An attitude of gratitude changes everything

You know that feeling as if the world is conspiring against you? When it seems like it is one blow after another. Every time you take one step forward, you take three steps back. A few days ago I felt that way. Completely and utterly defeated. I was exhausted – physically, mentally, emotionally. Work – stressful, studying – stressful, finances – stressful. My body was failing me in a multitude of ways – a broken rib, unable to exert myself in the things I love. Issues with my stomach that seem chronic and at times unbearable. A severe cold and cough preventing me from getting more than four hours of sleep per night. By the time I got off of work that day, I was spent.

I went home and collapsed on the couch, ready to take a nap and comfort myself in my own pity. As I lay there, I grew more and more frustrated. I wouldn’t settle for this. I needed to move. I threw on my gym clothes and drove back to base. When I walked in, Eric was elated to see me. Instead of returning the enthusiasm, I felt myself grow tense. He ran over to give me a hug and say hi. I immediately snapped at him. Everything he did to try and cheer me up, I rebutted. He too then became defeated, and sulked away.

I was so irritated at myself for treating him that way. Why is it that we always take our emotions out on the people who love us the most? I wanted to fall into his arms and not let these feelings consume me but I did the exact opposite. I went across the gym to the stationary bikes to do the only thing I could – sweat off some steam. A few minutes in, one of the guys from my ship, a good friend of both myself and Eric, walked in, smiling his usual suspicious grin. I removed my headphones.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked playfully.

AS I began to vent, he scrunched his face and furrowed his eyebrows.

“What?!” I demanded.

“You need to read your Bible more. And you need to pray,” he replied matter-of-factly.

I was shocked. And immediately convicted. I wanted to refute what he just said. I wanted to say how dare you. But he was right.

When in the last few days of disarray had I set aside some solitary time with God? When had I taken to His Word and to prayer to solve my problems? When had I trusted that there was purpose in the pain and the chaos? When did I trust that maybe there was a lesson to be learned?

“You need to go walk out there right now, tell Eric you’re sorry and give him a kiss,” he scolded.

“You’re right.”

Right then, Eric looked over and saw us talking. He trotted over to say hi to our friend. They began poking fun at me and my attitude. I got off the bike and wrapped my arms around Eric and apologized.

As I drove home that evening I was humbled. I was so grateful for a friend real enough to speak truth into my life and point me back to God. I was so grateful for a partner and best friend who continually tries to brighten my day and encourage me. I realized that I had been exerting so much energy focusing on the negatives in my life, that I was completely ignoring the tremendous blessings I possess.

This past weekend, Eric and I had a very candid conversation. We were driving down to St. Augustine, our place and our escape to enjoy quality time together, and I said “Babe, I don’t know what’s happened to me. I’m not Joyful Jessy anymore. I don’t know what happened to her but my whole life I’ve always been so happy-go-lucky, so easy going, fun, and carefree. I’ve always just been so positive and altruistic and this whole year, I feel like its been a struggle to find joy. I feel like I’m so short and so edgy, and I wind up taking a lot of that out on you. And that’s not fair.”

He grabbed my hand and squeezed, “You’re right. You are less joyful than you were when we met and were first dating. You were like a golden retriever puppy then. But I don’t think that’s changed. I think you have just had a lot of serious growing up to do this past year and you’ve seen a lot of ugly realities of life. It’ll come back. You’ve just got to choose to believe that. You’re a ray of sunshine to everyone you meet – you’re a light. But even you are going to face challenged. Sometimes you need to recharge.”

When I really sat back and thought about what’s so different now than its always been, sure I could easily say its been the difficulty of recent challenges. I could blame it on work, I could blame it on ship life, I could blame it on my injury, I could blame it on a lot of things, but the facts are simple. An attitude of gratitude changes everything. My whole adult life, I have been intentional in showing and feeling thankfulness for the blessings in my life. I have always been intentional to love on others, to give and to serve. I have always set time aside for Jesus and wanted to be like him in all I do. I chose to allow my circumstances to control my attitude, rather than allow my attitude to overcome my circumstances. The thing is the happiest people don’t have the best of everything; the happiest people make the most out of everything.

My life is far from perfect, but man is it pretty darn good. I have a job that as frustrating as it can be – I love and that provides me far more than most. I own a Jeep that I always dreamed of. I have an unbelievably supportive and loving family. I have the most amazing, handsome, encouraging, hard working boyfriend and life partner. I get to use my passions and my talents to help others live a happier, healthier life. I found an awesome church family to serve with and do life with, and an equally phenomenal CrossFit family to grow with. I have friends that would move mountains to help me in any time of need and that constantly uplift me. I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and a very comfortable life. I have a relationship with Jesus and I realize that I have all that I want and so much more than I need.

Upon waking at 0500, the same time as every morning, with no coffee in sight and exhaustion settled heavily over me, I pulled out of the driveway with a smile. I greeted the gate guards happily and made sure to be on base early enough to stop for coffee and breakfast at the NEX. The cashier was cheerful and it only amplified my own feelings of joy. I pulled into the parking lot to find a half empty lot – for us on Echo pier – a rare and joyous occasion in and of itself.

From there, the morning progressed bringing with it an avalanche and domino effect of happiness. Why? Because joy is infectious. A sincere smile and laughter can’t be contained. True joy seeps into every crevice of you, taking over and infecting all you come into contact with. I remembered the girl I was that stood along the Cliffs of Moher, laughing, dancing, and thanking God. I think that was the happiest I have ever been in my life. I may not be running along cliffs in Ireland, but I’ve sure got a lot to be thankful for and to dance about, which in fact I have busted out in song and dance about five times already this morning. When I sat down and opened my Bible, I flipped to these two passages Isaiah 45:22-25 and Mathew 11:28-30.

So take heart! Happy Friday y’all. I encourage you to find your happy song and start dancing randomly. Whether it’s on the flight deck, the hangar bay, the mess decks, the gym, the office, the living room – wherever. Bust a few moves and you won’t be able to control the smile that overtakes you – and those around you. Also I challenge you to think of five things in your life you have to be grateful for right now, then watch that list grow. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 Even in our toughest times, with a heart of thankfulness and our trust in God, we can find joy and peace.

running wild

Nothing has ever brought me such exhilaration as running along the ridge of trails at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. The wind was blowing but there was not a cloud in sight. The massive waves crashed noisily yet tranquilly against the cliffs below. The endless expanse of Atlantic Ocean sprawled out before me and breathtaking green all around me. As I ran further and further down the narrow path, I came to a bend in the hillside where I found two beautiful wild horses. They were grazing peacefully and I kept my distance. They looked so majestic, so free and I resonated with them deeply. They were wild horses – just like me.

A boy I knew once compared me to the girl in Kenny Chesney’s song “Wild Child.”

Got a spirit that can’t be tamed, She’s a calico pony on an open plain…She’s a wild child, Got a rebel soul with a whole lot of gypsy wild style. She can’t be tied down but for a while…

I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. I loved romantic comedies and sappy movies and romance novels. Anything and everything that had to do with love and happy endings made me heart gleam.

I’d say 98% of people these days end up with a very skewed perception of love and marriage and relationships from a very young age. Be it from a soured relationship of their parents, the lack of two present parents, an awful divorce or infidelity, or witnessing abuse or constant altercations. Be it from early exposure to sex and pornography and becoming desensitized to emotional connection by our hook up culture. Or be it from giving their heart to the wrong people and instead of ignoring all the red flags that were there, pursuing relationships that led to despair.

Fortunately for a very naive and wide eyed younger version of myself, my first relationship was perfect. The two years I spent loving that man were two of the best, most growing of my life. It was everything that every song and every novel and every movie described. Love at first sight, best friends, sneaking off on old back roads, falling asleep talking under the stars, kissing on old train tracks, and running through life’s adventures together. I never smiled and giggled and loved so much in my life. It was perfect. But we as humans are not. And as amazing as he was, there was so much more to life that I wanted. That I needed. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to chase the stars. I wanted to do everything. And after two years, he wanted a settled life and I wanted one roaming the world. A wild child. A wild pony. Fortunately for me, my perception of love was not skewed the way most are.

