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.
Dear friend who just relapsed,
I heard you gave in to the lies again. You were holding out for a while and fighting pretty hard, but the voices in your head just got so loud and you didn’t know what to do. So you caved last night.
And now you’re hating yourself for it. Thinking you were so clean for so long and now it’s all gone to waste. Now you don’t know if you can stop again.
You broke promises to your loved ones. You broke promises to yourself. You broke promises to God.
You feel like the damage is irreparable now.
You feel weak. You feel defeated. You feel selfish and stupid.
But you’re still loved.
My feelings haven’t changed for you. God’s feelings haven’t changed for you.
You’re tired of feeling so weak, but let me tell you that you’re a fighter.
You weren’t defeated. You just lost a battle. But the war doesn’t have to be over. You don’t have to raise your white flag.
I know it’s hard to convince yourself to keep going, but you did it once and you can do it again. You can hold onto freedom. Christ died so you could.
. . . . . .
I’m so sorry you were hurting so bad that you didn’t know what to do but return to your former life. I wish I could’ve been there the minute you decided so I could’ve reminded you just how hard you’ve worked to be okay and how damn much you wanted to be okay.
You want to be okay. And you are.
It doesn’t feel like it right now. But you are.
Today was just one day. It was just one time. And yes, one time can change everything. It can make everything fall apart. It can lead to another time and another and another.
But it doesn’t have to.
You will still be hurting, the ones around you will still be sad, but you will have made a decision that will ultimately save you. If you would only just pick your resolve back up like I know you can.
. . . . . .
Let me remind you of who you are: you are a redeemed child of God. You are important. Do you know the lives you have impacted just by simply being you? By smiling that smile? By offering that listening ear, that compassionate heart? You are special. And that’s not something to be ashamed of. You feel things more deeply than most, and that is simply beautiful. Yes, you are beautiful. You are a beautiful being comprised of gifts and talents and love and grace.
You are also comprised of genes. And I know you hate your genes. You hate your chemical makeup. You hate that it feels like there’s so much crap you can’t do a darn thing about.
But despite the way it feels, it’s simply not true.
You can make a choice. Just like you did that solemn, brave day when you decided you wanted a better life and you knew God could get you there.
You’re not forgotten. God’s still pushing you forward. He has a plan for you, and it doesn’t involve this mess. You can still get there. I promise. God’s holding out his hand and I can be your cheerleader on the sidelines. Just one more step. And then another. I got you.
I love you.
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.
Being in a relationship is hard, guys.
I’ve known this for years, yet I still feel like I’m punched in the gut with that truth again and again.
I have no idea how to be someone’s girlfriend.
It’s a daunting task: to be the person they run to, the person they want to pour their love into, the person they want to support and appreciate wholeheartedly.
Because when you are that person for someone, there’s that little voice in the back of your head that says, But I don’t deserve it. And there’s no way I could be that lovely, loving person for them in return. At least that’s how it is for me.
I’m too selfish, too emotional, too messy, too prideful, too insecure, too bitter… how could I rightfully treat this man with respect and love when I hardly know how to love myself? How can I support and encourage this man when I can hardly support and encourage myself?
And he claims he’s a mess, too. Everyone’s got issues, he says. Baggage. But often times, I can only see my flaws and his strengths (or in my prideful moments, it ends up the other way around). And sometimes that makes a relationship one of bitterness or insecurity.
You have it all together. And I’m just… me. Awful, messy me. You should find another woman to love. Someone who doesn’t cry when things don’t go her way, someone who doesn’t pick fights for no reason other than her stupid insecurities.
Someone who always says the right things and does the right things.
It’s hard to remember that that someone doesn’t exist.
The other night, my boyfriend and I had this realization that we call ourselves a team, but we haven’t been acting like one lately. And my first reaction was, It’s my fault, while his first reaction was, It’s MY fault.
Isn’t that so silly? We both were so quick to take the blame.
And we could’ve just left it there. We both could’ve silently come to the conclusion that we’re messy, stupid people who don’t know how to be a good boyfriend or a good girlfriend. Beat ourselves up further and resolve to be better.
But that’s not what I want for him and that’s not what he wants for me.
So what’s a couple to do? Baby steps, my friends.
