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.
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.