My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During our last article, we learned about growing through ‘But God’ moments. These are times where our circumstances were dire, and then God intervened. We journeyed through the Bible, looking at Joseph’s transition from the pit to prison to the palace in Egypt. We learned of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, where he was transformed in a moment from a murderer of Christians to a strong one himself. Jesus death and resurrection was a huge ‘But God.’ Our faith is based on this ultimate intervention. I shared the personal ‘But Gods,’ from Teresa’s in a Texas mission, where their extreme dependence on God is rewarded through many ‘But God’ turn-arounds. Finally we shared our own ‘But Gods’ – partly on the financial provision for my cancer treatments, but also in our lives generally, as a disabled missionary married to a senior citizen missionary. Often ministry is done through vessels that the world does not consider important or powerful. Paul shared in 1 Corinthians 1:26–27. “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 BUT, GOD chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”
Sometimes the contexts of these But God moments are dire and difficult. Yet while we wait for God’s intervention, he gives us secret weapons. Some of these are mentioned in the fruit of the Spirit list, in Galatians 5:22-23. “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.” Note that joy has a prominent place on this list, right after love. Joy has many forms. Tony and I are often reminded of the Joy of the Lord, which is the fifth core value of Iris Global. The Joy of the Lord is NOT optional. This is the same joy of the Lord that Nehemiah encouraged his people with in Nehemiah 8:10. This verse is in the midst of a feast. He says, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”
Joy is not necessarily laughter, but it can include it. This joy is a deep trust in God that cannot be shaken despite circumstances. The book of Philippians was written while Paul was in prison, and yet, this book is nicknamed “The book of joy.” Paul had an unshakable faith, and drew joy from gratitude that God is in control. He also drew joy from the Philippian Christians, who saw to his needs and shone with love and faith. Joy can also be a weapon in that it shows you are standing in extreme dependence on God.
Other forms of positivity come as humour. Ecclesiates 3:4 reminds of that there is “a time to cry and a time to laugh; A time to grieve and a time to dance.”
It feels good to laugh, and to let go of stressors. The Mayo Clinic and others confirm that laughter is good for body and soul. They share that “a good sense of humour can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.” It stimulates many organs, including: your lungs as you breathe, your heart, and the endorphins released in your brain. It even brings down your blood pressure and soothes tension by stimulating your blood circulation and relaxing your muscles. Long term effects of laughter improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that add stress and decrease your immune system. “By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.” Laughter may also ease pain by causing our bodies to produce its own natural painkillers. Laughter helps you cope, by increasing personal satisfaction, and it helps you connect with other people as you laugh WITH others. Laughter bonds you to them and helps relationships, as you share stories with each other. Laughter improves your mood, even if you are struggling with chronic illness. [Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress relief from laughter: It’s no joke.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456]
How can you develop or improve your sense of humour? Humour is learned. Some people and cultures have very different views of humour. They laugh about different things. Just ask a stand-up comedian. What one “room” as they call it may find hilarious, another would see the comic as an offense, and get angry. Or they would have no reaction at all. But personally, we all have something we find funny. Often it’s something that we share with family; or an experience with friends. And we laugh best, when we learn and grow from our own experiences. Try growing by increasing positives in your life. The Mayo Clinic folk suggest that you put humour on your horizon by finding photos, greeting cards and comics that make you chuckle. Hang them on your home or office wall. Keep funny movies, videos, books and magazines nearby when you need a boost. Visit a comedy club or look at joke websites. [Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress relief from laughter: It’s no joke.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456] I’ve found the Alpha Course jokes shared by the leader after the meal and before the presentation to be a time of bonding with the other attendees. There are websites devoted to Alpha jokes, and Tony and I have our own arsenal of jokes, whether from Nicky Gumbel or other clean jokes we’ve picked up along the way.
Laugh and the world laughs WITH you. The world isn’t laughing AT you, except for mean bullies that are insecure in their own hearts. Find a way to laugh about your own situations, as you look at them from a different perspective. One of my favourite counselling expressions is “call this a crazy thought, but have you considering looking at your situation THIS way…” Often we get stuck in one line of our personal story that seems like it’s perpetually under a raincloud and we’re stuck in a groove like a needle on an old, scratchy record. When you find a way to laugh about your own situation, watch your stress begin to fade away. See Jesus in the circumstance with you. Where is he? What is he saying to you in your situation? He is there. And sometimes, you can remind yourself that this story may seem funny in a few years.
