Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 42 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 42cd Day ~

Reality Church...State St...Pershing...Cottage Hospital...Karen.

Being Sunday morning, I was excited for where God would lead me to go to church. His choice was Reality Church (the Santa Barbara location) and this would have been my choice if He had left it up to me to decide. Often, I'm lead to go where I wouldn't choose, but when I listen and obey His G.P.S. it always is for reasons beyond what I could have mustered. Today happened to be a time when my wanting matched His will.

I forewent the coffee this morning, though couldn't forego my oatmeal. The drive to this church was not far and I had a childish grin on my face when I pulled in the parking lot. I had been to several services in my past Sundays in SB, but today I would be walking in the sanctuary with my head held high rather than downcast. This church has grown and expanded so much in the past years. The original Reality church in Carpinteria is where I used to attend and it is still alive and thriving, though they now have churches in Santa Barbara and Ventura. I ike that each of the locations has live pastors speaking and they rotate. Telecasts can still be effective ‘cause the message is being spoken and heard, but I’m more fan of seeing the pastor in person as he gives the word. It’s more personal. Pastor Britt is the main pastor is this laid back surfer has an approach to Jesus that is highly respectable by all age groups. The Santa Barbara location would not be graced with Brit today, but Pastor Chris was who God knew would deliver the message to my heart and he was so on point. Oh my, was he ever. Reality has been doing a series on the spiritual gifts (all of them, not just the more talked about ones) and today, he talked about the spiritual gift of serving that some people have. This is the manifested gift of serving and these people are wired to serve. They are also cheerleaders to others who are still called to serve, but aren’t looking to serve all the time like those with this manifested gift from God. Pastor Chris dove into the Living Word of God and I willingly followed. Much was learned and more revelation was revealed this morning. And the continuation of worship before and after the message was a joy-full and worship-full time of imperfect people singing and dancing to/for our perfect and holy God. I’m usually pretty pumped up and a ball of energy to begin with, but this morning, I was bouncing off the walls. I left a rock with the verse James 1:2-3 (one of my life verses) on the bathroom window sill. I was washing my hands when I girl my age walked behind me and into the stall. I saw her go to close the door, but then saw the rock. She picked it up and read it, then flipped it over (to where the most important words were written) and then looked out towards the sinks to see if maybe someone had forgotten it. It was indeed left, but it was left for her. Though our eyes met, I walked out without drying my hands, for I didn’t want the rock to have been from me, but from her Abba Father who knew that she needed it today and possibly her tomorrows. I rarely get to see the random rocks I leave be picked up by people, but today I was encouraged that they were being picked up and God was the orchestrating the “pick-up” appointment. I too, had an appointment (State Street) and though I wasn’t running late, I wanted to be on time for what God had planned.

Before I left to go to a very real church at Reality, I told Karen I might be gone most of the day. This was a true statement, for the rest of the afternoon into the early evening would be spent looking for ways I could pour out the overflow of faith, joy, truth and love that had just been added to my already full heart. I parked Tumbler near Pershing, but didn’t walk into the park. Walking slowly to State Street, my backpack had been restocked with bland rocks ready to be scribed and handed out, but I the extra weight wasn’t bothering me. I felt light and buoyant. This was another day the Lord had made, and wanted to keep reJOYing in and through it. This morning’s message was still ruminating in my heart and mind as I walked the few blocks to the main strip. Pastor Christ had talked about how people think the opposite of love is hate. He pulled out a different word that is a more accurate antonym of love: Selfishness. Wow, that hit me like a softball in the chin. He shared a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “Sin is the inward bend of our hearts toward ourselves.” Another line drive to the chin. My friends, God made us and created us to pour out…to love and to serve. So sin (the destructive and unhealthy selfishness is whatever we do to serve ourselves. I’m the first to admit that my heart bends and curves inward all too often. I sin in more ways than one every day. That’s why I’m so in need of God’s grace. I need Him to take my human nature of inward curvature (selfishness and sin) and bend it outward to other people. Staying malleable is so important. And though we were created to love and serve others, we were first created to love and serve God, the Creator of our hearts. When our hearts are curved (rather bowed) to God, we can then love others out of the overflow of love that has poured out and first filled us. It’s quite difficult to love others when we are empty, or even partially full. All of this and more was keeping a big smile on my face as I walked. The worship and message at church was over, but the worshipping and being fed God’s truth and Living Word hadn’t ended… it was simply a continuation.

Weekdays bring buses of people to Santa Barbara, but the weekends bring them in by the boatload. The weather was a pristine for this summer afternoon and I probably should have been wearing sunscreen like my mom and others encourage me to do… but I tend to put more emphasis on the condition of my heart and other’s rather than that of my skin. This is a justified copout, but it is still the truth of what I am more concerned about. Today, I needed to stay mindful of the potential caner of my heart as well as be discerning of where other people’s hearts were struggling. While walking, many people were tugging on my heart and I kept asking God, “Can I stop and talk to him? Is she someone You want me to encourage? Is that someone who needs a rock? Can you please let me stop walking, so I can help them?” Keep walking, Katie… and don’t stop praying. I constantly have to remind myself of something God whispered in my heart a couple years ago. He said, “Katie, the most powerful and effective action of love is prayer. For then it is my hands that are doing the work and not your own.” Yep, another softball not only to the chin, but straight to the jugular vein connected to my heart. We often think that loving and helping (hey, here’s a great place for that word “serving”) usually entails a action such as giving a hug, listening or giving advice, feeding someone, opening a door, giving up a better seat, buying a gift, sending an encouraging text or card, helping change a stranger’s flat tire or whatever your language of love is. And all of these things are great things and ways to show love and serve others. While God allows us to be an extension of His hand, feet or mouth, prayer is often not considered to be the action of love that it is. We can’t always see the person being helped or served or the need being met ‘cause we don’t always know what their specific need is, but we pray for them in general, knowing that God knows their every need. Sometimes, we are called to intercede for someone, which is a more specific type of prayer and often God’s Spirit reveals things that a person is going through… this topic could be another lengthy post. But even praying for someone, friend/family/stranger, generally is more beneficial than physically doing something for them. We move from the physical to the spiritual realm… addressing not what is only seen, but what is unseen. To save on words, you and I must trust that when God tells us to keep our hands in our pockets and pull out the hands of our hearts to pray, we our love and service is still active… and in an increasingly and unmeasured way. Trust this, know this, and continue giving praise to our God who will meet that person’s needs according to His glorious riches. I could go into the difference between “needs” and “wants” here, but shall choose to leave that for another time.

Can you tell that my mind was like a Chinese ping pong match today? But as the plastic ball kept bouncing up and back down to my heart, it soon rolled towards a man whose face was familiar and my walking feet were giving rest as our paths intersected. This was Shannon, and I had met him in Pershing Park a few days ago. He was one of the 3 guys who had just arrived in Santa Barbara and were welcomed with some extra cheeseburgers and French fries left over from feeding the Pershing family. I had talked with him on that afternoon but in a group setting. This was a chance to get to know him one-on-one. He was looking for a place to squat and ask people for spare change to buy some food. We started walking together in the direction I had just come from. It’s great not having anywhere in particular to go or place to be, ‘cause the day’s route is often a retracing of steps and going around in circles. We often don’t have the opportunity to have days where we are totally free and have time to turn around and walk where we just came from, though even when we are busy and have appointments, there are always times to take a few minutes and see the “opportunity in the interruption.” Look for these chances amidst our scheduled days. There are unforeseen blessings in these moments of bending the usual curvature of our hearts.

I could tell Shannon was truly hungry and wasn’t going to use the money for another tall boy beer. Instead of giving him a granola bar and a few bucks, I asked him if he liked the food at The Habit, a local fast food chain. He said he was just hungry and he would eat about anything right now. The strip has a Habit on it and we were only a couple blocks from it. I blasted him with a barrage of questions on the way and he was really open with his answers. This man has a story like all of us and it was a page turner. Telling him to order whatever he wanted, Shannon was not greedy and just wanted a burger. Fries and a drink were added to the order and he put his calloused hand on my shoulder as he sighed and smiled. We continued the conversation while his food was being cooked and we took shelter in the shade to keep from cooking from the intense sun. I learned much about Shannon and his story is for him to tell. He was encouraged to keep handing the pen to God and allow Him to write the pages of his life-story. Shannon doesn’t really feel he belongs anywhere… hence his years of wandering from place to place, never really staying in one city for long. I told him that he could make a decision today (on this page of his life-letter) to ask Jesus into his heart and become a part of God’s family. In doing so, even if he continued to wander, he would always belong… be a son of God and a beloved child of the One who could never be wandered away from even if Shannon tried. God is the best companion when traveling or being comfortable in one place. Shannon got this and I believe he made the most important decision of his life this afternoon. And it wasn’t the burger he chose from the menu, but the beginning of a beautiful relationship with his now Heavenly Father. He now belongs… even if he continues to roam the country. Joy, Joy, Joy!!!

