Hurricane Ditka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fear has a seat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, J

heART in San Diego

The face of excitement and disbelief. It looks something like this:

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On  Wednesday, April 20th, I got to showcase my art amongst a host of other talented artists at the House of Blues downtown San Diego.

There was so much color and life beaming from my booth and so many people drawn to it that even I couldn’t believe it. Every time someone wanted to buy a print or a postcard I felt like a giddy school girl, “thank you, God, thank you!” I’d say under my breath as I gave them their change.

While I’ve painted, colored and created my whole life, it wasn’t until January of this year that I actually decided to do something about it. I was scrolling through Instagram one morning (guilty) and I came across a picture of Micah Bournes, a talented spoken word artist. I don’t remember the picture, but I will never forget the caption: “today marks four years of being a professional artist.” Upon reading it I said out loud “how come I can’t do that?” There was no audible response, but I felt like God responded “who says you can’t?”

It caught me off guard, while also invoking some sort of hope, a spark so to speak. “Well, I don’t know,” I responded, and as I thought about it I realized the only person that had the power to keep me from being a professional artist was me. “You already are an artist, but if you’re going to do art, do it with all that you have,” God said… or something like that.

I put my phone down and for the first time in my life I claimed it out loud… “I’m going to be a professional artist.” I sat in the truth of that before speaking up again, “wait, can I start over?” I said to my audience of one, “I AM a professional artist!” It was silent. I felt strong, capable, excited. “Now what?” I asked. I realized I didn’t know where to start. “Start with what you know,” God said, “worry about the big stuff later. If you want to paint, then paint.”

And that was the beginning of pursuing this art journey. Baby step after baby step, getting back in the habit of creating and painting after a long hiatus due to life’s ups and downs. Being in the act of painting reminded me of my love for it, and in my love for it I talked about it, and in talking about it word spread and as word spread opportunities opened. I went from painting paper in my room to whatever I could get my hands on and whatever anyone would offer, including this:

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And much like us as people, this is still very much under construction. See video interview about painting an RV here:

I was a part of my first art show in January, followed by a live art show where I painted to music. Painting live on the spot became an art form I didn’t know I loved until I tried it!

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In February I hosted a free art event in my community with other local artists where we provided art materials to make Valentines cards and a photo booth with hand painted props for people to take pictures:

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In March I took part in a benefit concert in Malibu, California where I got to paint live to music in support of MADE IN THE STREETS, an organization dedicated to helping kids on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya.

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See video here:

 

As I created more and shared more, eventually I got the chance to do my first mural and it took place in an art store in the community where I live. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect opportunity! Go visit the ArtBox in Ocean Beach, California (I’ll have art hanging there this month!)

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And then there was April, taking part in creating art all over San Diego, from Heartsleeves Coffee in Little Italy to Culture Brewing Company in Solana beach, providing materials and space for other people to let their art out!

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I found out in February that I was selected to be a part of RAW SAN DIEGO and it was the push I needed to take myself seriously and believe that I was capable of creating as way to live life, to be more me and more alive (and to pay the bills). I spent two months in preparation for RAW SAN DIEGO, to get to showcase my art at the House of Blues… I honestly couldn’t believe it was going to happen.

Weeks before the show I found out I was picked as one of the San Diego artists to go on the news and talk about the upcoming art show with RAW SAN DIEGO. I found live TV to be a bit different than me editing in my room, but after my nerves wore off and I popped out from behind my painted surfboard, I was able to keep it together enough to express how I find the process of painting to be a lot like life.

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(You can see clip here: RAW SAN DIEGO CHANNEL 6 NEWS )

And before I knew it… there it was, April 20th, and all I had worked so hard for came out in the form of color and life and happy dances and… well, this…

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As people stopped by my booth they couldn’t help but smile and take pictures. “The color, the life that is coming from this booth,” people would say, “it makes me so happy!” People used words like “vibrant” and “alive” to describe the corner where I was set up and I couldn’t have asked for better descriptions. That’s what I want my art to do for people… I want it to inspire them, not just to do art, but to do whatever it is that makes them feel alive. I want people to feel something when they see the colors of life caked on a canvas over a secret message that says they are loved. (Yes, I write on all my canvases before painting over them to give them an even deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface).

I want people to know they matter, as does every little detail of their life… the little things, they all add up and matter. I don’t know how else to express that other than through art, be it in words or color. I think we all have a lot to offer this world, and it looks different for each person. I may not have a lot to give financially, I may not be able to build a new building or teach a foreign language, I may not be able to do what a lot of other people can do, but I’m learning that instead of comparing myself to the giftedness of others, I’m just going to work on my gifts and offer my gifts to the world. There may be a lot I can’t do, but I can share my heART and hope it encourages someone else to share theirs.

So was the show a success? Well, it depends on your definition of success. I only sold prints and postcards. I didn’t sell any big pieces or walk away feeling financially successful. I get it, we’re all struggling artists to a certain degree. I admit, I wanted to be able to say I sold everything so I could prove to myself and everyone else that I am an artist. But I didn’t, I didn’t sell everything. In fact, aside from the prints and postcards, I only sold one little original piece. But, instead of being bummed about the size of the piece that sold, I’m going to walk the talk and be grateful for the little things.

