God So Loved Joy
by Joy Ray
Memories That Won’t Go Away
The details of my first memory will last forever. I was playing in my pink and blue playhouse in my bedroom, wearing a white T-shirt and underwear. Mama came in and told me to come with her. We got into a car and headed for the unknown. When we arrived, I sat alone in a small room waiting for Mama and the man to come out of the other room. There were smells and lights flashing through the curtains. Hungry and scared, I drifted off to sleep sitting upright in a large chair. To this day, I have an unhealthy reaction to neon lights.
Another incident happened when a man in a sailor hat helped me. (I am sure he was an angel.) Once again, I found myself in a strange city on a hot summer day, sitting in a car with my skin stuck to the vinyl seat and thinking, “Where is Mama and the man?” They had told me to stay put, that they wouldn't be gone long. My hair was wet with perspiration as I sat with the window down, waiting for a little breeze to find its way to the window. During what seemed liked hours, I succumbed to sleep. It was almost dusk when I opened my eyes and heard a stranger say, "You have beautiful eyes." I was startled when he asked, "Where are your parents?" When I told him I was thirsty, he said he would buy me something to drink and help me find my mama. It was getting dark and I was scared and didn't know what to do, so I went with him. As he promised, he got me a refreshing drink, and we went from bar to bar looking for Mama. There they were—sitting, drinking, and laughing! Once reunited with my mama, the man in the sailor's hat left. Sure that Mama had forgotten about me, I determined not to go with her the next time.
It didn't take long for the NEXT time to come around—and I wasn’t with her. I came home from school, opened the door and sniffed as I always did. If the smells of supper cooking hit my nostrils, all was well. Mama was a good cook and one whiff of her cooking would make me drool. But there was no aroma flooding the house on this day, which meant trouble was brewing! Later that evening, I heard Daddy talking with someone. It sounded like Mama had been robbed and beaten up! When I walked into the living room, I saw him holding Mama. My only thought was: “If only I had been with her, this wouldn’t have happened!”
Small Miracles for Small People
So many miracles happen in our lives that we sometimes overlook the small ones. This one I reflect on from time to time. It was a Friday morning, and Daddy wouldn’t get his paycheck until 5:00 that evening. With hardly any groceries in the house, we were all hungry. This was particularly hard on my baby sister. Mama was walking around the apartment with the toddler hanging on to the hem of her dress and crying for a jelly sandwich. Somehow, over the crying, we heard the doorbell. I ran to the door to find a man standing there with a small loaf of bread in his hand. When Mama came to the door, he explained that his company was doing a promotion and giving away free bread. My baby sister got her jelly sandwich, Mama got some peace, and we all got a slice of bread. That night we went to the grocery store and restocked. We bought bread, but to me it wasn't as good as the bread the man gave us. Today, I recall that small loaf of bread as "Manna from heaven."
I was around six when I came to understand that God loved me, and that I was a sinner. Wanting to mimic the older girls who walked along the streets of Miami in tight skirts, I decided a dishtowel towel wrapped around my tiny self and tucked in at the top would make a perfect skirt. So that was what I wore up and down the street where I lived. About this same time, God was working on my family. My daddy got saved and, not long afterwards, took me to a Billy Graham Crusade in Miami. Reverend Graham explained John 3:16 so simply that even a child could understand it: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God’s love included me! I went forward during the invitation, crying, and repented of my sin. I knew that wearing the dishtowel skirt was a sin! The following morning, I was eager to share what Jesus had done for me. I took chairs out of our house and placed them under the two huge oak trees in our front yard. Then I went through the neighborhood, inviting everyone to come hear me preach. I recall no one being as excited as I was. But that didn’t dampen my joy—my sin was forgiven!
A Decade in the Wilderness
At sixteen years of age, I was still going with Mama. But this time would be life changing for me. As always, Mama was with a man, and we were in his house in a strange town. The man had a son who was 16 and, in their drunken state, the man and my mama decided that the boy and I should get married. "I don't want to be married,” I protested! Evening came, and Mama insisted I go to the store with the man, on the pretense of needing to buy cigarettes. The man, instead, took me to the woods and attempted to rape me. Unsuccessful, he threw me to the side of the car and screamed, “Something is wrong with you!” That accusation stayed with me, and I went through my teenage years believing that something was, indeed, wrong with me.
Shortly after this encounter, Mama was placed in a mental hospital. While she was away, tragedy struck. I was in school when an announcement came over the speaker for me to come to the office. As I walked outside, I saw daddy and his boss walking toward me. I started to cry, thinking it was Mama, but instead I was shocked to learn that our house had burned down! There was nothing left but ashes and an upright TV tube. The next morning, the newspaper headline read, “Little Dog Perishes in Fire.” I was heartbroken over my pet, mad at God, and very confused. My mama was in a mental hospital, my devoted pet had died a terrible death, and I owned nothing but what was on my back—not even clothes to wear to school the next day. We were homeless. I felt God had turned His back on us.
Instead of being thankful for what I did have, for the next decade I would live in rebellion, doing my own thing and thinking that I could surely do better than what God had been dishing out. Believing that I was in control of my destiny now, I went on with my rebellion.
The Struggle is Real
The phone call came at 3:00 AM. Your daddy is gone. It was almost all that I could bear. Not only did I lose my daddy, but I would be the one having to deal with Mama. And she lived up to her reputation—it was hell on earth! The hole in my heart for my daddy was huge. I shouted at God, "I want my daddy back!" In anger, I ended up on the floor kicking and screaming until there was no fight left in me. Then, I surrendered. Through all the circumstances of my life, I had struggled, and now I realized that, in reality, I was a child of the King—secured by His grace.
Back in the fold, I have observed that the tragedies of life seem never-ending. They are part of the evil one's plan. But through Christ we are overcomers. With every tragedy comes more responsibility. And responsibilities come with opportunities to show God's love and power in the lives of His children.
Today, I am a living testimony of the goodness of God. He has restored my desperate years 10-fold, blessing me with a devoted husband and family. He also has given me an unexpected calling, giving me the platform and opportunity to do things that would only be possible through Him. I love the words written in Joel 2:25–26: “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed.”
The Desires of My Heart
Serving God, family, and others is what my heart desires most. Because Christ lives in me, I can face my yesterdays—and my tomorrows! I took care of my mama the best that my heart would allow, after the death of my daddy. Her death came without an apology to me or any explanation of her actions. I was with her when she took her last breath. Did she have any idea of the pain she had caused—or did she not care? Despite never knowing the answer to this question, through God's grace, I have been able to forgive—and all my yesterdays have been faced.
Through it all, God has given me a heart for young girls. Like me, even though times have changed, many girls are hurting, and no one knows, because we are so good at covering up our pain. I was an “A” student in school and held a job at a dress shop, so I was dressed to the hilt. This only hid what was going on in my daily life and heart. I would sometimes miss classes because I was home watching Mama and making sure she didn't leave the house. Not even my best friend knew the whole story—only me and God!
Redeeming the time has given me the honor of mentoring young girls. The first was a girl in middle school whose home life was a mess. Through the grace of God, she made it through and is now married, a mother, and a Sunday School teacher. For several years, God opened the door and gave me the privilege to minister to approximately 30 girls on a monthly basis. What an honor it has been to serve my Lord and see girls come to know the Lord. God has so graciously blessed me with my family and given me the desires of my heart!
Forgiveness is available to anyone who will trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior! And through Christ, we find grace to forgive others.
Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 5:8: “But God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 10:9: “That if thou shall confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.”
Joy Ray (pen name) is a lifelong resident of Florida, married, with children and grandchildren.