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.
A Rerouted Life
Well, California, if it makes you feel any better, I too am in what feels like a burn season. I lost the job I have been trying to get rid of, had a biopsy done, got rear-ended by a dude in surgery scrubs who wasn’t paying attention and may now loose my car to the wonderful state of Florida who has all the laws it doesn’t need and none of the laws it does need. As we all know you can kill people and get away with it here in Florida, but to make it easier for killers, crazies and terrorists, the great state of Florida allows anyone to buy a gun with no wait and no background check. Anywho, that’s a soapbox for another day. Life can just sweep you off your feet in the worst way possible and that is what it is doing to me right now.
I was able to get another job within two weeks, but the job is still low pay. I believe it is going to average out to about $20 more a pay check so I guess I can say that I did move up, albeit a very tiny step in the right direction. The good news is that I have good benefits and much more time off. My work days are shorter, I get more holidays and I have a shut down at Thanksgiving and Christmas which means I will be able to go home and see my family. For those of you who haven’t caught on yet, I am now in the field of higher education. This is a career field I have been thinking about because it is historically good for women, has longevity, great benefits and depending on the university and department within the university – there is ample time off that you don’t get unless you are in education or entertainment production. All of which are pluses in my book. So while I may still be in a monetary pinch, I am seeing this as a launching pad sort of opportunity. I will be learning the ins and outs of a controller’s office and in a few years I can either jump to an internal opening or jump to another university and they have those everywhere! So it is not all doom and gloom for this gypsy heart lady.
The ministry side of life is going strong. I am taking on some more responsibility in my Celebrate Recovery home group. Aside from leading the ladies share group, I will be doing more talking in large group, co-leading a fall step-study and getting my teaching feet wet by providing the training portion of the CR leadership meetings. I love my Friday nights with my ladies and am excited to learn and grow as a Celebrate Recovery ministry leader.
Now that I know I will be remaining in Jacksonville for a while, I need to pick a church home. I feel like I am repeating my Los Angeles days all over again. I started out at a church where I felt something was off, but I ignored the feeling and tried everything I could to find a place to belong. After a year long battle, I stepped away from church #1 and started visiting a couple other churches and one of them became home, my tribe and my life for the remainder of my time in Los Angeles. I seem to be doing the exact same thing on the other side of the country. I picked a church and made it home even though I felt something was off, tried everything I could to find a place t belong, but in the end I find myself stepping away. I guess I am hoping that what happened in Los Angeles will happen here in Jacksonville, that I will find my Mosaic here on the east coast.
While I don’t know what is going to happen with my car at this moment, I do have peace about the situation. The insurance company is doing everything they can to help me, but in the end, if the bumper comes off and the body shop reports frame damage, I will loose my car. I have fought and fought to keep my car, but it hit me the other night, that this might be one of those saving grace moments. If my transmission or some other major repair was suddenly needed, I might not be able to afford to fix the car and I cannot finance a car right now so I would be in serious trouble. Perhaps, I am losing my car and getting a little cash to buy another one (emphasis on little cash which is the issue) because something is about to go wrong with the car I am fighting so hard to keep. I can’t see what lies ahead, but Jesus can and He might have orchestrated the whole rear-ending event to save me from something I cannot see. In sobriety they tell you that you that your life is like an onion. Our lives, our emotions, our attitudes, our opinions, our perceptions and our actions form the layers around the core of the onion and it is in recovery that we begin the process of peeling back those layers to get to the core of who we really are. I feel that I have been peeling back the layers of surrender these past few weeks. The idea of surrender is a huge component of the 12 steps, but the day-to-day surrender takes on new meaning when you begin to realize that you really don’t have much control when it comes to anything except your response to every day life. If you are like me and like to have everything done a certain way and in a certain time frame then you have even more of a struggle with the daily letting go and truly letting God.
