Wednesday, September 18, 2013

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

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