She arrives at my door energized and a bit damp from her brisk walk thru the drizzle. Joanne’s happy energy greets me before she even speaks. As a chiropractor and triathlete, she exudes health and the positive body language that comes from embracing a healthy life-style. In fact, her Saturday morning has already held a 2 hour training session and trip thru the Market – it’s only 10:30. But there’s more than fitness behind her bright eyes and quick smile. She radiates positivity and warmth… and she would be mortified by me saying that – or at least, as I come to learn, she would have been as a child…
With full mugs of hot tea in hand, we settle in on the couch to chat so I can discover more about this woman who I think I already know quite well. You see, for the past 19 months Jo and I have spent time together every week in our Lifegroup – sharing the questions, joys, struggles, losses, victories and discoveries of our life journeys. We’re a close group… 7 women, ranging in age and life experiences, but all wanting to do life authentically, in the context of a supportive, God-honouring and laughter-seeking group. Once, in passing, we cheekily referred to ourselves as The Hot Mess and the moniker stuck. We wear it proudly, knowing that we are our best when we face our lives with honesty, embracing the messy range of emotions that goes with it. We face the heavy, embrace the hurts, celebrate the wins and find the laughter – together.
Jo’s and my lives have crossed somewhat casually for the past 15 years, encountering one another in the church halls as we picked up our young children from Movers & Shakers, then our teens from RIOT events, and sometimes chatting briefly over coffee in the lobby. In a large church like ours, that’s often the only connection we get with the people-who-sit-on-the-other-side-of-the-auditorium. Now though, we share deeply, honestly, vulnerably, with huge trust between us. It’s beautiful, and a constant reminder of how God often shows up best through the people He places in our lives. In any case, as I said, with an established relationship between us, as we sit, I feel I know Jo well – but I’m here to find out what I don’t know.
Jo came to Southridge back when it was still Fairview Louth – around 2002. She was searching for a church experience that would speak to the hearts of her husband and 2 children and take her family’s weekly attendance at a neighbourhood church from a place of discipline to desire. She was concerned with the lack of opportunities for her kids to engage with their age group, and a general lack of involvement beyond Sundays. A keen student with a hunger to know God more deeply, Jo had already taken the step of joining a women’s bible study at another church and was discovering the life-giving nature of studying God’s word in the context of real relationships. At the same time, Joanne came to learn of Fairview Louth through conversations with one of her chiropractic patients and was prompted that this might be the church she’d been looking for. The move was made and despite the long drive from Chippawa to West St. Catharines, her family settled in to their new church home.
With her children firmly planted in the Youth programs and her husband appreciating the music and teaching, Joanne looked for her avenue to get more involved. She asked about volunteer opportunities and began meeting weekly with former residents and other attendees who were looking to contribute to Southridge. This innovative group helped carry out the seemingly small but oh-so-important unseen tasks that go into church administration: preparing service handouts, assembling Christmas ornaments, stuffing envelopes and the like. Far more than the tasks at hand, this group gradually became about the organic conversations that wove their way through each session and the relationships that grew from them. Recognizing its innate value, Joanne inverted the word ‘support’ and named this informal but increasingly vital gathering, Troppus. Four years later, she still provides leadership, love, life experience and laughter to this group. Next time you hold a carefully measured bag of beans and rice during our Affluenza series, give thanks and say a prayer for the hearts of the people whose hands assembled it.
About a year ago, Joanne became further involved through the Shelter’s free, bi-weekly chiropractic clinic. I love hearing her describe how satisfying it is to offer pain relief, care and compassion thru the physical touch of a chiropractic treatment… It makes me cringe to say so, but too often we view people who are homeless as “untouchables’ … I see that Jo reaches past that social stereotype and embraces each resident who comes to her as equally deserving of compassionate care as any patient from her private practice – and perhaps even more so. Her tone changes as she describes how she views her volunteering as an opportunity to touch lives and offer healing far beyond the physical treatment… how she prays for each patient as she treats them… how she leaves her sessions at the Shelter more full than spent…
Generous Spirit… it’s as if I suddenly understand what this term means… because I have one sitting in front of me on my couch, drinking tea. I announce this to Jo and clumsily ask her how she got it… how she developed such a generous perspective on life and people. Was she always so big-hearted? So supportive of others…?
Jo laughs at my questions … and here’s where I get my Surprise of the Day. She admits to me how painfully timid she was as a child. She recounts stories of debilitating shyness that held her back from joining the simplest of activities… and she visibly squirms on my couch relaying her horror when a boy on the school bus told her she was ‘cute’. So no, she wasn’t always generous, supportive or big-hearted – she was shy, easily embarrassed and busy trying to make herself invisible. I’m amazed – I hadn’t seen that coming.
Somewhere around grade 9 or 10 – perhaps thru her success on the soccer field, she’s not sure – Jo found her confidence… her true Self. And she moved forward into the confident life in God she leads now; a leader, a mother, a servant, a teacher, a doctor, a volunteer, a Generous Spirit. I’m struck by the reverse God-math of Jo’s story, “… so the last shall be first…”. The underdog became the life-giver. Nowadays Jo is perfectly comfortable entering any situation. She no longer deals with self-doubt. What a profound shift! Where others see differences – better-than’s and less-than’s – Joanne sees equality. That’s evident in how she sees and loves people so generously – our hot mess Lifegroup, Troppus, her private practice and Shelter chiropractic patients, and even herself. And therein lies her radiance.
This story was written by Sue Rogers.