I did however learn the deep heartache that comes with building a life and a future and walking away. I had seen “forever” and “I do” every day since the day I had met that man, and then one day it all changed. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and there are many things I wish I could do differently. But I have zero regrets in life.

Following that first relationship it took me nearly two years to truly fall in love again. Every guy I had been interested in or tried to date in that time, just didn’t compare. My standard had been set, and I wasn’t willing to compromise. Until I moved 7500 miles from home. The girl who didn’t allow any guy to measure up then began the girl who turned a blind eye. I’d make the wrong guys fit the right box by ignoring the things that didn’t align. As an optimist and idealist, I’d look for the best traits and allow those to supersede the obvious shortcomings. I allowed my self esteem to be diminished and my heart to be crushed. I’d given everything I had in hopes that I’d get something in return. I hoped and I prayed and I wished.

I know first hand how difficult it can be to give your heart away. To hear the sweetest lines and the most promising of words. I’ve been told every one in the book. I’ve had multiple men tell me I’m the love of their life, their soulmate, everything they’ve ever wanted, and so on. I’ve heard I love you and forever. You’re the one and you’re it for me. It all sounds good. Words of affirmation certainly are the love language for me. But just because you’ve been hurt; just because you’ve been lied to, doesn’t mean that one day someone wont come along and give those empty words weight.

I met Eric at a time where the absolute last thing in the world I was looking for was a relationship. After two years of recklessly throwing my heart at the first thing that got my heart racing – be it an Irish accent with a massive front squat, a cute Scottish boy who feeds me pancakes and takes me to pet goats, or a charming Marine with special warfare devices – I had gotten to a place where I just wanted to surrender my heart to God and fix myself. How could I love someone when I didn’t even remember how to love myself? At the time I had sworn off dating. I had recently told several guys that I was good friends with that were interested in something more, that I was unavailable and not looking. I had prayed a very specific prayer. And one Sunday morning after church, on a day that I least expected, at a place I didn’t intend to be, my life crossed paths with the love of my life. My best friend. My person. I had no idea in my wildest dreams, that this random guy with a backwards Harley hat and a forearm tattoo would be the man that I couldn’t imagine living life without. I had no idea that saying yes to him working out next to me would mean saying yes to working through life together. It was the strangest thing. It wasn’t love at first sight. But the longer we were near each other and the longer we talked, this voice inside me said “When he asks you to dinner, you will say yes.” Not even ten minutes later, he started to walk away when he turned around and asked, “Do you want to go get something to eat with me?” I was stunned. What. “Yes!” I blurted. His face kind of twisted up in a smile. “That was fast,” he laughed. I turned red. Did I really just say that?!

“I just thought you were going to ask,” I sheepishly replied.

We grabbed dinner then walked along the beach. Talking and learning and laughing. We spent a week doing just the same. Learning way too much about each other and saying way too much. Falling way too in love. Our time was limited – as I was preparing to deploy again. On our third date, a hurricane was slated to hit. We had dinner and a few Guinness when we strolled over the dunes to the aggressive seas. The Atlantic Ocean that I know of is flat, but these waves were angry – yet inviting.

“Want to go swim?” I dared, peering at him mischievously.

To my surprise, he shrugged and took towards the water. We stripped our shirts and he grabbed my hand. We dove right in. We dove right into the chaos knowing a storm was coming, knowing that that is the gamble we must take sometimes in life. It was in the eye of the storm and the tumbling waves that we shared our first kiss and I knew that that would be it. I knew that this was the man that I wanted to spend my life following into stormy seas and finding the adventure through the chaos with.

A year later I can say I’ve grown a lot, I’ve changed a lot, I’ve matured a lot. In the time we have been together I have changed my Master’s Degree three times, I’ve changed diets countless times, I’ve been injured, I’ve overcome a five year long battle with an eating disorder, I’ve been mad, sad, frustrated, and defeated. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is that when the storms come, the hand that is always there to guide me, is Eric’s. When I feel like I’m drowning, he pulls me back to the surface.

In the last year I have learned to trust again. I have learned that love doesn’t come in a one size fits all package. I’ve learned that talk is cheap but actions are priceless. I once compared loving Eric to trusting the guide I followed up a glacier in Iceland. I feel like that doesn’t even do it justice. Loving Eric is like trusting the skydive instructor when we jumped out of a plane 14,000 feet in the air. I had zero control. I made the decision to jump out of a plane and trusted that the person I was jumping with had me securely strapped in and knew what he was doing. It was a complete leap of faith — and it was terrifying! When I got onto the ledge of the tiny little prop plane with the wind blasting my face my stomach dropped. I could either think of all the what ifs or I could enjoy the moment and jump. So we jumped. And it was amazing. Unreal. When you decide to pursue a real, adult relationship with someone – I mean truly engage in a future with someone, you have to jump. You have to trust them. And you have absolutely no control over what they do from there. Once you make that decision, you pray for the best and take the leap. It has taken a lot of growth, as an individual and a couple. We are still evolving every single day. But I trust Eric. I trust that he will always pull the parachute and have my back.

When we disagree, we talk things out. When I’m upset, he always tries to understand. When we see things differently, we respect each other’s opinion. Eric has taught me so much and makes me a better person every single day. He is the hardest worker and most motivated person I have ever met. He gives 100% to all that he does and does so with such attention to detail and precision. He is everything I’m not and makes me the woman I want to be. With Eric, I don’t have a plan B. I don’t have an exit route. When you finally meet the right person, you won’t feel the need to have those things. You’ll understand the beauty and power of trust and respect.

I think Eric and everyone else we know would agree that I still have my wild side. I’m stubborn and hard headed and a free spirit. I still have a need to run and wander and adventure. But rather than tame me, he meets me where I am. He sees me for all that I am and instead of change me, he runs with me. We may not have all the same hobbies or interests, but we push each other in the same direction. I love CrossFit and pancakes, he likes powerlifting and French toast. I spend my Sundays at church, he spends his on the open roads. We don’t mirror each other but we compliment one another.

Don’t give up on love, because you’ve been hurt. Don’t walk away, because things get tough. Don’t be afraid to trust. If there are red flags, acknowledge them. If you’re always hurt, walk away. Don’t settle. Someone amazing is out there wondering when someone like you will come along. Even if you’re a wild pony, one day you’ll find someone to share the pasture with, you’ll find someone crazy rough to run through life with you.

Purpose Driven Living

We’re repeatedly told that we all have unique gifts and that God has a purpose for each of our lives. I wholeheartedly believe that God loves us more than we could ever imagine and that each of our lives is an essential and irreplaceable strand of thread for the masterpiece of this universe He is creating. I believe we all have a calling. I believe we all have a place. Some of us are meant to be pastors and preachers and teachers; some of us writers or singers of worship songs; some of us were made to be moms and dads and raise beautiful families. Some were made to be doctors and lawyers and athletes and businessmen. We were all made for something. I don’t believe there is a right or a wrong path when you chase your passions and let God lead the way.

img_1058I have never really been normal. My dad says I’m a conundrum really. I have always been a dreamer. Shooting for the stars and hoping I’ll land on the bright side of the moon. My life is highly organized and structured yet I thrive on autonomy and creativity. I love learning but hate sitting behind a desk. I love reading but can’t study for more than ten minutes. I am a planner but live for spontaneity. I know rules are necessary but I love to break them. I want to change the world and make a difference but I don’t want to do it writing policy – I want to do it by loving people well.

