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.
One morning in meditation I focused on the phrase “I am capable”. I began to hear the lyrics to a Crowder song float through my head… “Oh, the cross meant to kill is my victory…” My mind began to combine the two into one phrase or one thought: I am capable because the cross meant to kill is my victory… This led to a final impression during the meditation: That which is meant to destroy me, can also be used to propel me forward.
I think anyone reading this blog knows that I have really been going through it since my return to Memphis. I have known some others who like myself left, got sober and later returned to only find themselves back in treatment. I even had people warn me to stay away, but my path took me here. At the time, I just thought they were weak or not working their program, but Memphis is proving to be the biggest test of my sober life. I love that my family is here, but I don’t really love anything else about this town, or the south for that matter. It’s not like I live against the grain here or anything… I just find that I do better or feel more comfortable in very open and creative environments. It’s like my introverted soul needs that accepting energy in order to breathe.
After the meditation, I decided to jot down the things that I perceive to be crippling my life:
My job – the happy hours, the coworkers, the work itself or lack thereof.
My severe social anxiety
My indecision paralysis
My health issues
My depression/Fear of my future
My question to myself has been how in the world do each of the above items propel me forward? How can each of them be used to propel me forward?
In typical Jesus fashion my answer came in the form of a parable regarding life on the trail. I feel most free when I am exploring a new trail and it occurred to me that I never remember the end of a trail… I never remember the moment I finished. I only remember the sights, sounds and discoveries made while exploring. I recall the pressure moments when I had to find a way around, over, under or through something in order to continue on the trail. I recall a creek discovered, the baby deer we got footage of, the large snapping turtle that walked across our path or the moment we decided to veer off the main path which led us to a private waterfall. I never recall the beginning or the end… only all the stuff in the middle, the experiences, the moments of awe and the moments of sheer terror and it is these moments that form and mold me into the person I am today. It’s not a defining moment, but rather a slow progression that happens without my even being aware of it so long as I continue navigating to the best of my ability and trusting that my savior and friend will help me if I get stuck.
I guess that’s the answer to my question. How does each of my life crippling factors propel me forward? They just do so long as I stay committed to putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing over and over again while staying committed to doing life with my savior and friend, Jesus.
I mean I have seen it happen in my own life. My first year of sobriety in Los Angeles was insane. I couldn’t even take myself to the grocery store I was so freaked out…. But somehow I finally managed to go grocery shopping, attend all my meetings, get a good job, make friends, find a church home, start adventuring, take commitments at meetings, take commitments at church, learned to rock climb, learned to paint, learned to SUP, learned the neurology of addiction and most importantly I have learned what it means to do life with Jesus because when you can’t even go to the grocery store because you are paralyzed with fear… you really learn what it means to lean in, trust and walk hand in hand with the Creator of the universe. (P.S. it was my sobriety that led me to several new loves in my life including hiking/adventuring, photography, live show production and public speaking! Not bad for someone that was so scared and timid she couldn’t even go to the grocery store!)
Walking hand in hand with my higher power is what I am doing right now. I am being tested beyond belief, maybe slightly loosing my mind some days, but I am staying sober and not taking on any new addictions – thank you! Slowly, but surely I am getting back on track with my creative pursuits. I feel uncomfortable, I feel unstable… I feel like nothing in my life is making sense right now, in fact, I feel like I am walking on a dead end road and maybe I am for that matter…. but I know that all of this stuff that is meant to destroy me… meant to be my downfall… is actually going to be what propels me forward into a new existence, a new reality or perhaps onto a new path. It’s not about the beginning or the end; it’s about where the journey takes you and who you become as a result of saying yes to the adventure.
As I type this post, I am nearing the end of my stint in retail. I never knew how important keeping a schedule was to my sobriety until I entered the world of retail at Christmastime! I have worked nights, days and weekends with minimal days off and it has wreaked havoc on my soul. I have always known that I was a lower energy individual and that my time to myself is important to my mental and emotional balance, but this time in retail proved just how important it is! I have talked previously about how my ability to cope with any sort of perceived stress is at an absolute zero in my sober life. During my stint in retail I had zero time for things I enjoy, zero time to veg out and zero time to well, breathe. As a consequence I spent most of the holidays in a sustained craving for a release and the most desired form was the insane desire to cut. I haven’t had this particular desire since I was a teenager. It was like my mind just skipped over the whole alcohol and drug thing, knowing it was a road to nowhere fast, and opted for cutting to release the insane amount of pressure and anxiety building up inside me. I cannot even explain this pressure, just that it was almost too much to bear and that I routinely daydreamed about jumping off a bridge into water and quickly drowning or I dreamed of cutting… the cutting dreams were actually bringing me some relief… they lessened the pressure a little bit. I started to crave cigarettes again too, which is something I haven’t craved since I quit drinking back in 2012. So how am I still here you ask? Well I prayed, begged and pleaded with God to somehow help me AND I took myself to any meeting my schedule would allow AND I found some ladies I could confide in and I told them what was going on inside me. I used the program of AA like I am supposed to when my world gets turned on its side leaving me wanting any escape possible. I also ate a lot of sugar… I believe I was eating a large Caramello a day just to keep myself alive plus a lot of other sugar. I learned early in sobriety that there will be days that I will have to substitute sugar (alcohol) for sugar ( candy, chocolate, etc) and I did what I had to do to keep myself sober. I kept putting one foot in front of the other by going to work, going to meetings and letting people in the program be my support system and I made it through… still sober today. An extra tidbit for those who experience this same type of internal pressure/anxiety… I also started doing alternate nostril breathing multiple times a day. It’s kind of a reset for your nervous system and it helps quiet the chatter. I know of the practice from yoga, but I have not used it for anxiety/stress/anger until now and it does produce relief!
