To the One Who Loves an Alcoholic

There is someone in my life who I adore. I love her so much that my insides ache when she’s hurting. Unfortunately she is in love with an alcoholic. And as some of you reading this have experienced…we are capable of causing the worst kind of pain. 

Looking back over more than a decade in recovery, free from alcohol and all it brings with it, there are things that I know to be true. Things I can see now that I couldn’t see before. Things that just, are, no matter how much I wish they weren’t.

So, I wrote her this letter and now I’m sharing it with you.
Not to provide all the answers for what you’re going through, but to hopefully shed some light on the person whom you have continually given the ability to hurt your heart.

I will be removing any personal information with generic wording and adding quotes so that you can insert the name of your person.

Friend,” this is truth…

He” is married to alcohol. Drugs are his mistress. Anything else…anyone else, is just a side thing. He always returns to what he knows. Alcohol.

It’s one of the most difficult relationships to sever. It can be done, but it takes more work than most people are willing to put in.

It’s not you.

Truly. It isn’t.

It’s that cunning, baffling bitch known as alcoholism. And without a Higher Power, complete Surrender, and the Willingness to change by dying to self, there is no hope.

You’ve laid awake countless nights, bartering with God.
Your bartering has turned to begging.
Your begging has turned to weeping.
Your weeping has turned to exhaustion.
And just when you’re about to give up…there he comes…back in the picture…full of empty promises that you want so badly to be true.
And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

This has gone on for years.
You say things like, “…but I love him! When you really love someone, you don’t just give up on them.
That may be true, but…
as a human being, a beautiful child of God, born with great purpose, you must see the wasted moments on this person who is blissfully unaware of your worth.

You don’t, do you?
You can’t.
Something in you, like in all of us, grasps on to the smallest ounce of hope and we refer back to that speck even when we are surrounded by the mountains of proof that say otherwise.

This is where I have done my share of begging God.
For reasons unknown to me, He hasn’t lifted the blinder that covers your eyes.
I know He can.
I know He wants you to be whole and live in the light of His glory and grace.
And yet knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

There is a reason why so many alcoholics lose their battle with alcohol, at times taking entire families down with them.
Like the blinder you wear, he too wears a self-inflicted blinder.
The difference in yours and his is that he can remove his at any time.
All if takes to begin is a choice to change.
One choice can change everything.
After that one choice is when the real work begins.
I can’t even call it rebuilding. That can’t start until all of the wreckage is sorted through and hauled away.
This is a grueling process.
It’s the part where most people give up.
After all, it’s much easier to have a drink than to feel the weight of our current reality.

Here’s that most difficult part for you and for most people…
Are you ready for this?

There is nothing you can do to change him.

You can’t wish him sober.
You can’t force him to get sober.
You can’t make him see the disaster he leaves in his wake every time he comes around.

Here’s what you can do.

You can accept that nothing is going to change until he actively participates in recovery. (By this, I mean, pursues it like he would his next “fix.” It’s the only way to freedom.)
You can acknowledge and release the time you have given him and that he has squandered.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and say 2 words, “Not Anymore.” followed by 4 words, “From this moment forward.”
You can sincerely speak into your child’s heart and mind that you are her protector, provider, greatest advocate, teacher, mother, and that you will do whatever it takes to provide a life that’s healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. One where she can grow and thrive, because you know the time that you have with her is short and you will lay a solid foundation that she can always stand on without worry of losing her footing.
(The way you can be 100% confident of this is because it’s what Christ does for you…and for her…everyday.)
You can recognize that even though you didn’t plan for your life to play out this way, there are so many people who love you and want to come alongside you, if you will let them.
You can cry when you need to cry, scream even, when staring at the difficult truth that your child’s father isn’t present. (This is no place to linger. You feel the feelings and move on.)
You can look in the mirror, straight into your own soul and breathe in the grace that you will need on a daily basis to do life.
You can repeat in your head and out loud as much as needed, I am not alone. I am capable. I am strong and I am worthy of love.”
You can say these same affirmations to your daughter. She will need to know them. There may come a time in her life when they seem the only thing to cling to in the midst of the storm.
You can put one foot in front of the other and know that there will be days when you are in a groove and moving like a champion as well as the ones where every step towards tomorrow seems to sucker punch you back into yesterday. That’s okay. We appreciate beauty all the more when we see the purpose of the rain. (Didn’t you tell me that?)

