It’s been a year since I penned Corralling Part 1 and I never wrote a part two, but then again, this special one is still in her holding pen. I was driving the other day and reflecting on life in Florida and life in Los Angeles and the vast difference between those two lives. I was also reflecting on my financial situation, which as we all know was just re-torn to smithereens. I was thinking, ‘how can I be in this situation again! How is it that I keep winding up here. Why can’t I get anything going for myself!’ And just before I would come to a place of movement, I would think I guess I am just in a burning season. I have thought this many times before, but this time God had something to say about it. Abruptly and with force He interjected the following: You are not in a burning season. You chose this. And you keep choosing it.
I knew exactly what He meant. You see, I have a history of talking myself out of amazing opportunities and shrinking back into my little shell. I also have a great talent when it comes to pulling out all the stops for a job that I won’t like and won’t pay me near what I am worth or need.
I have been going through a CR Step Study so that in the future, I can lead a CR Step Study and we just had our burning party. In this particular CR, after Step 4 and 5 are complete, we burn our inventories. Since my focus for this step study was to rip out all of the lies I have believed about myself, I wrote all of those lies down on a couple sheets of paper and threw them into the fire and watched them turn into ashes. It was only a few days after this that God told me that my so called burning season is due to my own choices and those choices have been rooted in fear due to the lies I have believed about myself for so long that I don’t even know where I first heard them. Or perhaps I do know where they come from – experiences and events that scarred me and made me think less of myself.
This brings me back to that sermon from Erwin McManus that I seem to recount over and over again on this blog and in my life. That sermon where he asked, “whose voice are you listening to?” Whose voice is getting the last word in your life? Is it God’s voice or someone else’s?
Well, if you want to know if you are listening to God’s voice then you have to know what God says about you. While I am not the best at knowing scripture, I do know that according to scripture God delights in me. He knit me together and considers me a masterpiece. He loves me more than I will ever understand and while He is not always proud of my actions, He is always proud of the lady I am becoming while I venture through life with Him. I also know that the Bible says we can do anything He has called us to do. Maybe that is my hiccup. Maybe I don’t know what I have been called to do. I do know that we all have a calling to love God and to love others, but I believe we each have personal callings that match a passion burning within us. And I am a lady of a million passions so maybe as Kim McManus said the other day, I am overwhelmed by choice so I keep not choosing. I fear I don’t know how to choose correctly, or I fear I am biting off more than I can chew or maybe my fear in choosing allows the voices that aren’t God’s to flood me with lies and so I choose wrong again.
My life is about to get turned upside down all over again. My roommate situation is ending at the end of March and I am desperately trying to get out of my latest job choice mistake by the end of May. I am unsure if I will be renting another room in Florida for a few more months or if I will go back to Memphis, but I do know one thing – If a good opportunity that excites me ever crosses my path again, especially in the next few weeks, I am going for it. 100%. Let the Lion Roar. I am done with talking myself out of amazing opportunities. I am done believing the lies. I know the difference between my gut telling me something’s not right and plain old fear so from now on, - I am going with my gut. It’s what brought me to Los Angeles and it is what brought me to Florida and one of these days my gut will lead me out of this holding pen. After all, my life verse is Joel 2:25 and I do believe that God will restore the years the lies ate away.
Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.
This last month has been a whirlwind of emotions. I went from loving my surroundings and my church to wanting to leave and never look back only to find myself thinking maybe it’s not the end of the world if I stay here a little bit longer. The bottom line is I have to do something and after glancing at my savings account I think I know what I have to do. As much as I would love to get back to a bigger city, I need to stop pre-judging every opportunity that comes my way. I also need to be realistic about my current financial situation and that means accepting an opportunity within my preferred salary range either here in Jacksonville or back in Memphis and sticking with the job for the next few years so I can get my debt paid off, replenish my savings account, buy a new car, buy a new Macbook and buy a new Galaxy. I am literally living on borrowed time with all three of those absolutely necessary items! I mean I know my phone is old, but I didn’t realize how old until I was until I was taking a picture of a lion at the Catty Shack Ranch. Everyone was lined up along the fence, zooming in for the perfect shot and I couldn’t believe the captures of the people next to me. I might as well been standing there shaking a Polaroid. At least that’s how I felt.
Anywho… Once I allow myself to accept a boring (my perception) new job with a decent salary, I will be able to put the focus back on my writing, my video devotional series and the books I have planned to write! I will also have more energy to devote to the ministry leadership opportunities that are currently sitting in my lap. I guess what it all comes down to is trust. I am going to have to give up, give in and trust that God knows exactly what He is doing. I would like to say that I am in the Hall of Fame when it comes to trusting God. I have certainly trusted Him with some pretty big items: keeping me cancer free, the move to LA, and the move to Florida. While I might find it easier to trust Him with the big-ticket items above (items I feel I cannot control) I am realizing that I don’t trust Him when I have or feel that I have partial control. It’s like if I can touch it then I can screw it up so it must not be in the cards type of thinking. I have to come to a point where I realize what walking in grace actually means. I had a conversation with Jesus this afternoon regarding some opportunities – good opportunities – that I totally flaked. I told Him that I guessed those type of opportunities were long gone considering my inability to accept parachute number 250. His words to me were this “Did you not think I would know how long it would take you to relinquish your control? Do you still not realize that you always walk in My grace?”