Everything good is grace and everything bad is the stuff Jesus holds your hand through until we get to abide in His arms. It is hard to take a step back and surrender to a life event, but it is what is required. We like to think that we have all the answers, but many times it is our decisions and our will that gets us into the tight spots in life. We thought we were right, we thought we had the plan, but then something happens to shake everything up and we get rerouted and more often than not, we look back and say thank you Jesus for rerouting me out of that disaster! In order to get rerouted we had to come to a moment of surrender that we did not like and move in a direction we did not want or anticipate, but that decision to let go and move in the direction God was apparently moving, is what rescued us.
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.
A Changing of the Tides
This last month has been a whirlwind of emotions. I went from loving my surroundings and my church to wanting to leave and never look back only to find myself thinking maybe it’s not the end of the world if I stay here a little bit longer. The bottom line is I have to do something and after glancing at my savings account I think I know what I have to do. As much as I would love to get back to a bigger city, I need to stop pre-judging every opportunity that comes my way. I also need to be realistic about my current financial situation and that means accepting an opportunity within my preferred salary range either here in Jacksonville or back in Memphis and sticking with the job for the next few years so I can get my debt paid off, replenish my savings account, buy a new car, buy a new Macbook and buy a new Galaxy. I am literally living on borrowed time with all three of those absolutely necessary items! I mean I know my phone is old, but I didn’t realize how old until I was until I was taking a picture of a lion at the Catty Shack Ranch. Everyone was lined up along the fence, zooming in for the perfect shot and I couldn’t believe the captures of the people next to me. I might as well been standing there shaking a Polaroid. At least that’s how I felt.
Anywho… Once I allow myself to accept a boring (my perception) new job with a decent salary, I will be able to put the focus back on my writing, my video devotional series and the books I have planned to write! I will also have more energy to devote to the ministry leadership opportunities that are currently sitting in my lap. I guess what it all comes down to is trust. I am going to have to give up, give in and trust that God knows exactly what He is doing. I would like to say that I am in the Hall of Fame when it comes to trusting God. I have certainly trusted Him with some pretty big items: keeping me cancer free, the move to LA, and the move to Florida. While I might find it easier to trust Him with the big-ticket items above (items I feel I cannot control) I am realizing that I don’t trust Him when I have or feel that I have partial control. It’s like if I can touch it then I can screw it up so it must not be in the cards type of thinking. I have to come to a point where I realize what walking in grace actually means. I had a conversation with Jesus this afternoon regarding some opportunities – good opportunities – that I totally flaked. I told Him that I guessed those type of opportunities were long gone considering my inability to accept parachute number 250. His words to me were this “Did you not think I would know how long it would take you to relinquish your control? Do you still not realize that you always walk in My grace?”
Perhaps it is time to start trusting God for all the things I secretly want in and for my life. Not begging for them, not petitioning for them, but just trusting for them to appear when they are supposed to appear. Perhaps it is time to realize that while there may be a direct route to where we each want to go in life, we seldom ever choose it. If we did, we’d miss out on so much. Besides, don’t the best things in life come in unexpected packages? I think I’ve heard that somewhere. So maybe, just maybe…when life pushes you into a corner thereby taking away your ability to pick and choose – it’s actually for your own good.
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 Look Back and A Look Ahead
As I sit here staring out the window on a warm and dreary day in Northeast Florida, listening to the sound of rain falling onto the trees and grass, I really can’t believe it’s almost December! Time sure does fly whether you’re having fun or not. Seriously.
While my time in Jacksonville hasn’t been the most exciting of times, it sure has been a necessary time of personal healing. When I came here, I was confused about everything and that confusion spilled over into my confidence both personally and professionally. It is really amazing when you can look back and see God’s hand leading you through the past year and I can definitely see Him in mine.
I had an opportunity to get on with the major media player in town, but due to my mental and emotional state it would have been a disaster and I can see God’s hand in leading me away from that job in a miscommunication of interview times. Even though the job I did land barely allows me to make ends meet, I have yet again enjoyed favor in the company and have been able to chart my own course in hours, lunches, time off and the lateral move into a better fitting department. Looking back, I can say that I needed a lower key job while I was going through a time of personal healing so that I could make my way back to the confident, intelligent, go-getter that I am.
