A Look Back and A Look Ahead
As I sit here staring out the window on a warm and dreary day in Northeast Florida, listening to the sound of rain falling onto the trees and grass, I really can’t believe it’s almost December! Time sure does fly whether you’re having fun or not. Seriously.
While my time in Jacksonville hasn’t been the most exciting of times, it sure has been a necessary time of personal healing. When I came here, I was confused about everything and that confusion spilled over into my confidence both personally and professionally. It is really amazing when you can look back and see God’s hand leading you through the past year and I can definitely see Him in mine.
I had an opportunity to get on with the major media player in town, but due to my mental and emotional state it would have been a disaster and I can see God’s hand in leading me away from that job in a miscommunication of interview times. Even though the job I did land barely allows me to make ends meet, I have yet again enjoyed favor in the company and have been able to chart my own course in hours, lunches, time off and the lateral move into a better fitting department. Looking back, I can say that I needed a lower key job while I was going through a time of personal healing so that I could make my way back to the confident, intelligent, go-getter that I am.
So much has happened on the spiritual side that I don’t even know where to begin. God has been speaking into my heart through some of the pastors here in town as well as my home tribe in LA. Don’t you love it when the devil comes at you with brute force and God leads you to a church service where the pastor affirms your stance, gives you confidence and breathes new life into you? That happened to me this past year. I had a Stephen Minister who is part of a local Celebrate Recovery call me stupid for surrendering a certain area of my life to Jesus and actually abiding by His word in this area. He did more than just call me stupid, he was actually trying to coerce me to see things his way so he would have an open door, which I shut and dead bolted immediately. To say this caught me off guard is an understatement. At the time I was going through Redeemed Esteem at Celebration Church, which is a book and corresponding program for those who have past abuse in their lives. I was already in extreme emotional upheaval due to the class, but the devil likes to strike when he thinks we are weak. The trick is – if we are surrendered to Christ and actively putting Him first in our lives – we’re actually stronger than ever regardless of what we might look like to others. I let this man steal my joy for about a month. I had an opportunity to lead big group one night and I couldn’t do it because he was there. I hadn’t fully digested what had happened, how it affected me, why it affected me that way and fully given it to God so I just wasn’t ready. While I do disagree with the fact that he is a Stephen Minister – limited Stephen Minister I should say – I can be in the same room with him now and I pray for his spiritual maturity because he needs it. I kind of drifted, what I meant to say is that the very next day – I went to hear Russ Austin over at Southpoint Community Church and he spoke an entire sermon on the issue with which I had just been challenged. My friend looked at me and said, “ That was for you!”
The last minute, last seat in the Redeemed Esteem class at Celebration was also intended for me. It might even be one of the main reasons I came to Jacksonville. A lot of healing took place in that class. Strongholds that I have had for years vanished in that class. I have shared previously that I have never been able to see myself correctly in that I tend to see someone much heavier in the mirror. I literally freaked out one day because my wrist looked so small. Truth is I think I was seeing as it really is for the first time that day. I like what I see when I look in the mirror these days too. I have a new confidence that I didn’t have before participating in that class and I am grateful for it. I told the leader / author, Patricia Newton, that I am interested in facilitator training so that might be something on the horizon in the new year as she is working to get the corresponding study guide published and on the market. The book is available online and in select stores for those interested.
I have also been challenged to start tithing. I have to admit that I have never been a tither. Namely because I tend to be on the poor end of the prosperity spectrum, but in a recent sermon by a guest pastor at Celebration I felt God hit me over the head. I knew it was my time. I know that when you put God first, God blesses that area of your life and the one area I have yet to give Him is my finances, which by the way, are at a level of devastation that I didn’t even experience in LA! And so I tithed for the first time a week ago. It hurt. I cried. I’m a gluten-free, diabetic who needs to eat. I have a car that is literally on its last leg. I have too much debt to mention. My identity was stolen earlier this year creating more debt that I am fighting. My job is not sufficient, but I knew that when I took it – it was suppose to be a get my wits back and move on sort of position. I didn’t think I’d be there this long and so with all of this going on – I have started tithing! I mean with all of that facing me it seems like a no-brainer – I need to put God first in my finances and I am doing just that despite the fact that I have no idea how I am going to make it through each month. From now on I do the following with each check I receive: pay God, pay myself, and manage the rest. Period. End Point. Ditto.
Celebrate Recovery has been another major healing factor in my life and I also believe this to be one of the reasons I came to Jacksonville. I was just too busy in LA to get involved in CR, but once I moved to Jacksonville, I had all the time in the world. Celebrate Recovery has been the other major component in helping me get my groove back so to speak. After attending the same CR for a while, I was able to move onto the leadership team and start being the women’s small group facilitator. I also help out in big group on occasion and was able to give a mini-mony at this CR’s Anniversary party. After giving my mini-mony, I was approached by a couple other CR’s in town to give my full testimony at their meetings. A few months later I received a surprise email asking me to give my testimony at the Mandarin area meeting and I said yes even though I hadn’t bothered to flesh out a 20 minute testimony and would only have a few days to get it written in order to submit it for review. I am so glad I said yes! I was able to flesh out a close to 20 minute testimony and really enjoyed being able to share my story of transformation with others. That first night is special to me and the crew over at Mandarin UMC were so welcoming. An interesting thing happened that night that I want to share: During the pre-service prayer, where leaders pray for the band, host and speaker, I felt the room grow warm to the point we were all flush. A wave of calm swept over me that was so powerful that I had to ask the angels present to take a few steps back because I felt like I had swallowed a chill pill or muscle relaxant and needed this calming energy to fade just a little bit or my testimony would be rather interesting! The amazing thing is that the energy dissipated just enough for me to be fully there, but also be fully calmed. My nerves left and did not return. I was fully comfortable up in front of everyone and was able to maintain a good speaking flow and a lot of eye contact with the audience. It truly is amazing when the angels come close! Another cool thing about that night is that there were about ten female newcomers all my age in the audience. I, of course, did not know until afterwards when the group walked over to CR 101 and I over heard them saying they were all first timers. God is so Good. I truly hope that my story of transformation helped them to open up to the transforming love of Jesus Christ and to keep coming back to CR of course! I am also excited to do it all again over at the Chets Creek CR in the new year because if there is one thing I love talking about – it is Jesus and what all He continues to do for me.