When Shannon’s food was placed in the pick-up window, I grabbed it and handed it to my brother… not just street brother, but hopefully brother in Christ. He was all smiles, and the food in his hand was simply the bonus blessing of the nourishment his heart was now receiving from the Savior who gets all the glory for what happened in this 30 minutes. We took a picture after I gave him a “Hope… This too shall pass” rock. It came out tinted blue, but both our hearts were far from blue as we parted ways.

Though I wanted to walk further up the strip, I felt led to keep retracing my steps back towards the ocean. An open bench a block away from the beach caught my eye and the backpack was dropped along with my body on the green metal bench. Both scribed and unscribed rocks were pulled out and I began to add to the “ready” collection. This stretch of the strip doesn’t have many shops and only a couple restaurants line this block, but the people who are walking from Cabrillo Drive (the road along the ocean) have to walk this block to get to busier part of the strip. Meaning, countless people were walking past this bench. I showered as many as I could with prayer and asked God to prick their hearts and draw them into acknowledging His undeniable Presence. There was no shade and I was sweating from the hot air. When I would pick up another rock to write on, they had to be cooled off by slowly rubbing them on my corduroy shorts. Many people walked past and smiled, told me they liked my rocks, or looked away. I offered a few people who commented on the rocks that they could have one and they were free. But they declined and kept walking. I even heard one woman say, “I don’t understand why people like that don’t just get a job to get off the streets.” Some people don’t know how to accept something that is free. They don’t stop to talk to the person, they just assume and judge them on appearance. Granted, I was undercover homeless, but I wasn’t like those making the palm leaf roses who said they were free, but really wanted a person to give them a few bucks. “cling to the Rock” ministry isn’t about the money, but some people think that if you give them something, then they are obligated to give you something in return. Though I really wanted to grab a rock, get up and run after this women to explain the message behind the ministry, I just prayed for her and trusted that this “action of love” was what she needed.

There was a couple who stopped, said they liked my rocks and picked one up that they both liked best. It was a “Live life to the fullest…” rock. They asked how much and I told them it was free. They looked at each other with raised eyebrows. They were on their second honeymoon and they truly looked like the sweethearts that they once were and still are. I asked them if I could take their picture so I could remember their faces as I would pray for them. When they saw the picture I took, they again looked at each other and smiled at the snapshot of their love and joy for one another. I was smiling too. Their names were Tino and Gloria. Tino pulled out some money from his wallet and even though I pushed it away and said meeting them was priceless, he pushed it back in my hand. I thanked them and said that they had just paid for a meal for another person, for what they gave me was the amount of Shannon’s meal I had bought. God works like that so often.

The hot sun was getting the better of me and I kept hearing my mom’s voice encouraging me to take care of my skin while I was younger so that it would be in better condition when I grew older. The rocks were put away and my feet began walking once again. A dip in the ocean sounded refreshing, but so did sitting with my family at Pershing Park, so this was where I walked next. When I arrived, the gang was there to greet me. The boys were lively and talkative. Gator wanted to know why I hadn’t visited him yesterday and I told him that I had come to the park, but he was passed out in an afternoon coma. “You know how I do, sister… I can’t hang with the youngin’s anymore. I missed you yesterday, but I’m glad I’m seeing ya now. Having you back around is like sunshine on a rainy day. Hey, do you like butterflies?” I nodded my head. He searched his pockets and finally pulled something out. When Gator gives you something, he doesn’t just hand it to you. He keeps his hand in a tight fist and holds it out. You then have to hold out your open hand, and slowly cup your fingers under his till both hand’s fingers meet. Then Gator will slowly open his fingers that are pointed down towards your upward fingers and the exchanged is then made. It’s a trademark of his and tears are filling my eyes as so miss my sweet friend who does this special exchange with the many things he gives to people. Gator is a giver and he may not have much, but the trinkets and small things he gives come from a heart that surely has been given the gift of serving. I have been given countless treasures from Gator over the years and on this return to Egypt. Today’s treasure given in his trademark way with the slide of hands was a tiny butterfly earring without the back. To some, it may seem insignificant and incomplete, but to me it was priceless… as was the words he said while slowly transferring it from his hand to mine. “Katie, you are a butterfly. I knew you when you were in that dark cocoon. But even then, I could still see what you would one day become. You were beautiful to me even in your darker days, but your beauty today is like a butterfly who has found its wings and become what it was created to be.” I about lost it right there, but the moisture in my eyes and his didn’t become the tears that would become another day. They are flowing right now… and I’m not trying to keep them in. I miss Gator, but the tiny butterfly, his voice and his spirit have traveled with me since I left Santa Barbara. I truly believe I will see Gator in Heaven. His relationship with Jesus is close and fully alive even though other’s who would look at him wouldn’t think this man is the least candidate to be part of the family of God. The love of God stretches further than our judgmental eyes keep us from seeing. Read Luke 23:33-43 and see how the least likely (or seemingly least deserving) can become Christians and be adopted into the eternal family of God. We all deserve death that leads to eternity in Hell, but that is why the grace, mercy, forgiveness and love of God is for everyone… it is receiving what we don’t deserve. We may be totally surprised to see who is in Heaven… and surprised at who is not. You can know for your own certainty that Heaven will be your true home for eternity, but the decision to acknowledge your need for a Savior and surrender you heart to the One who created it needs to be made. Make this choice today, if you haven’t already. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow and our past “performance” or present condition doesn’t qualify us to be a candidate for this adoption… it’s a heart condition, not a health condition. Okay, enough said.

I stayed with the Pershing group for over an hour and some more gnarly conversations were had. Ray Ray was the only girl among the brothers and she was vying for attention amidst the boisterous boys. Yesterday, she had asked me to drive her to Cottage Hospital to visit her boyfriend in ICU, and it had been hard to say I couldn’t. I truly could have cause I had the time, but I felt God saying “not now… I have other assignments for you.” She was asking for a ride again and today I not only still had the time, but felt a God’s peace about saying yes. There is a cool verse in the Bible that (paraphrased) says, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” There are times we, ourselves, want to say “yes” but God is saying “no” and we need to be mindful to listen to His voice and say what He says to say… even if it doesn’t make sense to our human eyes. What God sees is the big picture, and His ways always lead to the best way. Yesterday’s “no” was for a reasons that I didn’t see till I came upon them and knew that I would have missed them if I had said “yes” to Ray Ray’s request. But today God was giving me the green light on driving her to the hospital. It took her awhile to get ready and find someone (sober enough) to watch her belongings. We finally made it to Tumbler and she made herself at home in the passenger seat with her bare feet propped up on the seat. Most might have asked to leave them on the floor bed of the truck, but I wanted to her feel comfortable in Tumbler… and that she was. I always cover my truck in prayer and ask God to massage the hearts of those who are near it or in it, but an extra covering of prayer went out towards Tumbler as we were driving. We talked non-stop, more words from Ray Ray than I, but I love this lady and know she is often not heard above the choir of men in the park.

When we pulled up to the hospital, she didn’t want to get out right at that moment even though she was excited to see Shaun. I sensed this and found a parking spot that had a “`15 minute parking” sign, giving us these minutes to keep the conversation going. We talked about many things in this time, but mainly about where she was right now in life and where she really wanted to be. I could see the battle around her as she voiced the battle within. She didn’t know I was warring in the spiritual realm as we were physically sitting next to each other. My heart sighs deeply for Ray Ray. She is beautiful in her own unique way. After the 15 mins had gone by, I told her it was time for us to part ways. She asked if the scarf on her head looked stupid and I cupped her face and told her she was beautiful… cause she was. We hugged over the center counsel and she got out while flashing a peace sign at me and kept it up as I watched her walk away in my side mirror. Love her so much.

I had been dropped off at this hospital in past years, but not to visit someone. This was the hospital where I had two separate stays in their psych ward facility. Yep, you know I could write more than a few paragraphs on those gnarly vacations, but I shall save you of reading about those stories today. Maybe another time. All in all, these visits were full of more comedy than tragedy and the people I met while being caged in the “crazy house” (I use that phrase cause that’s what they call it, not because all the people including myself, were crazy. Though most of us were diagnosed as that!). I so wish cameras were allowed in up there, cause the pictures would have said a thousand words each. I have pictures and movie clips in my mind even though I was heavily drugged in these week plus long stays. The memories bring more smirks and smiles than frowns and furrowed brows.

