Cara Joyner

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What to Remember When Leaving Your Church

LeavingChurch-2I didn’t know leaving would be so hard. I couldn’t really imagine how it would feel to separate ourselves from the community that grew us. That building and those people were synonymous with home. And after 22 years of life in that place, leaving felt like leaving home.

For a number of reasons related to God’s calling on our lives and the places He wanted to grow us, leaving was the right decision. But with such sincere love for the community we said goodbye to, it was important to us that we finished well.

People leave their local church for good reasons and bad reasons. Whatever the catalyst is for stepping away, how you leave is just as important as why you left.

For those making the difficult transition out of their worship community and into another, remember the following as you begin saying goodbye.

Join me at RELEVANT Magazine to continue a conversation about how we can love our churches well, even when we move in different directions.


Do You Want to Get Well?

Let me tell you a story.

There once was a man who could not walk. For 38 years, he lay by a pool thought to have healing powers. The idea was that occasionally, the waters would stir and whoever could get into the pool would be healed. For 38 years, this man watched the sick move into the water. And for 38 years, he could not reach it.

One day, Jesus passed by this man and noticed him. When he heard how long the man had been there, he walked over to him and asked, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:1-6)

At first, the question amazes me. How could Jesus ask that? Isn’t it obvious?

In what seems like a humorous childhood memory, I recall the young girl who hoped her sore throat would still be there in the morning so she could spend one more day watching movies instead of going to school. I laugh and think, “I guess I get it.”

But then I remember myself at twenty-two. I remember sitting in a therapist’s office and talking about my eating disorder; and I remember the subtle sense of satisfaction I felt. I remember how much I hated the thought of it actually being gone one day.

I remember a hurt and angry wife; staring at her husband with tears in her eyes and knowing that no matter what he said, anger seemed to taste better than forgiveness. I remember understanding the change and sacrifice required to heal – and wishing I could just stay mad instead.

Yeah, I definitely get Jesus’ question. Join me at iBelieve to continue reading and to join the conversation about what it means to want to get well

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The hottest thing I’ve done for my marriage

Okay, okay…one of the hottest things. But you don’t get to hear about the others : -)

I didn’t expect it to mean what it did to him. I definitely didn’t expect it to be attractive.

There are people who feel the need to be heard on just about everything (that would be me) and then there are people who aren’t worried about being heard. They are humble and patient. They don’t complain and they rarely demand things be done their way. This is my husband. He makes me better.

In our toughest moments, he has never shied away from admitting fault. He is quick to apologize with sincere kindness. I’m quite sure this quality has been what’s kept us afloat on many occasions.

It’s taken more than seven years for me to realize that while he is swift to say “I’m sorry,” I am not. There’s a pattern to the way my apologies tend to function – we have a difficult conversation…in my mind, I realize I’m wrong…I back out and try to wrap things up so we can “move on” without me fully admitting that quite yet…I come back later with a lame apology after my pride has had some time to deflate….he graciously accepts.

The more I thought about it, the more I saw it repeatedly play out in our relationship.

Personal growth is rarely, if ever, easy. It usually requires sacrifice and that can often be difficult to push through. But let’s be honest, some change is easier than others. Sometimes, opportunities for growth make us feel like “the bigger person”. Other times, those opportunities remind us that we originate from dirt. At times, growth can be immediately empowering. And then other times, put simply, it sucks. Sorry. That’s a crude, non-poetic way of describing it. But that’s the best word I have right now. Sometimes, personal growth sucks.

Growing in this area was going to be that second type of change. It was not going to leave me feeling like the wiser, more generous partner in the relationship. Because you know what? It may not be easy to forgive, but at least we feel as though we are in a position of power when someone else wrongs us and we let it go. There’s no feeling of power when we look someone in the eye, in the heat of strong emotions and raging pride, and we vulnerably say, “I’m so sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

Nope. That’s not what I call “easy growth”.

Walking away to shake some pride and then return with repentance when I “felt better” was not loving to my husband. It was foolish, child-like, and self-centered.

Taking the observation to my small group, I confessed that it was sinful and damaging to my marriage, and I recognized the need for change.

God didn’t wait very long to afford me the opportunity to prove it wasn’t all lip-service. Later that evening, looking across from this man I love, knowing I was wrong, and sensing my desire to call it quits and return later with a weak, “I’m sorry for earlier,” I chose the road less traveled (less traveled for me that is). I looked him in the eye and apologized…not just for the way I was making that night more difficult for both of us, but for my pride throughout our marriage. I told him that I knew it was unfair to refuse to speak the words he deserved to hear when he deserved to hear them on many occasions, and I promised to start doing it differently.

