I first met Joy in 2006, in a Bible study at a church where my husband was interviewing for a ministry position. Several people spoke during the discussion time, but she stood out to me because of her insight. We ended up taking the position and moving to the town where she had lived her whole life. We joined their life group and I will never forget the day she came to us (new people, in unfamiliar surroundings, and far away from home) and said, “I want to keep your kids for you, because I know you don’t have any family here.” It turned out she was not only insightful, but considerate and compassionate. From there we became fast friends. We shared a strong affinity for sarcasm, an interest in psychology, a calling to minister to women, and many, many pots of coffee. And while we always laughed together and talked (A LOT!) we had something few people find or maintain in relationships: accountability. Joy was never afraid to speak the truth in love. Besides telling me when I was wrong, she also readily admitted her own weaknesses and struggles. I initially assumed the struggles in her marriage were typical, ordinary, commonplace…I mean, every couple has conflict and challenges. Every woman feels neglected at times or misunderstood. My assumption was very wrong. I soon became a companion on a journey of pain that began many years before we ever met, and would only grow more traumatic as the days went by. As I walked beside Joy through the darkness, I saw a woman assert her confidence in God instead of placing it in a man. She showed that claims mean nothing when they are not backed up by choices. I witnessed her surrender her image, but maintain her integrity. I stood in awe (and sometimes anger) as she reacted with quiet grace and patient endurance to every rejection and setback. I watched her refuse to give in to despair. When well-meaning people insisted that she deny or pretend and call it faith, she held with every last ounce of strength to a God who exposes lies and could handle the truth. And I learned that hope is not mindlessly believing things will end the way you had in mind. Rather, it is fixing your eyes on the One who endured the Cross – the greatest crisis the world has ever known. I believe we are guilty, especially at church, of talking about crisis/suffering like it is static. Like, “it may happen,” or “what to do when it happens.” Like pain is simple and short-lived. Like there are easy answers and guaranteed prescriptions. And even like crises can be avoided if we do the right things and try hard enough. The truth is, crisis is not straightforward. Sometimes it is chronic. Rather than being predictable, suffering is mysterious and inexplicable. And usually, in spite of our best efforts, or maybe even because of them, it is inevitable.
The testimony I saw firsthand… my treasured friend has taught me so much. As you confront your crisis, she will hold your hand and walk with you. It may seem that you are facing an all-consuming darkness. Joy has a message for those moments when your life is nothing you thought it would be and everything you hoped it would not. For the times when mere platitudes will not suffice. For those mornings when it is an accomplishment just to get out of bed. Joy will not give you unrealistic instructions and empty clichés. Joy will bring you to the hope and that is in a relationship with Jesus Christ.