The story of Easter brings many messages and applications when you dive deep into the actual events of the days leading up to Christianity’s main event. One such message hit me last night on Good Friday. I was watching the Good Friday live stream of Mosaic from the comfort of my living room and a line jumped out at me: “Jesus was still the victor while He was suffering”.
In our society to suffer is often times looked at as a punishment or as an attribute to the life of one ill equipped or in other words… a loser. If you are winning at life then you are happy, have everything you want and are in optimal health, right? Those of us that have been around a bit know that suffering is a natural part of life. At some point, we are going to go through a season that we don’t want to be in whether it is a job where we are belittled everyday, a family member that tries to constantly sabotage our efforts or a health condition that changes our daily living habits. Maybe you’re the only single person in your circle or maybe you just can’t find a circle and you feel lost and alone.
I, for one, am dealing with aloneness and worth issues stemming from a set of current circumstances in my life. Are these circumstances permanent? Most likely the answer is no, but being able to navigate the unfun seasons without letting it rip you of your worth can be difficult. This is just one of the life applications we can glean from Easter.
Jesus also had a horrible set of circumstances He had to walk through while He was still the Victor. He was betrayed by a close friend and handed over to Roman soldiers who stripped Him of His clothes, repeatedly beat Him, hurled insults at Him and taunted Him as the King of the Jews. These Roman soldiers could easily be present day bullies who live to demean, insult and ridicule others. These soldiers even went as far as to crown Jesus with thorns and nail Him to a cross for His unbelievably slow and painful death with a sign adorned to His cross stating He was the King of the Jews. The mockery continued until He breathed His last breath. And it wasn’t just the soldiers who ridiculed Him the entire time it took Him to die… The onlookers and another criminal hanging beside Him joined in spitting, taunting and laughing at Him until He breathed His last breath.
But what did Jesus do during this time of extreme hate and ridicule? He simply uttered the words “Forgive them for they know not what they do”. Jesus knew that He was the victor despite His circumstances. He knew His worth was not tied to what was happening that day. He knew that He was just walking through a moment and that another moment was coming – a moment that would change everything. His ridiculers might have had fun for a while, but a day would come when His ridiculers would see Him in a new light.
The same is true for each of us. We may have to walk through some unpleasant seasons in our lives where someone treats us harshly, doesn’t appreciate our talent or good nature or is just hell bent on ruining our day, but we can still be the victor in these moments. Our self-worth is not determined by who other people think we are; our self worth is determined by who God thinks we are …co-heirs to His throne to be exact.
A couple of excerpts from “So Will I” by Hillsong say it perfectly:
“And as You speak, A hundred billion failures disappear, Where You lost Your life so I could find it here, If You left the grave behind You so will I…...
I can see Your heart, Eight billion different ways, Every precious one, A child You died to save…”
That’s who you and I are. Really. That’s who everyone is, really. A precious one, a child Jesus died to save…
Carrying this knowledge deep in your soul is what allows you to walk through the grey seasons without loosing your worth. It does not mean you walk through muddy waters thinking you are better than everyone else or deserve better and mount up resentments. What it does mean is that you simply go through the muddy waters with the knowledge that you are fiercely loved and cared for and you continue to learn and grow and do your best, trusting God to carry you through the rough parts and asking for guidance along the way.
I was told that this year is going to be full of a lot of things that don’t make sense. It is ringing true. The new job I was so happy to obtain has brought a new set of challenges in that this office really likes to drink! The office has a nice café in the center that not only includes coffees and teas, but also vodka, wine, champagne and a bevy of beers. My coworkers are big on happy hours and routinely take the last hour of the day to congregate in the café and pour their drink of choice while talking about all the drinking they do when they are not at work. I don’t usually go to these “happy hours” which has me singled out as the new girl who doesn’t like the people in the office. I don’t know why I am so weirded out by it. I have been in plenty of offices where alcohol and drugs were around… maybe it is the whole Memphis thing that has me feeling extra introverted. I’m back in that muck of what I once was and I don’t know how to escape it. My friends in LA wouldn’t even know what to do with me right now… I’m such a shadow of the person I was when I lived out west.
