Hey my faithful blog readers out there (you know–all four of you, and Lucy;)

I have decided being monogamous in my blog relationships is the healthiest, most practical choice for me. So, I am moving everything over to my AIM blog. Join me there and we will continue the fun. But, hopefully a few more friends will join us:)

This Easter morning at the church I grew up in, the children’s minister gathered the little ones for the weekly “children’s time”.  She asked the kids what day it was and they exclaimed “EASTER!”  Then she asked them what Easter was about and came the cacophony of shouts “the easter bunny!” “candy!” and “hunting eggs!”
At this the church erupted in amused laughter and chuckles.  It took Jessica a few minutes to get the word Jesus into the conversation.
I think I was the only person in the room not laughing.
Not so much at the children’s answers.  They are kids.  Kids relate to furry bunnies and colorful eggs a whole lot easier than a broken and bloodied man on a cross that somehow rose again two days later to save them from eternal death.  I guess the church’s reaction is what has stuck with me ever since.  The next generation of the church sits before them-learning from Wal-mart, and Cadburry, and those marshmallow easter eggs and Hannah Montana what this Sunday is all about.  And our reaction to it: Amusement.

Psalm  145 says

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.

4 One generation will commend your works to another;
they will tell of your mighty acts.

5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works. [b]

6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,
and I will proclaim your great deeds.

Every day, but especially on this one, the day we celebrate you setting us free, you are most worthy of praise, my God and King.  To be exalted above every other name,  Show us, Father, how to commend your works to the next generation.   To teach, to equip, to raise up.  Press upon our hearts the urgency to tell of your mighty acts, of the splendor of your majesty.  May we never, ever hinder what you desire to do in these young lives you have put before us.  May we never take them for granted.
I pray for a new revelation of spiritual mothering and fathering to come over your church.  May there no longer be orphans found in your house.

“Wow, Jess really needs to lighten up”, some of you may be thinking.  Let me be clear on a couple of things: by writing this am I condemning every parent who lets their kid go to an easter egg hunt or gives them an easter basket? NO.  Of course not.  The letter kills, but the spirit brings life, right?   Do I believe the exchange that happened this morning is a glimpse into the state of the Body and what we are valuing as important to teach and live out in the midst of our children?  Yes.  Does it make me think about how I want to raise my own children in the future? You bet.  I pray for the grace for us all  to wrestle through these hard things of His Kingdom.  

Warning: I usually try to keep my blogs concise, but this one kinda grew out of control. Please persevere with me, though and read all of it. I think it’s worth it. I hope you do, too.

My friend Heather is in the middle of doing this little experiment called Surprise Me, God. She is intentionally asking for God to daily surprise her with His goodness, and specifically looking for where He is working. I have not been doing this endeavor myself, but this week I felt like I was right smack dab in the middle of it. I have more than once shook my head in incredulous laughter and said “God, I have no idea where this all came from, but man you are good.”

The week started off kind of rough, honestly. I had gotten back from Mexico Saturday and came crashing off the high of adventure that comprised this past month. I was traveling so much, and there was always something to look forward to in the future. Now, here I was, in my parents spare bedroom hating the fact that I had to go prostitute myself to minimum wage paying, retail America for a meager job to pass the time until….what? You know how it gets-the future is hazy and the present isn’t looking too hot either. Couple this attitude with some pretty hard conversations with my mom. She thinks I am confused, she is grateful everyone doesn’t have the attitude I do about “waiting on the Lord to take care of me”. I mean, how would anyone live, right? How do I expect to live? She thinks I need to be going out and doing something about it-whatever “it” is. So, as I try to explain my heart to her, I end up in tears and feeling like a lazy, Kato-Kaelin-esque bump on a log, and unable to articulate the things that are inside of me. Awesome. Is this how living with the parentals is going to be? It is humbling enough as it is, without having these horrible conversations and misunderstandings. So, that was Monday.
All was not completely dismal. God had laid it on my heart to ask my mom to pray with me once a week. Of course as soon as I prepare to go down that route, the enemy jumps in trying to put a wedge between the two of us. But I sucked it up, and in the midst of that hard conversation, did ask her-and she said yes!! Surprise, numero uno.

