Friday, October 2, 2015

Happy 11th Anniversary, Dr. Bruce Banner...

Someone recently asked me if I loved you more now than when we got married. 
Since that was exactly 11 years ago today- Happy Anniversary, babe- I thought I would answer that here as an anniversary gift to my man, since we can't be together. 
When we got married, I had known you for a total of 6 months. 6 months filled with dates where we realized that we may be the only people attending our conservative Christian school who shared a mutual appreciation for the new “Lauryn Hill” unplugged album. You took me to a cool coffee place and sushi on our first date. I told you funny stories to get you laughing that awkwardly loud in social spaces laugh you do. I asked you what you thought about controversial topics just to see how you would answer. I found out that you have a love for words. Not in the “I am a poet” way but in the “I think words matter a lot and I think about what a word means for days on end sometimes.” 
I realized during our dating that you were gonna kill it in Scrabble with that word-love. I found scrabble boring. 
I also realized, during what was almost an ill fated date, that you didn't love games like Cranium, where you may be asked to hum “Hotel California” during a humdinger. I, on the other hand, have always found it enormously entertaining to make a fool of myself in front of others. We were alike in so many ways, and yet so different. You, with your Sonic the Hegehog hair spiked all over your head and me with my pink and purple streaks trailing through my locks. You, being one of the only males I had ever enjoyed talking to beyond...2 minutes or so. I found you so interesting and yet unlike anyone I had expected to love forever. 
Maybe my favorite thing about you then..and now…is the way you loved people and people loved you. It didn't take more than a short conversation with you to know that you were authentic and sincere and naturally focused on the person you were talking to. And the best part was that this quality you had with people was for all people. The ones you knew and the ones you didn't. The ones you agreed with and the ones you didn't. You just genuinely like people and like talking with them, about anything. I have always found people to be the most beautiful and worthwhile mystery on this earth and well worth the attention that seeing them takes. And so, when we were together, we could literally go anywhere and meet anyone...together. I think it's still the funnest thing we do together. 
These and so many other things drew me to you and had me saying, “Yes” when you proposed in front of our small group on that summer night in June. And then, on that afternoon in October, I said yes again...not to an idea but to faith in a reality. Not because I knew what the future would hold but because I knew who held our future. It was a glorious day with not a single regeret (except maybe for how much money I let my parents spend on me...they are so good to us...sorry mom and dad...I'd go cheaper today, I swear).
I loved you deeply and hopefully on that day. But mostly, I really liked you. We had never had any major conflict. It's not that we didn't disagree. It's just that when you like someone so much it's easy to be a peacemaker and move on. Remember that, y'all. If you are struggling to make peace in your marriage, what is keeping you from liking your spouse? It's not hard to not argue with a friend.  Besides, what did we really have to argue about that mattered?

Now, 11 years later, do I love you more than I did the day we were married? It's a bit of apples and oranges if you ask me. The past 11 years we have made and given birth to 5 children together. We have moved so many times I have literally lost count. We have lived cross culturally multiple times. We have faced the possible loss of a child and lived in a hospital for months with him. We have taken home and cared for a special needs child for years together. We have done many years of draining, at times gut wrenching ministry, towards God's people together. We have always never made quite enough money to just sit back and relax. We have disagreed on how and when we should spend that little bit of money. Or worse, just not communicated well about it and both spent it only to find out we didn't have it. Not that that has ever happened...just sayin' it could. We have seen our different upbringings be exposed in unexpected moments. Yes, we have lost jobs we thought we would have and got jobs we thought we had lost. We have made so many beautiful memories together. 5 times we cried and fought to bring our children into the world and you held my hand and cried and fought with me. Then we held our person. A little bit of you and a little bit of me. We held those miraculous people whom we had just met face to face for the first time and marveled at them in a way no other person possibly could. We have seen God show up and provide for us when we thought we may not be able to buy food or pay bills and we were reminded that God loves us...this. You and I together. When Shepherd came home and I couldn't function after 5pm, you would gently send me to bed and let me just sleep away the stress in a cold room on a hot summer night in the pitch black dark, while you waited up for the nurses who didn't come until 11pm. You, holding your little tiny boy with a tube in his nose and a feeding pump and a trach in his neck to breath. But you were brave and you cared for him without “needing” me so that you could care for me. We have argued over your discomfort and my love of dancing in social situations. At one time, we got so worked up we had to cut the evening short and go home... an event which was planned for an elite group of “spiritual leaders” to have a fun night. The irony gets me a good belly laugh every time. We huffed off and then sat in a parking lot and heard eachother out-argued-whatever. I think we understood each other more after that night than we had for years before that. At least as it pertains to dancing, my love. We have argued, a lot some times. Sometimes it was worth duking it out. Many times, it wasn't. 11 years later, we have seen so many good days together. But we have also seen so many hard days that wore us down- flat out weary- and stressed completely out. It's kind of like date night. When we “get away” and it's just you and I ,and I'm like, “Woah, look at that! I like this guy! He's fun!” but in day to day life there are just so many stressors and it's just so unfun sometimes, ya know? When we got married,11 years ago, I loved you. The way I love you on date night. But today, I love you like war buddies love each other. We have been in so many situations, more and more all the time it seems, that break us down to the raw us that often hides beneath a polished exterior. And I think we would both agree that when the worst of us comes out, we don't like it much less love it. There are weaknesses to who I am and weaknesses to who you are that we would never have seen until we were trying to figure out how to speak kindly to the disrespectful ten year old while the eight year old was breaking stuff in the other room and toddler is crying which just woke up the baby who just got to sleep. It's kind of like 11 years ago we married the handsome smart doctor version that Hulk is in his human form, but occasioanly... we are actually married to ugly,destructive Hulk. Sin is just like that, all inconvenient and messy and always there
 Do I love you more now than I did 11 years ago? Totally. That Dr. Scientist with the green skin and glasses and compassionate look in his eyes...that Hulk..He was great and it was fun and easy to love him. But today, you and I both have tears in our white jackets from all the metamorphisizing we've done in and out of so many seasons. We don't look each other, I am sure. I know you, Noah Joyner. And I love you, deeply. Not just cause you're like totally the coolest guy I've ever met. But because sometimes I don't think you're cool at all but I am, with every fiber of my body, comitted to learning to love you better all the time. And not just out of duty. But because you, my wonderful man are a beautiful creation of God, a wonder to behold and the mining of your heart I will have to do in this lifetime to see you, and know you, and then see you and know you all over again day after day. That. I'm in for that. Forever. You are worth any of the effort and you have shown me that kind of love for 11 years straight. Yep, we had every reason to be all doe-eyed on October 2, 2004. Because just as we had hoped, God would show up, and carry us through. Whatever the future held. And He has. And he will.
 Let's do that again. Every day.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Role Swap 2014

