It’s never just a linear process

success

There is power in vulnerability. And no, I don’t mean taking advantage of other people when they’re vulnerable. I mean when we own our weaknesses and bring them to the light, they become powerless. God loves to turn our weakness into His strength and by that, empowering us. We break the chains. We are no longer held captive by our shortcomings, our flaws, our setbacks, our failures, our lack of. Instead we are set free by God’s amazing grace, by His sovereign glory that enables us to move mountains and face any challenge that dare look us in the eye.

The most heartbreaking thing is that we were not created this way. God created us in His image. He sees us as beautiful, as wonderful, as beloved. But we are our own worst enemy. There is no worse critic nor competitor than the person we see in meet in our reflection. We destroy ourselves. We were made to be full of joy but we allow our inner demons to take that away. We can blame outside sources, and yes, they can have an impact, but when it comes down to it, the biggest battle we ever fight is with ourselves. An on going battle for inner peace. Between stress, worry, doubt, and fear – we already put ourselves on the losing end of the fight. We then allow those to take away from who we are, how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we think others see us, and suddenly, our joy, our peace, begin to slip away. We become captives to our self identified shortcomings. Anais Nin put it perfectly when she said, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

fit

The girl pictured above is happy. She is full of joy, she is confident, and she loves herself. She knows she is a beloved daughter of the king and she knows she has purpose. She feels beautiful on the inside and out. This girl is me. These pictures are all from the first week of May 2017. Yes, less than a month ago. If you saw me now, you may not believe that. This girl weighed in at a low of 138 lbs and 14% body fat. She was clean and jerking over 200 lbs daily, squatting over 245 lbs daily, and was running a 5k every morning before work. She spent 9 hours a day working, 4 hours a day training, and the other time either in the Word with the Lord, spending time with her best friends, or was snuggled up with her handsome Irish boyfriend. Her last month in Bahrain, she did a Spartan Race in the middle of the desert and won a national level weightlifting competition. Sadly, when I left Bahrain, I left her behind…

Or so it seemed. It is easy for people to look at that girl. For most, that is the Jessy they know. The fit, blonde girl from California. The Crossfit girl. The girl that’s always smiling. The bouncing, bubbly blonde girl. The girl that’s always running everywhere. Some variation of that anyway. Most people assume I’m always happy. I get asked that ALL the time actually. How are you so happy all the time? And most people assume I have always been super into fitness. You’re so lucky, you have good genetics. And the biggest compliment and the biggest misconception is that most people assume I can always do it all. You’re like superwoman, what can’t you do? 

The truth? I’m not always happy. I have my bad days, my days I cry myself to sleep, my breakdowns, just like everyone else but my joy overshadows my happiness. See happiness is fleeting, but joy from the Lord is eternal. I may not always be happy, but I will always be full of joy. I can be really sad on the inside but I will wear a smile and love on everyone I encounter because for all I know that person could be going through something far worse than I and a friendly smile may be the only thing pushing them forward.

I haven’t always been into fitness either. I haven’t always been fit. I was always an athlete but I chose my senior year of high school to leave the sport I’d played my whole life for 3 sports I had never done before. And I had to work really hard. It’s not that I’ve always been into fitness, it’s that I’ve always had to work really hard. I could never leave the weight room or the track or the field feeling satisfied unless I knew I was the hardest worker in the room. That work ethic led to me being super into fitness. The past 4 years I have pinballed between 6 different sports and have worked to be competitive at all of them. What people see is the glamorous side. The championships, the medals, the end product. What people don’t see is the mental and physical mountains that have arose in the way. Torn meniscus, torn ACL, torn hip flexor, bulimia, binge eating, body dysmorphia, pulled muscles, strains, mental breakdowns, bulking and cutting cycles. Between college track, bodybuilding/fitness modelling, distance running, Crossfit, powerlifting, and Olympic weightlifting, my fitness journey has been anything but linear. It’s been anything but easy. It hasn’t been genetics that has gotten me here. It’s been a lot of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. It’s been a lot of supportive friends and family, a lot of really good coaches, some really awesome sponsors, and a lot of perseverance.

BeFunky Collage
June 2013 to May 2017: Top to bottom, left to right. Top 2 rows: 2013 3rd row: 2014 4th row: 2014-2015 5th row:2015-2016 6th row: 2016, last 2 photos: 2017

And above all, I don’t have it all together. And I can’t do it all. Not all the time anyways. It may look like that from the outside but just like everyone else, I’ve got demons I’m fighting. I’ve got weaknesses that bring me down. I will admit, I do try to do it all. And sometimes I succeed beautifully. This experience in Bahrain was a perfect example. For 4 months, I was (for the most part) able to fit everything in, every single day. I was able to do it all. But as soon as I came home that came crashing down. I fought with bulimia and binge eating for the first time in almost 2 years upon my arrival back home. I’ve had to get really vulnerable with a lot of people I haven’t wanted to open up to in order to get back on track. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. That girl that was happy and confident and joyful made a huge mistake. She tried to do it all on her own. She tried to build up her own kingdom rather than focusing on building up God’s. She tried to control her body, her injuries, her relationships, rather than allowing God to steer the course. I don’t know if any of this will resonate with you, but I hope and pray that it does. It may not be fitness and your body that you’ve been struggling with, maybe it’s alcohol, or a relationship, or anxiety, or depression. Whatever your struggle is, I just pray that you will hear this: it is not a linear process. Nobody who is successful in life gets there via a straight line. Please do not give up, ever. Even if it feels impossible. Pray, meditate, make a vision board, whatever you need to do, invest in yourself.

