Stay in Saturday, Ep. 4: Piece by Peace

WOW Life happens fast! I’m actually a week behind in keeping this updated! This is last week’s episode of The Stay in Saturday Show, so feel free to read no more if you already caught it! (And if you did, thank you!!)

(This week’s is still uploading, so I’ll be back with another post soon).

Until then, incase anyone missed it…

“Piece by Peace”

Whether you’re going out or staying in, I hope you’ve had a great week!

I’m not gonna lie, this was a tough week for me, I waited a little too long to feel better in order to put my show together, but then I realized, maybe I could just include the reality of how I feel instead of pretend it’s not a real side of me.

There’s a bunch of pieces to all of us. This week may be a liiiiiittle different, but it’s made with the same heart and desire to make people laugh, as well as connect to our own emotions, whatever they may be!

I sometimes feel like I am two different people, protesting my own thoughts and emotion throughout a given day, this episode allows there to be room for all sides of each of us, differences of opinions and all.

I hope everyone is safe, sane, healthy and happy(ish) out there!

Happy Saturday!

Love, jj

💜💙🧡💛💚

The Tension of Life

There is a tension of dark and light, dust and divine breath.

There is a tension of good and bad, heartache and humor, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy.

There is a tension where I feel I don’t belong because there are no answers or quick fixes, no boxes or formulas, no way of knowing if I’ll ever make it out.

There is a tension everyone either wants to resolve, avoid or deny exists and yet it is in that very tension where life in all of its fullness is found.

It is okay to be both sad and happy, lost and found, hurt and hopeful.

We try to be one or the other and fix both ourselves and others if bent too close to the sadness. We function in the safety of our emotional comfort zone and expect others to function in theirs, meanwhile dismissing their pain and only prolonging the process of their feeling too stuck, too sad, or too lost to continue on this journey.

Life is messy, being a human is hard. I say that hand in hand with the belief that life is good, and being a human to be a gift. But some days, I totally forget. I forget the goodness, I forget the gift, and I struggle.

I struggle in the unknown of pain and sorrow that isn’t even circumstantial, just present, and I don’t know why, which makes it seem even worse. When there’s nothing to pinpoint your pain to, it feels hopeless.

It’s when we think the hopelessness is our ultimate reality, our final truth, the end of our story that we consider giving up. What’s the point anyway? If no person, place or thing can fix this and I will always feel this way somewhere deep down inside no matter how many accolades, awards and acknowledgments I receive, what’s the point? There will always be a void and I can’t avoid it.

The truth is, sometimes I still don’t know. Even as someone who believes in a Higher Power and the gift of life and purpose in the pain and God in the details, some days I still just don’t get it. “Only God can fill the void,” they say. “I know,” I say, and I do know, but I still just don’t get this God I believe in and this Life that He “gifted” us with. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a gift at all.

I don’t need pad answers, I don’t need declarations of holding on and Jesus loving me. I know the answers in my head no matter how much they disconnect with my heart. I need to live in the tension of life being hard and good, I need to affirm to myself and others who feel the same way that we are not crazy, or too lacking in faith, or lost causes. We’re human and there’s not only grace for our humanity but also love for it… love for our human selves no matter what state we find ourselves functioning in.

I have to admit, sometimes saying “hold on” isn’t enough, but I can at least say, “you are not as alone as you think you are… not in how you feel or in what you think.” Sometimes it just takes one person to voice their struggle for someone else to say, “Oh my God, me too,” and in that small spec of commonality is a glimmer of hope in the connection of our humanity.

It’s often in our isolated hopelessness that we go to extreme measures to rid ourselves of it by numbing out or checking out, not knowing the pain and sorrow we are leaving in our wake, hurting those we’ve left behind and out of the process, leaving them to figure out the pain on their own while we took the easier road of self destruction. Self destruction never seems easier in the moment, but it is always easier than dealing with the pain that life holds, having to be awake for it, alert for it, and gritty enough to actually work through it.

Today I do no feel gritty. I do not feel like making the choice to live in way that life matters. I feel like disappearing into the darkness that is my room and numbing out to Netflix, no bad thing in and of itself, but if I continue to make small choices to numb out every time something seems hard, I will have practiced living the kind of life that gives up when things get too hard.

And so, with that said, I acknowledge the tough day, I say hi and I sit with it for a bit. I live in the tension of feeling dark inside while the sun shines outside of my window. I sit just long enough to own my feelings, to sort though my thoughts, to figure out what is me and what is a lie I’m believing. Some of it I write out, as I’m doing here. And then, when I feel a little more free to be me, not me the entertainer who everyone expects to make them laugh, but me on an off day when I myself don’t feel like smiling, I set about to go outside and take in life in other places… grass, flowers, trees… there is evidence of life everywhere.

What better example of living in the tension than the flowers and trees that have to break though the darkness of the soil to get to the light and grow till tall.

With that said, it’s time for me to go outside.

To those who are struggling, you are not alone, I grieve with you. And to those who are doing well, that’s great too, I celebrate with you. Both are okay.

May you live in the tension of the fullness of life today, feeling neither like you have to fix everything, nor like you have to give up.

Life is hard and good, and you are more okay than you think you are.

 

Onward Anyway!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how often I’ve given up on things or gotten distracted from doing what I should do/meant to do/wanted to do…

Life happens, there’s grace, and room for both working hard and getting distracted.

Much like my efforts to book jobs, stay active, or eat well, sometimes it’s all just too hard, but even on those days when I don’t stay the course, this is to pressing in and moving onward anyway!

Dust and Divine Breath

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

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

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Allow me to explain…

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

 

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

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

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

I want my Lydia.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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(a little humor always helps)

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

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

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

Hate does not conquer hate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

And love wins.

A Comedy Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, there was this…

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

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

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

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

Super Bowl Recovery

The Super Bowl plays a significant part in my life, but perhaps not for the reasons one would think. This year’s Super Bowl played an even greater role due to it being on February 5th, which marks 10 years of me being in recovery and embracing the fullness of all life has to offer.

May we all look for hope in the little things, seek help when we need it, work hard, and know when it’s time to just sit back and enjoy the game that is life.

 

 

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

writing a book

Hey Friends, family and the like…

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

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

CLICK HERE:

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

chop and rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just. Hold. On.

You are so incredibly worth it.

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