It is often childhood memories and experiences that mold the way God and self are viewed. This is no exception for Jay Gordon, whose journey has been marked with illness, loneliness, and a calling.
Jay’s story begins with a strange skin rash when he was in fourth grade. This itchy and painful rash resulted in three months in and out of a hospital before Jay and his parents finally heard the diagnosis they’d been searching for:
“In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with chronic urticaria – uncontrollable hives – I’m part of the 2% with no known cause or cure. Most people grow out of it, but mine is severe enough that I won’t grow out of it and will be on medications for the rest of my life.”
To help keep the hives at bay, Jay was prescribed a medication with the warning that the side effect would be hunger and because of that, most likely, weight gain. Jay put on about 40 pounds before his family moved from Oklahoma to Kansas City so his dad could pastor a new church.
“I started middle school with no friends, a massive health problem, and a very low self esteem because of my body image and my own thoughts of what I felt like. That progressed from 6th grade until my junior year of high school.”
When Jay started high school, he was the only student at the small church his dad pastored. He didn’t have a community of friends surrounding him, speaking life into him, or encouraging him.
Because of his loneliness and lack of self-confidence, Jay was quiet, reserved, and kept to himself, further limiting the friendships that could’ve come during those formative years.
Jay felt isolated.
“The loneliness felt like I was the outsider to everyone. People knew me and would chat with me, but no one invested in me a ton regarding my personal life. My relationship with God was in a place where I knew all of the answers and could repeat them… but I didn’t want to dig deep and hold on in the struggles. I kept trying to distract myself instead by being busy. I was also stagnant because I wasn’t being challenged or learning anything new about who God is.”
When Jay was about to begin his senior year of high school, he met with his football coach to discuss which position he would be playing that year. His coach told Jay that he’d love for him to play on the offensive line, but he needed to gain 30-40 pounds still. As Jay thought about adding even more weight to his already overweight body, and the insecurities he was already struggling with, he knew he couldn’t do it. He wanted to gain back some of his confidence and began working towards becoming physically healthier rather than gaining weight.
And Jay did something else.
He began praying for community.
The Lord answers prayers in all kinds of ways, and for Jay, it was placing him in the same study hall hour as two friends, Erica and Carlie, who told Jay all about the student ministry at their church and invited him to come check it out some time.
So he did.
When Jay walked through the doors of Pleasant Valley’s student center, worshiped with the other students, and listened to Brad Daniel’s message, Jay knew he’d found it.
He’d found home.
Jay instantly felt like he belonged. He became a regular in the student ministry and showed up to as many events as he could. When it was time for Summerfest after Jay’s high school graduation, he knew that he had to go.
“It was the second or third night, but I had just heard Jason speak and felt a conviction to talk with my roommates and [room] counselor about what was going on with me. My [room] counselor, Paul, told me that I was heard, I had a family there, and that I would be known and taken care of in the sense of belonging to our church.”
Jay had spent his entire high school career aching for biblical community and strong friendships. He had longed for a place to belong and for friends who would accept him for who he was. Loneliness had been Jay’s story for so long. With vulnerability and transparency, Jay asked his roommates if they’d be willing to be there for him the remainder of the summer. They all agreed, and God continued to show Jay the love, acceptance, and community around him throughout other events at Summerfest.
“Once I took the step of faith in telling people that I was lonely and needed community and gospel-centered friends, it was there waiting for me all along. My relationship with God changed… because I had people who challenged me on both what I knew and what I did in my walk with Christ.”
Jay really began believing God’s promise that He will never leave His people.
“We have to have faith in the midst of doubt, struggle, and loneliness that He is still there and caring for us.”
Jay is currently pursuing a degree in Student Ministry through Spurgeon College at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion for students stems from the struggles he faced in middle school and high school. Jay knew from an early age that he was called into ministry of some kind, but didn’t know what direction he was supposed to head, until he chose to go back to Summerfest as a counselor.
“After Summerfest, I thought it was so amazing that I decided to be a room counselor the next year so I could give to students what I didn’t have. That amplified my calling to ministry. I felt it in 8th grade but didn’t feel the confirmation until the transformation that I experienced my senior year of high school.”
When Jay reflects on his life, he sees how the Lord has used his pain for God’s glory by giving Jay a softened heart for lonely students and a passion for biblical community. The teasing he endured in middle school because of the extra weight he carried was painful then, but God used it to point Jay towards the calling on his life. The loneliness was piercing at times, but the Lord has now given Jay friends that genuinely care. They check in on him, encourage him, and point him back to Jesus.
At one point, Jay led a life marked by insecurities that caused loneliness and a real need for community, but despite Jay’s loneliness, he was never actually alone. Jay knows that now and it is from that knowledge that he can assuredly say:
“Jesus is my constant.”