Maybe I am in one of those middle of the night moments I read about for the umpteenth time in my favorite book, Calm My Anxious Heart. I find this book to be similar to the Bible and The Big Book in that every time I read it, I glean something new. The author, Linda Dillow, talks about the night before God parted the Red Sea. She speaks on how the Israelites were most likely freaking out… they were pegged in against the Red Sea with no where to run to, no where to go… so all they could do was listen and wait for their death. She speaks of a little phrase found in the Bible with immense impact… “All that night the LORD drove the sea back…” God didn’t perform His miracle in daylight; He chose to perform the miracle in the middle of the night, in complete darkness, while no one was watching. The entire night the Israelites had no idea their God was overcoming what was overcoming them. Quite an interesting thought to ponder. I don’t know why I am back in Memphis or why I have a job with a kitchen full of liquor for happy hours or why I am back to feeling more alone than ever. None of it makes sense, but like I said – none of it is supposed to so maybe I am exactly where I need to be… Maybe it will all make sense at some point. I was told that it would after certain things fall away from my life and new things emerge… Maybe while I am sitting here dealing with loneliness, fear, anxiety and a general desire to leave planet earth… God is working on my behalf in ways I can’t know, touch or see at the moment. I can say that I am putting my program to work in this situation just like I did in the last situation. I am making sure I get to meetings, making sure I make time for things I enjoy like walking (it clears my head) and I am keeping busy. I recently joined the media team at that church that makes me feel so uncomfortable. This church does live, broadcast and web feeds so the opportunity for learning is huge. I am currently training for a position in the control room and as much as I dread showing up, I find that I have a blast once I am there. I often think it is crazy that a timid, shy and anxiety filled me would find enjoyment in speaking engagements, live show production and other similar things that scare most other people. I just like the energy of making something happen and truth be told I am somehow good at it too. I just have to get ME out of the way.
Another thought from this book is the creation of an Anxiety Box. Not unsimilar to what a lot of people refer to as a prayer box, only instead of prayers, you place all the longings, desires and dreams that keep you awake at night and steal your joy during the day – into this box. You hand them over to your creator and you allow Him to deal with them. Just like in sobriety, sometimes you find yourself handing over these joy killers all day every day. I know I have been deeply depressed. A lot of my dreams seem to be dying as each year passes, at least they are dying in my own mind. This marks another major lesson for me this year. It was impressed upon my by my higher power (Jesus) that I need to stop making assumptions (jumping to conclusions) about how my life is going to go. I have it in my head that I am going to get to a point where I simply cannot go on… I guess I have it in my mind that I am going to stay single, never amount to anything, become homeless yet again and just have to jump off a bridge and become fish food. It is a reoccurring and dominating thought in my inner life… It just seems that everything in my life is moving me toward this end. This would be one of those moments where you think Sweet Jesus would appear and tell me how much He loves me, but no… He told me that I have to stop jumping to conclusions about my life, my abilities, about everything. And there is truth here. I will not lie. No one takes me out of the game more than myself because I tend to decide ahead of time how things are going to go, how people are going to perceive me and whether or not I will be successful or liked or whatever. I’ve always had this assumption that I am not wanted, not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not fat enough… just not enough, just not wanted. Somehow everyone else on the planet makes the grade and I don’t. This is such a deeply ingrained part of me that I make assumptions based on this thought pattern all the time and I rarely realize I am doing it. All I can do right now is pray to be made aware of when I am jumping to a conclusion or making an assumption that I should not make. It probably comes from some survival skill that is way too strong from early life trauma and while it serves a place in certain situations; it cannot continue to reign supreme in my life.
On a positive note, I have taken myself back off the Caramello bars! LOL! I am back on a decent schedule that allows time for the things I need and while I am still enjoying some chocolatey sweets, I am choosing healthy, low sugar options instead. I guess choice by choice I am making decisions that prove to myself that I am worth it. In life, just as in sobriety, we sometimes find that we have to find simple ways to override our brains. Our brains are designed to retain system balance and system balance doesn’t always mean keeping us alive and healthy. This tidbit is one of the best things I learned from my first sponsor. Just because the brain wants to restore a perceived imbalance doesn’t mean you should follow its impulse. It will reach for the easiest and fastest way to achieve its end, which usually means walking down a bad road. The same is true in life.
Back to the Start
I’ve been talking a lot about the recent journey I have been on, but I have good reason. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I find myself back at the start. I returned home five years to the day I left and I am somehow right back at that starting point. My creativity is flowing and my desire to return to LA is stronger than ever! I feel like I have trampled my away around a gigantic circle and now I find myself where I started, completely unsure of what to do next.
