By far, the greatest part about Tuesdays is that I get to showcase some of my favorite people in the whole wide universe. And today is no exception. Jessica and I met back in 2005, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, zealous and overly-extroverted, as interns working for the same non-profit outreach organization. But what ultimately bound us together was our love for people and words and stories …and that unknown, mysterious thing called faith we keep returning to. So, still your heart and soak up what she has to say today.
Tucked away in a drawer in the closet, a drawer filled with precious-things-that-shall-never-be-thrown-away, is an envelope. It’s kind of a periwinkle color with little stars that are slightly misshapen, and on the front of it is my name, Jessica, written in perfectly bubbly silver script that you can’t read unless you hold it at just the right angle to the light. Inside that envelope is a thing that is not small.
I was 16 at the time I was handed this envelope, and sitting in a room full of relative strangers who also happened to have been hospitalized for their eating disorders. Being in a hospital like this means that you sit in circles a lot with people you don’t know and you’re supposed to talk about the most intimate details of your life. Sometimes this feels helpful. Sometimes it makes you want to crawl out of your skin. Most of the time it’s somewhere in between. You’re both comforted by the fact that you aren’t alone in your struggle and disturbed by the realization that some of these people have been in and out of these kinds of circles for most of their lives and they still feel stuck.
It was tempting at first to sit back and either judge or feel sorry for the other patients, because they were so obviously screwed up in ways that I couldn’t relate to. But the more I actually listened to the human beings behind the circumstances and the diagnoses I had initially allowed to separate us, the more I began to hear myself in each of their stories. This part was terrifying. I had invited an enemy named Anorexia to live inside of me, and I wasn’t even sure how to differentiate its voice from my own. And even if I could figure that part out, I wasn’t entirely sure that I really wanted it to go away.
Then came the not-so-small-letter inside its periwinkle envelope. I had grown to have a deep respect for the woman who handed it to me, because she seemed to believe that no matter how bad things got there was still hope. Not this kind of hope…
…but the kind that whispers gently to you when you are crying into your pillow every night so no one can hear and tells you to please keep trying because you matter. I needed that kind of hope, and she seemed to have it. She had so many reasons to give up, but every day she showed up and every day she was willing to share and to listen and to act like her life was worth fighting for. I guess when you feel that kind of hope it makes a whole lot of sense to share it with other people who are hurting.
Seventeen years later I can still remember almost every single word of the letter, but the phrase that really got me was this one:
(“What you are doing is hard – and it’ll probably get even harder, but keep working and keep being honest. You seem to have so much good in you! So much to offer.”)
Simple enough, right? Things are hard. They may very well get worse. But be real. And keep going because there is good in you and you have a purpose in the world.
We’ve talked a lot about this moment since then, she and I, and neither of us can explain why it was so profound for me. I had received lots of encouraging notes in my life, and people had probably said very similar things to me before, but reading these particular words at this particular time from this particular person strengthened my soul in a way that I had never experienced before. Not once in this letter did she mention the name of Jesus or that God had prompted her to reach out to me, but it wasn’t too long after this letter that I started asking a lot of questions about where her hope came from. She was not a theologian and had no intention of converting me, which I think was why it was so easy for me to listen to what she had to say. I spent a long time asking questions and cautiously testing the waters of spirituality before I realized that I actually believed my life was worth fighting for just like hers was. And I believed it because God had infused our friendship and used her brokenness to let me know that He wasn’t scared of mine.
Sometimes, I think, we try too hard to be the voice of God. We want to turn it into a science or a pattern or a persuasive essay when really all He wants is for us to be one human being reaching out to another human being with genuine compassion. That’s what turns a little thing into a not-so-little thing, and once it’s out of that envelope it’s far too beautiful to be explained.
Jessica Floyd has a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Illinois, which she currently uses to craft very long emails and the occasional blog post or inappropriately long Instagram comment. She currently works as a case manager with Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham, WA providing resource connection and support for pregnant and parenting women in recovery from substance abuse. In her spare time, she can most likely be found outside somewhere enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Ben, and 4-month-old puppy, Yeti. She has accidentally become a dog person. I hope Jessica’s words touched you as they touched me. What can you say to encourage her today?