When I began volunteering as a pastoral counselor at Lake City Church, some called me ‘Joanie on Thursdays.’ Joanie Dwyer had been on staff, working full time in Care Ministries, for several years. When she felt ready to slow down a bit, that’s when I entered the scene. For many months we shared the same office.
Prior to working with Joanie, I had known her only from a distance, and from that vantage point, had a hunch she was a special lady. I love when a casual acquaintance—admired only from a distance—becomes an intimate friend whose story you learn to know and start to share!
Joanie is a multi-talented woman. She’s also a woman who’s navigated much sadness in her lifetime.
One of her most notable talents is photography. From the first time I saw this picture, hanging in the office we shared, I was drawn to it. When at last she told me the story behind the picture, I understood why it had captured my imagination.
Joanie’s life was turned upside down when she became widowed at a young age. The death of her husband, Chad, was the second time she had lost a significant man. When Joanie was 14 years old, her father was killed in an oil refinery explosion. The untimely deaths of these two dearly-loved men left a deep hole in her heart. She lugged around emotional baggage similar to that many dealing with loss and grief carry.
The load became enormous. Exhausting. One New Year’s morning, while at Lake Tahoe, my friend rose before dawn and drove to a secluded area. Joanie told me, “As the sun broke forth, reflecting on the water at the horizon line, I lifted my head toward Heaven, opened my arms wide, and roared, ‘Okay, God, I’m letting go!’”
Then she shot this photograph.
The trajectory of Joanie’s journey changed after her relinquishment that New Year’s morn. At times forward momentum was slow, but always steady. God lead her in good ways, ways filled with significance and meaning. Ways that have benefited many. Ways that have blessed me.
The first feature of this picture I noticed was the shadow of a cross in the snow. Joanie said it took her a year before she saw that detail, but when she did, it added yet another layer of significance to her amazing experience of…
…let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. (Hebrews 12:1-2 GNT)