I’m a believer in Jesus Christ who has found victory over anger, abuse, and denial and my name is Joy. The Facebook snapshot of my life would go like this: encounters with God throughout my childhood, spent 2 ½ years in Africa as a missionary kid, married at age 20 to a man I met at Bible College, raised 3 beautiful children, was a faithful, submissive wife, and served in church and the community sharing Jesus with various children’s ministries. Doesn’t that sound good?
But the reality is that there were lies and woundings to my spirit that warped me. You see, I thought serving Jesus meant losing myself and pleasing others. Jesus first, others second, yourself last (JOY). That acrostic may be true, but the enemy used it in my life to make me feel unchosen, and bred a martyr spirit within me.
I was born in Washington State to a family where church was the focus. I knew I was a sinner at a young age, as I was already developing habits of stealing and lying. I had learned about Jesus, God’s Son, who came to earth to pay the punishment for the things I did wrong. One night, at the age of 7, I knelt down by my bed and told Jesus I believed He was the God the Son and that He had come to pay for my wrongdoings. I asked Him to truly save me from those things. And He did!
But that didn’t mean that I didn’t struggle. The enemy of my soul fed me lies, and for many years I thought that I had to work hard as a believer in Jesus, and only then would God accept me.
At age 9 my life changed dramatically as my parents became missionaries to the heart of Africa. This began a time where I would live at home for one month and then leave my parents and go off to boarding school for three months, repeating that cycle for the 2 ½ years we lived there. I lost the bond with my parents at this point: for me that meant I stopped sharing my joys and struggles with them. Several traumatic things happened to me then, but I never told anyone.
God tells me in His Word that He would never leave me or forsake me, but I chose not to think of Him or His way of thinking. You see, the enemy was whispering this lie in my ear that I would hear for decades: You are on your own. It started the first day I was at boarding school. I sought out my older brother for support, and instead he picked on me verbally to gain favor with boys his age. I got so angry I tried to attack him, but he just held my arms and they all laughed at me. I felt so helpless and abandoned that day. All alone. It was the beginning of a file in my brain that would fill with similar circumstances, just adding to my feeling abandoned and alone. But that was okay, I thought: I could handle things myself. I believe now that God was with me in that moment—and all the moments I have felt abandoned and alone. I can now see that He was protecting me from many things, and always waiting for me to reach out to Him in relationship.
I did have an incredible time with God once in a while at boarding school. I climbed up into the barn hayloft and read the entire book of Matthew when I was in fifth grade. It was such a time of spiritual love hovering over me as I read about Jesus. I did get in trouble for missing dinner that night, but it was well worth it.
One day my parents showed up at boarding school and told us my Grandma, my Mom’s mother, was dying of cancer and we were going back to America. We left boarding school the next day and in three days were back in the States. We moved to Oregon to live there for 6 months while my Grandmother died of cancer. I was thrown into 6th grade public school in the middle of the year, not even understanding American culture. We lived up on a farm in the country, with no other kids but my two brothers. From 24 girlfriends at boarding school to two boys. I hated it, and was incredibly lonely. After my Grandmother died, we then moved back to Washington and settled back into life, but I was distant with my family. I was still handling life on my own. Have you ever been around someone a lot but they wouldn’t let you into who they really were? That was what I was like during this time in my life. I had a big hole in my heart of loneliness, and it stayed with me the rest of my growing up. Instead of having that hole filled with God, the only One who can truly fill our lonely hearts, I thought boys would fill it.
In high school I had a three year relationship with a guy that started good but went sour. We had sex after a year, and then he began treating my body as if it belonged to him. I had some date rape experiences, and a lot of verbal and emotional abuse at that time. This time the enemy whispered SHAME into my ear, and I believed it so much I almost committed suicide twice. Both times, the Lord saved me. One time, I literally felt hugged by something supernatural with a warmth I can only describe as the love of God covering me. I decided I had to perform well for God to feel loved by Him, and after high school went off to a Bible College where all they taught was the Bible and missionary preparation.
