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!
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.
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.”
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…
A Simple Longing
Last month I shared my inability to create a community around me here in Los Angeles. I also shared how this inability to create a community was eating away at my soul. As it turns out, this simple longing in my soul led me to cling to the only person available to me, My Lord, Jesus.
As everyone and everything appeared to be taken from me, it became clear that I needed to cling to Jesus, that I needed to spend time with Him and ask Him what He wants from me and for me. He did not hesitate to respond.
His main priorities concern the proper care of my spiritual body through spending time in His Word and in prayer, the proper care of my physical body through moderate exercise and healthy eating (something I’ve been struggling with as of late) and of course, my writing.
It was through spending time in His Word, that He has slowly revealed to me what I believe to be a portion of His plan for me. His plan starts with my growing up. He gently told me that I have been an infant Christian for over 15 years and that it is time for some growth. I have found myself back at the very first church I crossed off my list when I started church hunting a few months back. I started going to this church for the sole purpose of spending time with a spiritual friend who happens to attend this church. My intent was to spend time with my friend and endure this church, but this church is where my growth appears to be beginning. To be frankly honest, the plan God has laid before me starts with taking part in several learning and growth opportunities available through this church, which means I will be remaining in LA for quite some time.
This plan also laid out a new career track and I have begun the exhausting work of job hunting. I know I would like to work in a non-profit or ministry related non-profit, but I do not have any further definite direction. I feel like God is taking me all the way back to my beginning. I thought I had already come full circle, but it turns out I wasn’t quite there yet. As each month of sobriety passes, I get a little more clarity on who I am and an equal amount of clarity on how much confusion alcohol brought into my life.
In August, I will be celebrating my second year of sobriety and with this celebration; I am recommitting myself to the AA program. I have to admit that I have not been to a meeting in months. I had to leave my home group due to a bleeding deacon and some issues relating to the male variety. While I have been searching for a new meeting that easily fits into my schedule, there are semi-convenient meetings available and I am just going to have to make one of them my new AA home.
On a recent hike, a friend and I planned on following a local hiking group to a southern Cali waterfall that actually had water. We kept a decent distance until we got lost in our cameras and completely lost sight of the group. Since we were following a group, we did not bother looking at the map at the park entrance so we had to pick a trail and hope for the best. And so we hiked and hiked and hiked until we found a stream. It was easy to tell which way the current was running so we stayed close to this stream and headed up towards its source. We had no idea where we were, but we knew we were headed in the right direction. We followed the stream for over an hour and were about to give up when we heard the sound of rushing water and laughter. We pressed forward and found this stream’s source, a beautiful and somewhat rare, southern California waterfall.
Sometimes, God only reveals which way His current is flowing and leaves it up to us to take on the adventure of following His stream wherever it may lead. It’s what I am doing right now and if you find yourself in a similar circumstance, I hope you will choose to follow the stream because if you don’t – you just might miss the beauty and wonder of a magnificent waterfall.