So much has happened on the spiritual side that I don’t even know where to begin. God has been speaking into my heart through some of the pastors here in town as well as my home tribe in LA. Don’t you love it when the devil comes at you with brute force and God leads you to a church service where the pastor affirms your stance, gives you confidence and breathes new life into you? That happened to me this past year. I had a Stephen Minister who is part of a local Celebrate Recovery call me stupid for surrendering a certain area of my life to Jesus and actually abiding by His word in this area. He did more than just call me stupid, he was actually trying to coerce me to see things his way so he would have an open door, which I shut and dead bolted immediately. To say this caught me off guard is an understatement. At the time I was going through Redeemed Esteem at Celebration Church, which is a book and corresponding program for those who have past abuse in their lives. I was already in extreme emotional upheaval due to the class, but the devil likes to strike when he thinks we are weak. The trick is – if we are surrendered to Christ and actively putting Him first in our lives – we’re actually stronger than ever regardless of what we might look like to others. I let this man steal my joy for about a month. I had an opportunity to lead big group one night and I couldn’t do it because he was there. I hadn’t fully digested what had happened, how it affected me, why it affected me that way and fully given it to God so I just wasn’t ready. While I do disagree with the fact that he is a Stephen Minister – limited Stephen Minister I should say – I can be in the same room with him now and I pray for his spiritual maturity because he needs it. I kind of drifted, what I meant to say is that the very next day – I went to hear Russ Austin over at Southpoint Community Church and he spoke an entire sermon on the issue with which I had just been challenged. My friend looked at me and said, “ That was for you!”
The last minute, last seat in the Redeemed Esteem class at Celebration was also intended for me. It might even be one of the main reasons I came to Jacksonville. A lot of healing took place in that class. Strongholds that I have had for years vanished in that class. I have shared previously that I have never been able to see myself correctly in that I tend to see someone much heavier in the mirror. I literally freaked out one day because my wrist looked so small. Truth is I think I was seeing as it really is for the first time that day. I like what I see when I look in the mirror these days too. I have a new confidence that I didn’t have before participating in that class and I am grateful for it. I told the leader / author, Patricia Newton, that I am interested in facilitator training so that might be something on the horizon in the new year as she is working to get the corresponding study guide published and on the market. The book is available online and in select stores for those interested.
I have also been challenged to start tithing. I have to admit that I have never been a tither. Namely because I tend to be on the poor end of the prosperity spectrum, but in a recent sermon by a guest pastor at Celebration I felt God hit me over the head. I knew it was my time. I know that when you put God first, God blesses that area of your life and the one area I have yet to give Him is my finances, which by the way, are at a level of devastation that I didn’t even experience in LA! And so I tithed for the first time a week ago. It hurt. I cried. I’m a gluten-free, diabetic who needs to eat. I have a car that is literally on its last leg. I have too much debt to mention. My identity was stolen earlier this year creating more debt that I am fighting. My job is not sufficient, but I knew that when I took it – it was suppose to be a get my wits back and move on sort of position. I didn’t think I’d be there this long and so with all of this going on – I have started tithing! I mean with all of that facing me it seems like a no-brainer – I need to put God first in my finances and I am doing just that despite the fact that I have no idea how I am going to make it through each month. From now on I do the following with each check I receive: pay God, pay myself, and manage the rest. Period. End Point. Ditto.