Perhaps it is time to start trusting God for all the things I secretly want in and for my life. Not begging for them, not petitioning for them, but just trusting for them to appear when they are supposed to appear. Perhaps it is time to realize that while there may be a direct route to where we each want to go in life, we seldom ever choose it. If we did, we’d miss out on so much. Besides, don’t the best things in life come in unexpected packages? I think I’ve heard that somewhere. So maybe, just maybe…when life pushes you into a corner thereby taking away your ability to pick and choose – it’s actually for your own good.
The definition of corral is to gather together and confine. Synonyms include capture, collect, enclose, lock up and shut in – in other words trap. This might explain why I feel so trapped these days. God spoke to me recently and He told me I was being corralled into a very tight space so He can direct me to the right pasture. His words, not mine. His thought, not mine. I am a Taurus through and through and trying to corral a Taurus is like trying to corral the most stubborn and aggressive bull on the planet, but I do like that word ‘pasture’.
I feel like I am on a rotating merry go round of phases of corralling. In Phase 1 I am cocky and fighting back non-stop. In Phase 2 I realize I am trapped and I start freaking out and trying to find a way to escape. In Phase 3 I am teary-eyed and weary with a willingness to relent, give-in and give-up. There is a Phase 4 – the phase in which one has waved their white flag, fully given up and accepted their new reality. In other words – they have stopped kicking and screaming allowing the Rancher to open the gate to a new and uncharted pasture – a pasture created especially for the individual walking into it. A pasture that will be well – liked. Unfortunately, I am stuck rotating relentlessly in and out of phases 1, 2 & 3.
I cannot stay where I am, but I don’t necessarily want to leave either. I need a career and not just a job, but Jacksonville doesn’t exactly offer what I am looking for. It can, but those positions are not numerous and are usually given to the friend of a friend, which I am not. It sounds weird, but I like the trees here. I also really starting to appreciate the church I attend and I really love my involvement in CR, the close proximity to the beach and the weather! What I really like is that I feel like I can be used here, that I can have a voice here. I didn’t feel this way in Los Angeles. I couldn’t relate to many of the actors and entertainers I encountered there. I can relate to people here and I think the feeling that I can be used combined with all the other things I like about Jax is what is making me want to stay.
The thing is I don’t have anyone to rely on – it is just me versus the world and if I don’t make some sort of move soon – the world is going to win. It is only a matter of time before something gives and I am ruined. This is why I keep rotating through phases 1, 2 & 3 of corralling. There is a large part of me that wants to stay in Jacksonville, but when I look at the larger picture financially along with the type of jobs available in Jacksonville – I feel that I am most likely facing another move. On the one hand, I know that wherever God leads, it will be good, but on the other hand, I want to take control and stay. I feel as though I need to choose between where I want to live and having the job I want. I am just conflicted. In the past when God wanted to move me, He made it abundantly clear and I was ready for it. This time I am not ready, not very willing and not very clear. It is more of a general knowledge that if I want a job like A, B or C – I will most likely have to move somewhere else to get it. As I said earlier, Jacksonville has these jobs, but they are rare and given to friends, not strangers. Of course, something could give and also force me to give up and just get another job – a much better paying one, but still another j-o-b and stay in Jacksonville.
The number one thing I need to do right now is stay open to what God wants to do and trust that He will direct my path just like He directed me away from the Kansas City opportunity. I need to stop fearing that I am going to make the wrong decision and start trusting that if I do consider a misstep, that God will course correct like He always does. I seriously want to get a tattoo that reads “Stay Gypsy” “Stay in His Wind” on my forearm so I can read it all day every day. I need these phrases written everywhere to remind myself to stay connected to His Wind and not necessarily this world. And like they say – if you are trying to hold on to something, you probably need to let it go.
And of course the one giant elephant in this conversation that has not been broached is the fact that when one is being corralled, one is most certainly going to be doing the exact opposite of what one wants to do – otherwise it wouldn’t be called corralling. Do you think the sheep want to go into the pen? No, they don’t. They want to stay out in the field even though there is no grass left for them to eat and they run everywhere except where the Rancher is trying to get them “Bahhhhing” all the way until they finally collapse from exhaustion and go in their pen only to find that the Rancher was corralling them so he could get them into a new pasture full of lush green grass and rolling hills for their delight. The key for the sheep is yielding to and trusting their rancher and it is the same for you and me. There is a reason Jesus is referred to as the Great Shepherd and it has nothing to do with the literal act of herding sheep.
