It’s crazy the way that God orchestrates the events in your life.
Jenni is a prime example of that.
And because of that I figured she was a fitting woman to begin the “Imprints” series with.
I met her at the very beginning of my college experience – fresh from orientation and into my summer study program. She was the RA for the summer session I spent in Pullman before the official first semester of my college career. I’m sure I never would have met her had I not stumbled my way into WSU’s freshman summer program, judging by the fact that her home is hundreds of miles from a convenient meet and greet outside of coincidence and the fact that while I’m barely staying afloat in my freshman year she’s working on finishing her senior year and making the transition to Grad school hundreds of miles away.
This is a fact which I think about regularly – the sheer luck of finding her in the massive sea of students on campus. God is so incredibly faithful to provide the people who I need to weave my way through the mess of life. And I was given a real gift in Jenni.
She’s never slow to call me out. She tells me what I need to hear and not what I want to hear. She loves the Lord, but is never slow to be raw in her frustration. She is bold and brilliant and a blessing. It is because of all these things that it’s been such a pleasure to do life with her these past months.
She has this funny little saying: “We’re all just made of human.” I’ve heard it more than I’d like to admit, in the moments when I’m hating my humanity most she’s the first to remind me of it’s beauty. In my moments of vulnerable insecurity, it’s her that gathers up all the pieces and shows me the charm of my humanity.
The first time we really talked (about more than the price of textbooks and where to find a decent parking spot), she and I sat down for what felt like a couple minutes, and before I knew it, it was two o’ clock in the morning and I was so stimulated by our exchange that I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to sleep for days. It was our first real conversation, completely an accident in the beginning, but a total blessing in the end. I was enthralled by her outlook on life, her insight, her enthusiasm, and her excitement for adventure. We laid everything out. Those sort of heart-to-hearts that you walk away from able to breathe again but completely horrified by your lack of control in spilling your guts. In a matter of hours we went from happy acquaintances to trusted allies, and in all the months that have followed I’ve realized how incredibly lucky I am to pursue a friendship with a woman so wonderful.
And because her voice is such a beautiful presence in my life, I asked her to share some of her own insight and stories so that the rest of the world can begin to see the legacy that her presence has imprinted on my heart.
Let me just note, before we start, that each of these responses is so perfectly “Jenni.” I came to her with this crazy idea that I wanted to interview her for my blog and she never once asked why. Instead, she took it seriously and gave me entirely whole and in-depth answers to all of the questions that I asked. It is because of that that I have chosen not to shorten any of her responses, nor interject them into what I am saying, instead I want to present them to you in their entirety, the way that they were written, so that you can see the Jenni-esque blessing she has given. However, because of that, this post is going to be much longer than normal, but I promise you, it’ll be worth it.
With that being said, let’s begin with the story. I asked her to share her own “testimony” and the reasons why she found Jesus in it, to which, true to her honest and unfaltering nature, she replied…
Well, I grew up in a neighborhood that was robust with older adults and severely lacking in children, especially those who were my age. I struggled with boredom and loneliness as an only child with two working parents. My main childhood friend had divorced parents and was only present every two weeks. When I was about 8 years old, she had asked me to church. I went a couple of times before my parents began to question what I was learning and soon followed suit. We began attending as a family and soon Jesus was a household name, and I learned that I would always have at least one best friend. Years went by, we moved, changed churches a few times, and found a place where I learned more about this man Jesus than I had ever thought possible. The fact was, I was a participant in the “machine” of church, going every week and participating in all the functions, as well as maintaining the persona of being an ideal Christian child. [However] what couldn’t be seen was that though I knew the Bible strikingly well, I still struggled with my doubts; and my relationship with Christ was present, but it was dry.
My college years came and I set out to find a way to be connected to the Word, as I had come to understand its importance and relevance in a relationship with Christ. I began by attending a sister-church of the one I had grown up in, however because of its exclusive habits, such as all the youth growing up in seminary schools and all the pastors going through the same extensive instruction, they lacked the ability to connect with those who had different experiences, such as myself. I struggled to feel welcome, and while I agreed with their teaching and appreciated their dedication to the Word, Christ is inclusive, loving, and welcoming, and these were things I didn’t experience. Thus, my hunt began. My search was unguided and my prayers ceaseless, when one day I was sitting in our student union building between classes and a girl was walking by who suddenly turned and sat down next to me. She asked about some of the usual small-talk things such as my major, where I was from, and what I like to do when her question of “What do you know about Jesus” popped out quite abruptly. I then explained my journey and how I believed an experience with Christ was more of a relationship than a religious institution and she invited me to her church. I started going and bringing a couple of friends. After about a month, I had a sudden stroke of emotion during one of the worship songs and began sobbing. It was as if I had found an oasis in the desert, and its power was so consuming because I hadn’t even realized how dry and cracked my spiritual life had become. It was full of knowledge, sure, but lacking in passion and love for Christ. My flame had been more of a reflection in the glass of a gas fireplace, rather than one of a torch of heat carried around to be passed on to others.