Hillsong came to Jacksonville for their Hillsong NIghts tour and it was incredible. I tried to explain to my friend that the energy of that night is what it is like to go to Mosaic every Sunday. She couldn’t quite believe me, but its true. I miss the energy of Mosaic and it was nice to have that energy back at Hillsong Nights. The next day I went to Celebration to hear Brian Houston speak on what would become a talk for the dreamers of the world. At the end, my friend, yet again, turned to me and said, “That was for you!”. Little did she know that during that sermon God breathed a new project into my life.
I have only been in Jacksonville a year, but a lot has happened. God definitely had a reason for ripping me out of Los Angeles and bringing me to a moment of stillness so that He could take me up a level so to speak. I am hoping to refresh my website over the month of December revealing a new look and vibe for the January 1st 2016 post. I am also going to be expanding into the vlog/video world in the new year. This is the project that God breathed into me over Hillsong weekend. I have finished the brainstorming phase and am moving into the content creation phase which will be followed by deciding on a home for the content and of course, production. I do not yet have a launch date as I don’t yet know if this content will be on my site, on YouTube or somewhere else so stay tuned as info becomes available. Lastly, God has laid it on my heart to work on a memoir in the same vein of my CR testimony only on a much larger scale. I probably won’t start on that until the video content is off the ground, but you never know because God’s time table and our time tables are not always the same.
I guess it is sufficient to say that I am grateful for 2015 and excited to see where God takes me in 2016. My motto is always Stay Gypsy… Stay in His Wind.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of You!
P.S. my friend Ruth is currently trying to fund a well through Generostiy.
Her project page is give.generosity.org/ruthwarner
Feel free to read up on all the amazing work of Generosity Water, donate to my friend’s Well, spread the word, buy some goods or start your own Well Project! If you’re not the charity type, 2016 is a great time to start on a new path.
Coming Back to Life...
November, the month of Giving Thanks, Creating Families and most importantly the month of Jessica getting her groove back!
In case you are not aware – World Adoption Day is November 9th. Hank Fortner, one of my Mosaic pastors started Adopttogether.org, a non-profit focused on helping beat the number one barrier to families looking to adopt – MONEY. There are a lot of families out there that want to adopt, but simply don’t have $10K, $20K, $30K or even $40K sitting around to make the adoption happen. This is where Adopttogether.org comes in and helps secure funding for families wanting to adopt through crowdfunding. World Adoption Day is a day of celebration for both parents and kids who won big when adoption changed their lives. World Adoption Day is also a day of awareness for adoption so please join us on Monday November 9th by posting a selfie with a smiley on your hand to spread awareness or to celebrate your own adoption story or that of a friend.
Halloween marks a year since I left Los Angeles and Thanksgiving marks a year since I have seen my mother and brother. I am excited to be able to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them at the beach this year! We will be catching up while we enjoy the views from our beach-front balcony on Florida’s gulf coast. I am very happy for this opportunity as I want very badly to be able to spend more time with them as well as a host of other people, but my finances are just in the way at the moment.
As I have mentioned previously, I now feel that I came to a much-needed standstill here in Jacksonville. It appears that I needed to slow down and take some time to heal internally, which is what has happened. From Celebrate Recovery to Redeemed Esteem to many other confirmations God has laid in my lap over this past year – it appears I just needed a lot of internal healing and I now feel that I am beginning to come back to life. My focus is returning, my productivity is returning and my overall energy is returning. One could argue that I am beginning to dream again!
I would also like to note that this might have something to do with a recent change in my morning prayer! In addition to praying the lyrics of Hillsong’s “I Surrender”, I have started asking God to help me release my potential each and every day to the point that when I reach the end of this life, that I would not have an ounce of my God-given potential left. It’s a bold prayer that I am not only praying for myself, but also for my mother and brother who are also dreamers with dreams in their hearts. For it has come to my attention that one of my biggest problems is my inability to release my potential. In other words, my inability to take the God-given dreams in my heart, put them on paper and then transform them into reality. I have the paper part down; it’s the whole transforming dreams into reality that seems to have had me stuck for far too long. And it looks like this new prayer might be working!
To kick off November, I will be sharing my first full testimony at the Mandarin area CR on the 6th and am very excited for this opportunity. I didn’t have a 20 minute testimony written upon the invitation, but I recalled a piece of advice I read from Seth MacFarlane that echoes countless other successful people both in entertainment and in ministry – that thought is this – when opportunity knocks, don’t hesitate, just say yes and figure out the how later!
I am also moving forward with a new project that God placed on my heart during Hillsong weekend here in Jax. I am calling it Hillsong weekend because I went to Hillsong Nights on Saturday and went and heard global founder, Brian Houston speak at Celebration on Sunday morning. He spoke on dreams and dreamers and God breathed a new project into my soul that very day. I have been reluctant to start work on it because as with anything God gives you – it is bigger than I am and I don’t feel I can do it all alone, but I am not meant to – I am meant to create it piece by piece with my Creator. It’s not supposed to be my thing, it’s supposed to be Our thing! I have the outline for the steps that need to be taken and am working on step one for the remainder of this year. I am really excited and really terrified, but I think all creators feel this way when embarking on a new project so I guess I am in good company.
I am also ready to get back in gear career-wise. I know I cannot stay at my current employer as the money nor the interest is there so I am back on the hunt for a good opportunity, but this time around I have a confidence in myself, my passion and my abilities that I did not have previously. It definitely changes the opportunities I look at and how I approach them and with any luck I will be in a new and better situation soon! With any luck I will begin to see a little of that restoration from Joel 2:25, the life verse God has given me which reads “… He will restore all the years the locusts ate away…” which I am taking to mean that God plans on restoring all of the things I missed out on while I was caught up in my addiction, depression and self-torture and I for one, can’t wait to see what He is going to do! Er’ I can’t wait to see what We’re going to do!
I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and don’t forget to reach out to any singles, widows or flat broke folks that might be spending the holiday alone unless you invite them to spend it with you!
