The following story is a tribute to my beloved friend Joniwan. I call her that because she has been my own personal Jedi Knight, teaching me how to learn from and listen to "The Force." (We would actually call that the Holy Spirit,) and she has blessed me in so many ways it's impossible to fit it all in one blog post. The story begins below:
Awake in the night she couldn't remember why her heart was racing, why she was aware of the shadows pitching back and forth through her room. "Oh, right, bathroom." She chuckled to herself. In her late 40's it was NOT unusual to need to use the restroom multiple times at night.
Without thought she sat on the bed and then stood up. Her left leg crumpled under her like the leg of a paper doll with a human weight to support. The pain...the pain was gripping. It felt as though a lightning volt was running from her lower back down her left leg, into her foot, and then it made it's relentless cycle in reverse. Groaning she managed to crawl into the bathroom.
What to do with a health emergency in the middle of the night when the only other humans around are small children that need protecting? She waited until the light of day arrived before seeking medical attention. A caregiver for disabled patients and the daughter of a registered nurse she knew how expensive an ambulance ride would be to the hospital. In addition, who would tend her children while she was in the hospital?
Diagnostic testing detected a herniated disc in her lower back. It was so badly pinching the nerves that surrounded the disc she couldn't stand. Not just because of the fiery pain but also because the leg would simply not hold her weight.
(At this point you may wonder, what does this story have to do with happiness and inspiration?) Please read on.
Divorced she lived with her two young children in a modest three bedroom home in the suburbs of Portland. She had a station wagon. Of course, both the station wagon and the home required monthly payments to keep them. Work was out of the question. Before she had been the caregiver, now she required a caregiver herself.
Somehow she managed to find ways to provide care and food for herself and her two children. Desperately she tried to sell her home. She couldn't afford to lose the equity that she had built up. It was discovered that her home had been built on a fault line and the foundation was seriously cracked. Selling the home with this flaw was impossible. The equity was lost and she had to leave the home.
Next the car was repossessed. Unable to earn any money it was not long before her situation became quite dire. I won't go into all the sad details, but eventually she found out that to get public housing she and her two small children would have to become homeless. YUP, they had to live on the streets for months to meet the qualification to get assisted housing.
So Joni (she'd had surgery by now, but still couldn't use her leg for any length of time before it would give out), moved into a homeless shelter with her disability, and two small children. Can you imagine being that physically vulnerable and yet trying to care for two children, and protect all of you? The thought is horrifying to me, but Joniwan did it with her typical resilience.
The day that she and her kids moved into an apartment together, Joni rejoiced. She wasn't overly concerned that they had no beds to sleep in. She knew that she'd find a way to overcome that obstacle. Somewhere along this agonizing journey she had learned a phrase that she taught all who were blessed enough to know her, "To think is to create." Joniwan "Created" often, and well.
I met Joniwan when she joined my church group. I felt drawn to her with a powerful magnetic pull. I knew only a few of the challenges that she had faced. I felt connected to her by my own share of struggles, juggles, drama, and trauma.
In fact the first time I met Joni it was because I had testified in church that day about the challenges of living with not only my disability but my husband's as well. She actually told me later, "When I was listening I couldn't believe that there was someone with my problems and also a husband with even more problems!"
Of course, lest anyone feel sorry for me at this point, my husband is worth his weight in gold. (He's a rather large man and that would be lots of gold) In the hardest of times he provides the silliness, and laughter that I need to cope. He is a constant source of joy in our family, and we treasure his presence.
Back to Joni. In a very short space of time we were homies....bff's, sisters in the gospel. I felt as though I had known her forever, and we had just been parted for awhile.
She began to lovingly teach me what she called "creative financing." Lest anyone think that I'm referring to some illegal type of monetary art....I'm NOT! "Creative financing," was finding ways outside the box to get the needed things. For example, my husband and I were dedicated to making certain that our two daughters get the best possible education that they could receive. This involved driving somewhere between 1/2 hour and one hour twice a day to get them to their specialized courses of study.
On those days when we had "Too much month at the end of the money," Joni taught me to gather cans, and then take them in to the store. This would get me just enough cash to pick the girls up for that day. Along with doing all that we could do, we'd pray as though the Lord was doing it all. Between Joniwan, the Lord, and myself we always figured out a way.
I give her direct credit for helping our girls value their education. Our oldest daughter graduated with a Master's Degree from Cambridge University this last summer.
Joniwan was a giver supremo....IS a giver supremo. When you would pick her up to go somewhere (I LOVED having Joni as company), she would approach with her hands behind her back. When she would bring out those hands there was always a precious gift, a delicious cookie (she's the best cook EVER), a fridge magnet (she makes them herself,) some lovely little piece of joy.
One Christmas soon after they were able to move into their assisted living apartment they had ABSOLUTELY no funds for Christmas. So Joni had her son and daughter help her create a Christmas tree out of butcher paper. They colored on decorations, and then taped the creation to the wall. They were justifiably proud of that tree. The day AFTER Christmas Joni bought the kids some goodies at the store. Her comment to me was, "Why would I buy the treats before Christmas when they are more than 1/2 price off the day after?"
I'm writing this portrait of Joniwan as a tribute to her and her loving selfLESSNESS. She has spent hours with me in Emergency rooms, fed my family when I've had to be hospitalized, or just when I was sick of cooking. She's cleaned my home, watched over my kids, and brought unlimited sunshine into my life.
I've also witnessed hours and hours of service she gives to friends, family, and total strangers. She LOVES to serve others. She would say it's to pay back the service given to her, but I think she's WAY past that now. When she needed to clean out her small apartment she listed the things that she had to clean out as free on Craig's list. She REALLY needed the money, but knowing Joni she needed the giving more.
It was almost impossible to move from Portland to Utah and leave my beloved Joniwan behind. We still email, phone, and kept in touch.
This last year, my husband had two heart attacks. We feared for his life. Imagine my surprise when we went to the airport to pick up my daughter's "roommate," (that's what they told me), and coming towards me was Joniwan, her daughter Jessica, and Jess's son Kameron. Joniwan cried, I cried, we hugged, and hugged. It was one of the bestest surprises EVER!
I'm ending this post the way that I started, as a tribute to a beloved friend. Anyone lucky enough to be a part of her life, is blessed indeed. I LOVE YOU my Jedi Knight friend.