“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” - Margaret Shepard
What Up Folks! So far 2016 is looking a lot like 2015 only with less sweetness because I gave up extraneous sugar for this 21 day fasting thing. I surprisingly did not have a hard time without my fix of fro-yo every weekend. I did, however, find it hard to not buy any sweets at the grocery store, which is why I am glad I kicked the sugar as my way of participating in a fast. It is easy to break promises I make to myself; it is harder to break promises I make to God. I can actually recall myself tooling down the frozen isle scoping out some new fro-yo only to remember “oh wait, this is a God promise. CRAP!” and I tooled on along down the isle and out of frozen land. While I have not officially lost any weight yet, my stomach is flatter and this improvement is all I need to keep extraneous sugar kicked out of my life!
On another front, I can say that my excitement for church is coming back! I have no idea how either. All I know is that once I finally relented and started going to the church that I felt God was constantly re-routing me to – something changed on the inside. I have found that I wake up excited on Sunday mornings even though my situation has not changed. I still go to church alone, sit alone, leave alone and go home to hang out alone, but I have an excitement that I cannot understand, an excitement beyond all understanding if you will. This is something I have been wrestling with while in Jacksonville. I have told God that I don’t like not having the excitement I had in LA. I told Him I want to enjoy my Sundays again, I want that excitement back, I want Sundays to be legendary again. Somehow the excitement is back and I am very grateful for it. I guess it lets me know that I can have joy in the middle of what was a situation that brought nothing but disappointment and tears. That’s definitely something, a God something, a Philippians 4:11-13 something. I also changed where I sit. I like to be in the middle of the action so I sit down front now regardless of when I arrive. I used to relent and go up the stairs and found that it interfered with my participation in service. They have these usher/bouncer dudes all over the place and I just make them find me a seat as close to the front as possible. I mean it is their job so why not let them be of service.
I am also trying to dig deeper in my Celebrate Recovery involvement. While I have been a facilitator/leader for the ladies share group at the beaches, I have only been fulfilling the role in the small group session itself. This past month I have been digging deeper in that I have been focusing on building better relationships with the women who come to the beaches CR. Instead of talking to friends at the café afterwards, I am focusing on talking to some of the ladies in the group, trying to get more of a feel for where they are in life, where they are mentally and where they are spiritually. I want to be an encourager, a cheer leader, an ear, and a guide for these ladies in their own battles and the only way to do this is to spend time with them and so far I am loving what I am learning.
I have had that Live Love Lead book by Brian Houston for a while now, but just recently started to read it. I came home from the grocery store on Saturday and felt a prompting to go to the beach. Due to the cold weather I hadn’t been in about a month and it was a sweet 67 degrees and already 3pm so I decided to head to the closest beach for some relaxation. As I was leaving I felt the nudge to pick up Brian’s book so I grabbed it with no intention of actually reading it. Once I got to the beach I was glad to see some soft sand and nestled in to watch the waves roll in and out. I find their rhythm hypnotizing and healing. The waves do something for me that I cannot do for myself and after my recent vacation I found that the sound of the waves can be just as beneficial and so I took out the book and started reading. I got through the introduction and the first two chapters and feel that God was trying to re-confirm His plans for me, my ministry calling and His promise in the verse He has gave me last year. (Joel 2:25)
Life has just been hard and it is getting harder. The pressure is on at a level that I have never experienced. I know I have to make a move, but the move I want to make and the move that is most likely going to be available are not the same. To make matters worse, I am conflicted about staying in Jacksonville. In Los Angeles I had everything I wanted, but felt that something was off, that I wasn’t supposed to stay and that prompting turned into busted fire hydrant pressure. Here in Jacksonville, I have nothing that I want, but feel complete peace and have absolutely no prompting to do anything except focus on the tasks I feel God has given me like this blog, the new video series, a possible memoir and continuing with ministry leadership training. It is so strange especially since I know that I have to make a career change due to impending financial ruin. Jacksonville does not seem to offer the career options I am looking for and I feel very conflicted about leaving and more frankly I don’t even know if I can leave at this point. You could say that just like I relented on the church I felt God leading me attend, I am ready to relent on Jacksonville and so I tell God daily – If you want me here – then plant me. If not, then move me. But whatever You do, do it quickly - One thing I am looking forward to is the job hunt being over! I need to focus on the video series and I cannot do that if I am spending an hour a night job hunting. That hour should be creating time if not resting and relaxation time. I can’t keep going on all cylinders all day and all night, especially with a job that drains ones soul like mine does. To be frank, I need a minute and some fun to boot.
Overall, I do have a good start to the new year. Eating is going better thanks again to the fasting thing at church. I am delving deeper into ministry leadership, looking for a better paying job, making an effort to venture out more via local Meetup groups and in a few weeks I will be participating in a small group and the women’s ministry stuff for the spring semester at my church. All of these are in my goals for 2016 and to quote my calendar for the month of February…
I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart – Vincent Van Gogh
November, the month of Giving Thanks, Creating Families and most importantly the month of Jessica getting her groove back!
