Meet Me There

Posting over at the Door of Hope Women’s page today…

door of hope women

JJ Barrows wrote today’s post. May her authenticity and  wisdom speak His truth to your hearts.

It is a Tuesday morning unlike any other, at least for me, as it is my first Tuesday morning being thirty-one years of age. It’s funny to me how at one point any age past thirty seemed so very old, and now any age before thirty seems so very young. I was talking with a girl in her twenties just the other day and found myself saying, “Oh, but you’re just a baby.” And maybe there is truth to that, maybe in the grand scheme of life, twenty is the new “baby,” and if thirty is the new twenty, then I myself am in fact still just a baby.

While there should be comfort in that, at least according to the world, that I’m still young, the more I get to know Jesus, the…

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chop and rage

I am the bi-product of a bad marriage. Part of me hates to say that because I love my parents dearly, but I’m learning in life that you can love people while still telling the truth, even if the truth is messy and hard.

I’ve lived most of my life convincing myself and other people that things were fine when they weren’t, that everything was okay when it wasn’t. In a card game it’s called bluffing, and I’ve become quite good at it. If I’m dealt a spade, I call it a heart and I smile while doing it. The problem with smiling while bluffing is that it not only hides the truth, it feeds the lie… the lie that things are fine when they aren’t, the lie that everything is okay when it isn’t. And the more you feed the lie, the more the lie becomes your reality, making it harder and harder to see the truth, the truth that you need help.

And the problem with bluffing, whether you are smiling or not, is that it not only isolates you in your hidden struggle, it eradicates any sort of hope for something greater, something better, something (at the very least) different from your current situation. Pretending my parents’ marriage or family situation is good isn’t going to be what improves it, and maybe calling it what it is isn’t going to improve it either, but it at the very least frees me up to find hope somewhere else instead of expending all of my energy into putting on a performance that becomes less and less convincing as time goes on.

As evidenced by my blog title, my life motto has become to “call a spade a spade,” to say “here’s what I’ve been dealt… I won’t lie, it kinda sucks, but how can I play it well?” I’m learning that it’s a process to learn how to play your cards well. Just when I think I’ve mastered the game, someone else appears to be coming out on top, to be winning, and the temptation to bluff sets back in, along with my pride and my smiles and my abuse of the Christian F-word: FINE, everything is just fine. While being “just fine” might make you seem like good company, someone who won’t cause any drama, ruffle any feathers or spill any milk, it also makes you seem pretty boring. As I’ve recently thought about what people might say about me after I’m long gone, be it from a room or life in general, I would hate for someone’s description of me to be “JJ, you know, the girl who was just fine.”

And so I’m calling it, my spade, the one that says I am a bi-product of a bad marriage. I know that is not who I am, but it is a part of my story, and calling out the bad allows room for the good to come in. I can’t talk about all of the healing and restoration God has done in my life if I don’t say what it was that needed to be healed and restored in the first place. For much of my life I have struggled with the lie that I am not worth it. I can pin-point it precisely, back to an old relationship. Before I understood addiction, I asked my boyfriend at the time why he wouldn’t quit drinking for me if it was hurting me.

His exact words were, “because you’re not worth it.”

And while he apologized shortly after, and years and years have gone by and I’ve sought my own healing, been in and out of a few relationships since then, and he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, those words are the words that haunt me most to this day. I remember exactly where I was in the moment those words broke a sound barrier, piercing my eardrums as they seeped into my being and rooted themselves deeply into my mind and my heart. I know the Lord’s heart broke for me as much as my own heart broke in that moment. He knew the battle I was going to have to face to un-do that lie, and as a good Father, His heart broke at thought of His daughter going to war. And still, as a good Father, He has held tightly to me since then (and well before), refusing to give up on me and letting me fall victim to the lie that I am not worth it. I know my Lord’s heart broke because the enemy danced a victory dance that night, and though the Lord loves dancing, He did not reserve dancing for the enemy. The enemy danced because he was given enough fuel in one moment, in one sentence, to attack me for a long time to come. Please, chose your words wisely, they carry so much weight.

When my parents separated and later divorced I was sent through a shock wave. I was already barely able to keep bluffing my way through life, going through the ending of a relationship, a community, a job, an identity. When “comes from a good family” was taken off of the table of things I thought I had to offer, I snapped. While I knew well before my parents’ divorce that my family was dysfunctional, I banked on no one else knowing, hoping people wouldn’t know I had enough baggage to go to Iceland for a year or two. I figured people could or would fall in love with me first and then I could yell, “SURPRISE! I have more issues than VOGUE MAGAZINE, but at least you love me!” My fear was that if people saw all of my crap before getting to know me, I would never stand a chance. And I’m not quite sure what I wanted to stand a chance at, I didn’t want to get married, in part because of my experience with my parents, but I still wanted to be sought after, loved and valued. Even as a self-proclaimed independent woman with a black belt in Beyonce, I still want to be sought after, to be desired, to be “worth it.”

At twenty-eight years old, my world was ripped out from under me as the truth of my parents marriage was exposed and the one identity I felt like I had left to cling to, “I come from a good family,” was not only shattered, but broke my heart in the process. And I know, I get it, as a Christian, my identity is to be in Christ, but that’s just it, when you bluff your way through the game, “everything is fine,” it makes it harder to see the truth, “I need a Savior.” If it’s possible, I would say that up to that point, part of my identity was in Christ, while saying that all of it was. But I don’t think it’s possible for part of your identity to be in Christ, I think it really is all or nothing, but I couldn’t see that while I was bluffing, and so seeing as how it wasn’t all, since I was priding myself on the family I came from, I crashed when my parents’ marriage did.

My parents are not responsible for my crashing any more than I am responsible for their divorce, so I am not blaming them for what I went through then and what I continue to go through now as a result of it, but I often avoid talking about it in fear that it might be interpreted as blame, either by them or others. But even more than fearing mis-interpretation is the overall general fear of man and woman… fear of what people think. Perhaps this fear set in at an early age when my Sunday school teacher was disappointed that as the pastor’s kid I did not have my Bible verse memorized, and so as not to disappoint again or mis-represent my father, I set about to strive for the sake of being accepted. Perhaps the fear grew in middle school when I was told that “pastor’s kids are the worst,” and so as to be liked by the kids my age I set about to rebel because that’s what pastor’s kids do. And perhaps the fear of not being accepted for who I really am became a reality, or so I perceived it to be a reality, when six years into a relationship I was told that a bottle of alcohol had more worth than I did.

When I came to learn the story behind my parents divorce my anger at God increased to a level I never thought possible. Divorce in and of itself is hard enough to stomach, no matter what the story or situation. When I was handed the revised version of my story and my family’s history, I wanted nothing to do with God and His way of writing. I couldn’t fathom why He would ever even bother to bring my parents together in the first place. I remember yelling at God one night and asking Him how He could allow two people to go through so much pain, as there are two sides to every story, and both sides of my parents’ story broke my heart, and continues to do so. I remember screaming at Him and through my sobs I yelled out, “and if it’s because you wanted me here then I hate you… because I’m not worth it!”

And I truly believed that. I truly believed that my existence was not worth what my parents went through to bring me into this world, and I felt guilty for being alive. And again, the enemy danced as he watched me forget the truth and believe the lie that I wasn’t worth it. And again, my Lord’s heart broke as He pleaded with His daughter to just hang on, to not give up, to believe in His love for me despite what I felt. I look back and almost have a vision of Jesus weeping over me, weeping harder than I wept, hovered over me, begging His Father God to have mercy on His child.

I look back and I see Jesus being good to me, holding me tight, crying with me as our hearts broke over the same thing, but I couldn’t see it in the moment, not did I even try to. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from the situation I found myself in, not even a hug from Jesus seemed good enough, or even worth it for that matter.

I under went a dark season of guilt, mainly for being alive. For as crazy as it might sound, I walked around believing that it was my fault for my parents ever getting together in the first place, for them having the story that they did. I felt guilty for their pain and I felt helpless because I couldn’t fix it. I was already here, walking the earth as a bi-product of a bad marriage. I felt responsible to make sure they didn’t hurt anymore and so I mostly kept quiet about the pain and guilt I felt, along with the anger at both myself and at them. I thought as long as I lived my life in a way that pleased them, they wouldn’t hurt as much. And at twenty-eight years old, after all the recovery I had gone through in my own life, I forgot most of it and set about again to be perfect in every way possible, ignoring the fact that perfection is impossible and perfect people don’t need Jesus.

I kept in touch with God, mostly to ask Him not to wake me up in the morning, “please,” I would sometimes cry at night, “please, don’t bother. I can’t keep up.” Taking my own life seemed to be the opposite of trying to help my parents not hurt anymore, and so in the confines of my own mind I decided not to take action, but I longed for the Lord to make that call for me. Since I had no control over eternally checking out, I took control by striving for perfection, hoping that maybe if I was good enough in this life, I could make my parents’ story worth it.

As I set about for perfection, trying to earn my right to simply walk the earth because I had forgotten the simplest of truths that I learned as a young child, well before I was ever lied to about not being worth it, that Jesus did and does in fact love me, I slowly began to disappear… again. Being perfect meant I couldn’t be JJ, and since JJ wasn’t “worth it” I set my sights on perfection instead of He who is perfect, and I managed to kill off JJ while believing she was alive and well. I killed off 23 pounds of JJ as I shrank into a bone structure that wasn’t strong enough to hold life in it. I hid under large clothes, tired eyes and weak smiles, never letting on that I hurt as much as I did, in part because I was too weak to hurt, another added bonus of disappearing. The lie that I wasn’t worth it became my truth, and surviving became my way of living as I tried to redeem the pain my parents’ had to go through in order to bring me into the world… “maybe if I’m a good enough daughter it will have been worth it… maybe I’ll be worth it.”

While I might have questioned my parents’ love for each other much longer than I care to admit, I never questioned my parents’ love for me, so it’s not a pressure they put on me to be perfect, or a situation they asked me to redeem. I don’t think they know the depth to which I have wrestled with the Lord over the matter, if for no other reason than practice makes perfect, and when bluffing is a regular practice, you get really good at it; so good that you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Sometimes I wonder how it’s possible for a twenty-eight year old brain to get as confused as I did, to have access to so much truth and so much love and yet still miss it. Part of it I think is pain, pain confuses things. Part of it I think is saving face, saving face confuses things. Part of it I think is memory loss, memory loss confuses things. And most of it I think is the enemy taking those parts, along with a handful of other parts, and making a great case for why you should be God instead of God being God.

Next week I turn thirty-one, and while I still might not have all my ducks in a row, I know for sure that God does not spell His name with two Js. I cannot claim to always understand Him or the way He works, I cannot even claim to always agree with Him or the way He writes stories. I don’t understand why His writing is sometimes perfectly legible and sometimes as scribbled as a two-year-old’s. I don’t know why I hold the cards that I do in life. I don’t know why some people seem to have better cards and some people seem to have worse cards. I do not understand this God I serve any more than I understand the game of life. There is so much I still don’t know.

But I do know this… I am worth it. I am worth the air in my lungs and the heart in my chest. I am worth the effort it took to bring me into this world no matter how painful the process. I am worth more than a bottle of alcohol. I am worth the life of a Man named Jesus, who saw a little girl trying desperately to be who the world told her to be, even when it wasn’t who He called her to be, and instead of scolding her for not listening to His voice, He picked her up, time and time again, and He laid Himself down in her place, taking on her shame and her guilt so that she might be able to experience the glory of being called a daughter of the God Most High… a title, a role, a claim on her life that wasn’t earned, and therefore can be taken away by no one.

My parents are still divorced, and their story has not changed, but my perspective of God and the way in which I live out who I believe Him to be has. I no longer carry the guilt that I once did for being alive, in fact, I feel so set free from it that the thought seems silly to have ever had in the first place, but it was as real a feeling as the feeling of freedom I now feel. And so I suppose that’s it, I had to be real about how I felt in order to be set free from it. I had to call a spade a spade. So long as I was pretending I was fine, it kept me in bondage, drowning in my own shame and guilt, unable to be me while killing off any of me that tried to come up for air.

I don’t need to earn my worth, or redeem my parents’ story. I don’t need to be perfect, or make sure everything is okay. And I don’t need to curse the Hand of God when everything isn’t okay. Cursing the Hand of God only gives the enemy more room to dance, and I refuse to continue playing a role in letting the enemy enjoy the pleasure of dancing. He has danced long enough in the name of my family, which goes back much further than my upbringing. I’ve given into his lies for far too long, waging war against God and my own body. I am reclaiming that territory, the territory that God deems worth claiming and calling His own, the territory that is my body, heart, mind and soul. I’m calling the enemy’s bluff, that I’m not worth it, and with the truth exposed, the healing can begin. Where there is healing, there is victory, and I’d rather live victoriously with battle scars and war stories than tell the generation that I raise up that I didn’t really need Jesus because everything was “just fine,” especially when it really wasn’t.

A few weeks ago I was given a tee-shirt by a friend who didn’t know where I was at in life, but she knew I needed a tee-shirt (“needed” is a strong word). While I try not to collect too many articles of clothing, there was a story printed on the inside of the tee-shirt that left me clinging to it. For as silly as it may sound, it was as if God was saying, “take off those lies you’ve been wearing and put on this story.”

