Chonda Pierce openly discusses some of her most painful life experiences, including an abusive upbringing, her husband's struggle with alcoholism and his death in 2014. She offers hope and encouragement as she describes how God's grace has sustained her, and how it is sufficient for all of us through our dependence on Jesus Christ.
Chonda Pierce: I lost my husband and I never thought I would dream to havin' to say that. I never dreamed I would be a widow. It's what they call spiders and old women. And now I am one and people say weird things to you like, "I'm sorry to hear you lost your husband," which really sounds irresponsible. (Laughter) It's not like I laid him down at Walmart and forgot where I put him. (Laughter) "I'm sorry to hear your husband passed," like a kidney stone. What? (Laughter)
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John Fuller: That's Chonda Pierce and she's got a unique ability to describe some of the more challenging and meaningful moments in life and in the next moment or two, you'll laugh out loud with her humor. You're gonna hear more from her on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller,
Jim Daly: John, let me ask you this. Did you know that Chonda is the top-selling female comic in history?
John: In history?
Jim: I mean, that was amazing when I learned that. She's been doing stand-up comedy for 25 years, I think and it was our great privilege to have her speak at our Focus on the Family chapel just last month. And like many comedians, Chonda has experienced a lot of pain and sorry in her life and she's learned to deflect some of that with her humor.
But the real message isn't in her jokes. As you said, John, Chonda has a gift of revealing God's purpose and plan for our lives, even when she's makin' us laugh. We should mention that Chonda has a new film coming out next week called "Chonda Pierce: Enough" and this will be a one-night premier on April 25th in theaters all over the country. So, you can look at your local listings for where it's showing.
Now I know everyone's gonna enjoy today's message from Chonda, but don't be surprised if she makes you think about your life, as well as your faith.
John: Uh-hm and here's Chonda Pierce, speaking at our staff chapel, our monthly get-together on today's "Focus on the Family."
Chonda Pierce: I was hopin' he would read a lot of Scripture about grace and mercy, 'cause you're gonna need it for 30 minutes. (Laughter) I grew up a preacher's kid. For any of you that don't know what I do, I didn't set out to be a comedian. I was tryin' to tell my testimony and people kept laughin' in my face. (Laughter) So, it really kinda hurts my feelings. So, after I got through therapy, I decided I could make a living doing this. I grew up in a holiness church, which would explain these leather pants. (Laughter) We all have a little rebellion in us we have to continually give it to the Lord.
But I'm grateful for my holiness roots. I really did grow up where the hair was tall, the skirts were long. My grandmother never wore lipstick, makeup, never adorned herself in any way. She was a godly [woman], she was ugly, but she was a holy woman. (Laughter) And I can say it 'cause she was my grandma.
She died when she was 98, had never wore a pair of slacks in her life. Isn't that precious? So, just before they shut the lid, me and some cousins put some jeans on her. We thought that'd be so funny. (Laughter) Just like when she got to heaven, I wanted to be there so bad, so she could say, "Lord, these are not mine, Lord." (Laughter) I did not put these on me and I could tell you who did. (Laughter) And she's goin' to hell in a handbasket." (Laughter)
I heard that my entire life. "Say that again, you're goin' to hell in a handbasket." "Do that again, you're goin' to hell in a handbasket." "Wear that again, you're going [to hell in a handbasket]." I was 14 when I asked my mother, "How big is the handbasket? (Laughter) 'Cause me and four cousins are goin' to hell in the same handbasket." (Laughter) And who's carryin' the handbasket to hell? That's what I want to know. (Laughter) I say you take that guy out. We could be eternally secure. (Laughter) But then we'd have to be Baptists. (Laughter)
Oh, I got a million of 'em. I'm in a different denomination, a different building almost every night of the week and I used to try to keep up with every one of 'em, like a little Christian schizophrenic. (Laughter) I would stand in front of the bathroom when I first started my job. This is the truth. I would say, "Can I wear lipstick? Maybe I better not wear lipstick. Should I put the hair up? Can I leave my hair down? Should … can I wear my earrings? Maybe I should wear slacks. The platform's awful tall. No, I better wear my church dress."
My husband got so frustrated one time he took out an eyebrow pencil and wrote across the mirror, G-R-A-C-E, "grace." I said, "Who in the world is she and what does she have to do with this?" (Laughter)
Just interesting culture, interesting time in my life. And as I look back and the very thing that became great fodder and great material was also the very thing that probably has also been a thing that established boundaries in my life and established good ideas in my life. Now not all those things were scriptural. My mamma argued and argued and argued. If the Lord had meant for you to have holes in your ears, He would've put them there. Hezlamicah 22:4. Which you know, I looked it up, but I couldn't find it. She said, "Just trust your mother."
