Beautiful Scars- When I was a Christian

For a long time God has been nudging me about the need to be part of a community that not only shares their story, but speaks of redemption.  An honest connection for sharing how God has used our scars as unique qualifications to bring his light to the dark spaces.  

It all started with trying to write about my own story and being smacked in the face over how my childhood wounds make me the perfect mother for my own daughter.  And how my grief and loss has enabled me to talk about hope and tenacity in the valley.  

So I’m starting a series of sorts here on the blog where I’ll host and create space for other people to share their beautiful scars and painful yet unique qualifications.  A space for sharing our stories, even the most painful parts all for the purpose of glorifying a God who wastes nothing and is open to redeeming it all.  

If you have a story of beautiful scars and would be willing to share it here please contact me and we’ll chat about it.  

Today I am humbled to give blog space to my friend Joy Cannis as she shares her raw and honest story of loss and restoration.  I’ve known Joy for a while online now and I’m blessed to be in connection with her, hoping you feel the same:

I grew up in a loving home surrounded by “God-fearing” parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. My mom says that I prayed to receive Christ at age two. Though she was unable to decipher my words, she’s certain that’s what I did.

I distinctly remember at age seven, sitting at the kitchen counter, across from my mom, when my dad called to say that my grandfather’s long and painful battle with cancer was over. And just like that I learned of mortality.

I was never afraid of death before having someone that I knew and loved pass away. It made it so real. When my grandmother died many years later, I can remember looking at her body in the casket. Her hands were pale and shriveled.

“Why do her hands look that way?” I asked my uncle.

He replied with a look of disdain, “There’s no blood in her body! They have to drain it all out! Didn’t you know that?!”

I didn’t know that, but I would never forget it after that moment.

Isn’t it interesting how we never forget the moment when others make us feel idiotic. I would learn much later that my uncle snapped at me out of his grief over the loss of his mother. This does not excuse his actions, but gives it validity nonetheless.

There would be more funerals. Some of older people, some younger, but I would not attend another funeral sober.

Death terrified me. Why would I ever want to face it? Why would I allow it to stare me down with it’s glowing red eyes and stale breath? (You know if it had eyes and breath, that is how you would describe it.)

When I came face to face with an unplanned pregnancy that ended in termination, I could no longer pretend that everything was okay. I had chosen death. Not only for the unborn but for part of me as well.

For the next several years I would ingest anything that helped me forget who I was and what I had done. I felt as if there was no worse person on earth than I was. I was fooling myself into thinking that I thought poorly of myself, when really that attitude is rooted in ego.

I kept my secret. Tucked it away from everyone. Meanwhile, giving myself away, not just physically, but in every way possible. It was difficult to understand why God let me live. I was a pathetic wretch and had committed the worst of sins. Is there anything worse than a mother ending the life of her child during a time when she is that child’s only source of protection?

I didn’t know how to look at myself anymore. All I saw was a hypocritical waste of a human life. I was “used goods” and felt that I would never be whole again.

The self destructive pattern that I had grown so accustomed to, continued. I was an active bulimic, binging and purging 8-12 times per day, abusing diuretics and laxatives until vomiting bile. By age 23, three of my molars had been extracted due to stomach acid eroding the enamel.

There is not a drug I know of (around at that time) that I didn’t try. I ran around with drug dealers… strippers… thugs. The fact that my father was a preacher or that I had been at church any time the doors were open, didn’t really matter anymore.

The only thing that mattered, the only thing that matters still, is my personal relationship with my Savior. Was I “walking in the word” daily? Absolutely not! In the rare moments of quiet, when I was completely alone, my soul screamed out for the only voice it recognized. That of the Father. “God, help me. Please, help me.” was my mantra for many panicked moments.

God hears the cries of His children and He never stopped pursuing me. I know this full well. When I had OD’d for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time, God was there. When I was roaming around a graveyard from the 1800’s, reading every headstone of the infant corpse, mourning the loss of a child I never knew, God was there. When I was in the club with a gun securely holstered to my thigh, God was there. When I fell on my face, desperate for answers, God was there. When I walked into my first AA meeting, God was there. When a perfect stranger stretched out their hand and said, “You made it! You’re home now.” God was there.

He saw every tear, every struggle, every doubt, every character defect. He saw, He embraced, He transformed…me.

Some people say that you can’t be a Christian and act the way I did. They say that Christians don’t have prodigal journeys. Some have even insisted that I must have been saved after I walked crawled into recovery.

I say they are wrong. I believe that I put my faith in Jesus Christ sitting at my parents counter when I was seven years old. I solely believe that part of the reason I was spared from many atrocities is because I never left the hand of the Father. I have said before that I am now on my third guardian angel. They keep retiring.

Through His grace, God has replaced my path of destruction with beauty and healing. I now have the privilege of mentoring other women. Can you believe that?! Me…the girl who couldn’t stand other women and they couldn’t stand me! My chains of shame are gone and because of that I am able to stand up in front of people and authentically share my story. I no longer have to embellish or lie. I am leading workshops on the definition of beauty and how costly the pursuit of it has been for some of us. I have done interviews on radio and TV discussing the very things that at one time in my life, I dare not share with anyone.