In case you are not aware – World Adoption Day is November 9th. Hank Fortner, one of my Mosaic pastors started Adopttogether.org, a non-profit focused on helping beat the number one barrier to families looking to adopt – MONEY. There are a lot of families out there that want to adopt, but simply don’t have $10K, $20K, $30K or even $40K sitting around to make the adoption happen. This is where Adopttogether.org comes in and helps secure funding for families wanting to adopt through crowdfunding. World Adoption Day is a day of celebration for both parents and kids who won big when adoption changed their lives. World Adoption Day is also a day of awareness for adoption so please join us on Monday November 9th by posting a selfie with a smiley on your hand to spread awareness or to celebrate your own adoption story or that of a friend.
Halloween marks a year since I left Los Angeles and Thanksgiving marks a year since I have seen my mother and brother. I am excited to be able to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them at the beach this year! We will be catching up while we enjoy the views from our beach-front balcony on Florida’s gulf coast. I am very happy for this opportunity as I want very badly to be able to spend more time with them as well as a host of other people, but my finances are just in the way at the moment.
As I have mentioned previously, I now feel that I came to a much-needed standstill here in Jacksonville. It appears that I needed to slow down and take some time to heal internally, which is what has happened. From Celebrate Recovery to Redeemed Esteem to many other confirmations God has laid in my lap over this past year – it appears I just needed a lot of internal healing and I now feel that I am beginning to come back to life. My focus is returning, my productivity is returning and my overall energy is returning. One could argue that I am beginning to dream again!
I would also like to note that this might have something to do with a recent change in my morning prayer! In addition to praying the lyrics of Hillsong’s “I Surrender”, I have started asking God to help me release my potential each and every day to the point that when I reach the end of this life, that I would not have an ounce of my God-given potential left. It’s a bold prayer that I am not only praying for myself, but also for my mother and brother who are also dreamers with dreams in their hearts. For it has come to my attention that one of my biggest problems is my inability to release my potential. In other words, my inability to take the God-given dreams in my heart, put them on paper and then transform them into reality. I have the paper part down; it’s the whole transforming dreams into reality that seems to have had me stuck for far too long. And it looks like this new prayer might be working!
To kick off November, I will be sharing my first full testimony at the Mandarin area CR on the 6th and am very excited for this opportunity. I didn’t have a 20 minute testimony written upon the invitation, but I recalled a piece of advice I read from Seth MacFarlane that echoes countless other successful people both in entertainment and in ministry – that thought is this – when opportunity knocks, don’t hesitate, just say yes and figure out the how later!
I am also moving forward with a new project that God placed on my heart during Hillsong weekend here in Jax. I am calling it Hillsong weekend because I went to Hillsong Nights on Saturday and went and heard global founder, Brian Houston speak at Celebration on Sunday morning. He spoke on dreams and dreamers and God breathed a new project into my soul that very day. I have been reluctant to start work on it because as with anything God gives you – it is bigger than I am and I don’t feel I can do it all alone, but I am not meant to – I am meant to create it piece by piece with my Creator. It’s not supposed to be my thing, it’s supposed to be Our thing! I have the outline for the steps that need to be taken and am working on step one for the remainder of this year. I am really excited and really terrified, but I think all creators feel this way when embarking on a new project so I guess I am in good company.
I am also ready to get back in gear career-wise. I know I cannot stay at my current employer as the money nor the interest is there so I am back on the hunt for a good opportunity, but this time around I have a confidence in myself, my passion and my abilities that I did not have previously. It definitely changes the opportunities I look at and how I approach them and with any luck I will be in a new and better situation soon! With any luck I will begin to see a little of that restoration from Joel 2:25, the life verse God has given me which reads “… He will restore all the years the locusts ate away…” which I am taking to mean that God plans on restoring all of the things I missed out on while I was caught up in my addiction, depression and self-torture and I for one, can’t wait to see what He is going to do! Er’ I can’t wait to see what We’re going to do!
I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and don’t forget to reach out to any singles, widows or flat broke folks that might be spending the holiday alone unless you invite them to spend it with you!
What can I say folks, sometimes life hurts. And my life is hurting bad right now. I think it is safe to say that I left a physical desert where I was in a mental, emotional and spiritual oasis in sunny SoCal, and now find myself surrounded by water in a mental, emotional, and spiritual desert in sunny Florida.