A Pulling Up of the Boot Straps
Ladies and Gents, over the past month I have really forced myself out of the rut that has become my existence. A serious pulling up of the boot straps if you will. I have been spending a lot of time alone here in Jax due to my inability to make friends. I have a couple of people I can place in that category, but overall my life is pretty empty right now. I found myself gaining weight, not caring about what I looked like or wore and feeling rather pointless. I mean I couldn’t even bring myself to get a haircut because I couldn’t bring myself to care. I remembered a phrase spoken by Craig Strickland, one of my former pastors, “you can’t feel your way into an action, but you can act your way into a feeling”.
I decided to heed the advise in those words and made a list of things I could do to make it look like I gave a flying seaweed about myself and my life. I got my hair cut and added some highlights, started working out on a regular basis again, started eating better and watching my calorie intake, took advantage of some Labor Day sales and updated my wardrobe, and made a point to think about what I was going to wear each day (makeup, jewelry, dress, shoes, bag). I decided that just because I feel like nothing matters right now, doesn’t mean I have to act like it. I feel like I am loosing myself here in Jacksonville so I am just going to act like I am still in Los Angeles. I am going to wear the right clothes, have the right attitude and keep working towards my goals whether I feel like there is any reason to or not.
I have also come to the realization that I really need a better paying job. While it is true that I am in one of the better departments with my current employer, I do need to make a jump in the not too distant future which brings up the question do I wait for a decent paying ministry position to open or go back to the entertainment industry or go for both and see which door opens first? I will most likely do the latter once my class ends in a couple of weeks because like I said, I need some financial stability, a place to call my own and some sort of anchor in my life. Whether that anchor is a job, a city, a ministry or a man, I am feeling the need to anchor to something besides myself. Maybe it is the security driven Taurus side rearing its head, but I feel a major push to get some things taken care of financially and get a home base ASAP. Problem is how does one pick a home base when one hasn’t yet found a place to call home. Perhaps home will find me.
I am just going to have to trust that whatever door opens is the door I am supposed to walk through. I am going to have to trust that there is a plan at work and that the next steps will make sense. Trust has come up several times in my Redeemed Esteem class and I feel like God is not only teaching me to trust Him right now, but He is also teaching me to trust myself, my gut, but not necessarily my feelings. I tend to attract very inappropriate men. It is probably why I am still singe, well that and all the drinking. But anywho, I had been keeping a certain male at arms length for a while and no one seemed to understand why. I guess I should also say that this was not a romantic interest, just a fellow alcoholic on recovery road. Everyone else sings praises of this person, but I felt something else, then when this man started complaining to me about his marriage and his sex life, I thought hmm, I might be right about him because why else would he be talking to me about a topic that establishes emotional intimacy nevermind the fact that I have never been married or that he is no where near my age. Then the nail was hit on the hammer. I will not repeat his words here, but I received total confirmation that he is not trustworthy, definitely not Godly or even trying to be and definitely not someone who should be in any sort of ministry position (which he is L). I am just glad that I could smell him a mile away and was able to get an early confirmation so that I can keep stiff arming him as long as it takes.
I am also learning to like and love myself. I can say with all seriousness that this is the first time in my life that I have been able to look in a mirror and like what I see in the reflection. When God told me that I was in Jacksonville for preparation, I had no idea what He meant, but now that I am going through this class, serving in a ministry and taking part in a women’s leadership group, I feel that the preparation God was referring to was internal. I feel that this is a time to get the inside right. To cultivate good habits, good thought processes and a healthy belief in myself and my God. Those signs you see at the front of roller coaster rides that say “if you have a nervous disposition then don’t ride” Well, that’s me. I am somehow always freaking out and living in fear of every mistake I make, but I am learning to ride the waves of life, trust my gut, trust my God and more importantly, I am learning how to enjoy the ride as I move towards realizing all of my God-given potential.
Producing Fruit in a Desert
What can I say folks, sometimes life hurts. And my life is hurting bad right now. I think it is safe to say that I left a physical desert where I was in a mental, emotional and spiritual oasis in sunny SoCal, and now find myself surrounded by water in a mental, emotional, and spiritual desert in sunny Florida.
Physically, I am back in a complete standstill. I threw out my back a few weeks ago and went from being able to do a forward bend with my nose against my knees to having to fight to barely touch my toes! I thought I was on the mend and went for a short walk a few days ago that reignited all of the pain and so I am back to gentle yoga and absolutely nothing else. My lower back and right hip are the main culprits with my right hip taking the trophy for intense sharp pain shooting around all the day long. Emotionally, I might as well be the only person in this town. Every time I think I have made a new friend they start treating me like an afterthought by routinely making plans with me and then canceling at the last second only to say something like “hey, I’m doing this now so can’t do whatever with you.” My roommate says she has experienced a lot of that herself. Who knew small town Jacksonville would have bigger and more blatantly rude flakes than that of Los Angeles. At least in LA people make up an actual excuse! Here in Jax people actually tell you what they are going to go do instead of hanging out with you! So Rude. And then there’s that job I have. There’s nothing like working with people that you know hate you. It gets even more fun when your job doesn’t even begin to fulfill, engage or excite you. I am one of those people who need to be fully engaged in my activities because if I am not, my mind rolls over to everything in the world that I should not be thinking about and so with the pain, the rude treatment from could be friends and the nothing but time to focus on all the wrong things – folks – I am mentally, emotionally and physically spent. I have no idea how long I am supposed to be in this town, but let’s just say that unlike LA, I don’t think I’m gonna feel terrible if I suddenly have to move elsewhere.
The only good news is that I have finally sort of picked a church home. It is a church I just keep going back to because I really dig the pastor. I am actually going to be spread across two churches this fall – a class at one where I will be taking on a major issue in my life and a life group at the one I am calling home at the moment. The other good point is my continued involvement at a local Celebrate Recovery where I am getting my ministry feet wet. I am learning how to lead a group of ladies, learning how to connect to people and learning how to speak in front of others and hopefully slowly gaining a stage presence. It is this ministry stuff that needs to become more of my life – that is where my passion is, that is where my excitement is, that is where I come alive and activate the best version of myself.