Some people take a blogging break on purpose. Like, after much thought and prayer and a candlelight vigil, they elegantly and peacefully step back, gracefully bowing out of their writing for an intentional amount of time for an intentional reason. So sweet. So thoughtful.


No, mine has looked more like a kid who missteps during the dancing portion of the school presentation of "The Nutcracker" and goes tumbling off the back of the stage, landing on her but, where she sits for a while just regaining her composure.
But hey, tomaTOE toMAToe.
Both gals took a blogging break.

Mine just meant that I wrote long, unedited, unfinished blog posts time after time and never posted them.

Life is full.
And I am a blessed woman with her hands oh so full.
Like someone who won "The Price is Right" and then is told to gather her winnings (which include……………..A NEW CAR!!) into her arms and carry them home.
I'm a woman who has been given gifts so grand and yet so weighty that I struggle under the weight of them in many ways.
And so I find myself tripping and stumbling and falling off stages right and left. This is uncomfortable and can be quite humbling. But it can also be a revealing and liberating journey at the same time.

I am who I am.

I am  in progress.

And between these worlds, I learn to dance and laugh and cry and worship.

Much has filled my heart and my life and my mind over these past months that I have ceased to write. Perhaps I will find a clarity to share these things, for they matter greatly in the story of my life. Just as all of our stories and all of the seemingly small and meaningless details matter. Because God is there. He is there. He can be found hidden amongst the mundane and the struggle and the confusion.
But perhaps, also,  these words, or the jumble of thoughts in process  will remain to be shared skin to skin with those who I live and breathe with so closely. I still struggle to find the words sometimes. And though I think there is much value to be had in "being in process" together. What we may have too many of in this digital age is thoughts. Our minds bustle so with the words of the crowd, that I venture to think that the last thing you need is the weight of my experiences which still struggle to find shape to add into the jumble.So, for know, let's just walk forward together.
Shall we?

What really motivated me to break this unintentional blogging break is to invite you to walk through a marital experiment with Noah and I.

This week, which began yesterday, Noah and I are swapping roles in our family.
We will affectionally call it "Joyner Role Swap 2014."
Not WIFE swap. ROLE swap.
I can't honestly remember what exactly motivated this experiment. But here we find ourselves.
The goal is to walk a week in each others shoes the best we can. With that being said, Noah and I wear very different shoes. Well, technically we don't. We wear the exact same size. He's a mens 8.5 and I am a womens 9.5 and we can generally swap slippers whenever we want- which we don't. But I digress.
That's right, a mile in each others shoes.
For a week, I will try to take over the majority of his responsibilities in our family and he will take over mine. I'm not expecting much on the breast-feeding end but he will be homeschooling, cooking,cleaning, grocery shopping (with all 5 kids) and managing the domestic side of our family homemaking. I, on the other hand will try to make some progress in support raising for the work of HaitiLove and The Hispaniola Institute of Theology along with some other things that he would have had on his plate this week (and perhaps some items on a  "honey-do" list).

We have successfully completed one full day.

From this day, I have experienced some new perspectives from our role swap.

