Finding Light In The Darkest Moments
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Health and Wellness

Finding Light In The Darkest Moments

How a mother and daughter took the ugly gift of autoimmune disease and cancer and turned it into blessing others

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Finding Light In The Darkest Moments
Joy in the Cause

It's the way in which she views the world — such love and warmth. It's infectious. She speaks with passion in her eyes. It's as if her soul is pouring love out to you. You'd have no idea she is battling two autoimmune diseases or the personal struggles she's fought. After being around her, you're forever changed. It moves you to view the world in her similar manner, regardless of hardships you may endure. She is courageous and loving. She has started a movement of joy. Once you've met her, you can't help but want to come along in her joyous journey.

Lisa Jernigan Bain walked into one of her mother's last oncologist appointments wearing a chicken suit, made the doctor wear a giant princess party hat and her mother had on a disco wig. It should have been one of the worst days of their lives, but it ended up being one of the best.

He told her mom, Juanita, it wasn't looking good and it was probably hospice time. Lisa said, "We just made it a party, we passed out all kinds of fun things in the waiting room and we laughed so hard. On the way home, mom said, 'well I feel guilty because this is supposed to be the worst day of my life and I am going to rank it up there as one of the most fun. How many times do I get to go to a doctor's appointment with a chicken, wearing a disco wig?'"

"It was the darkest day of my life but the best day of my life"

On one day, Lisa found out she had two autoimmune diseases and would not be walking in six months. She also found out her mother had stage four cancer and only five months to live.

Lisa said someone once asked her how can the worst day of her life also be the best? Lisa said, "My mom showed me how." They were given the worst news but chose a journey of joy and giving to cope. "We made it a journey to help people and bring a smile. What started as such a simple thing grew to much more than we could ever imagine," she said.

Lisa recounts her mom's motto of giving equals joy, joy equals hope and hope equals healing. "We found joy in the worst day of our lives," remembered Lisa. She is often asked how she is still walking. Her response, "Joy is a powerful thing. When you go out and you make a difference in somebody else's life and you show them their purpose, it is the best medicine ever." Lisa continued, "Mom used to always say, joy is the hardest choice on some days but it is always the right choice and she would say what you see is what you're looking for. If we had not looked for treasures on that really bad day we would not have found them. if we decided we were going to lie down and have a sucky rest of our lives, we would have. "

The otherwise forgotten

Through their own health journey, they became aware of just how many people were in need and had no group in which to fit. This is how Joy in the Cause began. Lisa said, "We would go into chemo appointments and see people being dropped off in taxis." This was just one type of person they realized they could help who was otherwise overlooked.

One of the places they like to help is the Cancer Institute. Each patient in chemo receives a quilt, a stuffed Mavis dog and cookie. Often, this is where they find out about specific needs. For example, many patients have to drive from Kansas or Pryor to Tulsa each day for treatment. Joy in the Cause works with sponsors to get money cards to these families to ease the burden. LeAnn Taylor also goes once a month and finds out miscellaneous needs of the patients and will reach out to Lisa and the team for help. They also adopt facilities like Clarehouse, or organizations like Hospice. Lisa said these are the facilities no one thinks to help. "One lady called me and just wanted potato soup. We made her a big thing of potato soup and got her a care package," Lisa continued. "I went in, sat with her and we ate potato soup."

Helping first responders deal with kids in crisis

Lisa said she was called one day by a police officer asking for her help. The officer told her, this is a call we receive almost every day: "We just decided we don't want our kids, can you come get them? We're leaving."

This particular instance included four children they were just going to leave at a location. The police officers head to the location and find the four children with nothing. From the time they find the kids there is a ten-hour window where they have to split them up and help them find a foster home. The officer asked Lisa if there was any way she could come up with something that can help the first responders in these situations.

