Tattoos or Jesus, which one will it be?

JCP-4475I vividly remember a close family friend telling me that I was disobeying God by getting a tattoo and because of its permanence, I was in a state of constant defiance. He quoted scripture (from memory, of course) to back up his point from which the core of his unsolicited advice originated. (This was after the tattoo was already there. What was I to do about it, except put on the heavy cloak of guilt placed before me?)

I was 17 years old.

I have since added several more tattoos…and piercings to my body. This one is especially meaningful to me.Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.40.06 PM

For years I’ve been reading different views on this subject. It is interesting and at times crazy how defensive people can be with their written words. The ALL CAPS and number of exclamation points following the scripture references that, in their mind, confirm and validate their rightness. It leaves me wondering, “Why would I ever want what they have? How could I ever follow the God that they profess to emulate?”

As I’ve said before, “I can justify absolutely anything.” I am a Master Justifier. Maybe that is the case here. I am justifying the fact that I, a follower of Jesus, willingly marked my body.

This will cause debate. There are some of you reading now that are already irritated. That’s good. Whether you’re irritated over the thought of someone being able to love Jesus while tattooing their body, or you’re irritated over the people who are irritated…take this moment to ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much?”

Here is what I have to remember, I am accountable to God. When I approach the throne of grace, it is not while locking arms in a group of others. It is alone. It is personal. It is intimate.

Let’s think outside of our comfort zones for a moment.

What if, every sin that you have ever committed or thought about committing was written on your body? Adultery, stealing, murder, gossip, abuse, pornography, envy, gluttony, betrayal, denial, blaspheme… Which one would you want across your face?

Things don’t have to be written in ink to leave a permanent mark. Try these labels on for size…shamed, guilty, jealous, abandoned, greedy, whore, liar, addict, alcoholic, convict, loser, hypocrite, enabler… Though not written in ink, individuals clearly wear these labels.

If God really does see past our flesh, into our hearts, what does he see? I envision Him seeing a heart covered in permanent markings.

And then Jesus came…and all of that changed. He is our Intercessor, Savior, Redeemer. He stands in the gap of all of our different perceptions and definitions of “right” and “wrong.”

God sees us through His son. His perfect son. So we no longer have to argue who is more right than wrong, or justify anything. Once we see Christ for who He is, we are given the invitation to lay down all of our judgements, isms, character defects, labels and prejudices at the foot of the cross.

No matter whether you think tattoos are “right” or “wrong,” the cross is enough. Whether you have thought about stealing from someone or have actually stolen, the cross is enough. Whether you have always seen yourself as damaged because of an image that was self inflicted or projected onto you by someone else, the cross is enough. It’s enough.

It’s about a personal relationship with the One who paid it all.

Let’s visualize ourselves removing the lenses through which we currently see everything while asking, “Father, please help me see everything, including myself, through your eyes and from your perspective. Transform my perception of others, crushing all misconceptions.”
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As you think of the person whom you consider marked up, damaged and pierced, remember, they…I, have a place to bring all imperfections and lay them down. The foot of the cross. Right there beside all the prejudices and judgements. Once there, they are all the same.

In Christ, there is no condemnation.

I will act now

I will act now.
I will act now.
I will act now
.

Henceforth, I will repeat these words
each hour, each day, everyday,
until the words become as much a habit as my breathing and
the action which follows becomes as instinctive as the blinking of my eyelids.

With these words,
I can condition my mind to perform every action
necessary for my success.
I will act now.
I will repeat these words again and again and again.

I will walk where failures fear to walk.
I will work when failures seek rest.
I will act now,

for now is all I have.

Tomorrow is the day reserved for the labor of the lazy.
I am not lazy.
Tomorrow is the day when the failure will succeed.
I am not a failure.
I will act now.

Success will not wait.
If I delay, success will become wed to another and lost to me forever.
This is the time.
This is the place.
I am the person.

~ Og Mandino
Augustine “Og” Mandino II
(December 12, 1923 – September 3, 1996)
American author.
Bestselling book The Greatest Salesman in the World.
His books have sold over 50 million copies and have been translated into
over twenty-five different languages.
He is an inductee of the National Speakers Association’s Hall of Fame.

13 Reasons Why I Don’t Look Like An Alcoholic

JoyOn October 19th, 2015, by the grace of God, I welcomed in 13 years of freedom from the dependence on that which once enslaved me, alcohol.

