A Life of Joyful Abandon

A Life of Joyful Abandon

bowling photo

Last weekend my husband and I were spectators at a nearby bowling alley for the “Saturday Special Bowling League.” This is a league for special needs adults, and we were invited by our developmentally disabled neighbor, we’ll call him Joe, who is an avid bowler. When I say we were invited, what I really mean is that we were cajoled, coaxed, encouraged, begged, and reminded repeatedly to come and see Joe bowl. “Hey Buddy,” Joe would say. “You are my number one neighbor. Me and Kitty [Joe’s beloved cat] love you all very much. Do you know my birthday is coming up? Do you have some extra winter gloves I can have? Can Phil take my air conditioners out? When are you coming to see me bowl?” I had this interaction with Joe outside, and then five minutes later, his name came up on our caller ID. A little Joe-weary, I let the answering machine get it, and Joe left a message: “Hi Annie, hi Phil, I am a great neighbor. I rake your leaves and I bring your garbage totes in and I shovel for you. I got some nice boots at Walgreens for $9.99 that I’d like to show you soon. They had men’s, women’s, and kids’—isn’t that great? Please call me back and let me know when you can come to bowling.”

We settled on a Saturday, and as we were leaving the house, we got a payphone call. We knew it was Joe, because Joe is the only person left in Buffalo who uses payphones. He had missed his bus to get to bowling, and could we give him a ride? So we swung by Joe’s bus stop, and he was positively glowing when he got in the car. As we drove, Joe talked about the snowstorm, the upcoming forecast, what a good bowler he is, and how he was going to make us proud. He wasn’t joking about being a good bowler—Joe regularly scores 130 and higher, and I’m proud to say that I’ve broken 100. Once.

When we got to the bowling alley, stale air and body odor greeted us, byproducts of a busy Saturday at the alley on a dreary day, as well as the large group of special needs people who didn’t seem to clean themselves as much as I’m used to. There was no rushing to the lanes or trying to start at a certain time. Eventually the bowling started. Joe immediately got two strikes and a spare, and I realized that he wasn’t the only decent bowler in this league. Eddie, in the next lane, told me that the previous week he scored three strikes in the tenth frame. “They made a special announcement about it,” he reminded me throughout the afternoon. Eddie has rotten teeth and deep laugh lines around his eyes. He has an unorthodox bowling form, walking languidly up to the lane and giving the ball a little two-armed heave that very rarely led to the gutter. A few times his ball split the pins unexpectedly, and he’d say with a smile as he sat down, “I got robbed.”

And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-53)

To me, Joe is the definition of simple. His thoughts are not complex, he loves life, and he rejoices in the small things. He has a heart of gold, blessing and complimenting and cheerfully inquiring after the weather everywhere he goes. When I see Joe decorating his porch for each holiday so thoroughly (and so early), when I see him and Eddie bowl with such pride in the abilities God has given them, when I see Joe’s face light up because we remembered his birthday or agreed to come watch him bowl—I understand what Mary meant when she says, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Joe lives with a simple, joyful abandon that requires very little money, begets very little worry, sanctifies the mundane, and edifies those who, like me, are fortunate to call him friend.

Do you know someone whom the world may look down on, but whom God has used to show you the richness of simplicity?


  1. Bruce

    There are so many Joe’s that we who are blessed see the joy in their hearts, Gods Gift!

  2. Marsha Peth

    In my visits to nursing homes I see many folks who once were living vibrantly, but now are forgotten as they no longer are able to keep pace in our culture. They have taught me what is important in living well – love of God and love of others. Thankful for God’s love come down to live with us and in us in Jesus Christ.

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