I have nothing.

MJ:

Almost a year ago, 8/26/13, I wrote this blog. In almost every way, my transition last year mirrors my transition this year, including and especially my job.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I am very quickly learning faith. Not just a faith that says “yes, I believe in God” or “things will work out”. I am learning faith in its raw form. Its the kind of faith that desperately says to God, “I have nothing left. You have to do something.” 

That is where I am at right now. I made the decision a few weeks ago to follow through with officially resigning from my position at my church as youth pastor. For the past several months, I have known that God has been making it clear for me to leave, but I’ve been waiting on the timing. Part of the timing now was because I had applied to some different jobs a few weeks ago, all of which I was qualified for and even thought there was a great chance for me to get hired. The transition, if hired, would be…

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Sacred Romance After Tragic Betrayal. [an old post]

Love of newly weds cannot be expressed in just simple words. It’s something that is defined by passionate actions and the embracing of your beloved. The tender kiss says it all. But what happens when your beloved has the affection of another? What happens when that love is stolen from you? The one you gave your heart to gives their heart to another. Yet it is not only their heart that they give, but their body. In the bonds of marriage you became one, and yet only you remain faithful. Your beloved desired more affection, and more love. Prostituting their self, day after day they are found in the arms of someone else. And you do nothing except take them back.

This is the tragic love story of Hosea, the prophet who married a prostitute. Each night he sat waiting for Gomer, his wife, to return after just giving herself away to another man. And each night he fell in love with her more. With each moment he was separated from her, he desired her all the more. He desired to kiss her and hold her, even though she ran to the arms of other men. She reached a point of such betrayal against her covenant with Hosea, that she sold herself into sexual slavery . However, Hosea, so desperately in love with her, bought her back and took her again into his arms. With each act of prostitution, Hosea felt he could not resist his love for her. This is the tragic romance of Hosea.Though Hosea was in the middle of his own case of tragic love, there is a greater tragedy.

The same concept remains: a great love betrayed.

God, our creator, desires to be our Beloved. He wants our whole heart. This love He has for us is intoxicating and beautiful, just like that of any newly weds. It has passion. Yet we betray this passion. We were created by God to be only His, but we prostitute ourselves to other passions. We may not physically prostitute our bodies like that of Gomer, Hosea’s wife, however, we withhold the entirety of ourselves from God. We ignore His love and passion. Negating His love, we deny it by going to other sources, other lovers. We all want fulfillment, something to satisfy our desires of love and affection. In spite of this, we completely turn our backs on the one true source of happiness and joy. No passion is ever greater than the passion of God. God created us, therefore, we are His first love and He is ours. He realized long ago that we betrayed His love. But He has never betrayed His love for us. He even bought us back through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Jesus was the price. He yearns for us to return. He painfully watches us as we prostitute our lives with some other fulfillment like money, an addiction, a relationship, or a talent. What He offers to us is His sacred romance. Even night after night of us ignoring Him, He will take us back into His arms. Nothing can satisfy our desires like that of God’s love.

This acknowledgment of God’s passionate, sacred romance breaks my heart because I realize that each day and each night, I potentially betray the love of my beloved-God. I resort to some meaningless answers that continually leave me yearning for more. It may bring immediate gratification, yet, I remain craving for more.  Nothing has ever satiated my longing for more…except for my relationship with God.  Each time I go to a supplemental fulfillment, I recognize that my God is waiting for me, broken by my tragic betrayal, yet He is ready to take me back. I can’t begin to comprehend why He would want me back after such acts of adulterous, disloyal betrayal. Yet No matter how much you have prostituted your life, your love, He yearns for you!!! His passion never fails. His love never fails. He offers to me-to everyone- His sacred romance even after tragic betrayal.

 

**this is a great song showing the heart of God and His love–He is ruined without our love…**
["One Love" by Yvonne Parks]

How long I have waited for you,
for you have stolen my heart

Now I am ruined for anything less
I could live forever in your arms
My heart belongs to only one love
My beloved, My beloved, My beloved
I am yours and you are mine

Why so many weddings….

