Transcript: Jackson Smith’s Real Life Story
I can say in this moment, that I wouldn’t change a thing that happened in my life because it’s led me to where I am now, and now I have hope.
So like most people here, I grow up in a Christian home. My family was very religious when I was young, and we would go to church often, and I would enjoy hearing the stories and doing the activities like any kid does. Quickly though, life happened and restricted our ability to participate in church. Over the summer when I was 7, my Mom was diagnosed with a crippling autoimmune disease called Scleroderma. She was in constant pain and could barely do anything for herself. She was bedridden, and while our family didn’t talk about it, we were planning and expecting her to die. It was a long and hard process, and right when she was starting to recover back into normal life, my Dad got really sick. One day over the summer when I was 8, I came home to learn that my Dad had a stroke and was in the hospital. We learned that he had Hypereosinophilic syndrome, an autoimmune disease that has to do with overproduction of white blood cells. Our family followed him to hospitals around the state, putting life on hold to see him while we still could. He passed away early in the morning on Christmas Eve that year.
From then on, my Mother was the sole supporter of our family, and we didn’t really have the ability to go to church regularly, and eventually stopped going. In grade school, I would still identify as Christian, but I never had a relationship with God in anyway, and I felt spiritually ignored. I would pray the same thing every night, asking for supernatural intervention in problems in my life without seeing any change. In early highschool, I found myself praying less and less until one day decided that I was no longer a believer. I found myself to be agnostic, and pushed religious identity out of my life completely.
While spiritually distant in my Junior year of highschool, I developed severe anxiety and depression, which created serious problems for me when college started. Freshman year, this combination led me to isolate myself, and I was completely alone and hated being alive. I had so much anxiety at that time that I could only eat at pulley because of how afraid I was to make new interactions. I remember days where the only social interaction I would have would be ordering my food. I was completely alone and desperately wanted to die. There were many times where all I could think about was how much I wanted to kill myself, but ironically, I was too exhausted to ever act.
Sophomore year, I became a psych major, and by random chance I happened to be paired up on a project with this girl in my class, Abigail Wenger. She was kind and funny, and was the first person at college that I could consider a friend. At least for a brief hour three times a week, I was happy to be alive. By common standards, we might not have been considered true friends as I would only hang out with her through the class, but it was the only thing I had.
I knew at the time that she was Christian. She would mention offhand about her faith, and would talk about this Christian club called Cru that she went to weekly. She knew that I wasn’t religious, but she never pushed me about it.
Through the next semester, I was able to grow my friendship with her, opening up to her about my problems, and she responded empathetically and with compassion. I knew that she genuinely cared about me. We had scheduled classes together next year, but as the semester ended I was sad to know that I wouldn’t see her for 3 months.
Towards the end of summer, I was thinking about my beliefs and ethics, and how they match with Christian ethics, and how the people that I looked up to most were Christian. I decided that I would look into it more when the semester started.
The first week I got back of my Junior year, I got salmonella, and it was the worst I felt my entire life. Not only could I not eat anything and was constantly in pain, but it exacerbated my anxiety and depression to where I could only think about how much I wanted to kill myself. The traumatic experience fueled my need to seek out God, and Thursday September 8th, I asked Abigail if I could talk to her about getting back into Christianity.
I remember how choked up I was asking her. Like there was something in my heart that had been shriveled up for years that was finally beginning to strain back to life. We got lunch and I told her about how everything felt like it was falling apart and how much I needed God back in my life. She told me about having a personal relationship with Jesus. She told me how it wasn’t about a checklist of the deeds you did and the sins you didn’t, it was about how Jesus gives immaculate forgiveness and love. How He cares for your wellbeing and suffers alongside you. I was sobbing in the middle of Armstrong as my life was changed.
From then on I was Christian, and since then, God has changed me in so many ways. I wish I could say that since then life has been perfect, but I can’t say that. In fact, things are bad a lot of the time, but I know what I’m working towards and where I want to be. I’ve made close friendships through the church, I have a personal relationship with Jesus, talking to God through difficult times. I try my hardest to devote myself to Jesus in my daily life, trying to discern what He’s urging me to do and calling me towards. I try to lean on Him in hard times when my depression is telling me lies, and try to find the truth and know that everything will be alright. What resonates with me the strongest is the concept of how my terrible life circumstances have facilitated growth that gives me a unique skill set to help others. I can say in this moment, that I wouldn’t change a thing that happened in my life because it’s led me to where I am now, and now I have hope.
What is proof of God to me more than anything else is looking at the incredible circumstances that led me here. If I wasn’t depressed, I never would have been a Psych major, which means I wouldn’t have had the same class as my best friend. Then, in a class of around 30, we just happened to be grouped up together. Then for her to care enough to put in the effort to become my first real friend in college was something that was inconceivable to me at the time. Such amazingly small odds shows me how God works through people, and if He cares about me, He cares about you too.
I am Jackson Smith, and that is my life story. So if you have any questions, or just need somebody to talk to, let me know. If you are going through similar struggles, contact me. I’d love to talk to you about your faith, and what you’re looking for in life. Thank you.