I was born and raised in New Orleans, so I know the joy of real Cajun food: the unmistakable depth of flavor in the balance of spices and textures genuinely speaks of home in a way that nearly nothing else can. When I've tried what is sold as 'cajun food' outside of New Orleans, there's always something missing. Something lacking. Those missing elements create a deeper hunger and longing for the real thing.
For most of my life, I've longed for the joy of true relational harmony - like a good étouffée, but that was rarely my experience. More often, I felt disconnected and alone. Picture shattered glass scattered across the floor; that would have been an accurate visual representation of the state of my heart. The wholeness and joy I craved, I didn't know how to attain. And God, well... I knew He existed, but I couldn't see where He showed up to reconcile the gap between that desire and its fulfillment.
But one quiet Saturday morning, God spoke to that specific pain through a scripture reading by my mother. She stood at the door of my bedroom with my little sister, Grace, at her side and read these words:
"Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." Jeremiah 29:12-14 NIV
Those words spoke to my inner feelings of lostness and my desperation to find and be found by God. To be discovered. To be seen. In response to these words, I shut my bedroom door, sat attentively, and told God:
"Fine! You said if I seek you with my whole heart, I will find you. Then I won't leave this room until I do!"
I presented my whole broken-hearted self to God. At that moment, He showed me He could do a lot with our whole broken hearts. Under the acknowledgment of his presence, my heart was okay. It wasn't the end for me but the beginning. I was right there at the dawn of hope. In His presence, I could heal. His nearness could make the wrong things right.
That day didn't end the presence of pain, suffering, or struggle. It did, however, begin a now 10+ year journey of laying my heart, fully, as it is before the Lord. I've found Him to be a skilled surgeon. I've also witnessed Him be a good shepherd, counselor, comforter, and guide. Over the years, I've listened for His voice, responded to His questions, grieved in His presence, and delighted in His dreams. That relational process has led to renewed identity, restored relationships, and unlocked joy. What started between me and the Lord has spilled out into my family, friendships, and community and has now sparked the formation of a movement dedicated to the work of unlocking the joy of relational harmony: Returning to Joy.
I hope you take delight in this journey of discovery and unlocking with us. I hope you'll share your experience with all you encounter.
Let the movement continue.
Blessings and With Joy,
Gabrielle Michelle Leonard