One time I hiked this really steep mountain in the snow with boots that were way too tight. I was in a rush to leave so rather than try them on, I just grabbed a pair and said let’s get on our way. My feet were so uncomfortable and hurt tremendously the whole trek. I know if I had just been patient and made sure they fit, I would have been able to enjoy the journey and the views so much more. I think we spend a lot of our lives doing the same thing. Rushing to fit into schools or jobs or relationships that just aren’t right, and we don’t get to fully enjoy the experience. Having the patience and courage to trust that God will place us right where we belong will pay out heaps in the long run.44285650_10210561168299961_6582332295049379840_n

The truth is I have spent most of my days chasing lots of things. Growing up as an athlete, I chased soccer balls and basketballs and footballs all over the field. I would like to think throughout my running career most of the time it was others chasing me but realistically that hasn’t always been the case, especially since I traded in track spikes for weightlifting shoes. Like most people, I have chased success in various places, sought after awards and accolades, and yearned for the approval of others. I have chased notoriety and a false sense of identity and belonging. I have chased waterfalls and mountain peaks and all sorts of adventures. And most of all, I have chased boys. Specifically I have chased love. I can’t help it. I love love. Then again I also love boys. As you can imagine that has gotten me into my fair share of trouble over the years. Here’s the thing though. It was in the pursuit of boys, or specifically a boy, that I found the love I had always been searching for. And ever since we met, I haven’t stopped chasing him. When I say chase, I don’t mean a casual stroll or a jog, I mean a full blown sprint. I am running after him like my life depends on it – because it does.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I get winded. I get really tired. Sometimes walking sounds a whole lot easier. Sometimes I see something shiny and want so badly to go run off after that. But then I remember. I remember that a life following Jesus is a life full of unconditional, unbelievable, unmatched love. I know that the prize at the end of this race is better than anything I could ever wander after. I know that a life of chasing God is a life of freedom, of passion, of adventure, and of love. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m all in. I don’t think God chooses specific people to do specific things. I think some people just get it right and do the things they love and do them for God. I think we can all live out our purpose in whatever we do if we do it for Him.

Keys to a Happy, Healthy Relationship

 

Valentine’s Day is upon us.

In a day and age where relationships don’t seem to last, love seems lost, people are more worried about chasing tail than chasing the one, cheating is all around us, and marriage has lost its magical appeal, I compiled a list of advice to building, enjoying, and maintaining a happy, love filled relationship. These tips and words of wisdom come from people of all ages, backgrounds, 50+ years of successful marriage, those in their second or third marriages finally getting it right, those looking back on the mistakes they’ve made, and my own personal experiences and lessons.

DO have a solid foundation.

  • Having shared values and common beliefs are an integral part to building a future with someone. You and your partner should have a clear understanding and mutual agreement on expectations of each other and your relationship, what you want, and where you are going. Go through the seasons of life together, build a sound friendship, and get to know one another for who you truly are.  Looks and lust eventually fade so you and your partner should have a deep understanding of one another and what you want out of a life together. You should be aware of the other person’s faith, family values, morals, and opinions on marriage, spouse roles, children, and the type of home you want together.

DO enjoy each other’s company.

  • Your partner should be your best friend. They should be the person you want to share good news with first and the shoulder you cry on when you’re hurting. They should be your adventure buddy, your partner in crime, your confidant, your rock. Be silly together, learn new things together, cook for and with each other, go learn a new skill together. You should enjoy road trips and sitting by the fire, and going out or staying in. You should just enjoy their presence.

DO have fun together.

  • Laugh. Hike. Joke. Camp. Dance in the kitchen. Sing in the car. Find things you enjoy doing together and do them often. Whether it is an evening walk around the neighborhood, finding a favorite restaurant, having a secret spot at the lake, going to the gym together – find things you both like and share in that!

DO be intentional.

  • Your relationship is an investment. You should be fully invested and involved with this person. Don’t play games, don’t manipulate situations, don’t mess with each other’s emotions. Be direct, be authentic, be real. If this is the person you love, they should know it. Your actions always speak louder than your words.

DO be their #1 fan.

  • Build your partner up. Cheer them on in whatever they are doing. In their career, in their hobbies, in their sports, in their life. Be their cheerleader! Encourage, support, and uplift them in everything. Don’t belittle their dreams, build them up. This is so important. Tell them you are proud of them. Show them off to the world. Write silly FaceBook posts just to make them feel valued and known. Put their photo up on the fridge with a nice note to make them smile. Let them know you’ve got their back, always.

DO the little things.

  • This can’t be overstated. LEARN YOUR PARTNER’S LOVE LANGUAGE. If his love language is quality time, find ways to spend time together (cook dinner, go fishing, go for walks along the river, hang out at the house, take classes together); if her love language is acts of service, do little things to surprise her (write her letters, give her cards just because, buy her her favorite snack, surprise her with flowers, make her feel special); affirm each other with kind and loving words, and do things for the other person. Love is selfless and you should train yourself to think of what will make your partner happy, and then by fulfilling their needs, you’ll find yourself feel happier too. One of the biggest reasons couples find themselves drifting apart is because their personal needs are not being met and they are left feeling undesired or unloved, not because that is true, but because they don’t understand that what might be one person’s love language doesn’t mean its the others.

DO your own thing.

  • Enjoy your “me” time. Pursue your hobbies and your “things.” Go out with the boys, have girls night, do what you love. Many people feel like they “have to” give up their interests to always do things with their significant other but it is important to have space and to pursue the things you are passionate about. Having your own identity is necessary for personal growth and fulfillment. Doing things together is great too, but just make sure you don’t forget about self care and personal goals.

DO communicate.

  • Talk to each other. Have an open dialogue. Listen to the other person. Share your thoughts and feelings. Be open. Talk about your day, share your hopes and dreams, and if something is bothering you, let your partner know. Talking about things is so important. Send each other playful texts throughout the day. Talk on the phone when you spend time apart. Be transparent. Communication is key.

DON’T hold onto your past.

  • One of the biggest relationship killers is when you can’t let go or move on from your past. If you still are holding onto past hurts, feelings, mistakes, and regrets, you shouldn’t be in a relationship. Holding onto your ex in anyway is unfair to your partner and your future together. Too many people either never heal fully and try to move on too soon, causing damage to the next person in their life, or keep ties which perpetuates feelings of their ex, and prevents them from fully giving themselves to their new partner. Either way, let go of your past or let go of your future. You can’t have both. Don’t allow old, unsettled feelings to fester. Delete the photos, the text messages, block their number, and move on. People who spend their lives looking back and wondering “what if” or holding onto old baggage don’t realize how much they’re damaging the person who is trying to love them fully in the present.

DON’T get distracted.

  • Relationships can be hard work. There will be times when your significant other makes you upset, frustrates you, or you honestly just feel burnt out. Don’t turn to distractions. Don’t look for validation in other places. Don’t flirt with the cute girl across the room, don’t send suggestive signals to the guy at the gym you know is into you, don’t start having a secret conversations with an old flame. Focus on the person you’re with.

DON’T have social media you don’t need.

  • Delete it. SnapChat, Instagram, WhatsApp, whatever it is. If you don’t need it, delete it. Why do you need to have apps to send private messages or photos to others? Why are you having DM conversations on Facebook or Instagram with other guys or girls? Why are you watching your exes’ story? If you have anything on your phone that you wouldn’t want your partner to see, you may want to check yourself. If you can’t securely and confidently leave your phone face up at the dinner table, or if you’re fearful of your partner knowing your lock code, you may need to reevaluate your commitment to that person. Don’t give your partner a reason to be suspicious if they don’t need to be. Period.

DON’T go to bed angry.

  • Simply put, don’t say goodnight or goodbye to the person you love with bad feelings. Even if you are upset with each other, the last thing you want to remember of that person is how much you loved them. You never know the last time a good bye may be the last. You’ll both sleep better knowing their is peace.

DO overuse I love.

  • Say it when you mean it. Say I Love You all the time. Say it before bed, say it before you leave, say it just because when you look at them, you’re like “Wow, I love you.” Don’t ever let your partner feel like they’re not your world, even when they’re being a little butthead.

DON’T stop falling in love with one another.