On a brighter note, I have finally landed a new job that will take me back into a balanced lifestyle. And I have a generous amount of vacation to start with right off the bat! I am not even sure I can use all of the vacation the first year! I want a family trip, a ladies excursion and then maybe a fun trip somewhere to just visit life elsewhere. We will see, I guess. It was this job that saved me, really. As soon as I knew I had it, I could see light at the end of my craving tunnel. At least I am hoping that it is the crazy schedule and not Memphis that has produced this prolonged and deep rooted desire for escape! I guess we’ll see on that note soon since my new job has me staying in Memphis!
And so it begins… New year, New Job, New Life… Back where it all started. I want to complete my new years resolutions this year. I have been working with my higher power (Jesus) to formulate a plan to make things better for myself and I have quite a list to charge my way through. Some of the things on the list aren’t even fully conceptualized, but I trust that things will become clear as I approach and/or begin each task. I don’t even fully understand each task, but I feel that the key to making my life and me better rests on the completion of these tasks and so I will complete every last one. Understanding or not, makes sense or not… I just know I need to complete the list. As of right now, I only have the first half of 2018 to complete, which means I need to get going, because there is a second half that will begin to fill up as I complete what is on the first half. I kind of feel like I am at the starting point of what is to become the rest of my life and I have no idea what that looks like, but I am ready to try. And so it begins… my next chapter…. How will you write yours?
Resolutions for 2018
2017 is coming to a close and I for one am glad to put this one in the books. It was a hard year to say the least. I lost my residence and I could not find another one so I was forced to crash around until I finally came to the conclusion that I had to go back to Memphis and back to my mom’s house. I never meant to return to this city apart from visiting family. My mom and brother may call it home, but it has never been my home. It has been a hard pill to swallow to say the least. On top of this is the fact that I have not been able to obtain gainful employment. Things were looking good at the beginning of my return, but I continued to be the one among two that was not chosen. I am working retail at the moment and I am wondering how long this scenario is going to last. I have some pots warming on the stove, but none of them are near the salaries I was getting earlier in the year… though they do beat my old salary by more than a bit.
The one thing that has been good about this return to Memphis is the fact that my creative energy is back. I have been writing again and I have a slew of projects on the horizon. This is something I’ve been questioning God about… Why is it that my creativity is coming back now? Why not while I was living in Los Angeles or down in Florida? God’s response was simple and to the point as is customary for our relationship. My love of the outdoors and my penchant for being out and about and trying new places and things is a distraction. Apparently, if I want to blossom in some creative areas I have to take myself away from the fun.
Another area of concern I have had involves church. The only church I have ever felt comfortable in is Mosaic in Los Angeles. I finally found a church I was okay with in Jacksonville meaning I liked the pastor and I like the music, but I was never fully comfortable. I moved shortly after I started to get involved and have been going to church with my mom. Her church is probably the only close version to the churches I like in Memphis. The preaching is okay, the music is good, but I always feel extremely uncomfortable when I attend. I am just sick of visiting church after church and always feeling so uncomfortable… So I asked Jesus why I am so uncomfortable in His churches? I am still digesting His response… A lot of these large non-denominational churches like that of the ARC churches are known for exerting a great amount of control over the people in their congregations to try and keep the church a safe and healthy place. The problem is I am picking up on that male domineering control and it is making me supremely uncomfortable to the point that I want to bolt out of the building and get to where I feel safe which is outside in the parking lot. I am not a cookie cutter, drink the kool-aid kind of Christian and I feel that at this church… you have to be or you just fall of the schedule so to speak. I feel like God has called me to attend a leadership class at this church and now I have to decide if I can go to the class or if I should vagabond around town until I find somewhere to worship that doesn’t make me want to bolt.
While 2017 brought a swarm of unwelcome events, I am hopeful for a stark contrast in 2018. I am looking forward to getting at least two of my creative projects completed and I am hoping to get a third project up and running. I am hopeful for new employment that will allow me to get debt paid off and will allow for a path of upward mobility whether with that organization or some place else. I am just hopeful for a lot of forward movement. I don’t want to waste time this year… I want to move forward… I want to step into my future.
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