I met my future husband at Bible College in Iowa. He was there for the second semester just to buy time while he sent off resumes for jobs. He was hired in the Chicago area. When he made clear his interest in me, I told him about my SHAME, yet he accepted me anyway. You see, the denomination we were from was very strong against “fornication”—sex before marriage, and I felt I was damaged goods. I married at 20 and went to live in the Chicago area, going to college for a while before I stopped to have children. I began to have jealousy during this time of my husband’s attention of preteen girls at church, youth camps we served at, and weeknight church programs for the youth. He always told me I was crazy and something was wrong with me, and I believed him. A fuzzy sense of being unchosen was to follow me throughout the marriage, however. Jesus says in John 15: You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…but I was focused on what my husband thought of me, not God. My identity—who I was—had to do with what others thought of me. But that is not true—my identity is truly decided by God and what He thinks of me. And what He says in the Bible about all of us is: You are loved with an everlasting love. Jer. 31:3
Three years into marriage, we had a son and three months later added 2 foster boys to the mix, who were 3 and 4 years old. At this point my life became unmanageable. I was so angry with the lack of freedom, being cooped up all day with the demands of motherhood, while my husband worked and went to night school for his master’s degree. I realized at this point that I wanted to beat the foster kids, I would get so angry with them. I would dream of beating them, and began to feel like I was losing touch with reality, I was so angry. I’m thankful that we were legally not allowed to touch them, but once I did spank one of them, screaming, “I hate you!” I felt awful about it, and after a year we gave them up. I felt like such a failure. I was so angry with God, who I saw as having slammed me into a brick wall when all I’d wanted to do was serve Him! At this point I began to realize how depraved I was, as Jeremiah 17:9 points out: The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it? Even though I believed Jesus took the punishment for my wrong doings and died for them on the cross, I was living a life where I was in charge, and using my own coping skills. I was not listening to Jesus’ voice, leading me to love, joy, and peace in my life. Something was very wrong.
Soon after the birth of my second son was when my husband’s mental health started to deteriorate. He was put on medication, but we both knew: I was the answer to his anxiety. I began my decades of taking care of him at this time. Whenever he had trouble working on his master’s thesis at work, I would pack up the kids and hang out with him (AT HIS WORK), trying to keep the young children quiet so he could be calm and work. It was true insanity inside and out, but I bought into the lie of the enemy: You are the answer to his problems. Other times, he would stay at work as long as he needed to, and I would encourage him to come home whenever he was ready. This became the norm, where it was not uncommon for him to come home between 1 and 3am. And although I felt like a single mom, I ignored my feelings and tried to be his support. My thinking was, “Help him keep his job so that we can survive.”
We moved to Ohio around this time, and I finally came in contact with some spiritual freedom materials, and people at our church that desired us to be free from the mess we often walk in as Christians. Although my husband didn’t buy into it, I had a lot of unforgiveness and bitterness broken off me those years. I felt like a new believer, where the Bible became alive to me, and I was growing. Finally I started to be filled with the love, joy and peace God gives freely to believers. But after the birth of my daughter, I soon got swept up into not caring for my own needs and doing too much for everyone else. It took a toll on me physically and mentally. One day I confessed to a woman in my church that I just wanted to take pills and sleep forever, I was so tired of life. Thankfully she truly heard me and got help for me. I was in that severe depressive episode for several months, where therapy and medications became my daily routine. Dear church ladies watched my three kids for me most of the day.
Through therapy, I began to start taking care of myself, and even started standing up for myself with my husband, only to have him twist my words to the point that I would walk away completely confused and wondering what was wrong with me. I was beginning my life of living with mental, verbal and emotional abuse at home. I actually let him control my mind with his manipulating words. There was so much anger in my husband, and occasionally he hit walls and doors where I was on the other side. Although I was never physically hit, I still felt it emotionally, knowing he really wanted to hit me. He went through times of paranoia, and not making sense. I started to live life in fear. It was very hard in those years to keep three children under 5 years old to be quiet so Daddy could be okay, but that was my job when he was home. This was not the model of marriage or parenting that God desired for me, but I was leaning on my own understanding and coping skills, and not trusting God. I began to like it better when my husband was not around, and looking back, I think I pretty much gave up on our marriage. I was just in it at that point to be a mother and support him at home so we could have some stability. I now realize I just let our marriage decay, and my feelings for romantic love die with it. Don’t get me wrong–I was still married. I just gave up hope believing our marriage could be anything better than what it was.