I wanted to get my ears pierced. You'd think that was gonna be the end of the times. She just cried. She just boo-hooed. You cannot get your ears pierced. It's just terrible. So, I was 18 and I'm not proud of this. It's just part of my testimony.Snuck out of the college dorm, went down to a jewelry store and told those people, "Pierce my ears. I'm 18 now. I can do what I want to."
And they put that little thing up there, pierced my ears and I stepped out the jewelry store and two nuns, completely dressed in habit walked by and I knew it was a sign from God and I took 'em out. It scared me to death. (Laughter) Now I just wear those little slip-on, slip-off [earrings], 'cause when that trumpet blows, you can slip these off and be ready. (Laughter)
I'm tryin' to order food the other day and this girl, "Would you like to [garbled speech]?" you know, silver thing just floppin' out of her mouth. And I was taught you're not supposed to stare, but you're just like, "Ooh, did you get that in the food here?" (Laughter) That's gross. (Laughter) Just an incredible time I've had. This is my 25th year in stand-up comedy and I never thought I would make it this far. Thank you very much. (Laughter) I thought I'd be kicked out of so many churches by now. So, grace and mercy abounds out there. I'm just tellin' ya. It's very, very good.
Had probably the most difficult childhood, along with the most sanctified childhood, if that makes sense.I had a big brother. He was the oldest, the hopes and dreams of all the generations to come. Firstborn children, you know who you are. You get on the nerves of everybody in your family. (Laughter) And then I had a big sister, the firstborn daughter. She's just beautiful. Her hair bows matched her socks, you know. She kept her clothes in hues of color in her closet. She was the most organized girl I've ever known in my life. She was beautiful.
Mother had a way with [names]. My brother's name was Mike and then mother got creative with our names. Charlotta was my big sister. Her name came from my father, Charles, my grandmother, Lottie and mom put their names together and made Charlotta. I thought that was so beautiful and Charlotta was just so all that and a bag of chips, so together.
But my little sister, Cheralyn was a sweetheart. She was really, really sweet. My mother had two girlfriends, Cheryl and Lynn and put their names together and Cheralyn, so that was really, really cute. And then of course, then I was the middle girl, Chonda, 'cause my mom drove a Chevy, but my dad liked Hondas, and (Laughter) I wish that was a joke. (Laughter)
And all the while we had so much fun and laughed and goofed off, it was so important to my mother [that] we had to dress alike. Now I don't think every preacher's kid back in the '70's had to do that. I think my mother just really set out to add as much dysfunction to our lives as possible. (Laughter) We had to dress alike. We had drawstring skirls, 'cause elastic was too worldly. I think McCall's 2243 was our pattern. (Laughter) We had little bow-tie blouses and we had little patent leather shoes with the lacy socks. You know what I'm talkin' about? We looked really cute. It was hard on my brother, but he uh … (Laughter)
And then one day crisis came. The interesting thing in my childhood, it was great and fun and righteous and joyful and merciful and it was as dysfunctional and painful as could be.
I was the age of 14 years of age the first time I heard the word "manic depressive." And we went as a family to find out how we could keep dad's mood in a more even keel and what was going on with him when he would swing so high in manic and then add an addition to our house or go buy another car we really couldn't afford. Or he would get so engaged in visiting and you know, hanging out with people in the church.
He would just try to burn off that adrenaline, that manic state of him. And when none of that would work, he began to turn on inappropriate relationship[s]. And I don't remember a time in my childhood when my dad pastored a church where there was not something inappropriate and secret that we had to keep quiet.And he would preach on Sunday.
And it's one of the driving forces that every time I get a chance I do look at men in my audience, which is very few (Chuckling) and I tell them constantly, the best thing in the world you can do for your family is the man that you are on Sunday, it must be the man that you are on Monday. Because when it's not that way, it sends such a mixed signal to your children about, who in the world is the Father God and how is He involved in my life?
I can remember so often that finally a doctor put my dad on Lithium, a little blue pill that I think would've helped. And back in 1969, that was about all that they could come up with and a group of people circulated a little petition through the church that if the pastor took medicine for his mind, they would have no confidence in his preaching.And in his unmedicated, uncounseled mind, it got worse and worse and that little pill would've changed my life.