That little piece matters because each little piece over time adds up, be it with art or choices we make. The little things matter, and I can’t preach it if I don’t believe it, which is why I am so beyond grateful that little piece sold. The piece was called “little waves” and much like that painting, I am making little waves in this world, hoping to color it with hope and life… little by little, piece by piece.

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From that little piece I learned that it’s not about how much I sell that determines my worth or defines me as an artist, it’s not even the amount of money made that determines success. Being true to myself and refusing to give up on who God made me to be… that is success. The smiles that evening, the hope in the conversations I had… that is what I wanted to happen in sharing my heART with people, my excitement alone had me dancing all night… and I would say it was above and beyond a success.

See video featuring “little waves” (before I knew how much it would impact me) here:

 

And as with any successful event, they are never done alone. I could not have done any of it without the help and support (physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally) without my friend and roommate, Jena. She showed me grace and patience and even loved me through my first diva moment (and hopefully my last). She brought me iced coffee while I was setting up, and seeing as I tasted something sweet after asking for it black, I jerked the straw from my mouth and yelled “WHAT IS THIS!?”

I know, I was embarrassed the second it came out of my mouth, realizing that even in our best efforts to love people, sometimes we still fall short. I apologized and walked back to Starbucks with her, telling the barista about the monster boss lady who didn’t want sweetener in her coffee. Jena and I laughed, took a deep breath and enjoyed the rest of the night together.

All of this to say, do what you love, be true to yourself, find your people who will encourage you along the way and don’t let them go. It’s hard letting people get to know the sides of you that aren’t as pretty, but those who will love you through your ugly moments (we all have them) are crucial to you knowing you are loved, not based on what you do, but simply because you are you. Being the individual you were created to be is important, and being that individual in the context of community is vital.

This is life, it’s hard sometimes, but it’s beautiful… and we’re all in this together!

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Thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, your support in buying tickets, showing up, buying art, engaging in conversation, spreading the word… every person that played a part MATTERS and it all contributed to this night being a huge success.

From the bottom of my heART, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Video updates available here:  www.youtube.com/jjbarrows

Prints and products available at www.society6.com/jjbarrows

Photography by www.jenawillard.com

Instagram: @jjbarrows, @jjbarrowsart

Website coming soon.

 

 

 

you will go far!

I am overjoyed to be able to paint this evening at The Back Porch Benefit Concert in Malibu, California. The event benefits Made in the Streets and the following newsletter will be posted where I paint to share about the organization and why I’ve decided to get involved as an artist. I love to paint with purpose, and I can’t wait to add some color to the evening with the power of story to the sound of music.

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Hi there! I’m a JJ who loves to paint, and while there is much to be said about that, let’s get to the point of this evening and what I’m doing here (by the way, I’m stoked to be here!) I was invited to come paint live for this event and curious as to what it was all about and who it was benefiting, I did what any good old fashioned person would do… I googled it.

I believe in painting with purpose because I believe I was created to paint, and not just paint but paint with the power of story in mind. And after my google search, so began the story of MADE IN THE STREETS intertwining with the stories I paint and thus bringing me here tonight.

I watched a short film about five students of MADE IN THE STREETS in Nairobi, Kenya. MITS is a school dedicated to not just getting kids off the streets, but offering them a fulfilling life in place of the emptiness and short-lived highs that the world has to offer. MITS is dedicated to nurturing the individual to be their true self, to not be defined by their circumstances, surroundings, or what they’ve been told about who they should be. Being our true self is something all of us need, no matter what part of the world we live in, whether we know it or not.

I love the power of story and how it can so beautifully be visualized in a movie or short film. Different people will always pick up or be drawn to different messages throughout a story. These are the three things that stuck out to me as I watched this short film by David Hutchinson:

1. Amina, a female student, was asked if she could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Her answer was men (boys) who disrespect women, men who rape and beat and abuse… that is what she would change so that it no longer happened.

2. Glue is the number one drug used on the streets of Nairobi for people to get high, check out, numb out and escape from the current state they find themselves in. It’s cheap, it’s available, it’s everywhere. The high takes away the pain for a moment, only making it more and more desirable so the pain doesn’t have to be dealt with once the high wears off.

3. At the end of the film a student named Moses, who aspires to be a chef and change the world around him, was asked “if there was one thing you wanted Americans to know about you, what would it be?”

His response: “I would want them to know… how far I want to go.”And so the title of the short film came about… HOW FAR I WANT TO GO.

Tonight as I paint I will be carrying these three things in my thoughts and prayers as I translate the music into colors. These three things will be the driving force behind the painting.

Why do these three things stick out to me?

1.) Amina. I cried at her response. I cried because it’s the most honest and beautiful response a young girl could give. For me, as a girl on the other side of the world who has also been affected by what Amina desires to change, I stand with her and admire her courage and her boldness to voice her distaste for injustice.