1.  Working on a project with not much but yourself to interrupt you is both easier and harder than I would have imagined. And yes, that has only actually happened in my imagination, not ever in reality.  To do the work that Noah does, he has to be highly self motivated.
2. It's a pretty big bummer to see your spouse doing the hard and often stressful work of raising and educating your children and know it would be easier if you stepped in and also know that you really shouldn't. You have to get to work to provide for them and fulfill your responsibilities there. Also, it wouldn't ultimately help much because though you may help them get through that moment, there will be hundreds of other moments today that she won't have enough hands or patience for and she will need you... but you won't be there…
 so just rip the band aid off and go, dude.
3. Also, I think Noah is a fantastic mom. He is focused and intentional. And no one is wondering who's in charge. He is a strong and authoritative and when this is paired with gentleness and self control, it makes for a solid and comforting parent who is easy to follow. The expectations are set high and the boys find a sense of accomplishment meeting them and like knowing what is expected of them.
4. This can also be hard for the kids because I am much less this way. "Running a tight ship" is very much against my natural nature and takes a lot of effort on my part. I mean I run a tight ship if by "ship" you mean  a row boat on a peaceful lake and my crew is me gathering my favorite people around me to enjoy the breeze. So, I see them both thriving and struggling under the higher expectations. It's an adjustment but I think it is good for them.
5. Lastly, I am so grateful that I married my opposite. I've always said that. Or not. But anyway. I am truly grateful in this moment, in this season of life. I can finally appreciate that we are very different people who have unique strengths to give our children. And for this week, they will have the blessings of one strong and loving Father who is doing a fantastic job of being Mr. Mom.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Salem Update

Our second and very  precious daughter, Salem Margaret Joyner was born on Sunday, March 9th at 1:24pm.   Salem is a reference to the Hebrew word for "peace" and Margaret is the name of one of our very favorite women, Noah's momma.

We are so grateful for everyones prayers and concern involving her arrival.  There is some personal and medical information surrounding her birth that we would prefer to keep personal, but we are so grateful for how many friends and family care about the details of our life and hers.
 Because of concern for Salem's safety, I had an emergency c-section.  
Noah, Salem, and I will all be staying at UNC for the next 10 days while Salem is admitted to receive a round of IV antibiotics for an infection I developed in the last days of my pregnancy and could have passed on to her. Mom and baby are both in good health and recovering well. We would love your prayers for our other children, who are currently staying with other family members. We miss them so much and are greatly looking forward to our  family's reunion. I have to stay with Salem to nurse her and Noah has to stay with me until I have recovered well enough from the surgery. We would also appreciate continued prayers for Salem's health and protection along with my recovery-ouch. This has been a draining few weeks leading up to her arrival and surrounding her birth but we have seen a constant and uplifting hand of mercy around us. It has often felt like chaos only to be revealed to be divine order. We have much to marvel at and hope to worship God well through this situation, wether we can make sense of the details or not. Thank you again for all of your concern on our behalf. 
Stephanie and the Joyners

Saturday, February 22, 2014


 ** I suggest starting the youtube video first. That way you can be listening to the song while reading, especially since I reference the song so much in the post itself.**

I'm sitting in my favorite yellow chair this morning with the sun radiating through the big window beside me. Half of my children are sleeping and half are playing legos at the table because dad told them that I needed some quiet time this morning. He then went on to threaten them in ways only a daddy can and so far...success.

Me. Sitting down with my bible.
Why does it take me so long to do the things my very soul needs? 
Why does it take so long for me to simply stop? 
And bow down?

Of course, I should have been sitting in this chair days, weeks before I am now.
But by the grace of God, I am here now.
And isn't that the whole point? I'm no good at this whole thing.
That's why to be a Christian is different than to be....anything else.
It essentially means that I'm most qualified for something by realizing how no good at it I am.
We've been watching the Olympics around here.
And it couldn't more different than that.
In the Olympics, the cream of the crop rise to the top. Step by step. Race by race, the strong get to the podium.
But in this race, this spiritual one, you do best to acknowledge your weakness and your failures. This is how you run.
You run to Jesus.

So, here I find myself.
Being no good at waiting on God.

I've waited many times and in many ways in my life and rarely have I done it well.
When I first heard the song,  "To those who wait," by Bethany Dillon, I was waiting on God to open up a door we could walk through in the midst of a very complicated adoption. It seemed I banged my head into a wall at every corner.
"Bethany Dillon" and "Shane & Shane" came to perform at our church and that's how we met. 

I may have mentioned it before, but my man and his whole family can cook up some good food.
When I met Noah, I was a vegetarian who had just come home from living in Europe for a year and eating food with names like "Hutspot."
He was an educated redneck, whose family cooked an entire pig once a year and actually owned a grill that could fit a whole pig on it.
We were clearly a match made in heaven. 
So, it only made sense that if our church was going to host some of the best contemporary Christian artists in the industry and we were going to need to feed them, we would need to feed them Joyner food.

While the guys made food, I got the privilege of chatting with Bethany and God led our conversation to the adoption we were neck deep in at the time. She shared with me about someone dear to her who had fostered 2 children for many, many years before they were ever able to adopt them and how faithful God had been in the midst of the impossibility of the situation. We then moved on to the concert portion and Bethany shared this new song she had written. At the time it hadn't been recorded so I couldn't buy the CD and listen to it on repeat day in and day out but in that dark sanctuary, while she sang, God spoke clearly to me about waiting on Him.
That was about 3 years ago and God closed the door to that adoption and we continue to wait on Him to lead us in the details of that story.
But now, the big waiting is being done with a full belly, sleepless nights and random kicks to the bladder.
The waiting is being done in the planning of days that all have to begin with "IF I haven't had a baby.." and in the suspension of all normalcy.
I've learned that with the process of giving birth to a child, my waiting is best done quietly resting.
But that isn't always easy.
I would rather be distracted from the present reality than to sit and soak in it.
I find this to be true about all waiting on God, though.