It was now early evening and I had left Karen alone in her cute apartment all day. It was time to venture back to my resting place with my sweet friend. She looked ready for me to have some company when she opened the door and saw my sweaty self. I pulled her into a big hug and told her she had been missed. Karen went into a long and detailed description of what her day had entailed and I sat down to listen to my friend who needed someone to be interested in her day. Often, when we have been by ourselves for most of the day, we need another person to want to listen. Even if we don’t truly want to listen, we need to act like we do. I was interested in how Karen was doing, but honestly, I did need some time to breathe and be still after a long day myself. Living with my grandma has taught me a lot about the importance of sometimes sacrificing what we want (or even need) for the sake of investing in listening to what one needs to voice. I tend to like unwinding after I get back home (or to a temporary resting place), but living with my grandma and my time with Karen, I was stretched to get out of self and (here it is again) bend the often inward curve of my heart outward.

After an uncounted amount of time, Karen did ask me how my day was and though I could have shared the detailed events with her for another long amount of time, I choose to say, “It was awesome… God continues to amaze me.” And this was a sufficient enough answer for my dear friend as she then started to talk about another thing that happened in her day. I pulled out my laptop and continued listening as I checked messages and the news feed of my friends around the world. I was admittedly in many places at one time. Karen’s cat Mecha was laying outside, basking in the striped sunlight and I thought to myself he had quite the life. Last night, I had made Mecha do some tricks like sitting and also standing on his hind legs. There were some cat treats involved, but Karen was flabbergasted that I made him sit and stand. She had tried to make him do the same last night and tonight with treats as a treat for obeying her commands, but Mecha wasn’t very complying for her. So funny!!! Karen said I was a “cat whisperer” but I think Mecha was just being stubborn like a little kid can with their parents versus another adult. This cat is so cool…. Especially with his new “lion” haircut. He knows he is handsome.

The last thing I will highlight from this gift of another day involves a small piece of paper from over 6 years ago. Karen had found this index card in a box of other artifacts of memories and had it laying next to the chair I spent a lot of time in while staying with her. When I saw it before she pointed it out, the memory behind it was remembered with clearness. I have already shared that Karen is afflicted with sudden seizures stemming from a brain tumor she has had for many years now. When we first met at the Casa Esperanza, I had witnessed a few of these grand mal seizures and it was scary to see my friend out of control. Though she was and still is on medication for this, she still has occasional spells of seizing, though not near as frequent as she would have when we were in the shelters. To make a long story short (well, kind of short), Karen and I also lived at the Salvation Army shelter together for a short while. I remember the day clearly like it was yesterday. This afternoon, we were the only women in the dorm of 20 beds and we were both laying in our beds doing whatever we were doing. Suddenly, Karen went into a grand mal seizure and her body started jerking violently. I jumped up from my bed and ran over to hers. It wasn’t an audible voice, but I heard God say to lay my right hand on her head and my left on where her back and neck merge. I started praying out loud, but only said “In Jesus Name, In Jesus Name, In Jesus Name” and after the third one, she stopped seizing and went completely still. I kept whispering “Jesus” and after a couple minutes, Karen opened her eyes and looked right at me. Another lady had walked into the dorm as this was happening (God’s hand was in that too) and she had shouted for a staff member who was came up and called 911. The paramedics came pretty quickly, but I don’t know how long it actually took. Karen still wasn’t talking and whenever she did try, I would ssshhh her as my hand will still on her head and back/neck. She was taken by ambulance to the ER and because I wasn’t allowed to ride in the ambulance with her, I ran behind it… literally, until my pace couldn’t keep up with its speed. When I made it to the hospital, they had taken her to a room and doctors were looking over her. I had to wait and it was awhile before they let me into her room. When I walked in, Karen was laying down, but she was fully awake and aware of where she was. For those of you who don’t know about seizures, grand mal in particular, when a person has one, they don’t remember anything from the onset of the seizure. They also come to in state of confusion and because their minds were literally shocked and temporarily paralyzed, they have a hard time piecing together what happened. But when I walked over to Karen lying in the hospital bed, she grabbed my arm and said, “Katie, the doctors told me I had a grand mal at the shelter and they brought me here. I don’t remember any of this, but I do remember hearing ‘In Jesus’ Name’.” I then told her what had transpired and her mouth was wide open as were her eyes. Even though at that time I wasn’t in a good place of my walk with God, He had used me to stop the seizure. As I made very clear to Karen, I will emphasize again to you reading this that it wasn’t me who calmed my seizing friend… This was the power of God’s Holy and All-Powerful Spirit at work, using the broken vessel that I was (and still am, though with a lot of glue in many places). The doctor came in shortly after I was allowed in and told Karen and I that while all seizures are dangerous and grand mals are potentially deadly, the tests on the this seizure was showing that she was fortunate to be alive. He said that if the paramedics hadn’t come when they did, she might not be here at all. I was both shocked and stoked at what Karen said in reply to the doctors reporting: “Doctor, it was not the paramedics that saved my life, it was my friend here, Katie. She prayed over me and this was what made me stop seizing.” The doctor looked at me and I gave him a smirk while shrugging my shoulders and then pointed my pointer finger upwards. I don’t know if he believed in God or believed what Karen had said was the reason for the miracle, but without a doubt, he was witnessed to.

When Karen was released from the hospital, we walked back to the shelter together. It must have been the 4th of July, for we both remember there being fireworks in the distant sky on our way home. Or maybe these bright burst of color exploding in the dark sky were only seen by the two of us and it wasn’t Independence Day. The actual day wasn’t what was important and what we remembered… it was what happened on this day and what God in His power did. When we got back to the Sally and Karen told everyone what had happened both in the dorm and at the hospital, I pulled out an index card and wrote what is still written on it. That she still has it says so much. Though I don’t know if my sweet friend is a Christian and has made the decision to acknowledge her need for a Savior and ask Him into her heart, I do know she believes in God. And this day is proof to not only her, but all who hear what happened that afternoon, that God can still any storm, calm any crisis, and stop any seizure. He is sovereign and when we call upon His matchless and all-powerful Name, miracles happen… some seen and others unseen.

When God allows to see a miracle,
It’s not just that person who is witnessed to.
Everyone around that person is shown the God’s power.
That is why we need to testify about what we experience and see.
Don’t let fear of sounding or looking “crazy” keep you quiet.
Shout to the ends of the earth the great and marvelous
things that God does for you and others.

“Go tell it on the mountains” is a song that wasn't simply written for children’s Sunday school. It's for everyone including you and I.

~Unshakable Peace, Boldness and Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2

Day 41 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 41st Day ~

Still Morning...Sunspot...CARES...Ray Ray's Rock...State Strip.

This Saturday was split down the middle. The first half was spent relaxing and allowing my body to continue to recharge and the second half was packed without much rest. Certainly, God is always moving and working even when we are still, and we must be mindful to keep our hearts still in His calming Presence even when we are busy moving around. Always moving and always being still sounds like an oxymoron, but this is the balance that is obtainable when we, the branches, abide in God, the Vine… and in this abiding, we are most effective in being fruitful (both ourselves and others’ growth). I don’t always stay in this balance and my fruit can quickly go from ripe to rotten, but even in these failings and fallings, we can learn so much our growing walk with God and of His grace that is new every morning.

Sleeping in till 9am was not planned, but needed. The hours of deep sleep were sufficient despite the hours I was wakefully sleeping while dark dreams slipped into to make me wonder if they were dreams or actualities. When my breathing would return to normal and I was woken to the reality that they weren’t actually happening, I would pray myself back to sleep. I realized this rise in night terrors this week back in Egypt were a way of letting me know that satan was not at all pleased with me being back with a different purpose than when I’d been here before. I no longer was fighting on his side, and my switch to warring in God’s Army had sounded the alarm to send any and all types of distractions that would attempt to make me flee this territory that he had worked so hard to take claim and residency. I wasn’t about to let some nightmares make me start packing up to leave just yet. God would be the only Captain I would listen to, follow the leadings, and leave when He said “now, you are released to go to the next mission field.” Still, the dreams were a hard fight and I would have to rely on God’s infinite strength to continue sustaining my days on the street, for the lack of sound sleep could affect my stamina if I only relied on my own feeble strength. In my weakness, He is strong.

Oatmeal, coffee, writing, phone calls, quiet conversing with my Abba Father, more coffee, more writing and sitting in the stillness of the atmosphere Karen’s apartment produces, was what this morning entailed. Her back window has a lovely view of the mountains and I often found myself standing in front of it with my hands wrapped around a hot mug of mighty strong coffee. Even on mornings that I’m lead to be still, it’s difficult for me to stay sitting still for long periods of time. So I’d write a few paragraphs, and then wander over to gaze out to the window view or step outside her front door into the warm sun. Karen, on the other hand, can sit in one place for hours at a time. This morning she was sunning in the front deck while reading magazines. She is so French in this way… the way she sits, brings her coffee and cigarette up to her mouth, and crosses her leg that sways in a pendulum motion. Her European roots go deep and her French accent is still thick though she speaks English fluidly. I love it when she talks to her cat, Mesha, or to me when she calms my racing mind with the gentle stroke of her hand on my hair while speaking in French. Such a beautiful language and though I never know what she is saying, the words flow like water over smooth rocks. The hat she had on today was so accompanying to the fashion magazine she was slowly flipping through. Karen, once a European model, was still one to photograph in her graceful age that highlights her still stunning beauty.