“Friend,” You are so very loved.
We see you.
We hear you.
You matter.

And…it’s time to walk away.
We’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

Love and Grace,
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When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.
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It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.

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Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

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

Twenty-four hours with Asher

Many of you have followed Asher’s story. In my writings I said that it was Lindsey’s story to tell and she would talk when she’s ready.

Well, she’s ready. It’s beautiful…full of hope…an example of courage in the midst of horrendous circumstances. I have not changed or added to any of Lindsey’s words. They are directly from her.

I know she would appreciate your comments and sharing with others who could be positively impacted by her story and Asher’s life.

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“As Joy so beautifully and eloquently wrote, my son Asher Knox, has a story. Our family has a story because of this miracle baby. Anyone who met our sweet precious boy, has a story…like Joy does. It’s because most people can’t tell stories of angels because they never meet one. I grew one inside me for 35 weeks and 3 day.
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Some outsiders may say Asher’s story is one of heartbreak, one of tragedy and that it has ended. I can see how that can be a thought as I would be lying if I said those thoughts never entered my mind. But when it comes down to the truth, Asher’s story is one of all-consuming love, a will to fight, and down right determination.
3F9B9571I will not go into the 9 months of details, but what I will share is that my husband and I found out when I was 15 weeks along , that Asher had a form of Skeletal Dysplasia—aka dwarfism. Since it was caught so early on, the many doctors I saw were confident that it was a lethal form…meaning IF Asher made it to term, he would not breathe and would die very shortly after birth. We were given the choice to terminate at that point, which is an awful place to be for anyone…PRO CHOICE or PRO LIFE. You are deciding the fate of your child to a certain degree at that stage.

I was never one of those people who voiced their opinion on PC vs PL as I figured I would never be in that position and I could see arguments for both sides. However, when it came down to it, we felt that if God didn’t want us to have Asher, then why allow us to conceive him? If he was not meant to be, God would end the pregnancy at some point but we could not bear the thought of stopping our child’s heart by choice. If he were to go, it would be when it was his time.
IMG_6172Fast forward to May 26, 2013 when I gave birth to the angel inside me. I had no expectations but hopes that I would be able to hold my son and have him look at me long enough to know I was his Momma. I got that moment. I got not only that one but 23 hours and 45 minutes of moments. Each of those seconds I spent with Asher were not filled with tears, but of hand holding, hair smelling, belly kissing, storytelling, and more cuddling and group praying than I can count. Because of Asher, my husband, Asher and I were able to feel more love from family, friends and strangers than I could EVER begin to imagine. We felt very blessed and still feel blessings entering our lives each and every day.
3F9B9263Yes, I said BLESSED. You may be thinking, “Why does this woman feel blessed if she carried her child to term, only to say goodbye less than a day later?” That’s just it. I had a day. Actually I had almost 36 weeks of enjoying ultrasound photos and kicks and somersaults. I got to watch my belly get bigger every week. I was able to be a MOTHER. How many people never get that opportunity? I truly believe there are many women out there that cannot get pregnant or carry their own child, and if given the choice, they would take 24 hours versus nothing.
3F9B0101To quote my favorite movie Steel Magnolias…..”I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” I have watched that movie easily 75 times in the past 20 years. How ironic that that quote would be something I would experience and believe myself when my son was created.

So what is life like now after Asher left to fly with the angels? It is tough, no ifs, and or buts about it. Actually tough is a kind way of putting it. Grief is a feeling that cannot be put into a definition properly. It consumes you at certain points. It hits you when you least expect it. Just when you think grief has left the building, it becomes the act on the main stage. I miss my buddy, every single second of every day.

