Finding Joy in a Cooler

For this return to blogging, I want to share a recent story about discovering joy.

Joy can be hard to describe. It is much deeper than simply being happy. Sometimes it is easier to describe how we find joy. In the past I’ve experienced the joy of a sunset at sea, and I’ve discovered joy in the twinkling lights of a Christmas display. Perhaps you’ve found it in a beautiful song or in the successful completion of a challenging task.

But can joy be found in an ordinary cooler?

Not once have I ever thought, “Gee, I think I’ll grab me some joy out of that ice chest. I think it’s somewhere between the soda and the beer.”

Yet, that’s where I found it. In a cooler. A cooler sitting just outside my front door.

How it got there is a bit of a story. Here goes…

Before finding the joy, I first discovered terror. Now that’s an emotion that I can fully describe.

I’m talking about the heart-pounding, panic-inducing experience of feeling helpless during a potential life-and-death situation. It was 3:30 am on the Sunday before Christmas. I awoke with a start to hear a banging sound. That alone was scary. What came next was worse.

My wife, who was getting ready for her usual –very early– Sunday morning shift was banging her hand on a counter to get my attention.

When I asked her what was wrong, she could not respond coherently. Her eyes were wide with fear. In that moment, I’m sure my eyes became an instant reflection of hers.

Of course, I called 9-1-1. As I held my wife’s hand, I desperately pleaded with the operator to send help quickly.

I’m pretty sure it took less than eight minutes for help to arrive.

It felt like hours.

When the ambulance arrived, I swear it looked like the responders were moving in slow motion. “Hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry-hurry,” I wanted to scream from the door as they grabbed their gear.

Not long after arriving at the emergency room, we discovered that my wife had experienced a mini-stroke.

I don’t like that term. There was nothing “mini” about it. The terror was full-fledged.

Fortunately, she recovered quickly with no lasting neurological impairment. But she did spend a few days in the hospital, thankfully returning home on Christmas Eve.

Enter the cooler.

Erin Carter, a family friend, contacted us that same Sunday to let us know that a cooler would soon show up on our front step. She had arranged for meals to be delivered over the next two weeks.

Joy abounds inside!

An ordinary cooler containing much more than food.

She set it up so that the generous cooks and talented bakers could simply put the food in the cooler, whether or not anyone was home.

Everything was delicious. It was especially meaningful because I’m a less-than-stellar cook. (Yes. That is an understatement. The other day, I burned my own grilled cheese sandwich… while I was carefully watching.)

Frankly, without the food, the boys and I might have subsisted on a menu of pancakes, soup, and sandwiches.

I’m not sure if I can adequately express to Erin, and so many others, just how much their generosity means to us. But I’ll give it the ol’ college try.

It was such a comfort to see the cooler on the front step after returning from the hospital in the evenings. It was a physical representation of goodwill. It symbolized an antidote to the fear we were facing.

Every time I opened the cooler, I smiled. Not just because it contained delicious meals. It served as a reminder of all the folks who were praying, of those who visited my wife in the hospital, of the family members who dropped everything to help out, of the neighbors who came over at 3:45 am on that terrible Sunday to keep watch over our sleeping children.

That cooler was much more than an ice chest. It was a treasure chest.

And the treasure was JOY!

Leave a comment


  1. Erin Carter

     /  January 5, 2015

    What a beautiful blog! It brought tears to my eyes and you summed up exactly what I believe it means when people contribute meals. It is so much more than sustenance. It is love and caring. You are a very talented writer as well!

    • Thanks for the compliment Erin. This is just the type of story I want to feature in my blog. I truly believe that actions like yours and all those who have cared for us during this challenging time make a huge difference. I hope to use this blog to share stories like this with others. Thanks again!

  2. Please tell your wife that she doesn’t need to create any more stories for you. Although this come-back post is truly wonderful and inspiring, promise her you will post without her going to such drastic measures. On a serious note, so thankful she recovered so quickly!

    • Thanks Debbi! I’m hoping we can find some inspiring stories about other folks without anyone having to go through such an ordeal.

      And you’ll appreciate that one of my wife’s friends had a similar comment. He told her that there must be easier ways for her to get out of a day of work.

  3. It is an awesome gift to feel carried… I was so glad to see Ellen was home Christmas Eve. I found Joy in a cooler too… must be a cold brook thing 🙂

    • We were so glad to have her home, too. When we went to Christmas Eve service, I was told that I was beaming from ear-to-ear.

  4. Wow! I am a firm believer that out of every bad thing, there are always blessings. I am so pleased that you found joy and that your wife recovered quickly with no permanent damage.

  5. I hope your wife recovers rapidly. I can’t imagine dealing with your situation, but it is wonderful to know you have help.
    I love the way your story shows that something small to one individual can be huge to another. To a busy housewife, one more meal to prepare may not be that big a deal. To you, the significance is hard to overstate.

    I have missed you over the last few months. Welcome back. I hope things get better for you and your family.

  6. Thanks Dave. It’s good to be back. Hopefully, I can do a better job of sticking around. Things are on the upswing for us. I appreciate your kind words!

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