Celebrate Recovery has been another major healing factor in my life and I also believe this to be one of the reasons I came to Jacksonville. I was just too busy in LA to get involved in CR, but once I moved to Jacksonville, I had all the time in the world. Celebrate Recovery has been the other major component in helping me get my groove back so to speak. After attending the same CR for a while, I was able to move onto the leadership team and start being the women’s small group facilitator. I also help out in big group on occasion and was able to give a mini-mony at this CR’s Anniversary party. After giving my mini-mony, I was approached by a couple other CR’s in town to give my full testimony at their meetings. A few months later I received a surprise email asking me to give my testimony at the Mandarin area meeting and I said yes even though I hadn’t bothered to flesh out a 20 minute testimony and would only have a few days to get it written in order to submit it for review. I am so glad I said yes! I was able to flesh out a close to 20 minute testimony and really enjoyed being able to share my story of transformation with others. That first night is special to me and the crew over at Mandarin UMC were so welcoming. An interesting thing happened that night that I want to share: During the pre-service prayer, where leaders pray for the band, host and speaker, I felt the room grow warm to the point we were all flush. A wave of calm swept over me that was so powerful that I had to ask the angels present to take a few steps back because I felt like I had swallowed a chill pill or muscle relaxant and needed this calming energy to fade just a little bit or my testimony would be rather interesting! The amazing thing is that the energy dissipated just enough for me to be fully there, but also be fully calmed. My nerves left and did not return. I was fully comfortable up in front of everyone and was able to maintain a good speaking flow and a lot of eye contact with the audience. It truly is amazing when the angels come close! Another cool thing about that night is that there were about ten female newcomers all my age in the audience. I, of course, did not know until afterwards when the group walked over to CR 101 and I over heard them saying they were all first timers. God is so Good. I truly hope that my story of transformation helped them to open up to the transforming love of Jesus Christ and to keep coming back to CR of course! I am also excited to do it all again over at the Chets Creek CR in the new year because if there is one thing I love talking about – it is Jesus and what all He continues to do for me.
Hillsong came to Jacksonville for their Hillsong NIghts tour and it was incredible. I tried to explain to my friend that the energy of that night is what it is like to go to Mosaic every Sunday. She couldn’t quite believe me, but its true. I miss the energy of Mosaic and it was nice to have that energy back at Hillsong Nights. The next day I went to Celebration to hear Brian Houston speak on what would become a talk for the dreamers of the world. At the end, my friend, yet again, turned to me and said, “That was for you!”. Little did she know that during that sermon God breathed a new project into my life.
I have only been in Jacksonville a year, but a lot has happened. God definitely had a reason for ripping me out of Los Angeles and bringing me to a moment of stillness so that He could take me up a level so to speak. I am hoping to refresh my website over the month of December revealing a new look and vibe for the January 1st 2016 post. I am also going to be expanding into the vlog/video world in the new year. This is the project that God breathed into me over Hillsong weekend. I have finished the brainstorming phase and am moving into the content creation phase which will be followed by deciding on a home for the content and of course, production. I do not yet have a launch date as I don’t yet know if this content will be on my site, on YouTube or somewhere else so stay tuned as info becomes available. Lastly, God has laid it on my heart to work on a memoir in the same vein of my CR testimony only on a much larger scale. I probably won’t start on that until the video content is off the ground, but you never know because God’s time table and our time tables are not always the same.
I guess it is sufficient to say that I am grateful for 2015 and excited to see where God takes me in 2016. My motto is always Stay Gypsy… Stay in His Wind.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of You!
P.S. my friend Ruth is currently trying to fund a well through Generostiy.
Her project page is give.generosity.org/ruthwarner
Feel free to read up on all the amazing work of Generosity Water, donate to my friend’s Well, spread the word, buy some goods or start your own Well Project! If you’re not the charity type, 2016 is a great time to start on a new path.
Producing Fruit in a Desert
What can I say folks, sometimes life hurts. And my life is hurting bad right now. I think it is safe to say that I left a physical desert where I was in a mental, emotional and spiritual oasis in sunny SoCal, and now find myself surrounded by water in a mental, emotional, and spiritual desert in sunny Florida.
