Our guests today are writer and speaker Annie F. Downs and crisis counselor and writer Jamie Blaine. Both guests have experienced challenges in their lives that left them feeling scared and alone, but through the power of God’s word, they found strength to “show up,” for what God would have them do. Each shares their life stories and how they found the courage to keep moving ahead and the mercy to not look back.
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we speak with best-selling author and nationally known speaker Annie F. Downs. Annie weaves together personal stories, humor, and scripture in her books, and her latest project, 100 Days to Be Brave, is no exception. Annie has experienced challenges that left her feeling scared and alone, but through the difficulties, she decided to embrace the path and the plan that God had for her by embarking on a journey that would require her to do something brave every day for 100 days. Listen as she describes where she got her start and what gave her the courage to keep believing.
Courage for Change, Mercy for Your Past: Annie F. Downs and Jamie Blaine: Jesus Calling Podcast #66
Annie Downs: I am Annie F. Downs. I’m an author and a speaker based here in Nashville Tennessee. I’ve been writing full time as my job, and traveling full time for about five and a half years.
I grew up outside of Atlanta, Georgia in Marietta, Georgia. It’s about 25 minutes northwest of downtown Atlanta. I grew up in a house with my parents and my sisters and my grandparents lived across the driveway. We just kind of had a really special, neat experience growing up–almost with two sets of parents right there, because our grandparents are so close. It was great. I totally loved it. I was the kid who loved biking around outside by myself, pretending to interview myself, pretending to give people tours of my home, like I was on the Mickey Mouse Club. I read all the time. I was always reading. If there was ever an opportunity where I could steal away with a book, I would. We didn’t watch a lot of TV when I was growing up. So the opportunities in our house were; play with your sisters or read a book. So I read a lot of books.
I also grew up playing soccer. I’m a huge sports fan. I watch sports a lot. I still play a lot. I love talking about it. So I grew up playing soccer, amongst other things. That was probably the one that I played the most and planned to do the most with my life, but it did not get to. I’m not a professional soccer player after all
I was the kid, who in middle school, I was playing soccer all weekend and playing French horn at school. I was into all those different things. I loved music. I loved band. I thought it was super fun, and then I was also the girl who wanted to be outside getting messy, playing around, and so I kind of had the best of both worlds growing up.
Pursuing Teaching And Entertaining
As I went off to college, I always knew I wanted to be an elementary school teacher since I was in third grade.
I had such a wonderful experience with my third grade teacher, that I wanted to do for other kids what she had done for me. She had just made school really fun, and that’s what I wanted to do. So I went to the University of Georgia after high school and studied to be an elementary school teacher.
I taught five years of elementary school. I did two years of fifth grade and then three years of fourth grade. Then it just got to the point where I was doing so much writing and speaking on the side, that I was actually kind of unable to keep up with this side opportunity of writing and speaking and my full-time job.
When I moved to Nashville about nine years ago now, I stopped teaching school to kind of pursue this opportunity to write and to speak. But you know the truth is, I actually only have one skill set. I entertain people long enough they learn something. That is all I did when I was teaching elementary school. That’s all I do now on stages and in my podcast and in my books. My job is to entertain people long enough to learn something.
All through college, I taught high school Sunday school at my local church in my college town. It’s one of those things that you do because that’s what you love to d,o and what you want to do, and you have no idea that it’s building toward something else, you know, in a very normal life way. I just taught Sunday school for a really long time and then the youth pastor was sick one Sunday and said, “Can you teach youth group tonight for the Sunday night, you know when all the students get here?” I said, “yeah, of course, it’s no big deal.” So I taught that one Sunday night and someone in that audience, one of the students said, “hey, can you come talk at our FCA?” I was like, “yeah, sure that’s easy,” So I did that one morning and then one of the students in that group said, “hey, can you come to our youth group and do the same talk,” and all of a sudden, it just started snowballing.
