Chonda Pierce is an author, actress and the RIAA’s most-awarded female comic in history. With 10 successful albums to date, she has also authored eight books, including Laughing In The Dark, which inspired a documentary by the same name. While Chonda spent years bringing joy to others through laughter, behind the scenes she experienced great challenges and loss. She shares about her battle with depression and her resolution to always live in the truth, no matter how hard it might be.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Chonda Pierce is an Emmy-nominated comedian and the RIAA’s most-awarded female comic in history. She has been a television host, author and now actress. In addition to ten successful albums to date, she has also authored eight books, including Laughing In The Dark, which inspired a documentary by the same name. While Chonda was bringing joy to others through laughter, behind the scenes she was experiencing great challenges and loss. She shares about her battle with depression and her resolution to always tell the truth, no matter how hard it might be.
Christian Comedian Chonda Pierce: Laughing in the Dark – Jesus Calling Podcast 42
Chonda Pierce: God knew exactly what family to put me in; He put me in a little small church in the south with a father who struggled with mental illness, and a mother who trained us to keep every secret…
But I love those days, and I always say it’s a good thing I grew up in a Holiness Church because, can you imagine how I would have turned out? I’d be a star in Vegas. That’s what I’d be!
My sisters and my brother and I; we were very close. Sadly, when I became a teenager, my big sister was 20 when she was killed in a car accident. We had just moved to the Nashville area.
So that was hard. Then about 19-20 months later, my little sister found out she had leukemia and she passed away in 21 days. So I lost both my sisters by the time I was out of high school and in that tragedy, I think that was also the catapult to just really end the marriage.
My parents divorced and it was one of those very public, sad and embarrassing things in that little, teeny, tiny community where they find out that the preacher’s had an affair; it was just messy. It was just a messy life and an embarrassing way to end a ministry and all of that.
Falling In Love With The Sound of Laughter
My brother married and moved away to Ohio to begin his life, as he should. I went to college and I struggled really, to tell you the truth. Probably struggling to put all of that in perspective.
I was a theater arts major and I loved being in plays. I loved the escape of being part of a production. Then I got a job at Opryland, which was a theme park, and I thought it would be a great summer job. And I fell in love with the role they gave me to impersonate Minnie Pearl.
Just so you know, the only reason they gave me that role is because I didn’t know how to dance, because I grew up hearing that dancing would send you straight to hell in a handbasket. I’ve always said, the inability to dance is what gave me a career.
I just fell in love with the sound of the laughter. It became more of an interest to me than singing a song or the applause of people. I loved the laughter and looking back now, in hindsight, I realize God was using the medicine that I so desperately needed and the medicine He designed to change my life.
I fell in love with that medicine first. The sound of the laughter and the joy that it brought my life was was such a sweet gift; never thinking I would enter into some type of an idea of a career.
Being Completely Honest With God
At that particular time in my life, I met my high school sweetheart and we became head over heels for each other; we eventually married. Lo and behold, we got involved in a little local church and I was just trying to find out who I was.
Then I got serious with the Lord, and I always tell people; I don’t know what your theology is, but I got saved three hundred and forty-two times! Finally, one of those times, it really did strike me. I really did want to tell the world what the Lord had brought me through, and how he had brought laughter to my life and what an incredible, beautiful gift it was.
So, I would entertain at my little local church. I remember we had a Valentine banquet and somebody canceled at the last minute to come entertain our little church. My pastor said “put your Minnie Pearl dress on and give us 15 minutes and then give a word of testimony, because you know, we’re desperate!” It’s like a moment was born in my life.
Every day of my life is being completely honest; and the first person I’ve learned that I had to be completely honest with is God
I’d never focused on “I’m going to build a massive career of this,” you just take the next step. Before long the phone’s ringing and I meet a fellow that says “you know you should go on tour with Mark Lowry.” I’m like, “well, who is Mark Lowry?” And the rest, they say, is history.
It’s those truthful things that I have shared on the stage I think are probably what’s given me a 25-year career. The truth is what has set me free. Every day of my life is being completely honest; and the first person I’ve learned that I had to be completely honest with is God. When I have been completely honest with Him about where I was feeling and where I’m at, I’ve said, “Father, just hold me in this moment. You may not heal this moment. But sustain me through this, hold me through this.”
Battling Depression with Jesus Calling
Jesus Calling came along in my life when I had been through a deep, deep depression and at the same time my sister-in-law and my brother were near divorce. She was a pastor’s wife, and it was just a broken time for our family. It just seemed like we were bombarded from every side.
Man, what a tender time when it came. Doris and I would sit; and in my darkest days she would just read one after another. one after another. It was written in a way where it was fresh and new, and helped the Word be understanding.