Physically, I am back in a complete standstill. I threw out my back a few weeks ago and went from being able to do a forward bend with my nose against my knees to having to fight to barely touch my toes! I thought I was on the mend and went for a short walk a few days ago that reignited all of the pain and so I am back to gentle yoga and absolutely nothing else. My lower back and right hip are the main culprits with my right hip taking the trophy for intense sharp pain shooting around all the day long. Emotionally, I might as well be the only person in this town. Every time I think I have made a new friend they start treating me like an afterthought by routinely making plans with me and then canceling at the last second only to say something like “hey, I’m doing this now so can’t do whatever with you.” My roommate says she has experienced a lot of that herself. Who knew small town Jacksonville would have bigger and more blatantly rude flakes than that of Los Angeles. At least in LA people make up an actual excuse! Here in Jax people actually tell you what they are going to go do instead of hanging out with you! So Rude. And then there’s that job I have. There’s nothing like working with people that you know hate you. It gets even more fun when your job doesn’t even begin to fulfill, engage or excite you. I am one of those people who need to be fully engaged in my activities because if I am not, my mind rolls over to everything in the world that I should not be thinking about and so with the pain, the rude treatment from could be friends and the nothing but time to focus on all the wrong things – folks – I am mentally, emotionally and physically spent. I have no idea how long I am supposed to be in this town, but let’s just say that unlike LA, I don’t think I’m gonna feel terrible if I suddenly have to move elsewhere.
The only good news is that I have finally sort of picked a church home. It is a church I just keep going back to because I really dig the pastor. I am actually going to be spread across two churches this fall – a class at one where I will be taking on a major issue in my life and a life group at the one I am calling home at the moment. The other good point is my continued involvement at a local Celebrate Recovery where I am getting my ministry feet wet. I am learning how to lead a group of ladies, learning how to connect to people and learning how to speak in front of others and hopefully slowly gaining a stage presence. It is this ministry stuff that needs to become more of my life – that is where my passion is, that is where my excitement is, that is where I come alive and activate the best version of myself.
You would think year 3 would sound better wouldn’t you? I thought about that too and then it hit me – I spent 15 years in rebellion to God in an addiction that I repeatedly chose to stay in. Yes, I gave God the one thing I didn’t think I could live without, but I’ve only worked off 3 of my 15 years. Thank you Jesus that You are not that kind of God! While it is true that I am still an infant when it comes to sobriety, God is not sitting up there with a stick marking off each day waiting for me to equalize the situation before He can bless me, love me or work in my life. We humans tend to find ourselves thinking that way because it is how we were taught right from wrong. You intentionally break your little brother’s tricycle so he can’t follow you around, chances are your parents will take away your bike as punishment. It’s how they teach us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, but it is not how God deals with us, especially when we come to Him and admit what a shattered disaster we have become. I fully admit that I have absolutely no idea how I am gong to go from where I am right now to the vision of my life that has been laid out by God. The good news is God does! My job is to stay close to Him, stay in His word, abide by His word understanding that any parameters are there to protect me and not keep me from having fun, and trust that as I grow in faith, God will open the doors that I so desperately want to open right now. I guess for me, year 3 is the year of being a grown up, digging in and doing what I don’t want to, being faithful to the positions and places God has put me in until He opens another door.
That door I am so desperate to open is a position under a successful and dynamic ministry where I can learn how to be a leader and grow my abilities for speaking God’s word, teaching God’s word and leading others through discipleship. Until that happens I am continuing to learn and grow in the ministry I am currently serving in and hoping for a career opportunity in the same realm.
I recently heard a mega gator fan give his CR testimony and in that testimony he shared this line from Tim Tebow’s book: Use the platform you’ve been given for God’s purpose and not your own. That line made me start thinking. I know what I want out of my potential ministry involvement, but I haven’t asked God what He wants out of it. I haven’t asked God what He wants out of my life, my work, my writing, my relationships or any platform that He might bestow upon me. And that’s a question I probably should have asked at the beginning. I am currently meditating on that question with God. So far, I feel like He has told me that His purpose and Plan for any platform He gives me is to help change lives by changing habits and to promote true healing by helping people live in true alignment with Christ mentally, emotionally and physically. I really need to start making this my purpose in all of my dealings whether it is in a CR group, the grocery store or with my less than desired co-workers. I may not be living the life I wish to yet, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t act as if I already am that person.