Don’t be afraid of your vulnerability. Don’t be held captive by your weaknesses. You are loved and you are free. This life is yours. Don’t let those critics within you take away from who you are. Let go, let God. My prayer for you all is to be vulnerable. Lay it all out on the table. To a friend, a spouse, a counselor, to God. Lay it all out and be freed. Success and peace and happiness won’t happen overnight friends. It’s a great and winding road. But it’s so worth it.

cold coffee in the morning

As sun poured through the window and sweat dripped down my brow as I rolled out of bed I knew it was a cold coffee & girl date kind of morning. I turned on the coffee pot, kicked on the air conditioner, and picked up my dear friends Hillary Swank & Julia Roberts. As I eagerly awaited to pour some fresh brew over ice, I lost track of time scrolling through an endless array of “wanderlust” photographs on Pinterest. As the spring days in Northern California pass me by, my desire to travel grows exponentially. My obsession with running miles of endless trails to Ed Sheeran serenades and my yearning to be overlooking crashing waves from the cliffs of Moher deepens every minute.

When the “beep” of the coffee pot sounded, I got my last fix of quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson and prepared myself for the morning ahead. Just me, my iced coffee, and a heart ready for some contentment. The familiar melody of The Pogues’ “Love You Till The End” filled the living room and the calming lyrics escaped my own mouth. Yes, I am indeed a living, breathing cliche. “P.S. I Love You” has been my absolute, undisputed favorite movie for 10 years now. I first fell for Gerard Butler as a love struck 12 year old and a decade later, my heart still melts for him and this movie. I just so happened to be heading to Ireland in a month and a half – but it’s got nothing to do with this movie, I swear. I also choose to avidly listen to Oasis and Flogging Molly by my own accord. Well, aside from only reaffirming the fact that I am undoubtedly meant to live out my days in the countryside of Ireland with a handsome lad, watching this movie (which every line and song I can recite) reminded me of what this life is all about. This is the first time I’ve watched it and really resonated with my girl Holly (Hillary Swank) on a deeper level though. It’s the first time I have understood the grief of loss and not knowing how to fill that gaping void. It is the first time that I have actually had a life that I had built then in such a short time, had it ripped away. The feeling that comes with looking back on all the things you wish you had done, said, or did differently. It’s the first time I’ve found myself relating to sitting on the couch in three day old pajamas, unmotivated to get up, and not knowing how to be. Being surrounded by friends and family but never feeling so alone. Between my iced coffee, Gerard’s smile and eloquent love letters, the beauty of the landscape and the anticipation of my coming trip to Ireland, and the unbelievable amount of truth that is spoken throughout the film, it was the perfect morning of refreshment and peace. A reminder of all the beauty and love that fills this world, even after we’ve suffered lost. A reminder that it is absolutely okay to mourn and grieve after a loss. It’s okay to not be okay. But when the time comes, we’ve got to pick ourselves up and rediscover who we are and who we want to be. We will never be the person we were before and that’s okay because we’re not meant to be. We’re made to constantly learn, grow, evolve. We’re meant to meet people, see new places, and try new things. We’re meant to fall in love, get our hearts broken, win some and lose some. It’s what makes life such a beautiful journey. As P.S. I Love You puts it, “Nobody’s life is filled with perfect little moments. And if it were, they wouldn’t be perfect little moments. They would just be normal. How would you ever know happiness if you never experience downs?”

It’s so easy to find ourselves stuck in a rut. Find ourselves stuck on the hamster wheel of life’s monotonous routines. We find ourselves in a period of waiting. When we’re heartbroken, it is like our entire universe comes to a colossal end. But we’ve got to stop. We’ve got to stop waiting. So much of our lives is spent waiting. Waiting for love, waiting for a job, waiting to have enough money, waiting to have a fit body, waiting for him to call. We’re always waiting. And meanwhile, life is moving forward. Time is passing by. It’s easy to use our heartbreaks, our failures, our lack of things as an excuse and as a crutch as to why we don’t pursue what we really want. We allow fear, doubt, and physical restraints to prevent us from taking a leap of faith. But we’ve got to learn to live again. And live more.

I’m going through “A Purpose Driven Life” again, for the third time now. It’s always such an awesome tool to reset and reprioritize. But going through it this time the pages speak to me differently. “What drives you? What drives your life?” I’ve never had difficulty answering that. Serving God and doing what I love – my sports, my academics, my career, always defined me. But as I read that question, I found myself just staring blankly at the page. Unable to open my notebook and pen out the answer. When I made the decision this January to go to Bahrain, my purpose changed a bit. My personal mission statement became: live a life of love; love God, love others, love life – the rest is just extra. I certaintly got to love so much in Bahrain, and I also received plenty of the “extra.” Now, 5 months later, I’m having to revisit this idea. What drives my life? I feel exactly like Holly. I’m at a loss for words, for motivation, for purpose at the moment. All I know is I’ve got this insatiable desire to go. As someone who has always been driven by school, athletics, and a set career, this is such a new place. So what better to do than dive into God’s word, get down on my knees and pray, and for the love of God, watch my two favorite movies to gain some clarity and insight. 

Between the two stories of 30 something year old women rediscovering life and passion and love through friendship, adventure, travel, food, music, and pushing through the seasons of grief and loss and change, I feel revived. I feel rejuvenated. The way cold coffee awakens us in the morning, P.S. I Love You and Eat Pray Love awakened my soul. Reminded me all about the loves and passions that fill my heart. It was reassuring to find company in two women who understand the need for more in life. Who seek to find balance and want to fully feel what it means to live. Who understand that to feel deeply requires the risk of getting hurt deeply, but it also means experiencing the true beauty of love. The two story lines follow two very different lives that parallel so much with each other as well as with mine. I’ve got this whole P.S. I Love You romance and Eat, Pray, Love adventure going on and though it’s been gutting, it’s been absolutely rewarding and the best adventure of my life.

I was able to walk to the table this afternoon and know with certainty what my purpose is. What drives me. Loving people, loving God, and loving this crazy thing called life. I know God’s got a big journey ahead. And now I’ve got to go. This desire to serve and to see the world is only growing every minute of every day. I think it has always been there. In my heart. The desire to go. To see the world. To experience life. To live a life of adventure. I’ve been blessed to experience and learn so much in my short 22 years of life but I’m eager to learn and grow even more. My mission hasn’t changed. Love God, love others, and love life… but I think that means everywhere. Loving God and people all over the world. I just want to learn about other people and other cultures and other religions. I want to read books and write letters and dance freely. I want to sip coffee on street side shops and hear music in local pubs. I want to fall in love with mountain sides and open fields and crowded streets and the melodies of all different tongues. I want to see God everywhere and in every way.