On Tuesday, I trek up to Gainesville, GA where I met an old YW friend, Jimmy, for lunch. He did the World Race with my friend Amanda and came on full time staff with AIM as a coordinator for the World Race recently. I went up to reconnect with him on a friend level, but also talk to him about AIM, the World Race, and Hashem House-a vision God gave Amanda that AIM is helping propel forward and I think I have a role in (you can read more about that here). As we sit there chatting about ministry and our desires for the future, he proceeds to offer me a job with AIM-one position specifically being assisting him with training and set-up for the World Race. I was shocked. I certainly didn’t see that one coming! As I listen to him describe the position and what being on staff at AIM would look like, I was so encouraged. Doors that I never even thought existed were opening before me. I have prayed about AIM alot in the past, even considering doing the World Race myself. I have always felt my path would collide with them somehow in the future, and I wonder if this is the beginning of that relationship. I am still in prayer about this opportunity, and would love yours as well. This decision will need to be made soon, so I am just praying for a quickness in clarity. Also on Tuesday night was when I prayed with my mom for the first time. It was INCREDIBLY powerful. Our prayers lasted probably 10 mins tops, but we spent a good amount of time talking beforehand about lots of things. It was the most honest conversation I have probably ever had with her. I think this is a beginning of a new level of understanding with one another. Hearing her pray out loud for me was so encouraging. I know that more healing and reconciliation will be released through this time. I praise Jesus for giving me the strength to be obedient- -none of this is me, that is for sure! And I am grateful.

Whew, I hope I am not losing you yet! Hang in there with me folks.
So, I went back to the church I went to for most of my life for the first time in like 10 years this past Sunday. Mostly everyone reading this has probably heard my story of growing up in the church, basically hating it and finding Jesus outside the church walls in college. For a one sentence summary of that: I was shown religion and legalism in church growing up, but not what it means to really know God and His love and His freedom. I pretty much went back this past Sunday because I want to go to church with my mom and grandma, but expected little out of it. The pastor is a new guy, barely there a year-though he is just interim b/c the church has run the last few pastors off and has yet to agree on a new one. He seems good enough, very feisty and does seem to be passionate about the Lord. A lot of the church is still the same though, old gray haired ladies, politics, bickering, gossip. I honestly didn’t expect it to have much more relevance in my life than it did when I was in high school. My mom mentioned in passing to me about helping out with the youth and children’s ministries. They just hired two new people to head those up, and they looked around my age. I just blew it off, thinking I had no desire to get involved like that at Madison Street. On Monday my mother mentioned the meeting they advertised for Wednesday night for volunteers to help with the youth and children. This conversation actually sparked our argument that I talked about above. I felt like I was expected to just jump on board with this, and I did not like that at all. My mother’s friend Sue called that day and I picked up the phone. She proceeds to tell me that she gave my name to Jessica (the new children’s minister) and that they should definitely find a place for me there. What?! Has anyone asked ME what I thought about all of this yet? I didn’t like how this was going. After I got over my annoyance, I regretted reacting so negatively and decided that the least I could do was go and see what they were all about. I get to church tonight. There is no meeting, like I thought, just regular youth group and adult bible study. I am greeted by the pastor saying “Jessica! We prayed about you today! Jessica is ready to get her hands on you!” Uh…..I am getting prayed about?? People want to get their hands on me? Help! The youth director Phillip introduces himself to me and about the fourth thing out of his mouth (after Hi, I’m Phillip) is “can you help me with a foot washing tonight?” “Uh, sure”, I say. So much for observing and listening, eh? I meet Jessica and she greets me with, “Phillip has gotten to you already? I told him in staff meeting you were mine!!” I kinda laugh uncomfortably. I am apparently in high demand and I am not sure if I want to be. I talk with Jessica for a little bit and discover she is 27 as well and I hear her heart for the children, building that population at church and equipping members of the church to feel confident in children’s ministry. She is really looking for some fresh ideas. She asks if we could meet sometime and talk about my experiences. We decide to have lunch tomorrow. I have no idea what exactly I am going to share or how I can really help, but I agree. After the weekly meal, we split off into our different groups and I head upstairs with the youth. We start the time off with a silly game of Never Have I Ever. Pretty typical youth fare. As Phillip transitions into footwashing, he reads the scripture from Matthew and explains what foot washing symbolizes. We bring in the basins and begin washing their feet, he and another adult guy helper doing the guys’ and myself and his wife doing the girls. As we are starting, I hear Jason Upton singing about breaking off rejection coming from the CD player. What? This youth group listens to Jason Upton? This could be interesting..
Really, the footwashing was awkward at first. I had never me these girls before this night. I did it kinda different than I ever have before, actually talking to the girls during it, trying to make the situation more comfortable. I did pray for each one after, with some of them giving me prayer requests and some not. As we were all finishing, Phillip spoke about the words in the song that was playing, asking for a spirit of adoption to come over the group. He asked if anyone needed to be freed from anything. One boy stood up asking for freedom for his father, that he might know God. We all ended up laying hands on him and praying. The Spirit was moving incredibly. Students were praying as well as us adults. This opened a door for others to receive healing. Phillip asked for spirits to be bound and loosed, people were weeping, life was being declared, love was being poured out. I was like…”is this really happening? in the same room I used to sit in youth group and feel awkward and bored?” I was in awe of the new things God was doing, and repentant of my assumptions. I spent some time talking to Phillip, his wife and another adult leader after. I can sense their heart beat is so similar.  God has placed in me a heart for the body of Christ, meaning people together in unity who love the Lord and want to seek Him, but He is slowly changing my heart towards the church as an institution.  I guess I more often than not, I separate the two and see the church as some sort of prison that holds the body back more than they allow them to walk in the abundant life God talks about.  Me being there tonight was a way for God to show me that, yes,  He is moving.  The Church is still His bride–as stained and soiled as her wedding garments may be at this point.  It was humbling.  And encouraging.

