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!
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.
Sometimes life takes you way, way, way up in the air and just leaves you there, hanging. After a while you can’t help but wonder if you are headed for a touchdown or a crash landing.
While my financial situation hasn’t changed, my stress level has skyrocketed. The company that I have been trying to run from is crumbling before my eyes. There is good news though! After feeling uneasy and unsafe for so long I had started to question if my past was causing issues in my present, but it would turn out that my gut, my discernment, my instinct – whatever you want to call it – it was telling me something is off and so are all these people. I couldn’t understand it. It was unfounded and I found it crazy that I felt safer in gang-ridden Los Angeles than in Jacksonville, FL, but as I now know those feelings weren’t so unfounded after all. This is the good news. It wasn’t me. It was and is the company and people I call my day home. While I cannot share any of it here at this time, it does feel good to know that I can and should trust my instincts.
I have been questioning many of my past decisions that were made based on my gut instinct and while they look like they might have been wrong – current happenings say otherwise. Following your gut instinct can lead you into a deep valley, but that doesn’t mean you were lead astray. In my case, I know that the valley I am in is a back-to-the-basics, re-grounding and re-focusing list of lessons that will make all the difference when the gate opens to the pasture in my future.
One of those lessons is the simple truth that I can ask Jesus for a hug whenever I feel overwhelmed and over stressed. I learned this one evening while in shavasana after a hearty detox flow. I saw myself as a little girl in a white dress balled up crying my eyes out. Jesus came to me and picked me up and I watched myself disappear into His light. I did catch a glimpse of myself in His arms and I was smiling from ear to ear and happy as a child could be. I then saw present day me get up off the yoga mat and walk into Jesus’ arms disappearing into His light. While I was watching all of this I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, calm and tranquility. I was immediately elevated somewhere above my current human status and experienced a calm I had never known before. I guess what I felt was love and my tear stained face proved it. And I have felt this same tranquility again and again as I have taken Jesus on His word when He told me at the end of that vision “Don’t forget I AM always here.” I no longer deal with anxious or unwanted thoughts in bed and I no longer worry about what to do with myself when I am alone. Some people have alcohol or weed or a host of other things, but I have Jesus and I find Him to be the most effective calming presence with zero negative side effects.
I am also finding out what is important to me and what deserves my focus and what does not. I am sad to say that like many people who grew up like I did – I have quite a fascination with materialistic things and the finer quality things at that. Take it from one who always wants the most expensive of everything… It turns out that I look just as good if not better in what I can easily afford! I do have to admit that my pride took a hit and I might have had to be forced into one of the stores after exhausting myself in 100-degree heat trying to replace a pair of everyday sandals that broke, but once I was in the store I had a hard time leaving.
And then there’s that whole living with intention and learning to make the best of every situation and becoming a living example of what I want to see more of instead of what I want to see less of…. Yes, I do agree… trusting your gut can lead you into a deep valley, but it does not mean you misunderstood or made a mistake. It does mean that you went where you needed to go to learn what you needed to learn for when you get plucked out of the valley and into the pasture that is your future. I mean what’s the purpose in getting everything you want if you have no idea what to do with it? I am now realizing this could have happened to me and it would have been a complete disaster! Oh and another something – I am finding that when I spend the day in Jesus’ arms – all those personality traits that I have been trying to get rid of somehow disappear and I didn’t do anything but ask Jesus to let me sit in His arms all day long. They say Jesus is sufficient and after spending the last couple of weeks in His arms I can say with complete certainty that He really is more than enough.
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.
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.
November, the month of Giving Thanks, Creating Families and most importantly the month of Jessica getting her groove back!
In case you are not aware – World Adoption Day is November 9th. Hank Fortner, one of my Mosaic pastors started Adopttogether.org, a non-profit focused on helping beat the number one barrier to families looking to adopt – MONEY. There are a lot of families out there that want to adopt, but simply don’t have $10K, $20K, $30K or even $40K sitting around to make the adoption happen. This is where Adopttogether.org comes in and helps secure funding for families wanting to adopt through crowdfunding. World Adoption Day is a day of celebration for both parents and kids who won big when adoption changed their lives. World Adoption Day is also a day of awareness for adoption so please join us on Monday November 9th by posting a selfie with a smiley on your hand to spread awareness or to celebrate your own adoption story or that of a friend.
Halloween marks a year since I left Los Angeles and Thanksgiving marks a year since I have seen my mother and brother. I am excited to be able to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them at the beach this year! We will be catching up while we enjoy the views from our beach-front balcony on Florida’s gulf coast. I am very happy for this opportunity as I want very badly to be able to spend more time with them as well as a host of other people, but my finances are just in the way at the moment.
As I have mentioned previously, I now feel that I came to a much-needed standstill here in Jacksonville. It appears that I needed to slow down and take some time to heal internally, which is what has happened. From Celebrate Recovery to Redeemed Esteem to many other confirmations God has laid in my lap over this past year – it appears I just needed a lot of internal healing and I now feel that I am beginning to come back to life. My focus is returning, my productivity is returning and my overall energy is returning. One could argue that I am beginning to dream again!
I would also like to note that this might have something to do with a recent change in my morning prayer! In addition to praying the lyrics of Hillsong’s “I Surrender”, I have started asking God to help me release my potential each and every day to the point that when I reach the end of this life, that I would not have an ounce of my God-given potential left. It’s a bold prayer that I am not only praying for myself, but also for my mother and brother who are also dreamers with dreams in their hearts. For it has come to my attention that one of my biggest problems is my inability to release my potential. In other words, my inability to take the God-given dreams in my heart, put them on paper and then transform them into reality. I have the paper part down; it’s the whole transforming dreams into reality that seems to have had me stuck for far too long. And it looks like this new prayer might be working!
To kick off November, I will be sharing my first full testimony at the Mandarin area CR on the 6th and am very excited for this opportunity. I didn’t have a 20 minute testimony written upon the invitation, but I recalled a piece of advice I read from Seth MacFarlane that echoes countless other successful people both in entertainment and in ministry – that thought is this – when opportunity knocks, don’t hesitate, just say yes and figure out the how later!
I am also moving forward with a new project that God placed on my heart during Hillsong weekend here in Jax. I am calling it Hillsong weekend because I went to Hillsong Nights on Saturday and went and heard global founder, Brian Houston speak at Celebration on Sunday morning. He spoke on dreams and dreamers and God breathed a new project into my soul that very day. I have been reluctant to start work on it because as with anything God gives you – it is bigger than I am and I don’t feel I can do it all alone, but I am not meant to – I am meant to create it piece by piece with my Creator. It’s not supposed to be my thing, it’s supposed to be Our thing! I have the outline for the steps that need to be taken and am working on step one for the remainder of this year. I am really excited and really terrified, but I think all creators feel this way when embarking on a new project so I guess I am in good company.
I am also ready to get back in gear career-wise. I know I cannot stay at my current employer as the money nor the interest is there so I am back on the hunt for a good opportunity, but this time around I have a confidence in myself, my passion and my abilities that I did not have previously. It definitely changes the opportunities I look at and how I approach them and with any luck I will be in a new and better situation soon! With any luck I will begin to see a little of that restoration from Joel 2:25, the life verse God has given me which reads “… He will restore all the years the locusts ate away…” which I am taking to mean that God plans on restoring all of the things I missed out on while I was caught up in my addiction, depression and self-torture and I for one, can’t wait to see what He is going to do! Er’ I can’t wait to see what We’re going to do!
I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and don’t forget to reach out to any singles, widows or flat broke folks that might be spending the holiday alone unless you invite them to spend it with you!
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.
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.