They say if March comes in like a lion that it will go out like a lamb. Is the same true for years? Let’s just say 2017 roared in and all but brought me to a complete standstill. For starters I had to say goodbye to the sweetest and fiercest cuddlebug I’ve ever known. Rosie, the toy stealing Boston, became very ill very quickly and had to be put down given her age. She needed a very invasive surgery that brought no guarantees so my roommate did the right thing by escorting her to the big park in the sky. The day she left us I contracted what I am calling a stress response. I have a neck and back trauma from flying off an overpass about a decade ago. I believe my stress reactivated this whiplash so to speak and I found myself in constant pulsating sharp pain in the lower back part of my neck on the left side of my body. I also had limited mobility and I stayed this way for about a week to ten days. As soon as I was back to normal physically and mentally, my car overheated while I was driving home from seeing a friend. The red light started flashing and an alarm started going off which I am told was meant to make me pull over, which I did not. I saw no steam so I figured I would continue driving. It turns out my radiator was blown and I had to spend a pretty chunk of money on a new one, however, my coolant light was still flashing. Going on my neighbor and roommates advice I put coolant in with the motor running and found that the small leak I was eventually going to get fixed had turned into a shower under my car. No Wonder. I had put about three bottles of coolant in the radiator and people kept asking me if there was a spot under my car and there wasn’t and there never would have been since it only showered coolant while the engine was running. And back to the mechanic I went only to find out that I had two leaks and needed to replace the rest of the components of my coolant system. My main hope now is that the transmission will last long enough for me to get my debt paid off so I can buy a new car and I know what I want when that time comes… if that time comes, God willing.
So as I said in my previous post, my two main resolutions were financial based and fitness based. Both have been blown out of the water. I had one credit card paid off and was making head way on the other, but those are both back up at the top of their limits thanks to Christmas and my lovely car. Then there’s the fact that I have restarted workouts, but am having issues with my upper body. I am finding it very easy to reactivate my injury and weights are just not in the cards right now. Though, I am finding it possible to slowly ramp up yoga practice. So you know there’s some light.
This past week I became very angry regarding a co-worker who is now my boss. I don’t have any hate for this individual and I do wish her the best in life – I just wish her life didn’t have to intersect with mine. We share an office and she literally goes out of her way every day to remind me that she loves everyone in the office except me. I have no idea what I did to her but she has been hateful toward me from day one. This hate drama and the fact that I really need to get out of this job and the fact that I am very unhappy doing this job are starting to take a toll on me. I just can’t seem to shrug it off and enjoy my day to the best of my ability anymore. I am beginning to get stuck in an I hate my life mode at work. It seems that this holding pen I am in just keeps getting smaller. Every time I think I understand the act of corralling I somehow find myself in a smaller space with even less to breathe. Being someone who has been touched my cancer and being someone who has stiff armed cancer for going on ten years now, I know that we are not guaranteed tomorrow and that we should each make the most of the time we have on Earth. And I actually think that it is this “life is too short to not enjoy it” mentality that is getting the best of me right now. I haven’t been happy in Florida. I don’t have a community here. My job doesn’t provide what I need on a social, mental, emotional or financial level. Yes, there are some good things to point out like my living situation, my involvement in Celebrate Recovery and getting to love on Rosie and now Lilly. But, I am at a boiling point. I say all of this to share that this past week in a moment of extreme anger (sitting at my desk and going off on everyone inside my head) my entire upper back and left side of my neck re-clinched and back to pain and immobility I went. This would be the moment that I realized that my neck and upper back pain and stiffness are in fact a response to stress.
I have shared previously that I am trying to follow the adrenal body type plan in an effort to curb the effect of stress on my mind, body and soul. It speaks volumes that I can now literally stress myself into immobility and pain. I have to find a way to deal with the daily stress of life before I literally stop my own heart. Yes, I am a yogi. Yes, I know I should know how to calm and center myself. Yes, I am a Christian and I should have the peace of Jesus. But I was also an alcoholic for like 16 years so I never really learned how to deal with life, in fact, my way of dealing with life whether good or bad was to drink. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that requires stitches. Yes, you are covering it up, but it is never going to heal properly. That’s what my drinking did for me. Yes, I could get through some really traumatic events like losing my dad and facing my own cancer, but I never learned how to handle life on life’s terms and so while I appear to function appropriately and wisely, I am for all intensive purposes, a raging toddler on the inside.
So maybe my new New Year’s Resolution for 2017 should be to learn how to ride the wave of life without letting it steal my inner joy. Well, you know how it goes… We tell God our plans and He smiles and nods and then He finds a way to tell us His plans… His plans tend to prevail. I know that much.
