Thursday, May 4, 2023


 May Days

It was a beautiful spring day.  It was already warm as spring comes early in Central Missouri.  It was graduation day at the University of Missouri.  I stood at the hospital window and watched the proud graduates stream out of the Hearnes Center.  A happy future awaited them.  I went to high school with some of them.  I was too far away and there were too many to look at faces.

It was 1975.  The hippies were finding Jesus.  The war was winding down and would end.  Patty Hearst was in the news.  And I had just given birth to my third child.  She was in trouble. 

I had seen her rushed from delivery by forceps to the pediatricians.  I asked, what did I have?  The doctor in his haste had failed to look to see her gender.  He went and looked and announced it was a girl.  He looked at me and said Joyce, don’t get too excited, I don’t know if she’ll make it.

As I stood at that window watching the happy students and their families, I cried.  I cried for my daughter.  I cried for myself.  As my peers walked into their future, I wondered what mine would look like.

I was now a single mother in a time when that wasn’t common.  I had two other children, two very rambunctious boys.  How would we live?  How would I ever feed them?  The food stamp program with its Monopoly type money, had just started and I had been first in line to apply. 

My father had died several years before, and my mother had remarried.  She still was a “blushing bride.”  Her attention was on her new life, and not her daughter.  My husband, Allen, came to the hospital with his girlfriend to ask when I was going to file for divorce.  I asked him if he wanted to see our child, he said no.  I told him her condition.  He wasn’t interested.

Life was over.  I was a high school dropout with three children.  While I did have a GED, I couldn’t type and the only job I could get was fast food and very low-level jobs.  And then there were all the issues of childcare.

By the next May, I had finished my first year as a student at the University of Missouri.  Something came over me in my tears the year before – it was a voice that said, you don’t know if you don’t try.  I pieced together financial aid and welfare benefits.  I struggled and we ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.

I went to school year-round and by May 1977 I had chosen my major and my grades were good.  Between summer classes I had a random conversation with a graduate student who would become a father to my children, be my husband, and my life partner. 

May 1978, two more semesters to go.  I was married.  I completed my practicum that summer, applied to graduate school, and was dually enrolled as a graduate student.  Graduation came in December of 1978.  In three and a half years, with three children, I had finished a degree, married, and was expecting.  But there was no ceremony.  There was no cap and gown.

May 1979 and I was back in the same hospital.  I was once again giving birth to a daughter.  This time she went home with me and was healthy.  But I was done with school for then.  I’d get to the Master’s later.

Years came and went.  Joys, sorrows, pain, success, multiple moves, the most recent from Connecticut to Tennessee. I had a successful career and one of the highlights was in May 1995 when I was a congressionally appointed delegate to the White House Conference on Aging. 

Our family welcomed four more children.  Four of my 8 children were born in May.  I now had grandchildren including the one we buried. 

Fast forward to May 2009.  The day had come that for the first time in my life, I would wear a cap and gown.  I would have my first official graduation.  And finally, I walked in a graduation procession as I received a Master’s degree.  Instead of sociology that had been my previous goal, this MA degree was in Biblical Studies. 

The baby who almost died that May in 1975 was there with her daughter.  In December of 2009, that daughter had her first grandchild, my first great grandchild.  The journey from May 1975 had been hard.  And I’m often asked, “How did you do it?”  The only answer I have is by the grace of God.

But there would come another May of significance.  On May 4, 2013, I was once again a graduate donning a purple gown and a tam.  Over my shoulders was a doctoral hood.  All my children were there for this graduation.  We threw a graduation party.  For on that day, I officially became Dr. Joyce A. Lighari. 

That same May, on May 15, 2013 I got a call for my first appointment as a Pastor with the United Methodist Church.  May 2023 I will complete ten years as a pastor and move to something else.  What that is, I don’t know yet?  I know God is leading me onward. I know my journey isn’t complete.  There will be more Mays to remember and celebrate.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Sweet and Sour Sauce

The last few days have been like sweet and sour sauce.  I’m not a fan of sweet and sour Chicken or similar dishes.  I’m more of a sweet hot person.  I love pepper jelly and make my own.  Nothing brings a smile to my taste buds like some hot pepper jelly on a gluten free sesame cracker with some lactose free cream cheese.  I don’t indulge in this culinary delight as often as I’d like because frankly, once I start, I keep eating.

