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.
They say God might not be there when you need Him, but He is always right on time. I guess the saying stands for those moments when life turns your time table on its side and lets it stay sideways for a while. Events seem to happen at the absolute worst moments and nothing makes any sense. You start to feel like you are in one of those metal crushers, you know the ones that crush cars? You already thought pressure was coming from every angle possible, but you have been proven wrong when new and stronger pressures appear out of nowhere. Each day you discover a new meaning to the phrase “stuck between a rock and a hard place” and that is one onion you never had any interest in peeling.
I have been focusing on getting out of my job and getting out of my temporary living situation as soon as possible, but now due to a health hiccup, I am not even sure I can do that! This health hiccup, until resolved will keep me in the exact situation I am trying to escape. I can’t even give up and go home because I have to keep my health insurance. It’s as if God through out a spike strip to halt me in my tracks. The fact that I know I am not wanted in my temporary living situation makes it all the worse. It really sucks when you are going through hell and the one person you find yourself at the mercy of really doesn’t like you, nor you him for that matter. I am constantly afraid he is just going to abruptly kick me out. He has already thrown the fact that he is letting me stay in his home in my face and people who do favors and then throw it back in people’s faces or hold those favors over their head are the exact people I don’t want to associate with and they are the exact people that would throw someone out abruptly. My only saving grace is that I start paying rent this month so if he does try to throw me out – he is going to have to pay me for it. Oh, and my wonderful car with the brand new coolant system is still having coolant problems. I am back to adding coolant every few days! I honestly don’t even know what to do right now. I am trying to keep my plan on track by continuing to job hunt and if something more comes of this health hiccup, then I will have to re-evaluate the plan at that time. I will know more in a couple of weeks, which incidentally coincides with my deadline of switching gears and preparing to head back home to Memphis.
The one bright light in all of this chaos is the fact that I have not even had the inkling to pick up a drink. I mean what good would it do me anyway! Yes, it might make me oblivious to all of my problems, but the problems would still be there only I would probably have more problems if I gave alcohol another chance.
I don’t know what I am being held in place for, but I just have to continue riding this crazy wave and trust that it will take me to where and who I need to be. Besides, those of us that know Jesus will never find ourselves outside of His hands. My Jax pastor said something the other day that struck me: when Jesus was in the garden asking for the cup to be removed, the cup He was referring to was not all that would happen on the cross, He was referring to what would happen immediately after – the momentary separation from God that He would have to suffer on our behalf so that you and I would never have to spend one second out of His arms.
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.
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.
Ladies and Gents, over the past month I have really forced myself out of the rut that has become my existence. A serious pulling up of the boot straps if you will. I have been spending a lot of time alone here in Jax due to my inability to make friends. I have a couple of people I can place in that category, but overall my life is pretty empty right now. I found myself gaining weight, not caring about what I looked like or wore and feeling rather pointless. I mean I couldn’t even bring myself to get a haircut because I couldn’t bring myself to care. I remembered a phrase spoken by Craig Strickland, one of my former pastors, “you can’t feel your way into an action, but you can act your way into a feeling”.
I decided to heed the advise in those words and made a list of things I could do to make it look like I gave a flying seaweed about myself and my life. I got my hair cut and added some highlights, started working out on a regular basis again, started eating better and watching my calorie intake, took advantage of some Labor Day sales and updated my wardrobe, and made a point to think about what I was going to wear each day (makeup, jewelry, dress, shoes, bag). I decided that just because I feel like nothing matters right now, doesn’t mean I have to act like it. I feel like I am loosing myself here in Jacksonville so I am just going to act like I am still in Los Angeles. I am going to wear the right clothes, have the right attitude and keep working towards my goals whether I feel like there is any reason to or not.
I have also come to the realization that I really need a better paying job. While it is true that I am in one of the better departments with my current employer, I do need to make a jump in the not too distant future which brings up the question do I wait for a decent paying ministry position to open or go back to the entertainment industry or go for both and see which door opens first? I will most likely do the latter once my class ends in a couple of weeks because like I said, I need some financial stability, a place to call my own and some sort of anchor in my life. Whether that anchor is a job, a city, a ministry or a man, I am feeling the need to anchor to something besides myself. Maybe it is the security driven Taurus side rearing its head, but I feel a major push to get some things taken care of financially and get a home base ASAP. Problem is how does one pick a home base when one hasn’t yet found a place to call home. Perhaps home will find me.
