Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with SPU alum Joy Staley

If you attempted to sum up all the parts of Joy Staley, you might say she possesses a certain “spiritual invincibility.” Cancer has entered her life four times (what she calls her “four rodeos”), including breast, thyroid, and now, a rare form of liver cancer known as cholangiocarcinoma. Doctors have given her a year to a year and a half to live.

Stop there, though, and you don’t know Joy Staley. She earned three degrees from Seattle Pacific: a bachelor’s in science, zoology (premed) ’66; a master’s in counseling ’70; and a doctorate in clinical psychology ‘06. The 1983 Medallion Award recipient is a licensed land and sea pilot, a pianist and violist, and has done clowning on the side.

She and her husband, Ed, have eight children (two biological, three adopted, three blended), and 16 grandchildren (4 months to 21 years). She refers to her daughters-in-law as her “daughters-in-love.”

“I lean on his word,” she says, explaining her loving bond with God and love for others. Surrounded by doctors at birth, not expected to live, then not expected to walk, she began a long road of multiple surgeries and learning how to struggle with pain and problems. She developed an acute empathy for others in pain and became a psychologist at the Center for Counseling and Psychotherapy and an adjunct professor at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences (PNWU) and at Heritage University’s (HU) physician assistant program in her hometown of Yakima, Washington.

All of which, in a way, led to her wanting to meet Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. His arrival on the team created in her a passion for football. She knew his values lined up with hers. “He is consistent in his faith and has the eye of the tiger,” she says, “without the coldness.” And they share a Bible verse for how to live their lives in Christ: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

When she discovered that Wilson visited children sick with cancer at Seattle Children’s Hospital each week, her desire to meet him grew. She put it on her bucket list and in August, she was treated to a face-to-face with Wilson at Seahawks training camp, expedited by mutual friends and Joy’s son, Shay, complete with news coverage from Q13.

“I know this fellow loves the Lord.” Staley says. “Russell’s not arrogant but kind and warm and unaffected by his fame.” She is informally helping Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation raise funds for the kids at Children’s. “You help people one by one and you don’t get concerned with the numbers. If every person raised a little money or helped someone else in need, what a difference!”

“You help people one by one and you don’t get concerned with the numbers. If every person raised a little money or helped someone else in need, what a difference!”

Staley’s confidence in God and God’s people received a strong boost in her years as a student at Seattle Pacific. It began with her recruitment at a college fair. She had a scholarship to another college, but the Seattle Pacific recruiter had a sincerity about him she could not shake. She switched to SPC and her decision was only bolstered by the joy of the women classmates she encountered in Marston Hall and their enthusiasm for Christ. It was enough to cause Staley to fully dedicate her life to the Lord “and I’ve experienced the power of Christ ever since.” Three of those classmates remain close friends and provide prayer coverage for Staley’s repeated health challenges.

The Staleys have established two endowments for students at SPU, and are members of the President’s Circle.

As the length of her bucket list has changed — “It’s kind of a short list now“ —  Staley’s resolve to do what she can in the time she has left remains unshaken. “To wake up every day with purpose is to realize you have another day to serve God,” she says.

Though she does not bill herself as a “Christian psychologist,” she prays at the end of sessions with those who desire it. She takes care to make her prayers authentic and not preachy.

Besides teaching and counseling students at PNWU and HU, Staley recently began work as staff psychologist at the Union Gospel Mission of Yakima, where one of her doctoral interns serves as a volunteer helping the homeless population with the distresses in their lives. Through the Staleys’  independent mobile medical mission, “Our Ganda,” Joy and Ed help form and lead medical teams from PNWU in collaboration with Ugandan medical staff. They and their team administer health care and distribute Scriptures to six villages. The goal is to eventually reach 600 villages in Western Uganda.

Plus, “Dr. Joy” is quite busy communicating with the one she knows has kept her alive for 74 years. “I’ve always worn a lot of hats,” she says, “but God is central to everything.”

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