Joy Fitzgerald possessed a flawed first impression of him, the love of her life. At first glance, he appeared dry and controlling. He bossed people around, burdening them with countless rules and obligations. And he was the source of her family’s unhappiness.
Joy’s first impression kept her away for 11 years. But when they met again in college and again in Oregon years later, Joy eventually realized that her first impression was, simply put, wrong. The very man she accused of being controlling actually liberated those he loved. His rules that she once hated were, in fact, established for safety. And the understanding that he caused her family's unhappiness was actually backwards: the lack of him served as the source of their discontent.
And when Joy realized this, it happened. She fell in love with him. She fell in love with Jesus.
To Joy, “church”—the place, the culture, the lingo—was all she knew from birth to 11 years of age. While it housed many of her fond childhood memories, church became less about God and more about legalism and the worshipping of the pastor.
“It was all about the pastor and the personality of the pastor and his books and that kind of thing," Joy remembers. "It was less about the Lord, and more about him...it was the kind of a church that if you didn’t go to that church, it meant that you were not a true Christian.”
Joy’s family—her father, mother, older sister, and younger brother—eventually left the church when she was in fifth grade. And Joy never looked back.
back. It was a first impression she didn't care to revisit.
Eight years later, however, when Joy was a freshman at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), she met God again through an unlikely string of events.
In the first quarter of Joy's freshman year, two incidents transformed her naturally social personality into a quiet and withdrawn one: a male student walked into her dorm room and jumped on her. Then, she received threats of being raped. Although Joy was never harmed, being so vulnerable this early on in her college experience scarred her, causing her to withdraw and isolate herself for the rest of college.
With so much time to herself, Joy often explored the deeper meaning of life. Simultaneously, her once-rebellious older sister became a Christian, and the transformation in her life intrigued Joy.
“[My sister] kept inviting me to Bible study. And I kept saying, ‘No, no, no,’ but in my deepest heart of hearts, I really wanted to go,” Joy explains. “I also saw the community she had, and it was appealing to me even though I had decided I was going to be isolated. So finally after a year and a half of asking me, I went.”
For two years, sometimes consistently, sometimes not so much, Joy delved into the Bible weekly with 10 or so other people. Starting in the first book of the Bible, they dissected each verse, discussing the meaning of one sentence for over 20 minutes.
“I was so fascinated by how much there was to talk about in one verse,” Joy says, “and that’s where I think my love of scripture started. I didn’t know Jesus still—it was just fun and exciting, and I liked the warmth of the community we had there.”
But as Joy’s discovery of the Word went deeper, a tension pulled harder within her. She realized that a belief in God meant a change in her lifestyle. A change in whom she married. A change in how she raised her children. Perhaps a change in her boyfriend of six and a half years. Questions like, “If we get married and have kids, will he just stay home while we go to church?” surfaced in her mind. But rather than bringing them up, she squashed the questions with silence. And rather than choose God, Joy resolved that she simply had to let it all go because, at that point, her boyfriend was more real to her than God.
Yet, Joy had more than a first impression of God.
“I definitely think that I had a relationship with the Lord already at that point,” Joy says, looking back. “I didn’t know who He was but I definitely felt close to Him when I was praying or reading the Bible. So that active rejection of Him was pretty…tough.”
Still, after graduating in 2009, Joy deliberately turned away from everything she learned about in the Bible and rebelled. She chose to care about nothing. And morality no longer concerned her.
“And when one thing becomes OK, everything becomes OK,” Joy says. “That spiral is pretty scary.”
In 2011, the relationship between Joy and her boyfriend ended because she cheated on him. Friends have speculated that Joy cheated because she knew it was a sure way of ending the relationship. But she disagrees. Joy recognizes that as she made more and more compromises for her relationship, she stopped caring about what was right and wrong.
“And that’s where my love of truth really came from and love for God's law, not in a legalistic way but just the boundaries He sets,” Joy says.
Lost, broken, ashamed, overworked, exhausted. That’s where the prior year had brought her. So when she learned that her mom needed surgery and would be bedridden for a period of time, Joy seized the opportunity to leave California and return to the comfort of her parents’ home. In November of 2011, she moved to Sherwood, Oregon but not without establishing a couple stipulations for her parents: No church. Don’t ask me to go to church. Joy knew her parents were praying for her. She knew they wanted to see her at church. To know God. To love Jesus. But she didn’t want the pressure. And yet, that first weekend in Oregon, Joy found herself in none other than her parents’ church. Not because her parents asked her to. Not because she felt obliged. Joy found herself at Countryside Community Church by choice. And for every weekend after that.