So what drives me? I don’t want to wait anymore. I’m going to chase God and chase life. With reckless abandon. 

No one Remembers Fluffy

A few years back I was sitting on the couch with my then-boyfriend watching Modern Family and he began to tickle me. I shrieked and burst into a fit of laughter, before grabbing his arms and defiantly shouting, “Nooo! Don’t tickle my tummy – I’m too fluffy right now!” He fell back onto the couch, laughing even harder. “FLUFFY?!”

This term I’ve coined has become quite the adjective for anyone around me when they’re feeling a little thicker than usual. “Sorry I don’t think today’s a good day for the pool- I’m feeling a little fluffy.” “I ate way too much pizza last night, I’m definitely fluffier today.”

It’s almost always a joke when I use it. I’ll say it at the gym when my weightlifting belt is a little tighter than usual, or when less my veins aren’t visible during a workout. But that’s where the problem lies. When you are an athlete or you work in the fitness industry, you notice every little detail of yourself. You count every macro, every calorie, every set, and every rep. Every minute of your workout matters. Everyone around you sees the work you are putting in but all you see are the results you’re not getting or that you wish would come faster. When you’re an athlete or you work in the fitness industry and you’ve suffered an eating disorder, every detail matters.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to see and appreciate the parallels between my fitness journey and my faith. The two almost go exactly hand in hand in my life. Some seasons I’m on a spiritual high and I manage to be disciplined in the Word, in prayer, in fellowship, and in constant touch with God. Often those same seasons, I’m getting up early to run before work, I’m on top of my meal prep, and everyday I look forward to the hours of grueling training awaiting me in the gym. But other times- other times I struggle to read the Bible for more than 10 minutes, I have short and generic prayers, and I make God small enough to fit in my pocket. Usually it’s not long until I find myself under constant stress and pressure. I get frustrated with my lifts and just can’t find the motivation to wake up at 0600 to run. Negative thoughts and emotions swell up inside of me and next thing you know I’ve skipped my morning quiet time, I’ve chaffed off the gym, and I’m suddenly being tempted by the box of Oreos stashed at the back of the pantry. A few rows of Oreos, some french toast, some mint chip ice cream, and a few tablespoons full of peanut butter later, I am full of regret. And shame. And I’m fluffy. My abs – nonexistent, my lean legs – unrecognizable, my face- round and bloated. I’m fluffy and I’m hopeless.

How can the girl who has got it all together do this? How can the girl who runs around the gym in spandex in a sports bra do this? How can the good Christian girl who has her whole life together do this? No amount of races and competitions won, no job title or career, no handsome Irish boyfriend, no reputation can hide this. The truth. That sometimes the people we think have it the most together, are just as broken as everyone else. I’m a lot of things. I’ve accomplished alot in 22 years. I wear a lot of hats. But I’m human. I’m fallible. And I fail sometimes. I fall sometimes. I mess up, I make stupid decisions, I make the wrong turn. I binge and I purge and I can be an absolute wreck. But here’s the thing. I’m forgiven. I’m helped up. I’m saved. I’ve got a God who is bigger than any fear, any doubt, any mistake. I’ve got a God who thinks I’m beautiful even when I’m fluffy. A God who takes my hand and helps me stand when I’ve fallen one too many times. A God who sees my shame and takes my face into His hands and says, “No more.” A God who sees all of my scars, all of my sins, all of my regret, and He says “You are a daughter of the King.” A God who takes me weakness and gives me His strength.

The past 5 months I’ve been living the absolute life. After up and moving my life 8000 miles away, God blessed me in abundance. By the end of my stay in Bahrain, I had it all. I had a job I loved, the best friends I could ask for, an amazing gym full of people I love, a man that I adored, a killer body that I worked really hard for, a championship weightlifting career, and every week was filled with fun and adventure. I was confident and successful and happy. I didn’t think life could get much better. But something very sad happened over those 5 months. The God who had been the center of my life, who had gotten all of my love when I arrived in Bahrain, became smaller and smaller each time a new area of my life got bigger. Training became more important than reading, time with friends became more important than church, intimacy with my boyfriend became more important than intimacy with the Lord… slowly but surely I began to build my own kingdom rather than focusing on building His.

As my time in Bahrain started drawing to an end, fear and anxiety began to take hold of me. Stress and emotion engulfed me. I lost myself. My relationship with the man I grew to love began to crumble before my eyes. The friendships I had built that I thought would last a lifetime began to become transparent. It became too difficult to go to the gym knowing I would have to say goodbye. My knee injury became so bad that I couldn’t run. Everything around me began to fall apart. My heart was breaking. My life there was ending and my world was crashing.

Rather than coming home and feeling fit and strong after winning the weightlifting championships the weekend before, I felt miserable. I was fluffy. I had binge ate and drank all week prior to boarding the plane back home. It was the only way I had to cope with the pain and stress. When I got home everyone was eagerly awaiting my return, but all I could think was, I was fluffy. I didn’t want to see my friends or go to the gym or go to social gatherings. I was the girl who had it all and I let it go. I lost it. And I lost myself with it. Everyday I’d say I’d start over, get back on track, but all that would do is lead to disappointment. I needed to be real. I was weak. And I needed someone who was strong. I needed the one who gives me strength. The one who gives me love. I turned my eyes and my heart away from the world, away from the man I’d left behind, away from the athletic career I’d began, and fixed them on Jesus. It was time to take God out of my pocket and put him back where He belongs – on the axis of my life. I’m not pursuing a big world with a small God – I’m pursuing a huge God who makes the world seem small.

So guess what? I might be a little fluffy right now, but no one’s going to remember that. When I grab coffee with a friend, we’ll remember the conversation not my lack of abs. When I go camping with my mom, we’ll remember laughing hysterically on the beach and soaking up the sun. When I go to my dad’s baseball game, we’ll remember the score of the game and the memories made. When I get to heaven’s gate one day, God will ask me to recall all that I have done… not all the times that I was fluffy.