I know I had to leave Los Angeles when I did in order to experience more personal growth and receive some much needed healing. I am not saying in any way shape form or fashion that my decision to leave was wrong. It was not. The strange thing, that I am trying to digest and figure out what to do with, is after this five-year journey of growth, healing and transformation… I now find myself right back to where I was at the beginning. Even though I did do the impossible last go around, in terms of moving across the country with a mountain of debt and my sheer will to succeed, I cannot do anything right now. I am more strapped than I ever have been, closer to financial disaster than I ever have been and then there’s the whole car issue… Hercules might make it back to Los Angeles, but he cannot pass inspection and so I have to ask what was all of this for? Why have I been plopped back down at the starting line? And what the hell am I supposed to do about it?
I have been doing a lot of meditating as of late. I’ve shared that I have always had some sight so to speak and I have been working on focusing that sight and one of the ways one maintains a clear channel is to meditate so one can quiet the chatter and hear the Voice that counts.
You know how sometimes you just know something and don’t even know how you know it? I have had that too lately. Along with meditation, I have been doing a lot of praying and sometimes begging for clarity. I have a list of things I am to accomplish for the end of 2017 and most of them don’t make since to me, but they are what came through while listening for that Voice that doesn’t belong to me. That Voice told me that as I move forward, He would move me forward. And I believe that has happened or is happening. As I have stepped out in faith and completed some of these steps, new steps have appeared for the first half of 2018. I will tell you this, the steps I am completing right now are easy; the steps for the first half of 2018 are not. But I am willing.
I guess I say all of this to tell myself that if God is pouring into my life then He must have a reason. As I sit here right now on the brink of financial ruin, wondering if either of my lifelines will come through in time and if I should even do what I am thinking of doing… I am just in one of those moments where I cannot see an inch in front of my face and nothing makes sense. Why go through the spiritual journey just to end up defeated? Why am I creatively coming back to life at a time when I cannot make anything happen much less fund any projects? Why have I been brought back to the starting point? I can’t answer any of these questions. All I can do is complete each task on the list and keep on completing the tasks. It is like I am experiencing that staircase Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about. As I take one step, the next step appears out of nowhere. I have often spoken about how I need to learn to live my life as if I am trekking up a mountain. I never have any problem figuring out where to go when I am exploring… I let the spirit inside (who is mighty curious) guide me. I never wonder if I should take this side trail or if I should duck under that rope and head down the cliff to enjoy an amazing view… I just do it. I have literally hit a wall of rock on some of my explorations and you know what? I scaled those walls. I can say that some of the best trails I have ever been on were the trails we got lost on or encountered something we weren’t prepared for, but we figured it out and we always found a sweet reward in the form of a hidden pool or creek or view. I don’t know why I can’t translate who I am on a trail to who I am in life. Maybe that’s what I am beginning to do right now. Maybe what feels like utter defeat is actually my learning to treat life like one of the many trails I have explored.
I do still need an income though. I have had some amazing opportunities slip through my finger tips because I am way too qualified or the person sitting across from me doesn’t understand why I want to work for their company after what I’ve done and where I’ve been! That last part might be more of the reason…. I can say that I have started looking into avenues that I would have never looked into previously so who knows maybe one of them will work out before the burial begins. I guess I just have to keep reminding myself that if God is pouring into me then He must have a reason.
Putting all of my life havoc aside, November is the month of Thanksgiving! I personally strive to make gratitude a part of my daily life. I wake up thanking God for bringing me back (because He did not have to) and I go to bed each night thanking God for His provision, His direction and His protection on my life and the lives of those I hold dear. I used to struggle with insane amounts of depression and anxiety and I spent a great deal of my life in addiction with thoughts of suicide and actions of self-harm as a regular part of my life. Gratitude and its daily practice is one of the many components that have taken me out of those lower vibrations of living. I cannot even allow myself to feel those thoughts, those feelings, those vibrations… If you don’t have a daily practice… I highly recommend you start one by buying a notebook or journal and taking some time each day to write down anything good in your life. I have learned that no matter how bad my situation is… it can always get worse and I am thankful for all that God is keeping me from that I cannot see or have any consciousness of! Another way to ward off pity parties, self-doubt and all around bad vibes is the careful use of music. I am in love with a song called King of My Heart. I particularly love the extended worship versions from institutions like Bethel Music. I even listened to a 17-minute version the other night while walking because I was in such a bad head space over this financial entrapment I am currently walking through. This version includes a spontaneous line of “You never fall off Your throne.” I needed to hear it; I needed to be reminded of it. There are other songs playing in my head right now, but their messages are not what I need to be hearing. Sometimes you just have to turn certain messages off.