When you are deeply depressed and you can’t even focus on words on a page, just hearing it in that way. It brings it to life again.
So now you know, it’s been a tender journey. You know what people don’t see behind the scenes. What I hope they see behind the scenes is the love story that I have with the Lord; is how we’ve just been in this together from the start.
I do believe that God allows us to deal with things as He’s ready for them to unfold in our life and ready to purge them out. To me, I think of our minds as a bowl of marbles and there are times when we can lose a few marbles in order for God to put some good stuff in. I think that’s kind of how my depression came about. I was in my late 40s; maybe mid 40s when I just kept thinking I had this horrible headache I could never get rid of. I wanted to just sleep all the time. I had very little appetite. You know my body was definitely doing something to warn me. Then I had just a minor surgery; something very simple. The doctor says even being put to sleep can reset your brain chemistry. All those things accumulate at the right moment. The perfect storm. I found myself in a deep, deep depression; crying all the time, just sad about life. You know, all the sadness of my life, I just could not get over it. I couldn’t focus on the future. I just I thought; “my career is over. Ministry is never again going to be in the works for me because people will hear you’re depressed.” You know, just the nature of my job is to make everybody laugh. “So now what will we do? We’re a two paycheck family.” You know all those things that just come about in those dark seasons; and I got suicidal.
Learning To Laugh In The Dark
I don’t know that I would have ever followed through with it, but I did confess to my daughter one morning that I was afraid. She said, “What are you afraid of?” I said, “because I was laying here thinking of how I could get on the rocks in the backyard and jump in the river.” I lived on the river then, and she says, “Mom, are you wanting to kill yourself?” I said, “No, I just don’t want to be alive.” She was smart enough as an adult daughter to go in and tell her daddy and later, I have a funny story about saying she told my husband, my husband told the pastor, the pastor told the doctor, the doctor told the Verizon network.
They all took me to Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital, and I praise God that they did. I don’t know that I would have ever followed through., But what I learned about my body and about my mind and about depression at Vanderbilt was life changing. It was something that has carried me through now and for the last 12 years afterwards.
As we all do when we think we’re an expert about something, we write a book about it. I wrote a book called “Laughing in the Dark,” about what I was learning on how to push back on that.
What are some things that maybe the devil is using to whisper negative thoughts in your ears?
Sometimes people are just depressed. They just are down and you look at your body, you look at your circumstances. I tell ladies this every night from the platform. If you lost your husband last year and you still have tough days climbing out of the tenderness, and you hear a song on the radio and it sets you back a couple of hours, you know your body is doing exactly as it should. It is triggering in you the emotion that was created for this moment. If you’ve lost your job last week and you’re just really worried and struggling, your body is exactly doing what it should. Now the converse is true; if you lost your husband 10 years ago and you still can’t seem to function, then we need to go talk to somebody. We need to begin to climb out of that dark. Or everything in your life is great and you still wake up crying every morning. Then that’s a trigger of going, “OK is there something deeper at work here?”
You know, that’s the place to start; looking at what did happen in your childhood. What are some things that maybe the devil is using to whisper negative thoughts in your ears? Let’s begin to repair some of that. There is such hope. I have not had a deep, dark, depressing episode in probably 10 years and that is just the healing power of Jesus. Now I tell the crowd this all the time…”It’s the healing power of Jesus and 150 milligrams of Effexor.”
Clinging To The Rock Solid Foundation Of Jesus
Narrator: As Chonda began to heal from the trauma of her past and move beyond depression, she had yet to face another unexpected tragedy and loss that would require her to lean on the Lord in a whole new way. Once again, Chonda.
As dysfunctional as my childhood was, it was still rooted in the Word of God. It was still rooted in good stuff. I still experienced children’s church and worship services and incredible music. And so when we peel away all the dirt and the mud and the mire, there was a rock solid foundation there that was all about Jesus. So that never returned void. You take that and I look at my husband’s life, and in his childhood, he was not raised that way.
Now he came to know Jesus when he was a high school student and then his walk with the Lord grew and matured from there. We had a Godly home and we worked out all that. But the very root of the foundation of these lies was deep enough. His father was an alcoholic. Every male in his family was an alcoholic. His mother was very dysfunctional. That was the root underneath the mud of his childhood. There was not a good, strong foundation.
So when sadness came to our home, and you can’t be married for 31 years and not have those ups and downs, especially with a wife that travels so much. You know we had a daughter who married and gave birth to a little boy.
Somewhere in all of that, they decided to have a very limited time to be with the family. They eventually broke off completely from everybody; from their grandparents, from us, from my brother; you know, from everybody.