My laptop was closed as the time came for me to slip into my weathered sandals and greet the streets. There were some places I wanted to re-visit that my sandal-clad feet had once walked to. Today I would drive to these places. The first location may furrow some brows, but one of the downtown tanning salons was a place where I went several time while living at the Salvation Army during my first stay. Though most of the money I had was spent purchasing bags of various powders, crystals and rocks, I would go buy a “fake and bake” every once in a while. This was therapy in a sense… 15-20 min of bliss and relaxation from the fast paced lifestyle I was slowly killing myself with. Tanning was much cheaper back in these days, and I’m still a fan of getting some therapeutic down time in the warm beds during the winter time.

I found a parking spot a couple blocks away and walked into the salon. A super friendly young girl greeted me and asked how she could help me. At first she was a little taken aback that I simply was visiting to remember the times I used to tan here. I told her a brief background of how I once was living in shelters but mostly on the streets years ago and how I’d come here to take a break in the warming beds. I also shared how I had promised the people living at Pershing and the Wall that I would one day come back. After I shared how this place was such a blessing besides giving me a shade darker complexion, she smiled and told me that people would be surprised how many homeless people came to tan. She understood that people need a break from the madness and hardships of the streets. I smiled wider when she said, “Everyone needs a place where they can go to relax and take a deep breath.” She then shared about a friend of hers who was living on the streets and how she had extended her hand to help him find shelter and food several times even though her parents didn’t understand why she was showing him compassion. There is a difference between compassion and enabling and this girl got it.

Her name was Desiree and she and I talked for a good amount of time due to the lack of customers wanting a fake tan when the sun was shining brightly on this day. God opened up this time for us to talk without being interrupted and besides wanting to re-visit this old place, I knew a rock needed to be left with this sweet, compassionate girl. My backpack was left in Tumbler, so I ran back and pulled out 2 rocks. When I ran back into the salon, I asked her if the current season of her journey needed “Peace in the storm” or if she needed to be reminded that God’s love is not like human love. She said she wasn’t in a stormy season, so the love reminder was more fitting for her today… a rock with a simple heart was placed in her hands and the message of what was one the back of the rock was emphasized. She was glowing, not because of the tan she kept from the salon, but because the message resonated with her heart. I had came back to the tanning salon to remember my sessions in a bed that gave me a place to take a deep breath, but reminding Desiree that the God, her Rock, was her place she could always find rest was the real reason God led me back.

Where I drove to next could be a post in and of itself. The building that holds the stellar organization called CARES was a 6 min drive from the salon, but I recalled walking here so many times before. I first started going to this place when I was in Bethel House. This was where I was sent to see the psychiatrist once a week as well as when I lived on the streets and was assigned different case managers. They had their hands full with me. And sadly, after being prescribed medication, I later used their service to keep a steady stream of prescribed medications (which I either abused myself by taking more than prescribed or sold them on the streets to buy other “self-prescribed” drugs). In yesterday’s post I tiptoed into the topic of labels and how we can sometimes begin to live out those labels. I am fully aware that diagnosis’s can be accurate and they help bring something solid (known) to the symptoms one has or is experiencing. But it is important to be mindful that diagnosis’s can be misdiagnosed and what is often a temporary season of something doesn’t mean that we will have this our whole life. I may not explain this very well in the following paragraphs, but I will try to be careful not to offend or confuse you. Maybe I’ll just tell my experience and let you all take what you want and leave the rest. What I am about to share is not an absolute for everyone, but it was and still is for me. I’m praying for open minds and receptive hearts for everyone reading this post.

Over my journey, I have been diagnosed with a plethora of things… from depression (clinical, which is saying it’s more permanent and not just a depressive season) all the way to schizoaffective disorder (which is a form of schizophrenia with high levels of anxiety coupled with delusions and mood disorders). Now some of you who read my last post and the story about my 3 day adventure at the East Cliffs may be thinking “That sounds about right” but the dino-turtles were drug induced without a doubt. What this psychiatrist was trying to label me with was during a time when I’d been clean and sober. Admittedly, I was seeing things and hearing things, but they weren’t delusions from my mind… I was seeing and hearing things in the spiritual realm. I realized some of you just rolled your eyes and are still not questioning why the doctor was saying I was mentally challenged. To most whom I tried to explain the reasoning for these symptoms that seemed to point towards psychosis, my explanation only made them check a few more things on their list and scribble some more notes on their yellow legal pad (most likely, “delusional thinking and distorted reasoning” and “keeps talking about angels and demons”). To save from trying to explain this all to you and possibly not making much sense, I’ll simply say that I knew this label was not accurate. Even the clinical depression and chronic anxiety weren’t labels I was willing to allow stay stuck on me. Though I was depressed and had high anxiety, I also knew this was because I wasn’t willing to address the root of these symptoms. I believe that most mental illness and depression and anxiety disorders are largely a spiritual battle and a stronghold or root (or multiples of each) are the underlying problem. Now don’t get all huffy and upset at what I just said. This is my opinion, belief and my experience. I’m not speaking for you and I’m not judging those who have struggled for many seasons or even a lifetime with any of the things I mentioned. It doesn’t mean someone is inherently bad or they lack faith or have some demon’s possession going on if they have been diagnosed something. I’m not against medication and I’m not against the notion of having a chemical imbalancement. I get this, trust me. What I am saying is that sometime, dare I say most often, when someone is labeled something, they fall into believing the lie that they will either always have this or that they will always struggle with it. Just like I don’t say “Hello, my name is Katie and I’m an addict/alcoholic.” I’m am no longer using or drinking; therefore this is no longer a label I’m going to identify myself by. But what about tendencies and addictive personalities, you might ask? Again, my identity is no longer what I used to be (Check out II Corinthians 5:17).To me, living the label is a reservation or rationalization. If someone relapses, they can say, “Oh, well I’m an addict… this is what happens with people who are addicts.” Well, this person also kept saying they were an addict every time they went to a meeting and because words hold power, the relapse was somewhat spoken into existence. It’s beautiful to live and speak a new label like “woman of man or freedom” or “child of the King” or “grateful a gift of another day.” I refuse to let what once was an accurate label at the time (I was an addict and alcoholic) be what I am defined by today when I’m no longer using or drinking. The same is with things like depression, anxiety and schizoaffective. For a long season, I was depressed, anxious (riddled with panic attacks) and hearing/seeing things. I knew that I was depressed and anxious because I refused to allow God to do the needed surgery on my heart and remove the strongholds that had stifled my walk with Him. The voices and visions of people I saw where demonic activity that was not possessing me, but certainly was oppressing me. And while this season lasted many years, it wasn’t my identity. Praise God that He kept me safe from beginning to believe that I was crazy, and that the lies that were spoken over me did not stick or leave a sticky residue that has left me questioning my identity that is now firmly rooted and grounded in the truth of what God says I am. We need to be mindful of what others (professionals, family or friends) are speaking into our spirit… line it up with God’s Word and that will reveal if it’s a lie or the truth.

That’s pretty wordy, but read this paragraph a couple times when you get the chance and see if more becomes plain and clear. I often use too many words to explain things. Yet another things I still need work on.

Much could be shared about my experience with the spiritual world since I was a little girl, but that is for another time. None of the psychiatrists I have been to throughout my journey were Believers in God and definitely did not believe that a spiritual war was and is and will continue to constantly wage around us. Therefore, telling them I saw dark spirits in the daytime and that these imps would physically try to suffocate me at night sounded completely crazy. These times of being choked and suffocated by spirits has happened countless times… as recent as last night (I’ll talk about this in today’s post when I get to it in a week!). I’m getting off tangent here. So hard to describe all this without using too many words and having it become potentially more confusing than understood. I’m going to tell you a little story that will hopefully shed some light on why I believe so strongly that many people struggling with mental illness or even depression/anxiety disorders are dealing with a spiritual battle rather than a mental battle.

When I was in Rockford, IL 8 years ago and living in the woman’s shelter, I had an encounter with one of Rockford’s “bag ladies.” This particular lady used to be a successful lady who was functioning very well and was socially and economically on good standings on the ladder scale. One day, she had what people say was a mental breakdown and suddenly lost everything and became homeless. She was diagnosed schizophrenic and became homeless, known for carrying around her few belongings in numerous bags that she would carry with her at all times. Hence “The Bag Lady.” I saw her often while out roaming and wandering the streets myself. One day, while walking from an AA meeting and back to the shelter at the rescue mission, I saw her walking towards me, but on the other side of the street. She was in eyesight, but not yet in earshot unless one of us was shouting. I felt the nudge to start praying for the bag lady, but not just praying for her, but specifically praying against the mind-binding spirits that were oppressing her. So even in the mess I was in, I began to pray for her. God can use us in any state of heart or season of our lives. I was praying for her as the distance between us grew less. Mind you, she was on the other side of the street and I wasn’t praying out loud, but silently. Suddenly, when she was maybe 75-100 feet away from me, she jerked her head up from where it was looking down at her feet and started screaming at me, “Stop praying for me!!! Your prayers won’t help me cause they aren’t leaving!!!” It was her that was speaking, but it wasn’t her voice, nor her words. This was the spirit (or possibly legion of spirits) that were shouting at me. There was no way that she, herself, could have known I was praying for her… but the dark spirits had most certainly known and heard me praying against them. Take this true story as you may. It forever confirmed what I believed all along: That the battle is not what is seen, but what is unseen.