It's in times like these that we are forced to face our impatience. We are forced to face our restless spirits and our quick discouragement. 
My heart is no different now, in this moment, as I wait for something only God has the power to do.
It's no different than when I want people to change quickly or children to learn faster or answers to unknowns to come swiftly.
 While I wait for God to bring this child into the world, I get to see what kind of waiter I really am.
The pressure is on...literally. It's uncomfortable. I want relief. The grass looks greener on the other side. 
It always does when you're waiting.
I forget that there are sweet things about this spot. 
I may have a full belly and no lap to speak of, but I can eat a meal basically whenever I want.
Newborns have a way of getting hungry right when you are. That always annoys me. I'm not gonna lie.
So, it turns out that this isn't just about being pregnant.
Which means it won't really go away when I deliver this child.

It's about Him.
It's about me.
It's about waiting well.
It's about a life that we are in but don't control.

She sings, 
"You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do."
This line in the song is so articulate.

I'll never forget my second borns arrival.
My first was 4 days overdue but I went into labor naturally.
So, I had the idea that my second would come earlier, him being my second and me being so uncomfortable.
Haddon's due date came and went and I could be found squeezing pressure points in the fleshy part of my thumb while devouring Eggplant Parmesan. 
Anything that had the possibility of inducing labor. 
I was doing it.
I walked. 
Shoot, at one point, I was practically running up and down the long driveway of my parents house.
4 days overdue, with the threat of induction for low fluid on the horizon, everyone made their way to church and left me in a quiet house for the first time in a while, free from the buzz of activity.
  I lay down to take a nap.
I stretched out and snuggled up to my pillow water broke.
Haddon is the only delivery that began with my water breaking, and I couldn't find it more ironic.
With all of my doing to cause my labor to begin and the moment my labor began was when I stopped doing.

"Oh my soul wait on the Lord, keep your lamp filled with oil."
"Oh my soul, be not deceived, wait for Him, don't be quick to leave."

I grow so impatient so quickly. And up I jump from this quiet place of waiting. Up to do something.
Let's go on a walk. Let's go shopping. Let's go get me my favorite food.
Something to not have to wait on God.

It's sweet to get family time in this waiting. It's fun to go to the park and walk and get ice cream.
But nothing will heal the anxious heart like stopping.
Looking to God.
Seeing His kind and gentle strength.
Seeing His sovereign hand holding up the details of your life.
And being ok with waiting on Him.

Cause really, I am not waiting on this baby, am I?
This child can't make themselves arrive.
I was not waiting on Haitian adoption laws to change.
I am not really waiting for my circumstances to change.
God is in control of all of the details.
All of my details.
And He's in control of yours, too. 
And we are not waiting on ..... 
whatever we are waiting on.

We are all waiting on God.

And we aren't the first ones to struggle with it...

Psalm 27:14

Wait for the Lord;

    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Psalm 31:24
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!
Psalm 33:20
Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.
Psalm 38:15
But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
Psalm 39:7
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
Psalm 62:5
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him
Psalm 69:3
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
Psalm 130:6
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Isaiah 25:9
It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 30:18
The Lord Will Be Gracious ] Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those whowait for him.
Isaiah 33:2
Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.
Isaiah 40:31
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 64:4
From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.
Lamentations 3:25
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:26
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of theLord.
Micah 7:7
But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

May you be blessed in your waiting as I am an mine and may we all see His face anew because of the waiting, not just despite it.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A teensy, weensy, way late update...

Oh my.
We've been home for 3 months and this is the first time I have even attempted a blog post.
And this particular effort is not because I have anything particularly helpful or insightful to say. It is mostly so that folks who don't live near us and use this blog as a source of updates will know we are still alive.

Ta-da!! Here we are!!!

Obviously, we did make it home from the Dominican Republic.
We do miss the DR and are looking forward to heading back this Spring.
And while we miss our close friends, tropical rain showers, the best beans and rice you can imagine and fresh mango juice,
I've never been happier to sleep in my bed. The bed that I adore.
My Dominican bed stinks. Hard like sleeping on a stinkin' stone tablet.
I've never more enjoyed a dishwasher, consistent power, and a glade plug-in to make things smell all home like.
Let's be honest, American life has many luxuries.
But one that may surpass them all... No really...listen up here...
is the ability to wipe with toilet paper, then drop your toilet paper into a...toilet!!!
Note, I did not say trash can. I said toilet.
And then, miracle of miracles, you just flush it on down!  No, seriously.
You never have to see it again! It's like it never even happened! So liberating.
You just have no idea.
In fact, while still in the Miami airport, one of my kids literally paused mid-way through the process. He looked right at me, toilet paper still in hand, with a look of awe and said, "Mom! Wait a minute! Can I just throw this in the toilet?!" To which I replied with great pleasure, "Yep."
He then proceeded to slam dunk the toilet paper into the toilet like a younger, whiter version of Michael Jordan, then flush the handle and exclaim, "That was fun!!"
It doesn't take much, people.
Some people turn to Chuck E. Cheese to entertain their children.
I merely choose to deprive them of basic comforts and then graciously offer them back at such time when fun is in short supply.
You're welcome.

