By Randi Peck
“Woah, okay, so I’m really feeling weird right now. I don’t even know what’s wrong… I’m so sick and tired of watching Luke and Jill be all in love, because I want to be in love SO bad. Like, it’s so obvious that they’re deeply in love with each other. And even though I’m only fifteen, I want that so bad. I want to meet the man of my dreams, the one God has for me… God, please help me be patient. I feel like writing a song about it…”
Most of us wouldn’t be caught dead reading our 15-year-old thoughts out loud to a group of close friends— much less the entire cyber world! But Jessie Connell’s passion to see junior high and high school girls following Christ has inspired her to share her teenage experiences, openly and eagerly.
Over the past decade, Jessie has had countless conversations with teen girls. Between her work at churches and camps, and as she currently serves with her husband— the youth pastor at Heritage— she has recognized a desperate need for young people to have a gospel perspective offered to them.
Thus, Jessie’s Journals was born.
Amidst a social media feed filled with temptation, bullying, and unrealistic standards of beauty, Jessie’s Journals is a newly-launched video blog offering truth and encouragement for girls in the trenches of middle and high school. Jessie will be pulling her material from stacks of journals that are filled with her own teenage tears, prayers, and confessions. A gifted musician whose music is both personal and powerful, Jessie is also excited to share some of the songs that have been born out of her testimony.
In her videos, Jessie plans to transparently walk girls through the internal conflict she wrestled through during her younger years, as she faltered between devotion to the Lord and wanting to just “be like everyone else”. And though it may have been the pre-smartphone era— before nude selfies, public humiliation, and photoshop were one click away— Jessie’s life was riddled with the same struggles that haunt the average youth today.
Like the opening excerpt, some of her thoughts are brimming with lovesick emotion and confusion. Her now-husband, Mitch, finds himself the star of many of her entries, as their roller coaster love story started back in high school.
But there are many darker days reflected in these journals, as well. Especially as Jessie walked through the aftermath of her parents’ divorce.
At age twelve, their chronically troubled marriage came to an end. As her parents struggled to recover from this devastating event, her mom’s depression spiraled into a suicidal state— leading to a period of time in which she did not even have contact with her children. And her dad quickly remarried, adding a barrage of step-family woes to the already messy situation.
In this season, Jessie felt left to fend for herself. She remembers longing for someone older to look up to, someone to speak life into her situation.
Entering her freshman year of high school, Jessie felt excited to follow Christ. But as her peers mocked and rejected her, she began to subdue her convictions and join her friends. After a short season of justifying this lifestyle of a little drinking here, a little flirtation there, Jessie knew God wanted more from her— and offered more for her.
Jessie’s journals are composed of these life-shaping crises, and as she looks back on them, she is inspired to comfort those who are in the thick of it.
But there is also one event that occurred after Jessie’s teenage years, that has particularly shaped her. A couple months before her firstborn daughter was born, Jessie lost her mother to cancer. And while this tragic season brought sweet assurance of her mother’s faith in Christ, she confesses that, on the whole, the experience was undeniably ugly and full of suffering.
Jessie will always grieve this irreplaceable loss, and a part of her will always wonder why her kids can’t know their grandma. And yet, God used this period of suffering— first to jar her faith, and then to strengthen it. She looks back at this event as one which solidified her conviction that eternity is a reality, and that Christ is more precious than the fleeting pleasures of this life. And it is this deep belief that has stirred her to direct young women toward the Lord.
Jessie is not naive to the intense pressures that adolescents are facing in this culture. She laments that when a fourteen-year-old stands for anything that is good or pure or God-honoring, they are attacked for it. How can the shaky confidence of a young person ever grow under this level of rejection and hostility? She knows the answer is only daily surrender to Jesus, prayer, and being filled with God’s Word.
It is Christ, ultimately, who can give these young women a new identity as his beloved.
Only his beauty can replace their striving after the body the world calls ‘enough’.
Only his favor can wash away their longing for the “likes” of their peers.
And only his words can strengthen them as they are flooded with doubt and shame.
This is Jessie’s passion: to point to the one who has “overcome this world” (John 16:33) , the one able to bring these kids through the fire.
She knows there are so many teens out there who feel the same way she did at their age— alone, and hungry for encouragement to daily choose the Lord. Which is why she hopes her following can grow wide enough to reach each girl, out there, who is lacking that voice in their life. One day, she dreams of speaking to groups of girls and, perhaps, even writing a book.
But with whatever audience God gives her, Jessie will work to pair these pages of her journals— blatant reminders of the very real burdens she once carried— with the outside vantage point of someone who has seen God’s faithfulness carry her through. She readily admits that she does not possess all the answers for these girls. Nor does she pretend to have “arrived”– every day, she too fights to keep her focus on what is true and God-glorifying. But her prayer is simply that through the sharing of these journals, songs, and thoughts, the gospel would go forth.