Quickly, Lisa thought of giving them backpacks. They also happened to have a book company contact them that provided activity books. Freddy's also jumped onboard and they donated t-shirts for the children. Any time the children wear these shirts to the restaurant, they get all the free ice cream they want. Quiktrip quickly stepped up as well. They wanted to make sure there were two backpacks in every Tulsa police car and fire truck. The only problem is they can't keep them stocked fast enough. Stan May from the fire department recently told Lisa, "We have a complaint... we need more." When they originally met with Quiktrip, Lisa assumed they'd be replacing them every year. Shockingly, they went through 50,000 in one quarter.

In addition to children left by their parents, they also help the trafficking victims. The backpacks are made specifically for the particular victim being helped. For example, they often have to make a care package to get a 4-year-old through a rape exam. Another example is a child who was shot and is on life flight - something comforting to help him live through a gunshot wound.

Mavis Pearl, the therapy dog — "She can make laughs and smiles where I can't"

Mavis has become the face of Joy in the Cause and is a registered therapy dog. Lisa was in the process of getting a new bulldog puppy. She went to the breeder to select her puppy when the breeder caught her off guard. "As I was leaving, the breeder looked at me and she said, 'you are going to think i am crazy but we have a show dog we've been grooming for 6 months, ready to go and I woke up in the middle of the night and God laid it on my heart that I am not supposed to have this dog. This dog is called to something great and I would know the person that was supposed to have it.'" The breeder told Lisa she knew she was the person meant to have the dog. Lisa put up a bit of an argument as she had just picked out her new puppy. The breeder asked her to take a quick look at the dog. The rest is history. "She is like no dog I have ever trained and I have trained many many dogs. She just knows what a person needs," Lisa said.

35,000 stuffed Mavis Pearl dogs in 3 years

Lisa received a phone call one day that changed part of the organization forever. A mother called who's child was terminally ill. The child was moments away from passing and they asked if Lisa would bring Mavis Pearl to lay with her and comfort her in her final moments. Lisa instantly agreed but also wanted something tangible for the child to hold. Lisa remembered she had a small stuffed bulldog.She dressed it up, prayed over it and was content knowing she had something to leave with the girl.

Once they got to the hospital, Lisa said Mavis bolted as soon as the elevator doors opened. "She took me to the little girl's room, she knew right where she was." Lisa continued, "We went into the room, put Mavis on the bed with her and the stuffed Mavis dog under her arm. I went and sat with the parents. It was just a time I'll never forget, one of those forever memories. There was a shift in us going to the next level." Lisa remembered, "She made her journey home and afterward, her mom urged me to make these Mavis dogs. She said, 'You've got to incorporate these into what you do - they are so special.'"

Lisa said the stuffed dogs started out with her and her husband on the living room floor making tutus out of feather boas. She remembered, "We were so ankle deep in feathers that when my husband would go speak he would have feathers all over him."

Lisa affectionately recounts getting her mom, Juanita, involved with the dogs. Her mom lived five years, not five months. She would take baskets and baskets of dogs over to her her. She would decorate the dog and then hold each one and say a little prayer over each one for the person that would receive it. Lisa said, "Mom wanted to make sure they were all individually loved. I've had people say we can manufacture these, but they're missing the whole point - one little dog exemplifies seven people and so many amazing stories."

Paying it forward — those helped become volunteers

Lisa said the thing that sets their organization apart is relationships. Rather than just facilitating a one-time experience, they are creating relationships. Lisa pointed out there are many groups that will go in, give you an awesome experience and that's it. Joy in the Cause goes in to establish a relationship. "People tell me I am going to wear out, but they don't realize the strength of our volunteer base." The group has 400 active volunteers. Lisa said at least one of those volunteers can relate to what the person they're helping is going through. For example, she said they've recently been called to assist women experiencing miscarriages. While she cannot personally speak to that, they have volunteers who can. "They pay it forward that is why we have 400 volunteers. Every person you see in these pictures were people we helped and now they are volunteers," she said affectionately.

Lisa brought up examples of local children with cancer like Bella, Arleigh and Trevor. Lisa said even after a child dies they are with that family. She explained the toll cancer takes on the family. As a parent, they need to be with their child during this torturous time which means they can't work. Lisa went on to say, "They become family - when there is a need, they will let us know. it's hard to ask but they know we are family."