Once we recovered from our newfound toilet freedoms, we spent the first few weeks transitioning, unpacking, and getting rid of a lot of things. We got home and I looked at the room where we'd been storing things while friends stayed in our house and thought, "It sure would be easier to just get rid of this stuff instead of trying to organize it." Noah is always trying to get me to get rid of things but I find a lot of comfort in the "stuff" I've acquired, especially with all of the moving we do. It's like my own little 401k. I'm not a minimalist by nature and I find a little stuff in a home to give it that comfy, "life goes on here" look.
With that said, there was way too much life going on in our 1100 square feet. And after living with only about 5% of our things for the past 6 months, it wasn't a terribly hard sale. I didn't miss most of it the entire time we were gone.

Also since transitioning back into life in the states, we have started our new school year and we have begun a new year with our favorite Elon Co-op. We have also reconnected with friends and family and church, done some traveling to meet with both current and potential partnerships for HaitiLove, and enjoyed the holidays back here with friends and family. In about 2 weeks (I've had to adjust that number twice, seeing as it's taken me a month to write this quick update), we hope to meet the newest addition to our family. Boy or girl? We do not know, but it won't be long now!
After the baby is born, we hope to spend a couple of months adjusting before heading back to the DR.

I won't write much more, in hopes that I will reserve my blogging motivation and be more efficient in my attempts to update after the baby comes.
But to be honest, this precious life God has given, this present lot that is so divinely mine, fills my days to bursting with life being lived. And I'm not one of those people who thrives on busyness, so the ability to manage tasks and projects outside of the realm of my home and savor the life right in front of me seems to often escape me. 
I love writing. I love connecting in this way with so many other people who I would otherwise be disconnected with.
But I cannot figure out how so many women manage to blog on a daily or weekly basis and manage other realms of their life and home well.
Just one of life's mysteries,
along with stuff like Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle and wether or not Nessie really does live in a giant lake somewhere.

So while I ponder these mysteries, I will also be resting and waiting and preparing and enjoying these last days with my 4 children.
For very soon, we will be a family of 7.
And oh how I love this very full, very small village of people my best friend and I have been given the chance to know.
They keep me oh so busy and oh so tired and oh so happy and oh so grateful...all in the matter of a few moments.
Life is full.
Life is good.
And life is full of good.
Until next time...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

HaitiLove video

Less than 24 hours.

That's how long we have before we're on a plane back to the states.

Back to Fall weather, comfy furniture, and family.
Good bye to mangoes the size of your head, avocados ripe to perfection and friendships that feel a lot  like family.

As we pack up things and ready for our departure, I would like to leave you with a short video that depicts what it is we even do over here in this-
 the poor man's Caribbean.

The message is simple.
The purpose is clear.

We believe whole heartedly that countries and their people are languishing (def. lose or lack vitality; grow weak or feeble.) because God's people are languishing in that country. 
The biggest problem a person/people face is not poverty of things but poverty of the soul.
A person can prosper under all kinds of less than ideal circumstances, 
when a soul is alive and thriving. 

Habakkuk 3:17-19
"Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

    he enables me to tread on the heights."

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
 He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

Fueled by this perspective, our mission is simple.

"HaitiLove is a ministry of the local church that exists to glorify God by loving Haitians through education, proclamation, service, and prayer. It is our practice to connect Haitian and American churches for mutual edification, that results in healthy local churches, that reproduce themselves and transform their communities."

So, we preach the gospel- the life saving, world changing truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and He has to come to rescue a people and make all things new!
And we encourage, support and educate the local Haitian churches here to do the same!

We believe this provides a long term solution to a very long term problem.
We believe that the bible teaches this truth and that it's not a new idea, nor is it "our" strategy.
It is really true that the God of the bible does not just provide lofty ideas and ethereal philosophies.
When spiritual needs are met, it transforms all other areas of life.
Practical areas of life.

Most of the time, it quite simply,
 looks a lot like this...

HaitiLove: What we do... from noahjoyner on Vimeo.

If you would like to know more about how to invest in the work that we do, please feel free to contact me through the "Get in Touch" button on the upper right hand corner of the blog.
Also, we would love to keep you updated through our frequent newsletters and ministry updates. If you're interested in this, go to the HaitiLove website and click the "subscribe" button.
Also, the HaitiLove website has been revamped a bit and is a great resource if you have more questions about the ministry of HaitiLove.
Thank you for all the ways you all keep connected with our family.
We are so very grateful.
The Joyners

Friday, September 6, 2013

What are you thinking?!

"I don't get it...
What are you all thinking?!"

Have you ever looked at someone else's life and said these words?
Or maybe you just thought it.

Maybe your response came from a place of judgement, but more likely it comes from a place of sheer confusion. You just don't really understand why someone would do...that.

Our family gets the shocked/confused/perplexed face fairly often.
There are some choices we have made as a family that don't fit into the "norm" and often times folks are simply confused as to why we would choose this seemingly nonsensical path.