At the end of the year, the church started offering new Bible studies. As she browsed through the list of classes, two immediately jumped out at her: “Christianity Explored,” which studied what it meant to be a Christian, and “God’s Big Picture,” which looked at everything from Genesis through Revelations and how it all pointed back to Jesus.
I’ve always denied Christianity, Joy thought to herself, but I’m not sure if I even know what “Christianity” is.
Plus, the academic nature of the classes as well as its location—not at church but at the YMCA—seemed less threatening to Joy. Without a second thought, she signed up.
As the small class of six to eight people introduced themselves, Joy made sure to clarify that she was definitely not a Christian. And for the next three months, she would come to class with a list full of questions.
months, she would come to class with a list full of questions. Why did Jesus do that? Why did His disciple say that? What does this mean?
Callan, Joy's instructor for Christianity Explored, remembers her experience vividly.
“There’s a point at which people are sort of led to be somewhat confused by the fact that the disciples in [the book of] Mark are not really getting the picture of who Jesus is,” Callan explains. “And yet, He’s laying out the evidence little by little. And I think there was a point where [Joy] said something to the effect of, ‘Why can’t they see who He is?’ And, of course, as an instructor, I just get the chills and I try to hide my enthusiasm because what that means is, you are seeing who He is and you’re wondering why they’re so blind they can’t see it. That’s a wonderful space to be in.
“When she saw them as missing the point, then I knew she was no longer missing the point.”
It was then that Joy realized her love of scripture was, in actuality, a love for Jesus.
“It was crazy!” Joy says. “I did not know who Jesus was at all, and I just started seeing all of His character and the things He had problems with in the Church and with religion and all of the claims He made and the miracles He did. And my mom really walked me through it, where she said, ‘Jesus is either who He says He is, He’s a liar, or a lunatic. And He’s one of the three, so which one is He?’”
With this, Joy dissected the book of Mark, one of the four gospels that describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. She highlighted and outlined all of the characteristics and actions of Jesus and eventually found herself at a crossroad: Jesus is who He says He is. Or He’s not.
Then, Joy read Mark chapter 15, verse 34, where Jesus, crucified on the cross, cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Tears soaked the pages of her Bible as the depth of Jesus’ despair, for being separated from His Father, struck her so deeply that she cried for three hours straight.
“I always get choked up when I talk about it because I realize He did that for me, and I really didn’t deserve it,” Joy says. “I think [of] when I turned my back on the Lord in college...and the loneliness of feeling that isolation. And I remember what that felt like.
“His separation was much more than [what] I ever went through. And that humbled me a lot.”
Joy still had questions that went unanswered. There were experiences in the Bible that simply transcended human logic. But rather than trying to limit the Bible within the confines of her understanding, Joy chose faith. And rather than mirroring the very people in the book of Mark who tried to corner Jesus with challenging questions, just to find a flaw, Joy chose faith. And rather than judge Christianity based on Christians, like she had done her entire life, Joy chose to judge Christianity based on Jesus, the one she was falling in love with.
When it all clicked, she had a sobering realization that her life without Jesus was a life of rebellion against God.
“From that point in my life, I was so aware that I was a sinner,” Joy says. “I knew that being my own lord was just a horrible idea, and I saw that played out very realistically. If I’m going to follow anyone, it should be Jesus. He’s awesome.”
Two weeks later, in March 2011, Joy silently gave her life to Jesus at a Sunday service.
Sunday service. She let go of her false first impression of Him. She asked for forgiveness for turning her back on Him in college. And she allowed herself to be consumed by His love.
When Joy got home from church, she joined her mom and dad at the kitchen table for lunch. She chewed her food silently. Finally, when everyone was finished, Joy broke the news.
“Well...I gave my life to Jesus today.”
As soon as she told them, her dad hugged her and started to cry. He told Joy, “We’ve been praying for you for so long. And I [thought] about who would be in heaven. And it would be me, your mom, your brother, and your sister, but I don’t know if I could’ve accepted the gift if you weren’t there.”
Joy knew she had to find a Christian community right away. Although living at home as an unemployed college graduate proved to be a time of healing and safety for Joy, she knew it was time to move forward.
One afternoon, as she scoured the Internet for new music, she stumbled upon Josh White. A quick Google search revealed that he also pastored a church in Portland, Oregon, called Door of Hope.
