An Update

First off, I am sincerely sorry about my ridiculously long hiatus.

I was in a really tough place for the last few months. Thankfully, that desert season of my life brought me to a place of real dependence on God in the storm.

My prayers have never been so raw. Most nights, I found myself staying up until 2 and 3 in the morning, trying hard to remember what it’s like to have things together and whether I ever would again. There is nothing harder than trying to hold on to faith when there is no evidence of reprieve on the horizon. You just sort of marinate in the awfulness, fighting hard not to become bitter and dark.

I often felt like I was living someone else’s life and having some sort of out-of-body experience where I was watching my own life fall apart, all the while, wondering how I ended up here. My entire community was thousands of miles away and usually asleep by the time I got home from work, so I felt utterly alone. The maddening kind of alone where you’d weep, if you thought about it too much, especially about the part where you moved 2,300 miles all by yourself.

Fortunately, the Lord gave enough grace to sustain me through the toughest days, especially the mornings where it took all the strength I had (and some mental bargaining or berating) to get myself out of bed, get ready for work, and head to a job that would drain every bit of life out of me. It was virtually unbearable; I was running on fumes most of the time. Looking back now, I have no idea how I even got through it, apart from the grace of God giving strength and filling in the gaps.

The worst part? I was working for a church, and that’s ended up being a whole new level of disenchantment.

Don’t get me wrong. I obviously had some lofty expectations of what working for a church would be like. Also, there was a handful of amazing, godly people that I met and now consider great friends. They were the people who were much more faithful in pursuing me than I was at responding to them. Please hear me: I’m not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

My problem was the organization as a whole. It was broken and unhealthy (self-admitted). It used people up; I heard the terms “revolving door” and “culture of fear” almost weekly. They teach against idols, and all I saw there was idolatry. They teach grace, yet my experience was that virtually everyone was cracking under the weight their burdens. They say they care for women, yet I felt marginalized and condescended more times than could be excused away as me misinterpreting it. They claim they are above reproach, or at least strive to be, and yet, they would not pass even the most basic ethics assessment.

I had never seen a place quite like it, despite my decade-long career in accounting as an auditor, specializing in nonprofits and corporate business (and trust me, I’ve seen some messes). And yet, I none of that prepared me for the mess I found myself in. I tried hard to make sense of it, but there was no sense to be made of the smoke and mirrors that were all just a cover for a man building his own kingdom while claiming he was “on mission” for Jesus.

The whole Christian aspect of it made it even worse to stomach. Barring my legalistic church upbringing, I have never heard so much self-justifying Scripture-twisting in my life. My body often physically reacted when I would hear things like, “The world hated Jesus, so they hate us” or “it’s the enemy” or “don’t read the blogs…they’re demonic” in response to any and all criticism leveled at the organization from the outside, no matter how deserved. Never mind that some of it came from former staff or church members; people who love God just as much as “we” do. The fact that people were still coming and being baptized was often used as evidence as God’s favor (In fact, that was the most monitored metric, and also the most useless one because there was NO tracking to make sure that people who were spontaneously baptized ever came back to church…ya know, that whole discipling thing? Hate to break it to you, church, but it’s not just a buzzword).

Truth is, they were hemorrhaging people (staff and church attendees) just as much as “people were coming”, so why was the focus only on the one side of the equation? If leadership acknowledged the unhealthy culture and burning people out, why was that not priority and not treated as an important issue? How about former staff, elder, and attendee grievances? How many were pursued and investigated? How many people were rebuked and/or removed from their post for their gross mismanagement? How is it that it seemed like the ultimate goal is to protect the brand versus caring about the way this was defaming the name of Jesus? How do you even begin to address any of these issues without being branded as subversive or divisive, which was usually the case for those that did?

So, what did I do?

As much as I could, I fought for the things that were under my purview to fight for, which was mainly for my direct reports and the health of my department. I brought up as many issues as I could without getting myself fired. I tried my best to be honest without being divisive, but I soon realized that it was mostly pointless. Privately, with the CFO or head of HR, I was repeatedly told that I was identifying issues accurately, but then nothing ever changed or was addressed. Constant lip service.

