The drive back home was riddled with blinding rainstorms and interstate standstills so I had plenty of time to think back to life in Los Angeles and life in Jacksonville… The people I met, the things I learned, the growth that took place. As I look back over the last five years there are definitely some people who stand out in my mind. Some of these people are like Kirsten, Liz, and Tracy who became my close friends and made life fun. Liz was my adventure pal. We scaled a waterfall, paddle boarded and kayaked our way through various marinas and hiked our way through various mountain ranges during my time in Los Angeles. I hope to start an annual girls adventure vacay with some of my LA friends and some of my Jacksonville friends soon. I have so much more to see and experience and I want to make travel a top priority once I have the debt paid off and am back in my own place. Kirsten, Larissa, Nora & Lauren were my Mosaic friends. I met them all in a life group. On my first visit I knew I’d found friends and we became just that close friends doing life together. I miss having that in my life, but I am hopeful I will have some ladies to do life with again soon.
Someone I probably have not mentioned at all on this blog is a man named Joel. He was a producer at a church I went to for a while prior to making Mosaic my home church. I was freshly sober and scared of everything and somehow got put on the production team of this church to basically run the services. By that, I mean I ran the ever so important Macbook that ran the pre and post house music, the pre and post screen loops, the worship lyrics, the teaching screens, the videos… the only thing I did not run was the lights and sound, but I learned how to do that too… well, the lights at least. When I say I was scared of everything, I mean I really was scared of everything and everyone. I had no idea how to do anything without alcohol and I walked around looking like a deer in headlights to everyone I encountered. People were always asking me if I was okay and I always gave a very unsure “yeah”. Joel had the task of taking this deer in headlights girl and making her into someone who could run church services like a pro and that is exactly what he did. I remember the first time I was up to run point and he, being very smart, did not tell me. Instead, he let me figure it out when I heard him praying for me in our pre-service prayer. I had no time to freak out or get upset or think anything really. The only thing I could do was quickly go over what I needed to do and just do it and I did.
This experience came in handy shortly thereafter when I was working with a filmmaker on a live non-profit show that featured celebrity guests. One day I showed up a tad late at our downtown show location and the first words out of her mouth were “good you’re wearing something nice. The host cancelled. You’re it.” And just as before, I did not have time to freak out and I relied on my previous experience to ask the questions I needed to ask and memorized what I needed to memorize and about 45 minutes later, after introducing myself to the celebrity guest and getting some information from him – I took the stage and played host for the evening. It was so much fun! I got to welcome the audience, introduce the guest and occasionally remind everyone why we were all there – for a charity called Kids Need to Read. It was a great evening and we had a great time and more importantly I had a great time doing something I never thought I would ever do! I’m an introvert after all, but I have realized that doing what I never thought I would do has been the name of the game for this deer in headlights girl.
After leaving Los Angeles, I got involved in Celebrate Recovery and soon found myself back on a stage. This time I was giving my alcohol testimony and I did it for a few CR’s in the Jacksonville area. The more I get on stage, the more comfortable I become. I have learned the hard way that the only way to get over something that scares you is to do that very thing you fear. Now, I give other people advice on how to overcome their fears and I routinely put those with public speaking fear on the spot because it is the only way anyone can ever over come that fear. My next move is to get my teaching/preaching feet wet either in CR or in a Women’s Ministry, but I guess I need a CR or a church home for that.
Actually, my CR leaders Jay and Karen in Florida also had a big impact on my growth over the last couple of years. Looking back I now know the reason I was led to Celebrate Recovery – I needed a lot of healing. I needed to learn to love myself. I needed to learn how to make healthy choices and healthy decisions and healthy boundaries. I needed to raise my self-respect and my self worth and that is exactly what I did. I also was able to get my ministry feet wet by learning to become the women’s share group leader. Jay and Karen are also the ones who got me onto the testimony circuit and provided feedback so I could get better at speaking in public. I also needed to learn to love others, but I think that comes with being comfortable with yourself and understanding who and what you are.