Seasons of Gratefulness And Rejection
Then as my books got published, and people started reading them, and knowing who I was, then that’s when more women’s conferences started calling, and churches needing someone for Sunday morning. All these other doors started opening. Now of course, when I tell you the story in 90 seconds, it feels like it was very fast, and flawless, and painless, and “yeah, that was so great and so easy,” but that is not how it was.
…a lot of things go differently than I thought they would. But I am so grateful for it now.
It was 11 years from when I first started writing until now, and it was six years of doing that with no one paying attention. And even before those 11 years started, it was 2000-2001 that I started teaching Sunday school. So 17 years ago, 16 years ago, I was teaching Sunday school. So it has been a really long journey that I’ve totally loved, but a super long journey that’s had a lot of rejections, and a lot of hard days, and a lot of things go differently than I thought they would. But I am so grateful for it now.
There was a season where I didn’t keep going. In 2009 and 2010, I had signed with a literary agent with my first book called Perfectly Unique and we had pitched it around, and we’d gotten like forty-seven nos. I mean just so much rejection on that book that after a year together, we kind of just decided; this probably isn’t worth anybody’s time anymore because we’re not getting book deals and there’s probably no one left in the publishing world to say “no” to this.
Trusting The Open Doors
So at the end of 2010, I decided to self-publish my first book because I had already written it, and it was finished, and I thought, “I just want something that my grandkids could hold, it kind of goes, ‘look grandma wrote a book one time.’” That’s how it started. I self-published that book and then actually I moved to Scotland. When I moved to Scotland I was moving to work with the college ministry, and kind of went, “OK, I tried to be an author, and I was a speaker, and now I’m moving on to something else.” I thought this was finished, I thought we were done. I say all that to say, that for me, I had to trust the open doors and the closed doors and be really open-handed with my dreams. I still have to do that. I still have a lot of dreams that haven’t come true.
I have to trust that there are open doors and closed doors and be open-handed with those dreams, and go, “Maybe the Lord’s closing this door, maybe He’s not. Maybe this door closing is so this one over here can open.” I’d have never moved to Scotland if I had gotten a book deal in 2009, because my career would have started and kicked off already. I moved to Scotland in 2011, and 2012 my first book was published.
It’s been an incredible journey. The door really flew open, but I might have missed a really important part of my life and an important part of my story–one that I really value–if the door would have opened any sooner.
I was told a lot when I was growing up, that when you are content with the life you have, God will give you what you want. Meaning, you better either fake like you’re fine, or give up hope, because that’s the only way you’re going to be fine. Either, better fake it and fake God out so that He thinks, “look how happy I am. I’m so happy Lord. Right? Like I’m just so happy.” And the other truth is; we don’t ever say to children, “oh, did you say you’re hungry? Well when you feel full, I’ll feed you.” We don’t ever say to people, “if you’re hungry, then pretend like you’re full and you will feel better,” or, “ignore the hunger and it will go away.” That’s not how it works. Instead what we need to do is honor people’s hunger for the things they want in their life, and teach them other ways to be full.
Becoming Unstuck From Sadness
I’m allowed to want what I don’t have and love my life. It can be both. It just takes a little courage to have expectations and to have hope. All of us want something we don’t have, right? We humans are “wanters.” We all want things. So if you want something that you don’t have, you have to figure out how to live with the hope that you will someday get the thing you want and the trust that there is a God who sees you, even if you don’t have in your hand the thing you’ve always wanted. That just takes some guts man, that takes some guts to go, “yeah, I know God sees me, and I know that He is for me–even if I don’t have what I want–or even if life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would.
I’m reading this because this is alive, and when I let it swim inside of me it will change the inside of me.