Affirmation without change is useless. Conviction without repentence and/or restitution isn’t helpful. It’s exasperating.

In His infinite grace, God freed me up to leave, and I did. I gave five weeks notice, trained my replacement, continued to speak the truth in love, made new plans, pressed into the Lord when fear of the unknown overwhelmed me, and felt life returning to these bones. I’m still processing and will likely be unraveling all of this for a while. In may ways, I feel like I have just gone through something horrific and life-altering.

But, I have never been more sure of one thing: God is faithful and kind. Life is often crazy disorienting, but the Lord is a refuge from it all. People and organizations can be infinitely disappointing, and yet, He is as steady and sure as can be. He is unwavering.

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What’s up in my world?

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I’m moving to Seattle in a couple weeks. It’s wildly exciting but also really stressful to move cross country, apparently. Seeing how I do SO well with uncertainty, I am obviously handling this with the grace of someone who gains stress weight and breaks out for no reason.

But really…I can’t wait til this whole thing is planned, executed, and I am all settled in my new place. Please Lord Jesus, get me there with my sanity. (And also, make me pretty again.)

In other news, we had our holiday party at work last weekend. I don’t know if it was because I’m leaving or because I finally brought a date to one of these things, but it was the best party yet! I drank a copious amount of my favorite wine and laughed so much, my jaw hurt. There were lots of hugs and goodbyes (mostly with spouses of coworkers I’ll likely not get a chance to see again). I felt loved & like a rockstar.

However, it drove this nagging feeling deeper down into my soul of how much I’m going to miss everyone. That has got to be the worst thing about moving. There are some people in life that are just irreplaceable, and it’s terrible to be so far from them. Thank God for technology, mainly, for Snapchat, which is, by far, my new obsession. Facebook, on the other hand, is stressing me out, and I’ve taken some steps back (Also, I read an interesting story in USA Today about Facebook depressing people).

So, I haven’t been writing much (even though I’ve had several new things I’ve wanted to write about lately), and likely won’t be until I get all settled in.

Until then, keep on keeping on and send me Snapchat treats (MissLeezard).

PS: Actually, the worst part about leaving will be having to pump my own gas. Jersey girls are spoiled.

Beauty from Ashes

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This summer was the worst.

It started off so promising with the beautiful weather, fun plans, great family and friends, and the rekindling of a romantic relationship that had a false start in early April.

When it rains, it pours. Ever heard that? Well I lived it out for weeks and weeks.

My exciting little romance quickly became a messy disaster area that neither one of us knew what to do with. Him especially, for he couldn’t wait to even give me the decency of a final conversation and dumped me via 6AM text. I read it when I woke up, and was truly stunned, both by being dumped and also, dumped LIKE THAT. Naturally, I never responded. Even though I’ve never written out Leeza’s Life Rules or anything, I think there’s something in there along the lines of, “Never respond to someone who text-dumps you.”

Then, I lost what I thought was my best guy friend through a series of confessions that rocked my world, hurting me in ways that I could have never imagined, and a general sense to betrayal. Two days after the end of our friendship, he went on a media campaign, posting an infuriating picture all over social media for all of our 100 friends to see, like: Look at me. I’m so awesome and life is great. Mmm, sure it is. You’re so impressive.

The relationships imploded fast, especially the latter one. I found myself broken and feeling like it was a reflection on me and who I am. Doing anything productive, beyond the basics of going to work and eating, became an incredible chore. After breaking down at work several times one day, I took some time off from work. I stayed home for a week, unraveling my emotions, raging and lamenting in private.

I was needy and desperate. I seethed continually as the waves of grief washed over and over me, filling me with regret that I ever let such destructive people so close to me. My counselor at church was a Godsend and pointed me to Grace and facts, both of which helped me metabolize and understand the breakdowns in these relationships and my part in it. I came to feel a sense of pity for both guys, realizing the truth of hurt people hurt people. In a way, I was just collateral damage, and that’s horrible but, at least, finally made some sense to me.

I spent an incredible amount of time on my face before the Lord, asking for help to get through long days and dark nights, asking for Him to numb the pain and teach me life lessons quickly and painlessly, and asking Him to keep me from bitterness and lead me out of the situation with grace.