The story was titled “CHOP AND RAGE,” and it read as follows:

“Don’t stay out of the water. Don’t decide to only let the waves collide against your thighs. Don’t stop pushing out when your heart starts to thump in your throat and you realize how cold the ocean feels when you can’t touch the bottom anymore. Don’t stop swimming when you peer back and find the shore you’ve always known to be a stranger, a line of interchangeable ants along the horizon. Don’t stop slicing through the sea when your arms like twirling swords get tired, even when the water goes from green and curling and foamy to heavy and hearty and black.

You won’t die. And even if you do, so what? The world was created to be explored, even its tides and storms. The chop and rage will turn a heart to stone, but even stone can be moved, formed, and reshaped. The heart, if unable to do anything else, was created to be refined until it can’t beat anymore. Take it into your soaked and wrinkled fists and poke your head above the churning water. Hold it high and scream for help. If you want it bad enough, you will always find a lifeboat upon the surface.”

This is the story that I will relay to the generation that I help raise up, be it to kids of my own by birth or adoption, or kids of others, by loved ones or strangers. I will tell war stories that involve sunken ships, fallen trees and fierce storms so that the weight of restoration, redemption and resurrection can be understood. I will reveal my bruises and scars and I will dance in my imperfection instead of hiding it. I will let them see me cry so that they will know I mean it when I smile. I will admit that sometimes the bottom of the ocean seems safer than the storm raging above, but so long as I believe in the One in whom even the wind and the waves obey, I will face my demons, shake them out and I will never, ever, ever give up.

I may be the bi-product of a bad marriage, but the “badness” of my parents marriage is not what determines the “goodness” or the worth of the people in the family.

I am worth it… and now it is I who dance, crushing the head of my enemy with each step.

My prayer for you is that you know this to be true for yourself.

No matter how or why you got to be here on planet earth, you are here by no coincidence or mistake. It is with great reason and intention that you have breath in your lungs and a heart in your chest… should you find yourself ever doubting that, don’t hide your doubt while appearing to be “just fine.” If Jesus conquered death then He can handle your doubt… call it out, name it, expose the darkness of it to the Light, and then scream for help.

I don’t know how and in what way help will come, but I know that it will.

Just. Hold. On.

You are so incredibly worth it.

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“chop and rage” can be found at lovenailtree.com

purple-freaking-nail polish

Last Friday night a few of the girls and I had a sleepover, an “intentional” sleepover, if you will, for lack of a better Christian word. Honestly, I went into it feeling pretty discouraged about the numbers that had dropped due to out-of-towners, a handful of sickies and the general 10% who never respond to any of my messages. It was supposed to be a weekend long retreat, but due to the numbers and lack of desire to continue bashing my head in to plan things that people don’t show up for, I almost canceled it. However, there were three girls who committed, and I can’t preach the message of “quality not quantity” if I’m not living it out, so I trimmed it down to an intentional overnight and set about to rally as best as I could for twenty-four hours.

I wanted there to be fun and food and time to be silly, and Jesus is in all of those things, so I knew He’d be there even if that was all the sleepover involved, but I also wanted time set aside to press in and get to know this Jesus guy on a more personal note. It’s like when you meet someone at a party, fun enough, but if you wanted to get to know them better, you’d probably invite them to coffee so you could talk a bit deeper without the loud music and store bought guacamole. I wanted there to be coffee time at the sleepover. Jesus was already partying with us, I just wanted to make sure we took some time to have coffee with Him. In more ways than one, I wanted there to be a lot of coffee time at the sleepover.

On Saturday morning I woke up at 5:00am and climbed to the rooftop of the house we were staying in. I sat there and watched the fog try its best to hide the ocean. “Nice try,” I whispered, “I still see it.” Ocean beats fog the way rock beats scissors. I asked God what I was doing. I asked what He wanted. I asked Him where He was. I told Him for what felt like the fifty-millionth time that I needed Him. I needed Him not only to lead these girls, I needed Him to lead me. “You gotta take them deeper,” I said, “I can’t do it. I don’t know how. If You want them to go deeper, You gotta do it. I got nothing… literally, I forgot my Bible. I planned a girls weekend to press into You more and I FORGOT MY BIBLE. That’s where I’m at, if that says anything at all. I got nail polish! I got purple-freaking-nail polish and no Bible! I am slowly turning into the epitome of what I don’t want ‘women’s ministries’ to look like… purple-freaking-nail polish and no Bible. No meat. Come on, Man, you gotta help me.”

I buried my head in my hands and waited, not long, as my patience to wait upon the Lord had been running on low for a while. I went back inside the house and tip-toed past the girls sleeping in the living room. I laid on the couch and fell back asleep until 7:30. As the girls began to stir we stood around the kitchen counter, they eating bagels and cream cheese, me watching with a stomach ache. I had a stomach ache in part because I always have a stomach ache (I have a digestive system that is just as confused about food as my mind is, which makes recovery even trickier) and in part because the night before, I ate too much chocolate-covered-toffee from Trader Joe’s and seasoned popcorn, seemingly from Heaven.

As we wrapped up in the kitchen we sauntered back into the living room to watch a documentary that Kathliene, one of the girl’s mom and our hostess for the sleepover, suggested we watch. Since well before the sleepover I have been trying to figure out how to go deeper with the girls, frustrated with either a lack of involvement or a lack of interest in who Jesus is as a person, walking amongst us today, still healing, still loving, still heartbroken over the state of this world and its occupants. Kathliene knew I was at my wits end with trying to plan and facilitate deep discussion, so she offered this DVD as a way to show Jesus in a way that you don’t often see Him in La Jolla, California.

The documentary was called Father of Lights and it was about the very real and present transformational, healing, crazy and absurd power of Jesus. Perhaps that’s not how the back of the DVD would describe the film, but I don’t have the DVD on my person and so goes my description.

I wasn’t sure what to expect or what the girls were going to get out of it, I was just hoping it would somehow open up a deeper discussion about Jesus, especially in the here and now. To be honest, I was a little nervous, it’s not like I have answers to the things I even wanted to talk about, I just wanted to talk about them. I was nervous because I knew the film was going to be “charismatic,” for lack of a better Christian term, and seeing as how I’m a recovering Southern Baptist (amongst other things) with a charismatic curiosity, I don’t know where I fit into the whole classification thing regarding the personality of certain denominations. I’m lit. That much I know… when it comes to Jesus, I’m lit. That’s how one of the girls described me and it remains one of the best compliments or classifications or whatever it was that I have ever received to date.

I’m lit, and yet even still I was a little nervous, nervous to talk about modern day healings and prophecy and visions and basically anything in Scripture that could potentially jump off of the page and become real in today’s day and age. And I was nervous because with high-schoolers you aren’t just responsible for the high-schoolers, you also have a responsibility of sorts to their parents; and when you don’t know where their parents stand on certain issues, it doesn’t change the message Jesus has asked you to give, it just makes it a bit more nerve-racking with the potential to be awkward.

I prayed that the Lord would do something, show up somehow, as if He wasn’t already there, in a way that would rock the girls and myself. I needed and wanted the Lord to be drastic in His measures to reach out to His kids as much for myself as I did for the girls. And maybe it sounds weird to want or think the Lord could or would reach out through a television screen, but I had nothing else to bank on. I had no devotional planned, no Bible, an aching stomach and a bottle of purple-freaking-nail polish.

As we watched story after story unfold of people meeting Jesus and being healed in ways I can’t even begin to explain or wrap my head around, ways in which I am moved to tears even now as I sit and think about them, and ways in which even I, for as lit as I am, was whispering to God, “dude, is that for real?”, I started to feel a stirring within me.

“You need to ask for prayer,” I heard from somewhere within me. “For what?” I asked somewhere within me. “For healing,” somewhere within me said back. I felt uncomfortable and certain that “somewhere within me” wasn’t actually me, but God. “You need to ask these girls to lay hands on you and pray for healing, for that which is physical and that which is mental.”

“No way,” I said back, “no way. I believe in healing and I believe you can and will heal me and the constant discomfort I find myself in, but I am not asking that of these girls. I don’t want to scare them and I know asking them to pray for healing will creep them out because who knows what you’ll you.”

“You need to ask these girls to lay their hands on you and pray for healing.”

No.” I was firm and direct, “I’m not asking them that. Like I said, I believe in your healing power, which is why I will go home as soon as this is over, get in the closet, lay hands on myself and pray that you heal me… or I could just ask you now… heal me.” I was really hoping I would feel a jolt of revival, but I felt nothing.

“And how is my power displayed when you hide it in a closet?”

Lord, come on, I’m a leader. These girls need to ask me for prayer, I can’t… and then if I ask for prayer for healing I have to say what for, don’t they need to see me as stronger than that!?”

“You need help, and you need healing and you need to ask for it if you want to lead well.”

Or something like that.

I believe in the miraculous, but I feel much more comfortable talking about it in a third-world country type of setting where it seems to be more commonly accepted, if I’m being honest.

“NOT IN LA JOLLA! NOT AS A LEADER! NOT FROM HIGH SCHOOLERS! NOT FROM JUST BARELY HIGH SCHOOLERS… THEY’RE GOING INTO NINTH GRADE! PLEASE! AND WHAT WILL THEIR PARENTS SAY!?” On the exterior I was as calm as could be, but my insides were freaking out, and I was desperate. I was desperate because I know better than to ignore God’s voice, but I hate when it sounds like the very thing I don’t want to do. Sometimes I am still convinced that if I argue enough or appear desperate enough before God He will change His mind, and maybe sometimes He does, I don’t know, but I know that for as much as it sucks in the moment, it’s in your best interest that you follow through with what He says.

“One of their parents is in the other room,” God said, “so start by asking her for help and go from there. You asked to take them deeper, are you going to stand in the way of your own prayer?”

Not a single thing within me wanted to ask these girls to pray for me. And when I am most honest, not a single thing within me wanted God to show up in a “charismatic” way, or even really at all, at least not on His terms. I wanted Him to show up on my terms because I was running low on faith and truth be told, I just wanted to get the weekend over with. I wanted to hang out with the girls, but that was all I wanted to do. I didn’t want to lead, I didn’t want to read scripture or pray, I just wanted to hang out and eat chocolate covered toffee from Trader Joe’s and seasoned popcorn from Heaven, hug on the way out and call it a good weekend.

“JJ…”

The credits started to roll. My heart felt like it was dropping into my stomach and my insides felt like they were on fire. I knew I had to act quickly before the girls started getting up and I changed my mind. My hands trembled…

“KATHLIENE!” I yelled. “YEA!?” she hollered back as she was picking up our sleeping bags and nail polish one room over. “CAN YOU COME IN HERE!?” She came running in. If anyone is in tune with the Holy Spirit, it’s Kathliene, so I suppose I should have been more grateful that if the Lord was going to urge me to ask for healing from high-school girls, at least He was doing so in the safety zone of Kathliene’s house.

“I know this might sound crazy,” I said as my voice shook… “try me,” Kathliene said. “I think I’m supposed to ask you all to pray for me for healing. I’m embarrassed to say it, and embarrassed that I’m the one who’s asking, I feel like I should be the one praying for the girls, but I really think God wants me to ask y’all to lay hands on me and pray for healing.” I kept saying that as a leader I felt silly to be the one to ask, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the time was going to come when I would actually lead these girls, but I also knew what I had to do. I had to ask. Kathliene reassured me that I was not silly or crazy or stupid or in the wrong. She asked me to tell everyone what specifically I felt I needed healing for.

This was the part I hated. Couldn’t they just do a generic prayer of healing? Couldn’t I tell them after I had been healed of it so I didn’t have to be sitting smack dab in the middle of my ugly while talking about it? It’s much easier to talk about the ugly when it’s past tense. I wanted to be healed but I didn’t want to go through the healing process, especially not as a leader, especially not in front of the high-school girls I was “leading,” let alone trusting their hands to be the ones laid on me doing the work of the Holy Spirit. How prideful is that!?! Good God, my spade to reveal may be more than a two-fold in this one.

My spades to reveal are that a) I didn’t want God to show up incase He made the girls uncomfortable, and I got caught up in wanting them to be comfortable more so than I wanted them to encounter God, b) I didn’t want to creep the girls out or disappoint them, so I was more worried about what the girls (and their parents) thought of me more so than God doing the miraculous in this day and age at a sleepover in La Jolla, California and c) I doubted the power of the Holy Spirit in the bodies of these teenage girls.

My heart breaks as I type that out and I can feel my body trembling as I swallow that hard truth. I almost couldn’t be that honest, but it’s true. That Saturday morning, I almost didn’t ask for healing because I doubted that it could come from the hands of high-school girls, which is to say I doubted the Holy Spirit’s ability not to discriminate against age and sex, which is to say I doubted the words of Jesus when He said “the truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask anything in my name, and I will do it, because the work of the Son brings glory to the Father. Yes, ask anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:24, emphasis added), and He said so without stuttering or hesitating or discriminating or going back on His word.

The problem was not the sex or age of the hands that were going to pray over me, the problem was my problem with the sex and age of the hands that were going to pray over me. Who am I to limit God when He says He can’t be limited? Who am I to try and put God in a box when He simply won’t fit? Who am I to say “Jesus heals, but…”?