You would think year 3 would sound better wouldn’t you? I thought about that too and then it hit me – I spent 15 years in rebellion to God in an addiction that I repeatedly chose to stay in. Yes, I gave God the one thing I didn’t think I could live without, but I’ve only worked off 3 of my 15 years. Thank you Jesus that You are not that kind of God! While it is true that I am still an infant when it comes to sobriety, God is not sitting up there with a stick marking off each day waiting for me to equalize the situation before He can bless me, love me or work in my life. We humans tend to find ourselves thinking that way because it is how we were taught right from wrong. You intentionally break your little brother’s tricycle so he can’t follow you around, chances are your parents will take away your bike as punishment. It’s how they teach us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, but it is not how God deals with us, especially when we come to Him and admit what a shattered disaster we have become. I fully admit that I have absolutely no idea how I am gong to go from where I am right now to the vision of my life that has been laid out by God. The good news is God does! My job is to stay close to Him, stay in His word, abide by His word understanding that any parameters are there to protect me and not keep me from having fun, and trust that as I grow in faith, God will open the doors that I so desperately want to open right now. I guess for me, year 3 is the year of being a grown up, digging in and doing what I don’t want to, being faithful to the positions and places God has put me in until He opens another door.
That door I am so desperate to open is a position under a successful and dynamic ministry where I can learn how to be a leader and grow my abilities for speaking God’s word, teaching God’s word and leading others through discipleship. Until that happens I am continuing to learn and grow in the ministry I am currently serving in and hoping for a career opportunity in the same realm.
I recently heard a mega gator fan give his CR testimony and in that testimony he shared this line from Tim Tebow’s book: Use the platform you’ve been given for God’s purpose and not your own. That line made me start thinking. I know what I want out of my potential ministry involvement, but I haven’t asked God what He wants out of it. I haven’t asked God what He wants out of my life, my work, my writing, my relationships or any platform that He might bestow upon me. And that’s a question I probably should have asked at the beginning. I am currently meditating on that question with God. So far, I feel like He has told me that His purpose and Plan for any platform He gives me is to help change lives by changing habits and to promote true healing by helping people live in true alignment with Christ mentally, emotionally and physically. I really need to start making this my purpose in all of my dealings whether it is in a CR group, the grocery store or with my less than desired co-workers. I may not be living the life I wish to yet, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t act as if I already am that person.
I recently had the opportunity to share a bare bones version of my testimony at a local Celebrate Recovery anniversary party. I didn’t realize how much of a story I actually had until I tried putting my story on paper. I spent the following week trying to cut it down to the time frame I had been given and it was tough because everything I’ve ever been through seemed pertinent. Anywho, since August brings my 3rd Sober Birthday I thought I would share my bare bones testimony with all of you:
Hi! My name is Jessica and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with alcohol, anxiety, and self-worth.
When I write I like to have angle to work with and my angle for this testimony came from a song called Broken Vessels: “Oh I can see you now, Oh I can see the love in your eyes, Laying yourself down, Raising up the Broken to Life.” Because this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me!
You see I have been switching back and forth between two very different lives since I was nine years old. I grew up in church. I had a good family. I lived in a nice house in a nice part of town. I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday School, I went on mission trips, I led bible studies and I helped make the first Passion Conference happen. I did a lot in a few short and widely separated years of sobriety.
However, the majority of my life went more like a nightmare. I grew up with extreme social anxiety and had a hard time connecting to anyone. BUT, I quickly found that I could do anything and be anyone as long as I had alcohol in my system. My first drink was at nine years old. Nothing special, just a stolen beer shared between two best friends. It would be years later before I would have another alcoholic drink. I was 16 and made a new friend who introduced me to wine coolers. High school quickly became a blur as I routinely opted for spiked coffee in the morning, spiked soda at lunch and whatever I could get my hands on after school. I had a horrible relationship with my parents. I cursed them out daily and was out all hours of the night. My parents had no idea what to do with me. It was normal for me to drink until I blacked out and I did so every night of every weekend. My social anxiety made me dependent on alcohol, which brought a lot of depression so I was also a cutter for most of my teenage years. I hated myself, I hated my life and I only felt free when I was in the oblivion alcohol brought me.
As I mentioned earlier, I had bouts of sobriety that were broken by that lie alcoholics like to tell themselves. “I can control it this time. I just need a little release. Everybody else gets to let loose. One drink won’t kill me.” And down the rabbit hole I went faster than the previous time. Only now I was working and supporting myself. I was in Human Resources of all careers and I had found a new best friend in wine. Most of the time I was sober during the day, but I started drinking the second I was home. I longed for the weekends so I could go on benders and I got increasingly irritated with my co-workers, family members and friends due to my constant craving for oblivion. It got to the point that I was consuming multiple bottles of wine a night, often drinking until I vomited or passed out.
I eventually had another stint of sobriety that lasted about two years. It was all adrenaline and zero anything else and so I fell back into the arms of alcohol and told myself I would change my life once I left Memphis and I did just that – but it was not on my terms.
A few years later, I found myself living in a roach infested rented room in Los Angeles. By this time I was drinking a large bottle of Vodka a day and popping migraine pills to ease the suffering of my vodka based diet. I could barely walk to the mailbox because my muscles were so weak, including my heart, which palpitated non-stop. For the first time in my life, alcohol was not working. I could no longer reach oblivion. I needed something else, something stronger – and considering the state I was in – that something would have killed me.
I was at a very dangerous cross roads when God intervened in my life one last time. I had been seeking His help with a job. During a day of prayer and fasting I had a vision that scared the crap out of me. It turns out that Jesus loves me, but He was ready to let me die if I did not hand over the alcohol once and for all. I cried out – But it’s my Everything. Jesus replied, Exactly. Realizing that I had finally pushed God past His point of no return, I surrendered the one thing I had that made everything else okay and entered into a very reluctant sober state. I entered the rooms of AA in Los Angeles and I found a new home. After about 6 months of screaming into pillows and being afraid to even try going to the grocery store - something just changed. I started feeling more comfortable. Los Angeles taught me a lot. The Recovery out there is top notch and I needed to hear every word that was spoken. My favorite being “you’ve been upside down for so long that you have no idea what right side up feels like. Of course you feel upside down right now – it’s because You’ve finally turned right side up. Give it a minute.” And he was right! I also learned to like myself in Hollywood of all places. I made friends that liked me for who I am. My LA tribe helped me realize that I am funny, pretty, sweet, fun to be around and deserving of the best in life. After I got called to leave LA and found myself in Jacksonville, FL – I felt God nudge me to attend Celebrate Recovery instead of AA. I did not understand this at all. AA had saved my life. I live and breathe the AA logic in my soul. It keeps me from doing stupid things. But, I decided to follow God’s prompting and visited CR and I absolutely hated it. I felt so weird. I was a newbie all over again, but my AA logic quickly spit out the “Shut up and Show Up for 90 days” and so I did.