But instead, I saw how taken upon themselves and sometimes in our self-righteousness, we begin to tell others how God is supposed to heal them, when everything I've learned and read is, God's ways are not our ways.
A little lady came up to me one time and said, "I don't think you should talk about taking antidepressants. That makes your faith look weak. I said, "You need to take your glasses off and drive home." (Laughter and Applause) Yeah, it went over about like that, too. (Laughter) Some things we're still not sure about.
My big sister got in the car to head off to work early one morning in 1976 and she was hit head on and killed instantly at the age of 20. And when that kind of trauma comes into a home that is already unstable, it just wreaks havoc.
The devil loves bad times, doesn't he? And he loves to compound them all with the shame and regret and frustration and so, we buried Charlotta in a beautiful little cemetery in Tennessee.
And it was about 19, 18 months later, my little sister came home from high school and we were very close. My brother had moved away. He was much older than the rest of us, so we were very connected and very close, kinda surviving this trauma together. My father had left town and Cheralyn got a sore throat. We thought it was the flu bug at first. And they ran some tests and found out she had leukemia and 21 days later she died.
I remember standing at the gaping hole as they lowered her body in the ground and noticing that my other sister's grave was still dirt. The grass had not had yet a chance to grow. And I yelled across that gaping hole to my mother and about five little church friends and my father way off in the distance with someone. And … and I hollered at that gaping hole and said, "Well, we're droppin' like flies." And everybody kinda chuckled and then, "Ooh," about like a few of you did and it was just a very inappropriate thing to say, but it was a great relief for me.And I learned then that sometimes you could shout out your humor or you could make a joke or a sarcastic remark to deflect what was really goin' on inside.
And I praise God that at some point in my life, God flipped the switch for me and taught me what a gift that hearing the voice, the sound of Laughter, the medicine that it can really be. And it wasn't long until I found myself in counseling and trying to find relationship with God, not based on my mamma's religion, not based on my grandma's religion, but based on the Word of God and what it says to me and how God feels about me. I think those are the miracle moments of my life.
John: We're listening to a special message of comedy and profound truth from Chonda Pierce today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. If you'd like to get a CD or download of this program, as well as a DVD by Chonda called Laughing in the Dark, call 800-A-FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio for details. All right, now more from Chonda Pierce.
End of Program Note
Chonda: Married my high school sweetheart. Best-lookin' man in my high school, a stud. Sat right behind me in speech and drama class, stud muffin. (Laughter) Little more muffin than stud there at the end, but (Laughter) we came from very interesting and probably similar dysfunction though. We loved each other very much and it was difficult at first, because my mother didn't really kinda prepare me about, you know, life, married life. I didn't see what, you know, a good family structure looked like. So, we had to make some of it up ourselves. And then some of things, she didn't even give me the talk, you know what I'm talkin' about?
I was 23 years of age when my mother came in my bedroom the night before I got married (Laughing) and said tomorrow's your big day. Guess it's time we had that little talk. (Laughter) Twenty-three, a senior in college and she's gonna give me the talk.And she would always whisper it. "I guess we need to talk about (Whispering) S-E-X."
I was raised with such a fear of God and a terrifying that He's waitin' to pound me any moment if I just step out of line, if my hem is the wrong length. He's just waitin' to get me. My grandma [said], "Do you want the Lord to come back and catch you kissin' that boy?" "Do you want the Lord to come back and catch you in the back seat of that car?" "Do you want the Lord to come back and catch you in that movie house?"
You know how hard that is on your honeymoon when you've been raised like that? I had to put a "Do Not Disturb" sign and a note to Jesus on the door. (Laughter) "Dear Lord, if You come back today, please circle the block. I've waited a long time for this." (Laughter) Okay, lighten up; you can laugh. (Laughter)
All that to say, we had an incredible time. We went to Florida for our honeymoon to get some sun. She got a daughter instead. (Laughter) [There were] a few things my mamma left out of her brochure. (Laughter)
Just the love of my life, so much fun, just a great guy. He was a writer. He used to write murder mysteries for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. About every other story he would write was about killin' his wife and buryin' her in the backyard. So (Laughter) I stayed on the road as much as possible. (Laughter) He's crazy.
So sweet and out of the clear blue, it's a long winding story of how we got there, but we had a tragic thing happen in our home where you do what you think you can do as a parent. You do all the very best things. You think you're doing right and we had a child that up and decided they just wanted very little to do with us and it just rocked our world.