In this post, I seek to explain a little bit of where we're coming from, as a family.
Not to defend any one world view.
Not to speak for anyone else who has made similar choices.
Simply to expose our hearts and intentions,
in hopes that it will be easier to understand us.
And who knows?
Maybe you know someone like us and it will help you understand them a little better too?
The goal is not to have you necessarily agree with us.
There's nothing wrong with disagreeing.
There aren't any 2 people in the world who always agree.
I think that it's not  the agreeing that's important.
It's the listening.
And the understanding.
I have found in my own life that it's easier to distance myself from people who I don't understand.
And it always seems easier to keep misunderstanding than it is to seek to understand.

I also think that, most of the time, when we stop and take the time to listen to people who are different from us, we will find an immense amount of compassion and grace hiding in our hearts.
SO, like I said, I am not speaking to any one particular person or for any group of people.
And please know that I am not speaking against anyone who has differing opinions. 

Just here to say...In case you've ever wondered...this is where this family is  coming from.

Often times, I think people think we are either
 Super crazy,
Super weird,
or Super Spiritual.
I think we are non of the above.

But then again, from where I sit, it would be hard to say, definitively.
At least about the weird and crazy part.
I can say definitively we are NOT super spiritual.
We are just regular people whose lives really were made new and redirected by a Super natural event.  We were made into new and different people after being drawn into a personal relationship with the  God of the Bible.
This one relationship does motivate all of the choices that we've personally made. But that is because we serve a very personal God who very personally leads His people.
It doesn't mean that our choices are "distinctly Christian" choices or ones that all Christians should make, if they love Jesus.
With that preface...

What kinds of things exactly do we get funny looks for? What kinds of things do people ask us questions about either directly or indirectly? Here are a few.

1. Why would you take your family (especially all of your young children) all the way to a third world country to live? Isn't that selfish or foolish at best? Surely, their quality of life and safety is greatly compromised. You're not just some bohemian couple who can travel at a whim. You have to think about your children, too.

We've chosen to live, for a time, in the Dominican Republic instead of our small town in North Carolina, where all of our family resides. This does come at a level of sacrifice. But every choice you ever make will come at a certain degree of sacrifice.  Even living in a nice, big house in Suburbia and having the best insurance possible will come at a sacrifice (Someone has to work long, hard hours to afford said life). The real question becomes, "Is this sacrifice worth it?" We live here because we have the opportunity to serve Haitians living here and we consider this work to be something God set aside for us to do as part of our "life's work." For how long and in what capacity is totally up to God.
We believe certain things about our personalities and dynamics as a family have been given to us as gifts from God, to help us accomplish the tasks laid before us. It's not so much that we do these things because of our personalities or desires, but that our desires and personalities are tools for us to use.
For example-
we like change, are pretty resilient, enjoy traveling, don't mind living minimally, are fairly laid back by nature, etc.
We do think about how our choices affect our children. This is of great importance to us. We are not comfortable sacrificing our children at the altar of work wether it is called ministry or humanitarian work or being a good doctor, or teacher, or plumber. They are a great priority to us and we expect that whatever choice we make as we follow our good and loving God (who greatly loves them too) will have powerful affects on who they become. We also expect that our choices, just like all parents, will have some "negative" affects and some "positive" affects on them. Many times, it is hard to see from where we sit how it will all shake out. Our hope is that our children will be flexible, resilient, sharp-thinkers, who can process much of the unknown world around them and love people well regardless of where they come from, because of the experiences that they are having in their early years. We hope that they will be strong and have the ability to do things that are uncomfortable with servant hearts to lead those around them.
it could be that they become people with OCD who crave stability and avoid riding in tight minivans at all costs, so as not to relive their childhood of being packed into gwa-gwas with ladies who carry chicken's in their purse.
Hard to say.
Gonna have to trust God on that one.
And love them like crazy, regardless.
And be willing to apologize.

2. When are you all going to stop having kids? And why wasn't it a couple kids ago? 
The other day, we were walking through Sosua, a town here in the Dominican, close to where we live.
We were waiting at a cross walk. I carried Joey in the sling on the front of me and held Shepherd's hand while Noah held Aslan and Haddon's hand. Sosua is a not a town intended for families and the crowd that frequents it's streets are, well let's just say, not generally families.
A couple of ladies zoomed up on their moped to the light where we were waiting to cross. She looked at us wide-eyed and counted out loud while pointing at each of our children, "Uno, dos, tres, quatro..." wherein we couldn't help but interject in unison, while pointing at my belly, "cinco!!"
It was like a cheesy moment from a Spanish Sesame Street episode.
They laughed and shook their heads like, "Crazy gringos," and off they went.

I think those moments are funny. I am  not a person that is easily offended and I get that it's just completely out of the expected norm.

So, why do we keep having more kids?
Well, one reason is...
 we like it.

