Right now I am in Clarkston, Georgia, the most diverse square mile in America. It’s true.
I’m working with an organization that is aimed at serving refugees and sharing the gospel with unreached people groups. It’s amazing work, my friends. I can’t brag enough about the selfless, life-giving work being done here in Clarkston.
I worked with this same organization two years ago and I finally decided this past January that it was time to return.
For the next few months I get to play a role in what’s been unfolding here for years with the help of so many hands, tears, smiles, and acts of love from all over the world. This is a community, a beautiful family that just wants Jesus to be made known. And I, Jessie, get to contribute something, too. I get to pour my heart out into this mission. I get to be a part of what God’s doing in Clarkston and in the lives of these refugees.
And what I want to share with you right now is one of the things I love most about Clarkston.
I love that people are recognized.
And I don’t mean the sort of recognition where everyone stands up around you and applauds the great things you have done. No, this is the sort of recognition where you’re just known. You’re not a stranger. Your stories, your past, your gifts, and your vision are known and cherished by the people who serve alongside you.
In Clarkston, sacred memories are made, each one serving as a reminder that you are loved, you are appreciated, you are known.
Sacred memories like the one of four of my roommates huddled around me and praying over me on the floor of our living room as I cried over a break-up I didn’t know how to cope with. It didn’t matter that I had just met them the week before. They recognized my pain. My hurt and my burdens were welcomed there.
Sacred memories like the one of having my feet washed, reminiscent of the washing of the disciples’ feet by Jesus. This person, this strong servant of Christ, knelt on his knees before me and washed my dirty feet. He wanted to anoint me for a greater mission, a mission I couldn’t fathom myself. He saw Jesus in me. He saw a calling in me. Even the things I felt unworthy of were recognized in me by others.
Sacred memories like the one of neighborhood kids screaming my name as I step outside my apartment each day. I felt like a celebrity. I felt like a big sister. All I had ever done was remember their names and play with them, and that was all they needed. They recognized the love I had for them and they reciprocated.
Sacred memories like the one of my friend and I sitting on the couch in our apartment, sharing our deepest thoughts and feelings as we read together through the book of James. I was fascinated by her life and she was fascinated by mine. We wanted to know each other’s past and present so we could support and encourage each other in the present and future. We weren’t there to teach or to gain. We were there to listen and give. The value of her story was recognized by me, and the value of my story was recognized by her.
Sacred memories like the one of crying in the arms of two beautiful ladies as we were all just completely moved by Jesus. I don’t even know why we were all crying, to be honest. But there we were, praying and crying and wiping our noses. This fellowship we had, this honest and freeing relationship between us three women in that moment, demonstrated just how deeply Jesus can forge love between those who are willing to know and be known by others.
These are just a few of the memories I hold on to from that summer I spent in Clarkston two long years ago.
Now there are new sacred memories to be made.
I’ve been here for three days and I see it beginning again already.
Not every neighborhood kid remembers me, but there are the few who do. I see the recognition in their eyes as connections are being made. I’m somewhere in their memories, maybe some of their own sacred ones. They call out my name as I step outside my apartment, just as before. It almost feels like I never left.
I felt recognized for the briefest of moments last night as a girl I had met just days before touched my shoulder and asked if I had eaten dinner.
The staff I work with remember little things about me, things I thought maybe wouldn’t be worth mentioning after two years of absence. They remember and recognize my gifts and abilities. I am celebrated.
These little things I hold sacred because they are some of the truest demonstrations of the power of recognition. I am moved by these moments because they whisper, “Jessie, I know you and you are loved.”
And I’ve decided this will be my task for the summer while I’m here: to recognize those around me.
I am not a great missionary. I don’t really know how to share the gospel and I’m awful at discipleship. The fact I didn’t come back to Clarkston to visit during the two years I was gone speaks of the lack of drive and dedication I tend to have. I feel guilty because I know I am a college student stuck in comfort, easy living, and non-committed relationships. I keep to myself because it’s comfortable here. And I can’t guarantee that I’ll branch out enough to truly change the life of any of these refugees this summer.
But what I know how to do is recognize people. I remember names and stories. I like to listen. I like to encourage. And sometimes that’s all a person needs.
I want to be the breath of fresh air to the people I’m working with and to the people I’m serving.
I won’t have the most eloquent speeches planned out, and I don’t have much advice to give. But I can give my heart and let people give theirs. I want people to be recognized here because I’ve seen how it changes lives. It’s changed mine.