Intentionally make time to see friends who make you laugh. Return the favour by sharing your own funny stories with those around you. You just may brighten them up and make their whole day. Check out joke and humour books in your local library. But it’s important to know what isn’t funny. Don’t laugh at the expense of others. It’s not appropriate. These include racial and gender jokes. Use your best judgement to discern a good joke from a hurtful one. Ask the Holy Spirit. Does it lift up or does it tear down? Does it build confidence, or batter the other in pain and hurt? Good humour is to lift up, as is good faith. So try laughter. We can even ask God to show us and bring us things that are funny to lighten our day. What is best is when we ask him to lighten our situation in our own hearts. It is to be reminded that Jesus does not leave us. Sometimes he even gives us a little prophetic glimpse of something that is to come. A child that we may struggle with at the moment, may bring exasperation and even anger. But God can transform that child to become loving, joyful and strong in the Lord. We are given hope as we are shown what can be. And we laugh because we know that this is in God’s hands, NOT ours.
Laughter and positivity in general also help me battle breast cancer, as it did for HS. If you have a chronic illness, it is essential to de-stress and keep positive. This speaks life to your good cells, so they have a chance to fight the cancer. Negativity feeds the cancer, as it increases the chemical reactions that cancer cells like. Bitterness and unforgiveness can contribute to cancer, as well as other unchecked baggage that poison the soul, and so the body as well. Jean Wise takes the Mayo Clinic staff’s view of laughter even further. While she agrees with all the physical and emotional benefits, she also believes it is a spiritual gift, and a way to stimulate creativity. [Jean Wise, “The Spiritual gift of laughter” (healthspirituality.org) April 1, 2014 https://healthyspirituality.org/spiritual-gift-laughter/] She believes that the joy found in laughter comes from God. It helps you recharge your focus, and renews your spirit to find courage to face a tough situation. Listen to Zephaniah 3:17: “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
In some countries, people use the morning of April 1st as April Fool’s Day. Sometimes those jokes are funny, but often some childhood pranks are not funny. They create baggage. Why not let these go by giving up that memory to God, and instead laugh back at the bully. This is exactly what a radio host with a background of being bullied would do. Radio hosts are encouraged to use humour to build comradery with their listeners. As they laugh, they tell their friends, who join in on a later broadcast. Radio people are people of story. But when we think about it, we all are story-tellers. Even the character of the Doctor in the British show Doctor Who, especially the Eleventh Doctor, said, “we’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” [Big Bang, 2010, season five].
The need for laughter is shared by many writers, philosophers, poets and Bible writers. Ecclesiastes: 8:15, says “I commend mirth.” Here is part of Jean Wise’s list. E.E Cummings wrote, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” Children’s author Dr. Suess shared that “laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that “humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.” Comedian Milton Berle said that “laughter is an instant vacation.” Bob Newhart wrote that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” Newhart’s remark reminds me of the counsellor re-frame of seeing your situation a new way and letting you re-write the situation with you as the victorious, laughing overcomer.
Canadian author Mary S Edgar chose the way of laughter when she shared this message: “I will follow the upward road today; I will keep my face to the light. I will think high thoughts as I go my way; I will do what I know is right. I will look for the flowers by the side of the road; I will laugh and love and be strong. I will try and lighten another’s load this day as I fare along.” Ralph Waldo Emerson pondered on success in life. Laughter is an important ingredient. This is what he said: “to laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty and to find the best in others. [We must also] leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition. [This is also] to know even one life has breathed easier because YOU have lived. THIS is to have succeeded. Emerson’s success list is like a breath of fresh air that lifts our eyes from ourselves to others. And finally, Jean Wise’s list ends with Tom Nansbury, who said “an optimist laughs to forget. A pessimist forgets to laugh.” And so, we should not forget, but must make it a daily habit. [Jean Wise, “The Spiritual gift of laughter” (healthspirituality.org) April 1, 2014 https://healthyspirituality.org/spiritual-gift-laughter/]
Even Jesus had and has a sense of humour. Think of the way he used metaphors against the Pharisees to get them to wake up, or to explain things. Eliazar Gonzalez shares that when you read through Jesus’ teachings, “you’ll find a great wit, a masterful command of the language, a profound gift for irony and word plays, and impeccable timing. These are the hallmarks of someone with a great sense of humour.” [Eliazar Gonzalez, “Did Jesus have a Sense of Humour” (Christian Living) https://vision.org.au/topics/christian-living/did-jesus-have-a-sense-of-humour/ ]
Then there was considerable debate among early Church fathers on laughter in the Christian faith. Jesus was hard on the Pharisees for their attitude and unbending ways, but in the Beatitudes he turns the tables. Terry Lindvall of the CS Lewis Institute shares that Jesus promises laughter to those who suffer now. Laughter in itself is not a vice to be condemned; it is a reward for those who would follow Jesus. The significance of laughter is that it must know it’s time and place. Laughter is a reward of humility and utter dependence upon God. It descends like rain upon a parched heart.” [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]
In Philippians 4, Paul commands, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. “He calls forth the heart to sing out with gratitude and laughter. GK Chesterton explained to CS Lewis how the laughter of joy is necessary. He said, “life is serous all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in choosing your neckties, but in anything important such as death, sex, and religion, you must have mirth or you will have madness.” [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]