I asked how he was doing and he shared– open, honest communication about his week, his fears, his struggles. And I listened. I tried offering advice, but didn’t know if it was what he needed. I do think he appreciated the effort. But our conversation didn’t really last long. He had to be up early for work and I was pretty tired myself, so we said goodnight and went our separate ways.
And despite how I felt at that moment– wanting to storm into every room of mess and misunderstanding to set everything bad on fire and leave only the good, perfect, lovely things– that small, honest conversation was a good start.
I’m realizing you don’t have to hash everything out overnight. Every single issue, weakness, and insecurity doesn’t have to be laid out there on the table from day one. You don’t have to fix, fix, fix until both parties are dead tired and there’s nothing left to say.
There’s always going to be something left to say. We’re always going to have bad days and stress. We’re always going to have secrets we hold onto until someone pries us open. We’re always going to have moments of utter weakness that we beat ourselves up over for days.
You’re not going to make a perfect team overnight. You’re not going to make a perfect team over A LIFETIME.
Relationships are hard for everyone. Even the loveliest, sweetest of seasons in dating/marriage are eventually followed by hardships and messes.
We are messy people.
I’ve heard it said that a perfect relationship is just two imperfect people who don’t give up on each other.
I think that’s only partially true. What should be taken out is the “perfect relationship” part because there’s simply no such thing.
No two people can have a perfect relationship because no two people are perfect. No commitment is perfect. Promises are not always perfectly kept. Support doesn’t always come at the perfect time and in the most perfect way.
There’s no such thing as perfection in relationships because there’s no such thing as perfection in life.
The only perfect thing we have is a perfect God, and He’s the only one who can make our relationships into the beautiful, supportive teams we desire.
And even then, they can only be so good. Never perfect. That’s just the burden we live with until we go home to heaven.
So here’s my take on relationships right now: you do what you can with what you have and rely on God to do the rest.
I can show love to my boyfriend in the ways I understand love– kind words, warm affection, gifts and sacrifices. But when I’m stuck in my pride or my foolishness and I don’t even WANT to be loving or kind, I can ask God to strengthen His love in me so I can see past myself and forego my selfish ways.
I can offer wisdom to him when he needs advice or counseling– wisdom I’ve gained from experience and study. But when I don’t know the answers and I’m just as lost as he is, I can lean on God to show us both the right thing to do and the right thing to say.
I can be a sweet, fun, caring girlfriend– when I’m in a great mood or things are going great in my life. But when I’m angry at God, depressed for no reason, and feeling insecure in every area of my life, I sure as heck know I need the grace of God and I can ask Him for that, too. Lord, help my boyfriend deal with me. Because I’m crazy.
Asking God for help in these areas doesn’t mean He’s going to mold me into the perfect girlfriend. What it means is that I recognize my inability to be that perfect somebody for my ever-so-forgiving boyfriend and his inability to be that perfect somebody for me. And in recognizing that, God has the opportunity to heal me of some of my fears and insecurities, offer grace in areas I so badly fail at, and show me how to love in difficult moments. It reminds me that I can’t do it all, and that’s okay.
All I can do is baby steps.
Particularly because I can only predict my mood at this very moment. I can only guarantee I’ll feel nice and loving for the next hour. I am messy and unpredictable. I don’t think that’ll ever change. So I must take just one baby step after another, and believe that it can be enough.
The other night, my baby step was just listening. His baby step was offering nuggets of his life.
Tomorrow, my baby step might be apologizing first. His baby step may be relying on God through prayer instead of trying to fix things himself.
This is what I think relationships are mostly about. Not who will do the right thing first or who will do the right thing better. Certainly not how to be that perfect partner.
Just simply: when will I take that next step, be it ever so seemingly small?
I still have a long way to go. I’ll never win that trophy for best girlfriend of the year. But I can win the heart of the man I love day after day as I become more of the woman– messy and imperfect as she may be– that God is shaping me into.
Relationships will still be hard, but I think I’m learning.
Oh, here’s a photo of me with my wonderful boyfriend, Grant, right before we went on our first Valentine’s Day date. This stud took me to Waffle House (yes, I shamelessly picked Waffle House over every other restaurant we had to choose from… jealous?). Grant is very sweet and understanding of my strange, crazy oh-my-gosh-is-she-even-sane ways. He calls it part of “my complexity”, which makes it sound rather romantic. Oh, and he loves nerdy things, God, and me. So obviously we’re just right for each other.