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.
Some of the guys I’m working with have joked about initiating a no-shave summer. You know, a summer where you just let your facial hair grow and get all long and manly and unkempt? Some can make it work. Others… not so much.
Well, a few of us girls thought it’d be funny to pretend like we’re doing a no-shave summer, as well. In Clarkston, it’s actually not too difficult to pull off. When you basically have a dress-code of wearing jeans and a t-shirt all summer long, it’s not hard to justify putting down the razor. I mean, let’s be honest: shaving your legs is a drag and just a tad unnecessary if no one can see them anyway. Am I right?
But in a moment of complete honesty, I AM doing no-shave summer. Ladies and gentleman, I am not shaving… my upper lip.
Yes, I have hair on my upper lip!
(Men, ask around and you’ll realize most girls do)
There’s this stigma surrounding the idea of girls having hair on their upper lip. I mean, girls don’t really want to be associated with mustaches. Especially this girl right here. I swear I’m like part Italian, part ape. My hair is so thick and long and dark. It’s just always been that way, and the hair on my face isn’t much of an exception.
But shortly before I came to Clarkston, I decided to stop trying to mask it. Why?
Because I was spending so much time worried about what I look like when the truth of the matter is that PEOPLE DON’T CARE.
I stopped including shaving my upper lip in my weekly maintenance schedule, and no one noticed.
The only person to mention my sudden growth of a mustache was my boyfriend. And he doesn’t count because he’s a lot more acquainted with my face than most people.
Not only that, but I stopped tweezing every week. How many people commented? None.
And then I stopped wearing as much makeup. Who told me I was ugly? Nobody.
Then I decided to wear my hair back in a messy bun just about everyday, cutting down on the time and stress that maintaining this wild mane usually required. And guess who cared? No one.
And I don’t think it’s because people are being nice. I’m at the point with my roommates where I know they’d say something if they noticed an obnoxious uni-brow growing on my face.
The truth is that I have spent a good majority of my life trying to make myself look perfect when I could’ve just let those things go and nothing would have changed.
I would still have the same friends. I would still feel just as pretty.
And please know that this security I have only came through practice and persistence. I was pretty horrified when I looked in the mirror the first couple days after letting the hair on my face grow back. But I stuck with it. I was THAT tired of caring.
Yes, I’m still tempted to hide all these imperfections. I want to smooth down my hair and pluck my eyebrows and get rid of my girl mustache. I want to keep my nails painted and get rid of the calluses on my feet. I want to lose a few pounds and whiten my teeth.
But the longer I hold off, the more victorious I feel.
In a way, I feel like my persistence is my way of standing up for the women who feel like they have to hide behind acne treatments, diets, and tweezers. This is my way of fighting the fear that us girls have of our NATURAL beauty. And I don’t mean the kind of natural where you use a nude lipstick and a gold-shimmer eye shadow. I’m talking about the unshaved, unmasked kind of natural. The natural we only let our pets see.
I’m tired of being insecure around anyone and everyone who isn’t my dog. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide my under-eye circles or leg hair just to go out in public.
And I certainly don’t want to shave my darn mustache.
Girls have hair on their upper lip. Deal with it.
It’s no-shave summer, baby.
P.S. I’m fully aware that people are now going to start noticing it more. WELL, GO AHEAD AND STARE. At least I called it first.
I don’t think I could leave Clarkston right now even if I tried.
It’s not because this place is better than home. It’s not because I enjoy my roommates’ company more than my family, boyfriend, and hometown friends. It’s not even because the food is better here (which it is).
I don’t think I could leave Clarkston because it feels like God has me here. Not in a forceful, “thou-shalt-forever-remain-stuck-under-my-command” kind of way, but in a loving, powerful “hey-you-know-that-I-have-you-here-for-a-reason” kind of way.
While reading Psalm 139 this afternoon, I was drawn to verse 5:
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Guys, God has hemmed me in. And it’s one of the most relieving feelings to know that in this moment I’m in the right place. I can’t speak for tomorrow or the day after that, but I can certainly speak for today.
His hand is upon me here. I can tell because I’ve been struggling against it. Some might take that as a sign that it is NOT God’s will for me to remain in Clarkston, but I know myself well enough to realize that the times I’ve fought the hardest against where I am are the times I’ve belonged the most in those places.
I think back to how badly I wanted to run away before starting my freshman year of college. I imagined hopping on a plane and spending the rest of my life sipping Arabian coffee with my new Henna-adorned Muslim friends in a land far away from suburbia.
And then I recall how much it hurt to be turned down from my dream internship a year later, the internship that would’ve taken me away from the most painful and eye-opening experience I have had in my almost-twenty years of living. The last thing I wanted was to spend a summer in my friend-forsaken town, but I did and it changed me.
