The Heart of the Prodigal

Tomorrow is a big, milestone birthday for me. 40 years. I have spent the last several weeks reflecting on the journey. Where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going.

A huge part of my story is the journey through alcoholism and a decade long battle with an eating disorder. In this conversation with my dad, I ask him what it was like being on the other side of me when I was living my life as his prodigal daughter. Was he afraid? What made him keep pursuing me? How did he release control of me? What would he tell others going through this now.


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.”

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.

3 Reasons Why I Won’t Give Up

JCP-1119 (1 of 1) (1)There is a girl, who I love very much, on a path of self-destruction. I have been feeling, in the last few days that she may be successful in her attempts to end her own life.

It feels helpless.

She struggles with some of the same things I struggled with so if anyone should know that nothing can be done, it is I. But that doesn’t stop me from trying, does it? It’s our human nature to come to the rescue of the ones we love and fight for their existence when they no longer seem to care about existing.

I remember once describing my circumstances as feeling like a glass box, encompassing me. I was naked and everyone could see me, but no one could hear me…and I couldn’t hear them. Some of the onlookers were laughing while others were weeping. Some of the people closest to me were pounding on the glass, yelling at me. I couldn’t understand their words, but the emotion in their face communicated such pain.

I am no longer on the inside of the box. I now stand in the crowd, looking in at this beautiful woman, full of potential and light. She, like I, doesn’t see herself accurately. Her appearance, her worth, it’s all skewed. I say things from the outside, but she doesn’t hear me. Her mother, aunt, grandmother, grandfather and friends, weep at the thought of her life ending before it has really even begun. She doesn’t hear them either. She sees them, but their feelings can’t get through the glass she surrounds herself in.

She closes her eyes and is completely alone. In darkness…with only the noise of her own thoughts in her head. If only she would open her eyes, grab the closest thing and shatter the glass. Anyone of us would gladly do it for her, but the only thing that will break this glass is inside the box, with her.

She is teaching me that when we live for others or rely on others for our happiness or discontentment, our reasons for existing are always changing. So I’ve taken a long hard look at why I don’t give up on life when the feelings start telling me to.

Here’s why…

1. A better day always comes. Without fail! Life gets better. It’s just the way it works. Some days are going to suck. Nothing will go as planned. There is always a better day in the future. I know this to be true! I’ve seen it happen more than once in my life. It is guaranteed.

2. Life is incredibly short. It feels really long some days, but the truth is, we blink and our childhood is over, our early adulthood has been lived and we are looking back thinking what our parents always told us they thought, “Where has the time gone?” I want to look back and see a life well lived. In order to do that, I can’t be finished yet.

3. My life, my story, can be used to teach others about perseverance, courage, loving beyond my ability, dreaming BIG dreams and watching them come to fruition. It’s about raw recovery. My life is the epitome of amazing grace.

I know, with all of my heart and experience that the clock is ticking and time is running out. I know that she will die unless she decides to live. I know because there was a day when I was given a choice and I chose life.

Here is our last text exchange.
Text MessageIf you or someone you love is suffering, please don’t wait until it’s too late. There is hope and it starts with you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
  • Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
  • Eating Disorders Center 1-888-236-1188
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 1-847-831-3438
  • Crisis Intervention 1-888-596-4447
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or TTY 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
  • Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio 1-888-628-9454
  • Veterans Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1

Prayer for Freedom and Fullness

“O God, for another day, for another morning, for another hour, for another minute, for another chance to live and serve Thee, I am truly grateful.

Do Thou this day free me from
all fear of the future,
all anxiety about tomorrow,
all bitterness towards anyone,
all cowardice in the face of danger,
all laziness in the face of work,
all failure before opportunity,
all weakness when Thy power is at hand.

But fill me with
Love that knows no barriers,
Sympathy that reaches to all,
Courage that cannot be shaken,
Faith strong enough for the darkness,
Strength sufficient for my tasks,
Loyalty to Thy Kingdom’s goal,
Wisdom to meet life’s complexities,
Power to lift me to Thee.

Be Thou with me for another day, and use me as Thou wilt.
For Christ’s sake I pray.

(Wallace Friday)

When This Isn’t “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you were drawn in by the title, either because you are feeling bombarded with all the “cheer” while not feeling the happiness that others expect you to feel during this time of year, or because you are curious as to why anyone would not see this as the best month of all 12.

No matter which position I have found you in, I’m asking that you relinquish all expectation of what this post is about and be present as your eyes scroll the words and your brain processes the thoughts.

It’s everywhere. The way we “should” be feeling. How we “should” be thinking. What we “should” be buying…

So what do we do when none of our feelings encompass all of the “should(s)” placed on us, and the last thing we feel is “cheerful“?

I have been given the gift of “burden bearing.” I haven’t always thought it a gift and at times tried to mask or ignore it all together. It has only been recently that I’m learning to embrace it and see it as a blessing rather than a curse.

The transformation started several years ago when Katie was 14 weeks pregnant with her 3rd child. Her baby was given the fatal diagnosis of Trisomy 13. On December 19, 2011, at 10:45 a.m., Hallie Lynn Green was born. Weighing in at 4 lbs.15 oz. and stretching 18.75 inches long.

On December 24, 2014, Hallie passed from her mama’s arms back into the arms of Jesus. Katie wrote on her blog that day, “Thank you, God, for allowing me to be Hallie’s mother. Although losing you, Hallie, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I would carry you and love you all over again in a heartbeat. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world. I love you.”

It is Hallie’s life and Katie’s willingness to learn how to walk in the dark that moved me from a place of empathy to action. In 2012 I began my journey, through my lens, into other people’s pain. That’s a strange way of wording it, I know, but it’s the only wording that makes sense to me.