I have friends of mine, when we’re sitting and talking, and someone feels like they’re stuck in their sadness, or their shame, or that life has them kind of stuck in a place they aren’t into, and they don’t like, the very first thing, honestly, is that people need to know. The people in your circle, the people that are in your small group, your family, your friends. You need to pick one to three people who can know, “man, they need to know that something is going wrong here for me. This is painful and this isn’t fun.” There’s just something about bringing darkness into light and just shining some light on this like, “man, I’m not OK and I want people to know that. I’ve told my friends I don’t feel better. I don’t feel happy. I don’t feel cared for,” and whatever list of things you don’t feel—“I don’t feel any of those things,” and then I just take a moment and I’m just going to let my Bible fall open, or I’m just going to go straight to the Book of Luke, because I love that guy. I love Luke. Just go straight to Luke, and just start reading about Jesus, and remember that the world is bigger than me. There’s a lot more days to come for me. There’s been a lot already, and just kind of wiggling my soul until it gets a little unstuck.
The reality is that the Scriptures are alive and Jesus is alive. He is the Word made flesh and the Word is living and active. So when I don’t know what else to do, I am that girl who flips the Bible open, and lets it fall open, and just starts reading and believing in my heart. Not only am I reading this, I’m not just reading this to get my eyes over these words, I’m reading this because this is alive, and when I let it swim inside of me it will change the inside of me.
Jesus Calling: The Connection Point
I think I probably ran across Jesus Calling like a lot of people did when it just started being the hubbub. It just started being the thing that everyone was talking about. “Have you read this book, have you seen these things?” I bought my copy—-I can’t remember how long ago–now my copy is very tattered and old, but I bought it many moons ago and it just has really impacted me.
There’s something about Jesus Calling. There’s something about this connection point where it is a reminder that we can hear God for ourselves; that we don’t have to have a go-between. We need confirmation before we make big life choices, we need to be sure that what we are hearing matches the Word of God.
Something I wrestle with a little bit is believing that God’s good all the time. I know that’s probably not a very Christian thing to say, but it’s something that I have to really choose to believe in, and I know he is. But there are times where life doesn’t feel that way. There’s such kindness in the words, in the pages of Jesus Calling that remind me how good and kind God is. It’s just such a nice, beautiful addition to when I’m making my tea in the morning, or when I’m reading in the car, if I get somewhere early, I try to always have a book with me–I try not to just be on my phone all the time. So sometimes that’s what I grab is Jesus Calling and I’ll just read a couple of those days. It’s been so impactful, and such a gift, I think, to our generation and to me personally, but to our generation it’s a book that really speaks well to us.
Making A Difference In Your Community
The interesting thing to me is, I think everyone’s wanted to make a difference, you know the World War II generation is considered probably the greatest one that’s come around; as far as sacrificing, and hard work, and doing the hard thing for the sake of others. But there’s something about what’s going on right now with our ability to see the world and how small the world has gotten.
I also think that sometimes leads us to believe that the only way to make a difference in the world is to do something big and outside versus inside; inside the life you already have. Inside the places you’re already called. Inside who God has made you to be. I think sometimes we think courage is doing the brave thing, which means selling all of our stuff and moving as far across the planet as you can. For some people, that is what it looks like, but that’s never been what it looked like for me.
We need confirmation before we make big life choices, we need to be sure that what we are hearing matches the Word of God.
What would it look like for you to be brave right where you are in the world God’s already placed in? What does courage look like for who you already are and the world you already live in?
Younger people who are working through this kind of go, “OK I’ve finished college and now I’m going to do ‘blah blah blah’–I’m going to go–I can’t get a job at a corporate job, I have to go somewhere and go far.”. I mean God calls people to do corporate stuff a lot. You’re going to be brave in a company that needs Godly voices, or to be brave in a small town that has always been the same; that has not had a lot of new people come in or new ideas come in, and you’ve gone off to college, and now you can go back, and be brave enough to bring some new ideas with you.
So I think there’s just a lot of opportunity to be brave and courageous in the lives we already have.