As many of you might have seen on either Facebook or Instagram, or even on here….weddings have become a huge part of my life, especially in recent years. In fact, in the past five years, I have been to 24 weddings and almost 30 overall. That’s not an exaggeration. I was curious one day and decided to write the weddings I have been to since 2009. Among friends and now even my parents, I have been compared to Katherine Heigl in the movie 27 Dresses. In case you are unfamiliar, her character is one that loves her friends dearly and is the seemingly eternal bridesmaid. Though somedays I do feel like the eternal bridesmaid or guest of weddings, I wonder when my day will come and when I’ll be able to have my day

Then I remember…its not really my day in the first place. 

The wedding (and marriage) is part of a bigger story, one that shows Jesus’ love to the world. 

My reason is pretty simple as to why I have traveled to weddings thousands of miles away and why I go to so many weddings every year. Yes, its a celebration of a couple that loves one another. Yes, its, for many, a religious symbol of their marriage. And yes, it may be for some, a way to get the legal rights of a spouse. But let me be clear about something: marriage is sacred. Marriage is a beautiful example of a love worth sacrificing for and one that represents and reflects the love of God. It is for that reason, that I have gone to so many weddings. 

There is something absolutely beautiful about seeing a man and woman stand together vowing to love one another in spite of [fill in the blank]. There is something even more beautiful when that couple has a Gospel-centered marriage that reflects the enduring love of Jesus Christ. When that couple vows before one another and God, in purity and in honor, my heart is overwhelmed again and again.

I had the privilege of being a bridesmaid for a dear friend of mine as she married her Beloved, another friend of mine, each I have known for years. The two of them had their awkward youth years, college years, and the years post-college trying to figure out God’s plan for their lives, including the question of marriage. During that time, despite personal struggles, other relationships, and at times frustration with their lives, they pursued purity, honor, integrity, and a life centered on the redemptive and beautiful love of Jesus. It was in that love, that their marriage was possible. It was in their love and foundation of Jesus Christ, that they shared their vows on Saturday. 

Knowing that I can go to a wedding and see the covenantal love vowed at an altar and seeing friends embark on the journey and adventure of a Gospel-centered marriage, gives me such joy and excitement. Not every wedding I have been to has had this foundation. My heart is saddened when I know not everyone has Jesus at the center of their marriage. However, when people ask me why I invest the time and money into all of these weddings, I cannot deny the fact that I genuinely love them and love being able to witness such love be celebrated. It gives me excitement for the day when I can say “I Do” to some man; a man who loves Jesus more than he could ever love me, yet because of his love for Jesus, his love for me pours over. 

I challenge you, whoever you are, that if you go to a wedding, or maybe you’re getting married, to not take it lightly. Not just the wedding, but the marriage. Please consider the significance of your decision. Those vows, the symbolism of the commitment, the sanctity of that which is before you…

Like I said, I intentionally make an effort to go weddings because I believe in what is being represented: the unconditional, steadfast, enduring love of Jesus Christ for the world represented in a commitment between a man and a woman. 

Learning through busyness…

If I have learned anything this past year…I have been way too busy.

Let’s rewind.

A year ago, this month, I resigned from my church position at my former church where my parents pastor. A year ago I felt lost looking for what I was made to do. A year ago I was desperate, had a bad attitude, disappointed, frustrated, and an array of other emotions.
A year ago, I was humbled.

You see, when September of last year rolled around, I was without a home church, without a career, I was only a barista, struggling to pay rent and barely able to pay bills. I had no direction. I had no idea what the next few months, or even year would look like. Part of the purpose of me resigning from a secure job was that I was certain I was about to hired at a job in FL, where they ended up hiring within the department, thus not hiring me. Before finding out that I did not get the job officially, I had already put in my resignation at my church. So two weeks after my resignation was in effect, I found out that the University went another direction. I was frustrated, saddened, and honestly mad. I couldn’t understand why God led me to resign from my position and not give me the job I wanted.

Yeah, because we always know best, right?

One of the most humbling experiences for me took place over the course of the 3 months to follow my resignation. I had to move out of my apartment which I loved. I had to move back in with my parents after having lived on my own for a few years. I was applying to jobs seemingly every free moment I had with hopes of, at least, an interview. Nothing. Nada. Zip. By the time December came, I had received nearly 100 job rejection letters, emails, or calls, not counting all the jobs I didn’t hear back from. To make it worse, I got into my first car accident [as the driver] when a 90 year old lady drove into me causing nearly $800 of damage. The crazy thing about the accident is that it happened on my way home from the church I was attending, only an hour or so after I had been convicted about my lack of faith in God’s direction for my life. I admit, my faith was still present, but most certainly was struggling. I finally decided, through conviction of my attitude and faith, that I was not trusting God and I desperately needed to let Him make things happen. That has become my anthem these past 8 or 9 months:

let him make things happen….