It’s taken two weeks to get my life back on track and to regain some perspective but honestly, I am grateful. I am grateful for the struggle these past two weeks just the same as I am grateful for the amazing journey of the past five months. Everything we experience in life is either a blessing or a lesson, and often times they’re both. I’ve reconnected with my friends and family, I’ve refocused my life on God, and I have learned and grown so so much. Yeah it’s going to take a few weeks to get my body back in to the shape it was in, but it was worth it to get my mind and heart back into the shape they need to be in. My mom said it best, no one will remember these days of me being fluffy, they’ll remember getting Jessy back.

 

 

life in a melting pot.

One of my absolute favorite parts of the day is when I get off work for my lunch break and I am walking towards the P9-11 and all I see is a melting pot. Young and old, male and female, every skin shade of brown to white, every uniform color from blue to tan. And we’re all one. Navy, Marines, Air Force, Army, Royal Navy, Pakistani, Bahraini, German, French, Japenese, Scandanavian, Filipinos, D.O.D contractors, civilians, children. Here’s this American Naval Base in the Middle East and its a snapshot of cohesion.

There’s nothing like walking towards the Freedom Souq and getting “hellos” and “heys” from the variously uniformed soldiers, to the “good day ma’am” from the hotel workers, to the smiles and waves from the familiar faces you see around base each day. Sometimes the Muslim prayer song is playing, reminding those of that faith that it is time to go pray. It often reminds me of how much more time I should be devoting to God. I really thought that my coming here was an intentional act of God for me to be sent directly into the heart of conflict, to bring the Good News to a place where it is unknown but greatly needed. However, in my time here, I’ve realized God’s purpose for my life and time abroad is far greater than that. He has been using me not to go out into Black Flag areas on a suicide mission, much as my family back home imagined, but instead to reach those right here on base. Moreso than that, it has been others impacting and teaching me.

How blessed am I to have befriended a bright eyed and tenacious red headed woman from Denton, Texas who serves as a daily reminder what it means to love? She has taken me out of the 10 x 10 box of servitude I had placed myself in and shown me firsthand what it means to truly live a life of love. Never in my life have I met someone who so easily can change the atmosphere of a room just by entering it – be it a classroom full of preschoolers or a table full of grown men. Her heart to serve and her ability to bring light to the lives around her radiates every single day and it touches me and inspires me to be a better, more godly woman. Our Friday morning coffee and church dates have kept my feet planted firmly when sometimes I’m flying too high. She has taught me love, grace, forgiveness, and trust in ways I never could have discovered on my own. She’s helped me let go of shame and hurt and past regrets and showed me its okay to be vulnerable. Because of her, I was able to fall in love with life again, truly and unabashed. Because of her, I know light and love –  pure and genuine agape love. Thank you Tammy for that.

About four months ago, these two dorky weightlifters scoffed off angrily when they saw a small blonde coveting the platform for the third day in a row. I had been intentional in my first few weeks on base to keep my head down, eyes forward, and keep my headphones in while training but anyone who knows me back home, knows that’s not really my style. I pulled out my headphones and ran up to the dark haired boy as they sauntered off, “Hey, do you want to work in?” The two boys smiled and just like that a friendship unlike any other, was made. Rob and Nate. The three musketeers. Countless steak nights and Star Wars movies. Birthdays celebrated, weights lifted, medicine and care packages shared, and tears shed. Endless nights filled with laughter and inside jokes, who would have thought home would be found in Bahrain because of these two guys. Before I met them all I wanted was to go back to California. I missed my friends and my family. I missed my gym and my comfort zone. But then I met them and it was like everything was as it should be. We were all so easily happy and comfortable around one another and we became a family. I wouldn’t trade the world for the memories the three of us have made and I look forward to many more when we all get back to California. Two Navy Corpsmen and a Preschool teacher – best friends.

Then there’s Christopher and Nelson, West and Darius, Mike and Ernie, Shannon and Tess, Taneka, and all the rest. There’s Shafeer at GNC and Shameer at the gym. There are the housekeepers and my coworkers at the CDC, there’s the fleet of Royal Navy guys, and there’s a preschool full of children. All of them that have a piece of my heart. A melting pot of love, of culture, of pure and genuine joy. Agape love that overflows.

Then there’s Paddy. Oh Patrick. And what are the odds? A Christian girl from California serving as a preschool teacher on a US Naval Base just so happens to do Crossfit one night at the same time as an Irishman who serves as a mine clearance diver for the UK. All it took was one set of front squats and a few weeks at sea for the course of my journey here to change so drastically. The beautiful thing is that it has become so much more than just a romantic love that I feel for this man – there is an element of unconditional love that I have never felt towards anyone. Maybe it is the way our relationship developed, maybe it is the sense of urgency and the circumstances, maybe it is the constant uncertainty of our future, maybe it is the risk that comes with his job, or maybe it is discovering what you didn’t even know you were looking for – whatever it is, I am so grateful. I am grateful for the love, laughter, learning experiences, lifting of heavy weights, and loads of coffee this man has brought into my life in such a short period of time. There’s no guarentee we won’t break eachother’s hearts, or that the distance and communication won’t become too much. But atleast for now serendipity is the only term that does it justice. Just a man who spends most of his days at sea and a girl who doesn’t know where she’ll be.

It is crazy to think how much can happen in five months. It is crazy to know how drastically our lives can change, how dramatically our views and ideas can be shifted, and how vastly our heart can open up to let love in. There’s three weeks left and I plan to savor every moment. I plan to scoop up every bit of love and laughter I can and stir up this melting pot a few more times. I am so blessed that God has sent me here. I pray He only continues to use me as His vessel and I pray that I can love all that He calls me to. I am grateful and overjoyed. Never forget to live a life of love. Friends, The Great Commission is a call to us all. Remember, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God” Ephesians 5:2.

