40 Years In…My Purpose & Pain

There is so much I could say, in the blank space, with cursor blinking, waiting to be filled. I’ve sat here many times before today, staring, with thoughts racing, too much to begin.img_5872I was honestly surprised…and not…to see the tab at the top of this page stating in all caps that I have 87 Drafts. Eighty-Seven works in progress. How silly. Knowing that each time I release my truth from the inside out, it unlocks a new aspect of freedom that I didn’t know was there. And yet, if I think about it too long, I won’t hit “Publish” on this one either.

jcp-2016-croppedSo…For today, let’s dive in before I convince myself to “Draft” it.

In the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, I’ve thought a lot, maybe too much, about the purpose and pain through my first 40 years on this earth. While I genuinely hope this helps someone reading, it is as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s.

My journey has not been one of ease, though it has been better than many, and more privileged than most.

The List…jcp-2016-5869

  1. Trust can take years to build and moments to destroy.
  2. Happiness can be bought (temporarily) and then lost, while true joy is internal and untouchable by outside forces.
  3. Grace is one of the most priceless and underserved gifts. Though freely given, we must receive and embrace it before it can manifest in our lives.
  4. Intuition is absolutely real and divinely instilled.
  5. The ability to forgive is key to authentic beautyNothing will age you faster than resentment.
  6. A steller hairstylist is a must. Once you find said stylist, tip well.
  7. Anger rots your inner being before ever showing up at surface level.
  8. Fear only leads to greater fear.
  9. Prayer works.
  10. When searching for an answer, love almost always fills the gap.
  11. It’s about “who” not “what” you know. (This applies to everything.)
  12. Baby wipes are essential for life. They remove crayon from a painted surface, that unidentified sticky residue just beneath a child’s car seat that’s been there for God only knows how long, mascara, lip stain, mud on wedges…etc., etc.
  13. Smiling more will inevitably lift one’s own spirit while providing warmth to the stranger passing by.
  14. It’s true, you cannot out-exercise your fork.
  15. We never see our true-self clearer, nor exert our need for a Savior more, than during times of trial.
  16. Failure is not optional, it’s necessary.
  17. Lessons will either shape you or break you.
  18. People do not control your destiny.
  19. God is not mad at you.
  20. Sunscreen actually is important.
  21. If you have one true friend you can trust with your weirdness, you are richly blessed.
  22. There is a deep human longing in us all to be fully known and accepted anyway.
  23. Death is not the end. It’s the transition.
  24. Grief is unpredictable.
  25. No matter the color of our skin, just below that thin layer, we all look the same.
  26. Generosity is key to contentment.
  27. Everything (really is) going to be okay (eventually).
  28. We don’t have to share the same DNA to be family.
  29. Miracles still happen.
  30. Everything we say and do begin with a thought.
  31. Being an adult can be really hard.
  32. We can decide, at any given moment, to change direction.
  33. There is no excuse to be unkind (to anyone) (ever).
  34. Gratitude changes things.
  35. We remember moments.
  36. God created each one of us with great intention and purpose.
  37. The most sacred space of witness is during birth and death.
  38. If we could truly grasp our worth, nothing would have the ability to intimidate or have a stronghold in our lives.
  39. Don’t put earthly limits on a heavenly God.
  40. Time goes by so quickly.

1. We don’t have to be afraid.
2. Everyone is important to someone.
3. Labels were never meant for people.
4. Sex doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
5. Right and wrong is relative.

So there ya go. With hundreds more to be added at another time. As I live out this first year in my 4th decade of life, what would you add?



The Heart of the Prodigal

Tomorrow is a big, milestone birthday for me. 40 years. I have spent the last several weeks reflecting on the journey. Where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going.

A huge part of my story is the journey through alcoholism and a decade long battle with an eating disorder. In this conversation with my dad, I ask him what it was like being on the other side of me when I was living my life as his prodigal daughter. Was he afraid? What made him keep pursuing me? How did he release control of me? What would he tell others going through this now.


13 Reasons Why I Don’t Look Like An Alcoholic

JoyOn October 19th, 2015, by the grace of God, I welcomed in 13 years of freedom from the dependence on that which once enslaved me, alcohol.