  • The number one piece of advice I got — never stop chasing them. No matter how long you’ve been together, don’t get complacent. Continue to woo each other. Continue to challenge each other. Continue to find new ways to love them better. Don’t settle. Every morning wake up and choose that person. Thank God for giving that special person to you. Tell her she’s beautiful. Take him to his favorite sporting event. Show her off out on the town just because you want her to feel wanted. Tell him you’re proud of the life he has built. Open the door for her, pay for her meals, cook him dinner, and never stop having fun. Don’t let the romance die. Every day remind yourself why you fell in love with them.

All good things take time

Good is a good word to use to describe a myriad of things. Good can be the taste of a pizza or a burger we thoroughly enjoy, good can be the outcome of a successful first date, good can be a measurement of the satisfaction of a customer on a survey, good can be a passing score of a test. Good can be a lot of things taken in a lot of ways.

I think a big mistake we have made in the English language is downplaying the significance and power behind certain words. Love is a prime example. We say love really to convey any sense of affection or positive reaction to something. “I love that shade of red on you,” “I love tacos,” “I love my car.” We love our families, our friends, our dogs, our vehicles. We love our valuables, we love our hobbies. We love a lot of things. Love is good. But that term love can often be overused, misused, and taken out of context. To tell someone I love you used to be a very big deal. A significant step in a romantic relationship or a serious way of expressing sentimental emotion. Now, many throw it around rather whimsically. When I say I love you to my parents or my closest friends or my dogs, I mean it in a deeply connected, unconditional way. When I say it about Eric I mean it in a very intentional, romantic, affectionate, and passionate way. It’s not just I care about you, or I like you, or I enjoy you. It’s a “you are a significant piece of my life and part of who I am.” Not an I need you but definitely an I want you. I used to find it weird when people waited months and months to say I love you, or only said it to their immediate family/ closest of friends. But now I understand. I love a lot of things, but I now understand the magnitude of what love truly is.

The word good has fallen victim to the same crime. Unfortunately good is now barely above satisfactory on some scales. Good is basically just ok. But good is so much more than that. In Genesis 1 God describes His creation as good, then as very good. He’s not simply saying the earth and skies and oceans and animals and all of His masterpiece is decent, He is saying it is magnificent. It is wonderful. It leaves you speechless. Good doesn’t happen overnight. Good takes care. Good requires love. Good requires patience. Good takes time.

I have been dealt a pretty good hand in life. God has been good to me. He has been gracious and kind to me. I have faced some struggles, some challenges, some obstacles, but they have shaped me. They have made me who I am.

God took seven days to create the world. We don’t actually know how long those seven days were but why didn’t He just throw it altogether at once? Why didn’t He just wave His hands and manifest everything off a whim? Because good things take time.

Patience has never been my strong suit. Like ever. I’m very high speed, low drag; just do it; full send; and act now, think later. Many times in my life I have had an idea or an aspiration and just as instantly as I thought it up, I devised a plan to achieve it. In many ways it has worked out. I’ve gotten to do some pretty awesome things in 23 years on this Earth. But in the process, I have had to learn a lot of things the hard way. I have had to retrace a lot of steps. I have had to try to navigate my way back to the path. I try not to be one to complain. I really try to see with eyes and feel with a heart of gratitude. I try to justify my struggles and really see them as gifts for who they have made me. And I know I’m not alone in this. People see much of my life as portrayed via social media or even just the way I carry myself through life. I try to be a light. I try to bring love and hope and joy to others lives. But I struggle too.

This past weekend I went down to Miami for the Wodapalooza, a massive CrossFit festival and qualifying event for the CrossFit Games. I have always wanted to go and had we not been at sea I would have tried to qualify to compete. But the days leading up, I was so fearful to go. I was so worried about not being good enough. Not being fit enough. Not being enough to attend this event. I knew there would be thousands of the fittest people on earth flocking to Miami and I wouldn’t fit in.

For the last three years that’s the voice I repeatedly have heard in my head. You’re not good enough. You will never be good enough. You’ll never be good enough to compete on the elite stage again, you’ll never be good enough to be loved again, you’ll never be enough. For three years I invested in toxic, unhealthy relationships truly believing that was all I deserved. For three years I allowed bulimia and binge eating to consume my athletic career, my social life, and my self esteem. For three years I gave up on myself and my athletic career after sponsors left me for putting my faith first, after followers would send me hateful messages for trying to spread love and light in a competitive and dark world, after my coaches told me that I would never make it as an athlete without them. For three years I allowed guys to make me feel that the way my body looked was the only thing I had to offer; I believed that my purpose was to build up others but that I didn’t deserve to be built up.

Whether you have known me for a long time or not, you may have never noticed these things from the outside looking in. It’s been a process. An uphill battle I have fought everyday since 2015. Every time I had thought some ground had been made, it seemed like things would then fall exponentially worse. In 2017 I made some drastic life decisions. Some of the best of my life really. I grew so much as a person, as an athlete, as an adult. I saw the world, I re-emerged on the fitness scene, and I thought I had overcome some of those struggles. Unfortunately pride comes before the fall, without fail. After putting both my CrossFit career and a very toxic, abusive relationship on a pedestal, my world came crashing down again. That summer, I developed severe anxiety and my eating disorder resurfaced, worse than ever before. I used traveling as an escape. As a drug to get away. I met another charming man with an endearing accent who made me feel special for a little while. It was like a bandaid to the abuse I had recently suffered. But not long after, that turned equally as sour. When 2017 came to an end, I was 20 pounds heavier, not doing CrossFit, was battling a devastating knee injury, had severe anxiety, the eating disorders were out of hand, was working a job I hated and barely scraping by, and had become someone I didn’t recognize. But when I was faithless, God was faithful. God is always good. And God knows good things take time. I wanted my troubles to go away instantly, but He knew it would take time. And care. And intention.

Throughout 2018, there was a lot of pain. There were a lot of painful goodbyes. There were a lot of tough pills to swallow. I saw just how terrible people can be. I got to visit beautiful places. I got to see incredible things. I spent 9 months at sea on a war ship. I enrolled in seminary. I dropped out of seminary. I messed up. I failed. I won. I learned. I traveled. I loved. I lost. I grew. A lot.

Three months ago, everything that had been weighing me down for over three years came to a head. I knew I had two options. To keep the merry go round I had been riding going, keep feeling the extreme highs and lows, keep reliving the same patterns and life lessons, or make some serious changes and face the music. Every one had something to say about how I should live my life. Everyone had a piece of advice. Everyone knew what was best for Jessy, except Jessy. And I needed to lose everything. I needed to walk away from everything. I had to lose to gain. I had to see that I am good enough. Not because a coach says so, or a teacher, or a mentor, or a guy. But because God says so. Because I say so.

As sappy, cliche, and overrated as this sounds, because of Eric, I finally saw I was good enough. I hurt him a lot in that process and I hated myself for that. But when I met Eric I finally saw what good is. I hadn’t met a good guy since I was 18. And I thought I would never have a good guy again. But when I met Eric, I knew he was good. And I knew God sent him to me. I loved him before I knew him. And he was so so good to me. I wanted so badly to love him, to be the woman he thought I was. But as much as I loved him, I didn’t love myself. I hadn’t in over three years. And once again, I fell into the trap. I listened to the voices inside my head telling me I wasn’t enough. I listened to the voices telling me I would never be enough. I listened to the voices telling me I didn’t deserve that kind of love. But somehow by the grace of God the real love of a good man saved me.

God showed me through this person that good things take time. They take care. They take energy and intention. I don’t like to wait for things but God made me wait and Eric made me wait, and I am so thankful for that. Because of that I know what love is in ways I never have before. I know what trust means and what goodness looks like, I’ve experienced grace and unconditional, selfless love.