In Memory of Rosie, the toy stealing Boston who was as fierce as she was sweet. Her humans miss her very much.
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.
My, Oh My, Oh My, it has certainly been a tough go of things here in sunny Florida. I recently had someone ask me “What is God trying to teach you?” I was explaining the never-ending circle of masochistic doom that I seem to keep finding myself in. The cities change, the regions change, the jobs change, but the circumstances always seem to be the same. Why oh why do I keep ending up in a crap job at a crap company with crap pay? How come no matter what I try to do, I always end up with the short end of the stick? This is when this lady asked me “What do you think God is trying to teach you?”
Well, let’s see, my temper came to mind and I am really working on it these days. In the latest installment of Jessica, The Beach and that book Live, Love, Lead I got a healthy kick in the arse about striving to live each day, in each circumstance, to all people as a witness of God’s love, compassion, mercy and strength. I am actually making progress, for the most part. I really got to a point where I had to ask myself how can I find some peace in all of my chaos and the answer for me was music. I already start my day with yoga and an intention to enjoy my day, but now I have added “to be a good witness” to my daily intention. After yoga, I enjoy a brief quiet time and/or worship time and then I am off to the races and I am usually racing hard as I am somehow always late to everything. It is the one thing that is a constant in my life. I just live on Island Time and I don’t know what else to say. I went through the music I have been listening to and decided that I need to reconnect with my hippie – gypsy groove and added a bunch of music to my daily commute. I picked music that makes me feel calm, happy, joyful and just plain groovy. I find that it helps me to lessen my death grip on my stirring wheel and my life. Why I keep such a tight grip on my life I don’t know – It’s not like I have helped it along or anything, which brings me to the second thing I am learning.
Sometimes it’s about what you learn from a shift in perspective. I recently awoke in the night with the knowledge that I had to catch the Mosaic live stream the next day and so I did. It had been a while since I was able to catch a live stream as I can only catch the 12 Noon or 5pm services with the three-hour time difference. I was all excited to hear Erwin or Hank, but I soon found I would be hearing from a guy named Joe. I was like what is this joker gonna tell me? Where’s Erwin? Where’s Hank? But as it would turn out, that Joker named Joe would speak into my life that day and change everything. I have really been missing my LA friends lately and reminiscing about life in Los Angeles and even contemplating trying to go back even though for whatever reason God ripped me out of that city. Joe said something that really rattled my cage. He asked us if we had ever had a time in our lives where everything was just good? A time where we were happy, doing well, but felt as if something was missing for some reason. I was like yes – that would be my time in Los Angeles. Anywho, Joe went on to drop some bombs in my world. One being that the only way to live the satisfied life is to never be satisfied, to never be okay with being okay, to always want to experience more, create more, help more, etc. His words were that if you are satisfied, then you should be dead because you have fulfilled your purpose on Earth! Another bomb being that the satisfied life can actually keep us from living the extraordinary life because to live an extraordinary life, you must let go of the satisfied life. Maybe that’s what is happening to me. I could have stayed in LA and enjoyed my church, my friends, my fast-paced life and never had time to slow down and get some much needing healing, never had time to step onto a recovery ministry leadership team, never had time to learn some much needed lessons because I would have kept choosing my friends and outdoor adventures over the growth classes and Celebrate Recovery meetings. One last bomb Mr. Joe the Joker (err Joe Smith) dropped was that God never gives step-by-step or turn-by-turn directions because He trusts that if we spend enough time with Him that we will turn when He tells us to turn. I have experience with turning when God says turn – it is how I got to Los Angeles and it’s how I arrived in Jacksonville. I guess I am just really hurting right now and desperately needing a new job and a community around me here in Jax, which brings me back to the beginning. When this lady asked me “What is God trying to teach you?”’ It hit me that if I ever want to get out of this cycle of disdain and despair then I’d better learn the lesson quick so that pasture gate can open. Otherwise, I will live out my life in the tiny bull pin God has me in forever waiting for the gate to open and wondering why it won’t.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am in the process of learning a lesson that has been 16 years in the making. I am calming my butt down, finding meaning in the mundane and everyday existence, becoming that person that changes the thermostat in a positive way instead of a negative way and putting my focus on serving others, sharing love and kindness and being a more accurate witness of the God I claim to love so much. It’s spring. Everything is in bloom and I am too.
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
I have written so many versions of this blog that I am not even sure what number I am at this point. God has been doing a lot of talking and I have been listening for a change.