I hope everyone reading this has a lovely Thanksgiving. If you don’t have anyone to share the day with – try inviting people over to your place, look for churches that host holiday gatherings (I know Mosaic in LA used to/might still do this), or try being of service with others by helping out at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter – Just don’t be alone. The vibrations you will get from being alone are not worth it. On the flip side, if you have holiday plans – be on the look out for those who might not have anywhere to go… No they will not tell you, but just try and be a little aware of those around you, be willing to invite people you know don’t have family in town or have recently lost family or don’t have good relationships for this time of the year… Be willing to spread a little cheer.
A Look Back
The drive back home was riddled with blinding rainstorms and interstate standstills so I had plenty of time to think back to life in Los Angeles and life in Jacksonville… The people I met, the things I learned, the growth that took place. As I look back over the last five years there are definitely some people who stand out in my mind. Some of these people are like Kirsten, Liz, and Tracy who became my close friends and made life fun. Liz was my adventure pal. We scaled a waterfall, paddle boarded and kayaked our way through various marinas and hiked our way through various mountain ranges during my time in Los Angeles. I hope to start an annual girls adventure vacay with some of my LA friends and some of my Jacksonville friends soon. I have so much more to see and experience and I want to make travel a top priority once I have the debt paid off and am back in my own place. Kirsten, Larissa, Nora & Lauren were my Mosaic friends. I met them all in a life group. On my first visit I knew I’d found friends and we became just that close friends doing life together. I miss having that in my life, but I am hopeful I will have some ladies to do life with again soon.
Someone I probably have not mentioned at all on this blog is a man named Joel. He was a producer at a church I went to for a while prior to making Mosaic my home church. I was freshly sober and scared of everything and somehow got put on the production team of this church to basically run the services. By that, I mean I ran the ever so important Macbook that ran the pre and post house music, the pre and post screen loops, the worship lyrics, the teaching screens, the videos… the only thing I did not run was the lights and sound, but I learned how to do that too… well, the lights at least. When I say I was scared of everything, I mean I really was scared of everything and everyone. I had no idea how to do anything without alcohol and I walked around looking like a deer in headlights to everyone I encountered. People were always asking me if I was okay and I always gave a very unsure “yeah”. Joel had the task of taking this deer in headlights girl and making her into someone who could run church services like a pro and that is exactly what he did. I remember the first time I was up to run point and he, being very smart, did not tell me. Instead, he let me figure it out when I heard him praying for me in our pre-service prayer. I had no time to freak out or get upset or think anything really. The only thing I could do was quickly go over what I needed to do and just do it and I did.
This experience came in handy shortly thereafter when I was working with a filmmaker on a live non-profit show that featured celebrity guests. One day I showed up a tad late at our downtown show location and the first words out of her mouth were “good you’re wearing something nice. The host cancelled. You’re it.” And just as before, I did not have time to freak out and I relied on my previous experience to ask the questions I needed to ask and memorized what I needed to memorize and about 45 minutes later, after introducing myself to the celebrity guest and getting some information from him – I took the stage and played host for the evening. It was so much fun! I got to welcome the audience, introduce the guest and occasionally remind everyone why we were all there – for a charity called Kids Need to Read. It was a great evening and we had a great time and more importantly I had a great time doing something I never thought I would ever do! I’m an introvert after all, but I have realized that doing what I never thought I would do has been the name of the game for this deer in headlights girl.
After leaving Los Angeles, I got involved in Celebrate Recovery and soon found myself back on a stage. This time I was giving my alcohol testimony and I did it for a few CR’s in the Jacksonville area. The more I get on stage, the more comfortable I become. I have learned the hard way that the only way to get over something that scares you is to do that very thing you fear. Now, I give other people advice on how to overcome their fears and I routinely put those with public speaking fear on the spot because it is the only way anyone can ever over come that fear. My next move is to get my teaching/preaching feet wet either in CR or in a Women’s Ministry, but I guess I need a CR or a church home for that.