So….yes. This week has been a doozy…and its not even over yet! This all just energizes me and prompts me to ask for more of his divine surprises in my life. What’cha got for me next, God?

Well, friends, I am offically done with my little month and a half long jaunt all over the U.S. and bordering places. My time ended perfectly with a trip back to Juarez with my old alma mater, YHC. I struggled alot at the beginning of the trip, not quite sure what my role was or how I fit in with this crazy bunch. I found myself in a more behind the scenes role, which surprised me more than I realized it would. I have been used to being the one in charge, facilitating, answering questions, honestly being sought out and “needed”–and I wasn’t. I mean, I thought I would be good for at least a devo or something, but God obviously had other plans. Plus, a couple of days into the building had me realizing how much I truly do SUCK at this whole construction thing. It is definitely not where I flourish. And while I really liked all the students, I wasn’t connecting to them as well as I thought I would and found myself silent when I thought I would be more bold. I remember sitting in Brittany’s truck about halfway through the trip asking “God, what the heck am I doing here?”
Of course, as soon as I got over myself and all these little insecurities, God proved Himself faithful. Here are just a few examples:

1.) I had the privilege of reconnecting with Dan and Brittany, two of my YHC classmates. Dan is an RD at YHC and Brittany is a missionary with Casas Por Cristo, the organization that facilitated our trip. We have all been on at least two of these trips together and it was incredible to share this experience once again, as adults. Our class at YHC had this divine spark that I have yet to find in another group of people. We all just loved each other really well. Even after years of separation, that connectedness is still there and I love seeing where God has taken each of us. Brittany was able to share her testimony about how she got to Casas, and I was in awe of how God has moved so powerfully in her life and her devotion to His will. I saw so many answers to the prayers I had been praying as the Spirit touched each of these students with Britt’s words. She and I were able to encourage each other with prayer the last night in El Paso and I know a huge part of why I came on this trip was to be able to agree with my sister in prayer for these students and the plans God has for each of our lives.