This leads to the people that made the most impact on me. The Liz’s, Tonia’s and Tracy’s – the people who like me for me. They think I am funny and intelligent and pretty and a whole lot of fun. I didn’t know anyone could like me without alcohol. I lived most of my life under the oppression of extreme social anxiety and it was not until I got sober, learned to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and started making sober friends that I found true friendships that showed me things I never knew about my self. I do belong and I do have a place in this world and there are people who cherish me for me. I guess this is the biggest lesson I have learned because it is the lesson that freed me from trying to be anyone except me.
I do not know what lies ahead for me, but I do know that I can handle whatever is coming my way. Right now I am focusing on job hunting and once I land a job I can start making a place for myself while I get back on my financial feet. I always wanted to leave Memphis and never come back, but maybe I wanted to leave because of what I needed to learn.
"We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls." - Anais Nin
Well folks, that’s a wrap on Florida. After a stress filled and tumultuous month of May, I am heading home. I have come to a standstill on the chest knot after having a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound, some x-rays and a CT Scan. The only thing I know for certain is that it is the joints of ribs 5 through 7 and there is absolutely no mass, tumor or cyst to be seen. While I have not ruled out a form of bone cancer, I would not have the possibility of moving forward until the end of July so I feel okay picking the situation back up when I get on insurance in Tennessee.
The nail in the coffin of the state of Florida is the fact that I cannot afford my own place and I cannot find a room to rent either. I crashed at one friend’s place for a couple of months and left once I thought I had found a nice place to stay through a friend of mine. Unfortunately, it became very clear that this person had never had roommates before and tried to control my every move and so I had to leave because while I can understand a few ground rules, this person has no say on whether or not I call my sponsor every day, go to church every Sunday or go out to parties with them when they invite me. So I find myself almost homeless yet again and now I have a different friend letting me crash for a few weeks. Half of my stuff is on her back porch, part is in my trunk and part is in my room in bags or suitcases. It is this whole continuing to be homeless scenario that has me ready to go back to Tennessee where I have a nice house I can stay in while I get back on my feet.
I have decided to treat my home city just like I would treat any city I have moved to – like I haven’t been there before. I am going to find groups and Meetups to join, rediscover the churches and just see what happens. Having my brother around will also be of great benefit since he does a lot of car and truck restoration. He has already said he can get the water out of my door and fix my seal – something new I am dealing with until I leave rainy Florida.
A lot of my friends are asking if I will be staying this time and all I can say is that I plan staying a couple of years, but you never know what’s around the corner – I could be gone in a couple months or stay a lifetime… I guess I will find out when I head north on 75 in a few weeks. What I do know is the person returning is not the person who left. After living on the West coast and the East coast – I have changed a lot. I am not the same person; I have new perspectives on so many things. But one thing my adventures have taught me is paradise is nice, but it can also be lonely if the people you love are too far away to enjoy it with you. So here’s to going back home and making the old new again and enjoying time with family. Hope each of you has a great June too!
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.
I thought I came to Jacksonville to get my feet wet in ministry. I thought I came to Jacksonville to learn how to be a nicer, kinder and gentler me. I thought I came to Jacksonville to root out some evidences of past abuse. It turns out I came to Jacksonville to stop believing a lie that I can’t even tell you how I ever came to believe.
God: Jacksonville is preparation and nothing more.
Some time later….
Me: I can’t find a community to belong to here.
God: Why are you trying to make a home here? This isn’t your home.
Me: Do you understand that You are killing me! I can’t take the loneliness anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
God: I’m in charge of when you breathe and when you don’t. I am not killing you.
Me: What is it that You are trying to teach me? I can’t figure it out! You’ve taken away all of my distractions and I still can’t figure it out! I will never get out of this desert!
God: Yes, you will.
Some time Later….
Me: I don’t know if this is it, but I think maybe perhaps You want me to silence the undercurrent that says I am not good enough and never will be for anyone or anything. I don’t even know where it comes from, but every sermon, song, lesson, talk, etc – whenever something relating to Your truth about me versus my truth about me comes up – I start crying.
God: And you thought you’d never get out of the desert!
Me: How do I silence this undercurrent? I mean really silence it? I mean I don’t even know its there half the time, where it came from or what to do about it – so how do I silence it?