Again, this doesn’t mean that people struggling for a season or even a lifetime with any disorder or disease are demon possessed or oppressed, but awareness is huge when it comes to such things. Facilities for people could be way more effective and helpful if they administered warfare prayer more than medications. Taking action towards the source vs. treating the symptoms. The root is rarely addressed and therefore, the label stays glued on and is lived out. Okay, I’ve absolutely drawn this out way too far and I apologize for the long dissertation. I can get pretty pumped when the topic of spiritual warfare comes up. Please forgive me if this has left anyone confused and questioning my sanity. I am not crazy… but I am radical about truth and awareness.

Pulling up to the CARES building brought up these memories of misplaced labels and being frustrated that no believed me and quite frankly, no one really tried to understand what I was experiencing. They just checked things off on their list of “sane or insane” and the little white piece of paper prescribing the necessary medication to the label was handed to me as I walked out of their offices. I, being the addict that I WAS (back then), was not happy about the label, but the pills I was prescribed brought wide smiles to my face. Eventually, I stopped bothering to explain the spirits I was being choked by and seeing and my appointments became much shorter, but still frequent. I had found that the pills were not like the cocaine and meth I was addicted to, but they helped in coming down from the highs. I also could sell them on the streets and the shelters to buy my drugs of choice (the harder stuff). I told the doctors whatever they wanted to hear like “Yea, I’m having less panic attacks, but I still can’t sleep.” So the dosage of Seroquel was upped. “Super fidgety, doc. Just can’t relax.” Higher dosage of Klonopin. The psychiatrists and doctors just kept handing out bowlfuls of candy to a diabetic.

Okay, I’m getting to the present day part of the post now. Mind you, my Santa Barbara day post are much lengthier (they take sometime 4 hours to write) because I am not only sharing about what happened that day at the specific place, but also want to share about what these places were for me and the memories of them while I was here before. I apologize for the seeming rabbit trails and tangents off the beaten path, but this is not only to share more about my past and present journey to you, but it’s therapeutic and purposeful for me as well. Thanks for your grace my friends!

Amidst the frustration and not so good memories made at CARES, there were some absolutely amazing case managers that I was under at different times of my stay in SB… Bradley, Jeff, and a woman whose name I can’t remember where all fantastic advocates. I was hoping to re-connect with Bradley most of all because he was influential during my whole 2 years in SB. He was the one who got me into the Salvation Army, the detox program and who was always there for me when I needed someone to talk to and be encouraged to keep fighting the fight. He still works at CARES and though he was here working on this day, a meeting was keeping him from being able to sit down and hear how big of an impression he had left on my journey. I did see Jeff and we stepped outside to talk for 20 minutes. It was great to see him and hear that CARES was still planting seeds, helping people, and loving on those who most people looked away from. The people here love the least of these… and they had loved me. I left my card with my cell number for Jeff to give Bradley, but I never received a call from my old friend and cheerleader in my bleachers. Though I wanted to let him know that I wasn’t crazy after all and my life had drastically changed because the Rescuer and Restorer had done a heart transplant, I had to let go that we weren’t able to cross paths. I have a deep respect for Bradley, Jeff and the female case manager that God allowed me to be ministered to even though it didn’t appear that any of their seeds planted were taking root.

I also had an interesting conversation with a man who was a patient there and though I didn’t give him a rock, I did pray for him. Though the mind-binding spirit was recognized and discerned to be operating in him, it didn’t scream at me. The man shook my hand after I encouraged him to keep praying that his seasonal affliction would result in him finding freedom and deliverance. As much as people may think people who are suffering from mental illness do not understand or take in as much as the “normal” people (though none of us are normal), they understand much more than we think or believe. This man was listening to what I was saying… and so was the spirit(s) that were hovering around him. The name of Jesus is sharper than any two edged sword and some unseen things were sliced and diced that afternoon. It was now up to this man to continue fighting with weapons not of this world. Medications can help alleviate symptoms, but prayer cuts right to the root of the matter. Oops, there I go again.

I drove away from CARES a little disappointed that I didn’t see Bradley, but knew that he was busy helping someone, and for that I was grateful that he wasn’t able to get a hug from an old patient. Though I was not the person I once was, I knew there was still so much more growing to do. We never arrive at perfection and are always in need of improving ourselves. For me, this means becoming more like Christ and less like me, the sinner in need of constant grace that I am. I’m not crazy, but I’m not perfect. Forever a work in progress in need of God’s guidance, grace and gentle (though sometimes firm) discipline. I’m not where I want to be, but glad I’m not where I once was. But who I once was would never be forgotten and this was one of the reasons I kept being drawn and led back to Pershing Park. So this is where I went next.

It was mid-afternoon and the half the family was awake and lively and the other half was passed out. I patted Gator on the head and bent down to kiss his head as I passed my sleeping friend by. The group that was up and talking loudly among themselves were under the trees by the pavilion. Everyone was greeted with a hug and I crouched down by Ray Ray. She was worried about her boyfriend who was still in the hospital from the seizures and I tried to be patient while listening to her repeat things over and over. The other guys were making fun of her and mocking her voice, so I checked them (maybe a little too harshly, but they listened). I wasn’t trying to step into a motherly role then, but they needed to know that their behavior wasn’t cool with me. “Two Feathers” actually apologized to me and Ray Ray. Later he would tell me that me checking the boys was greatly respected by him and that he wished I were still living in the park… not drinking and using like before, but to be a voice of reason and truth. I took this as a great honor, coming from my Native American brother.

Ray Ray and I talked for quite awhile. Well, actually I listened to this women of many sorrows for a long time. She needed to vent and I had time. After a while, it was also the perfect time to give her the rock that she knew was going to be handed to her before I left SB again. I pulled out the first rock my hand touched from my backpack and it was the “Peace in the storm” rock that Desiree had not chosen. This was the perfect rock that Ray Ray needed for this season of her journey. She was in a violent and raging storm (both within her and around her) and I explained how God’s peace can calm us while we are within the storm. We can have tears rolling down our face (which she now had) and still have an unshakable peace that only God can provide. She pulled me in to a bear hug and my crouching stance became a leaning into this broken women. I felt so deeply for her. My heart was heavy for Ray Ray, yet that peace that passes all understanding (even my own at times) was present with the pain I was feeling for Ray Ray. It was time to leave the park and say “see ya later, family” to the people who I felt so close with… because I was once where they were sitting. I stood and gave out another round of hugs and tightened the straps of my backpack as I walked away, but left a part of me with them. They may never know how much they ministered to ME during my daily visits with them.

I left Tumbler in is parking spot and walked the few blocks to State Street. It was early evening now, but the sun was still shining and the moon had yet to become the brightest object in the sky. Once on the strip I wanted to stop and talk with many of the people I was passing by, but felt led to keep walking. The day had already been full and I was feeling the residue of memories that had resurfaced, especially at CARES. I walked and prayed, for those around me as well as myself, for an unknown amount of time. I had walked up the strip a ways and was now walking back. I crossed back over the street and started walking down a side street towards an empty bench made of blue tiles. My pack was dropped and my rocks and Sharpie markers were pulled out. After scribing 2 rocks, a lady pushing a bicycle stopped in front of me and said, “I remember you! You still writing on rocks, huh? I don’t remember your name, but you gave me a “Press Through” rock many years ago and I still have it at my house. I look at it every day and tell myself to keep pressing through cause God has a purpose and plan for everything. That’s what you told me when you gave it to me. I have wondered where you went to and if you’re doing okay. So glad you are back, but are you doing better than how you were when I last saw you?” I told her that I was much better and that I, too, was pressing on while clinging to the Rock who is my Refuge and Stronghold. I offered her to choose another rock, but she said she already had the perfect one and that these rocks would be handed out to others who needed the reminder that God is the only One who will never let us down. I gave her a big hug and thanked her for stopping to encourage me. If I had stopped to talk to those I wanted to encourage or kept walking and not have listened when led to this bench, I would have missed crossing paths with her. I didn’t write her name on my arm like I do with most everyone I merge paths with, but she couldn’t remember my name either. And that’s okay, cause it’s not our name that is important or the one to remember… it’s the name of Jesus that I want to remember and be remembered.