His mental state led him to struggle with suicidal thoughts, and because work had become overwhelming to him, we decided to take what we thought would be a less stressful job in San Antonio. Why do we think changing our environment will change us? We just bring the mess of ourselves with us. The job was not less stressful. During those three years, we went into marital counseling and I almost left him due to him spending hours with young girls on the internet, ‘ministering’ to them. The old lie I had believed long ago again surfaced: I was unchosen and not worth being cherished. I actually chose to attempt suicide then as well, and drove to a secluded area. I told Satan he could take my life but he could never have my faith. God placed an old photograph of some children on a rubbish pile near me—and when I saw it I was able to snap back to reality and remember my children. I drove home. A friend begged me to not to leave my husband, telling me her parents had separated over and over through the years and it had deeply affected her. I chose to stay. I was so lonely those years, not having close friends until the very end of our time there.
We moved to Longview three years later for my husband to try yet another job, and see if this one would be better. This job was a career shift—into teaching at a university. Then he could have summers off and rest, right? It was worth a try. Emails with a 14 year old girl were discovered and he almost lost his job. We went into marital counseling yet again.
After 21 years of marriage, circumstances brought my husband to start confessing his infidelity through the years. I was devastated. All this time I had been holding him up and supporting him, and this is what he had done? I truly struggled with my self-worth, because I had placed my self-worth in what he thought of me. We were divorced after 23 years of marriage, and I plunged into finishing my teaching degree and working, with two kids in high school and one in college.
Thankfully, at this point I had a fantastic support group, and through divorce recovery, counseling and forgiveness, I was working my way through the grief and pain of the years. When he moved into the house two doors down from me, I tried to move but couldn’t, as my jobs as a house cleaner and painter were not considered stable enough to get a loan for a home, or rent. It was difficult. I lived in fear, feeling stalked a lot of the time.
The first three years after the divorce were rough. I finally graduated with a teaching degree and then couldn’t get a teaching position for a year. That first year I substitute taught, sold my home and lived off the proceeds, moved into a friend’s bedroom and put all my things in storage. My daughter started developing mental illness herself, needing to be hospitalized, and undergoing medicine changes that were very difficult on her, and extremely difficult financially for me, as my insurance didn’t cover mental illness. I also had a car accident during this time that totaled my vehicle. The people at my church rallied around me, though, raising enough money to have a friend’s ‘lemon’ car repaired so I could have it. Through all this, I cried out to God and saw Him come through, but I still struggled with feelings of, “You’ll always be on your own. Life will never work out for you. You’re just one of THOSE people, who others pity. God doesn’t really care for you.” In my life, I truly think my own thoughts in my mind have been my worst enemy.
After 3 years of divorce, when I had finally found a teaching position and a place to live, I was invited to Celebrate Recovery, a Christian recovery program that helps people with their struggles. It sounded like a great place to minister in, I thought! But before I came, circumstances occurred which brought up an inferno of anger within me again. I began to face the fact that I was not better, even though the chaos of my life had settled down! Romans 7:18 says: for I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. That is where I was.
At that point I was furious with God. I had tried to be healed from my past in my 20’s and through the years after the divorce, only to have a circumstance happen, and I was right back where I started. Whether at Celebrate Recovery meetings or my church meetings, I couldn’t sing during worship—I didn’t believe in the God they sang of there. I was afraid to say much to others of what was going on inside of me because I thought I’d cause others to turn from God.
One night at Celebrate Recovery, I decided I would give God one more try, and if it didn’t work, I was walking away from all of it, God included. I took a chip for HOPE. I started attending a step study—and got a mentor, or sponsor. Although I had worked through a lot of forgiveness toward my ex-husband, I finally realized that I had not forgiven myself, or seen how I had ignored the path I was on ( which is called denial). There were so many red flags of what was happening to me all through my life. I began to see that the Lord had been trying to get my attention about the wrong directions I had taken, in my reacting to life, and I had ignored Him. I had lived a life of passivity—letting life happen to me, and feeling powerless to stop it.