A couple of months ago I started a frenzied job hunt that resulted in a possible position with a Christian non-profit in Kansas City. As soon as that happened I started questioning whether or not I could actually leave the coast. I also started looking into the reason why I felt like I should be so thankful that an organization across the country felt that I was a qualified top candidate. Why was I risking everything to move across the country to what as might as well be the tundra to my SoCal-Flori skin? The answer was fear. I realized that I was afraid that nothing else would come along. I was afraid that no one else would want to hire me. I was afraid that given my current state of financial crisis I should just take whatever I can get wherever I can get it or else anger God. I was afraid of past so-called mistakes like that job in Nashville I rejected. I was afraid that I was making another mistake by not going for it and I was afraid I was making a mistake by going for it. I was just afraid and while I don’t know much I do know that making a decision based on fear will almost always lead you somewhere you don’t want to be.
I spent the day after Christmas on my front porch. I just sat outside and enjoyed the 79 degree day and the sweet breeze available on the front porch. As I sat there sipping soda (something I don’t normally drink) I felt God enter into a conversation with me. He began with “You know it’s not too late to live out your dream of living on the water? With the right opportunity and your continued financial management, there is no reason why you can’t begin your own beach front bargain hunt in ten years or less. As long as you are either working on or near (within an hour or two) the water you could have your primary residence on the water!” In all honesty, I had forgotten about this life long dream of mine. But God hadn’t forgotten at all, in fact, it never slipped His mind. He really does know my heart better than I do.
I guess I had kind of given up. I am 35, single and in a financial pit in the middle of a financial desert with no help in sight. One unfortunate instance could have me packing up a rental car and heading back to Tennessee in defeat. Those reading my blog on the regular know how hard the move to Jacksonville has been on me. I left a great church and great friends in Los Angeles only to find myself unable to find any sort of community in Jacksonville. I have been straddling two churches and trying to get involved at both and my efforts have frankly been a giant disappointment. No one seems to be interested in knowing me. I do have one friend here that I am very grateful for and we do hang out most weekends, which helps a lot, but my happiness cannot depend on one person and it never should. I need a community and I cannot seem to find one no matter how hard I try, no matter how many groups I join or events I attend. I didn’t have to try in Los Angels – everything just kind of fell into place. Jacksonville has been quite the opposite and my job has been the worst part of it all. I am use to being in a rather mobile position that includes a lot of social interaction, but my current job involves me sitting at a desk all day long and staring into a computer without so much as a peep from my co-workers. YUCK! Of course, I never meant to be in this job this long – it was a till I get myself sorted out and find something good sort of job that somehow has almost lasted a year. The people are bad, the work is bad, the hours are bad and the money is really bad as is the vacation and holidays. I know I am worth so much more. It is just a matter of finding someone else who thinks so at this point. Of course I also want to make sure the next position I take is a better fit for my personality and financial future. I want something I can stick with for a while.
The interesting thing that came out of the KC option was that I found a new appreciation for where I live regardless of how disappointing my daily life. I live in a city on the beach. I can sit with the waves any time I want. I even have a new appreciation for the church I find myself going to these days. While it is no Mosaic, it is a good substitute. I cried through most of the service today. The guy speaking ( don’t know who he was as he forgot to introduce himself) spoke on what happens when the escalator stops and you have to make a move. It was about endings, seasons in life and how sometimes you don’t know what to do, but it doesn’t mean you should stop either. He talked about how many of us feel like we are on plan triple Z when in fact, we are actually on Plan A. If God knows everything, then He knew every decision, mistake and stupid action we were going to make and it is all included in His plan. We didn’t run a million miles in the wrong direction only to miss out on His blessings. As long as we strive to keep Him first in everything we do – we are on plan A. I guess I needed to hear that. I mean if I had said yes to that Nashville job, I would have never gone to Los Angeles and if I hadn’t gone to Los Angeles I would have never gotten sober around the best recovery in the world and I would have never found Mosaic and never been lit on fire by Erwin and Hank and never met the amazing friends who love me for who I am and taught me that I am lovable. Had I never gone to Los Angeles, I would have never learned how to survive the entertainment industry, which taught me so much in life and in work. Had I never gone to Los Angeles, I might not have heard of Celebrate Recovery. Had I not left Los Angeles when I felt called to Jacksonville, I would not have had the time to get involved in CR, become a small group facilitator, write and give my testimony and I wouldn’t have been open to going through the Redeemed Esteem class at Celebration. If I hadn’t said no to Nashville and yes to Los Angeles – I don’t know who I would be right now. Maybe the decisions we look back on as our biggest mistake are actually the best decisions we ever made.