I read a lot of books the last few weeks of being underway. I wanted to be better. Not perfect, but better than yesterday everyday. I read Ben Burgeon’s Chasing Excellence and it changed my entire mindset. Maybe I didn’t have to let anxiety and fear control me, maybe I didn’t have to live in the grips of an eating disorder, maybe I wouldn’t be the athlete I was before – I could be better, and maybe, just maybe I deserved to love and be loved.

Sometimes what you see on the outside has a lot more to it on the inside. That fear I had of not being enough for Wodapalooza went away almost instantly. It was one of the funnest weekends of my life. I had no fears, or insecurities. I had so much fun and enjoyed being there the entire time. I felt like I belonged there. And that proves that taking time to invest in yourself matters. It took time to develop good eating habits, a good internal dialogue, and a good mental frame of mind. It took time to get back on a training program, it took time to be honest with myself. It took years and years to finally open up to God and to Chaps and eventually to Eric about everything. It took three years to admit all of what had been holding me back. It took three years to develop a healthy relationship with food, a healthy outlook towards my body, and a positive view of myself. It took five years to meet a truly good guy, it took five years to write a book, it took five years to build a body that does awesome things. It look twenty years to give my life fully to the Lord, and it took twenty three years to find some kind of actual balance in life. Every day is a new journey, a new adventure, an intentional process. Life is an amazing, continuous opportunity to improve in some way everyday.

It’s taken time and intention to build a consistent routine, it’s taken time to build a career that I love, it’s taken time to cultivate meaningful relationships with real friends, it’s taken time to build a body that moves with power and purpose, it’s taken time to build a solid relationship with a man that I love and want to create a life with, it’s taken time to trust Gods promises, and it’s taken a lot of time to love myself. But All good things take time. They take time and care and consistency and energy and love and effort.

I am so excited to see where God takes me in my career, in CrossFit and running and weightlifting and OCR, in ministry, in my relationship with Eric, and in life in general. I’m excited to see where he takes you too! Just remember friends, all good thing takes time. Don’t settle for less because God has the best for you.

Don’t look back, you’re not going that way

The older you get, the harder discernment becomes. I feel like as children we have this innate tendency to trust and to sense what is good and pure in this world. We have our parents, our teachers, our older siblings, our cousins, our coaches, and so many influences that shape our understanding of the world and guide us along. Things seem to be in a constant state of moving forward – there is a familiar flow.

As we age, as we mature, as we develop into our own person we gain many things. Independence, autonomy, a strong sense of self. But somewhere in there, we lose or begin to misread that internal compass. That one that directs us and guides us continuously forward.

Looking back to reflect and to see how far we have come is necessary to grow. Moments of nostalgia and airs of sweet memories as we scroll through old photos on our phone or, how archaic, flip through a photo album on the coffee table. I have heard a lot of songs and talked to many people recently who long for earlier days. People who keep living in the past. Elevation Church did a sermon a few weeks back on this topic. Using Matthew 26 and Peter’s fear of moving forward in his life as an example. Without the constant guidance of Jesus, Peter seems to experience the exact kind of fear and state of complacency we get stuck in.

Ironically, most people will scoff at those who live in their glory days. We all know that uncle who “back in his day” could have gone pro if he didn’t blow out his knee, or that guy at the gym who used to bench 405 but now can barely hit 225. The back before I had kids, I had a killer body. Back before I got married, I had a booming business. Heck we all have examples of that in our own life. But there’s a difference between remembering an earlier time, and living in the rear view mirror. There’s a reason the windshield in front of you when you drive is so much larger than the rear view mirrors to see what’s behind you. You need to be able to look back for reference but be focused on what’s ahead.

How many of you have photos of your ex saved on your phone? Text messages, screenshots, old sweatshirts, cards, things of sentiment from someone who broke your heart? How many of you have those things after you have moved on with someone new in your life? Or after you married someone else? How many of you use every opportunity of #tbt or #fbf to show off on social media how good you used to look, or how successful you used to be? How many of you find yourself constantly thinking and dwelling on things of the past? Constantly replaying that game winning touchdown. Constantly reliving the good times and shared memories with your ex. Constantly putting yourself through a state of wanting to go back.

Friends, you are worth so much more. We all have times we cherished, people we loved, and moments that shaped us. But stop looking back. Delete the photos, erase the screenshots, block their number, throw out things that no longer fit, start a new photo album, make a vision board, and start looking at the blessings before you and the road ahead.

I used to find myself doing that a lot. Pining for who I used to be or the life I used to live. I used to scroll through thousands of photos wishing I could go back. Either to a certain person or a certain place or a certain time. I would constantly compare my body now to my body when I was a collegiate runner. I would always look at the relationship I once had and think I’ll never find that again. I would think about the things I could have or should have done differently. I was constantly looking back. And you know what? It took away from the blessings God was giving me in the present. It took away from the people God had given me in the moment. It took away from the opportunity and the experience right in front of me.

One of the things that has reignited the most joy in my heart has been simplifying my life and reflecting on all that I have. Most days I try to start or end the day with “10 Good Things.” Either 10 things that happened today or 10 things I am currently grateful for. Shifting our focus to be present and thankful for what we have excites joy and gratitude in our hearts. I started to work towards new running goals, new lifting goals, new body image goals rather than comparing myself to who I was before. The difference has been huge. I enjoy my training. I look forward to it because rather than feel defeated for not being as good as I was, I can celebrate small victories of how far I have recently come. I’m not anywhere near as fast or as lean as I once was, but I enjoy running and can rejoice over newfound prs. Running a half marathon after 3 years of bulking and lifting and eating disorders and struggles – and actually enjoying most of it, was a huge victory in my book.

My passion and fervor for the Lord, the love I feel for the man my life has been blessed with, the beautiful home and awesome Jeep I get to revel in, all of these blessings that I could easily overlook – I am trying to intentionally celebrate every single day. I can look back and be grateful for the events, relationships, accomplishments, and journey that shaped me, without being focused there. I can smile knowing that back then was great, but what lies ahead is even better.

Friends, let’s stop being so focused on the rear view that we miss out on the scenery in front of us. Reflection is a beautiful thing. Life is a journey, it’s a ride. The path ain’t always straight, the road ain’t always clear. But what lies ahead is so much better than what you leave behind.

life changes

Currently just sitting here in my office as the catchy new Thomas Rhett tune “Life Changes” rings from our small JBL speaker. The biggest smile engulfs my face as we laugh and joke about. Oh how amazing is it to see how life changes?

Exactly one year ago today I was at one of the lowest points in my life. My relationship was going through turmoil and my heart was breaking every day, a torn meniscus was preventing me from weightlifting or running, I had no motivation to go to CrossFit, I was either riding my bike five miles to work at 0500 in the freezing cold or driving my dad to work at 0300 to have the car to get to work by 0330, I was working 8 hour days for minimum wage, I was exhausted all the time, and I was suffering from severe anxiety.

2017 had brought some of the absolute best days of my life but also some of the worst. I spent just over 7 months abroad, but the four months I was home were miserable. People I thought were good friends, reared their ugly heads, a job I thought would bring joy to others brought misery to me, and I felt like I was being tested all of the time. I had gone from an internationally successful athlete with a banging body, a smoking hot boyfriend with a foreign accent, and a world traveler, to a broken little girl. Most days, I would get off of work at Starbucks at 1130 am after an eight hour shift, eat lunch,  and curl up on the couch, wrap myself in a blanket, and watch NCIS until I feel asleep. I had paid my own way through college and wound up in heaping mounds of credit card debt,  with thousands of dollars of student loans to pay off. I had completely let my fitness go and was almost unrecognizable in the CrossFit world. I had turned down some pretty big job offers in an attempt to rectify some things back home. Life felt stagnated and so so hard.

In that time, I had to rely a lot on my family, my few close friends, and most importantly God. In that season, things went from being all about me, to all about everybody around me. I was humbled. I remembered where I came from. It was difficult but an incredibly important time of reflection and growth.