I enjoy being pregnant.
I really enjoy all of my kids.
So the thought of more is a pleasant one.
It's not totally complicated.
It doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your kids as much as I enjoy mine if you've chosen to have less children than we have.
I'm just saying it's not all that puritanical.
We are young. We are happily married. We do what young, happily married people do and we get pregnant and we're ok with that. God could have designed the conception of a child a million different ways and he chose one specific way.
And we aren't in a place at this point in our lives where we want to go to great lengths to redirect His natural design. We know most people do and that they love God just as much,if not more, than us.
It doesn't mean we are trying to make some sort of "statement." It doesn't mean we have a number of children in mind for our family. It doesn't mean we will have more after this baby, or that we won't. We will just take life one gift at a time. There are certain ethical convictions we do have about the gift of children and the sanctity of life and God's design within creation. We have no idea what life will hold for us and for our future.
We just know that we want to have hearts that are always open to the gift of a child.
For a child truly is a gift, in every way.
Always. regardless of their health, regardless of their gender, or the timing of their birth.
We want to have hearts that are filled with thankfulness, when gifts are given to us.  We, as people, cannot always recognize a gift when we see it at first. But we want to always have hearts predisposed towards gratitude.

But how will you provide for all of these children?! Financially? Emotionally? Spritually? Eeeeeek!!!!!

This is the one we get the most. People are generally most concerned about the financial element, which I find surprising, to be honest.

Noah and I are Americans. This means we are from one of the richest countries that has ever existed in all of history. At least for now.
Of all people in the world, it is hardest to make an argument for having less children in America because you won't be able to provide for them.

Right now, we live in a third world country where people truly struggle to feed their children.
With that said, we are from a country where parents are almost ALWAYS able to feed and clothe and shelter their children if they so desire (barring mental illness or some other unique circumstance.)
Maybe not exactly how they want to but not because there simply isn't enough work or food or shelter.

Noah and I live the way that we do by our own choosing. Financially, this means that currently Noah has chosen a vocation that offers a product that does not bring in it's own income. Therefore we, like almost all people in our type of work (pastors, humanitarian/aid workers, some non-profit employees, politicians, etc) rely on the financial support of others who want to see us do the work we do. If people who believe in the mission of HaitiLove did not give, we simply could not do the work we do. But they give because they believe that this is God's mission and not just a personal whim of our family. We strive to gain more support on a monthly basis and this is a major area of prayer for our family.
With that being said, God has always provided for our family, abundantly.

In many seasons of our lives, God has provided for us through a job that brings a direct income for it's service (i.e. electrician, carpenter, youth pastor).
Noah has done many jobs and provided for our family in many ways and this is always a priority to him. Our children have never gone without needed food/nutrition and we don't ever expect them to.
I choose not to work outside of our home to bring an income and Noah chooses to be in full time ministry right now.
And we choose to live with the limitations of these choices. Our children have never complained about all of the time they get with me.
They may complain about not getting to pick out any toy they want at Target or eat out whenever they want. But that is just life. No one always gets what they want.
At any point in time, if God ceased providing for our family to do what we do, we are left with numerous options.
part of the reason Noah and I can do what we do is because we have a low expectation of financial "stability" and a high threshold for financial "instability."
What this means is that we are simply more comfortable with a certain level of "financial instability" than most people. This is a matter of both preference and conscience.
Most people prefer to live at a level of material comfort that is slightly higher than ours
 (though I do like material comfort aplenty. More on that in a moment.)
I think it just has something to do with those special "tools" God has given us.
 I'm not saying that we are slumming it or anything. We are not poor. Trust me. We just have less than most Americans.
BUT, I honestly do not care if we ever own our own home.
I could care less of we have 2 cars... or 1... or none (though I'd prefer one to none;). I doesn't bother me much if I drive a junk heap that will keep me from having to stress over spilling coffee on the upholstery. Or if I get the opportunity to drive a beamer that I don't eat or drink in. Either way is fine for me...I think. Don't have much experience with the latter;)
We don't need a spacious home. I don't have to have a "new house" or a "nice house." I've lived in both. They're both equally a home to make memories in.
It's not that I don't care AT ALL or that I don't struggle with materialism. Trust me. I DO.
It's just that I don't care enough to let it drive us to make different lifestyle choices.
I'm as materialistic as the next gal. I love shopping. I love beautiful things and regardless of if we live in a trailer or a big house, I will try to reflect the beauty of our Creator in both order and creativity.
I just don't HAVE TO have _______to be happy.
I may want it some times. Bad. But not enough to go work a full time job. Not enough for Noah to go get a job somewhere else only for the sake of "financial security."
Especially because "Financial security" tends to be a false illusion anyway.

Anyone can lose their perfectly secure job at any moment so making decisions solely with financial security in mind isn't what makes most sense to us.
Especially when God is so clearly leading us down a path that may not offer financial security but does offer the peace of following obediently after Jesus and His plan for our lives.

It's perfectly honorable to work hard at whatever you do and even to seek financial stability for yourself and your family.  We seek to do this through raising our own support and having our monthly support goal be one that provides things like insurance for our family.
But this is also why I say it is a matter of conscience. Some people would have to betray their conscience to go without insurance for a time or not provide certain things for their family that are either real or perceived needs, so it would be wrong for them.
But we are fully at peace with the choices we've made and feel that our entire family is well provided for.

Sure, all those kids may not seem like a big financial burden NOW, but wait till they're older or worse... in college!