Lisa remembered a beloved member of the Joy in the Cause family named Trevor Yates. He was near the end of his journey with glioblastoma brain cancer. Lisa said when she went in to see him, and his family was distraught because they didn't have the funds to pay for the funeral. They were worried about how they were going to pay for the expense and couldn't just be with their son in his final hours. Lisa told them she would get the whole thing paid for and not to worry. She said she just prayed they would get a sponsor. "You know what, we got a sponsor and then I got to watch that family be present with their son in his final hours," said Lisa. She recounted seeing the relief on their faces. Lisa mentioned the week after Trevor passed, his family was at the headquarters, putting care packages together for other families who were dealing with brain cancer.

Ninety percent of the volunteers of the organization were previously helped by Joy in the Cause in some capacity.

Lisa has met many people who tell her, "We've got your backpack, my son is a foster child who came with nothing but that backpack." Lisa said one lady came in from Aflac to volunteer and instantly broke into tears. She quickly told them about her two foster sons who came from a horrible situation. The lady told Lisa, "These two little boys walked in with nothing but a dog under their arm and a backpack. They told me a police officer had given it to them. It was all they had and they would not let it out of their sight." The lady told Lisa how one of the boys sleeps with the Mavis dog as his pillow - his one consistent item of comfort. Going in, this lady had no idea she had a personal connection to the organization.

It gives them a sense of purpose and healing. Lisa said she's thankful for the walk she's had to walk. Her story shows that helping others helps personal healing. Lisa remembered, "One of the things mom used to say is that it's Christmas every day, Lisa. Did you open up your gifts?" Lisa would ask what she meant and she'd explain. She would tell Lisa, there are many gifts under the tree that aren't beautifully wrapped but they have wonderful treasures in them. Juanita would ask Lisa, "What if you had not opened up the ugly gift of autoimmune disease and cancer? Thousands have been helped because of it." She went on to tell Lisa, "God saw it as a gift, and it helped you find your purpose." Lisa reminds her kids daily to open up all of their gifts, even the ugliest ones. She says you never know what might be a blessing in disguise. have you seen every blessing that might be in disguise?

Donations in motion — benefactors seeing the result of their donation

Altar'd State Clothing recently did a fundraiser on behalf of the organization. Lisa wasn't even aware they were fundraising for them. They not only raised $1900, they also started volunteering. "I showed them where the $1900 went. It went to a group of homeless kids and we got them all backpacks with items they needed", she said. Lisa took a basket to them as a thank you and brought pictures of the boys who were helped by the donation. "They were like oh my goodness, we get to see what we did in motion." She went on, "That was huge for mom and that is huge for me. How many times do we give and we never know where it goes or who it helps," asked Lisa.

Lisa shared another recent example of a couple who donated during a J. David Jewelry fundraiser. "I met a precious couple at the fundraiser and before they left they handed me a check for $500." Lisa said the very next day, she got a call from a very big sponsor. They had a need and didn't know who to call. It was for Walker Hall, an organization who brings kids who are pretty much off the street with nothing. Lisa found out how many they had and went to work. She rounded up backpacks and handmade quilts for every one of them. She walked in to deliver them and her heart broke. She said they were dirty, they smelled and they had absolutely nothing. When they saw her, their eyes lit up. The total to cover each of the young men came to exactly $500. Lisa made sure to take photos and attached a picture of those kids to their tax receipt. "I sent it to show them this is what your $500 did- you made the most amazing impact on those kids." Lisa continued, "You can't do this and not be forever changed, you don't have a bad day and you realize our bad days are nothing."

A personal impact

Lisa said, she loves to tell this story because it exemplifies Joy in the Cause. She said she was walking through a chemo ward with Mavis, handing out stuffed Mavis dogs. A man was sitting in a chair. He started cussing at her, and he was angry. "My feelings are never hurt because you never know what stage of raw they are in or what he was just told, so I walked by and he just cussed me out. I said to him - I am just going to leave this Mavis dog here in your chair, you can keep it, you can leave it, but we care about you."