But all that to say, my husband spiraled into alcohol. Now I knew nothin' about alcohol growing up in a very holiness, you know, church. We used Welch's grapefruit for communion. I knew, if we would, if it even smelled like it was getting a ferment in it or somethin', we tossed that out, 'cause you'll go to hell drinkin' that real stuff. (Laughter) I mean, I've been in a few churches that serve the real stuff. I get in line a few times just to test it to see if it is. (Laughter)
And my husband spiraled. His health declined for about five years. I watched him struggle through that. I got off the road. I tried to do what good wives do. I tried the tough love and all of those things, but try as I might, he died, 53-years-of age, he had a stroke in the woods. We have a farm in Tennessee called The Funny Farm. And we have little cabins and a two-acre lake stocked full of bass and we host missionaries and their families and pastors and their families when they need a vacation.
They come to The Funny Farm and that's what we do when I'm not on the road or we're not writing. We would clean the linens and clean the bathrooms and get ready for the next little load of pastors' families and love it. I just love it. I have all those cabins wired so I record everything that happens. (Laughter) I need the material. (Laughter) Plus I have job security, let me tell ya. There are some churches that will have me back. (Laughter) I know too much. (Laughter)
I lost my husband and I never thought I would dreamed havin' to say that. I never dreamed I would be a widow. It's what they call spiders and old women. And now I am one and people say weird things to you like, "I'm sorry to hear you lost your husband," which really sounds irresponsible. (Laughter) It's not like I laid him down at Walmart and forgot where I put him. (Laughter) "I'm sorry to hear your husband passed," like a kidney stone. What? (Laughter)
And so, he passed away. You know, you do romantic odd things in the middle of your grief in that first initial trauma. And we were in the middle of building a house on the farm. We had decided to move from our home which was an hour away. We were gonna move closer to the farm so we could take care of things more as we got older. And we were in the middle of building a house. And when he passed, I just knew that would be the most perfect place to put him, so I had 'em come and dig up the footers, take away the lumber. I told the contractor, thank you, but no thanks and we buried him there on the farm. I knew not to put him in a cemetery by my mother.
(Laughter) I'm just sayin'. Resurrection morning, if he came out of the ground and that's the first person he saw (Laughter), I was worried he might not want to go. (Laughter)
It's been three years and then the unthinkable happened. Those well-meaning girlfriends, the one that tries to tell you when it's time for you to move on, how do you regulate that for someone else? They came to my house and they left me a note on my laptop setting on the counter and it just said, it had a password and a user name and my credit card. So, they stole my identity to do this.
And they just said, "We did this because we love you." And you open it up and it was four dating sites that they had signed me up for. Now isn't that wonderful?
Match.com, Christian Mingle, which I think there's a little minglin' on there that's not too Christian if you ask me. There's another one called Plenty of Fish or somethin' and it's free and now I know why. It's pretty (Laughter) loose and free. And then, oh, the other one, Our Time. You have to be over 50 to be on Our Time, which really means you have very little time left at all. (Laughter) And by the pictures on there, you better hurry up. (Laughter) I told someone, this is either gonna be the best material of my career or the most depressing thing I've had to do in my life.
They wrote me up a[n] online dating profile. Now here's the truth. If you run across it, let me just tell you the truth right now—I have never done yoga in my life. (Laughter) My downward dog is squattin' in the woods somewhere. I do not (Laughter) do yoga. You know, they tried to make me sound all youthful and fun and energetic. I don't exercise five times a day. I walk to the frig, (Laughter) you know, and so they wrote this whole profile. The men's pictures on there, here's what the problem with the world today. The men my age are lookin' for women about 30 years younger, because they are pretty sure that's what they deserve. They're gonna need that to push their wheelchair up the hill. (Laughter)
And so, you get these pictures. One man's picture still had a[n] oxygen tube under his nose. (Laughter) I'm like, you couldn't move your oxygen tube long enough to take the picture? And evidently none of these men online have friends, because no one has taken theirs. They're tryin' to take their own picture and they don't know how to take a selfie. They stand in the bathroom and take a picture of themselves. (Laughter) I'm sorry. What is the creative process of that? You're in the bathroom one day and you go, "Well, you know, the lighting's good in here (Laughter). I think I'll take a picture of myself." It's disgusting!
And so, I said, well, let me just do this myself. Let me write my own profile. Let me write who I am." And it has a paragraph on there on eHarmony, on all of them. Write a paragraph about who you are.
