spaghetti face

I thought I’d clear my head. I needed a place to write and I needed to redeem my $40 gift card, so I came up with the perfect idea to go to the outdoor mall in La Jolla. Fit with couches and fire pits and the exact shops where I could redeem the rewards I receive for using my credit card to pay off hospital bills when I’m feeling adult-ish, I figured I’d go do a little redeeming and a little writing at the outdoor mall.

I was on the phone when I pulled into my parking spot and remained there as I finished my conversation, along with nearly half a bag of chocolate covered blueberries, unbuttoning my shorts so I could feel just a little more comfortable. Yes, much like Al Bundy, I often unbutton my pants when eating, and it matters not where I am, be it at home on the couch or discreetly under the dinner table at a nice restaurant, if food is going in, buttons are coming undone.

I tried to tell myself it was okay for eating as many as I did, after all, it was only half the bag instead of the whole bag and the bag wasn’t all that big and I certainly didn’t want to obsess over a serving size, but such is the life of a girl plagued by a history of eating disorders; never knowing how much is too much or how much is not enough, and one bite over or under the maximum or minimum is enough to offset six years of recovery.

Nothing involving food ever feels normal. Last year one chocolate covered blueberry would have been too much. This year a whole bag of chocolate covered blueberries doesn’t seem to be enough, and that mindset can change from week to week, day to day, hour to hour. I make choices, because we all have them, choices. I make choices as best as I can to eat my meals and fit in a snack and allow myself the luxury of having dessert without clearing out an entire pastry cart, but I’d be a liar if I were to say the choices were easy or came naturally.

I wish I could explain the way my mind worked, mostly so I could feel understood, mostly so I could feel more free to talk about a struggle without fear, without guilt, without shame. What is a simple question for most people, “what should I eat today?” is a monster of a voice that haunts me day in and day out. The monster brings with it whispers of shame, shame about my body, and guilt, guilt for wanting to eat something that tastes good, and fear, fear that I might lose control, fear that I might not be good at anything else other than eating healthy and losing weight, or God forbid, fear that I might get fat.

I don’t like admitting that, in fact I hate it, I hate it in every way possible, but if we’re going to call a spade a spade here, then I have to stop telling my recovery story as if it is all past tense: “Once upon a time I had an eating disorder, I went to treatment, I got better, I relapsed, I got better, God is good, the end.” Yes, yes, yes and no, no, no. It doesn’t work that way, “this happened, the end.” Maybe it does for some people, who am I to say it doesn’t, but if there is anything that I feel I have the authority to say as a leader, which is a position I find myself in currently, or that I have the authority to say as someone who knows JJ best, which is also a position I find myself in currently, it’s that as a leader, as a JJ, as a girl on “the other side” of recovery twice now, I don’t have it all figured out.

I don’t have it all together. I have not arrived. Leaders don’t get to be leaders because they discovered some secret of happily ever after and then set about to lead other people into the land of happily ever after, I think some leaders think of themselves that way, but I think those leaders should be dethroned. I think they should be dethroned because they give the impression that as one ages gracefully they get all their shit together, clean it all off and figure it all out. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I need to be dethroned, I’m certainly open to that, but for me, even as a leader, a leader in human form, I am still in the throws of my story that involves a lot of “I don’t knows” and “how comes” and “why God whys.”

When I was in high school, most of the leaders seemed to have it figured out. They never shared their own struggles, they just shared that God was good. But why? Why did they think He was so good? Because the Bible said so? Lots of stories paint pictures of really good characters and tell really good stories, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up my life and put all my hope and faith in a well written story… not even as a story teller am I going to do that. Why did they think God was so good? It can’t be just because the Bible said so, that’s like reading about an ice cream sundae and telling everyone how good it is but never actually knowing if that’s true or not because you’ve never actually tasted it…

“How do you know the ice cream sundae is good?”

“The food critic said so.”

“So you’ve never tried it?”


“So you don’t actually know if it’s good or not from personal experience?”