I began to tell Kathliene and the girls what I needed healing from. Ninety percent of my waking hours I am physically uncomfortable. My stomach constantly hurts. I don’t know how much of it is what I eat, what I don’t eat, how much I eat, how much I don’t eat. I don’t know what digestive intolerances are legit intolerances versus mental intolerances due to a history of eating disorders. I take two bites of food and feel full, but knowing I need to eat I keep eating, but eating when I already feel full means I don’t know how to gage when I should stop eating. I don’t even know what issue is physical and what issue is mental anymore. Maybe my body is trying to play catch up. A friend reminded me a few weeks ago that my body is trying to recover from the damage I’ve done to it over the years just as much as my mind is. And so even though I am recovering, I am still feeling the effects of the choices I have made in the past, which is why it’s important to deal with your past, so you don’t keep repeating it. I don’t think I am being punished for the choices I have made, I think I am feeling the effects of the choices I have made.

And it sucks.

It sucks, but I suppose to a degree it’s important to feel the effects of the choices I have made, at the very least for the sake of realizing I never want to make them again! Perhaps I will make those mistakes again, because I’m human, but perhaps I won’t, at least not the same ones. And while I know I will make mistakes, perhaps I can work towards the results being a little less disastrous than being hospitalized on a regular basis. Perhaps I can learn to trust the hand of my Creator a little more and learn to love all of His creations, including my own mind and body. Perhaps I can stop discriminating against myself. Perhaps then the bills would stop adding up, which is another result of repeating your mistakes, or mine, I suppose. I don’t want to be like the dog referenced in Scripture that returns to his own vomit time and time again, but as a recovering anorexic, but even more so a recovering bulimic, I AM THAT DOG! I HAVE LITERALLY RETURNED TO MY OWN VOMIT, and sure, not in recent years (at least in the literal sense), but I have returned time and time again. Sorry. Some revelations are more graphic than others.

So there was the whole physical and mental issue in regards to food and my body, and then there was the emotional issue in regards to depression. I’m depression prone. And when I’m not depression prone, I’m depressed. I no longer have shame in saying I struggle with depression, unless I’m in the middle of the struggle while leading girls younger than I. Jesus is victorious, and that is my battle cry day in and day out, but even with the best of intentions, I can’t deny the fact that something feels wrong about claiming the victory of Jesus while longing to get back in bed and not face any more of the day. Nonetheless, I claim it, not because I always believe it or feel it, but because it is the only claim I know to be true regardless of how I feel. If there is one thing I have learned from my battle with depression, it’s that I cannot trust how I feel as ultimate truth. The last few weeks had gotten worse, longing for bed while in the middle of what I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. I felt crazy. You can be in the most beautiful place in the world and completely miss all of it if your insides are all jacked up.

I asked for healing for my whole mind and my whole body… the pain, both emotionally and physically. I said I didn’t know what to expect or what would happen, but I at the very least needed to not only be willing to ask, but actually ask. Kathliene took charge in the best way possible. “Okay girls,” she said, “I want you to put your hands on JJ.” She directed her daughter, Aeriel, to put her hand on my stomach. Kathliene stood behind me and put her hands on my head. She said she was going to open in prayer and she encouraged the girls to pray as they felt led. One of the girls I had met for the first time the day before, Olivia, and it was her first time doing anything with our group. Yep, it was Olivia’s first time joining the group and the leader was in tears because she had a tummy ache and was barely able to believe her own message to girls about how very loved we are, just as we are, in the bodies we’ve been given.

Kathliene began to pray healing prayers over me, over my mind, over my body, all in the name of Jesus. She began to cast out whatever was not of Jesus to be gone in the name of Jesus. I started to cry and Aeriel’s hand on my stomach began to shake quite aggressively. Aeriel started to pray and it was as if someone set off a rocket inside of her. The prayers, the visions, the prophecies that came out of her mouth were coming at such lighting speed that I could barely absorb one before the next one came. Kathliene still whispered her own prayers and joined in agreement with Aeriel’s prayers, “yes, Jesus, yes,” I kept hearing over and over. Aeriel said she knew God was going to heal me and she claimed it.

Then Olivia started in, the new girl, lighting speed prayers, so fast it seemed like she could barely keep up with what she was saying: “I see God reaching down in JJ and He’s pulling up a piece of coal. There’s a fire in JJ that is the Holy Spirit, but there’s this lump of coal disguising itself as part of the fire and God is reaching down and pulling out that piece of coal.” When she said God was pulling out the piece of coal, the worthless piece of coal, my upper body bent over my legs so that I was facing the floor. Olivia kept praying about this lump of coal coming out and I could feel this sort of muck making its way to my mouth, until I felt like I had to spit. Kathliene jumped in and prayed that it be gone in the name of Jesus, that the lies be gone, that I was claimed territory and whatever tried to take up residence there was bound in the name of Jesus and commanded to leave. It was as if I was hacking up a hairball, a big, lumpy, coal-ish, not of Jesus hairball.

Hairballs form from single strands of hair that get lumped together, and single strands of hair lumping together take time to actually form a ball. I like to chew on my hair sometimes, it seems harmless enough and there are other habits that are certainly worse, but just because there are worse habits doesn’t mean that chewing on my hair is actually a good idea. The “badness” of some habits doesn’t increase the “goodness” of others. The problem with chewing on your hair is you can’t actually see or feel the damage you are doing in the moment. You can’t see or feel yourself swallowing a single strand of hair, which is what happens when you chew on your hair, you unintentionally swallow strands of hair, but seeing as there is no obvious consequence except maybe a mother’s reprimand, “don’t chew your hair,” you keep chewing. Let me clarify, I keep chewing. I keep chewing until over time all of these single strands of hair have accumulated and formed a big ol’ hairball in the pit of who I am.

I had a spiritual hairball, so to speak, strands of hair or spirits of self-hatred, anger and depression that I had been chewing on, and without intending to, swallowed them as truth as they slowly formed a hairball of lies in the pit of my stomach. The bigger the hairball got, the harder it was for me to distinguish the truth. Seemingly harmless single strands of hair, you can barely even see them when they aren’t clumped together, accumulating over time to cause great harm. Wasn’t it C.S. Lewis who said “the road to hell is a gradual one?” I didn’t wake up one day and hate my body, I just looked at this girl or that girl and objectified them along with myself as I compared ourselves to each other. Men don’t just objectify women, women objectify women all the time by the way they compare themselves, and I am guilty of this, especially living in Southern California where most people run around half-naked. That is a topic for another day, but it is an example of the strands of hair I had been swallowing at least since moving to California.

I won’t lie, before I started hacking I held back, I held back in my prayers, asking God not to be too drastic, again because I didn’t want to freak anybody out. One of the girls, Julia, was quiet during the whole process and so I worried I was freaking her out and I asked God to keep it tame for her sake. “Who are you to decide what she can handle? Do you want your fear of her thoughts to be what keeps you in bondage?” He asked. Good point… here were these women trying to pray over me for healing and I was almost combatting their prayers with mine by saying, “nothing too big, God.” I wanted healing, but I wanted it done a certain way so that I wouldn’t get fired or yelled at by a parent. I was trying to control my own healing process… GOOD GOD, HOW BIG IS THAT HAIRBALL OR COAL OR WHATEVER IT IS!?!?! GET IT OUT! I started praying along with everyone in the confines of my heart and mind, “yes, Lord, whatever it takes, get it out, heal me, I want you to heal me, you take care of these girls and do what you need to do with me.”

So I hacked up a hairball, or maybe it was the coal Olivia referenced, but either way, there I was, sitting Indian style on a chair, face down, the hands of Kathliene and three ninth grade girls upon me, physically hacking something up, making noises as it left my body. John, Kathliene’s husband came in and began reading scripture, specifically Ephesians 3:14, out loud as I was still keeled over in my chair. They claimed victory and healing over me and when Olivia said God had taken the coal out, I felt like I could breath, I felt released to sit back up. I shot up with tears in my eyes and gasped for air. “I feel like I can breathe,” I said. “Praise Jesus,” Kathliene said, the girls all laughing and smiling and praising Jesus.

My arms were physically tired and incredibly sore. “My arms are so tired,” I said, “I feel like I’ve been fighting or something.” Julia put her hand on my leg, looked me in the eyes and said “well, you have been.” I felt comforted by the fact that she wasn’t running for the door, it was as if God had nudged me and said, “see, she’s mine, she knows what’s up.” Kathliene asked Julia how she was doing or if she had any thoughts, “just… WOW,” she said. We all laughed and said “yep, that about sums it up!”

Kathliene wanted everyone to pray a closing prayer to seal up the doors that had originally been opened to let the enemy in. She said that just because the enemy had been cast out doesn’t mean you can carelessly leave the door wide open… that’s when he saunters back in, and so she wanted to pray a sealing up prayer to keep the enemy from coming back through that door, and a protection over my mind to not open those doors back up. I did have to own the fact that a lot of those doors, I opened. “Just because Satan knocks doesn’t mean you have to open the door,” Kathliene said, “Jesus has your heart… that’s why Satan tries to go for your mind, he tries to trick you, but you have a sound mind, JJ.” I can’t quite explain how comforting, healing and restoring it was to hear someone say to me over and over again “you have a sound mind, JJ,” she had her hand on my head as she said it.

The girls all prayed, Julia started and she spoke words over me that I have clung to each day since then, “God, keep JJ safe in her new body.”

Kathliene started writing down all the prayers, visions and prophecies the girls spoke over me. To write about them here would take days to record. As we were about to hop up and start getting ready for the beach, Julia said she wanted to share something she felt like she saw. While this might be a paraphrase, it went something like this…

“You know how Eve was deceived in the garden by the snake in the tree? I saw you walking towards a tree, and the snake was there but before he even had a chance to deceive you, you pulled out this bad-ass axe and hacked it down! Like, Satan can’t deceive you, he doesn’t even have a home anymore because you hacked it down with your bad-ass axe!”

We laughed and celebrated and cheered over the fact that I had a bad-ass axe and hacked down Satan’s hiding place. It became our one-liner the rest of the day… “JJ hacked that down with her bad-ass axe,” “hey, where’s my bad-ass axe?” “Oh, just grab the bad-ass axe” “you wanna borrow my bad-ass axe?”

Julia, who I was afraid would call her mom and run for the door, stayed by my side all day, and I was incredibly grateful that I didn’t go home, crawl in a closet, lay hands on myself and ask to be healed alone.

I wanted the Lord to take the girls deeper and I thought that was going to look like heavy conversations, which was as deep as I saw it getting, but the Lord said He had more… I just had to be willing to be used, as I had prayed, regardless of what that meant. Visions, prayer, prophecy, healing… I couldn’t have fit that into the curriculum or planned it on the schedule.

Since then I have experienced a great deal of healing, including restored sanity and a sense of hope, normalized eating and decreased stomach pain, and while it might be TMI, God is often TMI, plus it’s glorifying to God’s healing hand… I got my period which I haven’t had since March. I felt like a cross between Shania Twain and a 12 year-old girl that morning as I yelled, “YEA! I FEEL LIKE A WOMAN!” Sorry fellas, the truth often makes one cringe, but God is good and Jesus wins.

Jesus wins… and His power is not limited to sex and age. I saw and felt the hand of God work through a group of ninth grade girls, simply because even if they were afraid, they had faith and as promised, God responded to faith. I, as the leader, didn’t even have much faith, but when I was unable to get up and walk myself, those girls laid me on a mat and carried me to the feet of Jesus, and seeing their faith, He healed me.

When I forgot my Bible, God showed up in a group of ninth grade girls and replaced my purple-freaking-nail polish with a bad-ass axe.

My God is good.

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spaghetti face

I thought I’d clear my head. I needed a place to write and I needed to redeem my $40 gift card, so I came up with the perfect idea to go to the outdoor mall in La Jolla. Fit with couches and fire pits and the exact shops where I could redeem the rewards I receive for using my credit card to pay off hospital bills when I’m feeling adult-ish, I figured I’d go do a little redeeming and a little writing at the outdoor mall.

I was on the phone when I pulled into my parking spot and remained there as I finished my conversation, along with nearly half a bag of chocolate covered blueberries, unbuttoning my shorts so I could feel just a little more comfortable. Yes, much like Al Bundy, I often unbutton my pants when eating, and it matters not where I am, be it at home on the couch or discreetly under the dinner table at a nice restaurant, if food is going in, buttons are coming undone.

I tried to tell myself it was okay for eating as many as I did, after all, it was only half the bag instead of the whole bag and the bag wasn’t all that big and I certainly didn’t want to obsess over a serving size, but such is the life of a girl plagued by a history of eating disorders; never knowing how much is too much or how much is not enough, and one bite over or under the maximum or minimum is enough to offset six years of recovery.

Nothing involving food ever feels normal. Last year one chocolate covered blueberry would have been too much. This year a whole bag of chocolate covered blueberries doesn’t seem to be enough, and that mindset can change from week to week, day to day, hour to hour. I make choices, because we all have them, choices. I make choices as best as I can to eat my meals and fit in a snack and allow myself the luxury of having dessert without clearing out an entire pastry cart, but I’d be a liar if I were to say the choices were easy or came naturally.