And most overwhelming of all is the constant nostalgia-like longing for the future, to the days where I am no longer just an “I”, but a “we”– someone’s wife and mother. Never do I feel more of a calling on my life than when I think of the baby-nursing, diaper-changing, marriage-protecting days I believe are coming.
Time and time again, I have felt stuck, just longing, DYING, to leave my home and the life I’m currently living. God, please just let me fast-forward to a different time, a different place. I’d give anything.
But looking back, I can see now that God had purposefully hemmed me in. His hand had been upon me in the places I had felt forsaken. And though I wrestled against these many circumstances, I eventually found a way to surrender. Surrender doesn’t come easily to me, but freeing things in life rarely do.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been wrestling against being in Clarkston. For reasons I’m not even sure I understand fully, I often think of leaving. I picture myself spending these summer days at home, sipping coffee and writing meaningful blog posts as I rest against my pillow-filled chaise, my dog resting against me. That’s where I belong, I think.
But God thinks otherwise.
I know this because He’s been opening my eyes to Him and to beautiful things while I’ve been here. I’ve been so busy wrestling for the past month that I’m sure I’ve missed some of what He’s been trying to show me. But I’m starting to see more clearly.
His presence asks me to remain present, so I will dutifully stay.
There is a beauty in being hemmed in. It feels like maybe the place I am in is covered in grace. Even I am covered in grace. And I don’t want to miss these beautiful, grace-filled moments anymore.
These are my thoughts for right now on why I am here. It’s still going to be difficult to make this place my home, but where God leads I have committed to go. And right here is where I’ve been led.
I’m hemmed in.
P.S. I know I’ve been so vague on what exactly is going on here in Clarkston. I promise I am working on sharing more testimonies and stories with you. I have plans on writing more informative pieces in the next couple of weeks so perhaps the pieces will fall into place for my curious readers on what is happening here. To tell you the truth, I’m still a little lost myself.
But here’s some information I can offer for now: people are falling more in love with Jesus in Clarkston– missionaries and refugees alike. There’s still a lot of work to be done among these unreached people groups, but we’re witnessing how small moments of faith can result in great opportunities.
Keep an eye out for blog posts to come.
I’ve been in Clarkston (see previous post for details) for almost a month now, and it’s been hard.
Not so hard that I want to leave or I’m not enjoying my stay. It’s just the kind of hard where you know you could curl up on a bed and sleep for days if somebody would let you.
I miss my family. I miss having Tuesday night dinners with my grandparents. I miss watching Glee with my mom. I miss being able to talk to my boyfriend every day. I miss phone dates, television marathons, and ice cream outings with friends. I miss sleeping next to my dog every night. I miss my church and the middle schoolers I work with.
But I know I’m supposed to be here.
Well, I haven’t figured that part out yet.
And I have to keep telling myself that it’s okay to not know.
I’ve been beating myself up for being so clueless. Sometimes I have a lot to do; sometimes I’m free all day and just wander around aimlessly. Setting out lunches, making copies, and running errands are my specialty, but there are days when it feels like that’s not enough.
I keep trying and trying to not waste time, but sometimes that’s how time feels: wasted.
Like I could be doing something more, but I’m not sure what.
Here’s what I’m starting to think: God, in His sovereignty and by His grace, uses His people… even when they don’t feel like they’re being used.
I think about the people in my life who have impacted me, encouraged me, and challenged me in ordinary, non-exciting times. Many revelations have been had over coffee at Starbucks. Warm feelings have been exchanged over brief smiles.
An impactful, godly life sometimes looks a lot like an ordinary life.
Could it be that God is found in my own ordinary moments? That the things I am finding mundane are godly and important?
I pray that this is true.
Maybe as I set out lunch each day I am showing these interns I care. Maybe my offers to pray for the girls I live with will be received with more gratitude than I could ever know. Maybe the way I do the little things shows that I can be trusted with the bigger things.
The truth is, anyone could do a lot of the tasks I take care of. But for this summer, these tasks have been entrusted to me.
And no matter how ordinary or seemingly unimportant they are, I want to treat these things like they’re special.
I don’t HAVE to spend my summer serving here in Clarkston. I didn’t HAVE to commit to this and leave my family, friends, and home.
But I GET to.
What a privilege to be a part of something bigger than myself. I might just feel like a useless pinky right now in the grand scheme of the body working together, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be times I can be a helping hand, listening ear, and loving heart.
I hold on to the belief that God uses His people for His glory— in the highs, lows, and in-betweens of life.
When I’m wondering why I’m here, I’ll tell myself this.
I still don’t have answers, but I have faith.