I am just going to have to trust that whatever door opens is the door I am supposed to walk through. I am going to have to trust that there is a plan at work and that the next steps will make sense. Trust has come up several times in my Redeemed Esteem class and I feel like God is not only teaching me to trust Him right now, but He is also teaching me to trust myself, my gut, but not necessarily my feelings. I tend to attract very inappropriate men. It is probably why I am still singe, well that and all the drinking. But anywho, I had been keeping a certain male at arms length for a while and no one seemed to understand why. I guess I should also say that this was not a romantic interest, just a fellow alcoholic on recovery road. Everyone else sings praises of this person, but I felt something else, then when this man started complaining to me about his marriage and his sex life, I thought hmm, I might be right about him because why else would he be talking to me about a topic that establishes emotional intimacy nevermind the fact that I have never been married or that he is no where near my age. Then the nail was hit on the hammer. I will not repeat his words here, but I received total confirmation that he is not trustworthy, definitely not Godly or even trying to be and definitely not someone who should be in any sort of ministry position (which he is L). I am just glad that I could smell him a mile away and was able to get an early confirmation so that I can keep stiff arming him as long as it takes.
I am also learning to like and love myself. I can say with all seriousness that this is the first time in my life that I have been able to look in a mirror and like what I see in the reflection. When God told me that I was in Jacksonville for preparation, I had no idea what He meant, but now that I am going through this class, serving in a ministry and taking part in a women’s leadership group, I feel that the preparation God was referring to was internal. I feel that this is a time to get the inside right. To cultivate good habits, good thought processes and a healthy belief in myself and my God. Those signs you see at the front of roller coaster rides that say “if you have a nervous disposition then don’t ride” Well, that’s me. I am somehow always freaking out and living in fear of every mistake I make, but I am learning to ride the waves of life, trust my gut, trust my God and more importantly, I am learning how to enjoy the ride as I move towards realizing all of my God-given potential.
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.
As I mentioned last month, God is really wanting me to step up my game for Him. After His initial question to me (Why are you acting like a newbie when you’re a veteran of the faith?) He began directing me towards what living the life of a veteran looks like and means for me. First off, He has placed some amazing women in my life through Celebrate Recovery and I call them amazing because they seem to be veterans of the faith when in reality most of them are the real newbies. They have their focus on helping others and on walking and talking a real and tangible faith in Christ. It is through these women that God is helping me understand what it is He is calling me to do with my life. I always knew that Jacksonville was training or as God put it preparation. And while I may not be entirely sure as to what I am preparing for I can say it must be ministry related. Personally, I am really making an effort to be more outwardly focused. I mean if I want to be one of those people who changes the energy in the room or brightens someone’s day, I can’t be engrossed in my own pity party now can I? I mean if I am all caught up in me and too busy in my own head then I am unable to interact with those around me. Trust me when I say that I know what it is like to be around people who drain the energy out of the room without even saying a word and the truth is when I am attending my own pity party I am that person. Now this does not mean that I do not allow myself to feel the hurt, disappointment or loneliness that I am feeling. It means that I acknowledge my feelings and then get back to the world around me.
One of the women in my CR recently gave her testimony and in her testimony she said something that God used to knock me over the head. She was discussing the energy we addicts put into our addiction and how most of the time we don’t even put a fraction of that energy into our recovery. The night she spoke this into me, my own personal monster was awake and I was very aware of my monster’s demands. I was not me that night, I was my addiction. Her words brought me back though because I immediately thought about how there was no distance too great, no price to high and no inconvenience when it came to me and my bottle. However, when it comes to anything else in life I find that the distance is almost always too great, the price almost always too high and the inconvenience almost always absurd. And you know what? I especially find this to be true when it comes to God, church and the people He brings into my life for which I have no doubt are there because He is hoping I will step up for Him in their life. Ouch! I mean God went to the expense of His only Son for me so there really shouldn’t be anything too inconvenient for me to do for Him.
Personally, there are many things in my life that I need to do better and I am trying to tackle them one by one. For starters, I am working on keeping my word (aka not backing out at the last minute because of fear, not feeling good or any idea that comes into my head) and I am putting a lot of energy into being on time for work, church and all the other appointments one has in life. I am also working on taking better care of myself by eating better, getting more sleep, exercising more and obeying those moments when my soul says it needs a minute or four. I am also making an effort to be more social at CR and at church. I need to be reaching out to new faces, being the person to say hello instead of waiting for someone to say hello to me, in other words, I need to start taking the lead and I am focusing on doing just that with every church I visit and every CR I attend. These may seem like small matters, but they shape who I am and how I see myself and they are also small details that veterans practice everyday.
Happy Easter to all of you or as I like to call it... Happy New Life Day. Christ died the worst death possible so that He could conquer the worst humanity could muster...We were His end game. He endured it all so that we could have new life in Him... so that we don't have to stay in the hole we've managed to dig for ourselves no matter how giant that hole might be... :)