My sophomore year I experienced my first love, and to my detriment he was a profound atheist. At the time, I knew it wasn’t ideal, but we had discussions, and we were open-minded, and I had hope. This went on for almost a year, and when we broke it off, I was devastated. Not only had I ended my first relationship and lost my first love, but my relationship with Jesus had just about disintegrated. The trickle was slow, but I had lost the time for reading my Bible, remaining connected with my friends in the faith, sleeping in on Sundays rather than going to church, and the whispers of lies had begun to take root in my mind. I shielded my heart from emotion and placed logic at the forefront, claiming that it was the only thing that could be right because it actually made sense. Although I had answers to the dozens of questions asked by my boyfriend, his logic began to seep and reaffirm the doubts from years before. I became bitter. I became lost. I became numb. I became atheist.
But God wasn’t finished with me. If anything, he was just beginning. Descartes once said “In order to determine whether there is anything we can know with certainty, we first have to doubt everything we know.” This quote hung on my mirror for over a year and fueled my logical mind. It was only by God’s grace that friends began to reach out to me again and invite me to church, no matter how often I declined. However…each time the music would begin, and I started to sing, tears would stream out of my eyes. Of course, my stubborn heart refused to admit the Holy Spirit’s presence, and I referenced the experience as being a conditioned response.
At this time, I began to struggle with my memory, much due to what I believe to be stress-induced from my involvement at college, and yet one thing from over a year before had stuck. When I begun dating that boy, I mentioned to a friend that he was atheist and it wasn’t the ideal relationship, (in our relationship) he had stated that the only thing he hated about me was that I was Christian. At the time I laughed and responded that it was ironic because it was the core of my identity. In a conversation with an old friend about it, she had also laughed and said, “It’s funny because what he says he hates most about you is what he actually loves about you. He’s drawn to the light of Jesus which he claims to detest most.” That phrase from over a year prior had stuck with me and it had nagged at my consciousness begging the concept: there is no way I could be that bright on my own and draw others to myself. It had to be something, or someone, more. I continued my questioning, but I had the most important one answered: did I believe in God? Yes. Was his existence merely as someone who kept the tides in balance and the seasons in check, or was he the wrathful, yet loving, God who was pursuing a relationship with us? I don’t know when Christ reached out to me again, or when I took his hand out of the drowning mess I had become, but I knew the entire journey that if I were to come to a faith it would be Christianity once again, because it was the only one where my salvation was not dependent on anything I could do for myself or for my God, but solely functioned as a result of Christ’s love and sacrifice.
The past year has been possibly the best in my life. I have had the opportunity to find myself and my identity in Christ, strengthened by fellow believers and growing in my relationships through Him. I have been blessed by being on the other side of my faith…Christ has given me the ability to understand what I believe and why I believe it, rather than just robotic movements that have been encultured into me by a religion I grew up in. In some ways, I’m a brand new baby-believer seeing many things anew, but in many ways I lean on Christ as we are old friends and can laugh at my idiotic moments. Mostly, I feel blessed to have been called upon… He functions as the void-filler we all need in different ways: a father, a brother, a groom, a teacher, and a friend. Being in Christ, means being in love, and I am blessed and honored to have a glimpse of this experience.
I’m asked why I choose Jesus, but at the end of the day, it is He who chooses me. Without his grace, I could not even fathom how to begin searching for something in the void. We are creatures made to strive for something bigger than ourselves, given by the evidence of thousands of cultural religions across the world, but Christ alone fills that need as God alone created that requirement. I think we have the ability to deny Christ as he pursues us, but we cannot choose him on our own. The truth is the truth even if no one believes in it. Even if people deny Christ, it does not refute his existence.
One might argue I’ve known Jesus since I was a child at a church summer camp around the age of 10, but I’ve also recognized the cultural significance of growing up in religion, and the ramifications it has had on my ability to think for myself. I might argue that I’ve known him for over a decade, but have only experienced him for a few years now. I might also argue that I will never know Christ. He fills the void, but as an omnipresent and omnipotent being, I cannot even hope to fathom what he is doing nor would I want to; that would belittle an awesome God. “God has 1000 things going on in our life at a time, and He might let us in on 3 of them.”
The thing that I love most in her story is her admittance of her straying from the Lord. It is such a humbling experience to admit to walking away from the faith, and in the church is often chastised. But for Jenni, her walk in the opposite direction of the Lord is the precise ignition that she needed to feel the Lord’s pursuit anew. I love that she says “the truth is the truth even if no one believes in it.” It brings it all home, ties in all the ends and seals the deal – Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
When we first met we had no idea of the other’s faith. Granted, I’m not so sure we had no idea, there’s this sort of light that Jenni exudes – whether that be through her bright smile or small gestures of affection – that so unabashedly proclaims that she is different. She was a thinker, and a genuine woman. I was drawn to her, and funny enough, looking back now, I see how God’s light in her was that pull.
