It’s the early hours of the morning and I’m standing outside in the freezing cold — again.

I’ve been doing this a lot lately; in the dark, in the rain, and the smoke from local homes using wood-burning heaters makes me cough. But I’m not grumbling. Why? There’s a good reason for these subAntarctic nocturnal expeditions — a new puppy. Outdoor trips for toilet training are part of the deal. 

Despite the inconvenience that goes with this ball of fluff joining our family, it’s more than offset by the joy he has already brought us. Sometimes we get a bit confused about joy, thinking we will only experience it when things are going well. I wouldn’t say Nehemiah was kicking back and living a carefree life early in his story in the Old Testament… 

After living in exile and experiencing deep sorrow on learning of Jerusalem’s ruined condition; then turning up day after day for the seemingly endless work of rebuilding; facing ridicule, threats (even death threats) and fake news from his enemies; dealing with fear of those enemies from his fellow Jews (who had to work with one hand while holding a weapon in the other); and the headache of trying to coordinate complicated logistics and social issues, you might excuse Nehemiah if he had given in to despair. 

Instead, he shared with the people the key to persisting through hard times: “… the joy of the Lord is your strength” [Nehemiah 8:10]. 

In the precarious situation he faced, he could easily have focused on the need for greater military might for defence or more money for redevelopment work. But this was the pressing issue on his heart – to remind them the resilience they needed would only be found in a life-giving relationship with the Lord, which would bring joy into their lives even in hardship. The challenges my family has been facing lately sometimes feel as big as Nehemiah’s. Then our puppy snuggles in or makes us all laugh. The joy he brings redirects my thoughts and reminds me of the real source of joy that gives strength to persist – the joy of the Lord is my strength