I have been invited to document the sacred moments between life and death. There are days when I will experience the beauty of life and the gnawing sorrow of death, all within a matter of hours. I stand witness to a wide spectrum of emotions, at times, with people I’ve only just met.

The way to deal with painful emotions is not to get rid of them, it’s to sit with and in them, making the darkness conscious. Knowing that there will once again be light. Being able to experience emotion is key to paving a path to peace. To suppress it is toxic. The further we push it down, the more it festers until one day we can no longer bandage the gaping wound. Some cannot believe that the light will ever return. But it will. Healing is possible. I’ve watched it happen. However, to come to that place, one must be willing to wrestle the angel of darkness.

It is helpful to remember that grief is unpredictable. It shows up at the most inopportune times. It often comes without warning, when there are no Kleenex anywhere to be found and you didn’t apply waterproof mascara. It’s presence is often uncomfortable and frustrating. Even so, each time it appears there is something to be learned. Though the uninvited teacher, pain is not our enemy.

For those friends and family feeling helpless, may I offer some encouragement? There are 3 things you can do to help the one you love.
~ Be Present (Don’t avoid reaching out or taking something by and leaving it on their doorstep or in their mailbox)
~ Listen (I wish we could be more comfortable listening than speaking. It is a learned behavior. When wanting to make someone feel important, listen intently to them.)
~ Be okay with “uncomfortable silence.” (Silence is beautiful when we consciously befriend it.)

If you are currently learning to walk through the darkness, may I speak these truths into your heart?
~ You are not alone.
~ The Creator of the Universe knows you by name. He formed you, piece by piece and therefore sees you and hears your cries.
~ Jesus himself promises that those who mourn will be comforted. (Matthew 5:1-14)
~ You have permission to lower the bar.
If you don’t want to go to that holiday party, don’t go.
If you find your eyes welling with tears while walking down the grocery store isle, it’s okay to walk away from your cart and leave the store.

We must embrace the seasons of darkness just as we long for the seasons of light. To have one without the other leaves us lacking perspective and appreciation for either.


Was this post helpful? Do you have anything to add about seasons of grief? How can we pray for you? How have you been encouraged through pain? Feel free to leave a comment and we will respond.

If you’re in need of encouragement, click here for a fantastic message from Joel Thomas.
To hear the song inspired by Hallie’s life, written by Casey Darnell, click here

3 Ways I’m Learning to Manage My Mania

manic |ˈmanik|
• showing wild and apparently deranged excitement and energy
• frenetically busy; frantic
• Psychiatry relating to or affected by mania
colorBeing manic is one color of my crazy. The onset is sudden and usually follows a series of events (bad or good) that require emotional processing. As I’ve mentioned before, food followed by purging has been my way of coping with seemingly overwhelming circumstances. I’m grateful to say that, though the struggle is persistent, I am learning other ways to deal. If bulimia and restricting calories is your vice of choice, I’m here to tell you, there are strategies that work better and longer than the momentary euphoria accompanying an eating disorder (or any self destructive behavior, for that matter).

Acknowledge It ~ It sounds simple, but it isn’t…always. In order to rectify anything we must first confront it. It’s best we do this before the one closest to us points it out. When I feel this wild energy bubbling up, I look at myself in the mirror and call it out. It usually sounds something like this, “Hey, crazy. Slow down. Take a step back. Wait to make any decisions until this chaos has calmed.” If Chris is the one pointing it out to me, for some reason, it is not well received.

Seek Wise Counsel ~ I have 3 advisers in my life. This week, I sought the direction of my spiritual adviser and counselor. I literally walked into her office blurting out the craziness swarming around in my brain. She listened and responded in a constructive and applicable way. The willingness to reach out and express my thoughts and compulsive behavior with someone who knows me and loves me anyway, is crucial to my wellness. Without it, keeping a clear and healthy approach to life is impossible.

Find a Quiet Space ~ I’ve said this before…when I need to “retreat” I sit on the floor of my closet with the door closed. It seems to be the only place I find stillness. There are times when I am in desperate need of divine direction and I can’t hear that direction if I don’t physically remove myself from all of the noise bombarding me every moment of every day. I close my eyes and breathe in a deep cleansing breath. As I slowly let it out, I envision myself physically exhaling the frantic and again, inhaling calm. This is surprisingly helpful. Just the mental image of the action, puts me at ease.
RetreatFor those of you reading and nodding your head, “Yep. That’s me. Uh huh. Me too! How’d she know that?!” I hope this is a source of encouragement and hope for you. We all have our experience. What good is it if we’re not sharing it to help others face challenges and overcome adversity? There is so much power in being able to relate to another human being. In doing so we’re saying, “You’re not alone. I get it.”

Does this resonate somewhere with you? Maybe you thought of someone you know? Talk to me. Tell me what you’re thinking.

Backyard Bears

At times, God shows up where I least expect Him and He whispers to my heart, without words, “Joy, watch this.”

I step out onto the third story terrace and look out as a mama bear and her cubs emerge from the thick foliage into the open area of the backyard. JCP-2149She will dig and rummage for food as the two little ones tumble and climb not too far from her reach. JCP-2067I am reminded that they do not worry about what they will eat or drink. She does not store up extra for her babies. She steps out in faith (of sorts) and trusts that she will find the food needed for herself and her little ones. JCP-2139-2It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. In a few moments of a summer afternoon, in the backyard of my sister in law’s mountain home, God shows up and in a tangible expression of love, shows me that He sees me, reminding me that I am His and He is mine.

His grace is bountiful and beauty resides among the rain-soaked, wooded mountainside, in the form of a mama bear and her two bear cubs.JCP-2144