Nonetheless it wasn’t until that fateful late night conversation that we shared point blank what we believed in. I had been struggling with the feeling of solitude in a college surrounded by people who despised my God. Jenni was in the process of healing from what she refers to as “beefin’ with Jesus.” We were both in vulnerable and strange spots – but throughout the night, I was alerted to the fact that although both of us were feeling conflictingly forgotten by our God, neither of us was slow to admit to the goodness that God had been showing us. Neither of us had refrained from mentioning our frustration, but amidst that, we went from acquaintances to sisters so deeply in love with the Lord that the previous estrangement felt obsolete.
We clicked. We were able to talk about the Lord in the realest sense possible. For the first time in what had felt like forever, Jenni gave me the opportunity to speak freely about the God that I love without condemning me. The further we progressed into our friendship the more I came to love this about her – her willingness to listen and think.
She asked me the hard questions. And she genuinely respected me when I asked her.
She’s on fire for the Lord because she isn’t afraid to admit that she doesn’t always understand everything that he has in store. Her own attitude toward him is such an inspiration in that it challenges me to think deeper than the surface. Through the multitude of conversations that we’ve had and the amount of time we’ve spent together I’ve seen the Lord pursuing her heart, so I asked her to share where she sees the Lord working in her life and this is what she had to say:
This is a tricky question for me currently, because, for once in my life, I am incandescently content with my relationships, and this has seemed to be one of the greatest struggles from a childhood of loneliness, an adolescence of wanting deeply faith-based friends, and the flakiness of stressed-out college students. My view of God has shifted greatly in the last few years, if not only the last few months, and so as I encourage everyone to trust in Jesus, I, myself, find this to be one of my greatest struggles.
Depending on the decade of psychology, you could see my personality hinted at beneath many diagnostic categories of OCD, Type-A, perfectionist, and control-freak. I like to have things a certain way, and I believe there is a right way and a wrong way, a perfect structure, organization, analysis, planning logic brain. The only saving grace is that I also have this oddly spontaneous free-spirit which continually conflicts with my instinctual robotic tendencies. I love people and their passions, but I hate the unknown. Right now, as a senior in college, I have a plan of graduate school, but there is not yet any certainty of acceptance, or any inkling of summer plans, which will be arriving in a few short months. I also have recently started dating my best friend of the past two years, and as one so rigid, I do not proclaim to know how to “relationship.” Life is going exceedingly well in my support system, but it seems to be the only thing keeping me from losing my mind in regards to my fear of the unknown. I must continually place my trust in Christ, and it is a constant struggle of reminding myself and giving him everything. My thoughts are continually of giving Him what is rightfully his, and that I am only borrowing time. He has a plan. He is the plan. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
As I sit here reading through this response, I find myself smiling at the Jenni-esqueness of it. I love hearing her take on life, and I love that she is open about it. Jenni and I spend a lot of time marveling at the complications and awesomeness at life, crying together and having dance parties, laughing until our ribs snap and talking until we’re out of breath. In each instance never shielding from the other the rawness of life as it’s thrown at us.
One of the most interesting facets of our friendships is that Jenni is a “self-proclaimed feminist.” For me, her beliefs offer an interesting point of view that I often neglect to have faith in. For years the feminists in my life have made a deep impression on me, one that slices further than I want to admit. But Jenni is different. She is understanding and gentle, but steadfast in what she believes. So I asked her what it means to her to be a feminist and this was her response:
“First, the reader must understand that I am a self-proclaimed feminist, but that with this identification, I think of Feminism and what I call “Neo-Feminism” to be two different things. Feminism is akin to the 1970s, man-hating, bra-burning, loud-mouthing women who fought for nothing but stirring up trouble. Surely, they had some great points, but I am a believer in neo-feminism. I love men, and I want for equality. I think neo-feminism stands for more than just women, but rather represents a fight for equality. In the best and most basic terms I can describe it: “Do you, Boo-Boo.” I want for equal pay among the genders, and for people who are struggling with their sexual orientations to not be ridiculed. I promote women who choose the workplace as their home as well as promote those who choose a 1950s housewife lifestyle. I want for a culture that teaches not to rape, rather than a culture that teaches how not to get raped. I want for women and men to stop being sexually objectified. I want for racism to be something scoffed at in history books because it no longer exists, and those who promoted it are pitied from their lack of understanding. I want for people to be fulfilled by what they are doing. I want what MLK Jr. wanted: for people to be judged by their character. Yes, I am a feminist, but first, understand what this means.”
Refreshing isn’t it? Jenni was the first person in my life, in a very long time, to be open about the fact that declaring yourself as something doesn’t always mean that you become the stereotype. It’s with this in mind that our friendship has come to such a beautiful place of fruition.
Jenni teaches me to believe in myself. She teaches me that it’s okay to love myself. She exemplifies what it means to be a hard worker. She demonstrates boldness. She encourages adventure. She provokes my mind in the greatest ways. She reminds me of the rawness and scandal of a faithful life.
Words cannot express the blessing that she is. There are so many ways that she has already changed my heart in these past couple months that I cannot even begin to imagine what the Lord has in mind in the years to come.
She’s left an imprint.
So I leave you with this, one of the life mottos that she lives by:
“We are a culmination of our experiences, so live well and live fully, because what we do is what we become.”