Story of Hope: Joy
Joy Mitchell, or “Big Mama” as everyone calls her at Union Gospel Mission, opens her door to show me her cozy little bedroom. Decorated with various photos, flowers, and random artifacts, it’s easy to tell that Joy had taken a lot of trouble to transform this room to be her own mini sanctuary. And regardless of her warning, her room was fairly tidy.
“I try not to sit in here for too long most days,” Joy says. “The isolation can get to me.”
For Joy, being cooped up in her room brings back memories of lonelier, darker days; of days before she had a heated bedroom with a soft bed to call her own; of days when her bed was often the cold ground underneath 18-wheelers, abandoned doorways, and cardboard boxes.
Joy has tasted just how cruel life can be on the streets. She learned to survive the hard way – drugs, alcohol, and prostitution.
“It was hard,” recalls Joy as her body tenses up and her fists clench. Her breathing becomes heavier. She carries the weight of the world once more. “There were times when I almost gave up.”
But after over 40 years of a life dictated by pain and darkness, hope was around the corner, waiting to cast its spell onto Joy’s life.
The rain poured heavily that night. Joy sat on the side of the road, watching the cars zoom past her. She sat there, thinking about her children.
She thought about the three precious babies she gave birth to. She thought about the immense amount of love she had for them. She thought about the day she realized that her kids deserved more than her destructive lifestyle. She thought about the day she decided to give them up for adoption.
“I regret it every day,” Joys says. “Giving them off to someone who can take care of them well, giving them education, and a good home… that was the right decision. But it was the hardest thing I had to do. I think about them every single day now.”
Regret. Remorse. Discouragement. Depression. It was consuming her quickly and completely.
Was it worth going on? Will all of this ever really end?
Suddenly, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Two strangers stood with a kind smile.
“Hi! We don’t know why, but could we maybe offer some help?” they asked.
These strangers took Joy to a Goodwill, bought her some dry clothes, got her food to eat, and gave her some money so she could rest comfortably at a motel. They even offered her some phone numbers to some shelters around town.
That night, Joy lay in that motel room, completely overwhelmed by the kindness shown by these strangers. The dark night seemed a little less gloomy, the silver lining seemed a little more prominent. Perhaps she could go on; after all, these strangers thought she was worth the trouble.
Suddenly, she felt a surge of energy enter her body – discouragement was transforming into a new sense of hope. Tomorrow, she could keep going on.
Fast-forward to August 2013 – It is Joy’s 57th birthday. It had been couple months after her encounter with those strangers, but their kindness had left a lasting mark on her. She was inspired her to seek help for herself.
After a series of events, Joy found herself writing an application for LifeChange, UGM’s addiction recovery program. Her first day there happened to be her birthday.
“It was so special,” Joy says. “They bought me a cake after dinner that day, and sang for me and everything. I knew that day. I just knew that this was the place I needed to be. I felt loved.”
Today, it is almost a year since Joy has joined LifeChange. She has completed her first three months of “Basic Services,” and is about to complete the “One Year Program.”
At the LifeChange Center for Women and their Children in Beaverton, Joy feels as if she has come home to very large and loving family. Her tender and caring personality is why her peers call her “Big Mama.”
And true to her nickname, she takes on the unofficial role of a mentor to the new residents, and enjoys spending time with the children of other residents.
“They remind me of my kids,” says Joy with a sad smile. “One day, I would love to see them. I would like to be a friend, if not a mom. But I don’t know if that’ll happen.”
But for now, Joy finds contentment in being in community with the residents and staff at WLC. She hopes to continue working with UGM in the future, in hopes to help other women who enter the program.
“I’m almost 58. It’s hard being an older woman here. I would love to be able to help other older women who come into the program.”
The Story of Hope series is authored by Leah Abraham, George Fox University student and Union Gospel Mission intern