2.) As I spent time in prayer before this trip for the students, God kept giving me a picture of laying hands on students and speaking life over them. I had no idea how this would happen or what kind of circumstances would lead up to it. As the week progressed, it became obvious to me that God had a different plan than the one that had formed in my mind. While there was no opportunity to do this in a mass kind of way, the last night during communion I did get the chance to pray with two precious, hungry Jesus chasers. I saw such desire for Him, for His will in their lives, to be full of Him and only Him-all else stripped away. I asked for God to continue give revelation of their identity, and the power that can be released in walking in that identity. I am thankful that He works despite my presumptions.

3 .) I was also able to reconnect with my old campus minister, Rev and Patty, who was pastor of the church that is located in front of campus. Patty was an adult leader on the trip twice when I was a student. She is now assistant campus minister at the college and teaching some courses in religion. Rev is still the same crazy, precious Jack Nicholson-leprechaun hybrid that I fell in love with back at YHC. He saw me at the beginning stages of my faith journey, he baptized me, and up until I came under Gary’s headship at Two Rivers, was the man I still considered a pastoral influence in mt life (thanks for all those letters of recc, Rev.;) I am thankful to still be in contact and be apart of each other’s lives on this “adult” level now. I was also incredibly blessed by my time with Patty this past week. I never really knew her very well before and we had some incredible conversations about prayer and the Holy Spirit. While I don’t believe we see completely eye to eye from a theological standpoint (which became clear when I was asked if I believed in a literal interpretation of scripture in that “you don’t really believe that, right?” kinda way), I appreciate her openness and desire for intimacy with Jesus. She truly loves prayer and we had some great times of intercession together. It gave me encouragement that true unity can happen despite differing theologies and paradigms.

Even last night, I received a random facebook message from a student on the trip telling me my stories from living in WV and Cairo inspired him to learn more about poverty in the U.S. and his desire to come alongside and serve this sometimes forgotten part of our nation. So, even now I praise God for blessing meager efforts, for hearing my prayers. I know that a ripe harvest will be reaped in the lives of these students as they continue to seek His face.

Now, I just need my face to stop peeling, and my busted chapped lips to heal. Yeah, guess who didn’t put on sunscreen the first day. God may love me, but my face hates me right now.

And as this one little adventure comes to a close, the big, mysterious adventure of living my life surrendered to Him continues. Right now, God only knows where that will adventure will lead. Stay tuned….

Tomorrow I will make my way up to the beautiful N. Georgia mountains to hang out in nature for a bit (if it doesn’t rain-frowny face). Early Saturday morning, we leave for Mexico! It is still a little surreal that I am actually going back to Juarez-with YHC and with so many familiar people who shared this experience with me. I remember signing up for this trip fall of my freshman year-basically because my boyfriend and best friend did. I was still in the midst of “playing” Christian, when in reality I had no concept of who Jesus really was or what He could mean to my life. My three spring breaks down in Juarez with YHC began building a foundation in me- of a love for God and serving His people-one that has helped propel me into the crazy life I am living today.

As I have been praying for this trip and God’s vision for it, honestly all I want is for Him to show up. I want Him to dwell with us on those work sites, back at the church, in worship, eating dinner, laughing, crying. I just keep asking for Him to come. When I pray for the group, I have this picture of myself and the other leaders laying hands on each student, praying for them, speaking life over them. I want room for joy, identity, love, healing, and freedom to be released.  I have no idea how all this is going to come about. I have no idea how any of the  other leaders (who have the spiritual authority over these guys) feel about that at this point. I have no idea what my role is or what exactly to do with all these churning thoughts and desires. I just have to trust that God will have His way in our midst as we submit to His Spirit.

So, please join me in praying. Pray for our group as we travel to El Paso Saturday. Pray for the Casas staff that will be leading us in building these two homes. Pray for the two sweet families we are going to bless and be blessed by. Pray for joy, for love to abound, for a desire to be changed by His presence.