The process has been anything but easy. However, He always provides the strength I need to sustain me on this journey. The thought that I am able to walk through some of the darkest times with other human beings because of the fact that I have walked the path before is both humbling and reassuring. I believe that it is why God preserved my life. I can say with all clarity that for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

I have a clearer, more beautiful understanding of the cross. It was my hideous, disgusting sin that held him there. What I once thought unforgivable has long since been forgiven. When I refuse to forgive myself or someone else it’s as if I am saying that the cross was not enough.

If I had to sum up my quest in less than a minute I would say,

“The cross is enough. No matter what you have done, friend. It’s enough.”

What do you believe? Can a “Christian” stray and still remain a child of God? What if we removed the word “Christian” all together? I am a child of the King, groomed for greatness and heir to the eternal throne. Even a girl like me is not beyond redemption.

Joy Cannis blogs here and is known on twitter as simply @joycannis So the good news is there is more of her beautiful words online for you to connect with.

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    • rebeccannb

      Joy, thank you for sharing your story! It is beautiful and I love the last quote you have: “The cross is enough. No matter what you have done, friend. It’s enough.”. A great reminder that the cross is enough!

      • Joy

        Thank you for your encouragement.
        I have to remind myself frequently that the cross is enough. When Christ said, “It is finished.” It was in fact finished.
        I look forward to reading more about you on your blog :)

        • Allison

          You are a beautiful woman! (I say this not knowing what you look like or sound like, but you’ve shown your beauty through this.) I am glad that you shared your story. I think a lot of people can be Christian and struggling. I guess a lot of times we look at people and say “that’s not what a Christian looks like” but I think it should really mean “that’s not what Christ looks like,” because Christians are people- who can have horrible things happen to them and do horrible things to themselves and others. I’m glad you’re helping other women through their struggles. :)

          • Joy

            Thank you Allison.
            I had to smile reading your post. It is honest and encouraging.
            I am so appreciative that you would read my story and find it useful.
            Blessings to you, friend!

          • Tammy

            Wow, thank you for sharing your heart! Third guardian angel? Thank God He has an unlimited supply! I love hearing stories of women on what I refer to as ‘the other side’, with God’s grace and strength I will be there someday soon and HE will receive the glory! Thank you Joy for sharing your redemption story with us.

          • Joy

            You can do it! I know you can :)
            He does indeed have an unlimited supply of “guardian angels” and I am so grateful!
            No matter what you have walked through, are walking through or will walk through God never changes and in the midst of our inconsistencies, He remains consistent.
            Love and Light to you, my beautiful friend.

  • Joy

    Leanne, My Beautiful Friend,
    I am so incredibly honored to be given space on your blog to share part of what has made me who I am today. Thank you for seeing my story as a tool to help others. Thank you for finding me a worthy candidate of your recommendation.
    You are a gift and I am so grateful for you and the wisdom that you share with all of us.
    Love and Light,

    • leannepenny

      Oh humbling! I’m so blessed to be able to share what you’ve written.

  • Sarah Martin

    Oh wow, Joy. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for being willing to share so authentically to the glory of the ONE who redeems us.

    • Joy

      Thank you so much for your comments.
      For a long time I suffered in silence thinking that was the way it “should” be.
      If only I had known how drastically my life would change when I opened my hands and all was exposed. God has used it in ways that I never would have dreamed. I give him all the glory.
      Blessings to you, my friend.

  • Susi

    Thank you for sharing the amazing message through your story. Christianity today is so much about being perfect, doing this and that, being so and so, while I’m imperfect and fail all the time. But I also believe in God’s grace and that’s what keeps me going. I also believe that the cross is enough. Thanks so much for the reminder!!!!

    • Joy

      Thank you for your encouragement! I agree that so much of Christianity today is about being perfect and there is no such thing. Grace. It’s all about grace, my friend.
      Blessings to you!

  • Miss Banana Pants (Michelle Clark)

    Joy, thank you for sharing your story. I too, have a prodigal story. One that gives me the perspective of redemption in the same way. Yes, I believe wholeheartedly that a “Christian” can get so overcome with what the world offers and begin living a life so far away from the Father that the “christian fruit” is no longer evident. I have walked that road. But God recklessly pursues his children. Just like I would (and do) pursue mine when they are having a bad day (week, year) of selfishness. Once we have been adopted, he no longer sees us as anything but loved kiddos of his, that he will NEVER let go. I’m so glad that you felt His presence pursuing you all those years and He led you to a point where all your mistakes could be used for His glory. I pray, one day, that my mess can be used as my message too. Thank you again for sharing. It was just what I needed today. :)

  • Joy

    I am so glad you posted!
    For several reasons. One of them being that I am now following your blog and I LOVE your blog name! I love how you said, “But God recklessly pursues his children. Just like I would (and do) pursue mine…” What a beautiful picture and one that I can relate to so well!
    He is already making beauty from your mess :)
    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
    Blessing to you!

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