Never would I have thought I would welcome the heartburn, the painful feeling of pressure from him pressing on my organs, the Gestational Diabetes and pricking my finger 4 times a day. That sounds like bliss because HE was with me, safe and sound.

I realize there will be no rocking to sleep, no report cards, no chances for me to leave notes in his Toy Story lunch box. My husband and I will miss out on teaching him to ride a bike and kiss booboo’s. No homecoming dances, no first haircut, no cliche Easter bunny and Santa Claus pictures. That’s the stuff that hurts the most~the things not only we, but Asher will miss out on.

I know I will see him again and that he is waiting patiently for us. This life is temporary and I am comforted knowing that at the end of the day, I have an angel baby that I will spend eternity with. I would never have that opportunity if we didn’t choose the road less traveled….carrying to term.

Again I say, I AM BLESSED. Everyone has darkness in their lives, but there is also light. You just have to look for it …or be open to it. My darkest days did not kill me. They may have knocked me down and I still have to take it one minute of every day at a time. But I choose to be happy. I choose to honor my beautiful son Asher by not seeing his life as a tragedy or one that has ended.

His story is just beginning. And so is mine.”

Baby Asher

Many of you have asked me the story behind the cover picture on my Facebook page. I want to tell you. I want you to know who Asher is. Honestly I haven’t had the words to adequately describe the experience.

So, I wrote him a letter in hopes to honor Lindsey and let her son know what a remarkable mother he has.

Today marks one week since baby Asher was born. He lived outside the womb for 24 hours. In that time, he was adored by all who were fortunate enough to meet him. No one treasured him more than his mother, Lindsey. I will never forget following her hand through the lens of my camera as she gently ran her finger along the contours of his little frame. She didn’t miss a single detail. She made sure she knew every line in his palm and wrinkle in his foot. She breathed in the smell of his skin. She delicately touched his head, feeling his baby soft hair beneath her finger tips. She memorized his face. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I am one of the fortunate few who met this special child and told him how precious he was. I will not go into details about the time I witnessed of Asher’s life on this earth. It’s not my story to tell. When Lindsey is ready, she will tell it and eventually I will write more of this little one who left such a huge imprint on my heart.

Asher Knox MartindaleDear Asher,

One week ago, today, we were all anxiously awaiting your arrival. I had met your mom and dad only the day before, but this experience would bond us for a lifetime.

From the moment you came into this world, you were adored. Your mama had a head start on the rest of us. She had been feeling your kicks and movements in her belly for months. You were her constant companion. She loved you long before seeing you.

I had the privilege of capturing your daddy’s face the first time he saw you. He loves you so much, precious boy. It’s such a difficult thing for a dad to watch his child struggle, knowing he cannot step in and save the day. Because he would have, darling. He would have traded places with you in a moment. You could see it all over his face.

Here is what I want you to know, little one. Your mom is so brave. Her courage is more than admirable. She has fought for you from the very beginning. She knew that medical facts showed little chance you would survive. She heard the doctor’s words and knew the odds that were stacked against you. She also knew that she would carry you, in her belly, as long as she could. She would give you life and if only for a moment, hold you in her arms, sheltering you from the coldness of this world, whispering lullaby’s in your ear.

I was witness to incredible love, sweet Asher. Your mama loves you extravagantly.

She wants all who know her, and those who don’t, to hear your story and know your name. You were a little champion. I am so, so grateful to have met you. You were wonderfully made and your life has great purpose.

Your mommy and daddy miss you, darling. There are so many tears. There are also beautiful memories of a day filled with…you. Your life. Your story. Your purpose.

Your legacy will continue. Your name will be spoken in many circles. Your memory will outlive us all. Those who know your mom are forever changed by her courage, faith and unconditional love.

You are beautiful. You are loved. You are chosen. Now may you rest in the arms of the Savior who spoke life into being. You are safe. You are well. You are home.

