This is the fourth article in our new series called “Every Heart has a Story to Tell.” As we head towards our first Thrive Conference in October, our desire is share how Every Story Matters. Jolene will be one of our speakers at Thrive! Please check back each week to see how God is moving in women’s lives and let us know how he’s moving in yours.
It was a small, bright blue room, really more of a closet. In that old church building, where a small group of new believers met in rural Wisconsin, it served as a Sunday school room. I remember as a five-year-old hearing a story in that little room and knowing one day I would be a missionary. A couple years later, God uprooted my family from a dairy farm and moved us to Mexico, where my parents have now served as missionaries for three decades. We embraced the move and opportunity as the grand adventure with God that it was! A number of months after arriving in Mexico, I began to develop difficulty breathing. Within a year, it was full-fledged asthma. The air quality where we lived triggered ten years of ongoing breathing issues for me. At first, when I would wake in the night gulping for air, I would run to my parents’ room for comfort, help, and prayer. It soon became obvious to me, though, that there was little they could do and depriving them of sleep was pointless. So began a pattern of one little girl’s late-night encounters with her God.
As a nine-, ten-, eleven-year-old, I would wake up frequently, wondering if my little lungs would manage to keep me alive until morning. So as to not disturb my sisters, I would sneak out to the hallway or curl up in the living room. There, in the dark stillness, I would cry out to God. At first, my prayers were centered on my fear and struggle to breathe. Eventually, I learned that there was more to discuss with God in those middle-of-the-night sessions. I began to worship, ask questions, pray longer prayers, and expect real answers. I would wake up struggling to breathe and know that God was waiting to meet with me. So we met. As I finished elementary school, navigated middle school, and grew through high school, those meetings with God became my anchor. Then, my senior year, God miraculously touched my body. I could breathe again. I was in the same house, the same town, doing the same things, but I could breathe. I began to realize that asthma had been a gift. Under what other conditions would a child have spent hours and hours seeking, praying, and listening to her God? What I learned through those years of late night encounters with God became a foundation for the rest of my life.
Next came college in America. I am often asked what was hardest about being a missionary kid. That is easy: coming back to America. I remember sitting in the cafeteria at my college in downtown Minneapolis, listening to my peers and thinking, “They are speaking in English, but I have no idea what they are talking about.” Culture shock, homesickness, and loneliness engulfed me. I suffered from insomnia. Sharing a room with five other college women provided little privacy. So, late at night, I once again found myself leaving my room. I found a dark closet down the hall that became my sanctuary. There, I would kneel and sing over and over, “I just want to be where You are.” God heard me, and once more he met his daughter in the dark stillness. Those closet meetings became my sanity and strength. During those night hours, I learned lessons that could never be taught in theology classes, discipleship groups, or from the chapel platform. I experienced the intimacy of a relational God who had first called me to serve him as a little girl sitting in that blue Sunday school room. My faith deepened in a God who is faithful to walk with us through every season of life.
After graduation, I started working on staff at a church plant. It was an exciting, and often all-consuming, season of life. One day, on my way to the church office, a semi-truck lost control on the snowy interstate. It slid through the median and onto the road in front of me. I hit it head-on going about 60 mph. My car was totaled. I remember the surreal feeling of opening my eyes and touching my legs to be sure I could still feel them. I miraculously walked away from the accident, but not unscathed. The first couple of years after the accident, I lived in denial of the chronic pain in my neck, back, and arms. I frequently panicked at the inability to achieve a waking moment without pain. The thought of a lifetime of chronic pain was crushing. As doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment resulted in managing but never relieving the pain, I began to accept a new reality in my life. Once more, I was waking up in the night, in pain, but surrounded by the presence of my faithful God. He waited for me, longed for time with me, and once more we cherished our late-night dates.
It has been twelve years since that accident, and I still live in chronic pain. Just two weeks ago I was back in the ER, unable to move from the severity of the pain. Three days in bed, as friends and family helped care for my two-year-old twins, was humbling. But guess what? My God was there. He sat with me for hours in the stillness as I waited for my body to improve.
Do I pray and hope for the day when God alleviates my pain the way he touched my lungs and my loneliness in former seasons? Of course. Yet, I have come to learn that my God is jealous for me. He can use anything in my life, when surrendered to him, for a greater purpose. I can stand here today, over 30 years removed from that little blue classroom, and say that I am a girl who is madly in love with her God and desires to be used by him. I am so thankful for his drawing me to him through every season of life. I wouldn’t change a thing. The pain of the past is just that — past. The pain of today is temporary. My relationship with Him is eternal, and His grace, faithfulness, and glory make the future bright indeed!
If you’ve enjoyed Jolene’s story, you might like to read others in our “Your Story Matters” series: #1 – Michelle’s Story, #2 Carolyn’s Story , #3 – Sara’s Story, #5 – Mabel’s Story, #6 – Carolyn T’s Story