I recently had the opportunity to share a bare bones version of my testimony at a local Celebrate Recovery anniversary party. I didn’t realize how much of a story I actually had until I tried putting my story on paper. I spent the following week trying to cut it down to the time frame I had been given and it was tough because everything I’ve ever been through seemed pertinent. Anywho, since August brings my 3rd Sober Birthday I thought I would share my bare bones testimony with all of you:
Hi! My name is Jessica and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with alcohol, anxiety, and self-worth.
When I write I like to have angle to work with and my angle for this testimony came from a song called Broken Vessels: “Oh I can see you now, Oh I can see the love in your eyes, Laying yourself down, Raising up the Broken to Life.” Because this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me!
You see I have been switching back and forth between two very different lives since I was nine years old. I grew up in church. I had a good family. I lived in a nice house in a nice part of town. I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday School, I went on mission trips, I led bible studies and I helped make the first Passion Conference happen. I did a lot in a few short and widely separated years of sobriety.
However, the majority of my life went more like a nightmare. I grew up with extreme social anxiety and had a hard time connecting to anyone. BUT, I quickly found that I could do anything and be anyone as long as I had alcohol in my system. My first drink was at nine years old. Nothing special, just a stolen beer shared between two best friends. It would be years later before I would have another alcoholic drink. I was 16 and made a new friend who introduced me to wine coolers. High school quickly became a blur as I routinely opted for spiked coffee in the morning, spiked soda at lunch and whatever I could get my hands on after school. I had a horrible relationship with my parents. I cursed them out daily and was out all hours of the night. My parents had no idea what to do with me. It was normal for me to drink until I blacked out and I did so every night of every weekend. My social anxiety made me dependent on alcohol, which brought a lot of depression so I was also a cutter for most of my teenage years. I hated myself, I hated my life and I only felt free when I was in the oblivion alcohol brought me.
As I mentioned earlier, I had bouts of sobriety that were broken by that lie alcoholics like to tell themselves. “I can control it this time. I just need a little release. Everybody else gets to let loose. One drink won’t kill me.” And down the rabbit hole I went faster than the previous time. Only now I was working and supporting myself. I was in Human Resources of all careers and I had found a new best friend in wine. Most of the time I was sober during the day, but I started drinking the second I was home. I longed for the weekends so I could go on benders and I got increasingly irritated with my co-workers, family members and friends due to my constant craving for oblivion. It got to the point that I was consuming multiple bottles of wine a night, often drinking until I vomited or passed out.
I eventually had another stint of sobriety that lasted about two years. It was all adrenaline and zero anything else and so I fell back into the arms of alcohol and told myself I would change my life once I left Memphis and I did just that – but it was not on my terms.
A few years later, I found myself living in a roach infested rented room in Los Angeles. By this time I was drinking a large bottle of Vodka a day and popping migraine pills to ease the suffering of my vodka based diet. I could barely walk to the mailbox because my muscles were so weak, including my heart, which palpitated non-stop. For the first time in my life, alcohol was not working. I could no longer reach oblivion. I needed something else, something stronger – and considering the state I was in – that something would have killed me.