I was honest, raw, and undone.

I would never wish this kind of thing on anyone, but I am grateful for it. The Lord brought so many beautiful things out of the ashes. I can’t help but rejoice over new or deepened friendships, a renewal of truths and putting to death of lies in my soul, a closeness with the Lord unlike anything previous, and some steel in my spine that made me stronger and bolder, but also gentler and kinder, giving me the ability to relate to other hurting people in ways I couldn’t have before this, for I would have had no idea what they’re going through.

God taught me that He walks with me through the darkness and that it doesn’t last forever, even if it feels like it. He weeps with me, not because He is powerless to help me, but because He cares for me…..and He will help me. He is powerful and strong, lacking nothing. The Holy Spirit kept putting this image in my mind of God on the throne and me in a glorified body, getting to see Him face to face, as described by apostles Paul and John, reminding me who He is and who I am. I realized, even when I’m disoriented, hurt, weak, and needy, His power and love overshadow all of it. He is a warrior God who has conquered His enemies, and I get to share in His glory.

And that got me through those days. My desire for you all is that you do not despise the tough moments of life. Even if you’re left with nothing but more of Jesus, you win the battle and the war.

Trust me on this.

How God Saved this Life

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(Originally written Nov 2011. Edited & published TODAY!)

When I was a kid, I was like everyone, and I couldn’t wait to grow up. Although I grew up around a bunch of boys and was a tomboy, I was certain that I’d grow up to be a princess and rule some land. I mean, naturally.

I had the perfect amount of boys in my life that taught me to shoot things, play with fire, kick butt in video games, climb trees, wrestle, and enjoy all things Marvel. However, I also had a girly best friend and a pretty feminine mom. Between the two of them, I was all lady. I also watched a lot of Disney movies and had the deepest conviction that I was secretly a princess–a detail that my parents failed to mention to me, I was sure.

As I meandered through my childhood years, climbing trees and planning my future reign as Princess Leeza, I had this idea that life would just be easy. I was excited to hit milestones and be that much closer to what I imagined would be the good life. I loved my birthdays and the way people would fuss over me as if it wasn’t my mom who actually did all the work to birth a little Leeza nugget.

Unfortunately, as I was growing up, I soon realized that nothing was turning out like I had hoped, wanted, or understood. Inwardly, I began to resent those moments where it was obvious things were changing and I was getting older: Bugles would no longer fit on my fingertips; boys were suddenly creepy and had the most intense interest in my growing lady lumps; my parents turned out to be average humans with no supernatural strength nor beauty; friendships actually ended (some, really badly); and I was not a secret princess.

Still, despite being dubious about this adult stuff, I still fulfilled most of the prerequisites: I graduated college & started a career, I joined a new church on my own, I bought a car, I moved out, I learned to nurture relationships, and I pretend to know how to cook well (my repertoire is about 10 things that I cook over and over again).

However, one of the worst things I learned was how to live a duplicitous life where I could equally be the life of the party & then put on my Christian facade each Sunday. I had no desire and no idea how to lead a godly and good life, even though I grew up in church (shout out to all the Slavic Baptist churches on the East Coast!), attended Sunday School and learned all kinds of Bible-y things. I still did not understand or trust God, and I didn’t understand life, as a result. I ignored having a relationship with Him as much as I could get away with and did the bare minimum to convince my parents and others that I was fine and right on track.

Truthfully, all my peers were doing the same. Despite just going through the motions, I was pretty self-righteous when it came to…well, everyone. I learned that image is everything and as long I had people believing that I was okay and I was following Christ, I could go do whatever the hell I wanted behind the backs of those that cared about that nonsense. In the end, I found myself exhausted by life, took my eyes off Jesus entirely, and went off into the wilderness like a prodigal.

For anyone who is familiar with that parable, you shouldn’t be surprised when I tell you that life got harder. I got harder as a person. I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going, and why I was feeling and medicating this intense despair that was growing within me. I didn’t understand it…I was finally free, right? So, why did I feel like this?

I remember a night in my apartment in Delaware where I wept on the floor for a good couple hours. Initially, I was upset because a guy I was involved with was no longer giving me the attention I was desperately craving, but within moments, I ended up crumbling to the floor like a limp rag doll and weeping.