God: You listen to me. You listen to what I say about you. You accept it as truth just like you accepted the 12 steps as a way to stop drinking. You didn’t fully understand the steps or believe in them – you just accepted them. You need to accept my words about you as truth. You can ask me to silence it too, but I’d rather you proclaim it is silenced in my name. You say you don’t know where it comes from, but you do. He’s been lying to women since the first one I made. Perhaps this will make it easier for you – You can choose to listen to my voice or you can choose to listen to his. Listening to both hasn’t been working, wouldn’t you agree?
Ugh. I am definitely one of those people who are way more afraid to succeed than to fail. I have previously recounted a sermon I heard from Erwin McManus on the topic of the two voices in the Garden. In this talk, Erwin makes it clear that while God’s voice may convict us, His voice never condemns and only calls us to be more, to do more. God’s voice always call us up and calls us to want better and to do better. The other voice in the Garden not only condemns us, but oppresses us too. The other voice wants us to feel bad and it wants us to hide or escape into whatever horrible situations we can create in our lives. Two voices that want very different things for us and Erwin asked us this question: Who’s voice are you listening to?
Obviously, somewhere deep down in my being, I am listening to the wrong voice. Another wise pastor from my past, Craig Strickland, once said “You cannot feel your way into an action, but you can act your way into a feeling.” I know that for me to move forward I have to start taking God at His word, especially when it comes to me. And since I am taking it as truth, I also need to start acting on it as truth. This is the key for me to get myself out of the situation I am in and the key to opening that big scary door I am for some reason afraid to walk through.
“The Cave You Fear To Enter, Holds The Treasure That You Seek” -- Joseph Campbell
Well, California, if it makes you feel any better, I too am in what feels like a burn season. I lost the job I have been trying to get rid of, had a biopsy done, got rear-ended by a dude in surgery scrubs who wasn’t paying attention and may now loose my car to the wonderful state of Florida who has all the laws it doesn’t need and none of the laws it does need. As we all know you can kill people and get away with it here in Florida, but to make it easier for killers, crazies and terrorists, the great state of Florida allows anyone to buy a gun with no wait and no background check. Anywho, that’s a soapbox for another day. Life can just sweep you off your feet in the worst way possible and that is what it is doing to me right now.
I was able to get another job within two weeks, but the job is still low pay. I believe it is going to average out to about $20 more a pay check so I guess I can say that I did move up, albeit a very tiny step in the right direction. The good news is that I have good benefits and much more time off. My work days are shorter, I get more holidays and I have a shut down at Thanksgiving and Christmas which means I will be able to go home and see my family. For those of you who haven’t caught on yet, I am now in the field of higher education. This is a career field I have been thinking about because it is historically good for women, has longevity, great benefits and depending on the university and department within the university – there is ample time off that you don’t get unless you are in education or entertainment production. All of which are pluses in my book. So while I may still be in a monetary pinch, I am seeing this as a launching pad sort of opportunity. I will be learning the ins and outs of a controller’s office and in a few years I can either jump to an internal opening or jump to another university and they have those everywhere! So it is not all doom and gloom for this gypsy heart lady.
The ministry side of life is going strong. I am taking on some more responsibility in my Celebrate Recovery home group. Aside from leading the ladies share group, I will be doing more talking in large group, co-leading a fall step-study and getting my teaching feet wet by providing the training portion of the CR leadership meetings. I love my Friday nights with my ladies and am excited to learn and grow as a Celebrate Recovery ministry leader.
Now that I know I will be remaining in Jacksonville for a while, I need to pick a church home. I feel like I am repeating my Los Angeles days all over again. I started out at a church where I felt something was off, but I ignored the feeling and tried everything I could to find a place to belong. After a year long battle, I stepped away from church #1 and started visiting a couple other churches and one of them became home, my tribe and my life for the remainder of my time in Los Angeles. I seem to be doing the exact same thing on the other side of the country. I picked a church and made it home even though I felt something was off, tried everything I could to find a place t belong, but in the end I find myself stepping away. I guess I am hoping that what happened in Los Angeles will happen here in Jacksonville, that I will find my Mosaic here on the east coast.