Within two weeks of my accident, a friend called me with an offer to work at his church during the transition of leadership. I knew God opened a door, despite my not necessarily wanting to walk through it. But I did anyway, and I have yet to regret that decision. During this whole year thus far, I have helped lead The Warehouse, a place for teens to come out, have community, have tons of fun, while learning about Jesus. Who knew that a prayer prayed long ago (that story is for another time) could be answered in a simple yes to fill in a role at a church. I have preached in services, done Sunday school, helped with events, connected with 50+ students and been able to learn from a youth leadership team unlike any I have ever seen. I have learned, not mastered, working with special needs students and with that my patience has grown exponentially. Aside from living almost an hour away from this church, I love it. The drives to and from church have become, most of the time, a time for prayer and thinking. But with the church and the busyness it added to my already busy schedule, has been a part of something to learn from about myself.
I like being busy. I know myself…If I have nothing to do, I’ll do nothing. So when I could work 40 hours a week as a barista and 20+ hours at the church not to mention side work with non-profit or other ministry commitments, my schedule has been packed. I have lacked a social life. I have (for a long time) lack a dating life. My sleep schedule is so completely thrown off. My workout schedule has become something that has dropped severely on my priority list. I can feel in my body the exhaustion of my life this past year. I can feel it physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. About a month and a half ago, I was told something by a guest pastor that has changed my thinking….I realized something that kind of broke my heart a little. I had become too busy for God and what he was wanting to do. I had allowed the blessing of working at this church become my focus, and not thinking that this church was one facet of my story. One chapter had become the whole. I was told by this pastor “Don’t be too busy that you miss what God is already doing” (paired with specifics on what’s been going on in my life). That felt like a knife to my heart because I knew it was true. I knew he spoke truth, despite not knowing me at all or understanding my situation. But he was completely right. Somewhere along the path this past 8 months, I had allowed my schedule and jobs to dictate my calling and direction for my life, rather than allowing my relationship with God and prayer life dictate and direct my life. I was missing something. I very easily could have missed what God was doing.

So here I am, almost one year from my resigning from my former church, about to embark on the next step of transition: back to square one. This time, my attitude is better. This time, I know that anything that happens, God gets the credit, not me. This time, I know to be true that God has not forgotten my desires or passions nor my talents. I am learning to take a step back and allow myself to rest. I am learning to not be so consumed with a busy schedule that I’m lacking in spending some time in peace and quiet reading the Bible, learning God’s heart for things, praying, and journaling. Heck, I have even written a blog in 3 months (that’d probably explain the length of this blog).

Though this past year has taught me so much, I know that it is not in vain. I can’t change my apathy or laziness physically or spiritually the past few months, but I can change everything now. Yes, I love the church I’ve been at and I genuinely love working at Starbucks. I love the non-profits I’m a part of and I love my young adult group. But there has to be balance, otherwise you’re just filling your life with chaos and noise and appointments, disguising the voice of God in the midst. My challenge to you, as speaking from someone who has been painfully humbled through this year, don’t get yourself so busy that you’re forgetting and missing out on what God is doing. Its not even about what He will do, but what is also doing currently. Don’t let your job, ministry, other commitments, even your family, hinder your time with God. Don’t let anything mess that up, because if you distract yourself from your relationship with God, everything else can and will be affected. Allow for time within your busyness to spend adequate time in prayer and reading the Bible, and listening for what God might be teaching or showing you now. Sometimes, we just need some silence. Sometimes we just need some peace. Sometimes, we just need to, in the midst of chaos, find the one constant that is always and will always be present.

I don’t know what the next part of my story holds, but I know one thing for certain: I want God to make it happen and bring me along.