The first CR I went to, wasn’t my cup of tea so I sought a different one and met a super sweet woman and so I came back and I kept coming back here at the Beaches CR every Friday night. I have found that Celebrate Recovery offers me an atmosphere of love and acceptance where I can work on the root issues that cause my insane desire for escape. Thanks to CR I am staying sober while learning how to ground myself in God’s truth. I am learning to see myself the way God see’s me. I am learning how to serve, I am learning how to lead and I am learning how to deal with those unwanted emotions that usually make me bolt in every direction except the right one. I can say that after working the steps, I mean really, honestly working the steps, I no longer feel the need for alcohol. Sometimes I may want it, sometimes I may think about one drink, but I immediately tell myself that it cannot happen. I know where that one drink leads. For me it leads to my death. It really is that simple.
There is no going back, there is only pressing forward to the life that Jesus is calling me to lead and excitement about where He is taking me. He has given me a new vision for my life, which is the old vision I started out with years ago before alcohol took over my life. The good news is that the last 15 years have not phased God one bit. His plans for me have not changed. He still sees me as the same person I was before all of this mess started. This past year He gave me a verse that has been spoken in this room by others – Joel 2:25 - …He will restore the years the locusts ate away… – thanks to AA and Celebrate Recovery I get to live a life of freedom today and I get to be excited about the restoration of all the things the locusts ate away in my life while I was deep in my addiction, my depression and my self-torture.
AA Saved My Life. Celebrate Recovery is teaching me how to live and accept the new life that has been freely given. If you’re new – keep coming back! Keep doing the next right thing! Get a sponsor, get an accountability partner and Work the steps! Make yourself available to others! Surround yourself with the right people – people who have what you want, people that are grounded in God’s truth! Lean into Jesus and you too can sing that song with gratitude knowing that you are one of the broken God has raised to a new and awesome life. Thanks for letting me share.
And I really am excited for all that is to come! The vision God has given me seems so unattainable and so unreachable, but that’s also the fun part – I cannot remember who said this – Louie, Erwin, Russ or maybe they’ve all said it at one time or another – God never gives you something you can do without Him – I just have to be willing and God will take my willingness and make something awesome out of it. Like this blog, for instance, the readership has slowly been rising since the day I started it and I will keep writing until the day people stop reading it.
I am also working on some full-length (main speaker) versions of my testimony as I might soon have the opportunity to share with some other nearby Celebrate Recovery groups. Not to mention that I am delving into the Advanced Leadership training materials as I continue to develop my ministry leadership skills.
Looking back, I believe God had to take me out of LA so I could slow down and figure out where my life was going. My LA life was very hectic and due to the location of my work it made it very hard for me to be involved in after work activities. I MISS LA A LOT, but it is clear God brought me to Jacksonville so I could slow down long enough to truly change direction.
August 26th, I will be celebrating 3 whole years of sobriety: Three whole years of a different way of living; Three whole years of a better way of living; Three whole years of feeling my feelings; Three whole years of facing my fears; Three whole years of being the real Jessica. Three whole years of being someone I am proud of, someone my family is proud of and someone I know Jesus is proud of. Three whole years of better decisions, better relationships and better impact on those around me. Whoever said Sobriety is boring, uneventful and unattractive - doesn’t know Sobriety.
Over the past month, my life came to a slow crawl. I was having a harder and harder time getting up in the morning and was having a very hard time staying awake at work. My workouts became smaller and smaller until they consisted of nothing more than relaxation yoga. I was beat and I did not know why. I had no symptoms except for extreme fatigue. It’s crazy how sickness can creep up on us. I never once thought something might be wrong. I just assumed I was depressed, that it was my fault, that I hadn’t been sleeping well or eating well, that I had gained weight and that I am just dealing with unwanted feelings or extreme loneliness. I just kept reasoning my fatigue away until it stopped me in my tracks. I spent three days in bed and on the third day it dawned on me that something must be wrong and so I went to an urgent care facility and found that I had a bacterial infection. Had I not gone to the doctor, I would have only gotten worse no matter how much I rested.
During this time of barely living, my rear view mirror hopped off my windshield again. I knew I needed to do something about it, but it was kind of nice just driving down the road, only concerned with what was ahead and not worrying about the guy in the truck behind me. My attention was on the road in front of me and I was driving peacefully. It occurred to me that this is how we are supposed to drive our lives, but many of us drive constantly looking in the rear view mirror. We’re in front of it, we’ve moved around it, we’ve driven past it, but it still holds our attention.
While driving without my rear view mirror one sunny afternoon, it dawned on me that Jesus never meant for us to be concerned with what’s in our rear view mirror. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we are not supposed to deal with what’s in our past. What I am saying is that God never meant for us to obsess on it, contemplate it and bring it into our present over and over again. I say this because if you look at how Jesus dealt with people in the Bible, He was the exact same with every person no matter what had happened to them or what they had done. His words were same every time. He simply said “Follow Me”. It is a small sentence with life changing implications. When He said “Follow Me” He was saying listen to my words, read my words, make my words and my deeds the center of your life and do as I do, speak as I do, love as I do, strive every day to be more like Me. Follow Me.
Jesus never condemned anyone no matter who they were or what they had become. He simply said Follow Me. Make Me your role model. Jesus never mentioned anyone’s past, instead He called everyone forward. I heard a sermon not too long ago where the pastor on stage, said that the devil calls you to your past so he can condemn you in your defeat, but the spirit of Christ always calls you forward to a better you and a better life. Christ might make you aware of something He doesn’t want you doing because He wants better for you, but He never condemns. The devil condemns us, fellow humans condemn us, but God never condemns any of us because He always sees what we can become if we Follow Him.