Physically, I am back in a complete standstill. I threw out my back a few weeks ago and went from being able to do a forward bend with my nose against my knees to having to fight to barely touch my toes! I thought I was on the mend and went for a short walk a few days ago that reignited all of the pain and so I am back to gentle yoga and absolutely nothing else. My lower back and right hip are the main culprits with my right hip taking the trophy for intense sharp pain shooting around all the day long. Emotionally, I might as well be the only person in this town. Every time I think I have made a new friend they start treating me like an afterthought by routinely making plans with me and then canceling at the last second only to say something like “hey, I’m doing this now so can’t do whatever with you.” My roommate says she has experienced a lot of that herself. Who knew small town Jacksonville would have bigger and more blatantly rude flakes than that of Los Angeles. At least in LA people make up an actual excuse! Here in Jax people actually tell you what they are going to go do instead of hanging out with you! So Rude. And then there’s that job I have. There’s nothing like working with people that you know hate you. It gets even more fun when your job doesn’t even begin to fulfill, engage or excite you. I am one of those people who need to be fully engaged in my activities because if I am not, my mind rolls over to everything in the world that I should not be thinking about and so with the pain, the rude treatment from could be friends and the nothing but time to focus on all the wrong things – folks – I am mentally, emotionally and physically spent. I have no idea how long I am supposed to be in this town, but let’s just say that unlike LA, I don’t think I’m gonna feel terrible if I suddenly have to move elsewhere.
The only good news is that I have finally sort of picked a church home. It is a church I just keep going back to because I really dig the pastor. I am actually going to be spread across two churches this fall – a class at one where I will be taking on a major issue in my life and a life group at the one I am calling home at the moment. The other good point is my continued involvement at a local Celebrate Recovery where I am getting my ministry feet wet. I am learning how to lead a group of ladies, learning how to connect to people and learning how to speak in front of others and hopefully slowly gaining a stage presence. It is this ministry stuff that needs to become more of my life – that is where my passion is, that is where my excitement is, that is where I come alive and activate the best version of myself.
You would think year 3 would sound better wouldn’t you? I thought about that too and then it hit me – I spent 15 years in rebellion to God in an addiction that I repeatedly chose to stay in. Yes, I gave God the one thing I didn’t think I could live without, but I’ve only worked off 3 of my 15 years. Thank you Jesus that You are not that kind of God! While it is true that I am still an infant when it comes to sobriety, God is not sitting up there with a stick marking off each day waiting for me to equalize the situation before He can bless me, love me or work in my life. We humans tend to find ourselves thinking that way because it is how we were taught right from wrong. You intentionally break your little brother’s tricycle so he can’t follow you around, chances are your parents will take away your bike as punishment. It’s how they teach us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, but it is not how God deals with us, especially when we come to Him and admit what a shattered disaster we have become. I fully admit that I have absolutely no idea how I am gong to go from where I am right now to the vision of my life that has been laid out by God. The good news is God does! My job is to stay close to Him, stay in His word, abide by His word understanding that any parameters are there to protect me and not keep me from having fun, and trust that as I grow in faith, God will open the doors that I so desperately want to open right now. I guess for me, year 3 is the year of being a grown up, digging in and doing what I don’t want to, being faithful to the positions and places God has put me in until He opens another door.
That door I am so desperate to open is a position under a successful and dynamic ministry where I can learn how to be a leader and grow my abilities for speaking God’s word, teaching God’s word and leading others through discipleship. Until that happens I am continuing to learn and grow in the ministry I am currently serving in and hoping for a career opportunity in the same realm.
I recently heard a mega gator fan give his CR testimony and in that testimony he shared this line from Tim Tebow’s book: Use the platform you’ve been given for God’s purpose and not your own. That line made me start thinking. I know what I want out of my potential ministry involvement, but I haven’t asked God what He wants out of it. I haven’t asked God what He wants out of my life, my work, my writing, my relationships or any platform that He might bestow upon me. And that’s a question I probably should have asked at the beginning. I am currently meditating on that question with God. So far, I feel like He has told me that His purpose and Plan for any platform He gives me is to help change lives by changing habits and to promote true healing by helping people live in true alignment with Christ mentally, emotionally and physically. I really need to start making this my purpose in all of my dealings whether it is in a CR group, the grocery store or with my less than desired co-workers. I may not be living the life I wish to yet, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t act as if I already am that person.
Over the past month, my life came to a slow crawl. I was having a harder and harder time getting up in the morning and was having a very hard time staying awake at work. My workouts became smaller and smaller until they consisted of nothing more than relaxation yoga. I was beat and I did not know why. I had no symptoms except for extreme fatigue. It’s crazy how sickness can creep up on us. I never once thought something might be wrong. I just assumed I was depressed, that it was my fault, that I hadn’t been sleeping well or eating well, that I had gained weight and that I am just dealing with unwanted feelings or extreme loneliness. I just kept reasoning my fatigue away until it stopped me in my tracks. I spent three days in bed and on the third day it dawned on me that something must be wrong and so I went to an urgent care facility and found that I had a bacterial infection. Had I not gone to the doctor, I would have only gotten worse no matter how much I rested.
During this time of barely living, my rear view mirror hopped off my windshield again. I knew I needed to do something about it, but it was kind of nice just driving down the road, only concerned with what was ahead and not worrying about the guy in the truck behind me. My attention was on the road in front of me and I was driving peacefully. It occurred to me that this is how we are supposed to drive our lives, but many of us drive constantly looking in the rear view mirror. We’re in front of it, we’ve moved around it, we’ve driven past it, but it still holds our attention.