I was at a very dangerous cross roads when God intervened in my life one last time. I had been seeking His help with a job. During a day of prayer and fasting I had a vision that scared the crap out of me. It turns out that Jesus loves me, but He was ready to let me die if I did not hand over the alcohol once and for all. I cried out – But it’s my Everything. Jesus replied, Exactly. Realizing that I had finally pushed God past His point of no return, I surrendered the one thing I had that made everything else okay and entered into a very reluctant sober state. I entered the rooms of AA in Los Angeles and I found a new home. After about 6 months of screaming into pillows and being afraid to even try going to the grocery store - something just changed. I started feeling more comfortable. Los Angeles taught me a lot. The Recovery out there is top notch and I needed to hear every word that was spoken. My favorite being “you’ve been upside down for so long that you have no idea what right side up feels like. Of course you feel upside down right now – it’s because You’ve finally turned right side up. Give it a minute.” And he was right! I also learned to like myself in Hollywood of all places. I made friends that liked me for who I am. My LA tribe helped me realize that I am funny, pretty, sweet, fun to be around and deserving of the best in life. After I got called to leave LA and found myself in Jacksonville, FL – I felt God nudge me to attend Celebrate Recovery instead of AA. I did not understand this at all. AA had saved my life. I live and breathe the AA logic in my soul. It keeps me from doing stupid things. But, I decided to follow God’s prompting and visited CR and I absolutely hated it. I felt so weird. I was a newbie all over again, but my AA logic quickly spit out the “Shut up and Show Up for 90 days” and so I did.
The first CR I went to, wasn’t my cup of tea so I sought a different one and met a super sweet woman and so I came back and I kept coming back here at the Beaches CR every Friday night. I have found that Celebrate Recovery offers me an atmosphere of love and acceptance where I can work on the root issues that cause my insane desire for escape. Thanks to CR I am staying sober while learning how to ground myself in God’s truth. I am learning to see myself the way God see’s me. I am learning how to serve, I am learning how to lead and I am learning how to deal with those unwanted emotions that usually make me bolt in every direction except the right one. I can say that after working the steps, I mean really, honestly working the steps, I no longer feel the need for alcohol. Sometimes I may want it, sometimes I may think about one drink, but I immediately tell myself that it cannot happen. I know where that one drink leads. For me it leads to my death. It really is that simple.
There is no going back, there is only pressing forward to the life that Jesus is calling me to lead and excitement about where He is taking me. He has given me a new vision for my life, which is the old vision I started out with years ago before alcohol took over my life. The good news is that the last 15 years have not phased God one bit. His plans for me have not changed. He still sees me as the same person I was before all of this mess started. This past year He gave me a verse that has been spoken in this room by others – Joel 2:25 - …He will restore the years the locusts ate away… – thanks to AA and Celebrate Recovery I get to live a life of freedom today and I get to be excited about the restoration of all the things the locusts ate away in my life while I was deep in my addiction, my depression and my self-torture.
AA Saved My Life. Celebrate Recovery is teaching me how to live and accept the new life that has been freely given. If you’re new – keep coming back! Keep doing the next right thing! Get a sponsor, get an accountability partner and Work the steps! Make yourself available to others! Surround yourself with the right people – people who have what you want, people that are grounded in God’s truth! Lean into Jesus and you too can sing that song with gratitude knowing that you are one of the broken God has raised to a new and awesome life. Thanks for letting me share.
And I really am excited for all that is to come! The vision God has given me seems so unattainable and so unreachable, but that’s also the fun part – I cannot remember who said this – Louie, Erwin, Russ or maybe they’ve all said it at one time or another – God never gives you something you can do without Him – I just have to be willing and God will take my willingness and make something awesome out of it. Like this blog, for instance, the readership has slowly been rising since the day I started it and I will keep writing until the day people stop reading it.
I am also working on some full-length (main speaker) versions of my testimony as I might soon have the opportunity to share with some other nearby Celebrate Recovery groups. Not to mention that I am delving into the Advanced Leadership training materials as I continue to develop my ministry leadership skills.
Looking back, I believe God had to take me out of LA so I could slow down and figure out where my life was going. My LA life was very hectic and due to the location of my work it made it very hard for me to be involved in after work activities. I MISS LA A LOT, but it is clear God brought me to Jacksonville so I could slow down long enough to truly change direction.
August 26th, I will be celebrating 3 whole years of sobriety: Three whole years of a different way of living; Three whole years of a better way of living; Three whole years of feeling my feelings; Three whole years of facing my fears; Three whole years of being the real Jessica. Three whole years of being someone I am proud of, someone my family is proud of and someone I know Jesus is proud of. Three whole years of better decisions, better relationships and better impact on those around me. Whoever said Sobriety is boring, uneventful and unattractive - doesn’t know Sobriety.