“So then why should I listen to you? Maybe you should order the ice cream sundae and actually try it before you tell me I should order it because it’s good.”

Or something like that. Leave it to me to use a food analogy.

And doesn’t the Bible even say, “taste and see that the Lord is good”? How? And why? Why did all my leaders tell me God was so good? If it was because that’s what they were supposed to do, fine, I can’t fault them for doing the best they could with what they thought, but if they really believed that God was so good, I have to assume it’s because they experienced Him. They felt their Father reach down and pick them up out of the muck and mire and wash them off and set their foot on a rock and keep their feet from stumbling and put a new song in their mouths.

I have to assume it’s because they experienced their Father’s healing hand in some way, which means there had to be something they had to be healed from. You can’t tell me God is good and not tell me why you think so. Well, I take that back, you can, but it won’t mean much to me. I think Dumbledore from Harry Potter is good, but I’m not going to live a life devoted to Dumbledore, nor am I going to believe his words as ultimate truth, especially since while he might have amazing advice, the man prefers acid pops.

For me, as a leader, it’s not enough to just tell the kids I am working with that God is good. Yes, that is true, God is good, but why? Why do I believe that? Because I sang about the B-I-B-L-E being the book for me in Sunday school? And it’s not even just the kids that need to hear why God is good, it’s that I need to hear it too, I need to be reminded, for as much as I might hate voicing my struggle, it gives me a chance to also voice my hope and be reminded of who God is and how far he has brought me. Maybe some people have sweet stories of experiencing God in the comforts of their struggle-free life, and if so, good for them, I can’t write or re-write anyone else’s story, nor can I continue to compare mine to anyone else’s. When it comes to our stories, God is just as much in the Blockbuster hits of summer as He in the sweet children’s books, we just have to look for Him. And we have to tell our stories. We have to tell our stories, not as once upon a time, but as here and now. And while our stories might have started as once upon a time, no one on this side of eternity should include “happily ever after” because our stories aren’t over yet.

Life hits and it hits hard and just because you make it through one tough season doesn’t mean you are prepared for the next one. Are you stronger? sure. Able to handle it better? possibly. Experienced? absolutely… but prepared?

How can anyone prepare for the death of a loved one, a cheating spouse who vowed to be committed, a child being sexually abused, a mental disorder that rips a family apart, a DUI, a drug overdose, an aggressive eating disorder, an abortion, an addiction of any sort… the list goes on and on. The list goes on and on because we are in a broken and fallen world and yet so many of us are walking around with smiles on our faces, telling people God is good as we struggle in silence, surviving our way to the day when we can tell people about what we’re struggling with as a “once upon a time” story.

God is good, and while the Bible does say He is good, I’m not here to say God is good because the Bible says so.

God is good because He is faithful. I don’t want sweet gifts and flowers, I mean I suppose I do in some ways, while giving someone a gift that dies isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, sometimes it’s nice to have a sunflower light up a room, but not as a replacement for faithfulness. I’d take faithfulness over flowers any day. Gift giving doesn’t make someone good, faithfulness makes someone good. I don’t want you to shower me with flowers when you cheat on me, I want you to not cheat on me, keep your flowers and “just” be faithful. Maybe I say that from a place of experience and maybe not, but more so maybe.

And so it is with God. Why do I associate His goodness with gift giving, warm fuzzies and holy hugs? Whether He gives me a new job or a shotty car, a restored relationship or money for rent, that is not the determining factor for how good He is, or even if He’s good at all. He is good because He is faithful to me. He is good because time and time again I have doubted Him, abandoned Him, rejected Him, denied Him, betrayed Him, disobeyed Him, tried to devalue Him, attempted to manipulate Him, repetitively cheated on Him as I’ve sought out other gods to live for, and yet even still He has been faithful to me. He has picked me up, dusted me off, washed me clean and set my feet to dancing. He has clung to my hand when I’ve been too weak and tired to cling to His.

