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.
As I type this post, I am nearing the end of my stint in retail. I never knew how important keeping a schedule was to my sobriety until I entered the world of retail at Christmastime! I have worked nights, days and weekends with minimal days off and it has wreaked havoc on my soul. I have always known that I was a lower energy individual and that my time to myself is important to my mental and emotional balance, but this time in retail proved just how important it is! I have talked previously about how my ability to cope with any sort of perceived stress is at an absolute zero in my sober life. During my stint in retail I had zero time for things I enjoy, zero time to veg out and zero time to well, breathe. As a consequence I spent most of the holidays in a sustained craving for a release and the most desired form was the insane desire to cut. I haven’t had this particular desire since I was a teenager. It was like my mind just skipped over the whole alcohol and drug thing, knowing it was a road to nowhere fast, and opted for cutting to release the insane amount of pressure and anxiety building up inside me. I cannot even explain this pressure, just that it was almost too much to bear and that I routinely daydreamed about jumping off a bridge into water and quickly drowning or I dreamed of cutting… the cutting dreams were actually bringing me some relief… they lessened the pressure a little bit. I started to crave cigarettes again too, which is something I haven’t craved since I quit drinking back in 2012. So how am I still here you ask? Well I prayed, begged and pleaded with God to somehow help me AND I took myself to any meeting my schedule would allow AND I found some ladies I could confide in and I told them what was going on inside me. I used the program of AA like I am supposed to when my world gets turned on its side leaving me wanting any escape possible. I also ate a lot of sugar… I believe I was eating a large Caramello a day just to keep myself alive plus a lot of other sugar. I learned early in sobriety that there will be days that I will have to substitute sugar (alcohol) for sugar ( candy, chocolate, etc) and I did what I had to do to keep myself sober. I kept putting one foot in front of the other by going to work, going to meetings and letting people in the program be my support system and I made it through… still sober today. An extra tidbit for those who experience this same type of internal pressure/anxiety… I also started doing alternate nostril breathing multiple times a day. It’s kind of a reset for your nervous system and it helps quiet the chatter. I know of the practice from yoga, but I have not used it for anxiety/stress/anger until now and it does produce relief!
On a brighter note, I have finally landed a new job that will take me back into a balanced lifestyle. And I have a generous amount of vacation to start with right off the bat! I am not even sure I can use all of the vacation the first year! I want a family trip, a ladies excursion and then maybe a fun trip somewhere to just visit life elsewhere. We will see, I guess. It was this job that saved me, really. As soon as I knew I had it, I could see light at the end of my craving tunnel. At least I am hoping that it is the crazy schedule and not Memphis that has produced this prolonged and deep rooted desire for escape! I guess we’ll see on that note soon since my new job has me staying in Memphis!
And so it begins… New year, New Job, New Life… Back where it all started. I want to complete my new years resolutions this year. I have been working with my higher power (Jesus) to formulate a plan to make things better for myself and I have quite a list to charge my way through. Some of the things on the list aren’t even fully conceptualized, but I trust that things will become clear as I approach and/or begin each task. I don’t even fully understand each task, but I feel that the key to making my life and me better rests on the completion of these tasks and so I will complete every last one. Understanding or not, makes sense or not… I just know I need to complete the list. As of right now, I only have the first half of 2018 to complete, which means I need to get going, because there is a second half that will begin to fill up as I complete what is on the first half. I kind of feel like I am at the starting point of what is to become the rest of my life and I have no idea what that looks like, but I am ready to try. And so it begins… my next chapter…. How will you write yours?
Resolutions for 2018
2017 is coming to a close and I for one am glad to put this one in the books. It was a hard year to say the least. I lost my residence and I could not find another one so I was forced to crash around until I finally came to the conclusion that I had to go back to Memphis and back to my mom’s house. I never meant to return to this city apart from visiting family. My mom and brother may call it home, but it has never been my home. It has been a hard pill to swallow to say the least. On top of this is the fact that I have not been able to obtain gainful employment. Things were looking good at the beginning of my return, but I continued to be the one among two that was not chosen. I am working retail at the moment and I am wondering how long this scenario is going to last. I have some pots warming on the stove, but none of them are near the salaries I was getting earlier in the year… though they do beat my old salary by more than a bit.
The one thing that has been good about this return to Memphis is the fact that my creative energy is back. I have been writing again and I have a slew of projects on the horizon. This is something I’ve been questioning God about… Why is it that my creativity is coming back now? Why not while I was living in Los Angeles or down in Florida? God’s response was simple and to the point as is customary for our relationship. My love of the outdoors and my penchant for being out and about and trying new places and things is a distraction. Apparently, if I want to blossom in some creative areas I have to take myself away from the fun.