While I don’t know what is going to happen with my car at this moment, I do have peace about the situation. The insurance company is doing everything they can to help me, but in the end, if the bumper comes off and the body shop reports frame damage, I will loose my car. I have fought and fought to keep my car, but it hit me the other night, that this might be one of those saving grace moments. If my transmission or some other major repair was suddenly needed, I might not be able to afford to fix the car and I cannot finance a car right now so I would be in serious trouble. Perhaps, I am losing my car and getting a little cash to buy another one (emphasis on little cash which is the issue) because something is about to go wrong with the car I am fighting so hard to keep. I can’t see what lies ahead, but Jesus can and He might have orchestrated the whole rear-ending event to save me from something I cannot see. In sobriety they tell you that you that your life is like an onion. Our lives, our emotions, our attitudes, our opinions, our perceptions and our actions form the layers around the core of the onion and it is in recovery that we begin the process of peeling back those layers to get to the core of who we really are. I feel that I have been peeling back the layers of surrender these past few weeks. The idea of surrender is a huge component of the 12 steps, but the day-to-day surrender takes on new meaning when you begin to realize that you really don’t have much control when it comes to anything except your response to every day life. If you are like me and like to have everything done a certain way and in a certain time frame then you have even more of a struggle with the daily letting go and truly letting God.
Everything good is grace and everything bad is the stuff Jesus holds your hand through until we get to abide in His arms. It is hard to take a step back and surrender to a life event, but it is what is required. We like to think that we have all the answers, but many times it is our decisions and our will that gets us into the tight spots in life. We thought we were right, we thought we had the plan, but then something happens to shake everything up and we get rerouted and more often than not, we look back and say thank you Jesus for rerouting me out of that disaster! In order to get rerouted we had to come to a moment of surrender that we did not like and move in a direction we did not want or anticipate, but that decision to let go and move in the direction God was apparently moving, is what rescued us.
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.
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.
I recently had the opportunity to share a bare bones version of my testimony at a local Celebrate Recovery anniversary party. I didn’t realize how much of a story I actually had until I tried putting my story on paper. I spent the following week trying to cut it down to the time frame I had been given and it was tough because everything I’ve ever been through seemed pertinent. Anywho, since August brings my 3rd Sober Birthday I thought I would share my bare bones testimony with all of you:
Hi! My name is Jessica and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with alcohol, anxiety, and self-worth.
When I write I like to have angle to work with and my angle for this testimony came from a song called Broken Vessels: “Oh I can see you now, Oh I can see the love in your eyes, Laying yourself down, Raising up the Broken to Life.” Because this is exactly what Jesus is doing for me!
You see I have been switching back and forth between two very different lives since I was nine years old. I grew up in church. I had a good family. I lived in a nice house in a nice part of town. I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday School, I went on mission trips, I led bible studies and I helped make the first Passion Conference happen. I did a lot in a few short and widely separated years of sobriety.
However, the majority of my life went more like a nightmare. I grew up with extreme social anxiety and had a hard time connecting to anyone. BUT, I quickly found that I could do anything and be anyone as long as I had alcohol in my system. My first drink was at nine years old. Nothing special, just a stolen beer shared between two best friends. It would be years later before I would have another alcoholic drink. I was 16 and made a new friend who introduced me to wine coolers. High school quickly became a blur as I routinely opted for spiked coffee in the morning, spiked soda at lunch and whatever I could get my hands on after school. I had a horrible relationship with my parents. I cursed them out daily and was out all hours of the night. My parents had no idea what to do with me. It was normal for me to drink until I blacked out and I did so every night of every weekend. My social anxiety made me dependent on alcohol, which brought a lot of depression so I was also a cutter for most of my teenage years. I hated myself, I hated my life and I only felt free when I was in the oblivion alcohol brought me.
As I mentioned earlier, I had bouts of sobriety that were broken by that lie alcoholics like to tell themselves. “I can control it this time. I just need a little release. Everybody else gets to let loose. One drink won’t kill me.” And down the rabbit hole I went faster than the previous time. Only now I was working and supporting myself. I was in Human Resources of all careers and I had found a new best friend in wine. Most of the time I was sober during the day, but I started drinking the second I was home. I longed for the weekends so I could go on benders and I got increasingly irritated with my co-workers, family members and friends due to my constant craving for oblivion. It got to the point that I was consuming multiple bottles of wine a night, often drinking until I vomited or passed out.
