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.
One of the scariest things about writing is just not knowing if what you have to say is worth saying.
Like how do you know if people even want to read your stuff? What if it’s read and you end up just hearing crickets chirping because you failed to realize how unimportant and mundane your “great masterpiece” was?
I’ll be honest. A part of me is terrified every time I sit down and pull up my WordPress to sift through my thoughts. I mean, I’ll just be real here. I hardly ever plan what I’m going to write. I just write and hope for the best. And somewhere along the way, I realize what it is I’m really trying to say and then attempt to shorten all the random tangents I somehow went off on.
I know people tell me, “Jessie, you’re such a great writer”, “Jessie, I love your blog”, “Jessie, what you wrote like really encouraged me.”
(Thank you so much, by the way, for encouraging me the way you do)
But despite the affirmation and the assurances that what I am writing is good and worth reading, I have doubts. And I think those doubts come from a place of insecurity brought on by the evil cousin of jealousy: comparison.
For me, writing is both a catalyst for and product of reading. I love to read, particularly memoirs and blogs and personal stories of strong, confident women. When I read, I want to be inspired.
I’m a bit of a blog creeper, meaning I have a few people’s blogs that I check DAILY. Yes, I said daily. Even blogs that I know are only updated once every week or so. What can I say? I’m hungry for inspiration!
But when I read some of these great works, I find myself feeling less and less confident about my own because I end up comparing myself to these writers. I see how strong and beautiful these women are and how that strength and beauty came from a place of tragedy and brokenness.
And I’ve never had a tragedy. I’ve never had a deep brokenness. At least, not like these women.
I have struggles, yes. I do face tough things in life. I go through trials and grieve. I have felt a broken heart.
But when I look back on my life, it’s hard for me to justify my feelings and my thoughts and my creations. I don’t see how I could possibly have credibility when I haven’t faced half the things other people have.
I’m a white, female, middle-class, nineteen-year-old college student living in Georgia, for crying out loud.
But here’s something I’m realizing: we all have our own stories.
And if I can so easily discount mine, then what’s stopping me from discounting everyone else’s?
How dare I believe that only those who have faced tragedy can have a voice or something to offer? That’s like putting darkness up on a pedestal.
Darkness can inspire, but it’s not the only thing.
You know what inspires me? I’m inspired when things I’ve read in God’s Word a billion times are all of a sudden super relevant to my life. I’m inspired when I listen to pastors and speakers who explain something I’ve never understood before. I’m inspired when I find the perfect metaphor for something I’ve felt or experienced but couldn’t explain. I’m inspired when my best friend encourages me. I’m inspired when my boyfriend shows me an act of love. I’m inspired when I get to know my family better. I’m inspired when I’m serving others. I’m inspired when I’m watching silly romantic comedies. I’m inspired when I worship.
And it’s what I do with that inspiration that really matters, not necessarily what inspired me in the first place.
So I’m going to keep writing and I’m going to keep creating. I’m going to keep telling myself that what I have is worth saying.
And I dare you to keep creating, too. Maybe you’re not a writer, but you love to sing. Or maybe you like to draw or come up with cool projects to work on. Maybe you love planning gifts and parties for friends. Maybe you like to share your thoughts with friends.
Let your inspiration direct you to greater things, and kick that comparison out the door! YOU have a voice and it ought to be heard.
That is all, my friends.