I wish I could explain the way my mind worked, mostly so I could feel understood, mostly so I could feel more free to talk about a struggle without fear, without guilt, without shame. What is a simple question for most people, “what should I eat today?” is a monster of a voice that haunts me day in and day out. The monster brings with it whispers of shame, shame about my body, and guilt, guilt for wanting to eat something that tastes good, and fear, fear that I might lose control, fear that I might not be good at anything else other than eating healthy and losing weight, or God forbid, fear that I might get fat.

I don’t like admitting that, in fact I hate it, I hate it in every way possible, but if we’re going to call a spade a spade here, then I have to stop telling my recovery story as if it is all past tense: “Once upon a time I had an eating disorder, I went to treatment, I got better, I relapsed, I got better, God is good, the end.” Yes, yes, yes and no, no, no. It doesn’t work that way, “this happened, the end.” Maybe it does for some people, who am I to say it doesn’t, but if there is anything that I feel I have the authority to say as a leader, which is a position I find myself in currently, or that I have the authority to say as someone who knows JJ best, which is also a position I find myself in currently, it’s that as a leader, as a JJ, as a girl on “the other side” of recovery twice now, I don’t have it all figured out.

I don’t have it all together. I have not arrived. Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they discovered some secret of happily ever after and then set about to lead other people into the land of happily ever after, I think some leaders think of themselves that way, but I think those leaders should be dethroned. I think they should be dethroned because they give the impression that as one ages gracefully they get all their shit together, clean it all off and figure it all out. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I need to be dethroned, I’m certainly open to that, but for me, even as a leader, a leader in human form, I am still in the throws of my story that involves a lot of “I don’t knows” and “how comes” and “why God whys.”

When I was in high school, most of the leaders seemed to have it figured out. They never shared their own struggles, they just shared that God was good. But why? Why did they think He was so good? Because the Bible said so? Lots of stories paint pictures of really good characters and tell really good stories, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my life and put all my hope and faith in a well written story… not even as a story teller am I going to do that. Why did they think God was so good? It can’t be just because the Bible said so, that’s like reading about an ice cream sundae and telling everyone how good it is but never actually knowing if that’s true or not because you’ve never actually tasted it…

“How do you know the ice cream sundae is good?”

“The food critic said so.”

“So you’ve never tried it?”

“No.”

“So you don’t actually know if it’s good or not from personal experience?”

“No.”

“So then why should I listen to you? Maybe you should order the ice cream sundae and actually try it before you tell me I should order it because it’s good.”

Or something like that. Leave it to me to use a food analogy.

And doesn’t the Bible even say, “taste and see that the Lord is good”? How? And why? Why did all my leaders tell me God was so good? If it was because that’s what they were supposed to do, fine, I can’t fault them for doing the best they could with what they thought, but if they really believed that God was so good, I have to assume it’s because they experienced Him. They felt their Father reach down and pick them up out of the muck and mire and wash them off and set their foot on a rock and keep their feet from stumbling and put a new song in their mouths.

I have to assume it’s because they experienced their Father’s healing hand in some way, which means there had to be something they had to be healed from. You can’t tell me God is good and not tell me why you think so. Well, I take that back, you can, but it won’t mean much to me. I think Dumbledore from Harry Potter is good, but I’m not going to live a life devoted to Dumbledore, nor am I going to believe his words as ultimate truth, especially since while he might have amazing advice, the man prefers acid pops.

For me, as a leader, it’s not enough to just tell the kids I am working with that God is good. Yes, that is true, God is good, but why? Why do I believe that? Because I sang about the B-I-B-L-E being the book for me in Sunday school? And it’s not even just the kids that need to hear why God is good, it’s that I need to hear it too, I need to be reminded, for as much as I might hate voicing my struggle, it gives me a chance to also voice my hope and be reminded of who God is and how far he has brought me. Maybe some people have sweet stories of experiencing God in the comforts of their struggle-free life, and if so, good for them, I can’t write or re-write anyone else’s story, nor can I continue to compare mine to anyone else’s. When it comes to our stories, God is just as much in the Blockbuster hits of summer as He in the sweet children’s books, we just have to look for Him. And we have to tell our stories. We have to tell our stories, not as once upon a time, but as here and now. And while our stories might have started as once upon a time, no one on this side of eternity should include “happily ever after” because our stories aren’t over yet.

Life hits and it hits hard and just because you make it through one tough season doesn’t mean you are prepared for the next one. Are you stronger? sure. Able to handle it better? possibly. Experienced? absolutely… but prepared?

How can anyone prepare for the death of a loved one, a cheating spouse who vowed to be committed, a child being sexually abused, a mental disorder that rips a family apart, a DUI, a drug overdose, an aggressive eating disorder, an abortion, an addiction of any sort… the list goes on and on. The list goes on and on because we are in a broken and fallen world and yet so many of us are walking around with smiles on our faces, telling people God is good as we struggle in silence, surviving our way to the day when we can tell people about what we’re struggling with as a “once upon a time” story.

God is good, and while the Bible does say He is good, I’m not here to say God is good because the Bible says so.

God is good because He is faithful. I don’t want sweet gifts and flowers, I mean I suppose I do in some ways, while giving someone a gift that dies isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, sometimes it’s nice to have a sunflower light up a room, but not as a replacement for faithfulness. I’d take faithfulness over flowers any day. Gift giving doesn’t make someone good, faithfulness makes someone good. I don’t want you to shower me with flowers when you cheat on me, I want you to not cheat on me, keep your flowers and “just” be faithful. Maybe I say that from a place of experience and maybe not, but more so maybe.

And so it is with God. Why do I associate His goodness with gift giving, warm fuzzies and holy hugs? Whether He gives me a new job or a shotty car, a restored relationship or money for rent, that is not the determining factor for how good He is, or even if He’s good at all. He is good because He is faithful to me. He is good because time and time again I have doubted Him, abandoned Him, rejected Him, denied Him, betrayed Him, disobeyed Him, tried to devalue Him, attempted to manipulate Him, repetitively cheated on Him as I’ve sought out other gods to live for, and yet even still He has been faithful to me. He has picked me up, dusted me off, washed me clean and set my feet to dancing. He has clung to my hand when I’ve been too weak and tired to cling to His.

He has whispered His love to me through the setting of the sun, a ripple in a pond, the splatter of a rain drop, the butt of a fire-fly lighting up and the crunching of autumn leaves in crisp October air. He has shouted His love to me when I’ve been too stubborn to listen for the whisper through the crashing of an ocean wave, the rolling of thunder, jolts of lighting through a dark night sky, the sound of a piano meeting that of a guitar and a sweet voice echoing through the walls of a restored church, and even through the loss of something I once held dear as He held me closer than I’ve ever been held before.

I have encountered the Lord in ways that most people haven’t, at least in the western hemisphere, and I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it to paint the picture clearly, that if anyone has been given a reason not to give up on the Lord due to their very real encounter and experience of Him, it’s me. And yet, even still, I have found myself ever so close to walking away from the only consistent, reliable, life-offering Savior I’ve ever known. And I say that to say, even though after all He’s done for me I’ve come close to betraying Him again, and in many ways do betray Him on the day to day if not by mere thoughts I entertain while I think He’s not looking (thoughts that if entertained long enough turn to action and action that leads to betrayal and one more mess to clean up); even though that has been our story on more than one occasion, with more than one mess to clean up as a result of my own spills, He has walked in with a dish towel, or sent someone to Fred Meyer to buy one for me, and He has set about to cleaning… loving me, cleaning me off, cleaning the mess around me and loving me still.

The hardest part about the cleaning process is when He, my Savior, my Dad, rubs all the gunk off of my person. I remember watching a toddler get spaghetti sauce wiped off of his face once. His mom wanted to clean him up because a) what mother leaves spaghetti sauce caked to her child’s face? b) I’m pretty sure the sauce crusts over and makes it harder to get off if you leave it there, and c) it creates more of a mess if the kid runs free in the living room with spaghetti sauce all over his face, leaving traces of it on the couch and everyone’s favorite chair. I watched that kid squirm and whine and I was quite annoyed that he didn’t just sit there and wait for his mom to finish helping him. He was actually making the process take much longer by all of his squirming and whining, and his mother practiced way more patience than I would have by continuing to wipe him clean as she spoke sweetly to him. I wanted to slap him. This might be one reason why I shouldn’t have children.

For as annoyed as I was by that kid, I’m not that far from him, except say twenty-plus years. I make a mess, leave a trail, try to cover it up and forget that I’m caked in it. My Savior Dad comes in to clean it up and wipe me down and there I go, squirming, whining, complaining about the discomfort of the wiping process. I lose sight of the fact that He’s cleaning me and I focus on the fact that He is making me uncomfortable, especially when the mess is so thick that it needs a scrub brush. “OUCH! STOP!” I yell, “YOU’RE HURTING ME!” And He continues to scrub away my gunk because He cares more about my well being, my whole person and the whole person I am becoming much more than He cares about my present comfort. He refuses to leave me caked in my own mess, and so He scrubs and scrubs and I yell and yell and even run out of the room a few times to try to get away from Him, but He chases me down and refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter. He wants better for her… and He wants better for you.

I moved to Southern California earlier this summer still caked in a bit of my own mess. I took on a leadership position still caked in a bit of my own mess, and it’s not that we can’t be leaders and have messes, to be human is to be messy and so it goes, even for leaders. It’s that I thought as a leader my mess would have to be past tense from here on out. It’s that He was taking too long to clean me off and so I tried to run into the living room and start playing with my toys, but He chased in after me with that Fred Meyer dish towel and said He had more wiping to do. He is relentless in cleaning His children off and maybe one day my mess will be past tense, I don’t know, but for now, God has called me to lead a group of kids while still in the middle of being cleaned off.

God is good not because He lets me sit comfortably in my own mess (which really isn’t all that comfortable if I sit in it long enough), God is good because He is faithful, and no matter how long it takes He refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter and growing her into the woman He created her to be.

I have believed some ugly lies over the course of my life, lies that have dictated poor choices I have made. God is good because He is taking me through a process of cleaning out those ugly lies so that I won’t keep repeating those poor choices. The process, for me, is a long one, and one that looks crazy to other people. And I’m still in the middle of it. I didn’t get healed in Portland and then move to California to tell everybody about it. I mean, I did, that happened and is happening, but what is also happening is the continual process of being healed, of being cleaned up and cleaned out so that no messy residue is left. And perfection won’t be reached on “this side,” I get that, but it doesn’t mean He won’t attempt to keeping cleaning us off while we’re here.

My God is so, so good because He has a messy-ass daughter that He delights over and refuses to give up on (and believe me, she gives Him a run for His money, He’s had plenty of legit outs). My God is faithful, which is all I could ever ask for or want from a savior, a friend, a lover and a father.

My God is so, so good because He is faithful first, and then He looks at His spaghetti-faced daughter and while holding her still and cleaning her up, He surprises her with glorious sunrises, blades of green grass, a hot cup of coffee, a swim in the ocean, a tree with welcoming arms to climb, a story to write, a hand to hold, and every so often, a sunflower or two to light up the room… because like I said, even in the midst of my darkest hour, my God is good.

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I love you, Dad.

Love, spaghetti face.

 

 

seeing life a few shades clearer

A few weeks ago I was contacted by my friend, Tabitha. She works as an International Sponsorship Coordinator at an foster home for visually impaired children in Beijing, China. She shared with me about her crazy ride of a life that has involved getting married, having a baby, moving to a third world country, getting a dog and a house… all within a year’s time. One year, five life-altering events. Dang. And while I could easily spend time sharing about what God is doing in her life and how He is meeting her right where she is at, it was the children at the foster home she spoke of that further revealed the truth of God’s word being alive and active and lived out in our world.

And no, and I’m not referring to taking care of the orphans and widows (for the scripture savvy who think they have pegged where I am going with this), like I said, this is not about the people taking care of the kids, this is about the kids themselves.

I am referring to the fact that Jesus said “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” or to the full, depending on your translation. And what struck me as I read my friend’s email about the children who are orphaned is the fact that the orphans and widows are included in on Jesus’ offer to live a full life, they don’t miss out on abundant living because of their circumstances, left behind for us to come in and take care of them so that we can live full lives and pat ourselves on the back for doing good. Abundant life is not limited to people who have all all their sight and no family issues; and sure, that’s common sense, but I’ll be the first to admit I would not have associated a visually impaired orphan with abundant living prior to reading my friend’s email. How have I missed this before now!? Bare with me, I’m a slow learner.

I’ll take the honesty thing a bit further, I find it hard to write about this right now, currently living in La Jolla, California. It’s hard for me not to get caught up in thinking that the world in which I am living is the definition of abundant life and everything else is just sub-par. I sometimes try to bury my head in scripture in the morning, filling my mind with the truth about who Jesus is and what it means to live an abundant life, and then I lift my head, look around at all the glitz and glamour of Southern California, toss my Bible aside as I reach for my beach towel and join the ranks of the toned and tanned elite, disguising myself as one of them, while at the same time managing to judge them. I judge the people I am trying to look like… good grief, JJ, did any of who Jesus is set in before lathering on the sunscreen?

Oh right, honesty, I didn’t put on sunscreen, I just judged people in the name of Jesus. And while I believe in the authority of the name of Jesus, Jesus did not give me the authority to judge others.

Thankfully, picking that thought apart is for another day, as this post is about someone very specific, unrelated to the California coastline from where I write this, but I find it necessary to make the point that I am here and he is there, because he is living a life of abundance the likes of which some of even the wealthiest people could never purchase.