Over the past month, my life came to a slow crawl. I was having a harder and harder time getting up in the morning and was having a very hard time staying awake at work. My workouts became smaller and smaller until they consisted of nothing more than relaxation yoga. I was beat and I did not know why. I had no symptoms except for extreme fatigue. It’s crazy how sickness can creep up on us. I never once thought something might be wrong. I just assumed I was depressed, that it was my fault, that I hadn’t been sleeping well or eating well, that I had gained weight and that I am just dealing with unwanted feelings or extreme loneliness. I just kept reasoning my fatigue away until it stopped me in my tracks. I spent three days in bed and on the third day it dawned on me that something must be wrong and so I went to an urgent care facility and found that I had a bacterial infection. Had I not gone to the doctor, I would have only gotten worse no matter how much I rested.
During this time of barely living, my rear view mirror hopped off my windshield again. I knew I needed to do something about it, but it was kind of nice just driving down the road, only concerned with what was ahead and not worrying about the guy in the truck behind me. My attention was on the road in front of me and I was driving peacefully. It occurred to me that this is how we are supposed to drive our lives, but many of us drive constantly looking in the rear view mirror. We’re in front of it, we’ve moved around it, we’ve driven past it, but it still holds our attention.
While driving without my rear view mirror one sunny afternoon, it dawned on me that Jesus never meant for us to be concerned with what’s in our rear view mirror. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we are not supposed to deal with what’s in our past. What I am saying is that God never meant for us to obsess on it, contemplate it and bring it into our present over and over again. I say this because if you look at how Jesus dealt with people in the Bible, He was the exact same with every person no matter what had happened to them or what they had done. His words were same every time. He simply said “Follow Me”. It is a small sentence with life changing implications. When He said “Follow Me” He was saying listen to my words, read my words, make my words and my deeds the center of your life and do as I do, speak as I do, love as I do, strive every day to be more like Me. Follow Me.
Jesus never condemned anyone no matter who they were or what they had become. He simply said Follow Me. Make Me your role model. Jesus never mentioned anyone’s past, instead He called everyone forward. I heard a sermon not too long ago where the pastor on stage, said that the devil calls you to your past so he can condemn you in your defeat, but the spirit of Christ always calls you forward to a better you and a better life. Christ might make you aware of something He doesn’t want you doing because He wants better for you, but He never condemns. The devil condemns us, fellow humans condemn us, but God never condemns any of us because He always sees what we can become if we Follow Him.
The funny thing is most of us walk around condemning ourselves over and over and over again for things that don’t even exist in God’s mind. He let them go a long time ago. He is only focused on where He is taking us; we are the ones focused on where we have been. I know that I keep pointing back to a decision I made several years ago where I adamantly refused to move in the direction God wanted me to and to this day I often wonder if that one decision ruined my entire life. Thoughts like what if that was a once in a lifetime opportunity and now God will only let me wallow in crappy jobs? What if my husband was in that city and I didn’t get to meet him so now I am going to be alone? What if that career was going to be a launching pad for me to have a larger ministry and now I am going to die with a burning desire in my heart that was never fulfilled? The problem with these kind of thoughts is that they totally disregard that the fact that Jesus always calls us forward and that if we follow Him to the best of our ability learning and growing as we walk through life with Him, He always leads us somewhere good. He is not about condemnation, He is not concerned with our past – He is only concerned with where He is taking us because His plans for us never change. Whatever He started in us, He will complete – if we follow Him and allow Him to work in and through our lives. I know I have come full circle and find myself rather exhausted thinking it’s time to call it, that I’ve missed my opportunities, that I can’t possibly attain the vision I keep seeing for my life… But Jesus is looking at me saying “Jessica, I created that vision for you. I know how to get you there. Just keep following Me.”