The funny thing is most of us walk around condemning ourselves over and over and over again for things that don’t even exist in God’s mind. He let them go a long time ago. He is only focused on where He is taking us; we are the ones focused on where we have been. I know that I keep pointing back to a decision I made several years ago where I adamantly refused to move in the direction God wanted me to and to this day I often wonder if that one decision ruined my entire life. Thoughts like what if that was a once in a lifetime opportunity and now God will only let me wallow in crappy jobs? What if my husband was in that city and I didn’t get to meet him so now I am going to be alone? What if that career was going to be a launching pad for me to have a larger ministry and now I am going to die with a burning desire in my heart that was never fulfilled? The problem with these kind of thoughts is that they totally disregard that the fact that Jesus always calls us forward and that if we follow Him to the best of our ability learning and growing as we walk through life with Him, He always leads us somewhere good. He is not about condemnation, He is not concerned with our past – He is only concerned with where He is taking us because His plans for us never change. Whatever He started in us, He will complete – if we follow Him and allow Him to work in and through our lives. I know I have come full circle and find myself rather exhausted thinking it’s time to call it, that I’ve missed my opportunities, that I can’t possibly attain the vision I keep seeing for my life… But Jesus is looking at me saying “Jessica, I created that vision for you. I know how to get you there. Just keep following Me.”
Backside of the Desert
This past month has been one roller coaster after another. I have been swinging from feeling good and happy to feeling miserable, alone and confused. One day I am happy and feeling planted, the next day I am ready to bolt. All of this emotional ping-pong is really starting to take a toll. I am naturally a lower energy individual (don’t even ask me how I played year round competitive soccer for all those years) and now I am a no energy individual. Something just has to give and I am pretty sure it is me.
The highlight of May was going to visit my South Carolina family – my Tennessee family made the trip east so I actually got to see everyone and it was great. I only wish I could have stayed longer. My current employer doesn’t really believe in vacation and the vacation package is pitiful compared to other companies I interviewed with, but those other companies did not hire me so there’s that. Anywho, I got to see my mom and brother and my great aunt and uncle and a host of other people I don’t get to see often and hopefully will be seeing much more often since I am back on the east coast.
Upon my return from my super-mini-vacay I was given the opportunity to interview for a different position in my company. Might I also add that it was my birthday. Had it not been my birthday, I might not have been into the whole ordeal, but I figured since this opportunity came out of nowhere on my birthday – I should go for it. It reminded me of that day long ago at Germantown Baptist Church where my family went up front to join the church and my mom yanked my arm and said “Don’t you dare say you don’t won’t Jesus.” Now don’t get me wrong – I was not against Jesus at that time, but I also had not officially made the decision to follow Him either. That decision would come a couple years later, after falling in the baptismal pool and dunking myself and the choir for good measure as well as some other events not being mentioned at this time. It also reminded me of that lovely day in Nashville when I had the opportunity to coordinate record release parties and artists showcases for some of my now favorite Christian bands and I, having other plans, said no. I also thought about the fact that I have actually had quite a few doors open for me in Jacksonville, but I have been unwilling to walk through them because they did not match what I am looking for – that and they all dealt with numbers, which brings me back to my birthday. I said yes for once and by the end of the workday I was in a 30-day trial with the Marketing department in a job that revolves around numbers, which brings me back to the ping-pong emotional roller coaster I have been on lately.
The main reason I have always shied away from numbers is because they are simply not my strong suit. I am thoroughly capable, but not naturally gifted if you get my drift. And so each day has brought on new challenges as I learn my potentially new position. Some days I leave work feeling like I am getting the hang of everything and other days I leave feeling like there is no way I am going to make it through the 30 day trial. I should pause here and say that being “Upstairs” in this company is a million times better than being “downstairs”. The whole vibe is different. People are nicer, there is more freedom and frankly it runs more like a corporate office, which is the environment I am familiar with. I feel much more comfortable in my new department and generally like all of my co-workers, which is a big plus as well. I have just had to trust God to sustain me. Every morning I tell Him that I am not in my comfort zone and that I need His help to wrap my head around some of these concepts at work. I ask Him to fill in the blanks and help me to be accurate and He has done just that and more.
It hit me the other day that God might be trying to teach me to really rely on Him for situations that are outside my comfort zone and not in my realm of expertise. Just because something does not come natural – does not mean that you cannot ace it. I don’t know what is in store for me down the line, but I am learning to trust God with whatever He brings my way. I am also stepping up at my Celebrate Recovery home group by leading the women’s small group and possibly stepping onto the leadership team. I say possibly because there has been a lot of talk and a whole lot of hesitation, which is fine by me because I have learned the hard way that “when it fits you don’t have to force it.” (Amazing line from the novel “What Doesn’t Kill You” by Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant) So if this leadership team isn’t in God’s plans – that’s fine – I don’t need the drama and I am just as happy leading the ladies small group.
I am also strangely starting to feel settled here. I cannot explain it, but I was sitting on the front porch last weekend sipping some sparkling grape juice (one of my guilty pleasures) and I just thought “I’m home”. I have no idea where that thought came from. It certainly does not make since. I don’t have friends, my professional life is anything but anchored and I have yet to find a church, but for some reason I feel more content than I ever did in LA where I had it all. I guess time will tell. I am smart enough to know that all it takes is one second to change everything. I don’t know what is in store for me, but the one thing I do know is that I am where I am supposed to be. God led me here to prepare me for something He plans on bestowing upon me so I guess I will have to stick around to find out what.
I am also back on the church hunt. I have about 7 churches left on my list that I need to visit. While I do need to find a church that I like, God nudged me last week and said “Instead of looking for the perfect church for you, why don’t you find a church that you agree with it’s pastor and his vision and help it grow. Leaders don’t belong, they create the belonging.” And that, my friends, has changed my view on all the churches I have visited. While I am still hoping to find a church with a pastor I like and worship that moves me, if it comes down to it – I will go with the one whose vision I want to help make a reality. As of right now there is only one church on my Round 2 list and three on a wildcard list so here’s hoping the last 7 leave no question in my mind as to what church needs to become my next church home.
You have to find your contentment in Jesus, not in the blessing – Joby Martin
Crushes are pointless correct? I mean how many times have you liked someone from a distance only to meet him or her and find that you have absolutely zero chemistry. That if it was between spending thirty minutes trapped in an elevator with this person or fighting off a lion with your bare hands – you’d probably pick fighting the lion to having to spend another painstakingly awkward second with that guy or gal you were crooning over. I only mention this because as I type this post, I am staring into the eyes of a current crush. I have his photo pulled up right beside my doc. He is giving one of those cocky come hither stares that lets the world know that he knows he’s got it. Unfortunately, these are the guys that tend to land on my radar. Christian or not, they leave a lot to be desired in the companion department. They are not good to themselves and they certainly aren’t good to or for anyone else.