This isn’t to say men are the problem and women are the victims. This is to say there is a people problem… people seeking to satisfy the emptiness they feel, some with sex, some with glue, some with alcohol, some with work… fill in the blank.

There are moments when we all feel it, that emptiness, and there are things that we do to make it go away… for a moment. Given Amina’s experience, she desires to not see other girls go through the same thing, to not see men use girls to deal with their own emptiness… because someone who would violate another human being in such a way has to be just that… empty, or the opposite… full of pain refusing to be dealt with.

2.) I found it heartbreaking that glue is used as an escape, that even something as simple as glue, something meant to be helpful, something meant to keep things together is being used to harm and make people fall apart. This goes to show that it doesn’t have to be an obvious “bad thing” like drugs or excessive alcohol that people use to cope, creating a problem in their lives. People can take any good thing and make it “bad” based on how

they use it and what they use it for. It has been in our human nature to take something good and twist it so that it harms us, and then we blame that thing for being bad instead of owning our abuse of it.

Glue is not a bad thing and so long as glue is being blamed for the people’s problems, we will miss it. Glue is being used by people to deal with their problems and so in that sense it has become harmful to them. There was a problem long before the glue arrived. If we remove the glue without dealing with the heart issue, something else will be found to cope and we will spend a lifetime trying to remove things instead of nurturing broken hearts.

I found it interesting that I would be painting tonight because I use a lot of glue in my artwork. I use glue to secure in secret messages, ones of hope and love and life. I layer them on with glue and I paint over them so that each painting has a deeper meaning. I even take scripture, dip it in glue and attach it to many of my pieces. For me, glue holds the truth of my paintings together, and in that sense, for this evening, even the glue is being redeemed.

And not just the glue, but the people who use it. As I glue truth to my painting I pray for those who use glue as an escape to be set free from it. And while many people on the streets in Nairobi and elsewhere in the world need to stay away from glue, I will step in for them and use it for good, layering truth upon truth, love upon love, hope upon hope and color upon color, sticking it all together to form this painting that I pray brings a little more color into some of the world’s dark spots.

3.) Moses. What a beautiful name for a beautiful boy with a beautiful spirit. Of all of the things he could have said he wanted Americans to know about him, he said “I want them to know HOW FAR I WANT TO GO.” His drive inspired me, and not only did I want him to go far, but I wanted to go far too, I think we all do in some capacity, to live out more fully who we were meant to be. I was inspired by Moses being Moses, and because of that I wanted to be me, and though we may be different, it is vital that Moses be himself and that I be myself.

We are all wired and created so uniquely for a reason, and the more freedom we have to be ourselves, the more we can set others free to be themselves, encouraging them to not check out of life but to embrace it in it’s fullness. I think what the world struggles with is people who don’t know they matter and are valuable.

Each life matters. Each life. But most people either forget or they don’t know and so they either check out or they fend for themselves and before we know it, we’ve all turned against each other.

But the truth is, we are loved, all of us, we all matter and so we don’t have to fight each other to see who matters more or who matters at all. We all matter, each person matters, each story matters. I believe this is true because I believe there is a God who is made of love and so He created us out of love and His intention for us is love and He wants us to give and receive love. Some information got clouded along the way, as with any story told over a long period of time, but the basics are still there, that there is a God, who I often times don’t understand, but who I know loves us and sees us, even when (if not especially when) we are in those dark and hurting places.

I believe that this God wants us to go far, and I believe that those who choose to go far in life will. Moses, you will go far. Amina, you will go far. The other three people featured in the film: Francis, Dennis, Eddie, you will go far. David, who made the film, you will go far. And all of the other students, teachers, interns and volunteers at MADE IN THE STREETS, you will go far.

Those of you performing tonight, cooking tonight, speaking tonight, cleaning tonight, serving tonight, you will go far. Those of you listening and watching tonight, you will go far. So long as you make up your mind that far is where you want to go, you will go far. Moses, this American has heard you and knows this to be true about you… you will go far.

And so, it is with the names of the students from MADE IN THE STREETS, along with words that I believe were spoken over them or to them as I prepared for this evening, I began the canvas. I wrote the names and words on a blank canvas and this is what I will be painting over tonight, leaving the deeper message hidden behind the colors of life’s mess made beautiful. It is a composition of color and truth, hope and redemption, life and value, all held together with pieces of scripture, a little glue and a lot of love.

This message is just as true for all of us here tonight as it is for these students when they voiced their desire for it…

You will go far!

 

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(this is the canvas that will be painted over this evening)

 

See original newsletter here: MITS

See short film at www.madeinthestreets.org 

about jj

Keeping it Real

I’m slowly but surely writing and making progress on my upcoming book, which is why I haven’t written much for the blog lately. In the mean time, I’m telling stories over at YouTube to keep in touch with the lighter side of life. I often write about the heavier topics in life, so this is my way to not take myself so seriously and just keep laughing.

Laughter heals, this I know.

get back up, paddle back out

How I learned forgiveness through surfing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I get back up, I paddle back out.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get back up, paddle back out. 

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

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

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.