When given the opportunity to share my story I always hear the same statement from at least one listener with a confused look on their face, “…But…you don’t look like an alcoholic.”
My response remains the same, “What does an alcoholic look like?”

Knowing full well that I have my own mental image of what an alcoholic looks like and it’s motivation for me to never go back to the life I once knew.

Her hair is matted and her clothes unkempt.
There are deep creases in her face from years of neglect.
She wears her wounds, making no attempt to hide them.
All forms of dignity have been stripped away.
She appears to be around 60 years old when in reality she’s 42.
She looks…well…tired. And she is.

Her children, if any, have long since given up on her and moved on with their lives.
The family she once knew has disowned her.
The church has overlooked her.
Society has pitied her.
Friends have deserted her. (They had no choice really. She stopped trying years ago.)
She’s an inconvenience, with bad teeth, no concern for personal hygiene, flammable breath, and a reputation that precedes her.

People say things without regard for her humanity, like, “Why haven’t her foolish ways killed her yet? She’d be better off dead and so would everyone else.”
Or, “She probably drinks mouthwash or rubbing alcohol. What a waste of space.”

Is my description harsh?
Have you ever seen an alcoholic in the grips of their disease?
To say it’s ugly is an understatement.

Throughout these years of recovery, I have visited treatment centers, held the shaking hands of the one in detox, claimed my seat in the rooms of A.A., accompanied a scared mother to a court hearing, listened to teary family members nightmares of living with an active alcoholic, and attended too many funerals for the seemingly hopeless one who never saw their 30th birthday.
I have seen what my future could look like if I allow my disease to dictate the direction of my life. Quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me. I hope it continues to scare me enough that I never pick up that first drink. That’s where the stronghold begins. The very first drink.

It’s a bummer. I don’t want to be an alcoholic. I didn’t grow from a little girl to a young adult dreaming of one day being a blackout drinker. I never aspired to be dependent on alcohol.

Not once did my parents say to me, “Now Joy, strive to be the best alcoholic you can be.” But I definitely gave it my all for several years. 

The reason I don’t look like your stereotypical alcoholic is because;
1.) I’m not homeless
2.) I’m a wife, mother, and productive member of society, and most days I’m pretty dang good at it.
3.) I have all my teeth (some natural ones and some designed by a dental artist).
4.) I’m obsessive about hygiene.
5.) My family is still speaking to me. Some of them actually like me.
6.) I have incredible friends who know me and aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
7.) I love and care for my children.
8.) My children love me, except when I’m driving them crazy.
9.) I don’t willingly participate in self-destructive behavior.
10.) I pay my bills…on time.
11.) I am of service to others and I love it! It’s one of my favorite things to do.
12.) I’m not a liar.
13.) I have a relationship with my Creator that everything else in my life centers around.

Most of the things listed above were not true of me 13 years ago. It has been a journey of faith with unpredictable twists and turns. Trust, especially in close personal relationships, has been earned and restored over time. I know and embrace the meaning of “Amazing Grace.”

We all have something in our lives that wants to destroy us. Mine happens to be alcohol. Maybe yours is food or sex, compulsive shopping or depression? No matter what it is, you know that the moment you become complacent in this particular area, you’re in trouble. There is a solution.

Do you know what the best defense against complacency is?
I call it my complacency repellant?

I am more aware (than ever), going into this 13th year that I better be thanking God in the first few moments my eyes open and my lungs draw a sober breath. Before my feet hit the floor, praise must already be on my lips. It will be the first thing on my tongue in the morning and the last thing I taste at night.

Here’s the big takeaway… Beginning the first few moments of your day with a grateful heart has the potential to change everything. Guaranteed. If it works for me, it can work for anyone, anywhere, no matter what.

Do you believe that?

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. Whether you struggle with addiction or you love someone who does, you don’t ever have to be alone again.

Think you have a problem with alcohol? AA is a group of individuals from all walks of life, who share the same ism. It’s a program to which I owe my life. Learn more in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 

5 Reasons to Spend Time With a Mother and Her Young Children

JCP-8081I had the opportunity to spend part of my morning with my friend Melissa and her two children, Alex (2 years) and Eliana (10 months). I’m so glad I had my camera, because what I captured tells the story better than my words can.