When given the opportunity to share my story I always hear the same statement from at least one listener with a confused look on their face, “…But…you don’t look like an alcoholic.”
My response remains the same, “What does an alcoholic look like?”

Knowing full well that I have my own mental image of what an alcoholic looks like and it’s motivation for me to never go back to the life I once knew.

Her hair is matted and her clothes unkempt.
There are deep creases in her face from years of neglect.
She wears her wounds, making no attempt to hide them.
All forms of dignity have been stripped away.
She appears to be around 60 years old when in reality she’s 42.
She looks…well…tired. And she is.

Her children, if any, have long since given up on her and moved on with their lives.
The family she once knew has disowned her.
The church has overlooked her.
Society has pitied her.
Friends have deserted her. (They had no choice really. She stopped trying years ago.)
She’s an inconvenience, with bad teeth, no concern for personal hygiene, flammable breath, and a reputation that precedes her.

People say things without regard for her humanity, like, “Why haven’t her foolish ways killed her yet? She’d be better off dead and so would everyone else.”
Or, “She probably drinks mouthwash or rubbing alcohol. What a waste of space.”

Is my description harsh?
Have you ever seen an alcoholic in the grips of their disease?
To say it’s ugly is an understatement.

Throughout these years of recovery, I have visited treatment centers, held the shaking hands of the one in detox, claimed my seat in the rooms of A.A., accompanied a scared mother to a court hearing, listened to teary family members nightmares of living with an active alcoholic, and attended too many funerals for the seemingly hopeless one who never saw their 30th birthday.
I have seen what my future could look like if I allow my disease to dictate the direction of my life. Quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me. I hope it continues to scare me enough that I never pick up that first drink. That’s where the stronghold begins. The very first drink.

It’s a bummer. I don’t want to be an alcoholic. I didn’t grow from a little girl to a young adult dreaming of one day being a blackout drinker. I never aspired to be dependent on alcohol.

Not once did my parents say to me, “Now Joy, strive to be the best alcoholic you can be.” But I definitely gave it my all for several years. 

The reason I don’t look like your stereotypical alcoholic is because;
1.) I’m not homeless
2.) I’m a wife, mother, and productive member of society, and most days I’m pretty dang good at it.
3.) I have all my teeth (some natural ones and some designed by a dental artist).
4.) I’m obsessive about hygiene.
5.) My family is still speaking to me. Some of them actually like me.
6.) I have incredible friends who know me and aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
7.) I love and care for my children.
8.) My children love me, except when I’m driving them crazy.
9.) I don’t willingly participate in self-destructive behavior.
10.) I pay my bills…on time.
11.) I am of service to others and I love it! It’s one of my favorite things to do.
12.) I’m not a liar.
13.) I have a relationship with my Creator that everything else in my life centers around.

Most of the things listed above were not true of me 13 years ago. It has been a journey of faith with unpredictable twists and turns. Trust, especially in close personal relationships, has been earned and restored over time. I know and embrace the meaning of “Amazing Grace.”

We all have something in our lives that wants to destroy us. Mine happens to be alcohol. Maybe yours is food or sex, compulsive shopping or depression? No matter what it is, you know that the moment you become complacent in this particular area, you’re in trouble. There is a solution.

Do you know what the best defense against complacency is?
Gratitude.
I call it my complacency repellant?

I am more aware (than ever), going into this 13th year that I better be thanking God in the first few moments my eyes open and my lungs draw a sober breath. Before my feet hit the floor, praise must already be on my lips. It will be the first thing on my tongue in the morning and the last thing I taste at night.

Here’s the big takeaway… Beginning the first few moments of your day with a grateful heart has the potential to change everything. Guaranteed. If it works for me, it can work for anyone, anywhere, no matter what.

Do you believe that?

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. Whether you struggle with addiction or you love someone who does, you don’t ever have to be alone again.

Think you have a problem with alcohol? AA is a group of individuals from all walks of life, who share the same ism. It’s a program to which I owe my life. Learn more in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 

Why it’s not time to give up… yet.

Every time I sit down to write something, I stare at the blank page, with the cursor pulsing as if to say, “Well, what are you going to say?! Don’t just sit there!”

So I close the page and think to myself, “Maybe tomorrow?
And tomorrow comes and goes… without so much as a keystroke.