While driving without my rear view mirror one sunny afternoon, it dawned on me that Jesus never meant for us to be concerned with what’s in our rear view mirror. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we are not supposed to deal with what’s in our past. What I am saying is that God never meant for us to obsess on it, contemplate it and bring it into our present over and over again. I say this because if you look at how Jesus dealt with people in the Bible, He was the exact same with every person no matter what had happened to them or what they had done. His words were same every time. He simply said “Follow Me”. It is a small sentence with life changing implications. When He said “Follow Me” He was saying listen to my words, read my words, make my words and my deeds the center of your life and do as I do, speak as I do, love as I do, strive every day to be more like Me. Follow Me.
Jesus never condemned anyone no matter who they were or what they had become. He simply said Follow Me. Make Me your role model. Jesus never mentioned anyone’s past, instead He called everyone forward. I heard a sermon not too long ago where the pastor on stage, said that the devil calls you to your past so he can condemn you in your defeat, but the spirit of Christ always calls you forward to a better you and a better life. Christ might make you aware of something He doesn’t want you doing because He wants better for you, but He never condemns. The devil condemns us, fellow humans condemn us, but God never condemns any of us because He always sees what we can become if we Follow Him.
The funny thing is most of us walk around condemning ourselves over and over and over again for things that don’t even exist in God’s mind. He let them go a long time ago. He is only focused on where He is taking us; we are the ones focused on where we have been. I know that I keep pointing back to a decision I made several years ago where I adamantly refused to move in the direction God wanted me to and to this day I often wonder if that one decision ruined my entire life. Thoughts like what if that was a once in a lifetime opportunity and now God will only let me wallow in crappy jobs? What if my husband was in that city and I didn’t get to meet him so now I am going to be alone? What if that career was going to be a launching pad for me to have a larger ministry and now I am going to die with a burning desire in my heart that was never fulfilled? The problem with these kind of thoughts is that they totally disregard that the fact that Jesus always calls us forward and that if we follow Him to the best of our ability learning and growing as we walk through life with Him, He always leads us somewhere good. He is not about condemnation, He is not concerned with our past – He is only concerned with where He is taking us because His plans for us never change. Whatever He started in us, He will complete – if we follow Him and allow Him to work in and through our lives. I know I have come full circle and find myself rather exhausted thinking it’s time to call it, that I’ve missed my opportunities, that I can’t possibly attain the vision I keep seeing for my life… But Jesus is looking at me saying “Jessica, I created that vision for you. I know how to get you there. Just keep following Me.”
This past month has been one roller coaster after another. I have been swinging from feeling good and happy to feeling miserable, alone and confused. One day I am happy and feeling planted, the next day I am ready to bolt. All of this emotional ping-pong is really starting to take a toll. I am naturally a lower energy individual (don’t even ask me how I played year round competitive soccer for all those years) and now I am a no energy individual. Something just has to give and I am pretty sure it is me.
The highlight of May was going to visit my South Carolina family – my Tennessee family made the trip east so I actually got to see everyone and it was great. I only wish I could have stayed longer. My current employer doesn’t really believe in vacation and the vacation package is pitiful compared to other companies I interviewed with, but those other companies did not hire me so there’s that. Anywho, I got to see my mom and brother and my great aunt and uncle and a host of other people I don’t get to see often and hopefully will be seeing much more often since I am back on the east coast.
Upon my return from my super-mini-vacay I was given the opportunity to interview for a different position in my company. Might I also add that it was my birthday. Had it not been my birthday, I might not have been into the whole ordeal, but I figured since this opportunity came out of nowhere on my birthday – I should go for it. It reminded me of that day long ago at Germantown Baptist Church where my family went up front to join the church and my mom yanked my arm and said “Don’t you dare say you don’t won’t Jesus.” Now don’t get me wrong – I was not against Jesus at that time, but I also had not officially made the decision to follow Him either. That decision would come a couple years later, after falling in the baptismal pool and dunking myself and the choir for good measure as well as some other events not being mentioned at this time. It also reminded me of that lovely day in Nashville when I had the opportunity to coordinate record release parties and artists showcases for some of my now favorite Christian bands and I, having other plans, said no. I also thought about the fact that I have actually had quite a few doors open for me in Jacksonville, but I have been unwilling to walk through them because they did not match what I am looking for – that and they all dealt with numbers, which brings me back to my birthday. I said yes for once and by the end of the workday I was in a 30-day trial with the Marketing department in a job that revolves around numbers, which brings me back to the ping-pong emotional roller coaster I have been on lately.