“Hmm, a bit much,” you’re probably thinking, but it was nothing to do with the boy. Sure, my ego was probably bruised, but it was only a tiny fraction of the weight of the loss I was experiencing over feeling like I had lost THE relationship. I honestly felt like God had finally abandoned me to my own devices and life was falling apart faster than I could imagine. I wept with despair that doesn’t lend itself to words, so I am not even going to try to explain the depth of the darkness that night…or, even the scariness: I had not cried in years as I was frolicking through life and wild nights, so, to break down like this was unexpected and terrifying.

A little while later, I found myself in church on Sunday, which I only attended occasionally at this point, and there was an announcement for a memorial service for one of our pastor’s children that had recently passed away, less than a couple of hours after being delivered. I went to that memorial service and learned all about the difficult pregnancy and how they walked through the valley of knowing that this child would not live but still carried it to term. I listened people testify to their steadfastness through the raw pain. The overriding message was that, even though things like this happen, God still rules, He is still good, and He loves deeply.

The difference of our experience and perspective on God was gnawing at me, but I fought hard to ignore the fact that I was the one that walked away from God and not the other way around. I felt too far gone and sinful to even gaze at Him at that point; I had expended all His love, it seemed. Unlike the prodigal, I wouldn’t even dare return and ask to work with the servants. Truthfully, the majority of the memorial service was a blur, but there was one moment that utterly changed my life forever.

When the pastor (and dad of the baby) finally spoke, he introduced the song, “Embracing Accusations” by Shane and Shane, which was fairly new at that time. They dimmed the lights & put the lyrics on the screens up front. As I watched the screen paint my life with words, I silently sobbed as I read the lines:


I had no idea where the song was going, but that “Jesus saves!” bursting onto the screen broke me. The old me. The willful me. The aimless and confused me. The shame-filled and tired me. He, in that moment, breathed life into my withering soul and began the process of renewing my mind, softening my heart, and redeeming all the corrupt and broken places of my life. I walked away changed that night, without even fully being aware of it at that time.

Throughout the next several weeks, I had several desperate conversations with God in my head (I didn’t dare pray out loud yet), and He spoke incredible things over me that led me to make drastic changes in my life, the biggest one being that I moved back home to NJ and, shortly thereafter, quit my job. It was crazy, but He told me to do it and trust Him, and I did. I think everyone kind of thought I was losing my mind a little bit, but no one dared tell me. As I was finishing up my last day at work, I got a call with a job offer in NJ, doing work I liked more for a lot more money. God is a Provider, and He was showing me that.

In the next couple of months, I found myself in counseling at church. The process of counseling and opening up about the mess of my life has brought about such healing and transformation as I have learned to view God as He is and lay things down at His feet. Apart from Him, my life would remain utterly broken. He also reaffirmed that childhood calling of being a princess: I am a beloved daughter of a King, and there is no reason for me to willfully close to live like a slave.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning what it means to be in real relationship with God. I’ve learned that my outward adherence to rules, apart from Him, will breed nothing but exhaustion and bondage. As God has been growing me up in new knowledge of Him, He’s given me 3 favorite verses:

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom
2 Cor 3:17

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you
the night is bright as the day
for darkness is as light with you
Psalm 139:11-12

In your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them

Psalm 139:16

I love that second verse. My heart skipped a beat when I first read “even the darkness is not dark to you.” It puts my past into perspective; God is bigger than anything I have or am walking away from, no matter how deep or dark or sinful. Jesus is powerful and mighty; He breaks chains and sets captives—like me—free; and, He cleanses every single one of us, presenting us blameless before the Father. If that doesn’t inspire hope in you, then read it again, and continue to do so until it takes root in your heart.

So, at this point in my life, I often feel like I’m still just beginning to learn the realities and comforts of God. There is a hope within me that transcends time, space, and comprehension. While so many men and women grieve over getting older and their youth fading away, I look forward to it in a weird way. I long to lay claim on years and decades spent with the Lord, growing in the wisdom and knowledge of God and being transformed by Him.

<3L