God bless you all.

live a life of love

At 22 years old, I’d be a fool to say I know a whole lot about this crazy adventure we call life. I have had my fair share of life lessons, growing pains, and learning experiences — I have been blessed by some extraordinary opportunities and gotten to do some amazing things in my short time but I am decades away from being anything close to a wealth of knowledge or an expert in the field of living.

By some strange yet absolutely serendipitous twist of fate, I have found myself, quite literally, across the world from my sunny and familiar California home. I always told myself despite the cost of living, the politics, and all the other nonsense that comes with the Golden State, I would never leave it. Heck, until now, I had only ventured outside of her dear state lines three times – Nevada, Arizona, and South Carolina. Yet here I sit, glowing amidst a light and love I could have never fathom existed, 8000 miles away from home, on a desert island in the Middle East.

Yes,the Middle East. The place where no American, especially a Christian woman, should dare travel to… especially, alone. But here I am. Feeling God in a way I never have. Loving in a way I never have. Being filled with joy in a way that I never have. Meeting people that radiate love and thrive off of human connection. There is this aura of human intimacy and a desire to be interconnected in the air that is tangible. Every single day I wake up thanking God for this completely unexpected, unbelievable blessing.

My mindset, my heart, and my soul have all been changed forever. My heart, completely set on fire. I have come to know God in unforeseeable ways and I have been completely uprooted from the black and white box I was confined to for so long. This place allowed me to realize something. It is not about me. It is not about what I can do here to make a difference. It has nothing to do with who I am or what I am doing. It is entirely, wholly, completely about Him. Being here is all about knowing and growing in and loving God. He has written one mission on my heart: LIVE A LIFE OF LOVE. Love God, love people – the rest is just extra.

I had prayed and prayed that God would use me as a vessel and as a light for His Kingdom. That I could touch others in a tangible way. So he did just that. He sent me out. And now I don’t think I can ever go back. I am a vessel and a ship for His love and my only anchor is my faith. The irony of that symbolism is the fact that I live and work on a Naval base. My most intimate relationships here are with sailors. With those who live a life on mission by serving their country. I truly cannot imagine being anywhere or doing anything else. I cannot imagine not being a light to the hundreds of people I come into contact with each week here on base, whether it be my kids, their parents, or my coworkers, be it the contracted workers at the NEX, or at the gym, or the housekeepers, be it the Irish diver in the Royal Navy that has stolen a larger chunk of my heart than should be acceptable, be it the Navy sailors and Marines I pass by each day at the P9/11 or the ones I share a smile with at the gym each day, be it the incredible inner circle of best friends I’ve made here – whoever it may be, whatever their story, whatever their role or lack thereof in my life, I know that my sole purpose here is to make their life better in any way that I can. A smile, a hello, an opened door, a curious conversation, a coffee bought, a friendship, whatever I can offer them, I want to try.

My heart has grown and grown and continues to grow each day. Not only do I have the humbling opportunity to touch others’lives, I have been inundated by the love others here show for me. Never in my life have I experienced so much genuine kindness, so many close knit bonds, so much unconditional love. My heart is overflowing with agape. Most of us spend our lives chasing the allure of romantic love. We meet someone and instantly we begin to romanticize the situation. But life is so much more than that.I want to spend my life not chasing love, but spreading love. Being a vessel of unconditional, agape love. I want to love on the least of these. I want to take the black and white bubble I have been encased in for so long and throw it right over board. I want to go to the Mosque, I want to talk to that meek cashier, I want to ask that guy if he would like to work in on the platform with me.I don’t mind looking like a fool, if it means looking like a fool for Jesus. If living a life of love means dancing around the gym and leaping into arms for bear hugs and making every single guy in there feel loved and special, then that is what I’ll do. If living a life of love means staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning on a work night because someone just found out a friend out on mission was killed or committed suicide, then that is what I’ll do. If living a life of love, means spending every single day  that I am out here giving up my own time to share it with someone else, then that is what I’ll do.

I never imagined that I would look forward to spending 8 to 10 hours a day in a preschool, but I do. I never imagined that I’d be extremely good friends with and pray for a group of Muslims, but I do. I never imagined (maybe I did) befriending a fleet of British sailors and divers, but I have. I never imagined the best friends, the adventures, the family dinners, the laughs I’d share with so many extraordinary people, but I have, and I am so, so grateful.

This beautiful place is filled with so many beautiful people. My heart has never been so full of unconditional love. I know that God sent me here not just to change lives but to have mine changed forever. Whether I end up back here or on a ship or in the UK, wherever life’s great adventure takes me next, I am so thankful for this experience. The goodbyes I have already had to say have been some of the most difficult in my life. Just thinking about leaving this place is overwhelmingly emotional. A part of my heart will always be in this place, the place that I came to know real love in a way I never have. God is love and this place has brought me to know Him in such an unbelievable way. Be a vessel, be a light, and live on mission.Live a life of love.

Ephesians 5:2 -Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us

God bless.

the fallacy of control.

Much like many mid-20 to 40-somethings I’ve found myself amidst one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s tolkened “Eat, Pray, Love” quests to self actualization. I suppose it is a tad surprising that a self proclaimed writer such as myself would need to have spent eight weeks in a place 8000 miles away from home to finally put out a piece of actual writing. On the other hand perhaps I just needed those two months to acclimate myself to the many dialects of English that whirl around me – filling me to the brim with an entirely new vernacular.

There will be many stories to come of my adventures and musings here in this beautiful middle eastern country of Bahrain, but as for tonight, I have one subject I must address. A subject far too relateable to the every day American woman. To the woman who arms herself in strength and dignity every morning. Who puts on her make up and her smile before she walks out the door. The one who is driven and unstoppable. Who will give her shirt off her back and the shoes off her feet. The one who is everything for everyone. How does she have the time in a day? How does she go from church to work to training to school to recitals, to this and to that?

The woman who carries her gym bag to work and her meal prepped food in her car. She has a highlight laden planner with her schedule meticulously mapped out each week. She has to-do lists and goal lists and budget lists neatly organized across her desk. She is a small group leader at church and a board member of the PTA. She manages her business and her people well. Her social life is as well kept as her color coordinated closet. She has circles of friends that long to be in her presence. She’s outgoing and authentic and always the life of the party. She is the woman who has her life in control. She is the woman we look at in awe. We all want to know her, we all want to be her. But she is a fallacy.

