31 for 41: Like a Medicine

Dear Donovan,

When you were in preschool, you used to ask me to repeat the same three jokes over and over again as I drove you to school.  There was the one about the chicken who came to the library, the one about the horse trained by a preacher, and the one about the duck asking for grapes at the hardware store.  You also loved it when I pretended that your Scooby Doo stuffed animal was helping me drive you to school.  I made Scooby silly so that I could make you laugh.  I was willing to tell the same three jokes all the time because it delighted you.

I have written to you about many serious subjects.  I would like to take a moment to remind you to laugh.

Laughter exercises muscles and can help your lungs release residual air.  Laughter reduces cortisol production.  Laughter produces beneficial brain waves.  Laughter prompts an increase in the release of “soldier cells” of the immune system from the lymph nodes.  There are quite a number of scientifically proven ways in which laughter improves physical and mental health.  And long before humans knew about cortisol and T cells, the Creator of the human body had already given the advice that having a cheerful heart is good medicine.

A 15-year Norwegian study suggests that, as a man, your risk of death by infection is decreased by 74 percent if you maintain a hearty sense of humor in your life.  I remember hearing a story about how young patients’ white blood cell counts would increase after a visit from Robin Williams to their hospital.  There are just so many examples, backed by scientific data, to prove that laughter should be a part of your routine to maintain good health.

This is why I love watching bloopers.  I love clean, silly jokes like “What is a pirate’s favorite letter?”  Sometimes when I need a brain break from work, I pull up “The Dentist” skit from the Carol Burnett show, just to have a laugh.  I love watching you play with the twins, and your silly antics to make them laugh helps their hearts and mine.

We are not expected to be happy all of the time.  There is a time to be sad, a time to cry, and a time to sit with others when they are passing through storms.  Even when we do not feel like laughing, though, we can still possess a joy and a hope that are not dependent upon outward circumstances.  The neat connection is that when we have this joy and hope on the inside, it lends itself to more cheerfulness on the outside.   “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance” (Proverbs 15:13a).

I smile a lot.  I smile at people I do not know as I walk through Walmart.  Some people smile back.  Some look at me like I am crazy.  I keep on smiling.  I would not do it if it were fake.  The smile on the outside is an indication of joy on the inside.  Even when I am fighting a dark battle, I do not have to concede my hope.

I smile because I am grateful that I am still alive.  I smile because I have so many things in my life for which to be thankful, including three beautiful boys.  I smile because I love people and want to be a source of positivity and support in other humans’ lives.  I smile as an outward indication of that hope that is in me.  If I am miserable and do not have joy, then why would anyone want the Jesus that I say lives in my heart?  “Joy is the proof that what we have is real, and that it satifies” (Adrian Rogers).

I want you to have joy.  I wish for you to have lots of laughter in your life.  I want you to have fun.  Let me suggest some ways for you to have more fun in life.

Maintain a clean heart.

Do what you are supposed to be doing.  Do not do things that you are not supposed to do.  Tell the truth and live honestly.  Try to not hurt anyone, but if you do, make it right with that person.  Avoid conflict with your loved ones.  In summary, let nothing between you and your Maker.  King David lost his joy when he let things come between him and God, which is why he had to ask “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation” (Psalm 51:12a).

Keep good company. 

Be nice to everyone, but choose your close friends carefully.  If a guy friend doesn’t know how to be sincerely gentle and thoughtful to his mom, little kids, and puppies, then he’s not good company.  Do not become entangled in others’ unhealthy or immoral ideas of how to have fun.  “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed”  (Proverbs 13:20).

Help others. 

I believe I was clinically depressed during my sophomore year in college, after returning to the States from Bolivia.  Taking Organic Chemistry and Physics at the same time did not help, along with all the pressure I placed on myself.  I decided to sign up to be a big buddy to a local elementary student.  At a time when this could still be done, I met my assigned student for the first time at his first grade classroom, and was asked if I could take his sister as well.  I was informed that that their mother was in the hospital because her boyfriend had assaulted her the night before.  I took both young kids to a local playground, and we all laughed together.  It was medicine for them after a horrible night, but it was medicine for me as well.

Spending Friday afternoons with those two kids, giving them an escape from their environment for a bit, truly is what helped me to emerge from my depression.  This is not a replacement for treatment of some chemical imbalances.  Still, looking beyond yourself to spark joy for someone else and gain perspective can often be a great remedy for gloom.  Contrary to what some people try to prove, living only for yourself is not much fun.  That type of life quickly becomes empty.

See God’s hand. 

Regardless of what is happening around you in the world, there is both excitement and comfort when you learn to notice how God is working.  I love stories like the one told by the missionary who needed $800, but was instructed by God to not tell anyone of this serious need.  After a waiting period, the missionary received two phone calls in the same day, each from a person telling him that God told them to send him $400.

This is not a man who was getting rich off of the donations of others.  He was living with his wife and small children in a dangerous location, with only the most basic of necessities.  God provided what he needed.  I know of so many other stories like this, of modern-day miracles that show how God delights to work in the details to prove His care for us.  Trusting that care and watching Him work is a fun way to live!

Be ready to die.

Adrian Rogers explained this well:  “Man is the only creature who knows he’s going to die, and he’s trying desperately to forget it. Fear of death keeps people in bondage. But Jesus came to deliver you from that fear. You’re not ready to live until you’re no longer afraid to die. If you’re a child of God, He will be with you. The child of God can smile at death.”

If you are prepared to smile at death, then you can have a life full of smiles and laughter.

Finally, I want you to know that I treasure the memories of the times when it was just you and me, and you would put on a comedy act just to make me laugh.  I shielded you from adult worries and tried to make sure you were happy, but there were times when you thought it was your job to make me happy.  I love your heart, but please know that you have always brought me great joy.

You have a gift for making others laugh.  Use this gift as you are given opportunities to do so, as it can be a much-needed treatment for others.  Live a clean life, for those who try to have fun in unhealthy ways receive the opposite outcome.  Fill your life with joy and laughter.  Take your medicine!

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.  Proverbs 17:22

I love you forever,

Your mama

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