Please pray for me as I continue on this journey here in Clarkston. I don’t really know what the summer will contain, but I earnestly desire fruit to come out of my time here. I don’t want to be a waste of space, time, or money, so I am praying that I figure out my niche and how I can serve. Most of all, I want to do those things, whatever they may be, wholeheartedly. I want to wholeheartedly love.
Thank you to all who have recognized me and are continually encouraging me. We need people like you. More people need to be recognized. They’re all around you, just begging to be noticed and heard. Continue to be those eyes and ears.
And if you know how to create, then be a mouthpiece, too.
The medium I choose is words, but it’s not the only one.
Let’s continue recognizing each other. In this forgetful, neglectful world, we need it.
I first want to preface this post by saying that this is not the original.
The original was going to be posted days ago yet I held off because a part of me was worried that I was going about this the wrong way. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t writing out of a bitter heart. I want my motives to be right and my intentions to clearly come across.
After prayer, repentance and reconsideration, I came up with this.
I am sorry if anything I say offends you. Yet I am not sorry for anything I have written. There’s only so much I can filter before I start to feel dishonest. These convictions and these feelings of mine should not have to remain hidden, and I pray that they are well-received.
CONFESSION OF A LONELY
When I sit in the dining hall on my college campus, I can’t help but notice the lonely people.
You know who they are. They walk in alone with their plates, they choose a small table for one, and then they sit down to begin their hour-long meal in silence.
Sometimes they will pull out a laptop or a book or an iPod. But even with their distraction, there’s a certain air of sadness about them. They’ll look up from their book or phone and kind of scan the room, and not because they’re looking for someone. No, they are secretly longing for the community that everyone else in the world seems to have. They are longing for a friend.
Two days ago, I sat across from this girl who spent thirty minutes scraping food around her plate and staring at people around the room. She wasn’t holding a book and there was no laptop in front of her. She didn’t even have earphones in. She was fully aware of her surroundings and yet was taking no part in it. There was no one to take part in it with.
From the looks of it, she was a lonely.
It is apparent that there is a distance between “the lonelies” and the rest.
And I call these people “the lonelies” because they aren’t loners. The word “loner” in our society has a connotation of choice. But no, these people are different from loners. They are lonelies because their lonesome status is neither chosen nor desired.
I feel like I notice these people so frequently because I am a lonely too.
It’s taken me a long time to write these words because I’ve been afraid of what people would think or say about me. And I am silently rebuking any lies that I’m believing about the worth of what I’m going to say next. I have been trying to write this post for months and it’s finally time. This does matter. I’ve had enough of this longing in silence.
I am writing this on behalf of all the lonelies:
There’s a word buzzing within certain communities of believers: “family.”
I have gone to Christian gatherings, house churches, bible studies and the like, and this word tends to be brought up a lot. “Guys, we are a FAMILY in Christ.” “We are brothers and sisters in Christ.” “We want to be a place where everyone feels like they belong and they can be open and honest– because we are a family.”
I know that that is a beautiful picture: a group of people who are not related by blood or legality yet still commit to regard the group as a family in which there is love and closeness and open communication. I do believe that this is one of the most important roles of the church. I do believe this is how God intended things to be. But I also believe that there is an element of miscommunication and misunderstanding within these families, at least as far as the lonelies are concerned.
Here’s the problem that I see: the majority of people long for family and close community, but it is often only a special group of people that actually gets to experience it. The special group of people I’m referring to are the people who are social enough, energetic enough, cool enough, extroverted enough, outstanding enough, or thought of enough to be included in the family.
Why do I believe this? Because I’ve seen lonelies begin the scary journey of finding their way into this “family” only to be overlooked or dismissed. These people are overlooked or dismissed because they don’t stand out. They aren’t regarded as cool or interesting. And no one will actually say or directly think these things about them, but many of their actions imply them.
The lonelies will be invited to events over Facebook but no one will say to them, “Hey, I wish you would come. I want to see YOU there.” The lonelies will be greeted at these events or gatherings and perhaps meet a person or two, but no one will say to them, “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow? A couple of my friends are eating lunch in the Commons. Want to join?” The lonelies will be recognized around campus and someone might wave or ask how they’re doing in passing, but there’s not enough time allotted to the lonelies for them to even begin formulating a true answer.
The lonelies are often hurting. And yet no one wants to help them get out of that hurt. People just assume that because the invite is extended, the job is done.
But being part of a family of believers requires more than a general invitation.
If you want to see a lonely join your family, then you have to realize that these lonelies may be so used to their isolation that they don’t even understand what joining would even mean. They are afraid to risk vulnerability. They are afraid of going to gatherings and not knowing anyone. And they are hurt when every interaction is surface level and no one actually wants to take the time to dive into who they really are. They want intentionality and personal invites and inquiries into their lives, and they don’t understand why no one offers.
