Introducing… Weekend Wednesdays!

Everyday feels the same in quarantine… should it feel like a weekend, a weekday, a Wednesday? Who knows! Regardless, I’ve always loved Wednesdays, you’re half way through the week and excitement sets in! SO, since it feels like the weekend anyway, but I still want to be excited about the weekend, I present… Weekend Wednesdays!

While I’m loving working on the Stay in Saturday Show, I thought I’d just check in mid-week with a few extra tid-bits to laugh, learn and get excited about the weekend ahead!

This week I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes, along with a comedy bit from a previous show. Note, I may touch on a tougher subject… I’m not making fun of the tough stuff or people who go through tough seasons, but I’m finding humor in the fact that for me, the tough stuff didn’t win. There’s always hope, I fully believe that, which is why I love doing comedy! Happy Weekend Wednesday!

For a Recovering Vegan shirt💜 Check out: https://society6.com/product/recovering-vegans_t-shirt (I think anyone who’s ever struggled with food or body issues can relate to the freedom in this! Or not, it could just be funny to wear! Either way… it supports a starving artist, or wait, as someone who is also in recovery, I don’t think I can say that… 😂😂😂)

Hang in there!

More through out the week: @jjbarrows on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/jjbarrows/

A Comedy Story

In December of 2016 I was pretty depressed. This isn’t one of those, “and then I did this and now it’s all better” stories, but I did do something and I have better days in the middle of the tough ones.

I started going to a Stand Up Comedy course. My way of getting “over” depression is to find something I like and something that terrifies me and do that. As much as I hate feeling nervous, it makes me feel alive.

I’ve always loved comedy. Other than T.G.I.F every Friday night and Saved by the Bell every Saturday morning, I grew up on Robin Williams (my heart still breaks), Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Lily Tomlin and Bette Middler, as well as Happy Days reruns so I was quite the Henry Winkler fan. Later in life I discovered Gilda Radner and I thought she was the greatest. There’s more too, but that’s good for now.

It’s not that I’m “over” depression. It never really goes away, even when it does disappear for a bit, it lurks or hides near by. I used to go through these really dark, heavy seasons and come out of it saying “and now I’m finally all better,” each time thinking I was over it, naive to the fact that life goes on and so tough times do too.

By December of 2016 I was 4 months into my depression, some days physically unable to get out of bed. I called a therapist and prayed and pouted and for 4 months nothing lifted.

I dreaded the beginning of the new year, I didn’t want to start it that way, I wanted an ending more than I wanted a new beginning.

I watched a lot of Netflix, unable to laugh but aware that what I was watching was funny. I’d say things to myself about wishing I could do that, frustrated I couldn’t, unsure if it was because of how depressed I felt or because I never really believed in myself enough to try.

I don’t even know what it was, other than knowing something had to change, as I had every reason in the world to be happy but wasn’t. I decided to do something I always wanted to do but was too afraid to do. I decided to sign up for Improv classes, except they were full. I noticed a Stand Up class, terrified of the notion, but feeling terrified at least made me feel something. Depression thrives in our comfort zones.

Desperate for change and in need of something to make me feel, I signed up for classes in January of 2017. I almost dropped out day one because everyone was funny and I was intimidated. But I made myself go back the next week. My teacher told me I had something special, which oddly enough, terrified me.

I realized I tend to want to just get by, do enough to make it look like I’m doing a lot, but not enough to actually take big risks, try hard things or even allow myself to be really good at them. People wouldn’t know, but I know. I tend to tone down JJ for the sake of making people comfortable, or at least to keep any expectation off my back of being better than I was before. Maybe it’s me I’m trying to keep comfortable. It’s lame, but it’s true.

I almost didn’t go back the third week because I didn’t know if I could be as good as I was the second week, but I began to learn it wasn’t so much about being good as it was just being true to yourself and having fun.

I began to just enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it instead of trying to become the next Gilda Radner. I think depression creeps in when I’m trying to be someone I’m not, when I’m hiding in my comfort zone, or when I forget that the little things matter, like doing something just because it makes me laugh. Or eating the cookie dough before you bake it.

And then, there was this…

After a few weeks into my second session of classes, I got to be an opener at The Comedy Store in La Jolla.

I’m not saying life is all better now and the dark days are gone. Truth be told, today is Good Friday and it has a reputation of being a really dark day, which was the case for me. But it doesn’t mean there aren’t still good moments, ones that make me feel really alive, even if only for 10 minutes… it’s totally worth it.

The little things matter, so does each little minute, and that’s enough to keep me going.

The story isn’t over, Sunday’s coming.

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

purple-freaking-nail polish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or something like that.

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

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

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

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

“JJ…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God is good.

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spaghetti face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The food critic said so.”

“So you’ve never tried it?”

“No.”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love you, Dad.

Love, spaghetti face.