Actually, my CR leaders Jay and Karen in Florida also had a big impact on my growth over the last couple of years. Looking back I now know the reason I was led to Celebrate Recovery – I needed a lot of healing. I needed to learn to love myself. I needed to learn how to make healthy choices and healthy decisions and healthy boundaries. I needed to raise my self-respect and my self worth and that is exactly what I did. I also was able to get my ministry feet wet by learning to become the women’s share group leader. Jay and Karen are also the ones who got me onto the testimony circuit and provided feedback so I could get better at speaking in public. I also needed to learn to love others, but I think that comes with being comfortable with yourself and understanding who and what you are.
This leads to the people that made the most impact on me. The Liz’s, Tonia’s and Tracy’s – the people who like me for me. They think I am funny and intelligent and pretty and a whole lot of fun. I didn’t know anyone could like me without alcohol. I lived most of my life under the oppression of extreme social anxiety and it was not until I got sober, learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and started making sober friends that I found true friendships that showed me things I never knew about my self. I do belong and I do have a place in this world and there are people who cherish me for me. I guess this is the biggest lesson I have learned because it is the lesson that freed me from trying to be anyone except me.
I do not know what lies ahead for me, but I do know that I can handle whatever is coming my way. Right now I am focusing on job hunting and once I land a job I can start making a place for myself while I get back on my financial feet. I always wanted to leave Memphis and never come back, but maybe I wanted to leave because of what I needed to learn.
"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls." - Anais Nin
The End of an Era
I thought I came to Jacksonville to get my feet wet in ministry. I thought I came to Jacksonville to learn how to be a nicer, kinder and gentler me. I thought I came to Jacksonville to root out some evidences of past abuse. It turns out I came to Jacksonville to stop believing a lie that I can’t even tell you how I ever came to believe.
God: Jacksonville is preparation and nothing more.
Some time later….
Me: I can’t find a community to belong to here.
God: Why are you trying to make a home here? This isn’t your home.
Me: Do you understand that You are killing me! I can’t take the loneliness anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
God: I’m in charge of when you breathe and when you don’t. I am not killing you.
Me: What is it that You are trying to teach me? I can’t figure it out! You’ve taken away all of my distractions and I still can’t figure it out! I will never get out of this desert!
God: Yes, you will.
Some time Later….
Me: I don’t know if this is it, but I think maybe perhaps You want me to silence the undercurrent that says I am not good enough and never will be for anyone or anything. I don’t even know where it comes from, but every sermon, song, lesson, talk, etc – whenever something relating to Your truth about me versus my truth about me comes up – I start crying.
God: And you thought you’d never get out of the desert!
Me: How do I silence this undercurrent? I mean really silence it? I mean I don’t even know its there half the time, where it came from or what to do about it – so how do I silence it?
God: You listen to me. You listen to what I say about you. You accept it as truth just like you accepted the 12 steps as a way to stop drinking. You didn’t fully understand the steps or believe in them – you just accepted them. You need to accept my words about you as truth. You can ask me to silence it too, but I’d rather you proclaim it is silenced in my name. You say you don’t know where it comes from, but you do. He’s been lying to women since the first one I made. Perhaps this will make it easier for you – You can choose to listen to my voice or you can choose to listen to his. Listening to both hasn’t been working, wouldn’t you agree?
Ugh. I am definitely one of those people who are way more afraid to succeed than to fail. I have previously recounted a sermon I heard from Erwin McManus on the topic of the two voices in the Garden. In this talk, Erwin makes it clear that while God’s voice may convict us, His voice never condemns and only calls us to be more, to do more. God’s voice always call us up and calls us to want better and to do better. The other voice in the Garden not only condemns us, but oppresses us too. The other voice wants us to feel bad and it wants us to hide or escape into whatever horrible situations we can create in our lives. Two voices that want very different things for us and Erwin asked us this question: Who’s voice are you listening to?
Obviously, somewhere deep down in my being, I am listening to the wrong voice. Another wise pastor from my past, Craig Strickland, once said “You cannot feel your way into an action, but you can act your way into a feeling.” I know that for me to move forward I have to start taking God at His word, especially when it comes to me. And since I am taking it as truth, I also need to start acting on it as truth. This is the key for me to get myself out of the situation I am in and the key to opening that big scary door I am for some reason afraid to walk through.