A few more rocks were finished and 2 other conversations with people who stopped were had. Of the 5 rocks that were scribed, only 3 went back into my backpack. I got up and began walking again, but not 2 blocks away, Jonny was seen. I had talked with him a couple other times and he was well-known on the strip for his palm leaf roses. Today I not only was handed another beautiful, hand-made flower, but I gave Jonny a “We All Have A Story…” rock in return instead of the usual granola bar and $2. Our conversation was short, but he knew what the message of the rock was about by the time I walked away.

I was walking back up the strip and needed food. Often, I forget this important ingredient of the daily recipe. A Chipotle chicken bowl was bought and I ate half of it in way too short amount of time, suddenly realizing how hungry I was. The courtyard where many street kids hang out was just across the street, so I ambled over after covering up and bagging the rest of the bowl. None of them were approached, but I did sit down against the front stone wall and pray for them. My rocks were again pulled out and the sidewalk was bustling with people. More praying. After 30 min of looking like a street person selling items for money, 2 middle aged men approached me. One crouched down and the other stayed standing. Their names were Igor and Don and they were full of compassion. They wanted to know about my rocks and how they could help me besides giving me money. My undercover homeless gig was working cause they truly believed I lived on the streets. I had to tell them the truth and when they found out I loved Jesus and lived to serve Him, they told me that they, too, were Christians. They went from being good Samaritans and wanting to know how they could help me, to being my brothers in Christ and asking me questions about how God was using me to minister to the people on the West Coast Rock Tour. We talked and talked and talked. Don was much more quiet than Igor, but when he spoke, it was full of wisdom and integrity. These men were huge encouragements to me this evening. They were headed to get something to eat and offered to buy me a meal, but I pulled out the bag of food from behind my pack and said I was good on that, but thanked them for not only showing love and compassion to someone they thought was homeless, but still “feeding” me when they found out I was their sister in Christ. I told each of them to take a rock with them, but only Igor chose a “Peace” rock. He said there was someone he knew that needed this reminder. Don said to give his to someone else who would soon come along. Whether they were human or angels in disguise, I knew they were sent by God. Today was a day of not only spreading the Good News with others, but being spurred on and encouraged by others. These days are treasures to my soul. Then again, every day is a gift to be treasured.

There is a balance in pouring out onto others
And being poured into by others.
Often at the same time.

~Unshakable Peace, Prayer and Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Day 40 ~ West Coast Rock Tour

~ 40th Day ~

Bethel House...Rainbow Park...Brock...The East Cliffs.

Jeepers, another packed day of amazing people and places throughout this beautiful gift of another day back in "Egypt." I would say this post will be kept to minimal wordage, but most likely, pushing the "see more" icon will drop more paragraphs than you have time for on your lunch break. Here goes trying to highlight nuggets of this awesome day.

The protein in my peanut butter and oatmeal was eaten slowly this morning as Karen and I continued to talk about yesterday's experiences of re-visiting places that held memories of both joy and pain. We both still needed to process many emotions that had surfaced and it was good that neither of us was alone. Sometimes, just having someone near (even if you are silent together) is comforting and needed. Not that either of us were having any meltdowns, but several time we found ourselves lightly running our fingers on each other's backs as we passed each other by, asking "are you doing alright?" and many deep sighs were let out in between the massive amount of writing we both were pouring our hearts onto page that morning. People who love to write like the atmosphere that is created when putting words on a page… and it’s important to give space to the writer. Still, the two of us were more than welcoming of each other’s company in our secluded, silent space. Karen is a treasured friend.
I remembered it was Friday today, and recalled this being a day off of work for my old tracker, Alana whose path I'd already merged with the other day, but wanted to soak up some more time with this one of many role models of mine. For those of you who are mothers, you know full well that a day off of work at your job doesn't mean you will have a free day to do as you please... it simply means you catch up on motherly duties and housework. Such was the case today for this woman who wears many hats. When I sent her a text inquiring of how many things she had already checked off her long list of things to do today, she said there would be some carved out time to meet up again. Whoop whoop!

I needed to finish writing the day post I was piecing together and told her we’d meet up at her stellar abode at 1:00. I shoveled the last couple bites of my oatmeal and chugged another cup of coffee as more paragraphs poured out. A last minute text was sent to Alana asking her if there was any chance we could go visit Bethel House, where I spent 4 months in that rehab program. She responded in a few minutes and told me that the newer director, John, could meet us at 1:30. Sweetness!!! I was both super stoked to re-visit this place as well as more than a "little" nervous to meet with John. He wasn't the director when I was there 7 years ago (the amazing Patsy, whom I could tell you so much about our unique bond) but he was still on the staff team... and we did not have a bond together. This man, who is actually an amazing guy, flat out vexed my spirit while I was there. The reason behind this wasn't ‘cause he was mean or nasty, but because I did not have a very good view of men in general. Because he was the only male staff member at Bethel, whenever he came into the room, his male presence sent salty shivers up and down my then crooked spine. But that was then and this was now… John was not the person I portrayed him to be nor was I the same skeptic of men in general, and for that matter, I was more looking forward to than fearing see him again.

I parked Tumbler on Alana’s street and she was already outside with open arms that I willingly walked into and reciprocated the hug. She gave me a tour of her and her husband’s place, which is decorated mainly with plants and pictures that their young sons had artistically created and colored. We then jumped in her car and headed for Bethel House. When we pulled into the parking lot in front of the house, I could have sat in the car for quite awhile and allowed the current of memories to trickle over me, but John was expecting Alana and I at 1:30, and we wanted to be prompt. She hadn’t told John specifically why we wanted to talk to him, and even though Alana had said I was once in the program, he didn’t remember me… till he saw me. His expression didn’t change all the way up through the house, into the courtyard and as we ascended the stairs to his office. He had greeted me at the main door, but no other words were spoken as I followed him. Alana was talking with several girls along the way and when we started up the stairs, she was no longer behind us. John stopped before he entered the office and asked, “Where is Alana… I need her to be here with us.” This was for 2 reasons: 1 being he is a male staff and needs to be mindful of one-on-one interactions with females, and 2 because he looked kinda nervous himself at our paths merging after so many years and our tumultuous past. Just then, Alana appeared and we all went into the office that I recalled with both pleasant and not so pleasant recollections.
The first thing I saw was the “hot seat” which was where we sat when we were in trouble for something. I sat here many times during my brief stay here and let out a laugh. Alana asked if I wanted to sit in it for old time sake, and I shook my head. “Come on, I know you want to sit in it and hold the ‘speaking staff’.” We would hold this and raise it in the air when we wanted to speak… which I didn’t often do cause my muzzle was buckled on way too tight back then. I hopped up from the couch I had sat myself in more comfortably than the years before and the first picture is from that moment I sat in the hot seat not because I was in trouble, but because I was free from the shackles that once bound me... and I had found my voice.

When I returned to the couch, John asked me the question of the year: “So are you here to check back in?” Again, I laughed and was joined with Alana’s distinct and adorable laugh. “Nope, not here to come back into the program, just to visit and say thank you for the investment you made in my journey, John.” I shared opening with him how I wasn’t a big fan of him before. I apologized and asked for his forgiveness. He acknowledged my apology, but he told me that I was forgiven a long time ago. My time with this new director of an amazing program didn’t last long, but I shared briefly what had transpired, how my life had been transformed in the last 7 years and about the “West Coast Rock Tour” God had called me on. Before I walked back down the stairs that led to the front door of the place I was glad to be visiting, I pulled out a “Hope” rock and gave it to John. It was a special time of reconciliation between us and I was grateful for creating a new, positive memory with this man I once loathed, but now saw with clear eyes.

As you all are growing accustomed to me saying, so much could be written and shared about my time at Bethel House. The 4 months I lived here felt much longer than those 120 days. So much happened within this time and many friendships were cultivated with both staff and the residents. Others may have a different description of me while here, but my synopsis is I was the jokester (loud at times I probably should have been quiet) coupled by being silent one (quiet during times I should have spoken). I was two different people… depending if I was in a class/counseling session (when I wouldn’t talk) or if I was hanging in our upper rooms or in the courtyard (when I was loud). Even though the staff was amazing, my tracker was awesome, and Patsy, the director at the time took me under her wing, I wasn’t willing to open up and expose the roots that kept my drug addiction at bay while in the program. This is why I went back to using when my stay was over (both at Bethel and the other rehabs)… I wasn’t willing to address the roots.