While some Christians now and in the past see laughter and joy on people’s faces as sinful, particularly while in church, they are not seeing that laughter is a gift. Joy is a gift. The enemy of our souls seeks to take life and laughter from us – the abundance of life from us. Sometimes fun and laughter is tainted by sin, since we are born into sin. It’s all around us. But laughter and fun are gifts from God. And joy, especially the deep joy of the Lord, is something to be treasured. The joy of the Lord is not optional for Iris missionaries like us. It’s part of what keeps you going. That deep intimacy with Jesus, and the laughter you share in the midst of difficulties. Garrison Keillor once said, “some people think it’s difficult to be a Christian and to laugh, but I think it’s the other way around. God writes a lot of comedy – it’s just that He has so many bad actors. But it is in being truly serious about our miserable condition and about the hope of salvation that introduces an unexpected surprise – comedy. … The incarnation [of Jesus Christ] strikes a staggering blow at the Pharisees, the Gnostics, and anyone who denies the value of the physical world or those to try to be more spiritual than God. It is significant that for Augustine, the devil and bad angels are without bodies. For the Christian, the comic spirit is one of new life, feasting, banqueting, eating, drinking and playing. This paradise is regained where heaven is described to be like a wedding feast or a sumptuous banquet.” [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]
Even Israel was established on laughter. Remember when Sarah laughed when it was announced by the angelic visitors that she would have a baby in a year? This was a lady who had long given up, and yet the promise came.
And then there is the laughter of true joy. Terry Lindvall shares that “joy is the laughter of heaven, the secret of the Christian life. [It is] woven out of sorrow and woe. From the crucibles of suffering, absence and separation, comes the deep, abiding laughter of joy, without tears, promising health, wholeness, and reunion. The desire of joy haunted Lewis, until he found its source in God. Lewis confessed that he didn’t go to the Christian faith to be made happy.” [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]
Yet laughter, like music, percolates as thanksgiving and praise. Our enjoyment bubbles up and overflows with gratitude. Or praise is [like] verbal laughter.” The ultimate laughter of joy is in the reunion. In the Narnia chronicles, whenever the children return, there are hugs and kisses and laughter all around, celebrating reunion.” And then there is fun, the laughter of the earth, of our bodies. It is play in a great sense. We need to choose life and enjoy it. One thing about having cancer in my life is that it forces me to live in the moment and take time to enjoy it as I can. The Westminster Confession reminds us that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. This includes fun with the Lord. Eric Liddell said in Chariots of Fire, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.” [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]
So we laugh when we enjoy God, and we know his pleasure. It’s the same when I’m creating art, especially prophetic drawing. I feel the Holy Spirit’s pleasure that I’m intent on capturing an idea or message that’s from God’s heart; or even when I draw a mountain. God created both, and he helps me to re-create it. So laughter is good, and it helps us to grow in our relationship with him.
So dear friends, I thank you for journeying with me and I trust that if you have trouble in letting go and laughing, that you will take this to God. He brings us the big and little things. Sometimes he even brings things that make us laugh just to get us to stop and breathe. We’re all just so busy! Instead of just stopping to smell the roses, stop to breathe, relax and laugh. As you spend time with each other and Jesus, he brings times of shared laughter in the journey. Don’t resist it.
Lord, thank you for continuing to be on our journeys and bringing laughter to us. There is indeed a time to laugh as well as a time to be sad. Help us to choose life in the midst of hardship. Help us to stop for those life giving moments with you. We trust that you will continue to give us those and to help us live that abundant life. We thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu). Click here: (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #69! If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!
Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork). Now my husband Tony has both skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and prostate cancer). The former in treatment, the latter monitored. It’s not life threatening thank God.
Otherwise, we still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada. At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas. We had hoped to return in September 2021, but this may end up as October or even November. Why the delay? There have been active covid cases at Home Affairs, which caused a stoppage to the already increasing processing backlog. The visas that we applied for expire in November. We trust we will have them in enough time to ramp up our preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent. Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places). Both of us have had our first covid jab, and wait the second one. (Although it is the right thing for us to have the jab, we don’t impose that on those who refuse it out of conscience).
After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad. Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa. We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail. Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We have good news that Tony’s eye surgeon found the equivalent in Toronto, so he will have his eye operation, which will save us the $8 – 9 K we expected to pay in South Africa. We are also working on care for me concerning a neck/spine issue that is causing considerable pain down my right arm. It’s become increasingly painful to type, write and draw for periods of time. So I rest more.
Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey. Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html. We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.” It would really bless us! If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.
L-A’s colouring books: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape. You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson) and at Slow Living Café in Worcester. Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:
Colouring with Jesus 2 is available here:
The books are available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops. They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books in English landscape format. Bless you and thank you for your support!