He has whispered His love to me through the setting of the sun, a ripple in a pond, the splatter of a rain drop, the butt of a fire-fly lighting up and the crunching of autumn leaves in crisp October air. He has shouted His love to me when I’ve been too stubborn to listen for the whisper through the crashing of an ocean wave, the rolling of thunder, jolts of lighting through a dark night sky, the sound of a piano meeting that of a guitar and a sweet voice echoing through the walls of a restored church, and even through the loss of something I once held dear as He held me closer than I’ve ever been held before.

I have encountered the Lord in ways that most people haven’t, at least in the western hemisphere, and I’m not saying that to brag, I’m saying it to paint the picture clearly, that if anyone has been given a reason not to give up on the Lord due to their very real encounter and experience of Him, it’s me. And yet, even still, I have found myself ever so close to walking away from the only consistent, reliable, life-offering Savior I’ve ever known. And I say that to say, even though after all He’s done for me I’ve come close to betraying Him again, and in many ways do betray Him on the day to day if not by mere thoughts I entertain while I think He’s not looking (thoughts that if entertained long enough turn to action and action that leads to betrayal and one more mess to clean up); even though that has been our story on more than one occasion, with more than one mess to clean up as a result of my own spills, He has walked in with a dish towel, or sent someone to Fred Meyer to buy one for me, and He has set about to cleaning… loving me, cleaning me off, cleaning the mess around me and loving me still.

The hardest part about the cleaning process is when He, my Savior, my Dad, rubs all the gunk off of my person. I remember watching a toddler get spaghetti sauce wiped off of his face once. His mom wanted to clean him up because a) what mother leaves spaghetti sauce caked to her child’s face? b) I’m pretty sure the sauce crusts over and makes it harder to get off if you leave it there, and c) it creates more of a mess if the kid runs free in the living room with spaghetti sauce all over his face, leaving traces of it on the couch and everyone’s favorite chair. I watched that kid squirm and whine and I was quite annoyed that he didn’t just sit there and wait for his mom to finish helping him. He was actually making the process take much longer by all of his squirming and whining, and his mother practiced way more patience than I would have by continuing to wipe him clean as she spoke sweetly to him. I wanted to slap him. This might be one reason why I shouldn’t have children.

For as annoyed as I was by that kid, I’m not that far from him, except say twenty-plus years. I make a mess, leave a trail, try to cover it up and forget that I’m caked in it. My Savior Dad comes in to clean it up and wipe me down and there I go, squirming, whining, complaining about the discomfort of the wiping process. I lose sight of the fact that He’s cleaning me and I focus on the fact that He is making me uncomfortable, especially when the mess is so thick that it needs a scrub brush. “OUCH! STOP!” I yell, “YOU’RE HURTING ME!” And He continues to scrub away my gunk because He cares more about my well being, my whole person and the whole person I am becoming much more than He cares about my present comfort. He refuses to leave me caked in my own mess, and so He scrubs and scrubs and I yell and yell and even run out of the room a few times to try to get away from Him, but He chases me down and refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter. He wants better for her… and He wants better for you.

I moved to Southern California earlier this summer still caked in a bit of my own mess. I took on a leadership position still caked in a bit of my own mess, and it’s not that we can’t be leaders and have messes, to be human is to be messy and so it goes, even for leaders. It’s that I thought as a leader my mess would have to be past tense from here on out. It’s that He was taking too long to clean me off and so I tried to run into the living room and start playing with my toys, but He chased in after me with that Fred Meyer dish towel and said He had more wiping to do. He is relentless in cleaning His children off and maybe one day my mess will be past tense, I don’t know, but for now, God has called me to lead a group of kids while still in the middle of being cleaned off.

God is good not because He lets me sit comfortably in my own mess (which really isn’t all that comfortable if I sit in it long enough), God is good because He is faithful, and no matter how long it takes He refuses to give up on cleaning off His daughter and growing her into the woman He created her to be.