Halfway through my time at the house, I began to cut myself with a large safety pin. The director keenly noticed that I was wearing long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts every day (rain or shine) and when she pulled up my sleeve after a week of cutting, I took my first of 2 vacations to the psych ward. There were some labels put on me through diagnosises from doctors and psychiatrists that, though seemingly stuck on me for the symptoms I was presently experiencing, I did not agree with and therefore didn’t let stay stuck on me. We can often live out the labels that are attached to us… and allow them the dictate our behavior. I wasn’t willing to believe these prescribed diagnosises, though I did experience some struggle in trying to keep other’s from coercing me that I was what knew I wasn’t. Thank God (and I mean I praise God!) that the transition from a substance abuse program to a duel-diagnosis program didn’t go as planned as well as when I was encouraged to sign up for disability (mentally challenged… rather crazy) that this process didn’t go through. I refused to be labeled as crazy. Tomorrow’s post will shed more light on this distinction of who I was, this mental battle that was waging war, and who I am today because I didn’t allow those labels to stick. Whew, deep breath.

My time at Bethel was an obvious struggle. For those of you wondering why I was exited after 4 months (the program was 9 months), it wasn’t for sneaking in some substances and relapsing, but rather it was for stealing. One off the staff members discovered over $1200 of merchandise from stores on State Street hidden in my closet (and that was only what they found) because I wanted to give all the staff and residents cool presents for Christmas that was coming up. Talk about people pleasing to a fault… or should I say fall out with the staff who had no choice but to kick me out. This was when I visited the psych ward for my second time cause Patsy recognized my lack of wanting (or caring) to make it through the night. An overdose or cutting (too deep) incident was foreseeable. I did go back to using after I was released from the ward, but that is a whole other chapter.
The 4 months I was at Bethel, I wasn’t using drugs, but I was still running furiously away from my past and current roots that were stifling my heart’s desire to be free. I often say that if any of the 8 rehabs I’ve been to in my life, the one that I SHOULD have found freedom and deliverance was at Bethel House. This program was (and still is) top notch. The staff are healthy and walking in freedom themselves, so the counseling and ministering is very effective. This is an all-around healthy and safe place to face and feel… but I simply wasn’t ready to do that. It’s not the program, the classes, the staff, the atmosphere or any other surface level thing thing that makes a person come clean and get clean. Me being at Bethel proved this. While the rehab I did find freedom at (my 8th and last program) was a good one, it wasn’t a predominantly healthy place or atmosphere. But this is where I allowed God and His Living Spirit (our Counselor) do the needed heart surgery. We can say “Oh, I wish so and so would just get involved in this or check into that or try this or get plugged into that… and then they would stop or change or find freedom.” But the truth of the matter is that places, people, programs are mere tools to God uses in the process. They are not the answers or the keys. Where I found deliverance and freedom was where many did not. And where I didn’t find it, many did. It’s not the physical place, the healthiness of the program, the professional level of the staff or the amount of money it takes to purchase these tools… it’s all about the level of willingness and readiness of the person. It’s the place where one surrenders, it’s the openness and honesty while in that program, and when a person relies on the Counselor rather than the staff counselors. The 2 documentary videos that many of you have watched on my blog are tools I use to share my story, though I wish more focus what put on the spiritual place my heart was taken to, rather than the physical place of Faith Mission. I have a deep love for that rescue mission, but it’s not what I want to be highlighted in my journey to find freedom. The credit and honor goes to God’s Spirit working on me after I re-dedicated my life to the Lord. Now, I’m not knocking anything or anyone ‘cause truly I am a fan of programs and counselors of all types, but they can’t become our sole reason for why and how we found freedom. I’ve had the best of the best (Patsy, the director at Bethel, was phenomenal) and I’ve had the opposite, but it wasn’t until I looked to my Savior, Rescuer and Counselor that those roots were not only faced and felt, but they were exposed and pulled up to be replaced with the rich soil that only the Gardner of my heart could fill those holes with. With that, I’ll hop off this rabbit trail and bounce back onto the path of the day’s events.  

Alana and I left Bethel with a smile. It was nice being able to come and then go. We grabbed some food at a local place and though we ordered our meals to go, we found ourselves sitting at a table, taking the grub out of the bag and eating it as we talked about a wide range of topics. Alana is so easy to talk with and her company is delightful. Though again, our time together was short and mostly spent at Bethel, I was grateful that she took time in her day off to spend some of it with me.
 It was mid-afternoon when I jumped back in Tumbler and headed to the next place where more memories had been made: Rainbow Park. This wasn’t a place that I would say I lived at like Pershing Park, but I did spend ample time here… too much in that it wasn’t a place where I was doing anything productive minus the friendships that were cultivated here. Many say that your using friends (whether the substance is drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, gossiping, judging etc) are never your real friends. That the only commonality and denominator is what you are unhealthily indulging in. But I beg to differ. Though these friends may not be lifetime friends or become our best friends when we break the chains that kept the friendship fertilized, there have been and still are many people who were great friends despite the lifestyle patterns we had in common. Such was the case at many places in SB, Woodstock, Rockford and all the other places my addictions ran rampant. The people at Rainbow park (many people did call this place home and slept here at night… their “Prison Park” so to speak) were good people who had bad habits. I have forgotten many of their names, but the two I most remember and were closest with were “Bird” and “Worm.” Their nicknames are comical when put together, but individually they left impressions on my heart, both good and not so good memories. I won’t go into their stories or some of our adventures together, but they will never be forgotten. Bird has passed away and I couldn’t find Worm the days I was re-visiting. While I spent time here when I was homeless in between the Wall and Pershing Park, this was usually where I spent most of the day when I lived at the Casa Esperanza shelter ‘cause they were right down the street from each other. Memories avalanched over me when my feet stepped onto the ground that was once mainly dirt, but was now mostly grass and landscaped wood chips.

The park looked the same with the famous rainbow structure and the baseball diamond, but so much was different. Many of the trees that we used to hand around and find shade from the hot sun had been dug up (these were no small trees either and they were pulled out to discourage people from congregating under). The bleacher areas where we used to sit were fenced in as well as the men and woman’s bathroom that was used not only for the facilities but also snorting and smoking all sorts of substances as well as doing things to get money for the next high. The city had done well in making it difficult for anyone to hang out and stay comfortably numb. While walking around the park, I only saw 3 people and only one was homeless. The other 2 were walking their dogs, and this was not a park I remembered to be a place where one would come to frolic with their pet. It was a sore spot for the eyes of the community and being that Santa Barbara is a tourist town, this park surely was brought up by many people in town meetings. They had done their job well. Rainbow park was cleaned up well… but this just meant that the people who used to hang out or live here had now been relocated to somewhere else. The renovation hadn’t rehabbed the people, it simply told them they weren’t welcome here any longer. If only cities and communities would use some of the money used to help the appearance of the surface level of the parks, streets and buildings and use some of that money to help rebuild the internal structure of people. Another deep sigh.

I left Rainbow park with a sadness in my heart. I was miffed that Rainbow was different and fenced up. Not that I wanted this park to have remained a place where drugs, alcohol and tricks were done, but what issues had really been addressed by cleaning up the park? Yes, it was no longer a hangout for those living on the streets and the landscape was lush and green, but the lack of people walking through and sitting in this park that was now allowing the grass to finally grow didn’t mean that the number of homeless people had decreased. What was done was what I refer to as a “cosmetic job” meaning that the cover-up project had done nothing to address the root of the problem. The heaviness was also from not seeing any of my old friends, though honestly, I hoped not to see any of them in the same place and in the same situations. This is one of those times when “you do but you don’t.” I worried and wondered for I didn’t know where they were… if they were the same, better, worse or even still alive. I found out the Bird had died when I asked around later that day. He was a beautiful person… my brother for a season. I only re-visited Rainbow Park this one time while in SB. It was a quick closure time and I had seen the park but no people in it. It lacked the aliveness that it once had… even if the life of the park was from those living unhealthy lifestyles. There was no reason to go back again, for it’s hard to minister to chain link fences. I did leave a rock in a random place at Rainbow. God knows just who will find it and will need it at that specific time.

The East Beach of SB was a short walk away. Oh how I remember talking this walk so many times while at Casa and when I needed a break from working the streets at the Wall. Again, so many stories could be shared about my adventures on this stretch of the ocean. But only one will be voiced at this time. The area that I was now lugging my heavy backpack towards was just past the stretch of volleyball courts. But before I made it to “The Cliffs”, I ran into an old buddy of mine from the Salvation Army. Brock was a sight for sore eyes and he was still the handsome man who looked like his mother had given birth to him on a surfboard. This gentle, tender-hearted man was sitting in his “office” as he calls it (which is a designated bench under a cement awning that overlooks the ocean). We had a long talk about where he had been in the last 6 years. He shared about reunited with his grown son and when he described how they ran into each other’s arms to hug one another after 15 years, Brock started crying. Tears flowed from both our eyes as I listened to this strong, grown man describe how this experience had forever changed his life… and his son’s life. Brock has always been a free-spirit. He chooses to live in an out of shelters, picking up side jobs doing construction and renovation, because his heart longs to sit near the Oceanside. He doesn’t do drugs or have mental illness…. He simply loves to live free in his “office.” He is a loner of sorts and I encouraged him to remember that though he prefers to be by himself, that he is never truly alone. God sits with him every day on that bench. I gave him a “Peace that passes all understanding” rock.