1) Be curious. Wonder. Participate in life from the ground up. Don’t be afraid to mess up. You can always start again.

2) Ask lot’s of questions. (Even if you think they’re silly) Life is about learning and growing, no matter your age.

3) When having a serious conversation, eat chocolate… and laugh… throw your head back and let loose. (Chocolate and laughing make everything better.)

4) Play and Explore (Be resourceful)
Build a drum set from the buckets you just took off your head when you were being a robot. Play hide and seek with the nearest blanket. Sit in the rocking chair backwards.

“Mommy, wanna go look for giants with me?”
This question from Alex diverted me from all other conversation.
“Melissa, did he just ask you to go look for giants?!” I asked.
“Yes. We look for giants at least once a day.” she replied.


5) Take naps. Even if you don’t think you’re tired…
Feeling grumpy? Chances are, ya just need a nap.

Children are the best teachers. And most of them don’t even use words. They use action. It’s not always the right action, but it’s action nonetheless. They don’t sit around, talking about it and wait to see what happens.

When did we (adults) stop learning by doing?
When did we choose to walk away from a challenge and instead immerse ourselves in a Google search or social media for the answer?
When did we stop playing?
Why don’t we laugh with abandon?
When was the last time you sat on the floor, observing your surroundings?
Some of us need to revisit childhood. If you don’t like the one you had, ask someone to take you back with them to theirs.
Come back and tell us about your adventures in the comment section.

Other things I learned on my morning excursion…

A single shoestring can transform a toddler into a giant-slayer.
JCP-8049Egg cartons double as very hungry caterpillars.

Robots get hungry too.

What are you learning from your kids…or friends kids…or nieces and nephews, grandchildren or students in your class? Have any great pictures that tell a story? Email them to me at joycannisphotography(at)gmail(dot)com

3 things never, ever to discuss in bed

I’ll even go so far as to say, “Keep these 3 things out of the bedroom altogether.”Messy bed

MONEY – Whether it’s bad or good information, keep it out of the bedroom.
I don’t care if you just won the lottery and want to cover the sheets with benjamins so you can roll around in it. Trust me! Don’t do it. It will start out fun and then lead to statements like these,
“Think of what we could have done with all this money 5, 10, 15 years ago…”
“Why didn’t we save more? I always said you spent too much money…”
“How much do those highlights cost again?!”
The bedroom is where the magic happens, NOT the budget!

WORK – Nothing kills a sex drive quicker than talking about your newest project at work or the girl who dresses like she’s going to a bar. Maybe she is going to a bar. Leave her alone! You’re in bed with someone who you don’t have to pick up in the bar. STOP TALKING ABOUT WORK!
The bedroom is for words you wouldn’t use anywhere else, NOT for debriefing about your coworkers.

FAMILY – This includes but is not limited to…
Your beautiful children that you love so much you could just “eat ’em up!”
Your sister’s recent vacay.
Your brother’s girlfriend and all the reasons you know it isn’t going to last.
Your aunt’s cat’s arthritis.
Your cousin’s new band and the business plan you wrote that he hasn’t asked you for.
Your mom. (Especially, your mom)
Your dad’s latest hunting story. (My man loves a good hunt, but the moment I bring up my father when we’re trying to set the mood, forget about it. Ain’t gonna happen.)
The surgery that your stepbrother’s dog is being prepped for and how much it’s going to cost.
The seating chart for the next holiday get together.
The bedroom is a reservation for two, NOT a family reunion.

Now, if you find yourself wanting/needing to talk about one of these things, get up, go sit at the kitchen table or on the sofa and talk about it there. Better yet, wait until tomorrow. Chances are things will be a lot clearer and you’ll be in a better mood.

This is a decade worth of wisdom that you don’t even have to thank me for. Just stop bringing baggage into your bed. It’s much easier to move around that way.

You’re thinking, “It can’t be that simple?” It is. It’s that simple. Everything else can wait until your next therapy session.