Love and Light,
Joy
(the girl behind the lens)

To my Son’s Wife

3F9B1096Dear Daughter-in-law,

I have been thinking about you a lot lately. I know that sounds strange since my boys are only 5 and 7, but I can’t help thinking about their future. After all, I am the one who has been with them from the moment their past began.

I hear horror stories about mother-in-laws. It’s easy for me to say, “That’s ridiculous! She’s crazy! I’ll never act like that!” Truth be told, I don’t know how I will act when he falls head over heels for you. I would hope I will be supportive and not overbearing, loving and not smothering, wise counsel and not unsolicited advice.

Here’s the thing…I think I understand a little better why mother-in-laws get the “Crazy Lady” label. Some of us have trouble letting go of being the primary girl in his life. Some of us aren’t sure how to transition from being the last to wish him sweet dreams before sleep and the first to greet him in the morning, to the one you have to remind him to call.

There’s just something about a mother and son that is too precious to wrap words around. There is something about the space in a mother’s heart for the baby she raises into a man. There is a meshing of sorts that cannot be undone. And I’m not so sure it should have to be.

Please understand, I do not, nor have I ever, lived for my boys. I believe that to live is Christ. Everything else is a futile attempt at purpose. I’m not going to tell you that I gave up everything and sacrificed my life for them. We all make sacrifices. It comes down to what we are willing to sacrifice for. That looks different for everyone. Honestly, my life is so much fuller, richer and exciting because of my children. I cannot imagine what I would be doing were I not their mother.

I want to ask that you see one thing very clearly. That is, I have made every effort to instill in my children that there is only one opinion that matters. God’s. He is the great Creator. He chose exactly how they would be put together and how their mind, heart and spirit would work together and sometimes against each other. No one knows them better than He. Not me, not their earthly father, not even you, though I know that’s hard to hear.

So I have begun praying. For you, for him, for me…I’m praying that nothing will ever come between him and his relationship with the one who knows him best. I’m praying that you will encourage him to grow his relationship with Christ and always place it as highest priority. It may not seem like it now, but if that relationship is healthy, your relationship stands a much better chance of being strong and wildly fulfilling.

I could make a list of all the things I wish for you and him. All the things I want in a wife for my son. Honestly darling, I want nothing but God’s will. All else is fleeting and empty.

Please believe me when I say that I do not want to be regarded, by you or anyone, a monster-in-law. I am working on me. I have much to work on. I am also praying that God will guard my son’s heart, mind and spirit against confusion. That he will not mistake lust for love, manipulation for sincerity, ultimatums for resolution, insecurity for confidence, or persuasion for honesty.

I do, at times wonder if I have already met you. If I have looked into your eyes and seen your smile. Only time will tell. Just know that I do not take the responsibility of “Mother” lightly and I am doing the best I can to raise men of integrity. I hope that you will rest in the assurance that I am covering you with love and light, while praying God’s protection over your heart, soul, mind and body.

Gratefully Yours,
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This Day

Pure JoySome days just flow.
The kids don’t whine when waked up for school.
Breakfast is on the table when they come down with sleepy eyes and bed head.
They change into their clothes without being asked.
Lunches are packed.
Clean socks are waiting by shoes.
Jackets are on.
And they’re off for another day of learning and growing.
Walking out into a day paved with faith as we release them into the impeccable care of their Heavenly Father.
The house is quiet now.
The hum of the dryer is all that is heard.
The sun peeks through the clouds as snowflakes fall, quickly melting on impact.
The house is warm.
Smells of coffee and burnt cinnamon fill the air, rising to the ceiling.
It’s another day. Filled with endless possibilities. More than can be embraced.
My lips curve into a smile with teeth.
So this is grace.
This is the undeserved and grossly underrated exuberance of God.
This is the beauty of second chances.
This is light and hope. Blessings and goodness all swirled into normal.
May I remember this moment on the not so smooth days when the children whine from dawn to dusk and the pantry isn’t stocked from my lack of grocery shopping.
When there are no clean clothes and every step is a struggle.
I want to remember this warmth and calm of a peaceful heart at home.