The main reason I have always shied away from numbers is because they are simply not my strong suit. I am thoroughly capable, but not naturally gifted if you get my drift. And so each day has brought on new challenges as I learn my potentially new position. Some days I leave work feeling like I am getting the hang of everything and other days I leave feeling like there is no way I am going to make it through the 30 day trial. I should pause here and say that being “Upstairs” in this company is a million times better than being “downstairs”. The whole vibe is different. People are nicer, there is more freedom and frankly it runs more like a corporate office, which is the environment I am familiar with. I feel much more comfortable in my new department and generally like all of my co-workers, which is a big plus as well. I have just had to trust God to sustain me. Every morning I tell Him that I am not in my comfort zone and that I need His help to wrap my head around some of these concepts at work. I ask Him to fill in the blanks and help me to be accurate and He has done just that and more.
It hit me the other day that God might be trying to teach me to really rely on Him for situations that are outside my comfort zone and not in my realm of expertise. Just because something does not come natural – does not mean that you cannot ace it. I don’t know what is in store for me down the line, but I am learning to trust God with whatever He brings my way. I am also stepping up at my Celebrate Recovery home group by leading the women’s small group and possibly stepping onto the leadership team. I say possibly because there has been a lot of talk and a whole lot of hesitation, which is fine by me because I have learned the hard way that “when it fits you don’t have to force it.” (Amazing line from the novel “What Doesn’t Kill You” by Virginia DeBerry & Donna Grant) So if this leadership team isn’t in God’s plans – that’s fine – I don’t need the drama and I am just as happy leading the ladies small group.
I am also strangely starting to feel settled here. I cannot explain it, but I was sitting on the front porch last weekend sipping some sparkling grape juice (one of my guilty pleasures) and I just thought “I’m home”. I have no idea where that thought came from. It certainly does not make since. I don’t have friends, my professional life is anything but anchored and I have yet to find a church, but for some reason I feel more content than I ever did in LA where I had it all. I guess time will tell. I am smart enough to know that all it takes is one second to change everything. I don’t know what is in store for me, but the one thing I do know is that I am where I am supposed to be. God led me here to prepare me for something He plans on bestowing upon me so I guess I will have to stick around to find out what.
I am also back on the church hunt. I have about 7 churches left on my list that I need to visit. While I do need to find a church that I like, God nudged me last week and said “Instead of looking for the perfect church for you, why don’t you find a church that you agree with it’s pastor and his vision and help it grow. Leaders don’t belong, they create the belonging.” And that, my friends, has changed my view on all the churches I have visited. While I am still hoping to find a church with a pastor I like and worship that moves me, if it comes down to it – I will go with the one whose vision I want to help make a reality. As of right now there is only one church on my Round 2 list and three on a wildcard list so here’s hoping the last 7 leave no question in my mind as to what church needs to become my next church home.
Unfortunately, the car saga I spoke of last month was not over. My check engine light came on a week after the 2nd shop fixed what the first shop broke, but wouldn’t you know that there was more that needed to be fixed. My belt started making a rather embarrassing high pitched squeal so I took it back over to Bell’s Automotive. Unfortunately, Bell’s was super busy or super unorganized and after two attempts to bring in my car to get it fixed and having to listen to a song and dance about the repair industry I decided to take my chances on a third shop and I am glad I did. I called All Pro Automotive and they were able to see me the same day so I drove over with a choking engine. Earlier in the day a smoke cloud the size of Texas came out of my tail pipe, which is one of the reasons I decided to check out another shop. Bell’s wanted to give me a new sensor, but I knew that giant smoke clouds and hesitating engines meant something else was happening under my hood. Would you believe that wonderful Monument Road Tire and Service forgot to put the PVC Pipe in my Upper Intake, which caused a vacuum situation where air and oil was being sucked out of my engine at an insane rate! What’s more worrisome is that Bell’s did not pick up on the fact that my Upper Intake was actually on wrong, which is why I am glad I took it to All Pro Automotive. I have been driving all over Jacksonville for over three weeks and I am happy to report that my car is finally back to normal. If I have any more car issues, I will be taking my business to All Pro Automotive.
So while I was going through all of this car trouble with a very limited access to cash or credit cards, I was continuing my search for a church home here in Jacksonville. I am about halfway through my list of churches to visit and getting more and more impatient everyday. I miss my church in Los Angeles and I miss my friends even more. I do not yet have a community here and while I am a part of the quiet revolution I also relish my social time and have a giant need for community and a sense of belonging. It was during one of these church visits that God shot me one between the eyes. I believe I was in a week - long period of really seeking God’s will because I am honestly confused about how things are going here in Jax. I know God led me here and I know that the why has nothing to do with my day job, but you would think He would still have something nice in mind, right? Well, as has happened many a time before, I was seeking God for a very specific situation and He had an entirely different topic in mind. The preacher at RiverTown was speaking on spiritual family trees and how important it is for each of us to be intentional in how we impact the people who have been placed in our lives. I think Tim Tebow said it best when he said, “…you’re either leading people somewhere good or you’re leading people somewhere bad… Where are you leading the people in your life? …Is their life better or worse for having known you?” Ultimately, the pastor at RiverTown was speaking on the importance of leading people in the direction of Jesus Christ and the importance of creating our own spiritual family trees and it was in this sermon that God finally spoke to me, but it was not about my dire situation. He simply asked me a question that has haunted me ever since. He asked, “Why are you acting like a rookie, when you’re a veteran of the faith?”