I eventually had another stint of sobriety that lasted about two years. It was all adrenaline and zero anything else and so I fell back into the arms of alcohol and told myself I would change my life once I left Memphis and I did just that – but it was not on my terms.
A few years later, I found myself living in a roach infested rented room in Los Angeles. By this time I was drinking a large bottle of Vodka a day and popping migraine pills to ease the suffering of my vodka based diet. I could barely walk to the mailbox because my muscles were so weak, including my heart, which palpitated non-stop. For the first time in my life, alcohol was not working. I could no longer reach oblivion. I needed something else, something stronger – and considering the state I was in – that something would have killed me.
I was at a very dangerous cross roads when God intervened in my life one last time. I had been seeking His help with a job. During a day of prayer and fasting I had a vision that scared the crap out of me. It turns out that Jesus loves me, but He was ready to let me die if I did not hand over the alcohol once and for all. I cried out – But it’s my Everything. Jesus replied, Exactly. Realizing that I had finally pushed God past His point of no return, I surrendered the one thing I had that made everything else okay and entered into a very reluctant sober state. I entered the rooms of AA in Los Angeles and I found a new home. After about 6 months of screaming into pillows and being afraid to even try going to the grocery store - something just changed. I started feeling more comfortable. Los Angeles taught me a lot. The Recovery out there is top notch and I needed to hear every word that was spoken. My favorite being “you’ve been upside down for so long that you have no idea what right side up feels like. Of course you feel upside down right now – it’s because You’ve finally turned right side up. Give it a minute.” And he was right! I also learned to like myself in Hollywood of all places. I made friends that liked me for who I am. My LA tribe helped me realize that I am funny, pretty, sweet, fun to be around and deserving of the best in life. After I got called to leave LA and found myself in Jacksonville, FL – I felt God nudge me to attend Celebrate Recovery instead of AA. I did not understand this at all. AA had saved my life. I live and breathe the AA logic in my soul. It keeps me from doing stupid things. But, I decided to follow God’s prompting and visited CR and I absolutely hated it. I felt so weird. I was a newbie all over again, but my AA logic quickly spit out the “Shut up and Show Up for 90 days” and so I did.
The first CR I went to, wasn’t my cup of tea so I sought a different one and met a super sweet woman and so I came back and I kept coming back here at the Beaches CR every Friday night. I have found that Celebrate Recovery offers me an atmosphere of love and acceptance where I can work on the root issues that cause my insane desire for escape. Thanks to CR I am staying sober while learning how to ground myself in God’s truth. I am learning to see myself the way God see’s me. I am learning how to serve, I am learning how to lead and I am learning how to deal with those unwanted emotions that usually make me bolt in every direction except the right one. I can say that after working the steps, I mean really, honestly working the steps, I no longer feel the need for alcohol. Sometimes I may want it, sometimes I may think about one drink, but I immediately tell myself that it cannot happen. I know where that one drink leads. For me it leads to my death. It really is that simple.
There is no going back, there is only pressing forward to the life that Jesus is calling me to lead and excitement about where He is taking me. He has given me a new vision for my life, which is the old vision I started out with years ago before alcohol took over my life. The good news is that the last 15 years have not phased God one bit. His plans for me have not changed. He still sees me as the same person I was before all of this mess started. This past year He gave me a verse that has been spoken in this room by others – Joel 2:25 - …He will restore the years the locusts ate away… – thanks to AA and Celebrate Recovery I get to live a life of freedom today and I get to be excited about the restoration of all the things the locusts ate away in my life while I was deep in my addiction, my depression and my self-torture.
AA Saved My Life. Celebrate Recovery is teaching me how to live and accept the new life that has been freely given. If you’re new – keep coming back! Keep doing the next right thing! Get a sponsor, get an accountability partner and Work the steps! Make yourself available to others! Surround yourself with the right people – people who have what you want, people that are grounded in God’s truth! Lean into Jesus and you too can sing that song with gratitude knowing that you are one of the broken God has raised to a new and awesome life. Thanks for letting me share.
And I really am excited for all that is to come! The vision God has given me seems so unattainable and so unreachable, but that’s also the fun part – I cannot remember who said this – Louie, Erwin, Russ or maybe they’ve all said it at one time or another – God never gives you something you can do without Him – I just have to be willing and God will take my willingness and make something awesome out of it. Like this blog, for instance, the readership has slowly been rising since the day I started it and I will keep writing until the day people stop reading it.
