By Jennifer Jackson
I came to Imago and to Refuge about two years ago. A friend invited me. I was new to Portland, and I was in a really overwhelming place in my life. I had built up a strong community, identity and a tribe back home, where I came from. When I moved out here, the process kind of stripped all of that identity away. I found myself in a crisis, dealing with decades old hurts, wounds and shame I had packed down and packed away for most of my life. I didn’t know what to do. When I was told about Refuge, God spoke to my heart. I knew it was where I needed to be, but I did not want to come. It was a really scary thing. I knew that the way forward was going to be the way through. So I showed up the first night, and the conversation that God and I were having in my head was, “I’m here because I think you want me to be here, but I don’t feel safe. I don’t think I can trust these people with my story. I think I’m going to be too much, and I’m going to shock them. I can’t be heard and I can’t be seen here. But I’m here.”
At the end of our first meeting, the leader of our group said, “We’ve got a little time, I just want to share part of my story.” And as she started to share, I heard parts of my story from another human being for the first time in my life. And it was like the holy Spirit poured himself over me in that moment in his love and said, “You are seen, and you are known. I don’t just love the world; I love you. I like you. You’re safe here.” So I’ve been committed every Monday night for a year and half to working on that process. I think the hardest work of Refuge is sometimes in the act of showing up when you don’t be there.
Growing up in church, people would get up and talk about how God had saved them and freed them from all of these things. Then I would do the steps, but I never found that freedom. It felt like a failure. It felt useless to try again. What I want you to hear is not that I have it all together. I’m still as much in need of grace, redemption, hope and forgiveness as I was when I started this process, but I am not who I was two years ago. The love and work of Jesus is changing me. I’m finding freedom from anxiety, fear and shame. I’m doing things and encountering things that would have seemed impossible.
If you think you’re story is too much, it’s not. We share our stories together every Monday night, and you can’t shock us. There’s a place for you. The women in my group all had fears, parts of their stories they didn't want to share. We continue to walk together; they are some of my dearest friends now. If you need community and you need some support to walk through those stories, God wants to meet you there. And I wouldn’t have said this when I started, but I’m really excited for Refuge. I hope that you can join us.
Jennifer Jackson is an artist, refuge facilitator and an administrative assistant at Imago Dei. Refuge meets each Monday from 7-9pm at Imago Dei. For more info about Refuge groups for men and women, email firstname.lastname@example.org.