The Five-Year Struggle
For David and I, it was gut wrenching, heartbreaking. It was the worst thing we had ever been through in our lives. We felt like we were just the crying out and pleading “Can we see our grandbaby?” You know it was just tough. And as for the foundation of where I was, I just would cry out to God and I would lean on girlfriends and I would get busy and work. “Let me just go to work and tell people about Jesus.” David secretly spiraled into alcohol.
I remember one time him collapsing at home. I thought he was having a seizure of some sort and he came to bed late and I tried to get him into bed and I said, “something is wrong with you honey.”
And I know this sounds so bizarre, but this is how I guess I had my head in the sand, and I called an ambulance. I thought he was having a seizure. I called my son, who was upstairs in his room, I said, “Come help me get dad in the car.” We got him in the car and an ambulance came and we went to the hospital and they began to run tests. Here’s this beautiful English professor and brilliant man; marathon runner, and all of a sudden he can’t focus he can’t make a sentence.
They ran tests and said “Ma’am your husband’s not having a seizure, he’s drunk.” You could have just said, “I’m sorry, your husband is an alien from Mars. You know, he has green blood.” It just absolutely shocked the daylights out of me, and then I began to pay attention. I went to the garage and I found his stash and I noticed how much gum he chews to hide his breath.
Then he couldn’t hide the secret and it became a full out war that we fought together for five years –it was a five-year struggle: sober a few days, not sober a few days. In and out of rehab; and eventually he had a stroke and he died. It was hard. It was hard. My daughter did come and visit him, but it is still an unresolved sadness in my life that we just pray everyday and give to the Lord every day. It was a shock. Secrets are no good. He tried to carry on, he tried to be bold and brave.
The Word Of God Is Your Life Preserver
I knew nothing about how to handle it. I think sometimes I handled it great, and sometimes I handled it terrible. It’s madness. It is just madness.
I’m at that place in my grief where I can remember now those tumultuous days, and I’m so happy he’s at peace. I’m so glad he’s in the hands of Jesus. He’s at rest and he’s not sad. And he’s not lamenting grand children, and he’s not worried and striving.
If you’re grieving and you’ve lost someone you love, I promise you this will pass.
God has worked all things for good. He has taken everything that we waded through the mud, that we walked out of, He has washed it off and made such great, clean pristine, wonderful pictures out of it.
What the Word of God does for me, and things like the Jesus Calling book, what that does for me is; it puts words on a page that do not change with my mood. It doesn’t change with how I feel. And our feelings are fleeting and you know; praise God if you’re down and you’ve lost your job and you’re struggling to make ends meet, I promise you this will pass. If you’re grieving and you’ve lost someone you love, I promise you this will pass. In other words, even the traumatic things that we go through; they will come and go in our lives. We are in this world and it is a mess. But Jesus says, “I have overcome this world.” In other words, you have to go back to the Word of God based on the fact that you choose to believe it. When you take that Word as fact, that I believe this, then your faith interacts with that and you have a life preserver that will get you through anything.
Narrator: To find out more about Chonda’s books, movies and tour, please visit Chonda.org.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling podcast, we speak with country music legend, T. Graham Brown. T. has recorded over thirteen studio albums and charted more than twenty singles on the Billboard charts, 3 of them being #1 hits. T. is candid about his past struggles with addictions and describes how a special song became a prayer that changed the course of his life.
T. Graham Brown: I wrote “Wine Into Water” with Bruce Burch and Ted Hewitt Bruce is a hit song writer he’s had multiple ones as a writer. So I wouldn’t sing it. Man, I was drunk.
I couldn’t bring myself to sing it. It was a prayer. That’s all that song is, it’s a prayer. “Please please help me. I’m at the bottom of my rope.”
It was five years, I guess; Sheila kept trying to get me to sing it, and I couldn’t sing it because it was a lie. You can’t con God.You can’t run from Him you can hide from Him. You just can’t con God, He knows the score. Hey, He’s God.
Narrator: The featured passage for today comes from the March 30th entry of the Jesus Always Audiobook:
I am the Light from on high that dawns upon you, to give light to those who sit in darkness. Sometimes your circumstances are so difficult and confusing that you feel as if you’re surrounded by darkness. Your mind offers up various solutions to your problems, but you’ve already tried them— without success. So you fret and wonder what to do next, feeling helpless and frustrated. At times like this, you need to look up and see My Light shining down upon you. Gaze at Me in childlike trust, resting in My Presence. Let go of problem-solving efforts for a while. Cease striving, and know that I am God.
As you relax in My Presence, remember that I am the Prince of Peace. The more of Me you absorb, the more peaceful you will be. Breathe Me in with each breath. After resting with Me for a while, tell Me about your troubles—trusting Me to help you with them. Stay close to Me, My child, and I will guide your feet into the way of Peace.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.