“Now to him who is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.” Eph 3:20-21

Do it, Lord. Show off. I know you love to 🙂

My little month long journey is coming to a close soon. My parents are making their way to Cairo tomorrow to spend a couple of days and I will drive off with them back to GA. I have been meaning to write for a couple of weeks now. My days in Cairo have not exactly been jam packed-there has been plenty of time for reflection and communication. I even come to this page with every intention of typing-but I find myself staring blankly at the screen, unable to transfer thoughts to coherent sentences. And, yes, I know I don’t HAVE to blog. This is an entirely optional endeavor. I was laughing at Amanda the other day, when she was lamenting about the fact that she SHOULD blog, but didn’t want to-as if it were some big homework assignment or research paper she had to force herself to do. But, as silly as I make it, blogging forces me to communicate my thoughts, to put concrete words to swirling ideas. And I have come to find out I do this the best when I have an audience I am writing to. Clarity seems to come as I try to communicate to an outside audience. So, this is really all for my benefit. Forgive me for blatantly using you.

Being back in Cairo is hard. Straight up. It’s as if every spirit of doubt and insecurity and lies I have ever believed waits here for me, excited to get its claws in me again. Things I thought I have consciously laid down, given over return with a vengeance. I am doing alright for a little while, and then without me even realizing what has happened, I find myself back in the all too familiar pit. I can’t begin to even describe how frustrating and scream-inducing this cycle is. Guilt and shame overwhelm me and immobilize me. What am I doing wrong? What am I not getting? Will I have to fight this forever? God, where the hell are you in all of this?? I get pretty mad-at God, at myself, at the people around me who seem to be doing alright.

There are a few things I hate about these periods of my life :

1.) I do not praise God like I should. He is always worthy of praise. Always. Even when I don’t want to. But, man, I am stubborn. I am pissed and sometimes it is easier just to stay that way. So, my mouth stays clamped shut. Scripture says we trade the spirit of heaviness for a garment of praise, right?(Isa 61:3) I choose to cling to the heaviness when I decide not to praise Him.

2.) I don’t honor my fellow brothers and sisters like I should. Tunnel vision creeps in and all I see is me. Me, me, me. My pain and my struggle and my frustration. I feel like there is no way I can encourage or love someone else, so I just don’t even try. Exactly the opposite of life in the Kingdom, where we are to consider others needs above our own.

3.) I realize that pride is a huge issue in my life. It may sound a little funny since the major things I deal with include inadequacy and identity, but it’s true. I saw this with my staff over the past couple of years. I felt like my identity within them was the one who was broken, who needed healing. I was the one that needed praying for, needed to be ministered to. And I hated it. I didn’t want to be “the one” all the time. I wanted to be seen as strong, as one who had something to offer and wasn’t needing others to give. I couldn’t reconcile the Jessica my family and friends on the “outside” perceived: free spirited, fun loving Jess-ready to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth, with this depressed, joy-less, immobilized heap that only these nine people really saw. People tell me that one of my greatest strengths is my transparency and realness. But something inside screamed at me to keep this part of me squashed down and hidden. And made me resent the people who actually knew it. That is called pride. Sneaky little bugger, isn’t he?

In the midst of all this junk, healing is desiring to be released. I have a choice to believe that He is more than capable of healing me-completely and totally. I have a choice to not be ruled by my flesh, but be controlled by His spirit. I get so frustrated because it sounds so ridiculously simple. Oh, really, that’s all? Just do it? If it was so simple why have I not gotten it after crying out all these years?? Sometimes I just have to tell my mind to shut-up. I think and over analyze way, way, too much. I can’t change a dang thing about the past, about how I screwed up and didn’t get and didn’t understand-even if that past was just 5 minutes ago. I have a choice to live this moment as someone who is loved by her Creator, who has complete victory already, b/c Jesus already took care of all that stuff on the cross. He won’t do for me what I won’t do for myself. It truly is a partnership, living in His Kingdom.

So, as I sit here, I am grateful for love. Grateful that I have a Father whose very nature is to love me outrageously, 100%, all the time. Grateful that nothing I can do will change that. Even if 15 minutes from now I start to doubt that love. I am grateful for the love that is poured out to me by the people around me. I am thankful that this love also includes holding me accountable and giving me a swift kick in the rear when I need it. Love continues to push me along down the path towards His Kingdom-where complete healing and restoration are found.