So why are you staring at him you ask? Well, the topic of idols came up in a recent small group conversation. While I have not found a church home here in Jacksonville, I am in a ladies small group for the mean time. The discussion centered on the things in our lives that can become idols to us and replace the only idol we should ever have – Jesus Christ. You see an idol is anything that we are waiting on to complete us. Anything that we can put in the sentence that goes something like this: “If I can only have/get/attain __________, then I’ll be happy/set/satisfied. The danger with thinking like this is that there is always going to be something else we want. If we are not careful, a new idol always crops up in our lives and wreaks havoc by stealing the joy from what is and placing the focus on what could be soon thereby keeping us in an unhappy loop that is forever stuck on repeat.
I have a short quiet time each morning where I read a chapter of scripture and pray. In one of my recent morning prayers I popped out these words “… and apparently the idea of a relationship has become an idol to me and I am very sorry for that…” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I felt a jolt within me and I started to cry. I didn’t know a relationship had become an idol in my life until I unknowingly spoke the words in prayer. It is true that I have been struggling since leaving my friends in Los Angeles. I am very lonely here in Jacksonville and I guess my mind has been on a relationship a lot more lately. I am also turning the big 35 this year so I am officially hitting the status of Old Maid/Spinster for Life. I guess that’s what has been really eating away at my soul. My life has not turned out the way I wanted it to and I have no one to blame but myself. It is just what happens when you live for a bottle for 15 years. And there’s that sentence again “If I can just find my partner everything will be better… I will feel like I have someone or something to belong to” Ugh, I really need to shake this need for a significant other. I can want one all I want, but needing one is a problem and I believe that I have crossed over the unhealthy threshold from wanting a partner in life to needing one. I mean how can two days of relaxation turn me into boohoo city? Why do I freak out the second I find myself alone with nothing to do? Why does going to church alone make me want to kick God in the face? Yes, we are creatures designed for community, but community comes in many forms.
Truth be told, we all have that something special that is missing from our lives and we allow it to be the reason we are unhappy, we allow it to steal our joy. … “If I can just buy a nice house I will be happy,”, “If can just afford nice vacations each year I will be happy” or “If I can just get that promotion”, “If I can just work my way into that crowd” , “ If I can just get pregnant”, If I can just… etc, etc, etc to infinity. These sentences are not true. We like to think they are true, but whatever we are hoping for whether it is a partner, a career, a house, a friend or even that cute pair of wedges in the store window– all of these things bring new challenges and I am old enough to know that nothing is ever how we imagined it. I am beginning to realize the old adage is true – if we are not happy with our current circumstances, we will never be happy. Period.
One of the biggest problems with putting our happiness in the future is the simple fact that we never get to enjoy the present and if we don’t enjoy the present – Well then what’s the point? The present is all we have. If we do get to the future we have imagined, we will most likely realize it wasn’t exactly what we thought it would be. It might still be great, but it will not match the fantasy we have built in our heads and so we will begin hoping for something else and the unhappy cycle will keep on repeating until we reach the end of our lives and look back and wonder why we couldn’t enjoy every second we had. We will wonder why we never learned to enjoy our present for what it is – our present. Our gift. We get another day to create something beautiful with God.
There’s also a reason Jesus Christ should be the only occupant of our mantle. He is the only person that will never fail us, never leave us and always sustain us. If we are looking for satisfaction outside of Him, we’ll never find it. It doesn’t exist apart from Him. Making Him our focus, living a life pleasing to Him, being an example of His love to others and leading others to Him – that is where real happiness exists. You just have to clear your mantle and make Jesus your focal point. This is how you learn to be content, like Paul, no matter what your current circumstance might be.
So what does all this mean? Well for me, it means I need to make Jesus and the vision He has given me for ministry my focal point and I need to leave the man out of the picture. Whether God has someone in mind for me is irrelevant because that man does not deserve the pressure of being my only source of happiness and the same can be said for any friends that enter my life. Only one person can take that kind of pressure and only one person ever should – Jesus Christ.
I have been praying the words of an older song from Hillsong titled “I Surrender”. I just found myself singing this song non-stop and realized there must be a reason this song is staying on my heart. Reality is this: God needed take over because I was unraveling. I was lonely, I was upset and I was becoming more impatient every day. I needed God to step in and give me direction. And so I decided to stop asking God for anything and instead I just began praying the words of the song – Lord, Have Your way in me! Have Your way in my every minute of my every day, Have your way in my thoughts, my words, my actions, my interactions. Help me to know how to honor you at work and in my daily life. Lord, Have Your way in me!
Funny thing is the moment I made Jesus my focal point by inviting Him to have His way in me, a lot of the character changes I’ve been writing about over the past year just sorta started happening all on their own….
Swing Batter Batter Swing!
As I mentioned last month, God is really wanting me to step up my game for Him. After His initial question to me (Why are you acting like a newbie when you’re a veteran of the faith?) He began directing me towards what living the life of a veteran looks like and means for me. First off, He has placed some amazing women in my life through Celebrate Recovery and I call them amazing because they seem to be veterans of the faith when in reality most of them are the real newbies. They have their focus on helping others and on walking and talking a real and tangible faith in Christ. It is through these women that God is helping me understand what it is He is calling me to do with my life. I always knew that Jacksonville was training or as God put it preparation. And while I may not be entirely sure as to what I am preparing for I can say it must be ministry related. Personally, I am really making an effort to be more outwardly focused. I mean if I want to be one of those people who changes the energy in the room or brightens someone’s day, I can’t be engrossed in my own pity party now can I? I mean if I am all caught up in me and too busy in my own head then I am unable to interact with those around me. Trust me when I say that I know what it is like to be around people who drain the energy out of the room without even saying a word and the truth is when I am attending my own pity party I am that person. Now this does not mean that I do not allow myself to feel the hurt, disappointment or loneliness that I am feeling. It means that I acknowledge my feelings and then get back to the world around me.