Later that same day, God reminded me that whenever I have had spurts of sobriety in my life, I have always moved towards ministry. I mean that thought could probably encompass another entire blog or two, but for now I am just going to focus on the fact that when I am the real me and not the drunk me, Christian ministry becomes a major part of my life. In my first bout of sobriety I was a high school girls Bible Study leader and mission tripper. In my 2nd bout of sobriety I was a 1st grade Sunday school teacher and a regular volunteer with the Urban ministry at the church I was attending at the time. My third and final bout of sobriety has had me working in church service production along side the pastor and worship leader and now I am finding my way into Celebrate Recovery and am looking to go through a CR step program so I can lead others to the same freedom I have found. I really feel like God is calling me up and out. I feel like He thinks I have enough sobriety at this point to step back into my destiny (which apparently involves ministry) and it starts with taking on a more leadership role with the people in my life, the programs I am involved in and whatever church I make my home. For me this means putting the focus on the people around me instead of myself. It also means being aware of how my words and actions impact how others view me and in turn how others view God.
Not everyone is called to ministry or even lay ministry for that matter, but each of us does have a responsibility to the people God has placed in our lives. If you think about it, we’re all looking at someone who is at the level we are about to step into. Take a church body for example: the ministry leaders are looking at the pastor; the Bible study leaders are looking at the ministry leaders; the Bible study participants are looking at the Bible study leaders and church volunteers; regular church attendees are looking at the church volunteers and the Bible study participants; the non-regular church attendees and looking at the regular church attendees and the once, twice or never church goers are looking at the non-regular attendees and thinking ‘I really need to start going more like Jenny does.’ So in all actuality, we all have someone looking up from where they are at to where we are. So, I am going to ask all of you: Is God calling you to step up your game for Him? If so, what does stepping up for Christ look like for you? Does it mean becoming more involved in your church? Being more strategic with the impact you have on those around you? Maybe it means giving something up that is confusing and distorting the message you are trying to send…
“So the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” 2nd Peter 2:9
It has been rather stressful to say the least. Word to the wise: If the first word out of a man’s mouth is “I’m not a crook” or “I try to sleep well at night by doing everyone right” guess what? That man is a crook and he is ripping you off.
It all started when I took my car to a repair shop to get yet another coolant leak checked. The shop easily found the leak, but the recommended repairs were around $700.00. This was not great news since I am running on empty and without employment so I looked at my available credit cards and reluctantly decided to make the repairs putting one of my cards near its limit. I was told the job would only take half a day, so I was surprised to find out that the job is “ a big job” and the shop would need my car for another whole day. I called again the following day for these wonderful men to tell me that while they were able to fix the leak, my head gasket blew during testing for more leaks. The only recommended option was a re-manufactured engine, which would cost $4,500.00! Needless to say, I hung up the phone and called my brother. He immediately called bull honky on the situation and told me that if my car was not running hot then there was no feasible way for my head gasket to have just blown. I continued to talk to the men at this repair shop for the next three days. They were adamant that I needed a new engine. I was adamant that they had messed up my engine. It took this guy three days to “find” a shop that would take the job because he claimed no one would do a head job on an engine that had over 100,000 miles on it. I think he was really trying to find someone that he could refer me to that wouldn’t out his shop as having bent the connector to the fuel injector, which is what really happened. I did not need an engine. My actual cost for this additional repair was $294.00 including the tow truck.
There was a good week where I was thinking that it was game over Jessica. I could not afford $4,500 in repairs, but I also had to fix my car. I was in a major mess; I knew I was being taken advantage of, but I did not have the proof or the knowledge to combat my offender and I was terrified. Then God dinged me yet again with the phrase “you haven’t asked me to turn this around for you yet”. God, as usual, was right. I had been praying all the way through this ordeal for the techs working on my car, but I had just accepted the situation as is and assumed I was doomed. Just like I just accepted the fact that I was feeling all of that fear and anxiety last month and would continue to do so until I started a new step study. While sharing in Celebrate Recovery, God made me acutely aware that I hadn’t asked Him to remove the fear and anxiety that was plaguing me and in the very same second He removed it from my life. I’ve been back to the real Jessica ever since. This time I took heed and immediately apologized to God for accepting this current situation as is and asked for His help, for Him to turn this situation around and He did. At my brother’s advice, I called some other machine shops in the area and a man at Automotive Block Head and Welder agreed that there was no way my head gasket had blown and referred me to Bell’s Automotive, which is the BBB shop that found out what was really wrong with my car. I do plan to confront Monument Road Tire and Service now that I know they bent my connector while putting my engine back together. While I am not entirely out of the storm yet, the rain has stopped and the clouds are thinning. I have some 2nd interviews lined up and I hope to accept an offer very soon which will allow me to finally exhale and turn my focus onto the reason God brought me to Jacksonville in the first place.