He smiled and exhaled. It was as if I could literally see a weight lift off his chest. “Thank you,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

Then he said something I didn’t expect. “I hope this isn’t offensive for me to say…but that was really attractive.”

We laughed and smiled together. And he explained that it was one of the most vulnerable moments of our marriage – which is really saying something considering a few specific parts of our story and then those two times he held one of my legs in the air while I pushed out a baby.

Remember what I was saying about power earlier? When we submit ourselves to another person in a moment like this, we are laying down that power for the sake of love. In a sense, we are giving that power to another person by asking them to forgive us. That is vulnerable. And beautiful. And in the context of marriage, it’s hot.

I’m amazed at my reluctance to lay down pride…to let go of feeling like the one with the power…especially when I am the one who did something to hurt him. If you can relate in anyway to this tension, let me share the part that really blows my mind…

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Who am I to refuse laying down my false sense of power and control, when Christ – “being in very nature God” – willingly set His power aside and laid down His life on a cross?

I’m also amazed that the very act I have avoided turns out to be one of the most intimate and attractive things I’ve done in our marriage.

I can almost hear all the beautiful women who are much wiser than me nodding their heads and saying, “Ah, yes. Been there.” Like everything I talk about on here, it’s a process. I’m learning, making mistakes, relearning and sorting through the mess.

I’m deeply grateful for a God who lets us in on the big picture of what we actually need, what creates real intimacy, and the truth that the hottest things in our marriages don’t come in little pink bags. They come from gentle vulnerability and self-sacrificing love.


Naming the daughter we never met; and how she is changing us

SDR_2010Today marks four weeks since we began to grieve this loss. Not knowing a gender, our conversations have simply referred to her as “our sweet October baby.” When given the option to run genetic tests that might determine what caused her heart to stop, we gave our consent without hesitation. Grief and coping look different on each person. For BJ and me, the more we are able to know, the better we can process. And let go. The doctor couldn’t promise they would be able to get us answers, but we just wanted them to try. Leaving the hospital, BJ held my hand in the car and we prayed that by God’s grace and provision, their findings might give us some clarity…something a bit firmer to wrap our fingers around.

I went in to see my midwife yesterday and as we discussed my fears about getting pregnant again, she offered to look up the results…to see if they found anything. The report did hold answers – as painful as it was to hear.

Our baby was a girl.

Her system just hadn’t developed quite right and she was missing an X chromosome (Turner’s Syndrome). It was nothing we did. My body had no role to play in the outcome. It was simply a gap in the connections early on. Completely out of our hands.

The knowledge brought new waves of grief and anger, but it also brought some sense of relief. I am all at once hardened and softened by her existence and death. One of my best friends reminded me last night that God is not overwhelmed by my anger, a truth I am grateful for. I am grateful that He meets me where I am, as difficult as that place might be.

My midwife is a beautiful, compassionate woman. She put her arms around me and let my cry. When I was ready to leave, I stepped out into the hall and was met by one of the other midwives on her way to an exam room. She hugged me and I cried again. We talked for several minutes and she let me grieve….completely undeterred by her packed schedule, my awkward sobs, my squirming children in the stroller, or the woman waiting for her at the end of the hall. {I’ll take this short moment to praise midwifery practices and say that this is why I love them. I’ve never experienced such care from any other medical professional.}

Lily Anne Joyner – that’s her name. Lily comes from the name Lilian, which represents purity and innocence…the perfect description of one who will never know anything but love (something my sister reminded me of). Love in the womb of her mother, love from the prayers and belly kisses of her father, and now love in the arms of her Creator.

We have some family plans for how we will remember her. A box to hold pictures, cards, hospital bands and letters from BJ and me. Maybe we can even get the oldest one to throw in a drawing. And by throw, I literally mean throw. If you know my son, you know what I’m talking about. And for the rest of my years, a necklace will hang from my neck with an October birthstone – a daily marker of our precious girl who went before us.

We are changed by her life. Our culture sends some mixed messages about life before birth. Miscarriage is grieved yet abortion is condoned. There is a lot to say here, and she has taught me that I need to start saying it. But for today, all I’ll say is this. She was alive. Her heart was beating and her body moving. And when we had to sign a legal document at the hospital giving our permission for what should be done with her remains, we didn’t sign a line that said “patient”. We both signed a line that said “parent.” This was our living child whom we lost. And we will remember and honor her as such.