Exactly a year later I cannot believe what God has done. Spending nine months at sea, traveling across the world, seeing some of the most incredible places, meeting amazing people, and experiencing so much wonder – I can’t believe what can happen in a year. God blessed me with a job that uprooted me from California, plopped me in Florida, and sent me off into the abyss. From not knowing how I could pay for gas to buying my own Jeep Wrangler, from living at my dad’s house to buying my own place on the beach in Ponte Vedra, from being thousands of dollars in debt to paying off all of my credit cards, from being unmotivated in the gym to snatching 80 kilos and training in some of the most competitive gyms in the world – it is unreal how much has changed. Last year I would have done anything just to drive up to Lake Tahoe for the afternoon and this week we took our warship to Norway to hike up mountains and run around fjords.

Friends, we spend a lot of time wishing we could do things. But God doesn’t just want us to wish for things. He wants us to make them happen. Pray fiercely and act purposefully. Work hard and don’t settle. If you want something, go after it. Pursue it. Start making time, stop making excuses. “I don’t have the money,” “I don’t have the time,” “I don’t have the experience,” are all just excuses. It all comes down to your heart and your initiative. Bob Goff talks about an essential part of living a life of love and a life of purpose – doing. He says it takes guts. He says, “I’ve come to understand more about faith as I’ve understood more about whimsy. What whimsy means to me is a combination of the do part of faith along with doing something worth doing.”

You can’t be half hearted in your faith and expect a full hearted response. You can’t be half hearted in your aspirations and expect your dreams to come true. Life is hard work. Faith is hard work. But it is worth it. We only have this one life to live and you have the choice to be a spectator or a participant. You can scroll through images on Instagram or you can be the one taking them. Everyone’s idea of adventure and fulfillment is different but we were created for audacity not complacency.

At 23 years old, it has been a crazy ride. God has taken me all over the place and I have tried to carve my own path along the way. But when you trust Him, when you work hard, and when you know your purpose, amazing things will happen. My life is not perfect but man I wouldn’t change a single thing. I never envisioned this job, I never dreamed of spending my days at sea, I didn’t expect to travel the world, I didn’t imagine myself living in Florida, but I am so stinking grateful. When we leave our hands open to God and just allow Him to guide our lives, its a beautiful thing.

Don’t think that your current situation has to be your forever situation. Make the change. Bolster your faith. Read some new books. Make some new friends. Go for a hike. Get some perspective. There’s a big world out there dying to know ya and an even bigger God dying to love ya. Cheers to life’s changes!

the glacier

Last week, in an ash filled valley that ran between two volcanic mountains, I stood at the edge of a glistening lake, watching birds land atop the majestic icebergs that had drifted into the water, broken off from the massive glacier we were preparing to ascend. I had never worn crampons before, nor had to carry an ice pick around, and well quite frankly I hadn’t envisioned crossing ‘scale a glacier’ off of my bucket list anytime soon, but here we were. The sights were breath taking and the experience seemed unreal. I didn’t quite understand how we had gotten here, but I was so thankful. The air was brisk and refreshing as we buckled the chin straps on our bright orange helmets and began our ascent. Almost instantaneously, a torrential downpour fell upon us. Disgruntled growls and complaints began to emerge from members of our group but nothing but sheer joy escaped me. I couldn’t help but feel the biggest grin form on my face. Our guide, Sven, looked at the group of grumbling and salty sailors then at me, and smirked. “C’mon, let’s go,” he summoned, and off we went.

The rain was freezing and the slick ice was daunting but Sven had given us very specific instructions on how to walk on the ice and told us as long as we stayed in a straight line and followed his steps, we would be fine. I don’t know about y’all but that sure sounds like the same instructions God gives us. We spend most of our lives just cruising along, in our daily battle rhythms, and next thing we know, we find ourselves ascending a glacier in the middle of Iceland, wondering how on earth we got there. I can tell you firsthand, most of my twenties have felt that way. On one hand its exhilarating and you’re like “Oh my gosh, I’m on a glacier in Iceland! This is amazing!” on the other hand, you’re repeatedly hearing, “One false step into a crevasse and you are dead within 30 minutes.” Ooft. That’s not exactly comforting. One miss step, and its over? That’s terrifying! And a lot of times life feels like that. We’re out having fun, enjoying life with our well thought out and meticulously devised plan, and uh oh, one misstep and it seems as though we’re done for. The last five years, there have been countless instances where I was dead set that I knew the plans for my life. I knew the degree I was getting, the career I was pursuing, the man I was marrying, and all of the places in life I’d go. I had it all figured out. Until I didn’t.

As we cautiously attempted to follow the steps of our experienced and confident guide, the first few hundred feet in crampons was slightly terrifying. It seemed like there was no way we should be able to walk straight up a hunk of slick ice. Somehow, with every step, we grew more assured that perhaps Sven wouldn’t lead us astray. As we got more comfortable, the beauty of our surroundings took precedence over fear. Chaps was directly in front of me and the rest of our group was following closely behind. I couldn’t help but smile in awe of the massive mountains that surrounded us, blanketed in snow and ash like a black and white portrait. “Can you believe how many people will never experience this?” Chaps turned to say to me. Here we were, hiking up a glacier, on top of a volcano, in Iceland, in the middle of winter. How cool! There are thousands of sailors and Marines on our ship, yet only seven of us chose to take this 2.5 hour drive to the southern coast and spend the entire day chasing waterfalls and volcanoes and hiking a frozen chunk of land. How many never left the city centre and the bars? How many never even left the ship? The question I suppose becomes how many people never leave their comfort zones? I have spent 18 out of the last 24 months abroad and every time I post a photo on social media I get comments like “So jealous,” or “I want your life,” or “Living the dream, so lucky!” Perhaps some of that is true. I have been extremely blessed and have gotten to capitalize on some amazing opportunities and experiences. But it’s not about being lucky – it’s about taking a leap of faith anytime one presents itself. How many people have bucket lists? How many people say they want to see the world? But of those how many are waiting for “this” or “that” to happen first before they actually pursue it? God didn’t make us for complacency, He created us to have audacity. It can be scary to step into the unknowns, to chase your dreams, to step out in faith, but living with reckless abandon knowing God is leading the way is the most freeing thing you can do with your life. Don’t live a life filled with “what ifs,” live a life full of “that was awesome.”

Much like having to trust Sven would take us down the right foot path up the glacier, living our life fully and faithfully means trusting God, even in times of uncertainty. Even when it is new terrain, or their is low visibility, we have to trust that with God as our guide we will always safely reach our destination. Imagine if David had lived his life in fear? What if he hadn’t trusted God enough to take on the lion and the bear? If he hadn’t sized up Goliath? Imagine if Esther didn’t have the courage to speak up to King Ahasuerus? What if Paul was too fearful to speak the truth of the gospel? Greatness comes from timidity; we must be willing to stop making excuses and trust God if we want to venture to places we’ve never been.