His name is Jian Yu, his English name is Jake.

Jake is four years old and he lives in Beijing, China at a place called Bethel (the foster care for visually impaired children I mentioned above). When Jake was four months old he was left in a ditch at a zoo. I feel the need to repeat that… at four months old, Jake was placed in a ditch and left there. Before I go further commenting on how dare someone do that to a child, I find it best to repeat the words of my friend, Tabitha, who shared the story of this precious little boy with me…

“I look at my son sitting next to me who is almost three months and I just can’t imagine it. I know it’s not my place to judge–who knows what that mother was going through. Maybe she figured that the zoo was a good place because there are so many people someone would find him quickly. Maybe she was so overwhelmed by his blindness that she thought he would be better off in an orphanage where perhaps someone would know how to take care of him.” Here is a baby boy, abandoned by his birth mother, crying helplessly until someone discovers him, which sounds crazy similar to the story of Moses, abandoned by his mother in order to save his life (story found in Exodus), and judging Jake’s mother does us no good in retelling Jake’s story seeing as how we don’t know her story, and abandonment is all together just not the point.

The enemy would love for us to focus on the fact that Jake was abandoned rather than focus on the fact that he was found, but much like Moses, abandonment will not be Jake’s legacy. When we think of Moses we don’t think of “that guy who was abandoned as a baby,” we think of the one who led the Jews out of exile. I can only imagine how different the history of Israel and even the Bible for matter might be if Moses had allowed the situation he was born into, even the situation he was adopted into, which he later had to chose to abandon in order to save God’s people, dictate who he was and what he was capable of.

And as Jake grows up I can only imagine that the enemy would love for him to focus on this as well, whispering lies of abandonment to try and define this baby boy’s worth, trying to blind him further to the fact that he was found, he was rescued, he was saved, and not just by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. The very hands that created the Heavens and earth saw his baby boy crying in a ditch and did not leave him there. Truth trumps the lie and Jake’s very existence is evidence of the message of the gospel, the good news that we all once were lost but now are found.

Jake was found and upon realizing his visual disability he ended up being taken to Bethel where Tabitha first met him. “When I first came to Bethel in 2012,” she said, “he was one of the first kids to attach to me. He would hear my voice in a room and would walk with his hands out till he could find me and then would climb up like a little monkey and wrap his legs around my waist. He liked to touch my face and hair and really loved to be tickled. He couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese, he just would say “ah ah ah” because he liked the sound, and he would cry in order to get the caregivers (called Ayi’s in Chinese, pronounced Eye-Yee) to do what he wanted them to do. At that time, he only liked one Ayi… and me. I confess that I thought he was mentally delayed or perhaps autistic. He had no real communication skills, he didn’t play with other children, and he didn’t really know how to play with toys.”

The beautiful thing about Bethel is the fact that they believe that each child is capable of living a fulfilling, independent life, not despite their “disability,” but with it. “One of the things I love about Bethel is that we do awareness and trainings for orphanage staff, teachers, and parents of the visually impaired. We have published a manual full of tutorials such as “How to teach a blind child to brush their teeth” and such… Hopefully someday we’ll be out of a job.”

Tabitha shared about Jake’s growing experience in which they brought in a speech pathologist to work with him. “When she (the pathologist) first started having sessions with Jian Yu,” Tabitha said, “he HATED it. He kicked, screamed, pulled a chunk out of her hair and I think he even bit her. After two sessions he started to warm up… and six months later, this kid is talking, laughing, playing and fully functioning at the cognitive level of his peers. It’s honestly a speech therapy miracle story. Today he runs around exploring and has even started preschool…

I can’t even tell you how incredible this was to me… a child I thought was mentally disabled is totally fine after six months of prayer, love, patience, and a little therapy. He’s a totally normal kid now!”

Jake was born into a situation that to the human eye would look like an accident, but I rebuke any such statement, thought or lie presented to us by the enemy. Jake’s existence, his being here on planet earth in this time frame, in China, made up of the DNA he is made up with is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind no accident, no random event, and his being found is no coincidence.

I think it’s easy to say to someone who has been adopted that they aren’t a mistake or an accident or a regret. It’s easy to say things like “you are chosen,” “you are valuable,” “you are worthy,” because it’s true, they are chosen. Regardless of our family histories and stories, we are all chosen, valuable and worthy, simply because even if it was a random act that got us here, even if we did grow up in a careless family, or no family at all, it is not a random and careless God who brought us into this world.

It’s easy to say that, but it’s much harder to believe, or at least to live in a way that we believe it. And I say we because I do not have a one up on Jake on living an abundant life simply because I wasn’t adopted or because I can see life a few shades clearer than him, which doesn’t mean I can see clearly at all.

Whether the rain is gone or not, my clarity of vision is skewed… I’m blinded by my own sin, my own humanity, my own broken story and time and time again I settle for less than what God has to offer because I allow the nature of my sin or the origin of my story to dictate who I am. I feed into the lie that I’m not chosen, not valuable, not worthy and I function out of a place of believing I am mistake of sorts instead of shifting my focus to the One who intentionally created me in His image…the same Creator who created Jake in His image. Jake’s condition is not a mistake, nor a punishment, nor an exemption from living abundantly. And so it goes with me, with each of us and whatever obstacles we might face, our conditions, our circumstances, our stories are never to be used as an excuse to merely survive this life.

And so I think about Jake… to have the story he has and the visual impairment that he has are only parts of him, they are not definitions of him and because of this he lives a full, abundant life that involves a great deal of learning and laughter and singing B-I-N-G-O, (which is apparently his favorite song to sing). Jake doesn’t need the abundance of what America has to offer in order to see how worth living life is.

My prayer for Jake as he grows up is that his identity is formed out of the truth that he was found and chosen. If we all functioned out of this truth, that no matter our circumstance or story, we all were lost but now are found, could change the world. Maybe that sounds a bit naive or extreme, but I don’t think so. I can’t claim to serve the God that I do, the creator of the heavens and the earth and sit idly by as if I’m not capable of being used by Him in mighty big ways, as was true for my brothers and sisters, Moses, David, Joseph, Ruth, Rahab, and continues to be true for my brothers and sisters today, including “those kids” at Bethel, including Jake.

If you want to step outside of your own world, your own bubble, your own set of issues (don’t worry, we all have them), and be reminded of the simplistic beauty to live each day to the fullest, which may look like different for each of us, some people may need to face a big fear today and others may need help just getting out of bed, but whatever baby step you can take today to live this life well, take it, and take a look at how others very different from you and me are taking that step to live their lives full, rich and well at Bethel.

You can find on Bethel’s website ways to add to the lives of Jake and his friends, be it through adoption, child sponsorship, mentorship, and sure prayer, but act on that prayer. I believe answered prayer is a combination of divine intervention and human initiative. Even if that human initiative is one dollar, that’s one dollar towards something huge instead of a selfless thought that never saw the light of day to make the day brighter for someone else. If only we acted on loving others half as much as we thought about what a good idea it would be to do so.

As for Jake, well, my little friend, you and I have never met, but I hope someone relays to you one day the impact you made on a 30-year-old American girl living the “high life” in Southern California. You see life a few shades clearer than most of us could ever hope to imagine, and so your story has reminded me to never stop imagining, no matter how cloudy some days may get.  Your story has reminded me that the “high life” is an inside job and that I can live life well no matter where I am when all is well with my soul. Your story has reminded me that love not only saves people but it helps them thrive and grow and become who they were meant to be. Your story has reminded me to laugh harder and sing more no matter how old I get. Your story has reminded me to look harder for things that matter most in life.

And may you know that you possess inside of you the potential to change a village, a nation, a generation, even the world. As you grow up, read about our brother Moses… abandoned, adopted, rejected, disowned, insecure, speech impediment, not to mention a murderer, and yet (I love those two words), it was he who set a whole nation free from slavery. May you grow to know our Lord and know He chose you not just to survive this life, but He chose you for big and mighty things. He needed the DNA you are made of in order to create you and He knew you would thrive better planted in different soil.

Your story is one of great, great victory.

You are chosen, and so I say to you as one of my high-school students recently said to me, do you and do you well!

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pretty messy people

June 21

Just above me I can smell the sweet scent of hookah. Cars are driving past as I sit outside one of the only coffee shops in La Jolla that not only seems to stay open past 8pm, but offers hookah in the lounge just above the coffee shop area. I don’t know if I am surrounded by tourists or locals, perhaps a little of both, as is the case with most cities, and I find it interesting to not know which camp to place myself in. In one sense, I feel like a tourist as I am in a new place, wanting to see all the sites and take as many pictures as possible, most likely getting on the nerves of all the locals who have seen all that is new to me many times before. In another sense, I feel like a local due to my extended stay that will last until September, my ability to keep up on the freeway (a skill I learned in Chicago), my knowledge of all the local, non-chain coffee shops, because let’s be honest, I goggled it well before I got here, and so I’ve already placed myself above all the week long tourists, or worse (as I’ve come to understand from Californians) Arizona tourists.

I’ve lived in California for less than a month and I have already found myself rolling my eyes at Arizona license plates because Arizonans clearly don’t know how to drive, or at least all the Californians say so, and true to my nature, I go with what everyone else says. I don’t say that proudly, just honestly. Plus, even if it is over some seemingly small matter like traffic, sometimes it’s just nice to have something to relate to someone with, and you gotta start somewhere. Maybe disliking an entire state for their snail-like pace on the freeway isn’t the best place to start, but I’m not going to beat myself up too much over the matter because nobody’s perfect. Especially in Arizona. Am I right, SoCal?

After an all girls sleepover last night with the high-schoolers I am hanging with for the summer, I slept in this morning until a whopping 7am. I found myself somewhat disfigured with a slight crick in my neck as I tried to fit my 5’6 frame in a cushioned round chair that while spacious was still made for sitting, not sleeping. I woke before the girls and grabbed a book to read so as not to disturb their slumber. I got a few sentences in before the dog disturbed their slumber and the day began earlier than I had expected it to for a group of high school girls after a late night sleepover.

We filled our bowls with cereal and fruit and sat outside by the pool of our host home. Most of the girls left by 11am, the scheduled time of departure. I left at 3:30pm. Yes, I have the gift of over-staying my welcome. While the house we were in was above and beyond any house I had seen before, it was not the house that had me lingering. It was the people, the family, who occupied the house that made it a home and made me want to stay longer (possibly longer than I was invited to). There I gabbed, almost with each family member at different times, feeling overwhelmingly blessed to be in the environment I was in, but more so to be talking to the people I was talking to. We could have been sitting in the 1980-something Buick station wagon I drove to their house (and felt somewhat bad for parking in their driveway) and had just as much fun and deep conversation as we did sitting poolside under palm trees.

Eventually, I let the family have their day back and I backed the Buick out of their steep driveway, somewhat panicked as I nearly took out a wall and any plant life in the surrounding area of the driveway. I made it out and made my way back home where silence filled the house. It’s an odd feeling to go from the sound of laughter bouncing off the walls to silence filling the room. I looked for things to do, I watered the plants, I checked my email, I ate melted trail mix, which for a chocolate lover is actually better than non-melted trail mix. I felt antsy, restless, and for some reason, unable to sit with myself. I put running shoes on my feet, Eminem in my ears (no judgement, please) and I set about to run down Pacific Beach.

I have come to love Pacific Beach, which is why I feel most grateful to be staying where I am. You know what they say in the real estate world, “location, location, location.” The house I am staying in is just on the edge of Pacific Beach and so for a born and raised beach girl like me who’s been estranged from the beach for the last seven years until a mere three weeks ago, I find myself to be right at home while not at home within walking distance to the beach.

Pacific Beach is where you find the tattooed, the bearded, the dreaded, the sandy and salty characters that get around by bikes, boards, or blades… yes, roller blades, they are alive and well along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. Perhaps I am drawn to PB because it shares the same initials as my favorite food, peanut butter, and yes, I thought about this, but perhaps I am more so drawn to it because it reminds me of a beach version of Portland, Oregon, my home for the last three and a half years. There seems to be more tattoo shops than grocery stores in PB, and be it for surfing or skating, more boards than cars.

On a night like tonight, I felt very much like reminiscing about Portland, mostly because two dear friends of mine set about to get married round about the same time I put my running shoes on. They in Portland, me in PB, they experiencing the glory of God in the union of their marriage that will change the course of their lives forever, and me experiencing the glory of God as I ran along the ocean on what I could have been tempted to think of as just another ordinary night, but really, no day is really that ordinary when it is a day God has told the sun to rise and one in which I get to see that very same sun set over the Pacific.

I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore and I plopped myself down on my knees in the sand, just a few feet from the ocean tide rolling in. I buried my head in the sand and before I knew it I was laying face down, making the bottom half of a sand angel with my legs. I laid there, quiet and still, something I seemed unable to do when I had entered the empty house just hours before I set out to run, and I cried. I whispered into the sand as if it were the face of Jesus and I cried, tears dripping into the sand and sand blowing back into my face as my whispers grew louder and my breath caused the sand to swirl about. I cried for a few different reasons, things worth crying about, things I’m prone to crying about when I sit still long enough, which perhaps is why I felt restless when I got back to the house… I didn’t want to sit still long enough to cry.

