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?



Tattoos or Jesus, which one will it be?

JCP-4475I vividly remember a close family friend telling me that I was disobeying God by getting a tattoo and because of its permanence, I was in a state of constant defiance. He quoted scripture (from memory, of course) to back up his point from which the core of his unsolicited advice originated. (This was after the tattoo was already there. What was I to do about it, except put on the heavy cloak of guilt placed before me?)

I was 17 years old.

I have since added several more tattoos…and piercings to my body. This one is especially meaningful to me.Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.40.06 PM

For years I’ve been reading different views on this subject. It is interesting and at times crazy how defensive people can be with their written words. The ALL CAPS and number of exclamation points following the scripture references that, in their mind, confirm and validate their rightness. It leaves me wondering, “Why would I ever want what they have? How could I ever follow the God that they profess to emulate?”

As I’ve said before, “I can justify absolutely anything.” I am a Master Justifier. Maybe that is the case here. I am justifying the fact that I, a follower of Jesus, willingly marked my body.

This will cause debate. There are some of you reading now that are already irritated. That’s good. Whether you’re irritated over the thought of someone being able to love Jesus while tattooing their body, or you’re irritated over the people who are irritated…take this moment to ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much?”

Here is what I have to remember, I am accountable to God. When I approach the throne of grace, it is not while locking arms in a group of others. It is alone. It is personal. It is intimate.

Let’s think outside of our comfort zones for a moment.

What if, every sin that you have ever committed or thought about committing was written on your body? Adultery, stealing, murder, gossip, abuse, pornography, envy, gluttony, betrayal, denial, blaspheme… Which one would you want across your face?

Things don’t have to be written in ink to leave a permanent mark. Try these labels on for size…shamed, guilty, jealous, abandoned, greedy, whore, liar, addict, alcoholic, convict, loser, hypocrite, enabler… Though not written in ink, individuals clearly wear these labels.

If God really does see past our flesh, into our hearts, what does he see? I envision Him seeing a heart covered in permanent markings.

And then Jesus came…and all of that changed. He is our Intercessor, Savior, Redeemer. He stands in the gap of all of our different perceptions and definitions of “right” and “wrong.”

God sees us through His son. His perfect son. So we no longer have to argue who is more right than wrong, or justify anything. Once we see Christ for who He is, we are given the invitation to lay down all of our judgements, isms, character defects, labels and prejudices at the foot of the cross.

No matter whether you think tattoos are “right” or “wrong,” the cross is enough. Whether you have thought about stealing from someone or have actually stolen, the cross is enough. Whether you have always seen yourself as damaged because of an image that was self inflicted or projected onto you by someone else, the cross is enough. It’s enough.

It’s about a personal relationship with the One who paid it all.

Let’s visualize ourselves removing the lenses through which we currently see everything while asking, “Father, please help me see everything, including myself, through your eyes and from your perspective. Transform my perception of others, crushing all misconceptions.”

As you think of the person whom you consider marked up, damaged and pierced, remember, they…I, have a place to bring all imperfections and lay them down. The foot of the cross. Right there beside all the prejudices and judgements. Once there, they are all the same.

In Christ, there is no condemnation.

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 

Permission to Shed Your Armor

hero |ˈhi(ə)rō|
noun (pl. heroes)
a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

Somehow, somewhere, we women got it in our heads that our men are unshakeable. That nothing should affect them, especially the way it affects us… They are the strong ones… There isn’t anything they can’t shrug off and move on from. Well, this simply isn’t true. And that fact doesn’t make them any less of a hero.

JCP2015-When my man walks through the door, in from the world and all of it’s toxic arrows, the first thing he should be able to do is shed his armor.

I don’t always allow him to do that. I don’t always tell him what an amazing provider he is and how strong and courageous he is to fight the daily battles that I could never withstand. I’m not always his biggest cheerleader and I don’t always let him know that there is no one, to me, like he is.

I want to. I do.

MY will gets in the way.
MY clouded perception of who does what and who should do more or less, creeps up.
MY skewed sense of self worth puts up a wall that isn’t always easily torn down and instead of voicing my insecurity, I lash out.
MY self centeredness kicks in, more than I would like to admit and within moments, my priorities can center solely around my wants.
This is not something I’m proud of.

Here is the solution. And I know this, because I have failed at so many other ways of trying.

Please join me on the blog over at leadingandlovingit.com/blog for the rest of this post.

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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To my Beautiful Children

My Loves

It’s no secret that I have wrestled demons in the past. One of them being body image. As I read posts on social media raising awareness this week about eating disorders (ED), I cannot help but be grateful. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in the depths of my illness. In an effort to help others and avoid ever going back to that place, I cannot forget what that desperation and skewed sense of self felt like.

My body put up with 12 long years of abuse. Starvation, binging, purging, excessive use of diuretics, substances…many things that would cause bewilderment one day when looking back.

My relationship with food is still not one to be envied. It’s rather dysfunctional and requires much work on a daily basis. As with everything in my life, it’s about progress, not perfection. Someone once told me, “Even if everyday you take two steps forward and one step back, you’re still one step further than you would be.”

If you remember nothing else from these writings, please remember this, “Let go of perfection. It will ruin you.”