I am also working on some full-length (main speaker) versions of my testimony as I might soon have the opportunity to share with some other nearby Celebrate Recovery groups. Not to mention that I am delving into the Advanced Leadership training materials as I continue to develop my ministry leadership skills.
Looking back, I believe God had to take me out of LA so I could slow down and figure out where my life was going. My LA life was very hectic and due to the location of my work it made it very hard for me to be involved in after work activities. I MISS LA A LOT, but it is clear God brought me to Jacksonville so I could slow down long enough to truly change direction.
August 26th, I will be celebrating 3 whole years of sobriety: Three whole years of a different way of living; Three whole years of a better way of living; Three whole years of feeling my feelings; Three whole years of facing my fears; Three whole years of being the real Jessica. Three whole years of being someone I am proud of, someone my family is proud of and someone I know Jesus is proud of. Three whole years of better decisions, better relationships and better impact on those around me. Whoever said Sobriety is boring, uneventful and unattractive - doesn’t know Sobriety.
As I mentioned last month, God is really wanting me to step up my game for Him. After His initial question to me (Why are you acting like a newbie when you’re a veteran of the faith?) He began directing me towards what living the life of a veteran looks like and means for me. First off, He has placed some amazing women in my life through Celebrate Recovery and I call them amazing because they seem to be veterans of the faith when in reality most of them are the real newbies. They have their focus on helping others and on walking and talking a real and tangible faith in Christ. It is through these women that God is helping me understand what it is He is calling me to do with my life. I always knew that Jacksonville was training or as God put it preparation. And while I may not be entirely sure as to what I am preparing for I can say it must be ministry related. Personally, I am really making an effort to be more outwardly focused. I mean if I want to be one of those people who changes the energy in the room or brightens someone’s day, I can’t be engrossed in my own pity party now can I? I mean if I am all caught up in me and too busy in my own head then I am unable to interact with those around me. Trust me when I say that I know what it is like to be around people who drain the energy out of the room without even saying a word and the truth is when I am attending my own pity party I am that person. Now this does not mean that I do not allow myself to feel the hurt, disappointment or loneliness that I am feeling. It means that I acknowledge my feelings and then get back to the world around me.
One of the women in my CR recently gave her testimony and in her testimony she said something that God used to knock me over the head. She was discussing the energy we addicts put into our addiction and how most of the time we don’t even put a fraction of that energy into our recovery. The night she spoke this into me, my own personal monster was awake and I was very aware of my monster’s demands. I was not me that night, I was my addiction. Her words brought me back though because I immediately thought about how there was no distance too great, no price to high and no inconvenience when it came to me and my bottle. However, when it comes to anything else in life I find that the distance is almost always too great, the price almost always too high and the inconvenience almost always absurd. And you know what? I especially find this to be true when it comes to God, church and the people He brings into my life for which I have no doubt are there because He is hoping I will step up for Him in their life. Ouch! I mean God went to the expense of His only Son for me so there really shouldn’t be anything too inconvenient for me to do for Him.
Personally, there are many things in my life that I need to do better and I am trying to tackle them one by one. For starters, I am working on keeping my word (aka not backing out at the last minute because of fear, not feeling good or any idea that comes into my head) and I am putting a lot of energy into being on time for work, church and all the other appointments one has in life. I am also working on taking better care of myself by eating better, getting more sleep, exercising more and obeying those moments when my soul says it needs a minute or four. I am also making an effort to be more social at CR and at church. I need to be reaching out to new faces, being the person to say hello instead of waiting for someone to say hello to me, in other words, I need to start taking the lead and I am focusing on doing just that with every church I visit and every CR I attend. These may seem like small matters, but they shape who I am and how I see myself and they are also small details that veterans practice everyday.
Happy Easter to all of you or as I like to call it... Happy New Life Day. Christ died the worst death possible so that He could conquer the worst humanity could muster...We were His end game. He endured it all so that we could have new life in Him... so that we don't have to stay in the hole we've managed to dig for ourselves no matter how giant that hole might be... :)