But sweet and sour is a better description of my experiences over the last few days.  Rarely do I get to see more than one or two of my children at a time.  Over the last few days, five of my children were gathered in one place.  It was so sweet to be able to see them, give them hugs, and share a meal with them.  This always delights me and brings the sweetest of memories.

Like the cherry on the top, I got to see my youngest grandchild, a little princess named Phaenyx (Phoenix) ElsieDawn.  I held her just briefly, but it was enough to satisfy my urges to hold this newest member of the family.  Then came the great grands!  Those are the ones I see the least.  Times between our visits are long spaced.  Most of them have no idea who I am.  But I know who they are.  They are the sweetest human beings. 

I held the youngest of the great grands, beautiful little miss Ainsley.  As 16 of us enjoyed a breakfast yesterday, her older brother Aiden and sister Amira played around us.  While oblivious to the sorrow around them and not knowing who most of the people were, their happiness sweetened the day.  The other two great grands, sisters Abrella and Tiana also brought us joy and hope that life goes on.

But the sweetness was mixed with sour.  We were there to celebrate the life of Christopher Jason, my 28-year-old grandson who is now in the presence of the Lord.  So tragic.  So sour.  So sorrow filled.  There are not enough adjectives to describe the pain.  Scanning face of his family, his father, his children, and all those who loved him brought harsh reality amidst the sweetness. 

The moment when the sweet and sour mixed was seeing and hugging my beautiful twin great granddaughters.  These girls lost their father.  To see their little eyes, fill with tears, not understanding the magnitude of their loss, and yet experiencing the power of it.  To hug them and feel the love exchange as we smiled for our picture together, brought the sweetest moment.  Sweet and sour mixed. 

The last time I saw these girls they were babies.  This was also the last time I saw their dad.  I remember the hug he gave me.  It was deep and rich.  I told him I loved him and was so proud of him.  He’s gone.  But these girls live on.  At 8 years old, they can not understand.  Their lives are forever mixed as sweet and sour sauce.  Life is sweet and sour.

My prayer for them, for myself, and all of us who grieve losses is that we will remember the goodness of the Lord and remember:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Friday, March 26, 2021


Have you ever looked at a Kaleidoscope? When I was a kid, I loved those cardboard tubes with the hole on one side. Magnificent colors and design flooded my eyes as I peered into that hole. A twist to the right changed the visual display and a turn to the left yet another. Perhaps because I was a child before the internet – long before the internet – such a simple object could bring such delight. 

Today, I am looking in a kaleidoscope of dark colors and painful memories. Each little piece of brilliant colors and changes of light has turned into torturous memories of previous pain. Each piece familiar and each piece dim. Someone else is turning the wheel. It is spinning out of control. 

Death of a grandchild, I revisit that pain. Each layer of pain is now compounded by the most recent loss. I grieve not just this precious young man, but his brother, and his little cousin who was the first to go. Then I think of a beautiful great granddaughter whose life was snuffed out. Too much pain for one to bear. And yet, my pain pales to that of my children. We are separated by geography, experiences, and even emotions. 

These colors are not full of light. They are muted and dull. They are dark and murky. No vibrancy, no joy. I need time to adjust to each turn of the wheel. But there is no time. 

Fate or life or whatever forces are at work is turning that wheel too fast. Loss of home, sickness, death, tragedy, chaos, disorientation, each turn of the wheel brings another layer of painful memories and new pain. I’ve been here before. I am tired of being strong. I want to sit in sack clothe and ashes but there is no time. Life just keeps spinning in chaos. 

This is my lament. This is my reality. This is the painful existence of my life right now. Prayers will help. But they aren’t right now. Right now, I feel forced to peer through that hole of this kaleidoscope of pain and weep. Like the Laments of the Ancients, I will end with an affirmation of faith: 

  You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. (Psalm 118:28)