“So I went [to Door of Hope] and I didn’t talk to anybody for three months but went on every single gathering they had,” Joy says. “I just needed to make sure that they spoke about Jesus because He was everything. That was such a disservice in my church life that I didn’t know who Jesus was when He truly is the center of everything.”
When Joy eventually felt like Door of Hope was supposed to be her home church, she jumped in headfirst. What she didn’t know at the time, however, was just how much her life would change there.
In May 2011, just three months after becoming a Christian, Joy met James Fitzgerald III through a mutual friend from Door of Hope. The moment Joy saw him, she fell in love. But, she clarifies, it wasn’t a love-at-first-sight type of love. She really believes that she loved him instantly. James, on the other hand, was on the heels of the most painful season of his life: a divorce. Despite fighting for his marriage, his ex-wife had wanted to leave. Thus, his hope in marriage, and perhaps in relationships altogether, was shattered. He loved God, but he didn’t know about this whole marriage, and even relationship, thing.
Within five minutes of meeting Joy, James asked to take her photo. As a beginner in film photography, he wanted to practice. As the model, she had to stay very still. That moment, Joy remembers, was extremely awkward.
But not awkward enough to prevent them from meeting up again. When they met over coffee a few days later, most of their conversation centered on their love for Christ and how ironic it was that so many believers they knew simply didn’t talk about God. They met for another coffee date after that. And another. And another.
Although it was clear that they were developing feelings for each other, James knew he still needed time to heal. They decided to be friends first. He wanted her to wait. She guarded her heart, knowing there could be a small chance that he wouldn’t want to be with her when all was said and done.
“Joy must have had a lot of patience with me just because, when you meet somebody and they’re still thinking about the person they used to be with, it must be really challenging,” James says of Joy. “She was always very supportive in all the right ways. She would do a lot of thinking and praying for me when I wasn’t even around. It just seemed as though—I would say it was the Lord speaking through her—but she always had the exact right verse to refer me to.
refer me to. She never really tried to comfort me out of her own wisdom.”
After six months of being “intentional friends”, the two began dating.
“She was very pivotal in my healing process,” James says. “It was really invigorating for me to see her excitement in the faith. Her encouragement for me and her enthusiasm for Christ, those two things combined are really what helped me a lot.”
Two years after they met, in April 2013, Joy Kim became Joy Fitzgerald.
Their wedding photos display the deep connection Joy and James have for each other, as their closest friends and family celebrated with them, knowing the process it took to get them there.
But their wedding photos also display a creativity that both of them possess, a quality rich in the Door of Hope community. In fact, when Joy first attended Door of Hope, she immediately noticed the creativity amongst the community. But never did she imagine that it would eventually change the path of her career. Joy loved drawing and calligraphy but only as a hobby.
So when the pastor asked Joy if he could use her artwork in various projects, and her drawings that she featured on her personal blog grew in popularity, and companies and individuals alike began paying her for her artwork, James and pretty much everyone around her wondered why she was still at a full-time job she hated.
“I had a lot of pride in my job and how much money I made,” Joy explains. “Even though my art was taking off, I was like, ‘No, that’s irresponsible. I’m not going to be one of those people.’ But I just felt like the Lord challenging me to see that this was an area of my life that I had totally not submitted to Him.”
Thus, in August 2012, with the encouragement of James, her family, and her community, Joy began her own calligraphy/illustration/styling business, Made By Sohn.
her community, Joy began her own calligraphy/illustration/styling business, Made By Sohn. Although the transition from full-time employee to full-time business owner proved to be an agonizing process of replacing her anxiety with faith, Joy hasn’t looked back. Within two months of launching, Kinfolk Magazine asked Joy if they could feature her artwork in their next issue. She continues to contribute to Kinfolk, and some of her past clients include Nike, Umpqua Bank, and Coldwater Media, to name a few.
“He always surprises me because I always have this idea in my mind of how things will work out,” Joy says, “and He still provides it but in a different way than I expected. Sometimes, you kind of miss it because you’re so involved in the details, but then you look back and you’re like, ‘Whoa, God, You really made that happen.’”
Joy Fitzgerald possessed a flawed first impression of him, the love of her life. But, thank God, He didn’t leave it there. Instead, He reminded her, quietly but very presently, that He was worth it. And when she finally opened her heart, it happened. She fell in love with the God who has a bottomless bag of surprises for her.
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