“The Cave You Fear To Enter, Holds The Treasure That You Seek” -- Joseph Campbell
Touchdown or Crash-Landing?
Sometimes life takes you way, way, way up in the air and just leaves you there, hanging. After a while you can’t help but wonder if you are headed for a touchdown or a crash landing.
While my financial situation hasn’t changed, my stress level has skyrocketed. The company that I have been trying to run from is crumbling before my eyes. There is good news though! After feeling uneasy and unsafe for so long I had started to question if my past was causing issues in my present, but it would turn out that my gut, my discernment, my instinct – whatever you want to call it – it was telling me something is off and so are all these people. I couldn’t understand it. It was unfounded and I found it crazy that I felt safer in gang-ridden Los Angeles than in Jacksonville, FL, but as I now know those feelings weren’t so unfounded after all. This is the good news. It wasn’t me. It was and is the company and people I call my day home. While I cannot share any of it here at this time, it does feel good to know that I can and should trust my instincts.
I have been questioning many of my past decisions that were made based on my gut instinct and while they look like they might have been wrong – current happenings say otherwise. Following your gut instinct can lead you into a deep valley, but that doesn’t mean you were lead astray. In my case, I know that the valley I am in is a back-to-the-basics, re-grounding and re-focusing list of lessons that will make all the difference when the gate opens to the pasture in my future.
One of those lessons is the simple truth that I can ask Jesus for a hug whenever I feel overwhelmed and over stressed. I learned this one evening while in shavasana after a hearty detox flow. I saw myself as a little girl in a white dress balled up crying my eyes out. Jesus came to me and picked me up and I watched myself disappear into His light. I did catch a glimpse of myself in His arms and I was smiling from ear to ear and happy as a child could be. I then saw present day me get up off the yoga mat and walk into Jesus’ arms disappearing into His light. While I was watching all of this I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, calm and tranquility. I was immediately elevated somewhere above my current human status and experienced a calm I had never known before. I guess what I felt was love and my tear stained face proved it. And I have felt this same tranquility again and again as I have taken Jesus on His word when He told me at the end of that vision “Don’t forget I AM always here.” I no longer deal with anxious or unwanted thoughts in bed and I no longer worry about what to do with myself when I am alone. Some people have alcohol or weed or a host of other things, but I have Jesus and I find Him to be the most effective calming presence with zero negative side effects.
I am also finding out what is important to me and what deserves my focus and what does not. I am sad to say that like many people who grew up like I did – I have quite a fascination with materialistic things and the finer quality things at that. Take it from one who always wants the most expensive of everything… It turns out that I look just as good if not better in what I can easily afford! I do have to admit that my pride took a hit and I might have had to be forced into one of the stores after exhausting myself in 100-degree heat trying to replace a pair of everyday sandals that broke, but once I was in the store I had a hard time leaving.
And then there’s that whole living with intention and learning to make the best of every situation and becoming a living example of what I want to see more of instead of what I want to see less of…. Yes, I do agree… trusting your gut can lead you into a deep valley, but it does not mean you misunderstood or made a mistake. It does mean that you went where you needed to go to learn what you needed to learn for when you get plucked out of the valley and into the pasture that is your future. I mean what’s the purpose in getting everything you want if you have no idea what to do with it? I am now realizing this could have happened to me and it would have been a complete disaster! Oh and another something – I am finding that when I spend the day in Jesus’ arms – all those personality traits that I have been trying to get rid of somehow disappear and I didn’t do anything but ask Jesus to let me sit in His arms all day long. They say Jesus is sufficient and after spending the last couple of weeks in His arms I can say with complete certainty that He really is more than enough.
What Up Folks! So far 2016 is looking a lot like 2015 only with less sweetness because I gave up extraneous sugar for this 21 day fasting thing. I surprisingly did not have a hard time without my fix of fro-yo every weekend. I did, however, find it hard to not buy any sweets at the grocery store, which is why I am glad I kicked the sugar as my way of participating in a fast. It is easy to break promises I make to myself; it is harder to break promises I make to God. I can actually recall myself tooling down the frozen isle scoping out some new fro-yo only to remember “oh wait, this is a God promise. CRAP!” and I tooled on along down the isle and out of frozen land. While I have not officially lost any weight yet, my stomach is flatter and this improvement is all I need to keep extraneous sugar kicked out of my life!