I have believed some ugly lies over the course of my life, lies that have dictated poor choices I have made. God is good because He is taking me through a process of cleaning out those ugly lies so that I won’t keep repeating those poor choices. The process, for me, is a long one, and one that looks crazy to other people. And I’m still in the middle of it. I didn’t get healed in Portland and then move to California to tell everybody about it. I mean, I did, that happened and is happening, but what is also happening is the continual process of being healed, of being cleaned up and cleaned out so that no messy residue is left. And perfection won’t be reached on “this side,” I get that, but it doesn’t mean He won’t attempt to keeping cleaning us off while we’re here.

My God is so, so good because He has a messy-ass daughter that He delights over and refuses to give up on (and believe me, she gives Him a run for His money, He’s had plenty of legit outs). My God is faithful, which is all I could ever ask for or want from a savior, a friend, a lover and a father.

My God is so, so good because He is faithful first, and then He looks at His spaghetti-faced daughter and while holding her still and cleaning her up, He surprises her with glorious sunrises, blades of green grass, a hot cup of coffee, a swim in the ocean, a tree with welcoming arms to climb, a story to write, a hand to hold, and every so often, a sunflower or two to light up the room… because like I said, even in the midst of my darkest hour, my God is good.


I love you, Dad.

Love, spaghetti face.



seeing life a few shades clearer

A few weeks ago I was contacted by my friend, Tabitha. She works as an International Sponsorship Coordinator at an foster home for visually impaired children in Beijing, China. She shared with me about her crazy ride of a life that has involved getting married, having a baby, moving to a third world country, getting a dog and a house… all within a year’s time. One year, five life-altering events. Dang. And while I could easily spend time sharing about what God is doing in her life and how He is meeting her right where she is at, it was the children at the foster home she spoke of that further revealed the truth of God’s word being alive and active and lived out in our world.

And no, and I’m not referring to taking care of the orphans and widows (for the scripture savvy who think they have pegged where I am going with this), like I said, this is not about the people taking care of the kids, this is about the kids themselves.

I am referring to the fact that Jesus said “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly,” or to the full, depending on your translation. And what struck me as I read my friend’s email about the children who are orphaned is the fact that the orphans and widows are included in on Jesus’ offer to live a full life, they don’t miss out on abundant living because of their circumstances, left behind for us to come in and take care of them so that we can live full lives and pat ourselves on the back for doing good. Abundant life is not limited to people who have all all their sight and no family issues; and sure, that’s common sense, but I’ll be the first to admit I would not have associated a visually impaired orphan with abundant living prior to reading my friend’s email. How have I missed this before now!? Bare with me, I’m a slow learner.

I’ll take the honesty thing a bit further, I find it hard to write about this right now, currently living in La Jolla, California. It’s hard for me not to get caught up in thinking that the world in which I am living is the definition of abundant life and everything else is just sub-par. I sometimes try to bury my head in scripture in the morning, filling my mind with the truth about who Jesus is and what it means to live an abundant life, and then I lift my head, look around at all the glitz and glamour of Southern California, toss my Bible aside as I reach for my beach towel and join the ranks of the toned and tanned elite, disguising myself as one of them, while at the same time managing to judge them. I judge the people I am trying to look like… good grief, JJ, did any of who Jesus is set in before lathering on the sunscreen?

Oh right, honesty, I didn’t put on sunscreen, I just judged people in the name of Jesus. And while I believe in the authority of the name of Jesus, Jesus did not give me the authority to judge others.

Thankfully, picking that thought apart is for another day, as this post is about someone very specific, unrelated to the California coastline from where I write this, but I find it necessary to make the point that I am here and he is there, because he is living a life of abundance the likes of which some of even the wealthiest people could never purchase.

His name is Jian Yu, his English name is Jake.