She is changing the way I see myself as a mother, redefining how I view my purpose in bringing about life, even if I don’t get to see that life on the outside. She’s making me ask questions about God’s design, His plans and His kingdom beyond what my eyes behold. I don’t know exactly where I come out with those questions. I believe that the world is broken and hurting, full of pain and death. I believe that God is love and compassion and justice. And I believe that He hurts with us. I don’t believe that it was His purpose that she die, rather that losing her is a painful effect of life in a broken world. I believe that He is in control – and that whatever happens with such a tiny soul beyond this world is good, because He is good.

As heartbroken as I am to not see her face, I am so grateful to know that I am her mother. I am grateful for the knowledge that my body conceived and grew her. And I am grateful for the ways her life is changing me.

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On Monkeys, Adam, Eve and Jesus

For the past few years, I’ve had the honor of calling Nicole Unice a friend. Her influence and encouragement have profoundly shaped my perspective, bringing me back to cross again and again. In 2012, she released She’s Got Issues and on April 1, she released Start Here with David Dwight, our senior pastor and yet another incredibly significant influence for our entire family. Many thanks to Nicole for stopping by today to chat with us about what it looks like to start a conversation with Jesus.


It was late on a Saturday night and we were sitting at a bar. There were six of us crowded around, and conversation drifted, the men talking among themselves while the women turned to the normal topics, of marriage and mothering and work. And then she turned to me pointedly and told me about a recent conversation with her kids, about monkeys and people and evolution, and she confessed that she didn’t get it. And maybe it was because of the wine or the time of night, but she spit it out. “If the museum display says we come from monkeys, then who the (bleep) are Adam and Eve?”

That conversation is just one of many I’ve had in my ministry life, over French fries with middle school girls, over coffee with college students, and even over the crowded noise of a bar. As human beings, we’ve all been wired to pursue purpose, to satisfy the inner ache in us that wants to find real, true, full life. And I’ve become convinced that everyone has questions, no matter how far they may seem from finding God. Even if you’ve been following Jesus for years, we can find ourselves asking some of the same questions—who are we? How did we get here? What gives life meaning? It’s in these questions that we can find a common language with our friends who don’t yet know Jesus. It’s in the yearning of our own hearts that we find passion to help others find their way.

I have a friend who once taught that faith is like a treadmill. We all get on the treadmill and can be moving at different speeds and distances—but no matter where we are on the treadmill, at one point, we all have to hit the “start” button. As believers in Christ, we’ve all hit the start button—crossed over from death to life. Some of our friends might be standing on the treadmill but need to be encouraged to start. Hitting the start means going from nothing to something—even if we doubt, even if we have questions, even if we aren’t 100% sure—we can still hit “start”.

After Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman about the water—and life—she was thirsty for, she immediately went back to her town to tell everyone she knew about meeting Jesus. Did she have it all figured out? Would she have called herself a “Christian”? I have no idea—but I do know what the Bible says—“many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39). Before she even knew what was happening, she had hit the start button, because she started talking to Jesus and started talking about Jesus.

We can encourage our friends that they don’t have to have it all figured out before they join our bible study, come to church, or start praying. They can just hit start and we can trust that Christ will meet them there. My friend who wanted to talk evolution on that Saturday night is still seeking. And I hope I’ll be one who can help her press start, trusting that God is the author of our hearts and our faith, and He is always working to draw us to Himself.


NicoleUnice_Webshot1_highres-1024x682Nicole Unice is on the ministry staff at Hope Church and co-author of “Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.” Find out more at or


What I Wish I Had Known As a New Mom

9627-young mom and nurse stood at the foot of my hospital bed and smiled. “Are you ready to go home today?” I looked at her, felt every ounce of the nine-pound baby sleeping in my arms, and fought back tears as I pushed out a short, “Yeah. Absolutely.”

Over the next hour, we received discharge instructions from a pediatrician, my midwife and the nurse – when to call, what to look for, what’s normal and what’s a problem, how much bleeding is too much bleeding, how often to feed and how to know if he’s getting enough, and a number to call when we eventually began to panic. We sat on the bed and held our son; and for an entire hour, I tried not to cry.

Everyone left, my husband went to drop bags off at the car, and as I rested in a chair cradling a squishy baby boy, I cried for the first time since his birth. Through quiet tears, I leaned down and whispered, “I’m sorry. I promise, we’ll be okay.”

Motherhood is unlike anything else I have known. It is beautiful, terrifying, empowering, humbling, and transformative. In that one little moment leaving the hospital, I felt love, fear, guilt and joy all at once. Everyone told me that grace abounds and that I needed to just give myself plenty of room to adjust, but showering ourselves with grace is difficult. What does it actually look like in a world of dirty diapers, leaky milk, postpartum bellies, unpredictable hormones, and maddening insomnia?

Could I walk back and sit across from myself in that hospital room, I’d want to paint a picture of what grace looks like as a new mother. (continue reading at