I could have avoided crying in public, but I am stubborn and so I avoided the cry in the silence of the big empty house and I ran. I ran away from the house, I ran away from what was sad, from what hurt and I ran until I couldn’t run anymore… literally, I hit a bay at the end of Mission Beach just on the other side of Pacific Beach and I could go no further. It was as if Gandalf himself, the white wizard from Lord of the Rings, put his staff down, or perhaps Someone greater than he, and proclaimed “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” I am stubborn enough to swim across, but also materialistic enough not to want to ruin my iPod. So when I say I ran until I didn’t feel like running anymore, what I mean by that is “a big bay got in my way.”

After turning around and walking to the ocean’s edge, there I laid, making amputated sand angels, face down, with sand caked to the edge of my nose that had started to run while crying. I joked with God while I cried that if I couldn’t run any further at least my nose could. I’m a sucker for a good pun no matter how dim the light seems sometimes.  I think God appreciates this.

———–

June 26

That was last Saturday. California is still beautiful and once again I find myself in Pacific Beach, this time at a little cafe whose foundations expose its story as having once been a house. If walls could talk I would be curious to hear the stories held within these walls. Walls do a good job of hearing stories and an even better job at keeping stories. Perhaps this is the bone I have to pick with walls, that they mask themselves as safe places where you can come and hide and tell all your stories and secrets to, but there those walls keep you, stuck behind them, hiding from life and burying your secrets further from the light and further into isolation. Isolation is anything but a safe place… well, perhaps I should clarify that, on the surface it is a safe place because people hurt people and when there are no people, yes, you will indeed find yourself in a safe place. But isolation doesn’t just keep you safe from hurt and harm, it keeps you so safe that you never really live life and you end up surviving your way to the grave. Isolation hurts you from the inside out, rendering it a completely unsafe place to be.

I have a bone to pick with walls because I have given into their lie that they will protect me, and so I have contributed to building my walls higher and higher, thinking I was doing the wise thing by functioning out of self-protection or other-protection (protecting others from me), all the while hurting myself and others as I shut them out of my life.

Laying on the beach, crying at the edge of the ocean was the most exposed I have felt in a while, probably because I was literally exposed. There was no where for me to hide, save a palm tree or a mound of seaweed, which I learned the hard way to never touch because my hands and feet still smell of it from a week ago when I tried to build a seaweed castle… yes, some thirty year olds still do this, at least until last week when I realized not doing it had more to do with the stain of the stink than it did with growing up. And so there I laid, fully exposed, praying out loud, face down, tears dripping into the sand. A group of guys were playing frisbee behind me, continuously landing the frisbee beside me, and seeing as how I wasn’t impressed by their tank tops and red cups of beer, I felt no need to impress them with perky smiles and dry eyes as if I wasn’t just having a deep moment with the Creator of heaven and earth.

I kept telling the Lord I was sorry, I was sorry for always trying to do everything on my own, for always trying to be better than I am, or at least always trying to present myself as better than I am. “I’m good at Instagram,” I cried, “but how good am I at life?” I love storytelling, almost to a fault. I love storytelling so much that I get caught up telling stories more so than living my own story. I lifted my head off the sand and looked out at the ocean. “I don’t want to sit on the edge of the ocean and tell stories about the surfers,” I cried, “I want to be out there surfing.”

Since arriving in California I have told a lot of stories to my friends, all true, but I have told those stories from behind the walls of my safe place… my safe place of not needing anybody. Getting out-surfed by kids more than 10 years younger than me (who aren’t actually kids but in their twenties) isn’t the best feeling, or the best story to tell, so I stick to the stories that present me better and talk about the glory of my location… because let’s face it, Southern California is glorious… when in doubt, talk about that. But what I’ve come to realize is that while this location is glorious, locational community does not replace relational community, and I need people in my life just as much as I think they need me.

And so my spade to reveal, which makes me cringe to reveal it, is the fact that I think people need me but I don’t need them. I flit, I float, I go from here to there, I venture out and pride myself on not needing anybody while deciding they could use a good dose of needing me. Who is it I think I am? God has always existed in community in the form of the Trinity (and please don’t ask me to explain that one because its about as over my head as the frisbee thrown by the guys on the beach), so who am I to think that I don’t need to exist in community!?! And don’t get me wrong, I am in community here, I am interacting with people, and I love the people I have met and spoken to, but “speaking to” is different from “talking with.” While I have shared parts of my story in speaking to the kids at youth group, I haven’t been as good at talking with someone about the fact that though my story of “once upon a time” involves a lot of recovery and restoration, I’m still in the throws of it, even as a leader, and it certainly isn’t “happily ever after” simply and solely because I’m not dead yet, which is the only time I think “happily ever after” applies to the ending of a story. And I don’t mean that pessimistically, I mean it optimistically, I will literally be living happily ever after when I get to see and hold in my hands the face of Jesus. And I’ll say it again so as not to confuse anyone with all of the new-agey spiritual stuff out there in which God is everything and everything is God…

JESUS. I cannot wait to see and hold the face of my Lord and Savior, He who walked the earth as fully human and who reigns supreme as the Son of God, which makes Him not only my friend, my king, my love, but as I am a daughter of God, He is also my brother… Jesus Christ. Sometimes when I know I’ve made a mess of things, I look up or over or where ever I think Jesus might be in that moment and ask, “you mad, bro?” He laughs and together we work on my mess. And call me a Thomas who is antsy to touch, but that is when my “happily ever after” will begin, when I can feel Jesus’ cheek bones in my hands, and exclaim, “free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last!” If, in fact, plagiarism is possible in our glorified state, that is what I will say, followed by a wink at MLK.

Until then, I am still very much in the middle of my story, no matter how old I get, or anyone of us get for that matter… while there is breath in our lungs and earth under our feet, we are still very much in the middle of our stories. And being in the middle of my story means I need people. And perhaps even more honestly, I want people. Yesterday, after hours of talking and processing with my friend, who also happens to be my boss and apparently my therapist, I laid down my pride, much like how I laid down on the beach on Saturday, sat down and wrote an email to a few friends. I told them this truth, that while I knew they knew I loved them and even that I missed them, I was, even more honestly, lonely without them. “You’re weak,” I heard the enemy whisper, “and you’re doomed in the name of Jesus,” I said, “so get on outta here… I ain’t asking, I’m commanding,” and I hit send.

Telling my friends I was lonely was less about how they would respond and more about me needing to be willing to tell them my truth. I am not an Island, I am not God, nor am I above His design in it not being good for man or woman to be alone. To try and live above that is to say to God, “nice idea, but I got this.” And that mindset doesn’t compartmentalize itself, it plays itself out in other areas simply by letting it in that one area and before I know it I believe it in every area of my life, making it damn near impossible to say I need a savior… which is a dangerous place to be if the whole foundation of what I believe and who I am is based on the fact that I do need a savior.

I will never forget the beauty of this place as long as I live. I love being covered in sand all day, stumbling into a coffee shop in the early mornings to write with yesterday’s salt water still on me. I love climbing trees and smelling flowers I’ve only ever seen in books. I love the site of the coastline littered with palm trees and surfers, visible from nearly any road you find yourself driving on. It is sunny all day long and having been in the rainy Northwest for the last few years, my heart sometimes feels like it is going to explode from gratitude for the heat of the sun. This place will forever be seared in my memory and my heart will smile every time I think of it.

And I while I often pride myself on being able to love people where they are at, I will never forget how God brought me to a beautiful place to reveal to me that I am not just loving people out of duty because they are messy and need it, but out of love because I am messy and I need it too… to be loved where I am at. God brought me to a beautiful place and reminded me of how messy life is, especially life with people, and the beauty of this location has got nothing on the messy life I have with the people I love.

I’m choosing people over pretty and asking them if we can do this thing called life together. I’m still here for now, in the pretty, getting to know the people, and God has recently blessed me with a woman to share my messy life with. The funny thing is, as I am honest about my messy, I learn more and more that we are all messy, no matter how pretty our environment. I find honesty, even ugly honesty, to be a much better place to do life than pretty isolation. And I say that well aware that I still fail at it miserably… but I am trying. I am trying to live honestly.

Though God blesses us with relationships here in this life, when I stand before Him, I will stand on my own, no one to hold my hand or make an excuse for the choices I made, and so living honestly is up to me. Right now, living honestly looks like not lying to myself, which leads to lying to other people and eventually to God. And to not lie about where I am at is to say that I am living in the tension of absolutely loving where I am at and I am feeling the heartache of loneliness. Whether that makes me weak or not, I don’t care anymore, it makes me human, which is what my Creator made me to be, and so I’m going to glorify Him simply by not trying to be better than Him anymore.

Life is beautiful, and not just because of the pretty scenery. Life is beautiful because of the pretty people… the pretty, messy people.

I will be as present here in sunny Southern California as much as I can be, getting to know and love the people God has placed in front of me, hoping for lasting relationships  to be forming here as well, all the while knowing there is a people I also love that I left behind for a time, but long to see again soon.

I love these new adventures God has me on, and I love meeting new people, but I am learning and realizing, even just now, at thirty, that new people, places and things, new nouns, I suppose, have not taken away my love for nouns of old… but more specifically, friends of old.

And so, I will end this quite simply, knowing that relationship maintenance doesn’t stop at a mere blog post, but it’s a step in a direction I want to take toward not completely disconnecting from people…

Dear friends of new or old, be you near or far away, be you from this season or another, I have not forgotten you. I have carried you with me all over the place, and though you may see me gushing over the beauty of where I am on social media, the one thing I haven’t been very good about posting is fact that the beauty of this place pales in comparison to how much I love you.

 

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shaking and taking

I stood staring at the edge of the ocean, looking very much my age, perhaps not by what I was wearing, but certainly by how stoically I was standing, as if at 30 I had all of life figured out. I stood and I stared and I listened to the sound of friends’ voices sing into my ear about Jesus through my tiny pair of earbuds that are still clogged with sand. The beauty of having friends who are talented musicians is that you get to take their voices with you where ever you go and take their words personally and intimately, even if they are singing to the masses. Friends in an Ipod, it’s like a therapist in a box.

I am what feels like worlds away from my friends in Portland, and while I am pleased as punch to be exactly where I am, the beauty of Southern California doesn’t replace the beauty of what it means to live in community with people no matter where you are. Portland is amazing, don’t get me wrong, but let’s be honest, it’s not the thrift stores and coffee shops that sit beneath dark skies and rain drops that has kept me there so long… it’s the people. If it weren’t for the community I found there, I would have left shortly after arriving in 2010, as I was planning to do just before stepping into a group of people that changed the course of my next four years where Portland has remained home.

But… for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to live in San Diego for a season of my life. I can’t explain it anymore than I can explain a kid enjoying math, nothing makes less sense to me than that, but to each his or her own, some kids liked math, I liked California.I don’t know where it came from, and I get it, it’s not abnormal to like the idea of California, I just find it interesting that as a kid growing up on the east coast, enjoying the beaches I was raised on, I day-dreamed about California. Maybe I saw a postcard, or watched Free Willy one too many times, which I don’t even think was filmed in California, or I knew it was the birth place of Mickey Mouse and my obsession with Disney almost led me to pursuing a life that would involve getting paid to draw Mickey for the rest of my life (which l later learned was called an animator), but for whatever reason, I wanted to end up in California. While being on my beach in South Carolina, I dreamed of another beach far away, and so goes the story of my life… always dreaming of somewhere else.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, as proven by John Lennon well before I was born. I love being a dreamer, there is so much beauty in it. Even at 30, I imagine worlds that make the dreams of children look like child’s play… literally. If you let it, I think dreaming gets better with age because you have more experience with it. Too many people let their dreams die, they settle for less than because it’s safe or realistic or practical. I think there is a great risk involved in letting your dreams die, mostly because you end up living a mediocre life that you aren’t even aware of and if you aren’t aware of it then you can’t actually pursue living a more abundant life, so you end up thinking your mediocre life is all that life really has to offer and you get by, not really living until you die. That’s sad to me. And scary.

What’s also sad and scary to me is people like me, people who are so good at dreaming that they also never really live, but instead dream their way to grave, boasting that they never let their dreams die but they also never took action and did anything with them. They miss the life that happened in front of them because they were too busy dreaming of what could, would or should have been or be, and life around them gets stale, understandably so since they aren’t invested in it, and so they keep on dreaming, not even necessarily of somewhere better, just somewhere different. Before we pride ourselves on where we are at in life, be it as a dreamer or non-dreamer, I think we should ask ourselves if we are actually living the life we were meant to live.

And so here I am, where I’ve always dreamed about being… the coast of Southern California, and I love it. I’m living here for the summer and I’m not even going to try and down play it and say “it’s not what I thought.” It’s actually more than what I thought. Truly, it is beautiful in every way possible. I’ve cried multiple times from merely driving around, looking out at the coast line of the pacific, cluttered with palm trees and cliffs, so much so that my greatest threat here seems to have nothing to do with crime but everything to do with what I might plow my car into as I seem to look at everything but the road.