I hate saying this, but this is what I’ve seen and how I feel: there is an unspoken standard that people are required to meet to be part of these “families” of believers.
And yes, I am implying that there is favoritism within these communities. I have enjoyed every Bible study, gathering, house church, and event I have gone to, but there is a subtle method of favoritism within most. It doesn’t mean these communities are failures or mean or ungodly. It just means there’s something lacking, and that lack unfortunately is often only noticed by the lonelies. The outsiders who always remain on the outside. The newcomers who always feel new.
This is a harsh statement but I MUST say this if there is to be any introspection or change:
From a lonely standpoint and outsider perspective, these families often look like cliques.
And it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I have carried this opinion and perspective around with me for quite some time.
I have observed these families and even began to turn up my nose at them because all I can see is this clique-like element that I can’t stand.
As a lonely, I feel as though I’m on the outside of everything. And there are numerous reasons for this: I started working more and realized I needed to rest and retreat for some time. My best friend moved away and the other few friends I had became really busy. I live at home with my parents and commute to school. I’m an introvert and have a hard time engaging in activities or feeling included.
I wasn’t always a lonely. I was once very much a part of these communities and I did feel included. But because of the before-mentioned circumstances, I had to take a step back. A part of me thought that even though I was swamped by other priorities, I would still be thought of.
Yet when I stopped going to these things, I realized that no one seemed to miss me. I don’t get invited to hang out. I don’t get the opportunities to sit down with people and explain my struggles, wounds, and hopes. I’m overlooked. Or if I take the initiative to try to make plans with people, I get vague answers and nothing happens. “Yeah, girl! Let’s get coffee sometime!” I’m still waiting on many coffee dates.
And I know that this might not make sense to everyone because there are events all over Facebook and there are nice greeters at every gathering and from the inside everyone seems really accepting and nice.
“Jessie, if you want to be part of the group, then you just need to jump in. We’re a family. We do want you!”
This is the most important thing you could possibly learn about the lonely mentality: We don’t just want an invitation. We don’t know what to do with an invitation. We need PERSONAL and INTENTIONAL interactions.
And if this doesn’t start happening, then more and more lonelies will become loners. They will CHOOSE to be alone.
Instead of longing and striving for that social interaction and close-knit community, lonelies begin to like being alone and withdrawn. They’d rather be by themselves than feel like people are forced to be in their presence.
I’m confessing right now that that’s where I’m at. I’ve become a loner. I know that I tend to be standoffish and aloof. I’m ultra quiet and pensive besides the few witty or sarcastic remarks thrown here and there. I may even come across as intimidating. But people assume I choose to “do my own thing” because I’m just independent and well-off when in reality, I’ve been FORCED to be alone and now don’t know how to be otherwise.
But the loner Jessie is not the real me.
The real me loves the idea of being a part of something more. I want a family of believers where I can feel welcomed and appreciated and loved. I want to have that core group of girls who actually care about my life and would enjoy having lame sleepovers with me. I want it all, the whole college experience. Yet the college experience is not lived by everyone.
There are lonelies all around you and they come to your “families” expecting more only to end up leaving disappointed. Community is not meant to be a once-a-week thing. And if you make it that, then you’re going to keep unintentionally excluding until all of the lonelies stop trying.
Just like I’ve stopped trying.
And please believe me when I say that I’m not just trying to play the victim card. As a former “family member”, I was guilty of the same exact thing. I am sorry that I so often overlooked lonelies and never thought twice about their desires or needs. I had so many opportunities to personally invite and truly INCLUDE these amazing people, but because they didn’t meet my standard of “cool” or it required too much effort to be intentional, I chose to stay comfortable with the friends I already had.
For those of you who have been hurt by my distance or lack of effort: I am sorry. I am working on being intentional and I know I’m far from perfect. But I love you and I don’t think you or I ought to be lonelies anymore.
I know I can’t fix the entire system, but perhaps writing this is a start.
Before I bring this post to a close, I would also like to say that I love everyone who is reading this, whoever you are, regardless of whether you feel as though this was intended for you. I am never going to name-call, point fingers, or judge you. I have no right. I am just as guilty of everything I have spoken against in this post. This post is not intended to condemn, but rather to offer a new perspective.
I DO believe that believers can form a beautiful family rooted and established in Christ, and I do believe that many groups and communities have already done an amazing job at doing just that.
At the same time, I know there is still much room to grow for many. My hope is that we ALL become more inviting, inclusive, and intentional.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)