This idea of being in control is no different than the always alluding construct of perfection. It is unobtainable. It is an unachievable goal. This isn’t to say that we can’t have balance, or peace, or contentment in our lives. That is not the case at all. But the expectation of perfection, or absolute control, is a lie provoked by the enemy. We all yearn for control – over our jobs, our relationships, our money. Because of this desire we easily fall into the temptation of addiction. Addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, food, self harm – whatever it may be gives us this false sense of control in our lives. That thing provides us the ability to cope and have control over everything else. For myself, someone who prides themself on being a shining role model and pillar of health, strength, and beauty, I find difficulty in admitting my struggles over having a lack of control in my own life. If you look from the outside in, you would think I have got this thing called life down to a science, into a perfectly formulated equation. This many hours goes to devotional time for God, this many to work and studies and volunteering, this many for writing and reading and downtime, this many to training and Crossfit, this many to this social circle, this many to the guys in my life,this many to the exact amount of rest needed to recover… add it all up and you get the exact output necessary for a completely in control lifestyle.

Well, I will let you in on a little secret. Sitting on the cold tile floor, wiping off the toilet seat after puking up the thousands of excess calories in Lenny & Larry Complete Cookies you just binged on, is the opposite of control. It is the fallacy of control. It is the delusional idea that when you feel like you don’t have control over a situation, you can regain control of yourself by what you put into it and then how you dispose of it. On the outside there is no logic to it, but from the inside it is the only thing that brings an end to the stress. Think about someone who chain smokes or drinks alcohol. They know those things are bad for them but they make them feel better and in control in the moment. That is how an eating disorder works as well. It takes a girl who is one minute glowing with joy and confidence and the next is bed ridden by shame and guilt. I have had an eating disorder for three and a half years. I have spent a majority of that time in denial. In denial that I don’t have complete control.

After I had knee surgery during my freshman season of collegiate track and field I developed bulimia. I didn’t believe it. I thought I could stop at any time. Five months went by and I hadn’t stopped. That’s when I finally told John. I promised him I would tell him any time the urge to purge came and he promised to hold me accountable to my diet and to avoid trigger foods. After some time and some immersion into Crossfit, I began to love myself, my body, and the way that Crossfit made me feel. I went weeks then months then years without purging. Over that time period, I would still have binge episodes. If I felt stressed, I’d sneak away to those Oreos or maybe some bread. Maybe an extra bowl or pasta or steal a cup of Cheerios before bed. A few extra treats would turn into thousands of calories put down. Here is the bigger picture piece of the puzzle I was missing – it wasn’t about the sport I was doing, it wasn’t about who I was dating, where I was living. I could move into my own apartment or move across the world; it could be doing it for my fiance or be doing it for the attractive man I see in the gym; I could be a sports model, a sponsored athlete, or an every day gym goer – it was never about any of things. It was and always will be about control. I have to understand that God is the ONLY person in control of my life. I can’t do this thing on my own – obviously. I have this terrible pattern of self sabotage. Before an interview, a date, a competition, a party – before any major event, going into an absolute, all out, self destructive binge. Why?! I don’t know! I started to think that I was binging out of redemption. That sacrificing my physical body for how I have been acting was somehow rectifying my sins. It was some form of personal punishment. And maybe subconciously that is true. But the deeper level is that I fall into the trap that the enemy sets that says “Do this and you will feel better. Do this and your stress will subside. Do this and you will regain control.” The enemy wants to see me fail. He wants me to fall subject to shame and guilt.

Tonight is the first time in two years I have thrown up after a binge. Granted it was a stressful, stressful day. I knew if there was any day I would crack, it would be today – PMS, stress, and a cupboard full of cookies. The perfect storm. No amount of motivating thoughts about training, about Nate and Rob, about Paddy, about summertime and bikinis, could save me. The moment I came into my room tonight, it was over. And when I looked at the toilet and made the conscious decision to purge, I felt the same feeling as if I just took off my abstinence ring and had sex with a guy. Shame. Disgust. Worthlessness. The complete opposite of control. But I gave in. I gave in to the lies. What would my coworkers think? What would the boys think? What if everyone knew this about me? On top of that, I broke all but one of my Lent fasts. And I realized in that exact moment of thought, the problem.

My fasting wasn’t to grow closer to Jesus. To suffer for and like Jesus. It was about me. What can I give up to make me feel better? Not, what can I give up to be more like Christ? That was the problem. My motivation for everything, my need to be in control, was all preventing me from being aligned with God. It was preventing me from fully surrendering and submitting to Him. It was allowing holes for the enemy to creep in and seduce me. It may not have been the ideal way to come to this realization but it needed to happen. Failing at fasting, failing at beating bulimia and binging, failing at being in control has reminded me that I needn’t be perfect. I need to be obedient. I am excited to put my struggles into His hands and lay my worries on Him. I know it won’t be easy but rather than turn to a Snicker Doodle Complete Cookie, the next time I am stressed, I will turn to Scripture. The next time I feel a lack of control, rather than try to regain it, I will lean on the One who is always in control. It’s going to take time and a lot of strength – spiritually more than anything – but I know with G in the driver seat rather than the passenger seat like I’ve kept him, we will get through this. I suppose this is my “Eat” to my “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Here’s to the next chapter? Pray!

passionately pursued

I love a good romance novel or a sappy chick flick on a rainy day. I loved studying Shakespeare in high school English classes and any time “The Notebook” comes on, it’s a guarantee I’ll be watching it. I mean who doesn’t love a good love story?

I remember the first time I read the Song of Solomon. I thought it was pretty scandalous to be honest. I mean, first time through you’re kind of sitting there like “Okay I know this is God-breathed but dang, Solomon and Shulamite are getting a little hot and heavy over here.”  And that’s what is amazing about that book. God is painting for us this beautiful picture of a love story between a young woman and the man that loves her. The man that is passionately pursuing her.

