Note to Reader
This is a twelve month project which aims to bring to light the individual pain experienced by young women and to show how their unique stories make them who they are. We ask you to feel with an open heart and respect their stories.
I’m from Tallahassee, FL, and I’ve been here since I was ten. I am thirty-four years old. My childhood was great! It was like something out of “Leave It To Beaver” really. I lived in Pennsylvania and it was the classic suburbs, ride your bike all day, come home at night, hang out with your friends kind of thing. I have very fond memories of my childhood.
I was born in Tampa and lived there till I was two. Then we went to Levittown, Pennsylvania. It’s funny because my parents hated Pennsylvania. That was where my mom got cancer and it was a really dark time. But I loved it. I think maybe I was sheltered from a lot of the pain. I knew what was going on with my mom but they did a good job of sheltering me from the fear they had and how severe her cancer was. So I just have the best memories.
I am definitely not doing what I dreamed of as a child. As a child I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a tollbooth operator because I thought that you got all the money! So no, I’m not doing what I wanted as a child! And I mean I had the typical dreams of being a teacher, an astronaut, and all those things.
But I am doing wonderful things. I am in my element. I am very fulfilled and very content. I’m a stay-at-home mom, which definitely has its challenges and is not what I thought it would be. You know, you have these ideals of everything being great. “We’re gonna have no fights and everyone is going to get along, and we’re gonna have all this fun!” It’s not always like that. There are a lot of surprising emotions that come with being a stay-at-home mom, but I know what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to do and it’s worth it. But now that my kids are older, I’m actually doing something that I never ever thought I would be doing.
During the election, I kind of had this identity crisis of where I belong politically and I didn’t know who to vote for. And I started doing a lot of reading about immigration and I developed this heart for refugees. I was reading a lot about what they are going through and that left a really intense impression on me. So I write, just for kicks, and I wrote this piece on what I thought about immigrants, refugees, and how I thought we as humans should respond and we as Christian should respond. I put that out there and it kind of just laid there. But then I started talking to my pastor and he just asked some really interesting questions about well, “You as a person, would you let refugees stay in your house if needed?” Like all these really hard questions just kind of exposing whether I’m just talking or willing to back things with action. And then one thing led to another and I met this woman who was working with refugees. Now I know seventy of them. I love them all dearly! I’d lay down my life for them. It’s just that intense. It’s nothing in me at all, it is completely the Holy Spirit! Because I don’t take risks, I don’t love strangers, but Christ in me has led me to that. So I kind of have a part-time job, unofficially, unpaid. I’m kind of just leading this ministry and heading up community efforts. If I had dreamed of working with refugees, I would have said, “This is everything I dreamed it would be!”
It was her birthday and we were watching scary movies...
After therapy and thirty-four years later, I realized one of the first pains I have was from my childhood. Back in that neighborhood where I would go with my friends on my bike all day and hang out, one of those friends invited me to a sleep over party. It was her birthday and we were watching scary movies, and to this day I cannot watch horror movies. We were watching Pet Cemetery and I can’t even watch that movie now! But they wanted to play with a Ouija board in her mom’s room. And I had become a Christian when I was five and I had a very strong sense of right and wrong. There was this boldness, surprisingly, and when I knew something was wrong, it was like I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t care what the cost was, I wouldn’t do it. It was really interesting. And I knew what a Ouija board was because my mom had told me that we don’t mess with that. So I don’t remember exactly what I said to my friends but the bottom line was that I wasn’t going to play.
So they all went into her mother’s room and they were playing with it. So I was left sitting on the couch, all by myself, for what seemed like hours. I’m pretty sure I watched the whole movie Gremlins and I still won’t see that movie to this day. And I was just left alone. Here I am standing up for what is right and everyone left me. I’ve always been, in the past, conflict averse. I hate conflict and I will avoid it if I can. There is a line where I’ll reach a point and be like, “Okay, this is ridiculous, I have to engage, confront, or whatever.” So I was talking to my therapist about that because I don’t like being conflict averse. I was asking why I have this issue and we took it all the way back to that event. It wasn’t a big conflict but there was a tension there of “my friends want to do this,” “I know I shouldn’t,” so I said no, and because of that I was left alone, my friends left me. So that really impacted me because I was so young, I was like seven or eight, and I didn’t know how to process that correctly. So it actually was traumatic and it sort of followed me.
And then thinking about pain in my childhood, fast forward to high school, I started hanging out with these kids. Some of them were great, some of them are still my best of friends, but as a whole we were mean. We treated each other very poorly. There was a lot of verbal abuse that went on. I just remember where I had another instance where I stood up for what was right and I got annihilated. They just ridiculed me, mocked me, made fun of me.
And of course I spoke to my therapist about it and we took it back to that same friend from my childhood. We would go into her brother’s room because he had drums, and what kid doesn’t love banging on drums? So we would go in there to play his drums and when it wasn’t my turn to play drums, I would just stand there. And while standing there I would look around and there were all these pinups on the ceiling of all these naked women. I’m seven or eight, I don’t know what’s going on, I’m just staring at them, and my eyes are probably just big as saucers. I mean those images are still in my mind. I can picture them in detail now and I’m thirty-four. And again, I’m so young, I’m exposed to pornography and I don’t know how to process that.
...those images are still in my mind.
And so you fast forward and what you translate that to…I mean, I think everybody should hate porn because it’s a lie, it destroys, it steals, it does all of these negative things. But I also had all these weird reactions, like whenever there was a sex scene in a movie, or I saw porn, I got so angry. And so hanging out with my high school friends, there was a lot of porn. Like, you’d walk into a room and it was playing, or there would be magazines laying everywhere. I remember one particular night and we were all watching a movie and there was some pretty graphic stuff in it. And I just got up and walked out of the room, and everybody knew why I was walking out of the room because it was well known that Jen doesn’t like this stuff. So they just made so much fun of me. Again, I’m standing up for what is right and my friends leave me.
My relationships with these friends were just being pulled apart, there was this conflict. So I become even more conflict averse because I’m not having good experiences with confrontation and conflict, and that was very painful. There was a lot going on there in high school and there was so much more to it, but the way we treated each other was very damaging. When I think back to high school, there was some good times for sure but it was mostly painful.
Do I still struggle with these things today? If you had asked me this question two years ago, I would have said yes, it’s something I still struggle with. But I checked myself into a little therapy because I realized I had a problem with conflict because I lost a friend. I’ll tread lightly here because I want to honor her and I want to focus on what I did wrong. But we were really close, she’s really awesome, we really connected over a million things. Long story short, I walked away. I mean, it’s way more complicated than that, but that’s how it ended. And part of the reason why it ended was because of my problems with not liking conflict. So I’m partly to blame for this broken friendship and that’s why I went to therapy.
And I lost a friend over it.
I’ve realized that those instances in my childhood that have contributed to my being so conflict averse followed me and I lost a friend over it. It’s awful and I’m still not reconciled and there’s an ache there because of that. So when I went to therapy I learned all this stuff about myself of why I’m like this and how can I change. It’s been amazing because God has just totally healed me. And when I have to engage, it’s not like I have to engage in conflict all the time, but in those few instances where I’ve had to of late, I haven’t been anxious or fearful or anything because I see how important it is to address things or work through things and to not keep it inside. It’s very self-serving and a selfish act when you don’t talk about things that hurt you or don’t talk about things that need to be addressed, you’re not loving the other person well at all. So I’ve definitely learned my lesson but it’s just amazing to me how those traumatic experiences in my childhood followed me to adulthood and I’m only just now overcoming it.
To read part two of Jen's story, click here.