One of the women in my CR recently gave her testimony and in her testimony she said something that God used to knock me over the head. She was discussing the energy we addicts put into our addiction and how most of the time we don’t even put a fraction of that energy into our recovery. The night she spoke this into me, my own personal monster was awake and I was very aware of my monster’s demands. I was not me that night, I was my addiction. Her words brought me back though because I immediately thought about how there was no distance too great, no price to high and no inconvenience when it came to me and my bottle. However, when it comes to anything else in life I find that the distance is almost always too great, the price almost always too high and the inconvenience almost always absurd. And you know what? I especially find this to be true when it comes to God, church and the people He brings into my life for which I have no doubt are there because He is hoping I will step up for Him in their life. Ouch! I mean God went to the expense of His only Son for me so there really shouldn’t be anything too inconvenient for me to do for Him.
Personally, there are many things in my life that I need to do better and I am trying to tackle them one by one. For starters, I am working on keeping my word (aka not backing out at the last minute because of fear, not feeling good or any idea that comes into my head) and I am putting a lot of energy into being on time for work, church and all the other appointments one has in life. I am also working on taking better care of myself by eating better, getting more sleep, exercising more and obeying those moments when my soul says it needs a minute or four. I am also making an effort to be more social at CR and at church. I need to be reaching out to new faces, being the person to say hello instead of waiting for someone to say hello to me, in other words, I need to start taking the lead and I am focusing on doing just that with every church I visit and every CR I attend. These may seem like small matters, but they shape who I am and how I see myself and they are also small details that veterans practice everyday.
Happy Easter to all of you or as I like to call it... Happy New Life Day. Christ died the worst death possible so that He could conquer the worst humanity could muster...We were His end game. He endured it all so that we could have new life in Him... so that we don't have to stay in the hole we've managed to dig for ourselves no matter how giant that hole might be... :)
Unfortunately, the car saga I spoke of last month was not over. My check engine light came on a week after the 2nd shop fixed what the first shop broke, but wouldn’t you know that there was more that needed to be fixed. My belt started making a rather embarrassing high pitched squeal so I took it back over to Bell’s Automotive. Unfortunately, Bell’s was super busy or super unorganized and after two attempts to bring in my car to get it fixed and having to listen to a song and dance about the repair industry I decided to take my chances on a third shop and I am glad I did. I called All Pro Automotive and they were able to see me the same day so I drove over with a choking engine. Earlier in the day a smoke cloud the size of Texas came out of my tail pipe, which is one of the reasons I decided to check out another shop. Bell’s wanted to give me a new sensor, but I knew that giant smoke clouds and hesitating engines meant something else was happening under my hood. Would you believe that wonderful Monument Road Tire and Service forgot to put the PVC Pipe in my Upper Intake, which caused a vacuum situation where air and oil was being sucked out of my engine at an insane rate! What’s more worrisome is that Bell’s did not pick up on the fact that my Upper Intake was actually on wrong, which is why I am glad I took it to All Pro Automotive. I have been driving all over Jacksonville for over three weeks and I am happy to report that my car is finally back to normal. If I have any more car issues, I will be taking my business to All Pro Automotive.
So while I was going through all of this car trouble with a very limited access to cash or credit cards, I was continuing my search for a church home here in Jacksonville. I am about halfway through my list of churches to visit and getting more and more impatient everyday. I miss my church in Los Angeles and I miss my friends even more. I do not yet have a community here and while I am a part of the quiet revolution I also relish my social time and have a giant need for community and a sense of belonging. It was during one of these church visits that God shot me one between the eyes. I believe I was in a week - long period of really seeking God’s will because I am honestly confused about how things are going here in Jax. I know God led me here and I know that the why has nothing to do with my day job, but you would think He would still have something nice in mind, right? Well, as has happened many a time before, I was seeking God for a very specific situation and He had an entirely different topic in mind. The preacher at RiverTown was speaking on spiritual family trees and how important it is for each of us to be intentional in how we impact the people who have been placed in our lives. I think Tim Tebow said it best when he said, “…you’re either leading people somewhere good or you’re leading people somewhere bad… Where are you leading the people in your life? …Is their life better or worse for having known you?” Ultimately, the pastor at RiverTown was speaking on the importance of leading people in the direction of Jesus Christ and the importance of creating our own spiritual family trees and it was in this sermon that God finally spoke to me, but it was not about my dire situation. He simply asked me a question that has haunted me ever since. He asked, “Why are you acting like a rookie, when you’re a veteran of the faith?”
Later that same day, God reminded me that whenever I have had spurts of sobriety in my life, I have always moved towards ministry. I mean that thought could probably encompass another entire blog or two, but for now I am just going to focus on the fact that when I am the real me and not the drunk me, Christian ministry becomes a major part of my life. In my first bout of sobriety I was a high school girls Bible Study leader and mission tripper. In my 2nd bout of sobriety I was a 1st grade Sunday school teacher and a regular volunteer with the Urban ministry at the church I was attending at the time. My third and final bout of sobriety has had me working in church service production along side the pastor and worship leader and now I am finding my way into Celebrate Recovery and am looking to go through a CR step program so I can lead others to the same freedom I have found. I really feel like God is calling me up and out. I feel like He thinks I have enough sobriety at this point to step back into my destiny (which apparently involves ministry) and it starts with taking on a more leadership role with the people in my life, the programs I am involved in and whatever church I make my home. For me this means putting the focus on the people around me instead of myself. It also means being aware of how my words and actions impact how others view me and in turn how others view God.
Not everyone is called to ministry or even lay ministry for that matter, but each of us does have a responsibility to the people God has placed in our lives. If you think about it, we’re all looking at someone who is at the level we are about to step into. Take a church body for example: the ministry leaders are looking at the pastor; the Bible study leaders are looking at the ministry leaders; the Bible study participants are looking at the Bible study leaders and church volunteers; regular church attendees are looking at the church volunteers and the Bible study participants; the non-regular church attendees and looking at the regular church attendees and the once, twice or never church goers are looking at the non-regular attendees and thinking ‘I really need to start going more like Jenny does.’ So in all actuality, we all have someone looking up from where they are at to where we are. So, I am going to ask all of you: Is God calling you to step up your game for Him? If so, what does stepping up for Christ look like for you? Does it mean becoming more involved in your church? Being more strategic with the impact you have on those around you? Maybe it means giving something up that is confusing and distorting the message you are trying to send…