Now I began to realize MY PART, and how I had contributed to the mess of my life by doing NOTHING. I began to face that, and wept heavily over the years I had wasted, not seeing where I truly was. I then was able to realize it was not God I was angry at, or my ex-husband, but myself. And I was able through the grace of God to forgive myself for believing lies and living in denial–throughout all of my adult life to that point.
I also was able to discover many of the lies I had believed as truth for me through the years, and how detrimental they were. Lies and negative thoughts like: You will never measure up. You always make bad decisions, you’re not good at anything, they don’t really like you, you will never be beautiful to someone, you have wasted so much time, God doesn’t really mean what He says about YOU.”
I even began to see all the moving—from Africa to America, from state to state every 3-5 years in my marriage–as a deep pain, causing me to lose so many relationships, and feel so alone. I had tried to remedy that pain by putting walls of protection around myself. Walls that were wounding to my marriage. I even choose churches where others had the same protective walls I had and were comfortable with them!
At this point I began noticing myself begin to change. I was starting to be able to sing the songs again in the worship times. God was at work! Praise God, He was not going to leave me in the mess I was—He was delivering me into the new creation I was meant to be! I have even opened up a part of myself I put to death in my marriage: being ME, embracing my femininity and giving myself the permission to do things I enjoy doing–and finding out what those are! (This is a HUGE one, ya’ll.)
I now spend time with God daily, and my anger has been replaced with Joy. I know what to do with my anger when it does return. I have given God my all, and am learning more and more what that means, as He keeps me out of denial and working through my issues DAILY. It is so freeing to walk in honesty with myself! I now want to serve the Lord out of pure gratitude for what He has done for me. I have dear friends who walk through life with me, encouraging me, challenging me, blessing me with the privilege to walk with God alongside them.
Recently, I received a facebook message that completely blew me away. You see, in my healing in January of 2015, I had tried to find the boys I had fostered. I found one on facebook, and left a message to him telling him I loved him and had been praying for him and his brother all these years. Somehow, a full year later, he received that message, and actually contacted me back, saying words that still shock me. Here are some of them: I have to say that life always finds ways to mystify me, especially when I start thinking I have it all figured out. I’ve spent a bit of time during the past several months ‘catching up’ on what happened to my brother and I when we were in foster care. I haven’t gotten much further than reviewing old case files, but there is so much I either didn’t remember or didn’t know. The timing of your message and all this is so peculiar to me.
There were a few things in the files that brought on some intense emotions which included ‘gifted child’ assessments and some handwritten notes saying ‘he is highly intelligent’ etc….these were all from you. My memories of childhood have always been spotty but I always remembered living with a woman named Joy and how fond I was of her and that place – the notes were an affirmation of that. You were the first person to legitimately care about us and that is something I’ll never forget.
I also read that things were difficult for you and I found myself hoping that you were ok. It seems that good people always face more struggles. You were one of the good ones, Joy, and I hope that someday you will know the positive impact you had on our lives when we needed it most. I imagine at some point I will start trying to reconnect in person with some folks. If that happens and if you are up to it, then perhaps we will meet again in the not so distant future.
THAT letter is my miracle y’all. Through that letter God showed me that where I thought I was the most ugly, the least like Jesus, somehow God still showed through. Are you hearing me? Even in my deepest FAILING God’s love showed through!
If you are hearing this, and you have come to a place where life just isn’t working right for you anymore—you are in the right place! There is hope here—great hope: Romans 5:6 says: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus’ death and rising again has paved the way for us to be FREE from our sins, making us new creations in Him, filled with love, joy and peace! He does have a way for you to walk in freedom. You don’t have to be stuck anymore.
It took me 40 years of my Christian life to learn these truths about God and apply them to my life. 40 years from when I asked Him to save me at age 7! Don’t wait that long. Please learn from my story and know your life can be changed too—it’s what God longs to do. Give Him a chance. Find Jesus, and find you some Jesus-filled people who will walk with you. You won’t regret it.