Recently I have found myself wrestling with God quite a bit. I know that His plans for my life will prevail as long as I seek Him and His kingdom above all else. The problem is, I get restless. My friends all say I have ADD. I am always bouncing around, running from one place to another, doing cartwheels down hallways, and handstand walking from place to place. If I sit in one place too long, I get shifty. I need to move, I need to roam, I need to wander. I need a change of scenery, to smell new aromas, and hear conversations in new accents and dialects. Though California is where I am from, I feel most at home elsewhere – when I’m traveling, when I’m meeting new people, seeing new places, and trying new things. I live for adventure and excitement. I think that’s why the Navy has worked out so well for me. Most people end up peeved and bitter underway, but I love it. There is nothing that puts me at ease like sitting out on the catwalk on a cool summer night, somewhere in the middle of the ocean, staring up at the billions of stars and endless expanses of gentle waves that surround us. I love it. I feel so at peace and connected with God. By the end of our current deployment, we will have spent 253 days out of this year at sea. That’s 70% of the year. Out of that, we have gotten to partake in five international exercises, visit eight foreign ports, and interact with thousands of sailors and civilians from all over the world. Only about 10% of our time on deployment is spent on liberty, out having fun, but those few days here and there, are what keep us driven and motivated during long stints at sea. Every opportunity to get out and explore the nations we wind up in, is time well spent. There is a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of harsh realities involved with this life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As we climbed slowly but surely up the glacier, we stopped several times to take in the surroundings. It was breath taking. How perfectly God had created the picturesque display before us. From where we stood when we reached the top you could see the glistening lake below, the valley of lush green countryside, the looming volcanic mountains that towered on either side of the water, and the contrasting shades of black and white against the ominous grey skies. It was surreal. It’s crazy how even though we had been rained on multiple times and we were all soaking wet and freezing, at that moment complaining was the furthest from anyone’s mind. Every one was so full of joy and enthusiasm – just taking in the amazing experience we were sharing. Whenever we reach the summit, be it on a hike or in life, it’s easy to look back and celebrate the victory. It’s easy to enjoy the view from the top. Often times we forget the arduous journey we endured to get there. We forget the grumbling and the questioning and frustration that had accompanied us along the way. Sometimes I get so caught up in the temporary aches and pains, that I forget that it is through the winding paths, the switch backs, the slick ice, the times that we start to question if its worth it, that we grow the most. Overcoming obstacles, building our endurance, withstanding the trials, are what strengthen our character. Romans 5 reaffirms just that “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” It takes patience to keep climbing and to trust God. That can be extremely difficult when you are looking at a path that never seems to end. Perhaps there is a deep crevasse to one side, and a mountain side to the other. The trail is thin and your legs are tired.

I am currently in seminary and that’s honestly exactly how it feels. I know that I’m on the right path but I feel like it’d be easier to veer off to one of the other trailheads that keep popping up along the way. Where my trail keeps leading into the fog, the unknown, where it is rocky and steep and there is no clear end in sight, all of these other shorter, visible paths seem extremely tempting. I knew this would be an arduous climb, I knew it would require endurance and suffering and patience. I knew it would require being uncomfortable. But I feel so tried and tired all of the time. The work load for two theology classes is twice the reading I had taking 21 units during undergrad. Balancing a full time job, being on deployment, training, and school is an everyday game of tug of war. Opportunities to grow in my career that I have now, in my athletic pursuits, and in other tantalizing military roles keep presenting themselves, daring me to venture their way. The temptations from other careers aren’t bad, they just aren’t right. Everyone has a plan for their life, but God has a purpose for it.

It feels the longer I push on down the path, the more obstacles fall in my way. Like continuing down that difficult hiking path, it becomes more challenging the further you push on. More isolated, less groomed. Fallen trees, hidden creatures lurking. I have been trying so hard to be “good” lately, like really good. What I mean by that is that I feel like most of my life can be summed up in Romans 7. My nickname majority of my life has been “Trouble.” The last words the CO said to me after deployment were, “make good decisions Jessy.” Whenever we have a man overboard, everyone always expects I must have something to do with it. It must be my face. Okay I’m not that naïve. Beth Moore nailed it in describing her own personal battles – “I struggled in my adolescence and as a young adult with being both innocent and alluring, both godly and deadly.” I love Jesus. I love being a good example. I love being mature and sweet. But I love walking on the edge of danger. I love to test the limits. I love to be wild and free. I’m a wild child with a gypsy soul and a wanderer. Eric says that’s what makes me dangerous. And that’s what makes me trouble. It’s like I know the stove is hot but for some reason I have to set my hand on top of it just to double check. This underway I have been praying incessantly about knowing my weaknesses, knowing my struggles and entrusting God with them, knowing He can turn them into strengths. I have been very intentional in where I spend my time, who I invest my energy in, and where I let my thoughts go. I have been extremely conscientious about perception and setting clear boundaries. But the things is, the more I make good decisions, the more I am being tested. When we were in port, the country we went to was known to have some of the best beer in Europe. Not only that the streets were lined with bars and pubs, full of culture and life. Every night I’d get invited to go out with guys, and I’d say no. I spent my time outdoors, at Crossfit, or with the Chaplains. I only have a few areas of weakness that the Lord has not been able to completely eradicate from my life. Being boy crazy is the big one that has caused me a lot of heartache in the years. I have two huge kryptonites. Marines. And Brits.

I grew up around Marines. I wanted to be a Marine. Everyone always thought I would marry a Marine. I love Marines. This entire year was me surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands of Marines. Similarly, last year, was the year of the Brits. Every guy I meant was British, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish (noted Irishmen are not to be confused for Brits). And boy did they make this California girl weak in the knees. First it was a Brit, then it was an Irish man, but it was the wee Scottish boy from Edinburgh who finally captured my heart. I would have renounced my American citizenship for that boy. We were wild for one another. And it was as if every man from Northern Europe had caught that scent and knew I couldn’t get enough of their banter and putting them in their place. However, God knew where He needed me to be, and there was not it. There was a lot of sadness and hurt that followed but as soon as I started seeking God amidst the storm, He led me safely back to His arms and His path.

Well, now in a season of maturity and growth both spiritually and emotionally, I have found myself in the middle of the Arctic surrounded by thousands of Marines and Brits. Everyone expects me to get in trouble. Everyone expects me to give in. Everyone expects me to veer from the path. But God knows I won’t. Every day on deployment I watched sailors and Marines cheat on their spouses and significant others. I sat and listened to them cry in my office after they received “Dear John” breakup letters via ship email or Facebook. In my adulthood I have been both cheated on and the one a guy almost left his wife for. I have been used and played and left for nothing. I have been a bet and a challenge and a box to check. I have had my heart absolutely destroyed and I’ve shattered a few along the way. One of the biggest reasons I made the final decision to pursue chaplaincy was to help change the way things are. Everyone says infidelity is just a part of this lifestyle in the military, but it shouldn’t be. Just because something looks good, something sounds nice – just because it is a short cut doesn’t mean its right. What is funny is that having the two things that have been so crippling for me in the past, now readily available, makes me want them even less. I could easily veer off the path to fulfill some short term pleasure, to take the easy route, but why would I do that when I have something substantial and rewarding waiting for me back home? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s like trading a diamond for some pebbles along the road. It’s like looking at the peak of a mountain, knowing the view is going to be unbelievable, and choosing to turn around and walk the other way. In the face of the trials, both with school and with all of these men, the choices have become easier to make, and the path has become clearer. It’s taken some questioning, some second guessing, some doubting, but once I step back, and think about that feeling on the glacier, once I think about taking that leap of faith and leaning into God, when I remember all of the incredible places He has taken me on this journey, I know to trust Him and His plan. I can honestly be around all these silly accents and fit Marines without thinking twice about it. I know what I already have waiting for me, and trust me if I could run any faster to get there, I would be in a full blown sprint. When it comes to seminary and my career, its a little more difficult because the decisions aren’t necessarily good versus bad, more so good versus purpose for your life. That’s scary. That’s intimidating. That’s hard. With Eric, I trust that I can see him and he can see me. We might have some distance, but I know he’s there. With chaplaincy, I trust that I can see it, but the path kind of disappears into the fog and the end of the trail seems impossibly far away.

One day you may find yourself on a glacier in Iceland, or in a desert in the Middle East, or on a mountain in Bali, or in a new marriage, or in a position to take on a new job, or some place you’ve never been that both excites you and terrifies you. Trust your guide. He’s got this. There will always be obstacles, and hey, from my experience, the more challenges you face the more rewarding the accomplishment will be. They always say the best victories are the ones you have to fight for. I can tell you this. From signing a contract with the US Army on my 20th birthday to hopping on a plane to Bahrain two weeks after college graduation to traveling to Ireland and Scotland last summer with just a back pack and weightlifting shoes to uprooting my entire life to a naval warship that would spend the entire year at sea, most of my decisions these past few years have been made by looking at the cliff and taking a gigantic leap of faith. I have made a lot of mistakes and blazed my own trail a few too many times, but every single time God has led me back. While I’m on the path and it seems scary and I am afraid to fall into the crevasse and be dead within 30 minutes, I just listen to Sven’s directions. I wait to hear God’s voice and remember to just follow his path. It may not be very clear, it may not always makes sense. But if He’s my guide, I know we’ll always reach the top of the mountain. Go climb that volcano. Go hike that trail. Fall in love. Whatever it is, trust God’s got you. Be strong and courageous.  

a life of whimsy

“Well, you know, Dad, I’ve thought about that too. Nothing personal, but I realized that right now, I’m doing the things that other people seem to think of as memories someday. It seems like memories are what older people have when they think back about being my age when they could actually do something about them. So I think what I’ll do instead of writing things down now is just do lots of things, and then maybe when I’m done doing cool things, I will write them down later.”