Yeah, maybe.
I don't know because I've never had teenagers or children in college.
Here's what I do know.
I have three boys right now who eat like grown men.
I plan to restrict all sports in our home so that extra calories can't be burned, therefore raising poets and artists, instead of athletes.
This is a practical step towards keeping the grocery bill down.
Oh, Shoot!!
But I need them to play sports so they can get scholarships because I can't afford their college!!
Well, crapper.
I'm up a creek on that one.

But seriously, here's the thing.
I know I am not enough for my children. 
Neither Noah or I were made to give them all that they ever need in life.
We are 2 people with limited time, resources, patience, etc. But we will live and make choices both knowing this and yet simultaneously acting like we are enough. I don't know if that makes sense.
Here's what I mean.
My children aren't a side note in my life. We make choices assuming that they need ALL of us. And yet, we will run up against our limitations and our humanity time and time again. And this will not be surprising to us.
They were not made for us and us for them.
They were made for God.
And, gratefully, His limitations are truly endless.
There will be so much we cannot be for them. So much we cannot offer to them. Not just financially, but in so many ways. Yet I have no doubt that they will always have all of what a person really needs in life. They will have all that God has in His endless resources available to them, if they want it. A person is so much more than flesh and blood and circumstances. They are people with a body, a soul, and a mind.
 My hope is not to offer them everything but instead to offer them the real things.
They will struggle and they will find places of great need and there will be times I want to rescue them or offer a way out and I cannot. But God knows what they really need and they were made for Him and His plans for their life.
So they will be ok.
Life is hard. And life will offer us all many obstacles and disappointments and I hope they will experience some of this reality in the environment of a loving home before they have to experience it in a harsh world with people who don't know or care about God being at the center if it all.
This is of immense comfort to us.
And this is a big reason why I am not afraid of having 5 children. Or no retirement. Maybe I should be more afraid.
Maybe one day it'll hit me like a mac truck. But I don't think it wise to make decision based out of fear. I am not afraid about my future or about my children's future. Proverbs 31:28 speaks of a woman hopeful about the future, "laughing at the days to come..." even though she doesn't know what exactly they will hold.
Our lives may be terribly hard and they may be terribly wonderful and they may be both. And that may or may not have something to do with the amount of children we have or our lack of savings. Our children, thus far, have brought us an immense amount of joy and we look forward to the next one.

As far as college goes...
I am not planning on being able to afford my children's college education.
Don't call Social services yet.
To be honest, that would be the case wether we had 1 child or 12 children. College in America is very expensive and though I don't know the future, I don't anticipate Noah and I making the kind of income that affords many of the college options available.
This doesn't mean I have stolen opportunities from my children.
They are free to go to college-if they want to.
They don't have to.
Maybe God has made them to do something that doesn't require a college education and they are dang good at it and they love doing it more than anything else.
They should do that thing.
Maybe I end up being better at this homeschooling thing than I realize and one of my kids is crazy smart and wants to be a doctor.
They will need to go to school for that.
And lots of it.
And we can cross that bridge when it gets here.
They can, believe it or not, work their way through college.
It may be really hard. But hard stuff isn't bad.
Maybe they're smart enough to get a great scholarship.
There are plenty of options available for almost any goal.
I want to raise children who know themselves and their gifts very well. I want to raise people who know what God has given them to offer this world. People who know where they're going in life before we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure it out.
And then, once our children know where they wanna go, we will do everything in our power to get them there and pray for all of the the things outside of our power.
We're in 100% to see our children be successful.
There are just lots of unknowns and many ways to define success.
We are choosing to invest the majority of our efforts into their person as a whole in the present and not worry about their future and all of it's unknowns.

If we can build people.
I am confident that they will build lives.

On that note, people some times wonder...

Why do you choose to homeschool your kids? Aren't they missing out on tons of socialization and educational opportunities?!

Yeah, Maybe.
There are pro's and con's to every choice. There are things we gain and things we lose from homeschooling. But for our children and our family life right now, we gain far more homeschooling than we lose.
I could sit here and argue for the fact that not all home schoolers are weird and that they generally excel beyond their peers academically. But who cares?
Umm, I think lots of kids are weird.
Lots of people are weird.
And lots of people are smart in lots of different ways.
I went to public school up until junior high and then onto private school and finally homeschool, finishing it off with a good ol' dropout and GED.
Which one of those made me weird, huh?
 I have tried it all and enjoyed different elements from them all. I don't think that there is one way to educate a child. I simply think that it is important for parents make the decision of how to educate their child with a well informed, humble, prayerful attitude. And may they be led by faith. There may very well be a particular child or a particular season in our lives when we choose to educate our children totally different. These are people we are raising! Not robots. May God continue to lead us and may we walk by faith regardless.
We've weighed the options. We've watched our children and we know our family and this is the best option. Today.
It's not the blueprint to building successful people.
It's just us listening to God lead us. Today.
And we are so grateful for the freedom to choose this for our family.
We don't know everything. No teacher does. We have tons of resources, tons of love and tons of insight into these little people. In that sense, we have much more than most traditional teachers.
But it still doesn't mean it's always the best option.
Just now. For us.