Receiving joy with open hands

Tucked behind the bustle of Chicago’s Michigan avenue I found a secret place for receiving joy - a Ghirardelli chocolate store. Every time I walked through the doors, I was handed a small piece of chocolate. I never knew if I’d receive plain chocolate, dark chocolate, or one filled with caramel goodness. But there was always chocolate to be received and savored.

On those Chicago days when I worked as a chaplain in a hospital the small bites of chocolate were a balm to my soul. I did nothing to merit the candy, except to walk through their doors and open my hands. After leaving the hospital some days I carried the weight of an unexpected diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, or the uncertainty of how the days would unfold.

Each bite became a prayer: be with me Lord, hold those who grieve close to you, draw near to the brokenhearted, comfort those in pain.

Each bite became a reminder of goodness: the love of family, the skill of healthcare workers, the majesty of the lake, the hum of city life.

I kept coming back to Ghiradelli and I kept receiving that one, free piece of chocolate. Every bite a reminder of unexpected, unmerited grace.

I no longer live in Chicago, and I no longer have access to that free piece of candy. But I hold with me the joy that comes from an unexpected gift. I keep walking through other doors to see what gifts are before me: my children’s voices singing, a walk with a friend, the fiery sunset across the horizon, mothers who gather weekly, creatives who share their work, neighbors who bake bread and check on each other. All gifts, all freely given.

Perhaps most importantly, I think back to that chocolate and my hands ready to receive.

And this is how I still want to receive joy - with open hands.