She went on to remember his call the next day when he apologized profusely for his behavior. He told her he was mad and had gotten the worst news - he had terminal cancer with weeks to live. He told her he left the dog there and then he drove past the front door when something made him go in and get the stuffed dog. He said he drove to a restaurant and was just sitting in a booth, angry. He overheard the family next to him talking about the cancer diagnosis their child just received. He went on to say they were heartbroken and working through the shock. He told Lisa, instantly, his thoughts shifted from his own issues to theirs. He wanted to do something for them. He remembered the little dog in the car. He walked out to get it, came back in and went up to the family. He told them he had been listening to their conversation. He wanted to tell them his story and give something to them to let them know he cared about them and their journey. He told Lisa the second that dog left his hand, he got his fight. He went on to say something inside him clicked. He jokingly said to her, "You're going to say I got zapped with joy but I got my fight and I knew, however, many days I had left, could make a difference."

Lisa believes everybody has a purpose until their very last breath. This organization helps struggling individuals and families realize their purpose, even if it is just making a tutu.

The forgotten seniors

Lisa got a phone call one day about a little old man who's family just drove off and left him. He now had nobody. He stayed in his room for a year and wouldn't come out. The facility asked Lisa to bring Mavis and try to get him out of his room. She gathered up a stuffed Mavis dog, a few volunteers and went to work. She said she walked by his room and Mavis wouldn't go in. Lisa remembered, "She knew exactly what she was doing as she looked in and did her paws up thing. He saw her and pulled the sheets up." Lisa said Mavis backed out of the doorway and started visiting with others. After a few minutes, the old man was peeking his head out of the doorway and then he wheeled out. Lisa remembers the nursing staff shedding tears of joy, seeing him finally out of his room. She said he wheeled out, turned his wheelchair and Mavis bolted to him. Lisa watched as she put her paw in his lap and then her head as he reached down and cuddled her. Lisa also walked over and handed him a stuffed Mavis dog to keep. She recounted how he had tears falling as he cuddled and pet Mavis. Lisa said he motioned her down and whispered, "'You're not coming back, are you?' And I said, 'we are.'"

First Mortgage adopted that facility and they go every month sometimes twice a month. The purpose project is to make regular visits to these senior heroes. They also work with other groups such as Kids for Christ in Manford to decorate the facility and visit them. She said they've had many groups jump in to sponsor such as Walmart, Whole Foods, LifeChurch, other churches, Girl Scout groups and more. Lisa said they get involved and start building impactful relationships.

Help comes full-circle

Lisa said the very first person Joy in the Cause helped was a Down Syndrome baby they sponsored to get to California for a special surgery on his heart. The baby's name was Conner.

When Lisa's mom was nearing the end of her journey they brought her in for Hospice care. Lisa remembers wheeling her in and getting her things ready. The hospice nurse at Methodist Mannor walked in and immediately started crying. She told Lisa she would be her mother's nurse. A little confused, Lisa apologized. The nurse quickly explained, "You saved my son's life, my son is Conner."

Conner was the first person Lisa and her mother, Juanita, helped. Conner's mother was the one holding Lisa's mom when she passed. She was supposed to go home due to a snow storm. She saw Juanita becoming restless and knew it was near. Instead of leaving, she went in there and held her as she passed and made sure she looked beautiful as the family came in. The very first person helped by the organization, in turn, held the inspiration of the organization as she passed. Lisa said that gave her a tremendous peace.

The simplest concept — compassion toward others.

"Mom used to say it was like paying it forward on steroids," remembers Lisa. She explained they are really about providing packages of care to many people in need but also touching the hearts of the community and volunteers. She said not many groups have the active volunteer base they're lucky enough to have. She believes the personal connection makes it different to them- they get to see it in action.

Health is not always from medicine. Often, the best medicine comes from laughter and love. Find joy in the journey you're on.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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