I always learn a lot from Adam. I think we should all get back to building that rocket ship we dreamed of when we thought about what our life would be about. I want to be doing things today, not just flipping through crinkled and yellowed mental pictures of what happened a long time ago. I’ve been thinking I’ll follow love’s lead and find some capers worth doing, ones so saturated with whimsy they have to be wrung out like a wet towel to be understood fully.” Bob Goff, Love Does

To be quite honest, it would not be too outlandish to think that I would copy and paste the entirety of Bob Goff’s “Love Does” in here just to ensure y’all don’t miss some of his perfectly worded points and views on creating a life worthwhile. One of my friends from the boat recommended I read this book while we were on deployment. He said as he was reading it, all he could think was, “Man this guy sounds a lot like Jess.” My reading list is pretty exhaustive so it took me a few weeks to get around to it. But wow. Every chapter is full of gold. Bob’s view on life will change yours. His infectious joy seeps through the pages and into your heart. He makes you want to do more. He makes you believe you can do it too.

I just started seminary. And wow. It’s difficult. It’s daunting. And on more than one occasion I have second guessed this decision. I have already played out the scenario of staying a FunBoss with the IWO and continuing to live this fun and adventurous little life God has blessed me with. It pays well, it offers loads of autonomy, and I love what I do…But it doesn’t fulfill my soul. My heart still stirs and hungers for more. That’s what love does. It pushes you to be better, to challenge yourself. It makes you want to do more.

I have struggled a lot the past few months, especially now that I am studying theology, with balancing truth and grace, doctrine and love. I live with and work in the military. With a lot of broken individuals. And guess what? I am also one of those broken individuals. I have been hurt, misled, wronged, and left in pieces. I have sinned, lied, and messed up more times than I can count. But I am pretty sure that’s why God continues to use me. I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m here. I’m not perfect. But I can love an imperfect world and those in it. I can look at my sailors and Marines and tell them, “I know how you feel because I’ve been there myself.” I don’t want my ministry to be some distant relationship between myself and those I’m serving. I don’t want to be a religious person telling others how they should live their lives to be more godly. No. I want my life to be my testimony. I want God to use my story to tell His story. I want to live my life with reckless abandon, chasing God passionately and fearlessly. I don’t want to tell others how to live a full life, but instead show them. I want to be living proof that grace wins every time. That you don’t have to have a clean record to get in the door, you just have to have an open and willing heart. I want to throw a party celebrating Jesus and all that He has done for us, sending out invites to the broken, the hurting, the healing, the prodigals, the beggars, the tax collectors, the homeless, the lost, and the seeking. I want to live a life so full of joy and passion and love that it is like a fire burning up the atmosphere. A light so bright, it attracts all to the source. I want to bring warmth and love back to the hearts of the many who have been hurt or turned off by the church and by religion and bring them back to a God who loves them with more power than the waves of the ocean. I used to think I had to be perfect to best lead others, but now I know I’m imperfect so that I can best serve others.

I think God has done a pretty awesome job of leading me on a life of adventures. But the thing is, I don’t just want to tell stories about traveling and doing things – I want to tell stories that exemplify God’s glory. I want stories that inspire others to live awesome lives and to chase God and all he’s got planned for their lives. Most people don’t pursue their dreams out of fear but I’ve found that the more I trust God, the less I have to be fearful of. The more I lean into the Lord, the more joy I get in the places I used to feel anxious. Things I once would have found terrifying, I now find exhilarating. I don’t know about y’all but I’ll follow God out of any plane, knowing He’s got the most dependable parachute there is. You’ll never be fully alive until you take the leap.

I am still a bit overwhelmed by seminary. I am fearful of leading others astray or not being godly enough or not being knowledgeable enough. But guess what? I should be nervous! We are not called to complacency and comfort. We have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. We’ve got to do the scary things. We’ve got to take chances. We’ve got to gamble. I don’t want to look back on a life full of memories. I want to live a life full of adventures. Don’t you?

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

Two years ago I ran my first half marathon. And I won. And I hated every minute of it. After the race my mom asked me how I felt to which I responded, “I will never run a half marathon again.”

This morning alongside crystal clear waters and under the warm California sun, miles and miles of dirt trail padded beneath my feet as I started my training for the Marine Corps half marathon. It was the first time since I was 20 years old that I actually felt like a runner again. Back in my early years of adulthood, running was my life. It is what I stayed in Sacramento for. To run track and field for California State University, Sacramento. I raced almost every other weekend all over Northern California. I lived for it. For the runners high. My freshman season I tore my ACL and meniscus, thus ending my hurdling career. I was told running would never be the same. But after 9 months, my legs found their way back to the track and the trails. Only this time as PFC Howard and an Army ROTC cadet. I loved PT. Rucking, running, sprinting. I thrived. Until my Crossfit career turned into powerlifting. And I stopped running. And my coach said “you will never be a runner again.” Those words haunted me and over the past three years I have ran. A lot. I even ran that half marathon. I have ran Spartan races and 5Ks all over the globe. And won. But I didn’t feel like a runner.

Running takes endurance. It takes stamina. It takes drive and dedication and lots and lots of discipline. It’s a lot like our faith. We have to run the race with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). This week on leave some pretty life altering things happened. A very big one being registering for classes at Seminary. Being accepted was one thing, but signing up, paying tuition, and purchasing my textbooks for Greek 501, Theology 501, and New Testament 501 was kind of a big deal. And a scary one. And I know it is going to be extremely difficult and challenging and require my full dedication. It’s not something that I can do overnight or wait til the last minute for. It’s going to require painstaking amounts of time and energy. It’s going to require endurance. This week I also signed up for the Marine Corps Half Marathon. I haven’t ran further than a 5k in probably a year and a half. I have no patience for running on the ship for more than 20 minutes. I just want to do WODs and lift things and do sprints. Running long distance is hard. It’s taxing. It takes work. It takes mental fortitude. It takes training. But I know I was made to run. As much as I enjoy other things, running has always been where I feel God the most, where I feel the most alive. And although there are other career options in my line of sight, ministry and serving God and country is what I know I was called to do. Anything else would be unfulfilling. In anything worth doing there is going to be difficulty, strife, and obstacles. Anything that is deemed your purpose is going to require ALL of you. All of the time. David didn’t have it easy. Job didn’t have it easy. Paul, Peter, John, Timothy. None of them had it easy. And Jesus. Jesus lived a life of constant pain, challenges, and adversity. But he endured. He had stamina and he had heart. He knew this life is a marathon not a sprint. And his faithfulness and his dedication to his task led to our salvation. So what is our excuse?

My ambition and wild fearlessness has always been one of my biggest strengths. It’s also been one of my biggest flaws. Now is the time for me to dedicate myself to running the race with endurance. To train everyday with intention and purpose.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

It is going to be hard. It is going to be exhausting. But anything worth doing is going to have those consequences. If living for Gods glory means learning to love the aches and pains of life as an ultra marathon, then so be it. Our faith is not meant to be felt in bursts of speed and explosion followed by periods of stagnation. Our faith is meant to endure, to grow, to mature, and to flourish. We were made for the long run. It’s time to take up our cross and hit the trail knowing our pacer will lead us down the right path.