Cause this is a healing song, oh and I’ve got a heart that fails
But love is pushing me along, I’m lifting up above this veil
This is a healing song, oh and I don’t know if you can tell
But love is pushing me along
I’m pressing up against the rail, pressing up against the rail

So, I was welcomed back into the fold of Two Rivers with a bang. What started off as a normal food pick-up by a community member (TR facilitates a program called family to family, which provides boxes of food to certain families in the community) turned into an incredible move of the holy spirit. The result was a formerly broken, downcast soul being brought to life in a way I had never really seen in this community. Valentine’s Day 2008 was the day God showed up and showed her a tangible expression of His love. Sara has already said it so well. Read her account here.

My little CA adventure is coming to a close. I sit here in Em and Jake’s apartment near San Diego, fighting a blog post that is swirling around in my head–one that just might have to wait til I muster up the emotional energy.

Until then, know that I did come out of our excursion mostly unscathed. God is always in the business of messing things up in my life, though, to get me a few inches closer of somewhat resembling His Son. This trip was no exception. My thoughts and feelings on that ran the gamut of love and thankfulness and hate and frustration and back again. But maybe I will talk about that later.

A few brief thoughts on things that stood out to me most over the past week:

I have a renewed appreciation and awareness of God’s majesty in the things He has made . Imposing mountains, the cold, roaring Pacific, lovely vineyards, fun sunsets. Creation was crying out everywhere, and I felt privileged to join them in their song.

sunset

In Redding, the prayer room at Bethel is this circular structure with large windows covering the walls. You can’t help but praise God for His creation with a view like this:

The hospitality and graciousness of the body of Christ was a beautiful thing to witness and be blessed by. I have never slept on so many random people’s couches and floors in a such a short time frame. Each city we came into, we were welcomed into a new home with open arms. When we arrived in the Hollywood area Thurs. night, we did not even know where we would be sleeping. The four of us split off in pairs to do different things. At 9:30 that night we got a text from HC saying we had housing-a girl named Karen she met at the prayer service she and Shawna were attending offered her living room floor to us. We spent the night at her place, she cooked us a fabulous breakfast the next morning, and we ended up having a powerful time of prayer with her and her friend. It was an important lesson to me. Because of her hospitality and generous heart, time and space was created for an encounter with the Spirit. God loves that. Hospitality is a gift I want to be able to walk in more.

I also want to thank my traveling partners for the laughs, support, patience and grace. Since being back in GA, I have kinda been hanging out on this island by myself.  True community sharpens each member and it took me a bit to adjust back to the poking and annoyance that ensues as we rub up against one another. But, it also made me realize that I don’t want to live without that challenge and accountability. Thanks, guys,  for the reminder.

I jet off for the Twin Cities this Friday. We shall see what the next leg of my little “sabbatical” holds.

I am sitting in the ATL airport waiting for my flight to Denver, then to San Fran. I am listening to a ‘lil mixed CD I made for the adventure, and here are some snippets from the songs I chose….

Get out the map…lay your finger anywhere down…

I want to reach out and touch the flame…

I’ve been hanging around this town for way too long…

….what do you say we just get lost?

let’s go where the road don’t reach, let’s go where the ocean meets the shore…

I’ve become a servant of the world somehow…

I want the joy of the Lord to lift me, I want the joy of the Lord to change me, I want the joy of the Lord in my life….

These past few weeks have left me a little war weary, I must admit, which has made me look foward to this little adventure even more. As one of the lyircs above said, I feel that without knowing it, I have made myself a servant to the world. Somehow, in the midst of work drama, transition stress, family relationships- it just happened. And while I don’t believe a road trip is the cure for all that ails me, I know that I just need some space-from my family, from how things were going back home. I need God to speak to me. I need to allow Him too. I feel like I have been trying–but that isn’t good enough. I know I need His presence. And as I embark with these three other amazing women of God, I pray that we can spur one another on-to let the joy and the freedom of the Lord to change each one of us in this new place.

It’s time for goofy pics, bare feet on the beach, fun times in the car, meeting new people, not having a set schedule, connecting to the body, fish tacos, dorky sight-seeing, praying (maybe even with Brittany Spears-who knows, Heather???:), reading, worshiping, laughing….

It’s time for JOY

“Don’t be afraid, little warrior bride.  Victory is on the other side.   YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”

thanks, Stacy (and Jason Upton;)

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