Not to mention, God let me in on a little secret kept during my entire childhood up until a short week ago when I moved here. You know Dr. Seuss? Well, I hate to bust your bubble, but for as much of a dreamer as he was, and he was if anyone was… all of his animation, whether he professed it or not (I don’t know his story) is 100% God inspired. Truffula trees and bungalow bushes and every plant or tree you’ve ever seen in a Dr. Seuss book or movie is REAL! My mind has been blown as living in La Jolla, California literally looks as though I am living in a Dr. Seuss book. I walk around laughing, saying “dude, you are so busted,” as if Dr. Seuss were there walking with me, laughing too. I imagine him to respond with something like, “yes, it’s truer than true, I’ve seen all my creations before, but much unlike those who’ve seen them all too, I didn’t keep them locked in my mind behind a trapped door. I took what was real, made it look like a dream, and so I went really living, being who and what I was meant to be. I’m a dreamer and a realist and I’ve combined the best of the two, and so ask yourself, JJ, are you good at being you and doing what you were meant to do?”

“That’s deep, dude,” I say back to the doctor as I brush my hand through an abundance of Kochia Balls. “Did you hear that, man!?” I ask God as I invite Him in on the doctor and I’s conversation. God laughs and says He indeed heard that, “and now that you’ve seen first hand what Seussy did with his time in La Jolla, JJ, what are you going to do with your time here?” God asks. And yes, I imagine God to have a nickname for Dr. Seuss, God doesn’t need the formalities of job titles.

Good question. What am I going to do with my time here? Am I going to leave what I see trapped in my mind or am I going to take action? And I don’t just mean with the scenery because let’s be honest, while I want to write books one day, I don’t think I’m here to replicate Dr. Seuss’s story. And while I love and appreciate what Dr. Seuss did with his time here, I’m here as a part of my own story. As I have met more and more people in the church I am working at for the summer, one of my favorite things they say to me is “God hand picked you to be here.” That melts my heart more than a stick of butter in a high-voltage microwave. Hand picked? And not just by any hand, but the hand of God?

Whoa.

There is great honor and great responsibility that comes with being hand picked by God and if I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure what I am supposed to do with it… at least not yet. And though I might not know yet the full purpose in me being here, I don’t doubt for a second that I am supposed to be here, and I have yet to find myself wishing I was somewhere else (well, maybe except the time I found myself lying on the beach next to girls who made Sisqo’s thong song look somewhat conservative… I struggle with insecurity enough to not linger in that situation, and about five minutes into comparing myself to them, which is five minutes too long, I told the enemy to take a hike, and when he didn’t, I did).

Yes, there are challenges here, which I hope to write on more at some point. As I just mentioned, I am surrounded by beauty, and not just in landscape. I feel like I have to walk around with an invisible baseball bat, beating the enemy off as he tries to jump on my back and whisper in my ear that I’m not as pretty, not as small, not as well dressed as those around me. On top of trying to make me feel worse about myself, he has me blame the beautiful women I am surrounded by who “make” me feel this way, judging them in order to feel better about myself. But you can’t fight evil with evil and expect to come out victorious. I can’t fight feeling worthless with judging others. So what do I do?

I shake it out!

Florence and The Machine sang it best, “every demon wants his pound of flesh, but I like to keep some things to myself, I like to keep my issues drawn, it’s always darkest before the dawn, so shake it out, shake it out! And it’s hard to dance with the devil on you back, so shake him off!”

That song has greater meaning to me than anyone will ever know, as I have literally and physically experienced the devil being shaken off my back, as well as any of his punk-ass sidekicks being shaken out of my body, and all in the name of Jesus. And so I’ve come too far to get caught up in the comparison battle, only to re-start living a lie of life that says I need to look a certain way in order to really live. I am surrounded by beauty and I am surrounded by lies and I have a choice to make not only about what I am going to look at, but how I am going to look at it. I tried closing my eyes so as not to compare myself to all the women, but that lasted about three steps before I realized I would have to walk around blind all summer. Avoiding comparison is going to have to be a matter of the heart and a transformation from within if I don’t want to miss the beauty of God’s creation and every Dr. Seuss plant along the way. And so as I open my eyes and look at my surroundings, I remind myself that I have been set free and I shake out the lies, even if that looks like literally shaking my arms out, or spontaneously dancing just be sure the devil is not on my back.

And perhaps this is my spade to reveal, the truth I must tell, that even as a leader to young women, I still struggle with believing the message I want to send them. But, my struggle with the message does not determine it’s validity and I refuse to give up believing the truth that I am perfectly crafted in the image of God just because I walk in a world where the enemy lurks and tries to tell me otherwise. I am not my struggle, I am not my thoughts, I am not a product of the enemies lies, I am a daughter of God who is prone to wander from what’s beautiful and settle for a cheaper version of beauty. And fortunately, my God of a father snatches me up time and time again, no matter how many times it takes to say, “no way, girl, I have so much more for you.”

And so I’m here for now, still in the early stages of what will be an entire summer of being able to love on girls in high school, who are also trying to figure out what they will do with their time here, both in La Jolla and in life. I miss my community back in Portland, but I have their words with me, tucked into my heart, my emails and text messages and even my Ipod.

As I listened to my friend, Liz and my pastor, Josh sing into my ear at the ocean’s edge yesterday, I was comforted in a way that not even the edge of the ocean or the limbs of a good tree can comfort me. It was the words of Jesus coming from voices I know well that reminded of who I was. Being on the ocean restores my sanity and being high in a tree calms my racing mind, but the the love of Jesus coming from the voice of a friend does something for my soul that not even God’s creation can do, simply because God’s creation is not God Himself. And so I can be anywhere and be at peace with who I am, if I am at peace with Him. But, let it be said, I am OH-SO-THANKFUL that I am where I am… it is icing to the cake. God is the cake, takes the cake, ices the cake, and let’s them eat cake because cake is all you need when it’s made by the hand of God. Seconds? Yes, please.

I hope to continue to dream a lot while I am here, but even more so I hope to do something with what I dream. To whom much is given, much is expected and I have been given a lot by being here… my prayer is that I do well by and do much with this gift. If any of the high schoolers are reading this, I have one thing to say… I am here for you. And if that is the only reason God has brought me to La Jolla this summer, then that is absolutely 100% worth it.

I’m here because I believe in you becoming who you were meant to be, in part because as a child of God, you already are! Dr. Seuss may have said it, but he was really just repeating the words of Jesus, and I find it to be an important thing to say especially during this time as graduation is upon us…

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!” It only takes the littlest bit a faith and the biggest piece of cake!

Summer 2014, here we go…

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Shaking it out and taking the cake so I can take in the beauty of the place Dr. Seuss called home, my home for now… La Jolla, California.

 

la jolla

Long story condensed incredibly short, I got a job working as an intern for a church in La Jolla, California this summer. I know, amazing. As I had no idea what was going to be ahead of me when I quit my job earlier this year, finding out I got the job in La Jolla on my very last day of work was nothing short of Jesus saying “follow me.” And so I’m clinging to his garments and willingly following him south, toward the smell of the ocean and the country’s best fish tacos.

Seeing as how I will be working with high schoolers, and seeing as how they have no idea who I am or what to expect, I decided to write them a letter to ease any concerns they might have about this thirty-year-old intern coming in, who I realize sounds older than Moses to a high schooler, or at least it did to me when I was in high school, and so now that I am thirty I would like to take a moment to apologize and honor all of the “old people” who poured into me as a teenager… you weren’t old.

But you are now. AHAHAHAHAA!

I’ll apologize for that when I’m fifty.

I’m loosing my train of thought… Ah yes, the letter. Seeing as how I both love the written word as well as struggle with A.D.D., I decided to combine my love and my struggle by making this a visual letter of sorts.

Without further ado, the letter…

Dear La Jollanites,

I don’t know how many of you have heard by now, but I’m coming to join your group in a mere three weeks. I know it can be un-nerving to have someone new join the group… especially someone from out of state, especially someone who is originally from the other side of the country (especially when that side of the country is the south), especially someone who is currently living in Portland, Oregon, because as you may or may not know, Portland just may be one of the weirdest cities God graced this earth with.

I wanted to settle any of those nerves by sharing a little bit about myself so you guys and gals can get a little more comfortable with the idea of a newbie joining the group. Here are just a few known and unknown facts about me to ease your minds about this mysterious gal coming to join you…

I once met an angel. It was not nearly as miraculous as I thought it would be, but then again it was in Texas and nothing is ever as miraculous as you think it would be in Texas…

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In 2012 I traveled around the country playing the Jurassic Park theme song on the melodica, which is actually how I met Evan when I was in Santa Barbara (the youth pastor who hired me, to those who else are reading this). Don’t worry, I’ll bring my melodica with me…

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I am very talented… with my feet. Mostly I use them to climb trees and drink water…

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The last time I led a group of high school girls, it looked like this…

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(just before they dropped me on my head, which has only happened to me one other time… as a child… thanks dad, for that time you left me on the handle bars of your bicycle when you put the kickstand up and walked away, only to remember you left your child sitting there after she fell off). Memories. So good.

I used to have a dog that made Goliath look like a baby. At 180 pounds, he drank water straight from the kitchen sink and I used to pretend to ride Beauregard like a horse. He may have been part of a Halloween costume once. Then again, he may not have. Don’t mess with Beauregard…

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During my road trip around the country, I stayed with some people in Montana and every time I tried to get in the shower, this happened…

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… I never showered while staying with them.

I love Jesus, and puns, and making my own Christmas cards…

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No. Big. Deal. Except the Jesus part… Big. Deal.

This is my doppelgänger…

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This was me in high school, which is to say, there is hope…

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I once chugged a whole bottle of chocolate syrup in under a minute on a high school ski trip because a guy said he could do it in a minute, to which I said I could do it in fifty-five seconds, to which he said “prove it,” to which I did and won the respect of whoever was in the ski lodge at that moment.

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I lost said respect shortly after we began our van ride home and I threw up on the head of the boy I had a crush on at the time. I’m sorry, Zack, I didn’t know you were sleeping under the bench seat.

I make my own face wash…

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… and yes, I’d be happy to show you how.

I have been known to make things more complicated than they have to be, but fun is usually always had at least somewhere in the process…

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… and yes, an entire game was played this way. I took home the winnings and left behind the imprint of my canines of the bottom three pieces. They remain there to this day. Someone is welcome.

I can sleep anywhere…

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Seriously…

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Anywhere…

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I am quite crafty and hate to waste things, which means I can make even the worst of gag gifts be incredibly useful. Take this triple-extra-large shirt of Tupac Shakur…

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Just call me En Vogue and tell me I win.

Speaking of winning, I once won a card game with two jacks…

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…being JJ never felt more victorious than in that moment.

I love to dance, second only to writing and third only to Jesus. One time I went to Africa and danced so hard I passed out…

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Dance parties? Yes please.

NEWSFLASH: Did I mention I like puns? I once went to a halloween party as a newsflash. I spent the better half of that evening with a blessing in disguise…

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I worked briefly as a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines (remind me to tell you that story), where I learned how to walk in high heels in a pressurized metal tube some 50,000 feet above the ground while serving ginger ale and singing The Fugees version of “Killing Me Softly…”

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Yes, due to my skill set, you might as well call me a ninja. And yes, I kept the extra peanuts.

I most recently worked as a cook at a preschool where I made eating food even more fun than it already is…

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And though I left that job, I still get inspired to create with food…

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… and I now spend most of my days sitting over the duck pond I live on, feeding ducks and Instagram-ing my breakfast…

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But soon I will come join you guys and gals, with all of my ninja skills, plethora of puns, dance moves and food art, and I must say, I am quite excited to join the mix. I feel the need to warn you of the extra large sweat pants covered in paint that I don 80% of my waking hours, so don’t let those scare you, but if it’s hot enough I won’t need them, in which case don’t let my mayonnaise-colored legs scared you… the sun is not so generous with its time here in Portland.

Get excited… it’s gonna be a fun summer! As we say where I’m from, can’t wait to meet all y’all!

Oh, and just because I have already been asked, no… I am no longer a vegan. I do love cows, but not in the way it appears here…

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It is as a recovering vegan that I have come to more fully believe these three things:

Life is to be lived, fun is to be had and Jesus is Lord.

See y’all soon!

JJ

from the lunch lady

Today is my last day of work as The Lunch Lady for an amazing group of preschoolers. I woke up early this morning to write a letter to my kids that I’m sure they won’t necessarily be able to grasp now, but I wanted to post it here as a place for them to always come back and find it should they ever forget who they are and how much they are loved. I have so much more to say about my time spent in Lunch Lady Land, many stories and pictures to share, but for now I shall just share this letter and take in the last few moments of my morning, before taking my last walk to work where I will fix my last lunch and hear “THANK YOU MS. JJ,” from that amazing group of preschoolers one last time.

 

Hello My Little Friends,

I have already started tearing up as I address this letter to you. As you know but may not have added up, I have been your lunch lady for the last year and three months. The time has come for me to say goodbye to you all as I set off for some new adventures in my life, but I wanted to be able to tell you all how much I love you, how much I will miss you and how much life you have to offer this world.

You are currently in preschool. You’re short, you’re cute and you have a whole world and a long life ahead of you. I have never addressed an audience this young, so bare with me as I try and figure out how to relay a message about life that involves a lot of beauty and a lot of scrapped knees and things gone missing, like toys, and playmates that might move away, and all of your baby teeth. Has anyone told you yet that you will loose all of the teeth that are currently in your mouth? You will, and it may be easy or it may be hard, but don’t worry, you’ll get much better and stronger teeth in return, more durable for the long road ahead.

