked the street in front of our house and crack dealers sold their wares on three street corners we could have hit with a well-aimed rock.
The sheriff couldn’t carry a gun because convicted felons were prohibited from doing so. If I recall correctly, he’d been elected to his second term from jail.
Reader’s Digest named the local judge one of the worst in the nation.
The nearest Wal-Mart was in a small town almost an hour away that had one of the highest murder rates in the US.
A few days after my first baby was born, a gang fight erupted in front of my house which left a person lying in the street.
I called 911. Nobody came.
That’s not even to mention that I had moved far from family for the first time in my life, sight unseen.
I loved it.
No, really. I did.
My husband and I decided when we got married that we were going to enjoy wherever God placed us. Our family joke is that God seems to send us to places no one else wants to go. And everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve found joy.
Good things are there if you just look for them. In our first home, we had wonderful neighbors across the street. We had a precious church full of loving, caring friends—seriously some of the best people in the entire world. We even grew to be on friendly terms with some of the regulars in our rough neighborhood. The other day I ran across a picture of a young man from the neighborhood whom my husband led to Christ, and who broke free from a lifestyle of drug abuse.
We lived near the largest bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, which was known for its rich hunting. And we enjoyed the beauty of thousands of acres of fertile farmland that surrounded our little town.
The Methodist church down the road from ours had a Fourth of July celebration every year that was like something from a Norman Rockwell painting—watermelon eating contests, tug of war, a lemonade stand, and fireworks over the creek. Our two churches shared a unique bond of fellowship and Kingdom-building that most communities never enjoy.
We lived in an area rich with history and with a unique regional culture.
We still miss our precious friends from that time in our lives.
Maybe we were crazy. But I’m thankful that we were just crazy enough to obey God and determine to love where He had us. Thankful enough to not let our happiness hinge on our surroundings. Thankful enough to choose contentment and joy.
It’s not that we were so amazing. Heavens, no. I was a pretty broken girl when I came to that place. I look back with embarrassment at the mountain of things I did wrong. But that—that, by the grace of God, I think I got right. And if I did it, anyone can.
Here are three ideas for how to find joy anywhere.
Embrace the call. Acts 17:26 says that God “has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” He decided long ago where you would live! If God has placed you in a place you don’t really want to be, make up your mind to enjoy it anyway.
Ask yourself how you’d act if you were there on vacation. Are there any special historical or cultural events? What sights would you see?
Build relationships. People make a place great, not surroundings.
Have you ever found joy in a difficult place? Tell us about it in the comments!