I know there are like a bazillion other no-no’s for that fragile time before (whatever your code word is for sex) happens. Go ahead, tell us in the comments what you’ve learned never to talk about in the bedroom…

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No quit Monday

Cherub statueDo you see it?
The smile I wear so big and bright.
Do you know I came home and collapsed in a pile on the bed
Tired of being tired.
Mentally drained.
Emotionally exhausted.
Spiritually hungry.

Of course you don’t.
How could you?
I would never say those words.

I wouldn’t tell you that I’m consumed with thoughts of motherless children, the homeless, forgotten, abused, discarded human beings and those plagued by addiction.
Little ones and big ones alike who cannot help themselves, overwhelm my longing to be the hands and feet of Christ.
There are too many, Lord.
Where do I even begin?

I don’t always want to live up to my name.
Sometimes I want to pass by without notice.
Sometimes I want to look down at my feet instead of making eye contact.
Sometimes I wish to blend into the background.


It’s true.
I miss my friend who died last May, leaving two beautiful children and the man of her dreams behind.
My insides ache for my daughter imprisoned by her own mind.
I countdown to 2 weeks when I no longer have a steady paycheck.
I realize that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty.

What if I’m not good enough?
What if I fail?
What if I made a mistake thinking this could work?
What if I can’t do this?
What if it’s my will, not God’s?

I close the door to my closet,
Flip the light off,
Sit on the floor,
Wall against my back,
Listening to myself breathe.

Deep, calculated, cleansing breath in.
I fill up my lungs until the tingle runs down my scalp.
Slow breath out
the worry, stress, insecurity, doubt and any possible regret exit with it.

Does she know I would be there if I could?
Does she know how hard I fight for her?
I am no longer in the circle of decision.
Doesn’t she know, had I not placed distance there, I could not have recovered?
She doesn’t know.
She shouldn’t know.

It’s okay.
I tell myself…again.
But it isn’t, is it?
Not today.
Today it stings like the hornet.
Today I wallow in mental despondency.
Today I long for sleep and nothing else.

Today is almost gone.
What will I show for it when looking back?
I kept breathing.
In and out.
I got up and put one foot in front of the other.
I kept breathing.

God, please don’t allow me to stay here, in this place, for very long.
Darkness tries to hide you,
But your presence is fierce.
Words try to mask your message
But you cannot be silenced.
Time tries to deflect your promises
But to you, what is time?

Pull me from my melancholy stance.
My inner rantings.
My futile attempts at peace.

No… Don’t.
Stay here with me while the pain escapes through salty tears and silent screams.
Stay here. In the anguish. Until it has all been felt and I can turn towards your cleansing light.

What am I to you, God of the universe.
A mere mortal whose time is comparable to dust.
Who’s life is but a vapor.
Who am I to you?
Whisper the answer to my impatient soul.

Stay with me in the stillness.
Stay until dawn breaks the thickness of night.
Stay until silence is replaced with singing.
With me here.
Until I can get up off this floor
And stand on my own two feet.

Then will I know the storm has passed.


The man I love lays down next to me. He reaches over, lightly caressing the top of my bare shoulder with his strong hand before sleep sets in. Nothing is said. Words are not needed. His arm slips down beside mine as his breathing changes to deep and rhythmic.

I turn to see the outline of his face in the darkness and I whisper, “Thank you God for this man.” His mind brilliant. His body strong. His passion intense and his love complete. Leaving my heart full and desires lacking nothing.

I take his hand and lace the sleepy fingers between mine to feel the energy pulsating through. Is this a dream? This life that I have… is it real? I have been asking myself that same question for the last 10 years. Usually at night when the only sounds are those heard when everything else is quiet.

I turn onto my side and close my eyes soaking in my reality. Knowing how completely undeserving I am of this man and the security he brings. Not underestimating the chemistry that we share.

Pressing my eyelids tight, expecting tears to come, they never do. I squeeze his fingers between mine as he sleeps, realizing that I am growing in the understanding of unconditional love. I am accepting the imperfection of self while giving in to the happily ever after that exists even for a girl like me. At least here. Now. In this place. In this moment of beautiful calm.