And then it dawned on me. I have no idea. First of all, I was a wife for 31 years. I was David's girlfriend all through high school and college. I was a mom and very much still a mom to my son, who's really great, but he's 27. He needs to move. (Laughter)
I was a daughter of a pastor. I'm a standup comedian. I've got platinum records and gold records hangin' on the wall, but who am I really? And so, you peel away all the pain. You peel away the grief. You peel away the dysfunction. Who am I and what would I put on this paragraph?
And then the sweet saints of the church come back in my ears and begin to whisper the Sunday school lessons and the beautiful songs and the Scriptures that I've heard all my life that are brought to mind when I need 'em most.I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The God of the Universe counted the hairs on my head. He kissed me on the cheek one morning and rocked me and cuddled me and loved me and told me I'm great. And then He placed me in my mother's womb.
And that same Father God started life with me and He will end life with me. He is my Comforter and my God and I have found out that with Him and because of Him, I am enough, more than enough.
John: A very special message from Chonda Pierce today on "Focus on the Family, as she shared a bit of her life story and testimony at a recent Focus chapel service.
Jim: I love how Chonda brought the message of her faith around full circle. She began with humor about the foibles of her strict religious upbringing. But here at the end, she acknowledged that the foundation of faith she learned as a child was solid and trustworthy, something she could count on despite all the pain and hardship that she has endured. That's a great truth about God's faithfulness to all of us. We all need to acknowledge and embrace this fundamental truth of God.
John: Yeah, it's remarkable how she maintained her faith and how God worked in her life. I think a lot of people would've been very bitter and probably even blamed God if they went through some of the things that she endured.
Jim: Well, it's natural, John and I'm sure some of our listeners, some of you share similar stories of loss--brokenness and maybe that dysfunction. I know I do.
And maybe you're still in a dark place and haven't reconciled with God over these issues, like Chonda has. If that describes you, can I urge you to contact us here at Focus. This is why we're here. Christian counselors are prepared to talk with you, to help you, to put a resource, a tool in your hand, maybe to pray with you, whatever will help you in that spot you're in right now. So, don't wait. Contact us today and begin your journey back into God's loving and healing embrace.
John: And our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or you'll find help at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: If you liked what you heard today in our message from Chonda Pierce, we've got a great DVD that documents her life--her humor and her journey to faith over the past 20-plus years. It's called Laughing in the Dark. And I'd like to send you a complimentary copy of that when you sent a financial gift to Focus on the Family today. It's true, we depend upon the generosity of friends like you to help us rescue and strengthen families and provide the counselor, websites and all the other tools and resources that I just mentioned. So, can we count on you today for your financial support? I hope so, as together in the name of Christ, we strengthen families.
John: Donate today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And of course, when you get in touch, request a CD or a download of today's program. I'm sure your friends and family members would enjoy hearing this, as well.
Now Chonda Pierce has a new film coming out called "Chonda Pierce: Enough." And it's gonna be a one-night premiere in theaters across the country on April 25th. We'll have more details at our website.
And finally, when you're at the site, take our Listener Survey. We're linking over to that so we can find out what you like and perhaps, what you'd like to change about our program. And we do need to hear from you, so please make sure you take our Listener Survey.
Coming up next time on "Focus on the Family," we'll have godly hope for victims of sexual assault.
Mrs. Kathleen Terrill: The shame was immediate and it was palpable. The fear and the shame was completely overwhelming. And in that moment, my entire world had been rocked. Everything I needed to be true felt foreign suddenly and that shame and that guilt felt almost like the only thing that seemed real.
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John: On behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Chonda PierceView Bio
Chonda Pierce is a Christian comedian, TV hostess, author and actress who has brought laughter to audiences around the country for more than two decades. The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) best-selling female comedian of all time, Chonda has earned five Daytime Emmy Award nominations and is ranked among Pollstar’s top-selling live performers with six Platinum DVDs and three Gold DVDs to her credit. In 2015, Chonda Pierce: Laughing in the Dark made its one-night box office premiere in more than 500 theaters nationwide. Now available on DVD, the documentary is a deeply personal glimpse into Pierce’s life chronicling the tragic loss of her husband. The follow-up feature, Chonda Pierce: Enough, hits more than 750 theaters around the country for one night, April 25, 2017. The all-new documentary serves as a powerful reminder that our value is found in Jesus Christ. Learn more about Chonda at her website, chonda.org.