Today, while staring at the cursor, I began typing just to interrupt it’s rhythm.
I started writing to spite my cursor.

As the thoughts keep coming, it’s difficult to move my fingers quickly enough. Words are skipped and thoughts are gone before they can be noted, but there is always another one to take the last ones place.

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looking back, I’m really glad Chris took this pic.

Last week, I gave up hope.
I was sicker than I have ever been in my life.

An infection that started in one area of my body quickly spread to my throat and sinus’, making it difficult to breathe and threatening to grow new abscess’, pushing on the two large arteries in the sides of my neck. My words were muffled and I couldn’t speak above a whisper. My mind hurt as my head throbbed and the sound of my heart beating in my ears was a constant companion.

My eyes cried tears of grief on and off for 7 days even though my body had given up.

I thought I was going to die.
I decided it was okay to die.
I processed everything that would happen to my children… the celebrations and milestones I would miss.
I would never again laugh with Chris or kiss his mouth…
My niece would grow up only hearing stories about me, never knowing me…

It was, by far, one of the deepest, darkest, pits I have ever fallen into and the more I lay with my face against the cold ground, the deeper I sank into the abyss.

As I type, the logical part of my brain (which is small and rarely speaks up) is telling me to shut up. The more I type, the louder it gets. This is deeply personal and one of you needs to read this today… in this moment. You are contemplating giving up hope and what you do not realize is that your miracle is only a few breaths away.

I began to understand and embrace the meaning of the phrase, “My soul aches.

It’s as if, with one long exhale, my desire to exist was extinguished and I released my children, my lover, my best friends, my family, my memories, my future plans… everything went dark and the world became still.

I didn’t beg God for life, bargain for more time, or recount any regrets.
I simply closed my eyes and went to sleep with the thought that if I didn’t wake up on that bed in the ER, that’s what was supposed to happen and I didn’t have the strength or desire to fight it.

For several months now, I have been praying this prayer,
“God, break my heart for what breaks yours. Stretch me far from my place of comfort and lead me to the cross… into the center of other people’s pain. Teach me how to trust you, sitting quietly in your presence, even when it’s uncomfortable..”

I want to know Christ in a deeply personal way. As I began asking God what exactly that meant, the prayer above is what came into my spirit as clear as if someone spoke it audibly to me in conversation. I don’t know why I thought intimacy with my Savior could ever be attained without suffering.

So to sum this up…
I had to sit in the moments of desolation.
I had to trust that God still held me closely in His will.
I had to believe that He wouldn’t leave me where He had led me.
I had to call out the hollow, hopeless feeling for what it was… a feeling, that no matter how “real” it felt, would eventually pass.
I had to claim life.

I receive the gifts that came from a season of dwelling in the darkness.
One might argue that a couple of weeks does not a season make. I would have to disagree.

My Friend, if you are learning how to walk in the dark, without fear of being swallowed up, keep going, the other side is well worth the journey.

The New Year Meditation

Most, if not all of us have read or heard the prayer for serenity.
It was years into recovery before I read the 2nd half of the prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.
It’s pretty fantastic.
Happy New Year 2015! May you encounter many, many blessings along your journey and don’t waste the lessons.

SerenityDownload a pdf version by clicking Serenity

Here’s the Church…Now Where’s the Steeple

Church on a hillThere was a rhyme my friends and I used to say in elementary school. I’m not sure where it came from or if children still clasp their hands together with interlaced fingers, making up the people. It went like this…

“Here’s the church (Hands with fingers intertwined, pointing down)
Here’s the steeple (Pointer fingers together and up)
Open the door (Thumbs come apart)
See all the people.” (Turn hands up and wiggle fingers still intertwined)

When we were a little bit older, we changed the verses to say,
“Here’s the church
Here’s the steeple
Open the door
Where are the people?
Across the street
in the bar
Open the door
There they are!”

We would all laugh, not realizing that one day we would be the very people, across the street, referring to the bar as our sanctuary.

Any time someone new visits my current church, they always say the same thing. “This doesn’t look like a church! Where’s the steeple?!”

“It doesn’t have one.” I reply. “I like it that way.”