Bless the LORD oh my soul

MJ:

Needed to be reminded of this… as my family faces struggle and new experiences, both painful and birthing faith, I know this: God is worth my worship. He will get us through.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I cannot even begin to express how much this song has become my anthem. If you haven’t heard it take a moment and listen to the link I posted. Its a cover of my friend singing 10,000 Reasons…

I feel as though I am in a place where my faith is surely being stretched and, many times, my flesh wanting to quit. This has become an often reoccurring feeling. To just be done… with all of it. I know in the grand scheme of things looking at the problems other people have, I still have it pretty good- but that does not negate the difficulty I am facing. For the past two months specifically I cannot even begin to tell you how badly my finances have become because of mis-charges on my account, extra charging of my account, increase of ALL of my loan payments, etc. Yeah not huge…

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Where heroes lay…

MJ:

Thoughts after Memorial Day… this post from a few years ago says everything I need to say. Thank you to all who serve and have served.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Cemetery

I cannot help but be grateful. Grateful is not even a word that brings justice to how I feel. As I walked through Arlington National Cemetery, I had one of the most sobering experiences of my life. Grave after grave, tombstone after tombstone, I walked silently crying. These were not simple decorations or even just memorials. Memorials used to mean something- something significant happened or someone did something extraordinary. They are not landmarks. They are symbols, jewels of history. Walking the mile, so it seemed, to my friend’s gravesite, I had this sense of respect, honor, and legacy that I have never felt before. Those men and women buried there were not mere men or women. They were not ordinary. They lived and died in purpose, with a cause birthed in their hearts. America. Family. Friends. Brotherhood. Freedoom. Whatever their reason, it was enough for them to lay…

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Pastors…something to think about

Below is a quote from a webinar I listened to earlier in the week. This specific segment hit me hard. Pastors, we always have to remember the whole point of what we are doing. If we lose focus, maybe we should get out of ministry.

 

“You’re trying to be cool? Your’e trying to be a celebrity? Let me get this straight. The mind you have belongs to Jesus. The gospel you preach belongs to Jesus. The people you serve belogs to Jesus. And you have the audacity to use and pimp and prositute them for your successes and book advances? Anathema that is a spiritual crime. Are you kidding me? Jesus said the greatest among you is a servant. And he put a towel around his waist and he washed the feet of his disciples who would abandon him in just a few you hours. Are you kidding me? You don’t have time to interact with people? Being a shepherd and pastor means you smell like sheep . They actually know you and you know them. I do not understand it. It is an absolute joke. I think there are a lot of people who would be picked last on a sports team. And now they see they have a gift and its like ‘its my time to shine’….No its only one person’s time to shine and that’s Jesus.” – Derwin Gray

I’ve learned. Jesus loves _________.

Yet another weekend was spent at Exxxotica….an adult convention aka porn show. No I was not attending. No I was not there to meet my favorite porn star or get the latest pleasure items. I was there in the middle of all the adult materials and booths at a neon 20 ft. by 20 ft. booth. Branded with the name “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”, once more we made a statement loud and clear. People who have attended Exxxotica or any of the major adult conventions in the US have probably seen our booths before. We are not new to this. We are not amateurs.

xxxChurch has been doing this for a decade

…and we do it well.

Surrounded by sex toys, lingerie, nearly nude ladies and gents, stripper poles, cages, and many other things, we were at Exxxotica for one purpose: we firmly believe Jesus loves people. But I want to take it one step further. Jesus loves people- all of us- but he loves us way to much to want us to stay the same. We were made for more. We were made for better. We were made for far greater than the purpose we are living now. I couldn’t help but think of those attending the porn show as well as those working at Exxxotica. There were moms, dads, teachers, students, baristas [myself included], servers, designers, photographers, and tons of other types of people. There were single, married, engaged, straight, gay, swinger, and I’m sure the pedophile or molester [there were thousands of people].

We don’t go to these adult conventions or have our resources online for the sake of just telling people that Jesus loves them. YES that is a major part and core of what we believe. It is something we deeply believe. However, I think there is another facet to what we do under the surface. We are all made for more because God- our creator- has purposed us for greater… but we have to want it. We have to want him. I know people who were at Exxxotica enjoy their jobs. Maybe some don’t. I’m sure the attendees at it were mixed as well. But if I’ve learned anything, people are humans and we are fractured and broken without Jesus Christ. I don’t know how I could make it through life without my steadfast and firm belief in His love for me.

He offers redemption.
He offers restoration.
I don’t have to fix me. His love changes me.

And I am new.

No matter what anyone has done, his love is for them. Nothing we do or have ever done can prohibit his love from reaching us. I saw such an overwhelming image of that love while at Exxxotica. So many people there express how they don’t think God could love them. Others, shrugged and ignored it. Still others stood there for a moment pondering the statement “Jesus Loves Porn Stars”, all the while proceeding to insert their own name or profession into that statement.