100 Days To Brave: Making A Life Change
In 100 Days To Brave, my thought was; how would my life be different if I focused on something for 100 days? For about a little bit less than a third of a year, how would my life be different if I thought about something for that amount of time? I thought it takes a lot less time than that to make a habit. When you’re trying to process and really make a life change, a hundred days, a third of a year is a really decent amount of time to think about something and start stepping towards that thing.
That was my hope with 100 Days to Be Brave, is that my friends who believe just like we believe, and are in their Christian walk with the Lord and really diving in, will feel like, “man, this pushes me towards that this is a 100 days of me pushing toward that.” It’s split up into some different categories. So there’s also this opportunity to go like “man, I really need to be brave at work. I’m going to do those nine days over and over again until I feel different.” Then there’s also this; maybe a group of us does these 100 Days together and kind of digs in together and talks once a week or once a month. Then I also think about the friends of ours who believe a little bit differently, who are newer to their faith walk, who haven’t decided for sure what they think about God and Jesus and where this all ends up. I think and I hope that they pick this up and take those tiny 100 steps toward a brave life, and toward a brave decision about who God is, and who Jesus is, and what He did for us.
Narrator: Find out more about Annie’s new book “100 Days to Be Brave,” at AnnieFDowns.com. Stay with us as we get ready to talk with writer and crisis counselor Jamie Blaine after this brief message from Audible.
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Find your favorite Sarah Young titles, including Jesus Calling and Jesus Always, in an audiobook version and get it for free by trying audible.com. Check out a small sample of the Jesus Calling audiobook, featured at the end of this podcast. To download an entire free audiobook today, go to audibletrial.com/JesusCalling. Again, that’s audibletrial.com/JesusCalling for your full, free audiobook. Now, on to the second half of our show.
Narrator: Thanks for staying with us. Next up, we speak with Jamie Blaine, a psychiatric crisis responder and a writer from Nashville, Tennessee. Jamie’s first book, Midnight Jesus, shared fascinating, bizarre, and sometimes humorous true-life stories of everyday people looking for hope in their darkest hours. After spending years helping people find their way, Jamie began to lose his. Burned out and trying to find the key to God’s purpose and plans, Jamie recounts how he encountered peace through his own stumbling way home, and how that journey inspired his new book Mercy Never Sleeps: Sleepless Thoughts on Faith, Heaven and the Fear of Heights.
Jamie Blaine: How To Live In The Chaos
Jamie Blaine: My name is Jamie Blaine. I am a psychiatric crisis responder and a writer from Nashville, Tennessee.
I was probably a “hyper-focused,” hyper-active kid, so I was very into books at a very early age. I was very inquisitive. I wanted to know how and why everything worked. I started playing drums when I was in elementary school. So I was sort of an adrenaline junkie, and all of those fun kid things. All of that works out to sort of inform the things that you do later in life, strangely enough.
I think at an early age I learned to sort of identify with the things that I had in common with people, rather than letting the things that we did not have in common drive us apart. As I say in the book, I was just the deejay at the skating rink and this psych charge nurse came up and offered me a job at a psychiatric hospital, shortly after high school. “We need somebody to go out at 2:00 in the morning and talk people off the bridge, and you know it pays 20 bucks an hour you’re on your own.” And I guess I was, “I’m your man. I’ll do it.”
I was very much a first responder in the sense that my chief priority is to; “let’s get you safe.” So I’m going to meet you exactly where you are. Just from the spiritual point of view, I’m just here to listen to you. I’m not here to offer you any platitudes, or there’s nothing profound that I’m going to say it’s going to fix this. I wasn’t trying to say something magic that was going to enlighten somebody, and you know, save the day. You know, really all I could do in a crisis was say “look, you know there’s nothing I’m going to say that’s going to fix this, but hook on my belt loop and I’ll see if I can get us out of here.”
