Meet Emmy Blakely: wife, mother, creative, and founder of the Choose Joy Event. What started as a dream and a desire to provide a community for women struggling with infertility has grown into a ministry and an annual event where both men and women can come to heal, grieve, learn, and grow lasting connections.
Where did the idea for Choose Joy come from? And Choose Joy is an interesting name—guessing there’s a story there?
One night, about a year after we adopted our Penelope, I had a dream. In the dream I was putting on an event for women who were experiencing infertility. It was a place for women who had felt so alone in their journey to find connection and community. I woke up the next morning and knew clear as day that the Lord was calling me to put on this event. I had never experienced such a clear calling. And it was confirmed when I told my husband about it, and he immediately said, "Yes! You should do this." I dove into planning and never looked back.
As for the name, it came quickly. One of the things that I had learned on my own road of infertility was that it is possible to love God and want His plan for your life, even when it doesn't align with your own plan and even when it hurts. I've never really been a fan of the idea of ‘happiness’ because to me it is so fleeting; joy is what sustains you in those tough seasons. So I called it Choose Joy, because in the midst of the hard, joy is a choice.
What was your biggest fear in choosing to take on this adventure, and what made you decide to do it anyway?
My biggest fear was that no one would come. I had no idea how to go about getting the word out, finding speakers, and selling tickets, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had called me to do this and that He would take care of those details. So I forged ahead. I Googled "infertility bloggers", and I just started contacting anyone who seemed like they had a voice and loved Jesus. I would email them and basically say, "So I have this idea... I don't really know what I'm doing... I don't really know if anyone will come... I can't afford to pay you or even pay your way here... but how'd you like to be a speaker?". And miraculously people said yes! And they came. From all over the country. The Lord was 100% in that journey. Before I knew it, I had twenty people lined up to be breakaway session speakers.
But then, three weeks before conference, I had only sold fifteen tickets. I had twenty speakers coming and only fifteen attendees! The breakaway sessions were going to be one-on-ones. I was panicked! But my husband reminded me that God was the One that had called me to put on this conference and that He knew exactly who needed to be there and He would take care of it, and by the time the conference came around we had sold over 100 tickets!
So you did something really interesting with the money you raised from selling t-shirts— you gave it away…..
From the beginning I knew that I wanted to give money away at Choose Joy. The salt in the wounds of infertility is that every option is expensive! I wanted to encourage people that God is way bigger that the cost of growing their family. So at that first Choose Joy, we gave away a jar of cash. I had done a little bit of fundraising over Instagram, and we ended up with $2700 to give away. It turned out that the woman that won had one bill left to pay on her adoption…..and it was $2700. God knew.
Year two the winner had gone through six failed IVFs. She was not open to adoption. Until she came to Choose Joy. Her heart was changed over that weekend, and she went home with $7000 towards her adoption. Within the year, she had brought her first son home.
The third year's winner paid off the rest of the debt from the adoption they had already completed, which had been preventing her from getting the hearing aids she desperately needed. She had enough money leftover to also get the hearing aids!
The fourth year we had what turned out to be one of my all-time favorite Choose Joy moments when we announced the winner, and I was told that she had left the conference early because she was having a horrible allergy attack. We quickly got her on Face Time to tell her that she had won almost $10,000! Money that she desperately needed to finalize THREE adoptions of foster children that had been in her care and to move into a bigger home than the tiny apartment they had been crammed in with a rapidly growing family. They call their new house the Choose Joy house.
This year, as has been true every year, we had very little money for the pot going into the weekend. Then one week before the conference we had a generous CJ family donate $5,000. We also had all of our Choose Joy gear from Fund the Nations to sell at the conference. By the time we were ready to give the jar away, we had over $12,000 in the pot, so we made a game time decision to split it and support two families. It was such a fun surprise to give away a second jar! Both of those families are now working through adoptions with the help of their Choose Joy jars.
Moving forward, what is your biggest hope for Choose Joy?
Choose Joy is already so much more that I had ever hoped or dreamed it could be. In the beginning, I thought it was going to be an afternoon women's conference. And then that first year I had some women ask if they could bring their husbands. I was kind of shocked that their husbands were willing to come, but I said, "Sure! Why not? Let the men come!" It ended up being so awesome having the men there. Women get lonely going through infertility, but at least women will talk about it. Men don't talk to their friends about infertility, so I would say that Choose Joy was even more powerful for the men. This year almost 100 of our 250 attendees were men. We expect even more to join us in Atlanta in 2018!
My biggest hope for the future of Choose Joy is that we would just continue to follow the Lord's leading of our ministry. Every year we spend lots of time praying over Choose Joy and asking the Lord to make clear to us the directions we should take. Last year I heard Him tell me that we needed to stay focused on ministering to the infertile. Adoption is a piece of our conference because it is a wonderful option for infertile couples, but the focus is on supporting people who are grieving their inability to grow their family. People want all the information, but at our heart, we are not necessarily trying to educate people. We just want to build a community... help people make lasting connections that will in turn be a source of information for them on their journey.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to use their story to make a difference for others?
I always say... if you aren't willing to use your story, then how is God going to get the glory? Don't live your pain in vain! Tell people what God has done for you. It is my GREATEST joy when someone tells me that Choose Joy has changed their life (and by the grace of God I hear that often). I am so humbled that the Lord called me to be at the helm of this ministry, because I get to have a front row seat as I watch people discover God's beautiful plan for their family.
I am not special. I do not have talents beyond anyone else. I was just willing. God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called. If He asks you to step outside of your comfort zone, He will provide the tools you need to accomplish what He is asking of you. All you have to do is be willing to say yes when he does call you. And then sit back and be blessed as he uses you to make a difference!
CONNECT WITH EMMY: