As many of you may know, I spent this past summer in Clarkston, GA as an intern with an organization aimed at aiding refugees in the area and showing the love of Christ. As an intern returnee (I had spent a summer in Clarkston two years before), I was sure this summer was going to be grand. After all, I had been there before and came back with more joyful and God-filled memories than I knew what to do with.
But this summer was not fun for me and I want to explain why.
I should first start off by saying that I didn’t have many meaningful interactions with any of the refugees, which was my own fault and responsibility. I didn’t feel like I contributed very much, except what was expected of me and the little things that needed to get done for the team. My best work was setting out lunch for the outreach teams every day. And I felt a little pathetic as I watched them come back sweaty and exhausted and with good stories to share because I knew that by choice all I did was roll up lunchmeat and cut up carrots. There, I said it.
You see, something not good was in me. Something that didn’t want me out in the community. Something that didn’t want me to give this my all. Something that just wanted to be as far away from where I was as possible.
I was homesick like I’ve never been homesick before. The kind of homesick where any mention of someone’s mom brought tears to my eyes because I missed my own. The kind of homesick where I would go home any chance I could get and then cry when I would have to return.
Don’t get me wrong. Clarkston is an AMAZING place. There’s no other place like it. And God moves in this city. Prayer covers this city and wild things have happened.
But the most wild thing that happened involving me this summer was just how badly I missed my home.
. . . . . .
When I returned home at the end of July, I had a lot of people asking how my summer was. Because I didn’t really know how to explain what happened to me while I was there, I usually just mentioned being homesick and how I was glad to be back.
But here’s the more complete version:
While I was there, I saw myself for who I was.
I saw a daughter deeply longing for her parents and the comfort of home. I saw a romantic counting down the days until she could be back in her best friend’s arms. I saw a girl whose heart was rooted someplace else.
I didn’t know before I left that I would miss my family, my town, my job, and my boyfriend the way I did. I didn’t realize until I left just how precious the things I was leaving behind were. I had no idea that my heart had changed that vastly; it went from wanting to move on from these people and this life just a couple short years ago (maybe even months ago) to wanting to preserve the goodness of it all and never let go.
As I wept for the absence of my mom, I realized I have fallen more in love with my family.
As my soul leaped for joy on the Sunday I was able to visit the middle schoolers I had been leading and loving for two years, I realized I have grown into a ministry of my own.
As the man I love supported me throughout the summer and pushed me to persevere like I never had to persevere before, I knew I have found a good man.
You know that saying, “you never know what you have until it’s gone”?
That was me this summer. And even though most of this summer felt like a waste as I wished for things other than what was in front of me, it also felt like a reminder of who I was.
I am a blessed girl with a heart full of beautiful people.
. . . . . .
But there’s more to the story than just that.
I didn’t just see myself for who I was; I saw my calling for what it was.
I didn’t tell many people why I ended up coming back to Clarkston this summer, but I’m telling you all the truth now: I returned just in case.
I wanted to be sure that there wasn’t a future for me somewhere in there. Maybe that inkling of a missionary’s calling would resonate in my soul again and all would be clear as day. I used to dream of living in the Middle East, swapping stories with women in Arabic and dedicating my life to the heart restoration of the region’s people.
Two weeks in and I already knew — This is not the calling God has for me.
I’ve been afraid of voicing that to people because if you had asked a former version of Jessie, she would say hands-down that that was where she was headed. She was so passionate and determined. I didn’t know how to tell people that it felt like my dreams were changing and God was leading me in a different direction.
I didn’t know that I could be passionate for those things without feeling called to those things.
I know now. This past summer in Clarkston revealed that to me.
Do you want to know where I think my future is headed now?
I believe God has been molding me more and more into a storyteller. A writer.
All summer long I felt the urge to write. I was being inspired left and right and it felt like I didn’t have enough time in a day to make something out of all that my mind and heart was churning with. I longed for peace and quiet, a moment of solitude to get my hands to work so it could craft stories. The writer in me was so anxious, I didn’t know what to do.
(And I just want to take a moment to thank my readers for reading some of the things I birthed during this difficult summer as I was away. I use the verb “birth” because writing required me to push like I had never pushed before. And the result was beautiful. I especially loved receiving feedback on what became my most popular post to date: Christianity Didn’t Fix Me. This summer, I also produced my first post featuring my current relationship and a very important person who you now know as my wonderful boyfriend, Grant. You first meet Grant in When Relationships Are Hard.)
This summer, God continued pushing me towards writing, and after years of guesswork, I finally began seeing more of His calling for my life. And it doesn’t involve a plane ticket; it involves a pen.
. . . . . .
The last thing I want to address about this summer is the stuff that began to surface shortly after I arrived.
I realized while I was in Clarkston that I am a woman of a multitude of wounds. I knew it before, but it had never felt so clear to me until I had nowhere else to run.
Back in January, I knew that this year was going to be a year of healing for me. God said enough is enough. And I guess I finally acquiesced to the idea of letting Him take care of some of this. No more harboring this crap.
And no, in case you’re wondering, being in Clarkston didn’t heal me.
It just showed me how badly I needed it.
It wasn’t pleasant at the time– seeing my weaknesses spread out before me and not having a single idea of how to move past them. Lord, I need you. I painstakingly prayed every day. I didn’t want to look at my wounds in the eye, but I knew it was what I had to do.
And I did. I finally did. Part of facing my past hurt was writing about it, which would explain the darker nature of my posts from this summer. If that made you sad or uncomfortable, I hope you can find joy in knowing that God has been preparing me for greater things and beginning to heal me in several areas. If I hadn’t been in Clarkston this summer, away from my comforts and my home, I don’t think I would’ve been able to see just how badly I needed God to step in.
And He has stepped in.
God did something good with this summer. I couldn’t see it at the time, but it’s becoming clearer now.
. . . . . .
We are in the ninth month of this year. I just celebrated my twentieth birthday and am a month into my third year of college. Time has been passing quickly and there are now things coming up ahead.
I’ve reflected on my summer and now it’s time to look forward to the future.
I don’t know where God is taking me, but I know where I’m hoping it’ll go– a book, an engagement, a full-time job. But regardless of whether these things come to pass this year, I will hold onto this truth: God is good.
Guys, He is so good. I didn’t know if I would make it out of this summer. I knew I’d survive it. But I didn’t know if I would come out of it with my heart still intact.
Well, guess what. I did. And I know God used this summer for His purposes. Sure, my stubbornness and selfishness stood in the way of some potentially great things, but there’s grace for that. I was still meant to be there. I don’t know where I’d be if I had chosen to stay home and not go at all.
I certainly wouldn’t be here writing all of these things now.
Friends and family, thank you for your love and support while I was gone. I truly did miss you.
I wish I had more to offer to you than just this. I wish I could have a handful of awesome stories to share with you about this summer. I wish I did more. I wish I pushed myself harder. Not just for me, but for you. You were cheering me on and I was too depressed and homesick to hear it.
But I hope and pray that after reading this you can understand what this summer meant to me and how it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’m writing this to show you that I made it. I’m back. I’m alive. I’m different.
And there are good things ahead.
The writing has slowed down.
You may or may not have noticed.
My summer in Clarkston is coming to a close and I feel like my heart has somehow decided to close itself, too.
No more, God. I’m done thinking. I’m done praying. Let me just stop and breathe for a minute.
I know life is meant to be filled with growth and change and learning. When any of those stop happening, we might as well be dead. Or so I’ve heard.
But growing and changing and learning sometimes hurts. And even though we’re told that we need to press on because it’ll be so worth it, that you can’t have gain without pain… well, I just don’t want to do that right now.
I don’t WANT to press forward with all I’ve got because it’s just super, super hard.
Doesn’t that sound so pathetic? But it’s the truth.
Right now I just want to sit. Forget carpe diem. Forget Paul’s running the race with endurance. Forget YOLO.
I want to curl up in my bed and sleep. Or stare at the wall and not even think about anything in particular. And then when I get up from my bed, I want to drink coffee, sit on the couch to stare at the wall some more, and ignore everyone who tries to talk to me. And maybe I’ll write some. But maybe I won’t.
Of course, my life right now doesn’t offer that “luxury”. I have a week left in Clarkston, and with being in Clarkston comes priorities and people relying on you. I can’t afford to just lie on the floor for hours on end (although I have been giving myself at least an hour of exactly that for the past few days). I can’t just “check out” and silence the world.
Life still happens, whether I want it to or not.
But what I have a say in is (and no, I’m not going to say any of that cheesy “you can choose your attitude” Pollyanna-esque stuff) whether or not I receive what is offered to me.
I know God wants me to grow. And change. And learn. He’s offering me things, I can tell. The doors are there. And stepping through one of those doors could mean the difference between wallowing in my self-pity and finding true freedom and joy.
But if I’m going to step through that door, I’m going to need to take my time. And I think He understands that. God is patient, you know.
He knows I’m not ignoring Him. He knows I’m not giving up. He sees my heart, how much it truly longs for Him and all the gifts He’s offering to me after all this time. It may be difficult to pray, but I still say hello. It may be tough to communicate with the world, but I still let myself be a friend to others. And it’s hard to call myself “happy”, but I know how to find joy in the little moments He brings.
It takes time for babies to learn to walk.
And I’m just a baby. I’ve been carefully putting one foot in front of the other for some time, but I haven’t let go of the ottoman just yet.
It’s okay, Jessie. You can do it. I won’t let you fall.
I know, Daddy. I’m getting there. I just need a minute.
I know I’ll get there. I know it because I have within me a spirit that is yearning for far too much to stand still for very long. It looks like I’m not doing anything right now (and you may be right), but what you don’t see is that every hour I spend in solace and silence makes my soul a very restless one indeed. And when the conditions looks a bit more favorable and I am able to get out of this bed, I will charge through that very same door I’ve been staring at for years. I know this because God loves me too much and I love God too much to stand still forever.
I’m not going to feel bad for not pursuing Jesus as hard as everyone else right now. I AM pursuing him, and HE is making up for the rest (and then some). This is not hide-and-seek or tag. This doesn’t even feel like a race.
No, this is a long and challenging stroll on the beach.
And as we’re walking hand-in-hand, looking out at the horizon, I sometimes get so overwhelmed that I just stop and have to take a minute to look down at the sand. It’s too much. But after a little bit of time, he lifts up my chin, gives me that understanding smile, and helps me take that next step. In some cases, he even carries me. And when I pass by people who are also struggling to take that next step, I’d like to take their hand and walk with them, too.
Before I know it, we’ll be at that boardwalk. That little speck in the distance that I thought (and still sometimes think) I could never reach.
And in that moment, I’ll know that it didn’t matter how long it took me or how many times I had to stop to catch my breath.
All that’ll matter is that I arrived and I didn’t let go of his hand.
I decided to commit my life to following Christ five years ago.
To set the scene that led up to that decision, I was confused, depressed, and angry and couldn’t FOR THE LIFE OF ME figure out why. This is just the way I am, I would sometimes tell people when asked about my troubled state of mind. Most of the time, I shut everyone out so I could deal with my hurt on my own. Or NOT deal with it, I guess you could say.
I was fourteen years old and had been self-harming for several years. Maybe it was due to family problems, a result of perfectionism, or just experimentation… whatever it was, it was destructive. A good friend of mine reached a point where she couldn’t watch me do this to myself any longer. The night I resolved to quit self-harming and pursue a relationship with God was the night she communicated to me that it was getting too hard to be my friend (I really do thank her for that, and we are still friends to this day). The question she asked that I will forever carry with me was, Why can’t you just choose to be happy?
I didn’t have an answer. And at that point I knew that if I was ever going to be happy or escape this numb zombie-like state of being, there would have to be a higher power intervening in my life. I just couldn’t fix myself.
So I turned to God (and Jesus, because I am a Christian and believe that Jesus is the only way to be rescued). And I’ve been loving and following Him ever since.
But the depression that had led me to Him has been trying to tear me away ever since.
I wish I could tell you that I’m not at all like my fourteen-year-old self. I wish I could testify that God has healed me of all my depression and anxiety and desire to harm myself.
But He hasn’t. Not yet, at least.
It’s been five years and I still am an emotional mess. I still have frequent thoughts of self-harm. I still am hurting people by my withdrawal and unexplained sadness. I still am wondering how I’m going to make it through the day and if I should just curl up in a ball and pray for something to come along to kill me.
And I still don’t have answers. I can’t explain where all of this is coming from. I can’t pinpoint some horrid childhood experience that has made me this way. I’m still just as confused and lost.
Truthfully, I get angry at God for letting me be this way.
If you’re so powerful and can do anything, why won’t you heal me? Do you even WANT me healed? Or am I just a pawn in this world that’s supposed to deal with whatever comes to make sure you get the glory? Are you supposed to be glorified in this? Because if so, then I don’t want to glorify you. I don’t want to serve you. If you won’t free me from this, then why do I even bother?
I love God. I love Him so much.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard sometimes. It’s hard to follow Him. Cookie-cutter Christianity might tell you that it’s not hard to follow Jesus if you’re truly desiring to worship Him and surrender to Him. To that, I reply with, “Well, call me selfish, then… because this is the hardest thing in the world.” But don’t think it’s not also the most fulfilling. It is.
I just want you to know the truth. I’m not some phenomenal writer and amazing person who goes and selflessly spends her summer with refugees because she’s such a great follower of Jesus. I’m not the optimist I used to be labeled as in high school. I’m not even the realist/almost-cynic I get labeled as now in college.
I’m just a girl who’s fighting to know what it means to love God while not knowing how to love herself.
I’m not doing the best job at fighting, but I’m working on it and I think that’s worth something.
Of course there are days (many of them, actually) where I tear myself down for still struggling with this depression and these awful thoughts.
If I believe in God so much, why am I not praying more against this? If I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, why am I not standing in faith and rebuking these lies and attacks? If I am hurting so much, why am I not seeking counseling or medication? If I’m so depressed, then why do I still find ways to smile and have friends and do fun things?
But there’s a little part of me that also pats myself on the back. Good job, Jessie! You hate your life but you still carve out time each morning to talk to Jesus. You want to self-harm, but you haven’t in FIVE YEARS. You feel so much and sometimes it makes you numb, but at least you don’t make yourself not feel anything. You still let yourself love and be loved– not perfectly, but you’re making progress.
There’s much victory to be celebrated in my story. I don’t feel victorious all the time, but I know that God has done some really amazing things in my life. He’s gotten the glory, whether I wanted Him to or not. He’s doing the healing, and I’m letting Him.
I’ve been afraid of losing credibility or being rejected for having these thoughts and struggles, but in all actuality, they make me so RELEVANT. I’m not fixed, and that’s okay. No one is. I’m just one step closer to being free. Five years closer, to be more exact.
By not admitting to these things and not letting you see the real me, I’m just putting shackles around my wrists again. The shackles that God did away with when He put His Son on a cross.
Christianity didn’t fix me; Christ just frees me.
Frees me from having to pretend my life is together. Frees me from the shame that has kept me silent for far too long.
I want to be brave in this very moment and show people they can be brave, too.
So here I am, sticking out my trembling hand to whoever you are, hoping you’ll take it.
I am a victim and observer of what I have decided to call “bipolar Christianity.”
What on earth am I talking about, you may ask. Well, here’s my definition of bipolar Christianity:
Bi-pol-ar Chris-ti-an-it-y [bīˈpōlərˌkrisCHēˈanitē] = having two poles or extremities relating to one’s faith in Jesus Christ.
To break it down even further, bipolar Christianity is when you are a Christian who experiences periodic “highs” of praise and joy in Jesus and yet also experience all-consuming “lows”.
I’m talking about the people who go to church and are ecstatic and overwhelmed by the grace and love of Jesus and then go home only to sob for hours.
I’m talking about the people who are absolutely in love with Jesus and yet have an inexplicable sadness that creeps in uninvited.
I’m talking about the people who are on fire for God and have all these dreams and plans and motivation only to later be found curled up on the floor wondering why they’re even alive.
And these people don’t necessarily have clinical depression or bipolar disorder. And they aren’t experiencing some silly side-effects of PMS.
They just have this problem with keeping their emotions on one side of the spectrum. They love Jesus and they have great faith, but they experience intense ups and downs. That’s just their life.
If you’re reading this and you’re starting to feel like I may be referring to you because you can wholeheartedly relate, then I just want to say now that nowhere in this post will I offer a solution.
I don’t have a solution. Trust me.
I’m a bipolar Christian and I can rack my brains for as long as I’d like and still never come up with an answer to this dilemma.
When you’re a bipolar Christian, you just feel kind of… stuck.
This post isn’t intended to encourage you to do step A, B, and C to get a hold of your emotions and your life. I have no authority to tell you how to do so.
This post is intended to just say, “hey, you’re not alone.”
And I also want to remind you of some nuggets of truth that maybe you can hold on to for now. You might not remember these things when you find yourself in the low moments of your day, but when you’re composed again, I hope they are an encouragement.
Truth #1: Jesus loves you.
You know it, but do you feel it? Stop for a second and just meditate on the idea– the REALITY– of His love for YOU.
You know the way you feel sometimes when you’re worshiping? Like how full of joy you feel to be praising your glorious Father? And in that moment, you don’t feel like a failure or a disappointment. You just feel loved.
When you’re NOT worshiping, you are loved just the same. When you’re just going through the mundane routine of your life, you are loved just the same. When you are unable to speak, move, or pray, you are loved just the same.
He loves you today just the same as He ever has or ever will. He loves you infinitely more than you’ll ever understand or comprehend. And that love doesn’t change.
Truth #2: You are blameless.
I know you wish from the bottom of your heart that you could feel whole and just be fine and not have to deal with the things you do. I know sometimes you feel so guilty and ashamed of your inability to remain joyful in God. Everyone else seems to have it all together and you have no idea of what’s wrong with you. All you know is that it’s wrong.
But it’s not wrong.
Repeat this to yourself: It’s not wrong to feel the way I do. I’m not wrong for feeling.
You are a new creation in Christ and that means the kingdom of heaven is now yours. And if you’re having a hard time understanding what that means for your life, that’s okay. If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to be filled with joy, that’s also okay.
Your Spirit knows. Your Spirit knows God’s joy and how to bring you there. Your Spirit knows your innermost longings and it cries out when you cry out, too.
Do you know what’s IN the kingdom of heaven? PERFECTION.
And even though you’re stuck here on this earth for now and you can’t fully enjoy that perfection awaiting you in the next life, you are already considered blameless and pure and whole in His eyes.
You might think that’s an audacious statement, but it’s only audacious to you if you don’t know Scripture.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be HOLY and BLAMELESS in his sight. (Ephesians 1:3-4; emphasis mine)
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you HOLY in his sight, WITHOUT BLEMISH and FREE from accusation. (Colossians 1:21-22; emphasis mine)
These aren’t traits that are to come. This is our reality here and now. Once we were saved by faith in Jesus Christ, we were ensured an inheritance and that inheritance, the kingdom of heaven, is sealed in us by the Holy Spirit.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Because of the Spirit living in you, you are regarded as WORTHY of receiving God’s promises and that worthiness translates to you as being holy and blameless. Only a holy and blameless person could receive these gifts of grace and salvation from God. And only Jesus could bring us to that state of holiness and blameless.
You, my friend, have been brought into that state.
You are holy and blameless, and no depression or anxiety or pain can destroy that.
Truth #3: You don’t have to be alone.
Do you know that there are bipolar Christians (and I’m sorry if you don’t like being called that) everywhere?
There are bipolar Christians around every corner and some of them could be your closest friends.
The reason why we don’t know where to find them is because they’re often in hiding.
We bipolar Christians are fond of hiding because we think it’s abnormal and wrong to feel the things we do and be the way we are.
We’re afraid that if people find out, we will be beat over the head with talk of spiritual welfare and demons. Our faith will be questioned and we’ll suddenly be the odd ones out.
And even though all of these things are a possibility (depending on who you surround yourself with), your true brothers and sisters in Christ would not want you to suffer alone. And God doesn’t want you to suffer alone. No one should have to suffer alone.
As scary as it is, admitting your bipolarity can be the most freeing thing. You suddenly feel like you have allies, people to pray on your behalf when you don’t have the strength or willpower to pray for yourself. You have friends, people who truly know you.
It’s okay to confide in trustworthy people about your feelings.
It’s also okay if you don’t. We aren’t designed to be isolated but if you feel as though you just can’t confide in anyone right now, know that Jesus is your ally. And I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true.
We serve a God who “is able to sympathize with our weaknesses” and whose “throne of grace” we may approach confidently (Heb. 4:15-16).
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and FAMILIAR WITH PAIN.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and BORE OUR SUFFERING,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds WE ARE HEALED.
(Isaiah 53:3-5; emphasis mine)
Jesus understands. It’s perhaps unfathomable, but it’s true. He understands you better than you understand yourself, and he beckons you closer to Him because you are never meant to be alone.
I know these things aren’t the answers you might have been looking for, but like I said, I have no solution to offer. I only have the truth.
And this truth I have to declare over myself all the time because I know how hard it is to hold on to it.
As I’m bombarded by attacks of satan and my flesh, it’s so difficult to remember to put on this armor of God that Paul speaks so fondly of. But there’s something powerful about the armor of God.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of TRUTH, and having put on the breastplate of RIGHTEOUSNESS, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish ALL the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the WORD OF GOD, praying at ALL times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:10-18; emphasis mine)
This whole armor of God thing might be kind of confusing, but it makes sense if you consider what it’s really saying. We must be equipped with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer if we are to have any chance of withstanding attacks of the enemy.
And it may sound strenuous to try to equip ourselves with all the things, but just about all the work has been done by God already.
He’s given us truth through His Word and His Spirit, He’s already made us righteous, He’s given us the full story of the Gospel and how through that we have received salvation, and we are worthy to approach Him with our prayers and supplications.
The biggest part of the faith is sometimes just remembering we have these things. It’s especially hard to remember when darkness is so convincing.
But darkness doesn’t win in our lives. Not anymore. The “gospel of peace” that gives us “readiness” (v.15) is the story of Jesus’ victory on the cross and the subsequent victory in our lives. We are ready to fight when we accept that we are already victorious.
Regardless of how overwhelming things are for you, the truth remains that Jesus loves you, you are blameless, and you don’t have to be alone.
How I wish we could all just dump our sadness once and for all! But that’s not the world we live in.
That beautiful, perfect, pain-free world is coming. And until then, I pray that we learn to fight.