Walking on and towards “The Cliffs” I saw many signs of people living on and near the beach. Tomorrows post will tell of my times in the ivy and on a boat where I was left alone for a few days. The story I will briefly describe at the East Beach is one that still leaves me wondering if it really was me. Sometimes, when telling my testimony and sharing certain stories, it doesn’t feel like it is me I’m describing… but it is and this story is true.
When I rounded the bend of the ocean to see the cliff area, I was shocked at how different it looked. This has been a common reaction to how much has changed since I last lived in this city. What once were large, high cliffs of rock boulders was now a mere cliff of mostly dirt. Whether the dirt underneath had eroded and the rocks had fallen or been removed (for reasons like Rainbow Park, to discouraged people from dwelling there), this stretch of beach was no longer a hideout or handout for the “beach bums.” I did see a homeless man walking slowly towards me and when he neared me and asked if I had any food (not money), I pulled out 2 granola bars, a pack of trail mix and a bottle of water. “Wow, do you always have this stuff in your backpack or is this just my lucky day cause you’re feeling generous?” I told him that I once lived on the streets here in SB and that there were 3 days when I lived in the rock boulders that used to be here. He remembered how the cliffs used to look like and he said he lived down the beach a ways. “Not many live out here now, but I can’t seem to get the courage to leave.” I told him that the rocks may have washed away, but that God, the Solid Rock and shelter in every season of our life, could never be washed or eroded away. He looked at me with silence, but his eyes said so much. For some reason, I felt like he was remember a person in his life who had already told him this message of truth. His only response was “Hmmm... thanks.” And with that he gave me a hug and walked away. I didn’t see him again in the next 2 hours I was on this stretch of beach. 

I saw a couple rocks embedded in the sand that oddly, I remembered from before. Funny, how my memory is so cloudy with certain faces and experiences, but I recognized some familiar rocks. I walked a little ways till I found a group of larger rocks that hadn’t been washed away or removed and my own rocks and Sharpies were pulled out. This was a time of reflection, processing and allowing some of the pent up emotions to be felt in a safe place where only me and the Counselor were present. This was a similar situation of the time when I had wandered out to the Cliffs, but my state of mind was completely different.

While at Casa Esperanza for the second time, I was deep in my addiction to not only crack cocaine, but crystal meth. I was frequenting Rainbow Park often during the day and would spend the nights at the shelter mainly in the bathroom or upper smoking deck. Meth is not a drug you get sleepy or tired while high on. It speeds you up and a person can “tweek” out on something as mundane as folding a piece of paper, cleaning your fingernails or picking lint off your shirt for hours (and I mean hours) at a time. I would stay high as a kite for days without any sleep and this can induce a sleep deprived, distorted and delusional mind very quickly. On one of these long stretches of snorting meth, I stole a whole bunch of candy and a bottle of wine from the corner gas station food mart. I did this almost daily from surrounding stores and was only caught twice, this being one of those times. A customer in the store saw me and pointed my bulging purse and pockets out. I ran…. But not back to Casa, but to towards the East Beach. I had dumped the candy in my pockets, but wasn’t willing to discard the bottle of wine from my purse while running (priorities:). I had just bought a decent amount of crystal the day before and had my stash in my small pocket of my shorts (this was where I usually kept my bags of whatever drug). When I made it to the Cliffs, I was out of breath and beyond paranoid. Meth also can make one very delusional to people chasing them, being after them or secretly watching them and this was fueling my near bust at the food mart. I though the owners were running after me… along with the police, coast guard and DEA. To save on time and words, I won’t describe the next 3 days in detail (plus, my memory is “slightly” foggy), but the gist of those days was me being holed up in the boulders that made up the cliff. I would creep around them, hide behind them, occasionally peek out around them, and I rationed out my stash of speed while tweeking out for those 72 hours. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience and though I was high and tipsy on the wine (for that first day), it wasn’t a good high ‘cause I was so freaked out and paranoid. Every person I peeked out and saw walking on the beach was a potential undercover cop, every boat on the ocean was the coast guard and even the planes, helicopters and high altitude jets were the DEA out to get me. I probably lost 10-15lbs just due to my heartbeat being so high and my body being tensed and/or jerking for that whole time. Thought this story isn’t at all comical (rather sad and pathetic), the part that always makes me chuckle when I recall it was on the last day before I crawled back to Casa. 

I was running out of crystal, but the amount I’d ingested and the lack of sleep (and food) had really taken it’s toll on my body, but mostly mind. One of the times I found the courage to come up and out from behind the cluster of boulders, my eyes were looking for people on the beach who I thought were looking for me. But what I saw was not people, rather I was seeing these huge turtles that looked prehistoric. They looked to be the size of large dining room tables. There were hundreds of them swimming in the ocean, dozens were crawling out of the water and up on the beach, and still more were already beached and walking around on the sandy shore. They had large spikes on their heads and backs that were 2-4 feet long. Funny thing was, I wasn’t freaked out by these dinasour-like turtles…. I was awed by them. There were people walking on the beach both directions and I suddenly lost my fear of them being undercover cops and ran out from the rocks towards the beach. I started shouting, “Are you all seeing this! I’ve never seen such creatures! Why aren’t you all taking pictures of these turtles!?!? How can you just walk right by them as if they aren’t even there?” The reason for this was that these turtle WEREN”T really there. My mind was hallucinating and as I walked back to my hideout, still shaking my head in disbelief at these people’s lack of interest and awe at what I was seeing, it didn’t even dawn on me that they were probably going to go home and tell their family and friends about the “crazy lady they saw run out from the cliff to tell them about some dinosaur turtles.” I can still see these creatures in my mind when I think about these 3 days I spent out on the cliff and out of my mind.

There is a second part to this story that is equally unbelievable, but true none the less. My adventure back to Casa and what happened when I finally got there will be held for another time. My friend Daniel remembers it much clearer than I do. I did check myself into the detox program after some persuasion and this is where I became close with Carmen who I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I took a short leave of absence from the drug world, but went right back in with full force and worse after completing the program. I wasn’t ready to stop running and numbing, but I did learn many things about myself while there even though I didn’t open up or talk about what was going on beyond the surface level.
My time at the Cliffs was one of reflection and processing. I left a rock on one of the embedded rocks I recognized, hoping the person who found it would recognize the message of the Rock. I scribed many rocks while looking out at the vast ocean and did a lot of praying out loud. Possibly, to those walking by, I still may have appeared to be “crazy” while talking out loud to seemingly no one and writing on rocks by myself, but my identity was solid and secure. I no longer questioned my sanity. I am a child of God, a daughter of the King, a woman of freedom, a warrior. God created me on purpose and for purposes. No one could take that away and honestly, I don’t care what other’s think I am. Some of you reading this may even question my sanity, my sincerity, and my sold out heart to Jesus. And not to sound mean or calloused, but I’m okay with what other’s may say negatively about me. Though I don’t want people to judge me, mock me or even hate me, I can’t control their reactions, but I can control my responses to them. All that to say, I love those who like me and I love those who don’t. Guess which ones I pray a little more fervently for? 

To close this day post I must share the stellarness that happened before I made my way back to Tumbler, made another visit to Pershing Park and then went back to my sweet friend Karen apartment. I was walking with the Cliffs just behind me and towards the volleyball courts when I remembered how I used to find heart shaped rocks all over Santa Barbara, but particularly on the beach. Many stories I could share, but let me just say that these were no “well, that kind of looks like a heart” rocks… they were near perfect. And I wasn’t just finding these hearts once a week, it was almost daily and sometime I would be shown multiple hearts in one day. Daniel can tell you about one day where he was walking the beach with me (I was not in a good place this day) and he witnessed me finding a heart-shaped rock every 3-5 steps… no exaggeration. So as I was walking now, I was thinking about all those reminders of God’s unconditionally love during a time when if His love were conditionally, then it certainly would have been withheld from the broken and lost person I was, caught in a tangled web of sin. I looked up and talking out loud, said, “God, I know your love for me isn’t conditional. Thank you for your unfailing love. Because of you, I’m not that same girl then walking this beach now. It would be cool for you to wash up a heart-shaped rock on the beach, but though I know there is still so much more about You that has yet to be grasped, I feel your love today. Keep working on me, though… I’m still a mess in need of a daily Savior!” I felt like a little kid walking with their daddy, and despite the heavy backpack and the way it sunk my feet deep into the sand, there was a slight bounce in my step after voicing out loud God’s awesomeness and radical love. And then I looked down… and saw the heart-shaped rock.
We never stop needing to be reminded of God’s unending, unfailing and unconditional love, even when we are walking with Him and are no longer trying running away from our God who can’t be outrun. 

~Unshakable Peace, Love and Purpose~
cling to the Rock 
Psalm 18:1-2