Jake is four years old and he lives in Beijing, China at a place called Bethel (the foster care for visually impaired children I mentioned above). When Jake was four months old he was left in a ditch at a zoo. I feel the need to repeat that… at four months old, Jake was placed in a ditch and left there. Before I go further commenting on how dare someone do that to a child, I find it best to repeat the words of my friend, Tabitha, who shared the story of this precious little boy with me…

“I look at my son sitting next to me who is almost three months and I just can’t imagine it. I know it’s not my place to judge–who knows what that mother was going through. Maybe she figured that the zoo was a good place because there are so many people someone would find him quickly. Maybe she was so overwhelmed by his blindness that she thought he would be better off in an orphanage where perhaps someone would know how to take care of him.” Here is a baby boy, abandoned by his birth mother, crying helplessly until someone discovers him, which sounds crazy similar to the story of Moses, abandoned by his mother in order to save his life (story found in Exodus), and judging Jake’s mother does us no good in retelling Jake’s story seeing as how we don’t know her story, and abandonment is all together just not the point.

The enemy would love for us to focus on the fact that Jake was abandoned rather than focus on the fact that he was found, but much like Moses, abandonment will not be Jake’s legacy. When we think of Moses we don’t think of “that guy who was abandoned as a baby,” we think of the one who led the Jews out of exile. I can only imagine how different the history of Israel and even the Bible for matter might be if Moses had allowed the situation he was born into, even the situation he was adopted into, which he later had to chose to abandon in order to save God’s people, dictate who he was and what he was capable of.

And as Jake grows up I can only imagine that the enemy would love for him to focus on this as well, whispering lies of abandonment to try and define this baby boy’s worth, trying to blind him further to the fact that he was found, he was rescued, he was saved, and not just by the hands of man, but by the hands of God. The very hands that created the Heavens and earth saw his baby boy crying in a ditch and did not leave him there. Truth trumps the lie and Jake’s very existence is evidence of the message of the gospel, the good news that we all once were lost but now are found.

Jake was found and upon realizing his visual disability he ended up being taken to Bethel where Tabitha first met him. “When I first came to Bethel in 2012,” she said, “he was one of the first kids to attach to me. He would hear my voice in a room and would walk with his hands out till he could find me and then would climb up like a little monkey and wrap his legs around my waist. He liked to touch my face and hair and really loved to be tickled. He couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese, he just would say “ah ah ah” because he liked the sound, and he would cry in order to get the caregivers (called Ayi’s in Chinese, pronounced Eye-Yee) to do what he wanted them to do. At that time, he only liked one Ayi… and me. I confess that I thought he was mentally delayed or perhaps autistic. He had no real communication skills, he didn’t play with other children, and he didn’t really know how to play with toys.”

The beautiful thing about Bethel is the fact that they believe that each child is capable of living a fulfilling, independent life, not despite their “disability,” but with it. “One of the things I love about Bethel is that we do awareness and trainings for orphanage staff, teachers, and parents of the visually impaired. We have published a manual full of tutorials such as “How to teach a blind child to brush their teeth” and such… Hopefully someday we’ll be out of a job.”

Tabitha shared about Jake’s growing experience in which they brought in a speech pathologist to work with him. “When she (the pathologist) first started having sessions with Jian Yu,” Tabitha said, “he HATED it. He kicked, screamed, pulled a chunk out of her hair and I think he even bit her. After two sessions he started to warm up… and six months later, this kid is talking, laughing, playing and fully functioning at the cognitive level of his peers. It’s honestly a speech therapy miracle story. Today he runs around exploring and has even started preschool…

I can’t even tell you how incredible this was to me… a child I thought was mentally disabled is totally fine after six months of prayer, love, patience, and a little therapy. He’s a totally normal kid now!”

Jake was born into a situation that to the human eye would look like an accident, but I rebuke any such statement, thought or lie presented to us by the enemy. Jake’s existence, his being here on planet earth in this time frame, in China, made up of the DNA he is made up with is without a shadow of a doubt in my mind no accident, no random event, and his being found is no coincidence.

I think it’s easy to say to someone who has been adopted that they aren’t a mistake or an accident or a regret. It’s easy to say things like “you are chosen,” “you are valuable,” “you are worthy,” because it’s true, they are chosen. Regardless of our family histories and stories, we are all chosen, valuable and worthy, simply because even if it was a random act that got us here, even if we did grow up in a careless family, or no family at all, it is not a random and careless God who brought us into this world.

