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 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.
I turned 2 on August 26th. I have officially been clean and sober for two years. While I still have cravings and yearnings of times gone by, I can most certainly say that I do not have any desire to go back to the life I used to live. I cannot even imagine being that person again. When the cravings and yearnings come for that so called simpler time, I am immediately reminded of my inability to control my drinking and who that drinking made me become and the yearnings disappear.
What seems like an easy answer is often times nothing of the sort. More often than not, easy answers lead to even more trouble and don’t actually do anything to help one out. The way I see it, the use of drugs and alcohol is a self-induced mirage. Dude has a bad day, Dude goes to bar to blow off some steam, Dude forgets about how stressed out he is for a few hours, Dude crashes into bed, Dude wakes up and is stressed beyond belief all over again. Another example of this self-induced mirage is a woman getting over a heart break by going to the clubs and getting smashed out of her mind and going home with someone she won’t even remember, she forgets everything for a few hours, but come morning she is sneaking out of an apartment and trying to figure out where she is and how to get home and the heartbreak and loneliness return a few minutes later. Both scenarios are culturally accepted ways to deal with heartbreak and stress; the problem is that neither of them actually solves anything. They are easy, temporary bandages that take us farther down the rabbit hole. Only problem is that we don’t recognize our being in the hole until we find ourselves stuck at the bottom.
We as a society love self-induced mirages. We are all about distraction instead of answers. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to take a break from life and get into a good movie or go out and dance the night away. The question at large is the intent behind these and other distraction actions. Are you desperate for a distraction from feelings and thoughts you don’t want to feel or think or are you just allowing yourself a needed break? There is a giant difference and unfortunately, you often need a clear heart and a clear mind to tell the difference between the two.
The real answers to our unwanted thoughts and feelings involve facing them head on, sitting with them, getting comfortable with them and learning how to accept them as a part of life. Once we are no longer afraid of these feelings, their power lessens and we are able to navigate around them in a healthier way. Many of the greats say that if you feel lonely – you should do something for someone else; if you feel alone – you should become a part of something of significance; if you feel not worthy – you should lift someone else up; if you feel heartbroken – you should find a way to help mend someone else’s heart. The only distraction God has ordained is our focus on Him, his Goodness and His fierce love for each of us. For it is by focusing on Him and the giving of ourselves to causes that provoke positive change in our world that we receive healing. It all starts with a relationship with Jesus and a few good friends who are speaking truth into your life. If you don’t have either of these, then I suggest starting that relationship and getting involved in a good church or faith-based community. After this, I encourage finding a few more ways to connect. If you like hiking – join a hiking group. If you like painting – go to some painting classes to find others who enjoy your craft. If you love animals – volunteer for a local shelter or rescue group. In other words, get a grounding group of people around you, belong to a community and make sure you are involved in something that makes you come alive. And lastly, when those unwanted thoughts and feelings rear their ugly heads, share them with your grounding group of friends and be willing to let them carry you through when needed.
Happy Labor Day from a quiet cove in Malibu:
There are times in life where everything seems so unfair. Whether it is treatment from co-workers or so-called friends, an inability to build a community around one’s self or a constant financial struggle. Life can, at times, seem very unfair.
I feel like I am on a rollercoaster of emotions these days. I have somehow gone from supreme happiness and contentment to the deep seeded need of belonging to a community. I feel more alone than I have ever felt and I do not understand where this feeling is coming from. While it is true that I have had a hard time building a community in Los Angeles, I have also stayed very busy so it has not been a bother until now. For a woman, feeling alone equals feeling unloved and you would think that my Father in Heaven would be very sensitive to me at this time. That He would gently remind me of His love and that He has great plans for me.
Instead, my Heavenly Father is in full on DAD mode. He has made me acutely aware of the fact that while I may feel like He is not taking care of me, He actually is doing that and so much more. It started with my learning of a gentleman who had a car accident very similar to the one I had several years back. The only difference being that I landed upright and he landed upside down. That one difference means I walked away with lesions and a life long case of whip lash, whereas, he has endured multiple surgeries to fix an internal problem that has yet to be fixed. He remains in constant misery, unable to work and lives on the verge of suicide due to excruciating pain from an internal problem that cannot be found much less cured. I could have been him, but I was not. I function normally, have no pain other than the reactivation of whip lash which means I cannot rock climb or do any thrill riding. What a difference in our lives! Favor was definitely bestowed on my indignant soul.
My Heavenly Father went on to remind me of all of the favor He has bestowed upon me in all those paying the bill jobs that I routinely tell Him I could do without. The only reason I even landed my first job was due to the fact that my boss just liked me and felt like I could be a friend and a co-worker. It was a similar situation in the second full-time job I acquired. The woman who was doing the hiring, wanted someone closer to her age that could be an accountable co-worker and friend and that is exactly what I was to her. I also received favor in the form of the president of the company taking a liking to me. This man was a ferocious human being, but when he saw me, his whole demeanor changed. Not once, did he ever accost me like he did everyone else. Moreover, once I had put in my notice to move to Los Angeles, I found out that he only kept me on the payroll for the previous year because he liked me. Work was very slow and there really hadn’t been a need for me at the company, but I was able to keep my job and my paychecks, which allowed me to save money to move to Los Angeles all because favor had been bestowed upon my indignant soul.
Once in Los Angeles, I was able to find a job in what I thought took eons but according to LA locals, I was “so blessed to get a job that quick because it can take up to a year or more to get a job in LA”. Again, a man at my company just took a liking to me from the start. If you ask me, I think I remind him of a younger version of his wife, but he has been on my side since day one and has also managed to get me two raises in a company where no one is getting raises even when they get un-asked for promotions. This last raise is what has finally moved me out of living paycheck to paycheck and allowed me to create a plan to get out of debt over the next year. Even though I tend to see nothing but what is wrong and missing in my life, God has yet again bestowed favor upon my indignant soul.
While I am not completely content with life as I know it, I guess I need to stop complaining and start thanking my Heavenly Father for being my DAD and making sure I have everything I need to live a decent life. Los Angeles is both great and horrible at the same time with the main issue being that I have not found a place to truly belong. It is this inability to belong that has me wondering if I only came LA to get clean and sober. The aloneness I constantly feel is eating away at my soul and it has me thinking about that job in Nashville that I so rudely kicked back to God while screaming “Hell No”. The very unfunny truth is that clean and sober Jessica would absolutely love that job! Go figure, right? I have also been thinking about the fact that if there were one other city in America that has the same self-publishing and writing community as Los Angeles, it would be Nashville. While Nashville has a few too many rednecks and no ocean, it is close to family and boasts a great city where I can afford to buy a single-family home. I guess I can say it is on my radar as a possibility in the next couple of years, but even as I type this, I am reminded of my mother who was bound and determined to get out of Tennessee and back to California – she never made it back because love has a way of happening when you are making other plans.
So here’s to staying up in the air, keeping an open mind, making choices that keep my writing a priority, having a thankful heart instead of a complaining one and most importantly… Here’s to a great summer full of whatever blessings God has in store for this indignant soul.