So that’s how I got into this crazy job. But I guess if you had an inquisitive nature. It would just teach you so much about life and so much about people. Why do I think things are so chaotic these days? You know there’s a verse in the Bible where Jesus says “you can see that sawdust in the other people’s eye, but you can’t see that plank in your own.” It is because we are so lacking in insight to see our own faults. We just don’t have the insight necessary to make good decisions. I mean, that’s why I mess up day in day out. I can see everybody else’s problems but I’m so unaware of my own.
Navigating When We Are Lost
I got into a position where I was basically doing crisis every night, seven days a week, and you do burn out. It does catch up to you. You think you’re your superman, but you’re not. It’s definitely a place of humility. As I kind of got further and further out there, and more out of touch with reality, while at the same time still having to go and pull people off of bridges and in the emergency rooms and all of these things, I think you have to ask a very natural and healthy question; “how did I get to this place in my life? How did I become this person that I am today?” Out of all the crazy experiences in my life, how do I look at that in a redemptive fashion?” Once again, when I looked through the Bible, I just noticed from Adam to the Revelator John; it was just one messy story after another, just one stumbling misfit after another. I mean Moses zigzags through the desert for 40 years. It was a 240 mile trip. That’s what–six miles a year?
In the end he didn’t reach the Promised Land. I remember reading that one story and feeling like, “oh my gosh, I can relate to that.” You know, how many times have you spent months or a year doing something that should have taken you a few days, and in the end you didn’t get what you thought you would get out of it. So those stories in the Bible were so human to me that I wanted to look at the stories of my life in that same sort of–even the ones that were messy–especially the ones that were messy, especially the ones that didn’t turn out the way that I thought they would. Could I sort of step up to the plate and try to rise above that and try to look at that honestly, but ultimately in a redemptive fashion, and that was hard.
In the church we were sometimes guilty of talking about these sort of nebulous people out there, who were the “lost,” and they had not yet seen the light, and they were still struggling, and they had not figured out life yet. Over time, as I went out to the jails, and the emergency rooms, and the apartments at midnight, and drugstore parking lots, and working in the churches, I found out something that was amazing and disturbing. We were those people. Those people were us. We were “the least of these.” Who we were corporately and who we were privately, were two very different things. To me, that was a very hopeful message because I thought “oh my gosh everybody’s messed up. I’m not the only one.”
That revelation caught me by surprise. But my gosh it seemed like good news to me.
Jesus Calling: Speaking To The Secret Place Inside Of You
I love the church, thank God for the church. But you come to a place where you go, “we’re all just struggling people here. We don’t have it together. You know, there had better be grace or else we’re all up the creek.” So that was the message I wanted to share. I wanted to tell that story because I wanted people to know that they were not the only one struggling.
I would go out to houses at night were people certainly using drugs if not selling drugs. Jail, you know solitary confinement, some very rough places. A lot of times you would see a book, you would see the Bible, you would see Jesus Calling, with the most messed up people that you would never think, but they were searching and they were hungry.
I think Sarah speaks to that secret place inside of you, where you hide things and ferrets out all that hidden stuff, and the secret sins. Ultimately it leads you to a place of grace and hope and to turn from that. She gets into that place—it’s just amazing. I think that’s why people respond so positively to that book. I think it’s it’s one of the reasons it’s so universal.
…we’re all looking for books that you can give to anybody, and you can give that book to anybody–no matter where they are–it is going to speak to them.
I think she speaks in a personal voice you know and sometimes in in Christian writing, so much of it is a corporate voice; like I’m teaching in a class, or like I would speak from a pulpit, or I’m addressing a group of people. That’s fine and we need that. But we also need that and one on one voice. This is just for me to you, and it’s very personal and it’s very private, and it very much spoke to me personally. You would read an entry for the day and say, “Oh my gosh. This is exactly what I’m struggling with today. It’s exactly where I’m at today. This is hitting me in a place where I didn’t think anybody knew this about me.”
What I love about it is; we’re all looking for books that you can give to anybody, and you can give that book to anybody–no matter where they are–it is going to speak to them. God bless Sarah for that.