What’s even more beautiful is how symbolic the relationship between husband and wife is to our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is our bridegroom, our husband. He passionately pursues our hearts every single day of our lives. He continues to pursue us even after we take our make up off, after we have had a break down, after we have showed him all of our scars and hurts and imperfections. His love for us only grows infinitely deeper the more he knows us. And all he wants in return is our affection. For us to love him back.

There is something majestic about that term – passion. I love that idea of passionate pursuit, of this fierce, relentless need that comes from passion; of the constant, incessant chase that is a hot pursuit. We often see that passion in Hollywood movies but more often than not, it feels like in our own lives, we come up short. Most marriages don’t look like Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams’ dramatic kissing in the rain scene and because of that we settle. I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want to settle. I don’t want good when I can have great. I want passion. And I want to always be in pursuit of it. In my marriage. In my life. In my relationship with God. I want to be in a constant and passionate pursuit.

When I think about passion in my own life, I’d say I wear it on my sleeve. Whether it’s my sport, my job, my relationship, my cause, or my God, I will boldly pursue whatever lights my heart on fire. God has made me fearless to chase after those things. But what about sustaining those things? What about sustaining a job when it’s not all travels and adventure and excitement? What about putting in the day in and day out time with God even when He isn’t making giant moves in your life at that moment? What about your relationship with your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend after the honeymoon phase is over?

I’ve recently had to ask myself those questions. God has presented me with a lot of tremendous growth opportunities and balancing those opportunities with my regular and comfortable life has been quite trying. If I meet someone how do I make a relationship work when I’m going to be 8000 miles away for months on end? How do I overcome the fears and doubts and insecurities that already come from being in a young adult relationship? How do you even date in this day and age? And I was brought back to scripture. The verse that has been following me the past few weeks has been Jeremiah 29:11 –  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Trust God. He’s got this. If the relationship is of His will, it will work out. But it will take work. That’s the key. Work. In your marriage, in your career, in your prayer life – it all takes work. So here’s my idea, my New Year’s Resolution of sorts, I want to passionately pursue everything in my life the way that God pursues me. If I am in a relationship, I want to pursue my significant other every day in every way. It means doing the little things, writing letters, telling him he looks handsome, doing things that he wants to do rather than just what I want; it means making sure that he never feels insecure about the love I have for him, making sure he never has to worry about other guys, making time for him and always making him feel cared for and significant. It’s about being romantic and making the effort to look nice or cook him dinner even when I might be tired. It’s doing the extra things every day to pursue him. With work, it’s understanding that some days will be a great adventure and full of extrinsic reward but other days are going to be hard. Working with children and teaching is going to be absolutely wonderful but it is also going to be stressful and overwhelming at times. I have to remember to show them the same love and respect and compassion on week 17 that I do on week 1. In regards to quiet time with God, it’s making the intentional effort every single morning to wake up and early to spend time with the Lord. It’s saying “Thank you God for everything, my life is in your hands and I trust you,” before I even step out of bed. It’s pushing aside sleepiness and excuses to spend quality time in the Word and in prayer. It’s constantly reminding myself of the sacrifice and love that God has shown and endured for me and in return the least I can do is give Him an hour or two of my time. It’s knowing the amazing fulfillment and joy that comes from a passion filled relationship. I don’t know about you all but I’m ready to run. I’m ready to chase life. I’m ready to be the best partner, friend, athlete, employee, teacher, and daughter of the King that I can be. I don’t want to settle. I want more. I want to be in passionate pursuit of the one who passionately pursues me.

what is a servant-leader anyways?

 

The Lord has worked so beautifully and intricately in my life recently and I can’t feel anything but a tremendous sense of gratitude. For so long my life felt dependent on the desire to be a leader, to be a trailblazer of sorts. But it is funny how God works. In order to lead anyone, you must be willing to serve everyone. God has turned my desire to lead others into a need to serve others and because of that so many life changing opportunities lay before me. In less than 3 weeks I will be 8000 miles away and I cannot wait to watch God work.

“But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45

 

 

perfection in imperfection.

“It’s not a checklist, it’s not about repeating the same old prayers, it’s not a routine or simply going through the motions. It’s a relationship. It’s about a Perfect God loving a regular girl. It’s the greatest love story of all time.”

Perfect Love, Lisa Harper

It is always so reassuring to be reminded that Jesus doesn’t just love us when we are serving, giving, or doing all the right things. We will never measure up to that standard of living because we will never be perfect. But it’s not about being perfect. Our God is PERFECT and we can find peace, rest, and joy in knowing that our weaknesses and our flaws are made into strength through Christ. The last few days have been crazy, wonderful, busy, and hectic. As much joy and happiness and gratitude that has come my way, I have felt unrest because I haven’t been devoting the time I should be to the Lord. Nothing of this world can bring the peace and contentment that our Lord delivers. I am grateful for everything God has poured into my life recently and I am so eager to serve Him whole heartedly. Remember, no matter what is going on (college graduation, the holidays, new job, new relationship, ect.), God wants you to be PRESENT, not PERFECT. I pray you all are encouraged today to pursue His perfect and unending love today.

peace

rain.

oh man it’s finally fall in sacramento, california. yes, at the end of october it is finally fall. often in the northern part of the golden state the seasons are indistinguishable – spring turns to summer and summer turns to fall but you’d never know it if it wasn’t for the change in attire of adolescent teen girls and their decision to stop ordering mango a go-go’s from jamba juice and turn to psl’s (pumpkin spice lattes, in case you’re unfamiliar) from starbs.

it was actually 80 degrees just a few days back. but today it’s cold. not just sub-70 degrees cold, but actually a legitimate below 50 cold. it has been pouring rain all day. that’s how you know autumn has arrived and summer has parted ways with all of its dearly beloved sunshine worshippers that frequent folsom lake as often as the movie theater year round. i am a sunshine, short shorts, and iced coffee kinda girl. i love me some california rays. i don’t wear pants. ever. i literally only own one pair of jeans and they’re my “if i have to go somewhere where shorts or a dress would be deemed completely disrespectful or inappropriate Levi’s.” so as you can imagine when fall comes rolling in, we don’t necessarily see eye to eye. while everyone else rejoices in the dropping temperatures and cute abercrombie sweaters and ae jeans, i’m walking around in my nike pros with a sweatshirt on, shivering, and refusing to buy in to the imminent season (and wardrobe) change.