The church I grew up in was what one imagines a southern church to look like. Beautiful. Big. Stained glass windows. Wooden pews. A tall pulpit where the preacher stands, adorned in a long black robe and satin collar. The organ plays while the choir prepares to sing hymn number 400 and something. The brass pipes stretch way into the ceiling releasing sounds both beautiful and intrusive. Not long into the service, my creative mind was far into a daydream of… singing on stage or writing my next bestseller from the back porch of my California home, looking out over the pacific ocean.

Things have changed a bit. I wear jeans and red lippy and when the band starts to play, sometimes I even close my eyes, embracing the goosebumps rising on my skin. The God I’ve been chasing my entire life is right here, so tangible I feel as if I could touch him. Praise pours from my lips more like a prayer than a monotonous canticle of which I had grown so accustomed.

When I least expect it, tears well up in my eyes, spilling over and down my cheeks. I cling to the promises spoken in the lyrics written by those who love Jesus and aren’t afraid to admit they struggle. People like me. Now when I’m in the service, I’m engrossed in the message. Sure, I tweet a quote or two, but for the most part I’m all in. I’m hearing stories that I’ve heard all my life, only now I get it. I’m there. I’m in Jerusalem when Jesus walked the road. I’m at the well when the woman unknowingly serves water to the Savior. I’m in line, waiting to be baptized by “John the Baptizer.” I’m in the crowd crying out in confusion as they nail the hope of the world to a cross.

I don’t think a church has to have a steeple to make it legit. Jesus didn’t wear a name tag that read, “Hello, my name is The Messiah.” And yet, people found him. They believed him. They followed him.

If anything, I’ve learned that sometimes the things with the most beautiful shell are rotten on the inside. Sometimes the things one might pass by at first glance are filled with life giving promise. Promise that we are all longing for.

So, I have a new rhyme. It goes like this…

buckhead-church“Here is my church
There is no steeple
You’re welcome inside
We’re all imperfect people.”

What Does It Mean To Be Truly Free?

I avoid writing this post.
I tell myself that you will think I’m ridiculous.
I convince myself that you will make assumptions and judge me.
Every time this insecurity surfaces I shove it back down in attempts to choke out its message.

Why do I invalidate those things that make me feel small.
Why do I continually dismiss my feelings?
What if someone else feels the exact same way and by my admission knows they are not alone?
Social Media sites
So, here it is…
There are times when I allow social media to determine, not only my mood, but my self worth.

As I scrolled through my “feed” this morning, I found myself becoming more and more hurt by the fact that someone I was once closer to than I am now, had not invited me to attend one of the most important days in her life.

The more pictures I saw from the event, the more upset I became.
What is wrong with me?! I thought.
I wouldn’t have been able to attend anyway.
Why is this such a big deal?

It goes back to the fact that I’m a people pleaser. I want you to like me even if I don’t like you.
I want everyone to want me to be at everything, even if I can’t be there.
I want the opportunity to decline.

I realize how this sounds, believe me.
I would understand if you stopped reading now.

However, it’s very important that I bring this hideous character defect into the light.
It’s crucial (for my own development) that I’m brutally honest with myself. Not mean. Honest. They are two different things though at times people confuse one for the other.

Here is what I’m discovering…
This all points back to my need for approval.
I’m an affirmation junkie.
The more I get, the more I want.
I become absolutely drunk on the approval of others.

And then, when I’m alone, I’m terrified that I cannot live up to my own expectations. Fear will make decisions for me if I allow it to. I will be spiritually paralyzed if I don’t act quickly and thoroughly.

The problem with this is that I want my life to glorify God. I want my spirit to reflect that of the Creator. I want to make Him known to everyone who comes in contact with me. And I’ve been in recovery long enough to know that, as long as I’m keeping a secret, I can’t do that effectively. As long as I’m hiding from a reality that affects my life and the way I interact with others, I can’t be useful. Not the way I want to be anyway. Not the way that’s relatable to others in different seasons.

So, here I am. Standing before you. Admitting weakness. Acknowledging feelings that I know will change. Emotions that I will probably not even have tomorrow. I’m feeling exposed and “found out.” because I am willingly admitting that most of the time I feel completely inadequate all while exhibiting confidence.

I may be mortified tomorrow at having posted this. But for today, I say to the woman reading this, feeling like I’m telling your story, “I understand. You’re not alone. You don’t have to be afraid. You just have to be willing to recognize the affliction (whatever it may be) and take positive actions steps forward.