God said something else to me recently and it was not sweet or reassuring. The pastor from Celebration Orlando spoke in Jacksonville recently and while I was minding my own business (my antennas were erected) keeping watch on a guy who peeked my interest and partially listening to this dude named Josh tell a story about a conversation he had with his wife, a bomb detonated. The story was something about his wife asking why it had taken this long for him to get an opportunity like the one he was about to embark on (I think he was about to speak at one of the Hillsong locations) and he claims that the Holy Spirit immediately told him that his character could not sustain the platforms he was seeking. This catapulted me out of dreamland and into the reality that this little nugget was for me. Insert frownie face. I immediately wrote that quote down and a few other things and haven’t looked at the page since. I didn’t need to, I know exactly what God was referring to – my inability to not act like a 35 year old going on the terrible twos on a really shouldn’t be regular basis. Ever since that sermon, I have been acutely aware of everything I do that has to change! It’s horrible. I really do have to find a way to ride the wave of life without say throwing the church program down, pouting through worship, refusing to greet anyone and yelling at the traffic guy for trying to direct me around the traffic circle (I’m not stupid!) In other news I might have had a complete melt down at a Christmas Eve service this year and it pretty much included every verbal and nonverbal thing I do that has to stop! I like to blame my little outbursts on being a Scots-Irish Taurus Female who is diabetic and sober and trying to deal with it all, but I guess it is time to put my big girl britches on and stop acting a fool. I have to if I want to step onto the platforms for Christ that I desire.
And with that I give you my 2016 Resolutions. Some of you may find them a bit vague, but for where I am right now, they are exactly what I need to make my focus for 2016:
All in all, I want to appreciate the people, places and things in my life and continue striving toward the dreams God has placed in my heart while staking a claim for my own place in the sun/sand.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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.
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.
I turned 2 on August 26th. I have officially been clean and sober for two years. While I still have cravings and yearnings of times gone by, I can most certainly say that I do not have any desire to go back to the life I used to live. I cannot even imagine being that person again. When the cravings and yearnings come for that so called simpler time, I am immediately reminded of my inability to control my drinking and who that drinking made me become and the yearnings disappear.
What seems like an easy answer is often times nothing of the sort. More often than not, easy answers lead to even more trouble and don’t actually do anything to help one out. The way I see it, the use of drugs and alcohol is a self-induced mirage. Dude has a bad day, Dude goes to bar to blow off some steam, Dude forgets about how stressed out he is for a few hours, Dude crashes into bed, Dude wakes up and is stressed beyond belief all over again. Another example of this self-induced mirage is a woman getting over a heart break by going to the clubs and getting smashed out of her mind and going home with someone she won’t even remember, she forgets everything for a few hours, but come morning she is sneaking out of an apartment and trying to figure out where she is and how to get home and the heartbreak and loneliness return a few minutes later. Both scenarios are culturally accepted ways to deal with heartbreak and stress; the problem is that neither of them actually solves anything. They are easy, temporary bandages that take us farther down the rabbit hole. Only problem is that we don’t recognize our being in the hole until we find ourselves stuck at the bottom.
We as a society love self-induced mirages. We are all about distraction instead of answers. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to take a break from life and get into a good movie or go out and dance the night away. The question at large is the intent behind these and other distraction actions. Are you desperate for a distraction from feelings and thoughts you don’t want to feel or think or are you just allowing yourself a needed break? There is a giant difference and unfortunately, you often need a clear heart and a clear mind to tell the difference between the two.
The real answers to our unwanted thoughts and feelings involve facing them head on, sitting with them, getting comfortable with them and learning how to accept them as a part of life. Once we are no longer afraid of these feelings, their power lessens and we are able to navigate around them in a healthier way. Many of the greats say that if you feel lonely – you should do something for someone else; if you feel alone – you should become a part of something of significance; if you feel not worthy – you should lift someone else up; if you feel heartbroken – you should find a way to help mend someone else’s heart. The only distraction God has ordained is our focus on Him, his Goodness and His fierce love for each of us. For it is by focusing on Him and the giving of ourselves to causes that provoke positive change in our world that we receive healing. It all starts with a relationship with Jesus and a few good friends who are speaking truth into your life. If you don’t have either of these, then I suggest starting that relationship and getting involved in a good church or faith-based community. After this, I encourage finding a few more ways to connect. If you like hiking – join a hiking group. If you like painting – go to some painting classes to find others who enjoy your craft. If you love animals – volunteer for a local shelter or rescue group. In other words, get a grounding group of people around you, belong to a community and make sure you are involved in something that makes you come alive. And lastly, when those unwanted thoughts and feelings rear their ugly heads, share them with your grounding group of friends and be willing to let them carry you through when needed.
Happy Labor Day from a quiet cove in Malibu: