Dust and Divine Breath

It’s been a weird two days. Life and death and everything in between. The other morning I woke up to multiple text messages from friends; some of whom I haven’t spoken with in years and some of whom are on my home team of life, you know, the thick and thinners, the ninth inning, the ones who are there for the whole game no matter what it holds. Though the familiarity with each of these friends was vast and wide, their messages were the same, “heard the news about Billy Graham, I’m so sorry, hope your family is well…” or something to that affect.

I had mixed emotions about the death of Billy Graham. To me he wasn’t just some evangelist who impacted the lives of many, wrote a bunch of books and preached a lot of sermons. To me he was “Uncle Billy,” and sure, more often than not he was a distant uncle, but given our family’s history, regardless of how I felt about what he and my grandfather did, I always understood him as Uncle Billy. I didn’t quite grasp the reality of who he actually was and the impact he had until later in life.

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Allow me to explain…

My Grandfather was Cliff Barrows, the choir director for Billy Graham since the very beginning. As I understand the story, my grandparents were on their honeymoon in North Carolina when they heard a preacher was looking for a musician because his choir director got sick. My grandmother (Nana) played the piano and my grandfather (Papa) had a booming singing voice and was well versed in multiple instruments. They both offered up their services and the rest is history. That preacher was Billy Graham and he and my Papa have been best friends since they were in their early 20s, even started the crusades together.

 

I used to avoid saying I was the granddaughter of Cliff Barrows because of my own issues with family and faith and trying to figure who I am and what I believe as an individual outside of all of the influence; but in this day and age with new generations who’ve never heard of Billy Graham crusades and the Kardasians actually being a thing to follow, I figure it’s not actually as big of a deal as I’ve made it out to be, it’s just my own stuff.
 My Nana and Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) were best friends and for a time my mother not only worked as head of the women’s ministry for Billy Graham (well before meeting my father), but was mentored by Ruth as well.

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My mother used to say Ruth was her role model and she wanted to be just like her. She’d try and try and end up feeling frustrated that she wasn’t more like Ruth, more pleasant, more gracious, more kind, more loving, etc… My mother told me one day she was so sick and tired of trying so hard to be the perfect example she chucked her bible across the room and yelled out “that’s it, I can’t do it, God! I can’t be Ruth Graham, I’ll never be Ruth Graham!” In the stillness of her room she heard a quiet voice, a very gentle response from a very loving God,

“Good. Because I already have a Ruth Graham, I don’t want another one…

I want my Lydia.”

It was then that I realized for as good of an example as Billy and Ruth Graham may be to many people, as faithful and spiritual and generous and all that stuff, it doesn’t make them any better in God’s eyes, and I don’t have to be like them for God to value me. That was huge for me. Growing up in a sort-of limelight, a preacher’s kid in a small southern town and granddaughter to a music evangelist who prayed with or sang in front of numerous presidents since Harry Truman and even alongside my own personal favorite, Johnny Cash, my understanding of God for a long time was that I had to be good for God to accept me.

 

It’s not that those were the words that were spoken to me, but it’s sort of what I saw or experienced… Nana always in pearls and smiling, family get-togethers meant no crying or arguing, and as long as you had Jesus you could smile at the storm. While it might have been well intended, some of it just didn’t resonate with me. I understood that Jesus was a Savior, but nobody talked about what they needed saving from, other than the generic title of sin, which is a word I’m still wrestling with sometimes.

For me, that’s what my faith has been, a form of wrestling, of asking questions I wasn’t supposed to ask because I was somehow already supposed to know the answers as a preacher’s kid, or like I had a better understanding of God because of my family connections. On top of my own process of exploring faith, there’s the whole issue of a traveling evangelist and the fact that if he’s impacting the world, who’s at home with the family? While Uncle Billy may have been America’s preacher and my Papa America’s song leader, their own families didn’t really know them that well. I know later in life they both expressed wanting to do that part over if they could, and so I don’t say that to come down on them, but certainly to be real about the fact that not even America’s preacher got it all right, and not even his kids were perfect. Sometimes kids just need to figure things out apart from who their parents are.

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So the family connections run deep and I have spent time thinking I was cool, growing up going to crusades and meeting DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and all my favorites in the early 90s, to growing older and wishing I wasn’t related at all due to the pressure and expectation that came with it. For a long time I resented my Papa and his “job” that seemed much more important than his family, especially when people praised him for it.

Last year I got to speak at a women’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia and I shared about growing up in the family I did, the affects it had on multiple family members and learning to come to peace with it. When the conference was over a woman came up to me and asked if she could share a story about my grandfather. She proceeded to share that when she was little her father was a raging alcoholic and used to beat her mom and the kids. He would take apart the television set during the day while he was gone so they couldn’t watch it and put it back together at night when he came home.

One day her mom found one of the pieces he had hidden to the television set and figured out how to put it back together. When the television set turned on that first time there was a Billy Graham crusade on and they all sat in the living room and watched. She said she watched my grandfather sing and lead the biggest choir she’d ever seen. One day it was nearing dinner time and my grandfather came on and introduced a woman named Ethel Waters, an African American woman, which back then was controversial to have onstage leading a song.

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Ethel and my grandfather sang “His eye is on the sparrow,” and it was the first time this woman had ever heard the song. That night her father came home and found them trying to take apart the television before he got inside. He grabbed her mother and she screamed for the kids to run. The woman and her siblings ran out to the nearest field and hid. She said they could hear her mother screaming and together her and her siblings quietly sang “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.” She said they just sang that line over and over again and she kept saying to her siblings, “God cares about the sparrows and he cares about us, He’s watching over us, it’s like they sang on the television.” She said she never forgot my grandfather after that.

It was unfortunately a long time before her mother eventually left her father and the foster care system got involved, but she said every time trouble happened they just sang to themselves “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.”

She hugged me with tears in her eyes and said “I know you’ve had your own issues with your family and I validate that, I’m sorry there were times they weren’t there for you, but please know it wasn’t for nothing. We had to have faith for a long time before anything happened, but I truly believe we were given hope through that song we heard your grandfather sing.” I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story, that I needed to hear it. I was grateful to have a glimpse from the other side, from someone who wasn’t related or personally affected by his absence.

“I know you may not want to hear this,” she continued, “but in the best way possible, I see a lot of him in you… you draw people in, you hold their attention, and that’s what he did, he was gifted… and so are you.”

 

 

For the first time in a long time I felt proud. My grandfather had recently passed away at this point and I didn’t get a chance to communicate that to him, but in my own heart and mind I made peace with him and the beautiful mess that is my family. It’s not that everything got all better, but I wasn’t so affected by the way things were or allowing resentment to dictate how I lived my life or responded to people.

At the end of the day, for as great of men as Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows may have been, I think they would be the first to say they were just human… men who no matter how hard they try, still fall short… we all do. No exceptions.

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I say this not to minimize their impact, but to address some of the negative comments I’ve heard swirling around the death of Billy Graham; some of them vile and hateful from strangers with opposing views, some of them with a more subtle sting from friends who have their own similar issues with their families they have yet to come to peace with.

I totally understand given the faith aspect and Billy’s sold out devotion to God and the Bible being ultimate truth, a lot of people not only disagreed with him but didn’t like him. We live in a day and age where it’s almost forbidden to have an opposing opinion, especially as a Christian, a word that doesn’t have the best reputation and I get why. I personally am sold out to Jesus, truly believing the way Jesus loved people is the way we were meant to love, but even in that I have a hard time associating as a Christian because of the awful things Christians have said and done in the name of Jesus. I think even Jesus is heartbroken over it.

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(a little humor always helps)

I don’t have all the answers, I just know that people are people. People are people… broken and beautiful, messed up and put together, dust and divine breath. We’re all made up of both, yet we’re so quick to point out the dust in others and divine breath in ourselves that we completely miss each other. I think it’s okay for there to be differences among us, we don’t have to make sure everyone gets along and feels good all the time, but we can still communicate our differences in a loving way, valuing the person even if we disagree with their choices.

Some of the comments were so horrible I didn’t think they were real because saying them to any human, especially in regards to their death, seems inhumane to say the least. The naysayers are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but the conditions of their hearts are being revealed and they are acting out of the very hate in their own lives. Some of them may truly believe Billy Graham was an evil man and I understand they are speaking out of their conviction (in the same but very different way Billy spoke out of his own conviction), but they are revealing their own evil by their response to him.

A person at peace with themselves, with God, with the world, a person who truly loves because it naturally pours out of them and not because they need to be loved back, that type of person doesn’t wish, hope or pray evil things upon another human being. That type of person may have a strong conviction about the life a person lives, but they still see the person as a person and value both the dust and divine breath within them.

Hate does not conquer hate.

Hateful comments toward or about a person making hateful comments doesn’t make you an activist, it reveals that you’re just as hateful and vile, only in a different way. People are standing on opposing sides of politics, religion and bathroom usage and using hate to communicate, which means no one is really hearing anyone because no one responds well to hate. On top of which, half the stuff people are arguing about isn’t even the point.

People are people. No matter how different your view, people are people, no matter how rich or poor, isolated or well known, religious or atheist, vegan or Texan… people are people.

We all started as someone’s kid, some of us had bad things happen to us, some of us not. We all have a story, a reason we act, think, function the way we do. To a degree we are a sum of our experiences but they don’t have to define us, we can choose how we respond to them and to the world. We don’t have to hate on people in the process, even if they hate us. So while I hate the things that have been said around Billy Graham’s death, I don’t hate the people who said them. I see very broken, hurt people who are responding out of their own lack of love and their blindness to it and I feel sad for them.

The crazy part to me is, it’s not like Billy Graham was known for hate speech. He may have had his own opinions on ways of living because of his faith, but he didn’t hate the people. He may have had to wrestle through some of his own understanding of God’s word and what it meant to him, but he didn’t hate the people. He was a huge force in de-segregating black and white audiences and refused to speak to any crowd that was segregated. He agreed to meet and pray with every president that would have him even if he didn’t see eye to eye with them politically, because even the President of the United States he saw as a person in need of being loved, which let’s be honest is no easy task.

If humanitarians, Christians, activists, feminists, whoever wants to say status doesn’t matter then let it not matter, don’t compartmentalize, let it not matter… from the poor to the president: love people… all people. Disagree all you want to, but show love and kindness toward the human. Dare I say it’s not so easy.

For me personally there’s something I highly value and respect about Uncle Billy that goes well beyond all the accolades; in this world where everything is about self gratification, sex and scandals, that man stayed tried and true to the woman he loved since his youth. I know they didn’t have the easiest marriage with his schedule and travel and the time and attention of five kids, but there’s not one scandal to his name regarding his marriage and devotion to his wife. He faithfully loved her not only to the end of her life, but to the end of his. She mattered too, and he knew it.

 

And while I think that is so, so beautiful, it’s also sad because of just how rare that is… faithfulness and doing well by the one you love, even when it doesn’t feel as good as the day you said “I do.” That man loved people, and not just in word, but in action. Believe me, if anyone understands that some people didn’t feel loved by him or his ministry, it is I! I get it, they didn’t do everything right, I’m speaking as someone who feels personally affected by it. But I still truly believe that this man and my grandfather were just two humans who tried the best they could with what they had, and again, no matter how great some people saw them, they would be the first to say they were still in desperate need of a Savior.

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I suppose that’s the difference between some of us who believe in a Savior and those who don’t, we are aware of the brokenness, able to see what needs to be mended. It’s not that hate is beneath me, it’s that I can see my own humanity and the vileness I am capable of, bring it before my Jesus and say “help me. I don’t want to live like this.”

I don’t want to be a person who hates the people who hate people, I would only be adding to the hateful masses.

To Lauren Duca and the humans full of hate out there… While you’ve made your dust abundantly clear, I choose to see the divine breath within you, cloudy as it may be, it’s in there. You were made to love, even if you don’t know it yet. It ain’t easy, but I love ya!

And love wins.

Hurricane Ditka

I made a mug cake for breakfast this morning. A mug cake is when you put the ingredients of a cake into a mug and zap it in the microwave until it “bakes” and it gives you the tiniest, laziest cake ever made. It’s delicious, as well as genius. It’s almost too easy, like dangerously easy, like I could make mug cake for breakfast everyday for the rest of my life and be totally content that I never got married or had kids. The combination of peanut butter and chocolate can make up for any great loss in life… except for weight loss.

Speaking of, I used to be a vegan. Technically I was anorexic, but literally I could have also been considered a vegan, it sounds more healthy than anorexic. When I did eat I avoided all meat, dairy, gluten, soy, wheat, and anything else made by man or God. I ate about three nuts a day, sometimes wrapped in lettuce. On particularly crazy days I would squirt a little mustard in the wrap. Best vegan wraps ever. I could have marketed them but I was too tired and cold to do anything. As a vegan I napped a lot, so I might have appeared aloof, and in some ways I was because I’m not sure my brain was getting enough fuel, but I was also very passionate about certain topics and I knew when to adequately express emotions over things like strawberries. Particularly when I planned to add a little variety to my life and have two strawberries for a meal.

I remember one time excitedly going into the fridge for my double portion of strawberries, only to discover that my mother (who had purchased the strawberries) had the audacity to eat the last of them.

“WHO ATE THE MOTHER-FREAKING STRAWBERRIES!?” I yelled (I wanted it to be known I meant business, but for as passionate as I could get about strawberries I could never bring myself to drop the actual F-bomb in my mother’s house). My mother was sitting calmly at the table doing some sort of paperwork and without even looking up she responded, “your freaking mother.” I slammed the refrigerator door and walked at a mildly fast pace up to my bedroom to cry. I would have ran but I was too tired.

I went to rehab in Chicago in February of 2007 and I’ll never forget it because the Chicago Bears were in the Super Bowl that year. First time since 1986. The pilot came over the intercom once we boarded the plane and said something to the effect of “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of whatever-whatever airlines we’d like to thank you for flying with us this evening to the home of this year’s Super Bowl contenders, DA BEARS!” And everyone on the plane, as if it was some sort of flash mob or IMPROV Everywhere skit, in unison all fist pumped the air and yelled “DA BEARS!”

A flight attendant came over the intercom and encouraged it by repeating over and over again, “DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS!” And everyone responded in unison, “DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS, DA BEARS!” I had flashbacks of early nineties SNL skits and Michael Jordan wearing a hula skirt while Chris Farley was having a sausage-induced heart-attack. It was then I realized I was going somewhere special, I was going to the land of HURRICANE DITKA.

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The SNL fangirl in me was excited beyond belief. But the exhausted vegan in me, still unable to fully admit I had an eating disorder, was a little terrified to be going to a place known for their hot dogs, deep-dish pizzas and polish sausages. “Perhaps I can introduce them to my vegan wraps,” I thought to myself. But then I thought about Mike Ditka and the fact that my vegan wraps were roughly the size of his pinky finger (if even), and I didn’t foresee that going over so well as part of a meal plan in Chicago. My meal portions consisted of their condiments used for an appetizer and oddly enough the thought made me laugh.

I will never forget that plane ride. People were singing and cheering and chanting. It felt like we were on the Polar Express on the way to see Santa Claus as played by Mike Ditka. No one started out knowing anybody but bonding over the same excitement made everyone family. I mostly just watched, terrified and amazed. Terrified of what food laid ahead of me, amazed by how passionate everyone seemed about something greater than strawberries.

Truth be told, I boarded that plane not wanting to live much longer, I was tired of living each day terrified of what it held, terrified of what I did or didn’t eat, terrified of my own self and my own actions. I was exhausted, and in my exhaustion, I felt stuck. I didn’t know how to get myself out of the patterns I had set. I was functioning in survival mode and survival didn’t seem like much of a reason to keep going. Hearing old SNL references to DA BEARS triggered memories of a time I had forgotten, a time when I was happy and hopeful and less bogged down by the expectations of the world.

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By the time the plane landed, I was curious enough to want to see this game that had bonded such a large group of strangers all hugging and high-fiving by the end of flight. To have something to look forward to other than an extra strawberry or a nut in my wrap was a feeling I had forgotten I liked. It had been years since I had been excited about something other than food. Something as simple as a football game gave me the tiniest inkling of desire, “I desire to see this game,” which in bigger terms could be translated into “I desire to live one more day,” and so it caught me off guard when I stepped off the plane feeling hopeful about going to the land of Hurricane Ditka to recover from Hurricane ED (In rehab most of us learned to name our eating disorder and most of us named it ED. I know it’s not that original, but we were tired).

The Bears lost and I remember being bummed, but when I realized I actually cared about something other than food, I found the slightest bit of excitement over the fact that I wasn’t numb, but in fact bummed. I entered Rehab the day after the Super Bowl and so began my long and slow process of seeking recovery, of discovering that I wasn’t just a tired vegan with misplaced passions, I was sick and I had been for a fairly long time.

I say this to say sometimes it’s not the fire on the mountain, lighting bolt experiences that wake us up or instantly cure us of our “diseases.” Sometimes it’s not the church service or the community service that gets us to step outside of ourselves to see that people need help and that we ourselves are a part of that people group. Sometimes comparing your pain to the pain of others and telling yourself to “suck it up cause it’s not that bad” isn’t going to be enough to keep you wanting to live until the next day. Pain is pain is pain is pain, and it is very real to the person experiencing it no matter how different each experience is.

Sometimes God works in the quietest, simplest and even funniest of ways, like through SNL skits from the nineties, an airplane ride of happy and hopeful strangers and the Chicago Bears getting a chance to reclaim their title since the 1986 Super Bowl Shuffle, to take us on a journey of healing instead of an instant snap of the fingers cure-all. Sometimes it’s the little things, as little as “I want to see that game,” that lead to the next little thing and the next little thing that all add up over time to become a very big thing called LIFE.

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I am where I am now because I boarded that plane to Chicago in 2007. The Chicago Bears played a surprising and odd role in my recovery, one I did not see coming. They gave me something to look forward to at a time when I was hopeless, and the thought of Mike Ditka eating one of my “vegan wraps” brought laughter to me at a time when nothing was funny. As I recalled the SNL skits of the nineties, I looked back on a time when I used to enjoy life and I began the journey of searching for that girl who got lost somewhere along the way.

I can’t sit here on this side of the story and say I am cured, but I can say I am better than I was, I am fully enjoying life and I still hope to one day share a burger with Mike Ditka (on a gluten-free bun, we gotta meet in the middle) with a vegan wrap as garnish.

I also still hope for a Chicago Bears Super Bowl victory. After all, a girl who wants to live is a girl who can dream.

fear has a seat

Hi Family! Well, it’s been a while, a LONG while, and I apologize.

The last we spoke about my book (or I wrote) it was Christmas time and I was in South Carolina packing up my childhood home and saying goodbye to my last Christmas in that house. Sorry to get all sappy so soon. The process was long and hard, but good and necessary and ultimately I’m glad I was at home to help my mom, be with my grandmother and get to know my brother better.

I’m back in California and this year looks incredibly different from last year. I’ve embarked on a journey of pursuing art (in all forms) and have rediscovered my love for creating not just with words but with color. I’ve been painting like a mad woman and even went mad for a little bit as I tried to figure out the difference between work and play when you do something you love. I didn’t know I had a little diva in me until I got to the point of thinking my friends weren’t as important as my time painting. I never want to forget the importance of people and that no amount of money will ever replace them.

It’s hard because painting is how I am trying to make a living, which I love AND it also requires a lot of work outside of a 9-5 job. BUT painting non-stop isn’t what will define me as a painter, it’s what will define me as a workaholic and no different from the people who are slaving away at their jobs missing out on life and the people in front of them. I love painting, but it’s not my foundation nor what defines my value and I have to admit over a short span of time I managed to forget that. HOW DOES IT HAPPEN SO QUICKLY!?!

That said, I’m still trying to figure out how to make this all work. People on social media would see me as having a blast… and that’s true… I am having so much fun living out who I was created to be and functioning the way I was wired to function as a creative. AND, I’m also scared. I’m scared because for as fun as this all is, there’s no safety nets or guarantees. It’s like surfing… fun when you catch the wave, scary when it’s not guaranteed you will and the big ones take you under. The ocean is beautiful and its power is scary.

I go from selling high end art pieces and feeling safe to three weeks going by without selling anything and uncertain as to whether or not I will be able to pay rent. It’s scary to be down to the wire with no funds in the bank account. But I gotta say, it’s worth it when you get that message at midnight that someone wants to buy a painting they just saw. A sigh of relief never felt so good.

Fear is a necessary part of the process, of any process. To not have fear is to not be human and to miss out on the exhilarating feeling of the fear being silenced as the LORD comes in with the last minute save. In order to be excited over provision, one must have first experienced the fear of being without.

I have welcomed fear as part of the process, part of my humanity, but (as I learned recently from Elizabeth Gilbert) I tell fear it is not allowed to make any decisions. I’ve recently painted a chair for fear to sit in while I am in the room painting. Fear creeps in and tells me I’ll never sell anything, I’m broke, I’ll never be able to do this. I thank fear for its concern, recognizing that maybe its just trying to keep me in check the same way it did when I was in the water that day and the waves were too big for my strength. “Thank you, fear, I’m just painting, no one is going to die, you can go have a seat.” This is my new practice instead of beating myself up or giving into fear. Maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing, we just have to know how to handle it.

All of this to say, that is what I have been up to and much of it has to do with the process of my book. As some of you know I submitted it in its completion back in December. It has failed the content evaluation three times. Each time I sanitize my voice a little more to meet the high standards of the Christian publishing company. With this last attempt I decided I couldn’t sanitize my voice any further just for the sake of being published. I have no interest in being published just to publish, I have an interest in sharing the cold, hard truth about the goodness and toughness of life. Everyone wants to say Jesus saves but nobody wants to say why or what from.

So, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. I am past the point of getting a refund and I’ve tried to submit to a few traditional publishers but with my last attempt came the cold, hard truth that nobody really knows who I am to care enough about what I have to say. Ouch. Rejection is a part of the process, I get that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So I’m praying, and any of you who are willing, asking you for prayer too… about what to do next. I want to be willing to learn and flexible to change what I need to, but I also want to value my voice and the truth God has set me free to speak.

For now, I paint and I pray and I tell fear to have a seat.

Love, J

the freedom to be confused

I woke up from my nap and did what I normally do after I wake up from a nap… I went to the bathroom, ate a fig and checked Facebook. As I was finishing off my fig and scrolling through the Facebook feed, my only source of news these days, I noticed an odd looking picture of who I thought was Tina Fey. “Well she looks different,” I thought to myself as I looked at her slung across a couch in a navy blue dress. I looked closer… “is that her?” I squinted and decided someone photoshopped her. “Why are people always photoshopping people!? And why would anyone photoshop Tina Fey!? People are crazy!” And then I asked God to give photo-shoppers something else to photoshop other than people.

But then I read the title above the picture of the photoshopped Tina Fey and I realized it wasn’t an altered Tina Fey but an altered someone named Caitlyn Jenner. “My bad, Tina,” I said, “I didn’t know there was a Caitlyn in the family.” I knew enough news to know the name and assume it was someone related to Bruce Jenner, but clearly not enough news to realize it was not someone related to Bruce Jenner, but Bruce himself. “Wait,” I said as I looked closer, a little confused and unsure if I was seeing things right. I don’t really know what rock I’ve been under but this was the first time I had heard of Bruce Jenner becoming a woman, so I was shocked, because that’s what shock is, a sudden (or violent) disturbance of the mind, emotions or sensibilities (according to the dictionary). And so when I say I was shocked, I don’t mean it in a judgmental or appalled kind of way, I just mean I had no idea all of this was going on, leading to a sudden disturbance of what I thought I knew to be true in my mind… that Bruce was a man, then suddenly (to me), he wasn’t.

And so, if I can be allowed the time and space to be honest about my initial reaction to Caitlyn Jenner, it was neither love nor hate, which seemed to be the only options in regards to a response, it was just shock. I didn’t have words of praise or slurs of hate, I had questions. I want to clarify that they are questions because I’m curious, not judgements because I’m disagreeing or failing to celebrate with everyone else. Call me the party pooper, but it’s hard for me to party when I don’t understand what is going on.

I think people are afraid of asking why. I am. From a young age we are sort of taught not to ask why, even if not directly. When a kid asks why to everything, they simply want to know something, but all too often it is found annoying or to be a silly question, and even if disregarded nicely, a kid can easily pick up on when they are being a nuisance. Asking why is a nuisance. “Why?” you hear a kid ask. “Because I said so,” you hear a parent respond. I don’t have kids and so I don’t want to turn this into a parenting post, I just want to address the fact that it would seem many of us learn at a young age to stop asking why. But if we stop asking why then we stop thinking for ourselves. I think. Even If I don’t get an answer, I would like the freedom to at least attempt to understand why people do what they do, in part to understand humanity, because I’m human and I’m trying to understand my own self. And in part to understand God, for as much as one can, as I’m beginning to think I’ve had Him or Her all wrong for a really long time… at least the part about Him hating the people I hate.

At first I felt bad for having questions. I felt bad that my initial response was to ask why Caitlyn did it, as if asking why implied that I was judging her for doing it. But I took a step back before shaming myself for not jumping on the band wagon of political correctness and social acceptance, and I treated myself as if I was still that little girl who always asked why in response to any and everything. Instead of responding to that little girl in me with “because I said so,” or “because they said so,” I treated that little girl as if her question mattered and I allowed her the time and the space to be confused about something. After all, the whole reason that little girl always asked “why” in the first place was because she wanted to understand, not because she hated.

This is why I think it is dangerous for us to stop asking why, because it means we’ve stopped trying to understand, and trying to understand someone is a way of loving them, or at the very least doing well by them even when it’s hard to love them. I might not have wanted to praise Caitlyn Jenner right off the bat, but it doesn’t make me a bigot or judgmental… it makes me a girl who wants to understand where another girl is coming from.

As I processed all of the information I read, and all of the responses to the information I read, I found layer upon layer of things that I had a hard time with, and none of them had to do with the Bible. In any shocking news event you’ll find three types of people; the loving liberals who love everybody but hate the Christians, the Christians who hate everybody but love God, and the Christians who hate those Christians. Basically, it seems like you need to figure out if you love or hate the person or topic at hand and pick a side. But as I watched people take swings at each other and at God, I realized that regardless of who you are and what you believe, we’re all capable of love and guilty of hate, and I think many of us have lived out of our guilt more than our capabilities. 

I allowed myself to sit in the tension of asking why. If given the chance to sit with Caitlyn, instead of telling her what I think of her, I would want to ask her why she did it. Why did she feel the need to change who she was? How could she trust her feelings to make such a decision? What was she so unhappy with before that becoming a woman would solve? Was becoming a woman the ultimate fulfillment to whatever emptiness she felt in being a man? What did it mean to her to be a woman? What did it mean to her to be a man?

It was when I got to these last two questions that I started to feel more uncomfortable with my feelings because I realized I was starting to feel a little angry and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t want to feel angry. We have enough angry Christians and I don’t want to be one of them. I want to love people, not hate them, but feeling angry wasn’t hating, right? And what does it mean to love people, what does that look like? Does it mean to not ask questions? I think if you love someone, you do ask questions, you get to know them. Okay, I assured myself again that asking questions was okay, but what happens when you start to feel angry in response to some of your questions; perhaps this is why people avoid asking questions, they want to “keep the peace” by not stirring any uncomfortable emotions or prolonged uncomfortable conversations. But instead of avoiding my anger, I paid attention to it. Why? Why is it there? Why do I feel angry? It can’t be for no reason, it can’t be personal to Caitlyn, I don’t even know her. She is clearly stirring something that is already there, but it’s not about her, it’s about me. Or is it about her? I couldn’t tell.

I went back to look at the pictures of her and I felt angry. But I didn’t feel angry because she used to be a man. I felt angry because she changed everything about herself in order to be okay with herself. She manipulated every part of her body in order to be “free” and she got a Vanity Fair cover for it and over 2 million followers in about four hours. And why did she get such praise for all the plastic surgery and body manipulation? Because she used to be a man. Not only was it okay for her to change her body, but it was considered brave. It was brave because she used to be a man. I’m just trying to compute all of this.

Growing up as the runt of the litter, insecure and depressed, sometimes still hoping to hit puberty so I can fill out a bra, I tried to change my body so many times it eventually landed me in treatment. I’ve been hospitalized on more than one occasion for the things I did to my body all because I didn’t like it, and never once did the word brave come up. I was put on all sorts of medication and processed every hurt imaginable that could have possibly led me to such a violent eating disorder. Wanting to change everything about me meant something was wrong with me, not that I was brave. I’ve never liked my body. That is so hard for me to admit. I still don’t like my body. That is even harder for me to admit. Millions of women don’t like their bodies, resulting in eating disorders and plastic surgery of all kinds, and yet we rip them apart for being so shallow. So I started to feel angry.

Why is it that a guy who gets plastic surgery is considered brave, but a girl who gets plastic surgery needs to learn how to love herself? I feel like I’m back in high school… the guy who slept around was cool, but the girl who slept around was a slut. There’s a double standard going on that is being missed because everyone is so caught up in either being politically correct or religious. Plastic surgery is brave so long as being male is involved in the equation, be it that you started as a male or are changing into one, but getting plastic surgery makes you the brunt of every joke if you are a female remaining a female. I can’t help but wonder if people realize that they are only enabling gender inequality in their praises of a man becoming the same type of woman that millions of other women try to become but get made fun of for it. If Caitlyn Jenner had already been a woman and just gotten plastic surgery, I don’t think she would have been considered brave and on the cover of Vanity Fair. And I’m not saying that against her, I’m saying that against the media. And as a woman, this bothers me.

I called my best friend, Anna, to talk it through with her because I had so many feelings about Caitlyn. I felt so personally affected and I didn’t understand why. Anna had said when all the hype wears off and the party winds down, Caitlyn is still going to have to face Caitlyn and whatever it was that she was so unhappy with to begin with. “No matter how hard we try,” Anna said, “we can’t get rid of ourselves.” “I know,” I said, “I’ve tried, maybe that’s why I’m so upset, because I’ve tried to change what I’m unhappy about with myself, but it was considered unhealthy instead of brave.”

When I am most honest, the girl in me still wants to lose 15 pounds, at least, which is ridiculous. But there is a lie I believe that if I lost 15 pounds I would feel more like a girl and I think I would be a little more happy with my body. And if I’m stepping out further into the truth, if I could afford plastic surgery, I’d get a boob job, but I can’t, so I opt for weight loss, because desirable girls are either stick thin or incredibly curvy. I am neither. I’m a pear, small up top, bigger on the bottom, stuck in the middle between not too thin and not too thick. I am what I’ve always been afraid of being… average. And as I’ve tried to be the girl who I feel like I am inside, the one I’ve seen pictures of all my life that tell me what it means to be a girl, as I attempt to step out and not be average, I’m not considered brave, I’m considered shallow and in need of a therapist. Why? Because I’m just a girl who wants to be a different girl.

“I have to be honest,” I said to Anna, who knows my struggles and my recovery stories, “I still hate so much of my body,” and before I said anything else I started crying. In my tears, the revelation hit me. “Oh my God, I think that’s why I’m so upset.” What I saw today wasn’t someone being brave for being their true self, what I saw was another depiction of what it means to be a woman and what it is men desire... a busty, full-figured woman, popping out of her corset, posing in her underwear. Brave? That picture and the praise for that picture fed into every lie that I believe about myself as a woman, that I’ll never be desirable because I don’t have a perfect body and I can’t afford one, and clearly that’s what men want… either to have for themselves or become themselves.

“That’s not what it means to be a woman,” Anna said in regards to the Vanity Fair cover. “I feel objectified that that is how she represented her womanhood. If that’s what it means to turn into a woman, I have no place in that,” Anna said as she told me about her love for tools and building furniture, which didn’t make her any less of a woman. Caitlyn is a reflection of Bruce’s view of womanhood, and honestly, I wasn’t okay with portraying womanhood in a corset and underwear, nipped and tucked, primped to perfection and photoshopped… all of this done so that a woman could be true to herself. It’s all so very confusing, which isn’t a judgment call, just a fact.. confusing. And honestly, heart breaking. Even as a female, I looked at the former Bruce Jenner and thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to be a woman, I just don’t have the body for it.” And I cried. 

My beef is not with Caitlyn or Bruce or the liberals or the Christians, my beef is with myself and the role I have played in believing the lie that being a woman is about having big boobs and a small waist, posing in my underwear, wearing high heels and red lipstick. My beef is mostly with the media, but also with myself for the ways in which I have treated myself and own body because of what I believed it meant to be a woman. My beef is with myself for thinking changing my body is going to change the condition of my heart. It’s not. I can’t get rid of me, so how do I learn to love me without having to change everything about myself in order to love myself? Perhaps this is why I would want to talk to Caitlyn, I want to ask her why she did it. Did she not love herself? Did she not love her body? And if she didn’t love her body, did changing it fix what she thought it would? And does she think “change your outsides to match your insides” is a good message? Was she given room in a safe place to talk about how she felt inside before thinking she had to change the outside? What would she say to a girl with an eating disorder who hated her body? Why is body mutilation okay if you are transgender but not if you are solely male or solely female? Again, not judgements, just questions, because I’m curious, and yes, I’m upset, but I also want to understand. Attempting to understand Caitlyn, or anyone transgender, would seem to be the most loving response possible, much more loving than disregarding them, right?

I want to understand, like my friend Anna said, “why as a Christian is it not okay to stand up for the sacredness of your body?” And I don’t even think you have to be Christian to consider your body an epic vessel. Our bodies are miracles, but rarely do we treat them as such, we usually find what is wrong with them and adjust accordingly. Which is perhaps what furthered my tears… I get why celebrating the emancipation of Caitlyn is a big deal, but I think it’s also a big deal that Bruce had to be killed off in order for Caitlyn to be set free. If every body matters, then Bruce mattered/matters too. Why was Bruce not okay with himself? In the process of all of this, wasn’t Bruce hating himself? Why do people seem okay with that? Why does it seem like people are quick to either praise another objectification of women or condemn a man for not being himself, but no one is really taking the time to make note of that fact that in that person on the cover of that magazine is a very hurt person trying desperately hard to fix something that a gold medal couldn’t fix and neither will the nip and tuck of a sex change. Becoming Caitlyn won’t fix Bruce’s brokenness anymore than getting a boob job will fix mine. I might feel better for a few days, maybe even take a selfie just to finally give my ex something to look at, but when the hype wears off and I’m left with myself, there I still am. And I feel crazy, I feel crazy because I feel alone in how I feel. I feel like I’m just supposed to accept things so as not to offend anyone. I feel like I’m not allowed to ask questions or express my opinion, unless my opinion agrees with the masses. And for as brave as she may be, I think Caitlyn is still confused as to what it means to be a woman. A woman doesn’t need to reveal her body to be a woman.

And while I’m sure it must have been hard for Caitlyn to feel like she was living a lie her whole live, I can’t imagine it not feeling at least a little hurtful for those closest to her to realize they’d been lied to their whole lives, even if not intentionally. The family seems to be responding very politically correct, and while I’m sure they do love Caitlyn and support her, it would also be okay for them to be hurt too, to be sad. To grieve the loss of Bruce wouldn’t make them unsupportive or unloving of Caitlyn, to grieve the loss of Bruce would make them human. Whether or not anyone wants to say it, the Jenner kids lost their dad. If in fact Caitlyn is solely a woman by association, she is not a father (by gender definition), and it would be okay if any of those kids were sad about losing their dad. And the same goes for Kris Jenner, Bruce’s ex-wife.  I hope Kris knows it is okay for her to be sad and confused and angry, just as any wife would be if they found out their husband had been lying to them their whole marriage. Kris’s sadness or confusion or anger wouldn’t make her a bigot, it would make her a human who’s been hurt by another human. I hope for the sake of her own healing, Kris is grieving the loss of Bruce. Bruce is worth grieving. We all are, because we’re all miracles whether we see it or not. Mostly, we don’t.

I don’t have any answers or solutions or advice. Mostly I just have questions. Maybe that is my advice, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Instead of jumping on one side or the other because it’s easy, start asking the really hard questions. Don’t be afraid to wait for the answers. Don’t be afraid of the silence or the awkward tension you might feel when you start asking tough questions. You’ll start to notice that people aren’t comfortable when you ask why and I think it’s because we’ve always settled for “because I said so.” Don’t settle for that anymore.

I know that we are all called to love people, but realistically, what does that look like? It’s cute to say, but what does that mean? Defending Caitlyn Jenner’s womanhood on Facebook while failing to acknowledge a homeless person’s personhood that you won’t make eye contact with doesn’t mean you love people. And likewise, feeding the homeless while condemning the transgender community as if it were your place to do so doesn’t mean you love people either. I don’t think any of us are good at loving all people, and I think that’s okay, we’re human. But our humanness doesn’t excuse us from trying to love them, or at least doing well by them even when we don’t understand them. Perhaps we could do well by people by trying to understand them and learning to love them when it doesn’t come easy.

Sometimes simply stepping outside of all the arguing is what is needed. When Christians say we need to love Caitlyn, I agree, but what does that look like practically since we don’t get to interact with her? I think it looks like interacting with and learning to love who she represents… not just the transgender community, but people in general. People represent the wide gamut of people in this world, and Caitlyn is a person. People of all shapes, all sizes, all backgrounds, all preferences, all religions… you can love Caitlyn by trying to understand someone you might not understand. Instead of trying to argue someone for the sake of being right, ask them questions. You might not only learn things about them, but about yourself, things that might make you uncomfortable, things you wish you had avoided asking because sometimes the truth hurts.

When I saw Caitlyn Jenner’s body it revealed the ugly truth that even after years of therapy and treatment and working with younger girls and teaching them to love themselves, I still hate my own body. Hating the transgender community won’t make me love my body more, and neither will hating women who have better bodies than me. I think when people hate people it is often because they hate something in themselves. It would be easy for me to say something is wrong with Caitlyn, but something is wrong with all of us. We all need to be saved, not from the devil, he’s already been defeated, but from our own selves. Jesus gets a really bad rap, but He offers to do just that, to save us from our own selves, but you have to find out for yourself and not believe me just because I said so. Start asking questions about who He is and why He did what He did. Don’t be afraid to sit in the silence or the awkward tension of feeling human and hearing from the Divine. If you asked Jesus what He thinks of Caitlyn, I bet He’d say He’s quite fond of her, just as He is of you… and me. I still find that hard to believe, that Jesus is fond of me.

For as silly as it sounds, I think this world could be a lot different if we all just started small by being nice to the people around us, including the person we see when we look in the mirror. That person matters, that body matters. Getting rid of that body won’t fix that person. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, not instead of yourself, and so loving your neighbor has to start with loving yourself. I know what it’s like to not feel at peace in your own body, and I know that changing your body will not bring you peace within. I honestly believe that having a sex change will not bring peace, but having a heart change will, which is not a judgement call, it is the opinion of  girl who tried to find peace by manipulating her own body only to come up short and unhappy and not at all considered brave. I might not understand being transgender, but I understand feeling trapped in a body you don’t like or feel like represents you, and yes, it’s miserable. I know what it’s like to be considered a woman but not really feel like a woman, mostly because I don’t look the way I’ve been shown I should look as a woman.

I wear overalls and can barely fill an A-cup. I don’t wear lip stick or shoes most of the time and I think Downtown Abby sucks (sorry, not sorry). I hate shopping and I am banking on there being one man left standing who is more into personality and the size of a girl’s heart than the size of her bra. And even if there isn’t one man left standing who’d be into a funny, small-chested, spit-fire and still-slightly-depressed-but-hopeful-enough-to-have-a-Savior type of girl like me, that’s okay.

I don’t need to be the object of a man’s desire, or the object of society’s desire to be a woman, I need to be me, the me who I was created to be, creative and curious, always looking for beauty in the brokenness.

I realize this post is all over the place and my thoughts are scattered, I wish it were more organized, and I wish my emotions were too, it’s awkward to feel upset and to care at the same time, but such is life, and the honest reaction of a confused girl who’s still trying to learn how to love herself and the people around her.

I’m going to allow myself the freedom to be confused, because you can be confused and nice at the same time. Caitlyn, I wish you the best and I hope you find a peace that passes all understanding, even your understanding of what it means to be a woman. 

get back up, paddle back out

How I learned forgiveness through surfing.

The ocean does not discriminate. It does not care what color you are, how old or young you are, how much money you make or don’t make, where you live, if you own a house or a van or a grocery cart. The ocean does not care if you are big or small, if you’ve been promoted or fired, if you started a non-profit or if you steal for a living, accomplish much or accomplish little. The ocean does care if you recycle or waste, eat healthy or McDonald’s, been divorced or hate divorce, are gay or straight, religious or spiritual, are trying to co-exist with everyone or if you hate God and people and kittens and puppies. The ocean does not care. The best and worst human in the world stand before the ocean and they are on the same playing field. They have no advantages over the other. They are equal. The power of the ocean wipes away all social status. The power of the ocean wipes away all differences and similarities between people. The power of the ocean wipes away all identity, which is to say, the ocean is incapable of being bias.

I find this to be both a beautiful and terrifying fact about the ocean. I want the ocean to favor me because I quite fancy it, but the ocean doesn’t seem to care how much I love it, I am given no favors, neither are the lifeguards, the coastguards or even the Navy. Build your ships as big as you want, the ocean can still sink you. Ocean beats rock, paper and scissors.

One of the mysteries behind the ocean is how it can so easily make you feel alive and yet so quickly terrify you with its might that you find yourself standing on the shore, watching its power, both admiring and hating it because you feel so weak before it. I don’t mean wading in the pools that form at the ocean’s edge, or even boogie boarding in the “safety zone” of the shallow white water, if there were to be a “safety zone” in the ocean; never assume to fully understand the ocean (just when you think you can read it, it switches up on you). When I speak of the terrifying power of the ocean, I speak of the place past the white wash, where the people on shore look smaller than your finger nail, and getting past the break is more than half the battle, at least for me. If you can get past the break there is a whole different sort of ocean than the one that washes up on shore; there is a whole different sort of world. Past the break people play on top of the ocean, and people playing on top of the ocean is practical magic at its finest. 

Surfing takes faith, and I’m sure some surfers wouldn’t say so, they’d maybe boast about their skill, but the best surfers I know are the ones who boast about the power of the ocean and how humbled they are before it. The best surfers I know have faith, and it shows in the risks they take riding on top of the waves and the humility they have to get back up after getting knocked down. (The best surfers I know also have fun and are nice to kooks).

I’m still trying to figure out how to work with the waves instead of thinking they are working against me. With surfing, I’m finding out what I am made of, and the sum of my parts are not as pretty or confident as I often charade them to be. It’s scary to not only face the ocean but to face your true self, to find out what you are made of. “It’s like squeezing a sponge,” my friend said to me, “that’s how you find out its contents.” Learning to surf is like being squeezed and finding out what you are made of. And so it is with how we handle the tough stuff in life, things not going our way, being beat down, rejected, or simply forgotten; how we act or react to the tough stuff in life will reveal what we are made of… being squeezed will reveal our contents.

I will be the first to say that I haven’t always acted or reacted well to the tough stuff. Accuse me of being the first to wave my angry fist at God and reject Him for not giving me what I want, or more specifically who I want. When someone breaks your heart, your contents get revealed real quick. Really sane people turn out to be psycho when their hearts get broken. Really brave people turn out to be cowards and really happy people turn out to be depressives. True stories, one of them being mine. But with surfing I’m learning that my past doesn’t have to define my present, and my response doesn’t have to be the same that it has always been. I don’t have to give up on me just because someone else did. 

“You’re not good enough, JJ” I hear in the white wash as I tumble under water. I get back up, I paddle back out. “He didn’t want you, JJ” I hear again as I’m held under. I get back up, I paddle back out. “You’re not worth it, JJ.” I get back up, I paddle back out. “Get serious, JJ, give up.” I get back up, I paddle back out.

“Not giving up” hasn’t ever really been my pattern, I’ve given up on many things, all too easily, but surfing is giving me the chance to not repeat my patterns and to develop a character that isn’t just confined to the ocean but lived out on land.

Sometimes I wonder if the ocean is trying to reject me. Sometimes I wonder if God is trying to give me a tutorial about not being lukewarm and allowing me to see what it would feel like to be spit out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16, trust me, you don’t want to be spit out of God’s mouth). And sometimes, when I can remember that God is good and He is in fact in control, I wonder if God is allowing me to grow, to be shaped and molded into the woman He has created me to be, no matter how much the growing pains hurt. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get it, and sometimes I do, sometimes I catch a wave and for about four seconds I’m convinced I could go pro. And while they don’t last long, those four seconds feel like forever, and those four seconds are sometimes all I need to keep trying no matter how many times I get knocked down. For as harsh as the ocean can be, it can be three times as much magnificent. The power of the ocean is not just something to fear, it’s something to marvel at. 

When things start to click I gain a little confidence and just as I am about to say “I think I got this,” a new day comes with new waves, and the ones I learned to ride yesterday aren’t the same waves today. Apparently God’s mercies aren’t the only things that are new every morning, so are His waves. On these awkward new waves (of course I blame the waves), I feel stupid for ever thinking four seconds of bliss was going to earn me a sponsorship of some sort. I feel as though I am back to square one: I suck and I’ll never get any better… at anything. Maybe he was right, maybe I’m not good enough… for anything.

I get back up, I paddle back out.  

God tells me not to fear, but I take one look at the ocean and I find myself bathing in fear, loofah and all. The book of Matthew tells a story about Jesus in which He rebukes the wind and the waves and they listen. The wind and the waves were raging, people were freaking out, Jesus tells everyone to chill, including the wind and the waves, and everyone does… including the wind and the waves. The storm took a chill pill because Jesus said so. “Who is this man that even the wind and the waves obey him?” is also what I would have said should I have seen Jesus calm a storm (Matthew 8:27). While as humans we’ve got nothing on the power of the ocean, the power of the ocean has got nothing on the power of Jesus. Dang. That’s a lot of power. Do I live like I believe Jesus has that much power currently in this day and age? Honestly, not really… and I’m tired of talking about a Jesus I sometimes don’t believe.

There’s this other part of scripture where Jesus says “I tell you the truth, 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” (John 14:12). I’m gonna level with you, in my mind, if I have faith, be it the size of a mustard seed, I too can rebuke the wind and the waves and make them chill out, in the name of Jesus, right? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe. Is it for the good of others or myself? Truth be told, myself. And yes, I tried it. I tried to do what Jesus did and I told the wind and the waves to calm down in the midst of being terrified while paddling out. I wasn’t even nice about it, I simply commanded the waves to chill out in the name of Jesus. And then I got knocked out. Not literally, I was still conscious, but the ocean must have found my attempt at being like Jesus so cute that it mustered up a big hug for me and wrestled me to the ocean floor until I screamed “UNCLE!” Uncle being Jesus. I ended up screaming for the guy I was trying to imitate. Funny how life works like that. We’re called to be like Jesus and we’re told to call upon His name. When your attempts to be like Jesus are out of selfish ambition, you’ll end up calling upon His name real quick.

And the same goes with healings and raising people from the dead. Jesus did it, I can too, right? I think I think so, but is it for my good or the good of others? If I’m honest, some people I’d like to heal (for my own good, because I love them), and some people I’d like to curse (for my own good, because they hurt me, and my flesh still wants revenge when my spirit says no). And if I were to selectively heal people due to my own personal bias, that’s abusing Jesus’ name, right? And hasn’t Jesus’ name been abused enough, misused and misrepresented enough? People hate other people in Jesus’ name and it’s heartbreaking.

And so what is this verse about doing greater things than Jesus? Maybe it is about healing and raising people from the dead and rebuking the ocean, but maybe it’s about something even greater than those things. Maybe it’s about really loving people, showing kindness and grace and mercy, even when it’s hard and we don’t want to. Maybe it’s about forgiving the people who have hurt us instead of cursing them. Truth be told, I’d rather have the power to rebuke the ocean than forgive someone who has hurt me. I was betrayed. But so was Jesus. Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed and He still sat at the same table with the guy who betrayed Him.

Many of us want to be like Jesus when it comes to miraculous signs and wonders, but not so much when it comes to the miracle of forgiving someone who has done wrong. Maybe I should just speak for myself. Jesus Himself posed the question, “For which is easier to say, ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘get up and walk’?” I’d rather heal all sorts of people than forgive that one person. But that one person matters. True forgiveness is hard. But Jesus did it and He said that we would do the same works and even greater ones than He. He forgave people and then He healed them. I don’t know the theology behind it all, all I know is two issues came up when people needed to be healed… having faith and forgiveness. I think Jesus was quicker to forgive than He was to heal, and as a result of having encountered such forgiveness, people were healed. I think Jesus touched people’s hearts more than just their physical bodies.

Forgiving someone means you are loving them, even when you don’t really like them, and loving them might do just as much for you as it does for them. Giving and receiving love changes people. I think that is why forgiveness is powerful. It heals. It changes people. 

Saltwater heals too, which is initially what got me out into the ocean, wanting to surf, wanting to take my mind off of things, wanting to heal from past hurts. I started to surf to face some fears and live my life and learn some lessons along the way. My faith has increased, as has my awareness of my need for Jesus… I scream for help a lot, in fact I scream “JESUS, TAKE THE BOARD!” the way Carrie Underwood screams “JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL!” It just doesn’t sound as pretty. “Help” is one of the most powerful words I know; it solicits a response, sometimes in the form of a friend and sometimes in the form of a lifeguard. Yes, I have a story about that.

The ocean is dangerous and beautiful. It’s not at all safe and at the same time hosts children of all ages with great care. It’s powerful and capable of anything. It welcomes everyone without discrimination and will just as quickly humble anyone who thinks they stand above another. The ocean is a mystery to me and I have a reverent fear of it. I love the ocean, mostly because I think the ocean was created in the image of the One who created it. Scripture comes to life when I am in the ocean and in that sense I feel like I get to know God more and more each time I come out of hiding and face my fear, face my true self and the contents of which I am made.

It’s funny, what I have learned the most in surfing is not yet how to pop up faster or duck dive accurately (my last attempt gave me a slap in the face and shot me back about ten feet), and I still haven’t learned how to muster enough faith to rebuke the wind and the waves. What I have learned the most in surfing is that trying to be like Jesus doesn’t mean trying to produce visible miracles; trying to be like Jesus means loving the very people who hurt and reject you, which might not mean doing life with them, but certainly forgiving them. That to me, is a miracle. In the same way we stand before the power of the ocean on equal grounds, we stand before God, no matter what we’ve done, on equal grounds. All have fallen short. All of us are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven.

I simply wanted to learn how to surf, but I learned that no amount of saltwater will wash away the pain if you don’t forgive the one who has hurt you. 

And much like learning to surf, or even life for that matter, forgiveness is a process. If you find you can’t do it right away, that’s okay, start there by saying you can’t. You gotta start somewhere and I think honesty is the best starting point. You can only change that which you are honest about. So start with “I can’t,” ask Jesus to meet you there, and never, ever, ever give up.

Get back up, paddle back out. 

It’ll change you and you’ll change the world if you love like Jesus (or at least somebody’s world, and that somebody matters, even if that somebody is you).

i kept the coats

“And when your witness Stephen was killed, I was standing there agreeing. I kept the coats they laid aside as they stoned him.” (Acts 22:20 NLT)

Paul spoke to the crowds who were ready to kill him. He gave his defense, which is to say he defended Jesus instead of going along with the crowd. His defense was good. “I learned to follow our Jewish laws and customs very carefully. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just as all of you are today.” (Acts 22:3 NLT)

Paul was a Pharisee who obeyed the law and took it to the “necessary” extreme, killing and persecuting Christians  in his effort to follow God. Somewhere in all of his intense training, he missed some of the key ingredients in honoring and following God.

The crowds were pleased with him when he was doing as he was trained to do, killing and persecuting Christians. The crowds weren’t so pleased with him when he had a change of heart and started letting the outsiders in. The outsiders were anyone who wasn’t Jewish, or in Bible terms, the outsiders were Gentiles. The crowds had missed some of the key ingredients as well, which only makes sense seeing as how they had been under the church leadership that Paul was a part of, the one that wanted to erase the name of Jesus and anyone that spoke it.

On Paul’s way to kill and capture more Christians, he encountered a bright light that stopped him dead in his tracks and blinded him. Unlike most lights, this light had a voice and a name. It was Jesus, revealing himself to Paul. Leave it to Jesus to reveal himself to someone only to blind them. But Jesus didn’t blind Paul as a defense mechanism. While Christians were spared by Jesus interrupting Paul’s mission, it was not a defensive move to stop Paul because Jesus felt threatened. It was an active move. Blinding Paul wasn’t an attempt just to stop him, Paul was blinded as a direct result of a sinful life encountering Jesus, a life that Jesus wanted to be His. Jesus wanted Paul; a blinding truth for such a sinful man.

We see Jesus addressing the importance of a single life to Him earlier in the gospels, “suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4 NIV)

I think the road to Damascus, the road on which Paul found himself when he encountered Jesus, we see what it looks like for the shepherd to go after his one lost sheep, no matter how far gone that sheep has wandered off. Paul mattered to Jesus, and so Jesus went after him, not just to stop him from doing something, but to make him His.

It seems obvious to us today, “don’t kill people,” but to Paul in that time and culture and way in which he was trained, he was doing the right thing. Without a real Jesus encounter of course Jesus would seem like a dude with a bunch of dos and don’ts and too much grace for those who do or don’t. Jesus was the worst in the eyes of Paul. And while it might be an extreme example, the heart and the mindset of Paul is not too far off from how people feel about Jesus today, even people in the church.

If Jesus were solely about doing and don’t-ing, he would have stopped Paul from persecuting and killing Christians and left it at that. He would have saved the masses and lost the one. I think a lot of people (without the context or the whole picture) would say that Paul’s one life would have been worth losing for the sake of saving the masses.  But Jesus wasn’t just trying to save people from Paul, Jesus was trying to save Paul from Paul. Jesus was trying to give Paul life because for whatever reason, the one life of Paul mattered to Jesus.

I truly believe that when a life encounters Jesus, like really encounters Jesus, they cannot walk away the same. Encountering Jesus might not mean they choose to follow Him, but I certainly think the encounter would haunt them, and like anything that haunts us, paranoia and anger set in over time. I think people who have a hatred for Jesus have either been terribly scarred by the church, or they’ve encountered Jesus in a way they refuse to accept.

Paul encountered Jesus and it changed his life, not just because it blinded him for three days, but because of what it did to the nature of his heart. I think for a law-abiding, rule promoting guy like Paul, what he felt in his encounter with Jesus was love, and upon realizing that he was loved, his cold heart broke, warm blood pumped through his body, and in his blind state he saw his own humanity and his need for a Savior. I think Paul was driven to surrender the life he had been living as a devout Pharisee not because Jesus offered an easier set of rules to follow. I think Paul surrendered his life to Jesus because he felt something he hadn’t learned in all of his Bible training… love.

I don’t think Paul would have been the same man if Jesus met up with him and merely said “stop killing my people.” Even if Paul would have stopped, that would have been great for those people, I don’t want to discredit that, but Paul would have still been a rule-abiding guy without a change of heart or conviction to live from. He wouldn’t have been Paul, he would have been a shell of man with great potential who didn’t make much of a difference. Paul’s encounter with Jesus didn’t just keep Paul from killing people, it thrust him forward to save the lives of countless people, not just in the physical but in the spiritual.

Jesus doesn’t just want to encounter us to stop us from our sin, I mean, sure, that’s a part of it and I think it happens by default more than anything else. Jesus wants to encounter us so that we can finally start living. Jesus wants us to know Him because of what knowing Him does for us.

And so back to the crowds and Paul’s defense. Paul had a heart change, one that involved following Jesus, and the Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus, the very group Paul was once a part of, did not like this… so much so that they, once like Paul, wanted to kill this follower of Jesus. Paul is now the man he once tried to kill.

Paul is being threatened with death and so he gives his defense, his testimony. We all have a testimony of some sort. Paul’s was one of those “I once was lost but now am found” sort. Paul talked about who he used to be before meeting Jesus and who he is now as a result of meeting Jesus. This is the testimony of all of us who have met Jesus, in one way or another. Even having been raised in the church, it is my testimony… I once was lost but now am found. Much like Paul, I understood the rules, but I didn’t know Jesus. I knew about Him, and while I didn’t actively hate Him the way Paul did, my actions might as well have told the story of hate in my heart… hate for myself and hate for other people, which I think is just a mask for hating God.

It only occurred to me this morning just how similar I am to Paul. I always thought he was at a different level than me and just a good example of an extreme situation. I don’t kill Christians, or anyone for that matter, and so in that sense Paul and I are not the same. Fair enough. But this morning I read one sentence that changed the way I saw myself.

“I kept the coats they laid aside as they stoned him.”

Paul was recounting the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. In this instance, Paul was not actively killing Stephen, he didn’t pick up a stone and throw it at him. All he did was hold the coats of the men who were stoning Stephen. By all appearances you could have been there and said Paul had nothing to do with Stephen’s death, other than standing there agreeing, keeping the coats.

I thought about this in a recent situation in which I felt someone was misrepresented. Instead of defending that person’s character, I said nothing. It was easier to say nothing. I didn’t want to get involved and I was already in an uncomfortable situation that I just wanted to be over, so I let someone stone this person’s character as I stood by. I kept the coats. I didn’t say anything against this person, I didn’t throw any stones, I didn’t slander or gossip, but I also didn’t do anything. I didn’t do the right thing. And you could say I didn’t encourage it either, but not discouraging is encouraging it. Holding the coats of the person who is actively killing someone else is assisting in the death of that person, even if passively and silently. I don’t know if Paul was yelling or not when he stood by and watched Stephen get killed, all I know is there is enough evidence there to suggest that he contributed to the death of Stephen… he kept the coats. The blood of Stephen was on Paul’s hands in the form of the killers’ coats he held.

And again, while my situation might not involve a physical death, it’s the condition of the heart that is the issue. Just because the times and the culture are different doesn’t mean I’m not capable of the same type of hatred as Paul and the same ability to stand by and watch someone die, be it physical or spiritual, all because I did nothing.

To stand by and let someone’s character be attacked because it’s more comfortable than getting involved is to support the attack. To stand by and watch is to persecute that person. And to persecute that person is to persecute Jesus. Never would I have thought of myself as someone who persecutes Jesus, mostly because that seems so large scale. But for someone who speaks so highly of the little things mattering, it’s in the little things that I find myself persecuting Jesus, which make them really big things. And math will always be right, little things add up to be a really big thing. I have to address the little things, the condition of my heart is at stake, and if left unattended to long enough, my heart is capable of becoming as cold as Paul’s pre-Jesus.

Yesterday, I kept the coats.

I don’t want to keep the coats anymore, but it has to start with admitting the fact that I am holding them. I don’t know where to go from here. Holding the coats was kind of comfortable, I felt like I belonged. Going along with the crowd always feels like you belong, but the feeling of belonging is not worth the life of another person being cast out.

Father, forgive me. May I have wisdom and discernment to know my part in this messy world and the courage to live it out.

van realities

Me again with a riveting new video update!

As most of you know, my home base has been a VW van for the last four-ish months. Good grief. It is neither as creepy nor as adventurous as it sounds. I mean, it’s both of those things, but they are not mutually exclusive… nor are the pictures on Facebook or Instagram the full story (which I’m sure is true for most people).

As I’ve already shared with the people who have supported my book campaign, I’d like to also share with you a few of the real thoughts that come along with van life. I’m in a transitional season of life, not just because I live in a transit system, but because Aslan is on the move, as they would say in Narnia, and a change is gonna come, as Sam Cooke so perfectly sang back in his day.

With van life weighing on me while trying to do ministry and work another job to help supplement, and now having my book funded without much time or energy or goodnight-sleeps to be able to work on it, my season of van life is soon coming to an end, at least as a home base (Reggie June will still very much be a part of my life). I’m in the process of figuring out what my next steps are, as my time working at church is also coming to an end this month.

While I am excited, it took a lot of processing and admitting of my own struggles to be able to start moving into this next season of life, one of more stability… and one that gives momma a lot more reassurance about where her daughter is sleeping at night 🙂

I do not know exactly what is next, aside from lots of writing and coffee, and I do not know exactly where that writing and coffee will take place, my compass seems to be a bit broken. BUT, I do know that though much of my time and attention will be devoted to writing, my life has to include they very thing I sometimes forget I need, which isn’t a thing at all, but in fact, people… relationships built on human interaction. For as much as I love venturing off on some grand adventure, I think that doing life with people is perhaps the greatest adventure… even if it means staying put long enough to see their ugly, and long enough for them to see yours. Being loved through your ugly is quite an adventure.

To those who have been with me on this journey, and those who have shown their support in countless ways… Thank you, thank you, thank you for your help.

writing a book

Hey Friends, family and the like…

I’m finally writing a book… based on this blog.

And here’s how you can help make it happen!

CLICK HERE:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/it-s-called-a-spade/x/6955591

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