i just find so much beauty in the summertime that i can’t imagine wanting the weather to ever change. waking up early to sun filling my room, making a pot of coffee, and reading devotionals out on the back deck as birds chirp and buster runs rampant around the back yard. the sound of lincoln brewster and lauren daigle fill the house as i make breakfast and dance around the kitchen in my socks. ahhh, perfection. because of this, i go through a mourning period around this time every year. departing from my dear sunshine and long days and warm nights is a bit of a tragedy.

i really cannot stand being cold and i rather be outside playing all day long than be couped up in the house sipping cocoa… BUT, there is one thing i absolutely love about the change in seasons — rain. specifically, running in the rain. i feel God in a myriad of ways. sometimes it is early morning quiet time where it is just us. other times it is a nice hike or peaceful morning by a body of water. other times it is drowning in worship music and feeling his presence surround me. but where i feel absolutely closest to God is running in the rain.

when it starts pouring, that is when i feel Him the most. when i hear the weather man say rain, i nearly start jumping up and down. i will stop whatever i am doing, lace up my frees and sprint out the door. running during the peak of summer is great. sports bra dripping sweat and hair a hot mess, it’s great – but it does not compare to running in the rain. every stride in the downpour is the Lord pouring down on me. i am cleansed, renewed, and find wild freedom there. everything else in my life slips away and God and i get to share so much intimacy. i feel like i can run forever. my best race times entering college were in the rain. my longest runs – in the rain. my favorite runs – in the rain. something about it is as if i’m not running alone, but God is running with me, and He is for me. maybe it has something to do with the fact that Jesus is the water of life (John 4:14). in the downpour He is the living water purifying my soul and making me new. or perhaps it is because during those runs i know what i am running for. i am running for God and because of this he gives me the endurance to race toward my eternal prize (1 corinthians 9:24-27). maybe it is because the Lord knows that this is the place i feel Him the most and He wants to make our time together as impactful and precious as possible. whatever it is, i love the fall because it gives me my rainy runs.

well unfortunately as much as i embrace the rainy season of running, i don’t always know how to navigate the rainy seasons of my life. i have found myself in one of those seasons at this moment in time. i woke up at 5:45 this morning, not to catch a sunrise morning run  to watch the sky turn from eery onyx to dark purple to navy to a beautiful sea of cloud scattered blues, but to be at the hospital by 6:30. when i’d normally be about halfway into my morning scripture and peanut butter, banana oatmeal, today i lay in a small magnetic tube with noise cancelling headphones on and a cheap hospital blanket draped over my trembling legs. the familiar cold metal table beneath me and tiles of tree filled sky ceiling panels above me faded away as i closed my eyes and the 45 minute process of loud noises and laying completely still commenced. i tried to think about anything but being there, but the more i tried not to think about it, the more anxiety and fear filled me.

“jessy are you okay?” the technician asked as he paused the machine about 15 minutes in. i nodded my head. “okay good. i need you to stop moving then. you’re shaking a lot and the pictures aren’t coming out clearly.”

i swallowed hard and crossed my arms across my chest. i prayed. God please give me the strength and courage to get this over with. and then i sang. i squeezed my eyes shut and sang. i repeated “jesus i will trust you, i will trust you. i know you never fail, i will trust you. jesus i will,” over and over again. i felt like i was in that darn tube forever and those lyrics were on repeat in my head. finally, the machine stopped chirping and the technician came back in to take off my headphones and let me know it was over. this was my third mri in less than 3 years. i was a seasoned veteran at this but that didn’t make the experience any less uncomfortable.but now it was over. God had gotten me through it once again. and almost as if a reward for being strong and having faith in His goodness, as i left the hospital, it began to rain. i could take all my cares and worries to Him in the oncoming showers.

i try to be a pillar of strength, a source of joy and light — a ray of sunshine. i think that’s why summer and i resonate so well with one another, we get each other. no matter what is going on in my life, i want to have a positive, warm impact on those around me. it is a rare occasion that you’ll find anything but a smile on my face (unless of course you catch me making ugly faces just for the fun of it, which is more frequent than i’d like to admit). but on a day like today, it is hard. and so i cried. i cried a lot. i got home from the hospital, threw my exhausted body onto the couch and let the crocodile tears flow right out. just like the onset of winter and my reluctance to adapt and put on pants, the onset of winter in my life is challenging me. running is my summer. running is what makes fall and winter enjoyable to me. running is where i feel God. but as i received the results of my mri at 10:14 this morning, i realized that pretty soon i won’t be running at all.my summer really is coming to an end. winter is setting in, and this time there’s no rain to run in. it’s just cold. frigid cold. and i’m scared.

but there’s hope… there is ALWAYS hope. just like when i run in the rain, and just like earlier today when i entered that foreboding metal tube – i know God is here. i think of Joshua 1:9, have i not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” and i am reminded that no matter what i needn’t fear. the Lord already knows how this battle will end, and He is for me. 2 Corinthians reminds me that His grace is sufficient — “For His power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). in philippians, paul reminds me to find joy in my suffering. when he sat in prison and wrote to his beloved people of philippi, he reminded them that it is a privilege to suffer in this life. to know suffering, surely we become more like Christ. when our joy is in the Lord, nothing can take that peace away from us (Philippians 4:4-7). i pray that as the day continues on, i can find rest and assurance in the promises of God. i pray that i can be confident in God’s sovereignty and not let fear overwhelm me. i pray that i can thank God that, at least for now, i am able to lace up my sneakers and go bask in His glorious presence in the gleaming and wonderful rain. i will be with Him, enjoy Him, and trust in Him. every though the cold has finally set in, i don’t have to stop seeing the sunshine that God brings each day.