Jesus loves accountants.
Jesus loves adulterers.
Jesus loves gossips.
Jesus loves murderers.
Jesus loves baristas.
Jesus loves football players.
Jesus loves gays.
Jesus loves politicians.
Jesus loves moms. 

Jesus loves _____________. Fill in anything there and Jesus loves. The point is that while, yes, we were in an adult convention surrounded by a hyper-sexualized and pornographic world, I saw God’s love- Jesus’ love- there in the midst. Why? Because he didn’t just die on the cross just for the religious. He didn’t die on the cross for the good. He didn’t die on the cross for those that were whole. He died for you and for me and for them. All of us have brokenness. All of us are not good enough and can’t be good enough to earn his love. He gives it freely. He died for all of us to have a chance a new life, new hope, restoration, forgiveness, and to live free! Only then, when we accept his love for us, do we change, do we become new, and do we begin to live lives that honor his sacrifice for us. But we have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is recognizing our brokenness and need for Him. He loves you and so deeply wants you to understand that.

His brokenness brings our wholeness.

 

Jesus loves…the people at Exxxotica.

So I find myself here, the night before another outreach with xxxChurch at a porn convention. I’m not nervous like I was last year. I’m not worried. I’m at peace. This time last year I was preparing for Exxxotica in Atlantic City, with no idea what I was getting myself into, and yet here I am a year later, ready and so incredibly excited for this weekend. I’m not excited about porn or getting hit on by horny guys or being on my feet for hours on end [I do that already with working at Starbucks]. But what I am excited about is being able to, once again, go into this world of porn and show people love. The people that attend these adult conventions are normal, everyday people. They are teachers, mothers, fathers, college students, bankers, baristas, coaches, and of course, throw some creepers into that mix. The vast majority are simply normal people and Jesus loves them. Jesus loves the dancers and strippers. Jesus loves the producers and sex toy salesmen. Jesus loves every single person who will be in the Taj Mahal at Exxxotica this weekend.

He loves them tremendously, and I’ll bet money on it that most of them have never really been told of Jesus’ love for them. That is what breaks my heart. Jesus deeply loved people, but what we forget is he loved them where they were at…he didn’t judge them and picket and protest and hate and spit and cuss at them. In fact, he only ever responded violently toward the religious and abusers of his faith in the Temple. He only ever was critical to the ones that knew the love of God but refused to act on it. His heart was open and loving to the poor, the prostitute, the adulterer, the Gentile [those of other races], the dishonest, and so many more. The common factor was that he loved people and he wanted people to know it before he made mention of their sin or wrongdoing. He wanted people to have the choice to love him or not. He wanted people to choose him and accept his love.

That’s what I am going to with Exxxotica this weekend. Good Friday and Easter are right around the corner- the holiday taken over by bunnies, chicks, and candy and often abused by religious orthodoxy. We have missed something so much if we go into Easter without being vocal of Jesus’ love to all people, regardless of the backgrounds or whether we agree with them or their lifestyle. He loved people to the point of surrendering himself to death. He loved people so deeply that he broke his own body so we could have forgiveness and restoration. I want to be able to love people that weekend with the kind of love that is unconditional, accepting, and redeeming- the same way Jesus has chosen to love me despite my own flaws, sin, and wrongdoing. No matter who you are, Christian, church-goer, stripper, porn star, addict, or anything else… Jesus loves you.

 

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JJ’s story. {Jesus Loves Porns Star, Pt. 2}

MJ:

A year ago I met JJ at the AC Exxxotica show with xxxChurch. He is one of the many stories that are full of reason as to why I do what I do.

Originally posted on beyond the mundane:

I figure one blog post about this weekend was not going to be enough to explain what I experienced. So much happened in so little time that I have to decompress and really think about it all. I met so many people this weekend, probably most of which I will never see again. They will continue on with their lives and may even forget that they met me, the short, blonde, non-porn star at the Jesus booth at the eXXXotica porn convention. But there are a few… just a few that I pray to God I get to see again. I pray that I can encounter them somewhere, even at the next eXXXotica later this year. I have their names written down with descriptions in case I forget them, though I doubt I will. With all the people- the hundreds of people I personally met this weekend, there was only…

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