Another area of concern I have had involves church. The only church I have ever felt comfortable in is Mosaic in Los Angeles. I finally found a church I was okay with in Jacksonville meaning I liked the pastor and I like the music, but I was never fully comfortable. I moved shortly after I started to get involved and have been going to church with my mom. Her church is probably the only close version to the churches I like in Memphis. The preaching is okay, the music is good, but I always feel extremely uncomfortable when I attend. I am just sick of visiting church after church and always feeling so uncomfortable… So I asked Jesus why I am so uncomfortable in His churches? I am still digesting His response… A lot of these large non-denominational churches like that of the ARC churches are known for exerting a great amount of control over the people in their congregations to try and keep the church a safe and healthy place. The problem is I am picking up on that male domineering control and it is making me supremely uncomfortable to the point that I want to bolt out of the building and get to where I feel safe which is outside in the parking lot. I am not a cookie cutter, drink the kool-aid kind of Christian and I feel that at this church… you have to be or you just fall of the schedule so to speak. I feel like God has called me to attend a leadership class at this church and now I have to decide if I can go to the class or if I should vagabond around town until I find somewhere to worship that doesn’t make me want to bolt.
While 2017 brought a swarm of unwelcome events, I am hopeful for a stark contrast in 2018. I am looking forward to getting at least two of my creative projects completed and I am hoping to get a third project up and running. I am hopeful for new employment that will allow me to get debt paid off and will allow for a path of upward mobility whether with that organization or some place else. I am just hopeful for a lot of forward movement. I don’t want to waste time this year… I want to move forward… I want to step into my future.
At the end of this month I will somehow have five years of sobriety! What a whirlwind it has been! I feel like I have been and still am on a tour through all of the things Jessica needs to improve about herself. What can I say? When you spend the most important years of your life in a bottle you just don’t learn to do life, much less respond to it.
At this stage of the game, I know I have to find some financial security for myself. I am making financial security priority number one. I have been focusing my job search on higher education in Memphis and in the not too far away cities though there is a part of me that would like to be back on a coast. I know that staying in Memphis would be the best decision financially, but I also know one should never put all of their eggs in one basket. I am also looking at a few other career options outside of higher education…both in Memphis and outside of Memphis.
I guess it is just time to do some adulting. I have five years of sobriety, but I still have trouble handling stress and it has changed the type of jobs I go after. I often find myself comparing myself to a hurricane…. I definitely feel as though I am one. I roar into the office in the morning, wreak havoc all day, then roar out in the evening to the gym. To be frank, I pretty much do this everywhere I go. I expend a lot of energy that could be used elsewhere. Someone said I should try flipping my schedule – working out in the morning and doing yoga in the evening. I don’t know… I have very unstable blood sugar so I am not sure how that would affect things, but I might try it once I land a new job.
One of the bigger elephants in the room is the fact that I cannot seem to find a way to be happy. Every city I have lived in had something I hated about it. Every church I have attended had something I hated about it. Every job I have held had something I hated about it. One could argue and possibly win the notion that everything I have ever been a part of had something wrong with it. It has always been after I have left a place or an institution that I could really appreciate it for what it was and continues to be. And so after five years of sobriety, I have to ask the question, is it me? The answer is most likely yes. So then what? I guess I must get to the adulting. Find a career I don’t mind doing that will pay me a living wage and afford me the time off I need to do the traveling I want to do and start enjoying life for what it is instead of what it could be.
For some strange reason “Happy” always seems to be in the future with me, but the problem is if “Happy” is always in the future, then it is never in my present and I cannot experience it. That whole life on life’s terms thing in AA is my lesson right now. I have to do life on life’s terms, be grateful for what I do have and find a way to enjoy the blessings I have been given. How this works out in my day-to-day hurricane lifestyle… I do not know, but this is to be my lesson for year five of sobriety! I guess, in part, I just realize my age and realize that I am far more emotionally stable than I have ever been (I know it doesn’t sound like it) and I want to capitalize on the gratitude I do have and enjoy every experience I can. To do this, I have to find a way to calm down and stop complaining!
I don’t know if I will be staying in Memphis or moving somewhere else, but I do know that I have my work cut out for me in the year ahead. I am looking forward to getting back on my feet financially and I am looking forward to enjoying all of the new experiences this year will bring.
"If you want to find happiness, find gratitude." - Steve Maraboli