I bring you into this conversation to acknowledge the times when I will say silly things like,
“I wish my thighs still fit in those jeans.”
“I remember when my stomach was flat and toned…before babies”
“I don’t even tan the same after having children.”
And any number of other things that are disrespectful to this body that has housed me for over 30 years.

It’s true that I am a mere version of my former self. It’s true that my thighs are thicker, my belly softer, my arms looser, my backside…well, let’s just say, things don’t sit where they used to. It’s also true that pregnancy, nursing, lack of sleep, unnecessary worry, baby carriers, and bending over cribs as slowly as possibly in an effort not to wake you after finally rocking you to sleep, had something to do with it. Those are the beautiful reasons for my transformation. The not so beautiful and less mentioned reasons are the results of my lack of discipline in the areas of exercise, eating junk food, staying up too late, not enough water, and various other things.

My Darlings, when I look at you I know that you are my greatest investment.

When I stand naked and vulnerable in front of the mirror, surveying my body, familiarizing myself with the curves, lines and dimples that have claimed permanent residence on my frame, I run my finger along my cesarean scar reminding myself that just beneath the surface of this scar is a womb that cradled you until my arms would. Just below that layer is a vessel for life. How could I ever regret that?! When I turn sideways and see the pooch that has become a constant companion, I stand up a little straighter and remember how far my belly skin stretched as you grew into a living, breathing, human being. When shopping for the “perfect” fitting bra that eludes me, I am reminded that these breasts sustained three lives! How can I be upset by the inconvenience that I feel they sometimes cause me?

Depending on when you’re reading this, that last paragraph might make you cringe. I get it! I almost didn’t type it! But I’m not going to be a host for shame anymore. I’m not going to sit quietly while other women feel isolated in their thinking. I’m not going to allow anyone to tell me that I’m not okay the way I am.

The truth is my loves, I am more than okay. I’m fantastic. I’m better than I have ever been. This beautiful body has done more good than I ever would have given it credit for. After years of mistreatment by its tenant, it has been very forgiving.

If there was only one thing that I could tell you about body image it would be this, “When looking, thinking about and caring for your physique, remember to be grateful for its functions. There will always be something you wish you could change. Always. Why not focus on the miracle that is life? I think you will discover that you have everything you need to be an exceptional version of yourself.

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The Ugly Side of Truth

What I say, “I would write even if I only had one person reading.”
What I mean, “I love when I hear that someone has connected with my writing. I hope I have 10,000 more just like them.

What I say, “The number of followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, my blog…doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I’m reaching the person who needs to be reached.
What I mean, “I love affirmation! When I see the number of followers steadily rise it gives me a rush. When I see the number go down it makes me wonder what those people didn’t like about my message.

What I say, “I write as an expression, never paying mind to what people might think when they read my thoughts.” (I literally just laughed out loud at the absurdity of this comment while typing it.)
What I mean, “I hope this changes someone’s life and makes me the hero.

The more “followers” I have, the more I want.social-media
The more you “confirm” my value, the more I want to hear.
The more “likes” clicked on my status, the more validated I appear.
I want you to think I’m a wonderful person with an endless capacity for charity.
Truth be told, was it not for grace, you would see the wretched person I am.

I realize I’ve just completely sold myself out and admitted that I’m an affirmation junkie, a seeker of self, a slave to ego…then I add Jesus to the equation. I open my hands and ask him to strip away those things that entangle me. I beg him to remove everything hindering my spirit from walking closely with him. I cry out in frustration that I would allow myself to be the one thing standing in the way of complete freedom in my Savior. It’s exhausting!

And then He whispers to my heart, “Worthy, precious, child, if you did everything perfectly, what need would you have for forgiveness? If your every decision was selfless and pure, what need would you have for grace? If when you stand before the mirror, you are without blemish, why did I give my life to set you free? Some days I will give you moments while others will be hours, but not a day will pass where I will not give you the realization that everything good comes from me. Never a day will go by that I don’t show you that the breath you’re breathing and the next breath and the next are not possible without my willing them to be. It does something for your soul to approach me, recognizing your absolute dependence on me.

My journey has been one of gut wrenching pain, inexplicable happiness, bountiful blessing and tragic loss. I know the superficial feeling of superiority when surrounded by people of earthly importance and I know the sacred peace of weeping with a mother whose baby just took her last breath. I am both a woman in recovery who has seen addiction at its ugliest and a wife, mother and business woman striving to make a difference in the short time given on this earth.

I am learning that when my mind attempts to steer me toward self, I choose Jesus. Sometimes it’s just in the nick of time. I don’t say long, elaborate prayers. I don’t always drop to my knees or fall on my face (though at times that’s the only way to find reverence.) There’s no formal monologue. Most of the time it is a word or sentence. It’s simple enough for a child to recite yet powerful enough to calm my anxious heart, “Jesus. My Jesus. Not my will. Not my way. Yours. You are able to do far more than I could ever ask or think. You created me with great purpose and I trust Your plan. You have never deceived me and will never lead me into a place where You are not there waiting for me. Please drowned out all the noise that attempts to distract me from my real purpose. Unshackle me from the bondage of self.

Maybe you can relate to the confessions in this post or maybe you now view me as a lying, Jesus freak. I cannot concern myself with your interpretation, only with my delivery. I can only hope that by sharing my struggle, you will feel less alone in yours.

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. You don’t ever have to be alone again.


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