DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – The non-stop hysterical laughter is so contagious it has people all over the world – an estimated 48 million or so – watching the 30-something woman in a Star Wars Chewbacca mask wondering how a kid's toy could bring such joy.
Candace Payne, whose May 19 viral Facebook video about purchasing the mask at a local department store and trying it on for the first time inside her car in the parking lot, has the attention not only of avid Star Wars fans, but also of those who desperately need a good laugh, she said.
And that's where her faith comes in, Payne told Christian Examiner in an exclusive telephone interview.
In hiding, with her phone dying, the mom of two who has done stand-up comedy, said there's more to the woman than a mask, and her laughter comes from deep within – from her faith in Jesus Christ.
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"As far as the joy aspect, it is much deeper than the Chewbacca mask," Payne said. "It was fun watching it go viral and fun watching people get some joy out of it, too," but at the core of real joy is faith.
Payne, a worship leader since age 14, sings, plays the guitar and writes music.
She and her husband of 15 years met in church and found their "love story" there and have volunteered in student ministry together since then. They worship with their two children at a church southwest of Dallas.
"We have a heart for our local church and just being obedient to God in the way we raise our kids and love our friends," Payne said.
Surprisingly, Payne said besides the private messages she has received from fans who want to be "best friends" and "watch Star Wars together," she has also been told by others they have struggled with depression and anxiety and been uplifted by the video.
"I haven't laughed in the two months since my dad died," Payne recalled one message. Another said: "I haven't had a gut wrenching laugh in two years."
"If I am going to say anything ... our world that we live in has a dark cloud over us that keeps us feeling like we can't ever experience deep joy daily," Payne said. "It really is about thanking God for every single thing we have. When you have a heart that is grateful, we laugh more."
Paraphrasing, Payne reference John 10:10: "10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and [a]have it abundantly. (NASB)"
People often confuse joy with laughter, Payne said, but joy doesn't mean that. Indeed, "you will cry more; feel and hunger for thing passionately (when you have faith in Christ); you will experience joy at a fuller level you will ever think possible."
"Joy will radiate that faith," Payne said, just like when inside the mask, she was radiating faith "from Jesus who promises me I will have a fuller life."
"When people see that they are attracted to Jesus and His fullness and everybody loves that, every loves that," she repeated.
Payne introduced the video, which has gained tens of thousand of viewers every hour since, with the message, "It's the simple joys in life ...."