On another front, I can say that my excitement for church is coming back! I have no idea how either. All I know is that once I finally relented and started going to the church that I felt God was constantly re-routing me to – something changed on the inside. I have found that I wake up excited on Sunday mornings even though my situation has not changed. I still go to church alone, sit alone, leave alone and go home to hang out alone, but I have an excitement that I cannot understand, an excitement beyond all understanding if you will. This is something I have been wrestling with while in Jacksonville. I have told God that I don’t like not having the excitement I had in LA. I told Him I want to enjoy my Sundays again, I want that excitement back, I want Sundays to be legendary again. Somehow the excitement is back and I am very grateful for it. I guess it lets me know that I can have joy in the middle of what was a situation that brought nothing but disappointment and tears. That’s definitely something, a God something, a Philippians 4:11-13 something. I also changed where I sit. I like to be in the middle of the action so I sit down front now regardless of when I arrive. I used to relent and go up the stairs and found that it interfered with my participation in service. They have these usher/bouncer dudes all over the place and I just make them find me a seat as close to the front as possible. I mean it is their job so why not let them be of service.
I am also trying to dig deeper in my Celebrate Recovery involvement. While I have been a facilitator/leader for the ladies share group at the beaches, I have only been fulfilling the role in the small group session itself. This past month I have been digging deeper in that I have been focusing on building better relationships with the women who come to the beaches CR. Instead of talking to friends at the café afterwards, I am focusing on talking to some of the ladies in the group, trying to get more of a feel for where they are in life, where they are mentally and where they are spiritually. I want to be an encourager, a cheer leader, an ear, and a guide for these ladies in their own battles and the only way to do this is to spend time with them and so far I am loving what I am learning.
I have had that Live Love Lead book by Brian Houston for a while now, but just recently started to read it. I came home from the grocery store on Saturday and felt a prompting to go to the beach. Due to the cold weather I hadn’t been in about a month and it was a sweet 67 degrees and already 3pm so I decided to head to the closest beach for some relaxation. As I was leaving I felt the nudge to pick up Brian’s book so I grabbed it with no intention of actually reading it. Once I got to the beach I was glad to see some soft sand and nestled in to watch the waves roll in and out. I find their rhythm hypnotizing and healing. The waves do something for me that I cannot do for myself and after my recent vacation I found that the sound of the waves can be just as beneficial and so I took out the book and started reading. I got through the introduction and the first two chapters and feel that God was trying to re-confirm His plans for me, my ministry calling and His promise in the verse He has gave me last year. (Joel 2:25)
Life has just been hard and it is getting harder. The pressure is on at a level that I have never experienced. I know I have to make a move, but the move I want to make and the move that is most likely going to be available are not the same. To make matters worse, I am conflicted about staying in Jacksonville. In Los Angeles I had everything I wanted, but felt that something was off, that I wasn’t supposed to stay and that prompting turned into busted fire hydrant pressure. Here in Jacksonville, I have nothing that I want, but feel complete peace and have absolutely no prompting to do anything except focus on the tasks I feel God has given me like this blog, the new video series, a possible memoir and continuing with ministry leadership training. It is so strange especially since I know that I have to make a career change due to impending financial ruin. Jacksonville does not seem to offer the career options I am looking for and I feel very conflicted about leaving and more frankly I don’t even know if I can leave at this point. You could say that just like I relented on the church I felt God leading me attend, I am ready to relent on Jacksonville and so I tell God daily – If you want me here – then plant me. If not, then move me. But whatever You do, do it quickly - One thing I am looking forward to is the job hunt being over! I need to focus on the video series and I cannot do that if I am spending an hour a night job hunting. That hour should be creating time if not resting and relaxation time. I can’t keep going on all cylinders all day and all night, especially with a job that drains ones soul like mine does. To be frank, I need a minute and some fun to boot.
Overall, I do have a good start to the new year. Eating is going better thanks again to the fasting thing at church. I am delving deeper into ministry leadership, looking for a better paying job, making an effort to venture out more via local Meetup groups and in a few weeks I will be participating in a small group and the women’s ministry stuff for the spring semester at my church. All of these are in my goals for 2016 and to quote my calendar for the month of February…
I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart – Vincent Van Gogh
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.
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….