It’s easy to say that, but it’s much harder to believe, or at least to live in a way that we believe it. And I say we because I do not have a one up on Jake on living an abundant life simply because I wasn’t adopted or because I can see life a few shades clearer than him, which doesn’t mean I can see clearly at all.

Whether the rain is gone or not, my clarity of vision is skewed… I’m blinded by my own sin, my own humanity, my own broken story and time and time again I settle for less than what God has to offer because I allow the nature of my sin or the origin of my story to dictate who I am. I feed into the lie that I’m not chosen, not valuable, not worthy and I function out of a place of believing I am mistake of sorts instead of shifting my focus to the One who intentionally created me in His image…the same Creator who created Jake in His image. Jake’s condition is not a mistake, nor a punishment, nor an exemption from living abundantly. And so it goes with me, with each of us and whatever obstacles we might face, our conditions, our circumstances, our stories are never to be used as an excuse to merely survive this life.

And so I think about Jake… to have the story he has and the visual impairment that he has are only parts of him, they are not definitions of him and because of this he lives a full, abundant life that involves a great deal of learning and laughter and singing B-I-N-G-O, (which is apparently his favorite song to sing). Jake doesn’t need the abundance of what America has to offer in order to see how worth living life is.

My prayer for Jake as he grows up is that his identity is formed out of the truth that he was found and chosen. If we all functioned out of this truth, that no matter our circumstance or story, we all were lost but now are found, could change the world. Maybe that sounds a bit naive or extreme, but I don’t think so. I can’t claim to serve the God that I do, the creator of the heavens and the earth and sit idly by as if I’m not capable of being used by Him in mighty big ways, as was true for my brothers and sisters, Moses, David, Joseph, Ruth, Rahab, and continues to be true for my brothers and sisters today, including “those kids” at Bethel, including Jake.

If you want to step outside of your own world, your own bubble, your own set of issues (don’t worry, we all have them), and be reminded of the simplistic beauty to live each day to the fullest, which may look like different for each of us, some people may need to face a big fear today and others may need help just getting out of bed, but whatever baby step you can take today to live this life well, take it, and take a look at how others very different from you and me are taking that step to live their lives full, rich and well at Bethel.

You can find on Bethel’s website ways to add to the lives of Jake and his friends, be it through adoption, child sponsorship, mentorship, and sure prayer, but act on that prayer. I believe answered prayer is a combination of divine intervention and human initiative. Even if that human initiative is one dollar, that’s one dollar towards something huge instead of a selfless thought that never saw the light of day to make the day brighter for someone else. If only we acted on loving others half as much as we thought about what a good idea it would be to do so.

As for Jake, well, my little friend, you and I have never met, but I hope someone relays to you one day the impact you made on a 30-year-old American girl living the “high life” in Southern California. You see life a few shades clearer than most of us could ever hope to imagine, and so your story has reminded me to never stop imagining, no matter how cloudy some days may get.  Your story has reminded me that the “high life” is an inside job and that I can live life well no matter where I am when all is well with my soul. Your story has reminded me that love not only saves people but it helps them thrive and grow and become who they were meant to be. Your story has reminded me to laugh harder and sing more no matter how old I get. Your story has reminded me to look harder for things that matter most in life.

And may you know that you possess inside of you the potential to change a village, a nation, a generation, even the world. As you grow up, read about our brother Moses… abandoned, adopted, rejected, disowned, insecure, speech impediment, not to mention a murderer, and yet (I love those two words), it was he who set a whole nation free from slavery. May you grow to know our Lord and know He chose you not just to survive this life, but He chose you for big and mighty things. He needed the DNA you are made of in order to create you and He knew you would thrive better planted in different soil.

Your story is one of great, great victory.

You are chosen, and so I say to you as one of my high-school students recently said to me, do you and do you well!

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