Editor's Note: Jessica Williams is the latest addition to our cadre of regular writers. We've asked her to introduce herself below.
Originally from Sacramento, California, I grew up tucked into a forest in Washington State with an Aunt and Uncle who thought they’d provide a home for me “until my mother was better.” As the days of waiting for that turned into years, I found myself stretched between these two places, holding out hope for a dream that I watched slowly disappear.
I write about the pain of my childhood a lot. I grew up in a loving but broken family full of addiction, abuse and abandonment. My parents spent most of my life in prison and neither overcame the grips of addiction before their recent deaths. I tell their story because it is also mine and because it is the primal learning ground for so much of my life.
I discovered God through a small country church that welcomed me into the family. The language of the church being a “family” and its members being my “brothers and sisters” filled a deep ache in my young heart. The church offered what I needed most: love and belonging.
This has (remarkably) remained true for me, even as I began to deconstruct, challenge and rethink the traditional/conservative beliefs I grew up on. That reality gives me hope for the church today and it is why I remain loyal, even as I persist in pursuing change.
My deep devotion to the church and to see others receive this gift of love led me to go to Bible School and to enter missions at a young age. My husband and I spent the first 8 years of our marriage devoted to missionary work in Malawi, Africa. Our ideas and beliefs about this kind of work shifted through the years and we transitioned accordingly, moving from the mega-organization that trained and sent us there to a more grass-roots, locally founded and run NGO that focused on community development.
But, the real faith shift happened for me when I became a mother. When I became a mother my heart broke open. This was a love like no other and it changed everything. Long held beliefs no longer made sense to me. What kind of a loving God would eventually allow the eternal torment of his/her “children”? In my experience, once you allow yourself to start questioning such foundational teachings there is a domino effect. Other themes, such as the church’s ties to colonialism, the exclusion and oppression of minorities of all kinds, and white Christian supremacy became impossible to ignore in our context. After our third child was born we found ourselves not just confused by our place in that system but deeply unsettled by how we might be contributing to it. Though we’d always imagined we’d live elsewhere, we found ourselves moving back to my husband’s hometown – Winnipeg Manitoba.
Once resettled I let go of the idea of formal ministry and I trained as a doula – supporting women in childbirth. I have loved this work. Even so, my unsettled mind and heart would not relent and my theological questions persisted. I allowed those questions to take me on a journey and I’m so thankful that I did. Following that trail of questions eventually led me to the fine people at St. Stephen’s University, where I am currently a graduate student in their Masters of Ministry program. The teaching I’ve encountered here has felt like the theological treasure I’ve been searching for.
I write words and poetry as a way to understand this life, as a way to process pain, and as a way to express the faith I know and long for. I believe in Love and that we are loved completely but I am still discovering how this is true. I believe that everything and everyone belongs but I can see that we are not living in this reality just yet. I see myself as a student of this Love. I am just learning. My hope is that learning and focusing my attention on Love will ultimately lead to my becoming that Love in the world around me. If there is a goal, I think this is it.