I grew up in a Christian home. My mom and dad were really strong in their faith, and we went to church, and Bible studies, and youth group, and Sunday school – all the typical good Christian things that a little kid does. I did make a decision to accept Christ, and I know that I was saved at that point.
But I was definitely still controlling my life. When I went off to college, I kind of put God in a shoebox and tucked Him safely under my dorm bed. “If I need you, I’ll pull you out,” I said. “You’re still a part of my life, but this is my time. I want to do what I want to do.”
I was at school for a week and then found that my dad, who I was very, very close to growing up, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The following summer, he died, a week before my 19th birthday. At that point, going back to school for my sophomore year, I basically took the shoebox out from under my bed and chucked it out the window.
That was what I thought would be the end of God being in my life at all. I set out to be popular, and be with the right crowd doing the fun thing, and just have the fun of the college experience to cover over the pain that I was feeling.
The next fourteen or fifteen months basically got progressively worse, in terms of how much alcohol ruled my life. In May when I went home, I knew that my behavior was becoming self-destructive. But I was still not at a point where I wanted to let God back into my life, so I decided I was going to pull myself up by my bootstraps. In my own strength, I was going to change things and get back on the right track.
That didn’t last very long. Going back for my junior year, I quickly fell back into the same patterns. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the changes that I knew were necessary.
One night I ended up in the hospital because of alcohol poisoning. I don’t really remember that night, but I woke up the next morning in the emergency room of a local hospital with tubes sticking out of my arms. I didn’t have a clue how I had gotten there, and there was a little note taped to the wall from my roommate explaining what happened and telling me to call when I woke up.
That was the breaking point. I was lying there absolutely terrified, with no idea what had happened. It was the point where I realized that there had to be a change bigger than me.
And in the midst of being absolutely terrified, I remember distinctly feeling I was not alone in the room. It was kind of like all the things that I learned about God and about Jesus and Him dying for our sins – the gospel finally clicked and made sense.
I was never going to be able to do it in my own strength. I had been running away from God all this time, and He had just been chasing after me. He wanted to be the one to put the pieces back together, to heal the pain I was feeling. He wanted to be the One that I came to in that despair.
That was the point where I actually made the conscious decision, recognizing that I couldn’t do it on my own, that I absolutely needed Him to be the One.
The piece of what it meant to live out a relationship with God had been foreign to me. I had always wanted it to be about steps to take, and things to do, and work, and so it wasn’t satisfying that that wasn’t part of the equation.
I had to get to a breaking point before it clicked that God just wanted me. In our human nature, it’s hard to want to come to God in that broken state, but that’s exactly where He wants us. He doesn’t want it to be about us cleaning up our act before we go to Him. He wants to put the pieces back together.
I also realized that I couldn’t do this without Christian community – other people who were also seeking to live a life that was pleasing to God and following Him in the midst of all these temptations of being in college.
I went to a church in Boston where Cru was the campus ministry of that church. I sat in the back, and after the service this guy asked if I was new. I tried to brush him off, but he basically grabbed my hand and led me downstairs after the service. He said there was a reception for college students and wanted me to meet the Cru staff on my campus.
He introduced me to the staff woman who worked at Brandeis University, and she asked to meet up with me on campus at some point. I agreed, and we met up. I didn’t even go to the Bible study before she invited me to the fall retreat.
During the Cru retreat weekend, I was put into a small group with four other girls my age from other campuses in Boston. We would meet after each of the sessions and discuss some of the things we were learning.
I poured out my story. That group of girls just loved me, though. I mean, the last weekend, I had woken up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. That’s probably not what they expected to hear come out of my mouth. But they were so willing to love me in that, and honestly listen to me. They prayed for me, they looked for ways they could help, they encouraged me, and we talked about how to live out this Christian life on campus as a college student. It was the relationships that held me where God wanted me.
After interning with Cru for two years in Boston, Jessica joined staff. She now serves as the Executive Assistant to the Director of Operations for the U.S. Campus Ministry. She and her husband, Michael, live in Melbourne, FL.