Life is going to be a lot of that, things gone missing and getting found again, and lost again, and found again, and sometimes not found again, but sometimes replaced with something better. It’s okay to cry when things go missing. Crying is okay and very necessary, don’t ever let anyone tell you not to cry. There are so many things in life worth crying over, so many things that hurt our feelings or bruise our elbows, and when we feel hurt it is most certainly okay to cry. And crying doesn’t just have to happen when you are sad. Sometimes I cry simply because the sky is so beautiful and smiling just doesn’t seem to cut it. Sometimes I laugh so hard I cry. Sometimes crying makes me just as happy as not crying, and so I say to you, dear boys and girls, it is okay for you to cry. Plus, you never really grow up enough to grow out of crying, so you might as well learn to embrace it. That means to welcome it into your arms and give it a big ol’ hug as you learn to love who you are, how you were made and the emotions you were given.

So there’s that… crying is okay.

And there’s also this… you all have the most beautiful smiles! I’m back to crying again as I think about each one. Some of them are bright red, others are a lighter pink, some are crooked with character and some are straight as can be. I usually see them covered in food, which quite honestly is one of my favorite ways to see them as you enjoy the food I make for you, but whether drenched in spaghetti sauce, hidden behind chocolate or clean as a whistle, I love seeing you smile. A smile is a language in and of itself as everyone you meet in life, no matter where they come from, no matter how different they look from you, everyone understands what a smile means. This makes a smile a very powerful thing… some of you already know this as you try to smile your way out of trouble, so while I say use smiles often, be careful with them… they may get you out of trouble, but not learning a lesson is way worse than getting in trouble… I promise. Oh, and girls, smiling is way better than makeup… no amount of makeup can make you look  half as pretty as having a smile on your face… I promise that too.

You should know that much like the lunch room, life is going to get messy. Life is full of messes. We can clean up real good and wash our hands and brush our teeth and change into a clean pair of pajamas and maybe even have some sweet dreams, but each day is different and some of those days are going to look squeaky clean and some of those days are going to look messier than your toy box exploding in your bedrooms. While I don’t advise going about trying to create messes in life, you can certainly expect some messes, even embrace them (remember that hug thing) and still enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Somewhere along our journey together, me as your lunch lady and you as the precious little mouths I feed, I forgot that life could get messy, especially in the kitchen, and I forgot what life was about as I tried to cover up my messes instead of cleaning them up. Cleaning up a mess is much better than covering it up… I promise. Thank God for Ms. Mackenzie, who came in to help me do the dishes and clean up all the messes I made on my own but would have never been able to clean up without help. Know that it’s always okay to ask for help; no mess is too much for someone who loves you to step in and help you. Try your best to hold onto people who aren’t afraid of your messes, they are few and far between (that means hard to find). Be sure to say thank you when someone steps in to help you clean up. I shall set that example for you by saying thank you to Ms. Mackenzie now…

Thank you, Ms. Mackenzie, so very much, for stepping in, for lending a helping hand and for not being afraid to take on my messes. You are more beautiful than you know, and not just because you help clean up after me.

So remember that, life is messy, but with just the right cleaning crew, it can and will be oh so fun! Ask for help, say thank you. I so hope you all learn to write, as a hand written thank you card is one of the best gifts to give and receive. Remember how I said smiles were powerful? So is saying thank you. I will never forget the sound of you all screaming “THANK YOU, MS. JJ!” just before I was about to wonder if all the work I did in the kitchen was worth it. Let me tell you now, every once of effort I put into creating your lunch was worth your smiles and the sound of your voices yelling thank you.

I wish I could wrap your little and brilliant minds around just how much I am going to miss you. It was not an easy decision for me to make to leave The Sunshine School, but Ms. JJ needed to take care of herself, which meant she needed to step out of the kitchen for a while. You see, I forgot some very important things along the way, but the most important thing I forgot affected me the most and I want to share it with you to store in your pockets and purses to maybe pull out and look at somewhere along your own journeys.

I forgot that life isn’t about being the prettiest or the coolest. I forgot that for as cool as Spider-Man is and as beautiful as Cinderella is, life is not about being a superhero or a princess. I forgot that while I love my best friend, life isn’t about saving a seat for my best friend only to leave someone else out. I forgot that life isn’t about being the king of the mountain or the queen of the castle. I forgot that making pretty food doesn’t make me have a pretty heart and saying “look what I can do” never feels as good as saying “look what you can do.”

I lost sight somewhere along the way and I forgot what life was about…

Jesus.

Life was and is and always will be about Jesus whether we remember it or not, so I find it most helpful to try and remember. My heart was sad for a long time, simply because I forgot about Jesus, and so that is what I hope you remember more than anything else, more than your sandwiches that looked like faces, more than Ms. JJ dancing in the kitchen or the puppet who has surfaced in our last few days together, I hope you always remember who Jesus is.

Jesus saved Ms. JJ at a time when she needed it most, at a time when her mess seemed too big to clean up, and he rounded up a cleaning crew and got to work. Life is about Jesus. And because life is about Jesus, that means life is about people, because Jesus is about people. The best way to love Jesus is to love yourself (because you are a people) and to love other people, to invite them to sit next to you, to help them clean up, to smile at them, to say thank you.

My heart is excited and heavy as I think about you all going out into this world. My prayer more than anything is that you would know you are loved. You are so deeply loved. Knowing whether we are loved or not shapes a lot of who we are and how we treat people, and so the simplest way I can think to pray that you would never forget Jesus is to pray that you would never forget how loved you are.

I’m quite sure your attention span hasn’t held out this long, perhaps I should have addressed the Jesus thing first, but perhaps maybe one day when you are older, you can come back and read this letter and be reminded of the time you spent in a place called Lunch Lady Land within the county lines of The Sunshine School. Perhaps you can be reminded of how good your food was, but more importantly how much your lunch lady loved you, but even more importantly how much Jesus still loves you no matter what you’ve done, no matter what road you’ve taken, no matter what age you come back and read this letter.

Though I am not ready to think about not seeing your faces every morning, the time comes in all of our lives to take the next road. Kindergarden is soon ahead of you and so our ways would have parted soon enough anyhow. I’ve never been good at saying goodbyes and so I used to avoid them, but I’m learning that you just never really know what life brings you, which sometimes includes bringing something back you thought you had to say goodbye to. So this isn’t goodbye, at least not forever, because who knows when and where we might see each other again, be it at the grocery store in a few weeks, or a few months from now when Frozen comes to the cheap theater, or ten years down the road after I’ve written a book a two. Did I tell you that yet? I want to write books and tell stories… and make no mistake that my time spent with all of you helped shape that. And because some of you have already started asking, yes, I am going to cook for myself at home.

As I bring this letter to a close I want to leave you with one more thing, and I mean it… I’m here for you. Yes, I’m moving on to new things, but should the time ever come that you’ve forgotten some of things I mentioned above and you need an encouraging word, or a cleaning crew member, or a smiley face sandwich, even if it’s twenty years from now and the smiley face sandwich is more proverbial than literal, all you have to do (as I may have lost my memory by then) is say, “Ms. JJ, you were my lunch lady, and I’ve forgotten some things along the way.” I’m here for you, and I’m for you. I’m in your corner, cheering you on, even if I have to do so from far away.

So cry when you need to, laugh a lot, smile big, get dirty, hug the mess but don’t leave it there, find a good cleaning crew, ask for help, say thank you, be nice to people, be willing to give up your seat instead of save a seat, nourish those little bodies with lots of good food, be a kid as long as you can but don’t ever be afraid to get older (adulthood isn’t as scary as I thought it would be), love each other, love your teachers, love your parents and guardians, love people. Love Jesus, and never, ever, ever give up.

Life is worth every bit of breath you have to breath it in. Even on the toughest of days and the most sleepless of nights, life is so incredibly beautiful. Don’t let it pass you by, live it up and live it well.

It is with great appreciation for my time spent with you that I say goodbye for now.

I love you, my little friends, I really, really love you.

With much love and much muchness,

Your Lunch Lady, Ms. JJ

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journey

I currently have 38 drafts saved in my Tumblr account. Unfinished and unpublished, none of these drafts occurred within this new year and I don’t even know how many of them occurred within the last year. I suppose I wrote a few times last year, but mostly I just posted pictures of food and became really unhealthy in the process.

Somewhere along life’s journey I got lost… again. I look back on the life I have lived over the last thirty years and much of it consists of getting lost, finding my way again, getting lost again, finding my way again, and so it goes… again and again.

I used to think I would arrive at some point where I finally found it or did it or became it and I don’t know if I ever really knew what it was, but I knew it didn’t involve getting lost and having to ask for help. To finally arrive meant I no longer needed help and I would have thought that by the time I reached thirty I would no longer need help, with anything really.

I don’t know why I thought this, I don’t know if someone told me this along the way or if I just conjured it up in my head all those times I played “journey” as a kid. Yes, while most other girls played house, making tea and cleaning for their pretend husbands and babies, my sister and I were playing “journey.” We would pack our bags with blankets and apples, along with markers and paper to make maps and together we would pretend we were run-aways or adventurers going on a long journey, never actually arriving to our destination. The game was all about the journey and what happened along the way, it was never about arriving to a certain spot because we never actually arrived to a certain spot, unless dinner was ready then we would arrive home for dinner, but in the game there was no arriving. We would set up camp in a tree for a short while, long enough to snack on an apple, check our maps and catch our breath, but always we continued on our way through the “mountains” of our surrounding neighborhood. For the record, there were no actual mountains, just the imagination being played out on the flat coastline of South Carolina.

The beautiful and sad thing about the imagination of a child is that at some point you grow up, and at some point you start hearing the voices that tell you you need to grow up, you need to succeed, you need to accomplish, you need to arrive. I don’t know at what age I realized that it seemed more important to arrive somewhere than it did to journey somewhere, but my guess would be middle school. I think anybody who has made it through middle school has a right to blame a lot of their issues on middle school. I think Flannery O’Connor said something to that effect, but I can’t be so sure as to quote her verbatim.

I’m not blaming middle school for my getting lost time and time again, there comes a time in life when the same old excuse loses its validity as an excuse at all; I’m just citing middle school as a possible starting point for thinking the day would come when I would finally arrive, even if I hesitated to arrive at all.

I love road trips, I have always loved road trips, and most of what I love about them, if not all of what I love about them, is the road itself, the state of being in which you are constantly on a journey. Whether I am merely heading to the grocery store, a friend’s house or a national park I have yet to see, there is always the slightest bit of disappointment upon the arrival, not because I don’t want to be there, but because the journey has in some way come to an end. I look back and it makes sense to me that I played “journey” as a kid instead of “house,” I never wanted to be still, I never wanted to settle down, I never wanted to arrive, I just wanted to journey.

At thirty years old, I still have yet to arrive, and perhaps this is what I have come to accept about life, that while there is a time for everything, even being still, life in and of itself is a journey, and we will never actually arrive on this side of eternity. For a restless heart like mine, I take great peace in knowing that I am not expected to arrive, at least not to a state of perfection, of having it all figured out, of knowing it all, applying it all and being it all. On this side of eternity I am already who I always wanted to be, a sojourner. Perhaps I was on to something as a kid and I forgot along the way as I grew up and sought out perfection instead of character.

I have made a lot of mistakes in the last few years, some the result of an intentional poor choice and some not at all, some I wasn’t even aware were mistakes until I took a second to look back and notice the wreckage. I say that to say I’ve messed up, time and time again, mostly because I have been trying so hard to finally arrive instead of slowing down enough to take part in the journey. I’ve been racing to a finish line that I don’t even necessarily want to get to because it’s not only unrealistic, it’s lonely. Nobody is perfect and so even if I did by some bizarre, unnatural twist of fate reach that goal of perfection, I can guarantee you that I would be there alone, and alone in this world is not somewhere I want to be, not a place I want to arrive.

I cannot undo things that have been done in the past any more than I can take back words that have been spoken. I can only own my part in the damage I have done, seek forgiveness where it needs to be sought and move forward from here, finding my way yet again on this journey of life, reminding myself that you are never too old to ask for help.

My job is coming to an end this month and a new journey is beginning. I am a mix of nerves and excitement, peace and chaos, confusion and clarity, dark and light, dust and divine breath.

My plan, my hope, my prayer is to write more in an effort to live more. I feel most alive when I am writing and mainly because it means I have actually been living, which is where my best writing material comes from… life. If writing is evidence of life then last year looked a lot more like death than life. You don’t have to look much further than my Tumblr archive to see what I mean. You will find pretty pictures of sandwiches that look like animals and vegan desserts made from twigs and berries, but you won’t find much past that. You won’t find many stories about life, about people, about hope and redemption, about grace and forgiveness. You will find bright colors and perfectly positioned subject matters, but you won’t find any warmth or any subjects that actually matter (save the few faces of some adorable kids, those faces matter).

Perhaps a blog is a lame place to start, but I am lame and in need of a new start, and so I am starting in the best way I know how, with writing, even if just on this blog. I am taking a baby step in a new direction on this long journey of life, extending grace to myself when I lose my way and grace to others when they lose theirs. After all, whether we like it or not, we are all in this together.

Traveling mercies, seventy times seven, grace upon grace,

jennie joy

 

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