Time Can Be Redeemed
Narrator: Jamie’s encounters with the people he was sent to help shaped and defined the way he looked at his own story. He talks about what inspired him to be vulnerable about his own journey through his new book “Mercy Never Sleeps: Sleepless Thoughts on Faith, Heaven and the Fear of Heights.”
Jamie: The thing that kicked this book off–I was in this jail cell one night. It was Thursday night, probably around 9:30. It was just me and this one guy in a side cell, and it was in the fall, and there was a little sort of an opening up at the top of the cell, and sort of that fall breeze blowing through. We were just hanging out just talking.
Time doesn’t have to beat you down and steal everything that you love. If time can be changed, it can be redeemed.
This is a guy who has just had one disaster after another. He’s just he’s a career criminal, he’s a reprobate, he’s just a character, you know? He starts to tell me this story about the summer after he graduated high school and he would go out with his friends to the lake. There was an island down at the lake and on the island there was a tree. They’d built a tree house on top of it, and he could climb up on top of the tree house and see over into the lights of the town. He said, “man, what I wouldn’t give to go back to one of those summer nights when I could lay on top of that tree house and watch the lightning strike the water and bounce back up into the sky.”
There was something about that that was so honest, and so real, and so universal. I thought about how much stuff I had like that. You can’t go back, you can’t ever go back. But, you don’t have to let go. You don’t have to lose that innocence. Time doesn’t have to beat you down and steal everything that you love. If time can be changed, it can be redeemed.
Trusting In God And Grace
We look to how to redeem the past and how to hold on to innocence, and youth, and not become jaded, and not become damaged; not lose that best person that we ever were. How do we redeem our past? How do we rise above that?
If we’re going to believe that the truth sets you free, then we have to be willing to look at it for what it is, not for what we wish it was, or what we would make it out to be, or not through any delusional sunglasses. We’ve got to look face to face to that ugly truth. Then you know what we figure out? It’s a lot like everybody else’s. We’re all in this together. Down here. You know I’m not the only one. My gosh, that’s good news.
God likes it when we’re honest and that’s where we start. You just start from an honest place. All right. This is who I am and this is where I am, and it’s today. But that’s all I’ve got to deal with is today, and this one moment that is right in front of me and I’ll believe in God and grace to get me to the next. That’s where we all are—-that’s all of us.
I think sometimes the most redemptive thing that we can say to a person the most helpful thing that I could say to a person in a mental health or church counseling situation was I know want me to. I’m struggling too. You’re not the only person that’s fighting with those things. Just to lay it out there for good and for bad, to tell on yourself, and trust God and Grace to bring us all home at the end.
Narrator: You can find Jamie’s new book “Mercy Never Sleeps: Sleepless Thoughts on Faith, Heaven and the Fear of Heights,” on Amazon.com.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling podcast, we speak with ‘Becca Stevens, the founder and president of Thistle Farms and the writer of the book “Love Heals.” After experiencing the death of her father and subsequent child abuse when she was 5, ‘Becca longed to open a sanctuary for survivors offering a loving community. Twenty years later, the organization continues to welcome women with free residence that provides housing, medical care, therapy and education for two years. The Global Market of Thistle Farms helps employ more than 1,800 women worldwide, and the national network has more than 40 sister communities. ‘Becca shares what she gets out of being involved with the work of Thistle Farms.
Becca Stevens: I think one of the biggest gifts in this work, is that 20 years later, what makes me weepy is not the horrific stories I hear, but the joy. When we come together in love, there is always joy. I’m talking about women who have really come from the ashes of abuse, and despair, and prison, and refugees who have fled war and violence of every kind we can imagine, and they come together and they find joy, and I get to be a part of it.
Narrator: Our featured passage from today comes from the March 24 excerpt of the Jesus Calling audiobook:
This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. Take time to bask in the Light of My Love. As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care. You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence. The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes: I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand. Herein lies your security, which no one and no circumstance can take from you.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.