Jensy Gregory

I could sum up my life before Pathways as a portrait – one that contained all of the loves of my life. I was not in the photo – instead I was behind the lens, capturing the picture of those whose lives were actually worth documenting and remembering. I would not have even noticed my own absence. I truly did not believe in my own worth or value, as I was completely focused on trying to please others.

I was born in 1950 in Tyler, Texas, and from early pictures I see my child in the forest as a wondrously beautiful and joyful girl. Shortly before my fifth birthday my dad had a heart attack, and he died three days later on September 10, 1955. He was 35 years old. I have no memories of time spent with him, sitting in his lap, hearing his voice, feeling his cheek against mine or being hugged by him. Strangely enough, I remember the night he became ill and our family doctor coming to our house. My dad was wearing blue striped pajamas and standing beside the doctor. I remember hearing the doctor tell my mother to call an ambulance quickly. I knew from the urgency of his voice that something was wrong. Our next-door neighbors came over and then the ambulance came to get my dad. I did not see him again until my brother and I saw him at the funeral home several days later. I had no idea at that moment how much my life had changed.

My mom, my older brother and I had many struggles just making ends meet after my dad died. My brother had cerebral palsy and life was a great struggle in general for him. My mom was faced with an immediate need to find a job to support us, and I was always keenly aware of running out of money before running out of days in a month. I know my mom worked hard to provide for us. She seldom, if ever, gave any consideration to her own needs or wants — a lesson I learned only too well. My mom started to college when I was nine years old and I assumed many responsibilities in our family to help take care of my brother. I would always make sure my brother had clean clothes and made certain we had something to eat for the next day when my mother was away at school.

It was around this time that I began to hear the message that my appearance was not as appealing as others my age. I was relentlessly advised to lose weight and wear my hair differently, and told often that I just wasn’t a very cute girl. That message deeply defined me and created a critically harsh self-image within me, one that I carried with me throughout adulthood. With the hindsight and perspective I have post-Pathways, all I see now when I look at photos of me as a child or teenager is a thin girl who looks so unsure of herself, dressed in feelings of unworthiness.

My life was shaped by a relentless appeal to please everyone around me. I carried this insufficiency into my marriage and it stuck around all throughout our family life. It was something deeply engrained and I had accepted that I was born to be in a supporting role, not a leading lady. I believed that my needs were insignificant, and I reconciled my denial of self by hiding behind the moral veil that being a helpmate, a martyr or a broker of peace were meritable qualities. God blessed my husband and me with two of the sweetest little girls in the whole world. I knew from the first moment of holding our older daughter in my arms that I was holding God’s perfection. My daughters have always inspired me to want to be just like them — to be joyful and filled with faith and hope. While I wanted that so much, I was still extremely harsh on myself. I grew to a point of believing that I did not even deserve happiness like those around me, and I surrendered to that reality and operated from that place in perpetuity. In August of 2014, I fell as my husband and I were leaving a wedding reception in Rochester, New York. I came to learn later that my hip most likely broke while I was walking, which caused my fall and a broken shoulder, all on the left side of my body. I was not able to put any weight on my leg, but I insisted on waiting until the following morning to go to the Emergency Room because I didn’t want to inconvenience my husband or the other couple who accompanied us. What a testimony to my own worth!

In July of 2015, my daughter Melissa began her Core Training at Pathways. I could quickly tell that her training was having a very profound impact in her life. It was during autumn of that year that Melissa began to tell me that I needed to go to Pathways for me. I had no idea what that meant. At Melissa’s graduation, I remember crying through the whole program. It’s evident to me now that God was working on my heart in that moment, urging me to seek Him in a way I had never experienced. I agreed to register for the Weekend in the following January.

Our family had already decided to give to each other the gift of attending Step Beyond in December of 2015, so Step Beyond was my introduction to the Pathways training. From where I sit now, I can confidently say that Step Beyond has been the most defining and powerful influence in my training journey. It was the catalyst that ultimately lead me into a spiritual intimacy with God I had never known before. I had always gone to church and taught Sunday School and gone to church camp as the Craft Lady, but I didn’t know the heart of God. I hadn’t experienced a relationship with him in a personal, tangible way. My TAs, Tim and Ed, cracked my heart wide open in front of the amazing ladies in my small group, by pointing out to me that I was arrogant. Having no idea how this Pathways method worked, I was expecting my TA to declare me to be a saintly woman of great faith. It caught me off guard and I really didn’t know what to do with their position on me, except to be self-righteously consumed with my anger. In the moment I honestly could not even begin to digest the power of that message. Those same TAs who were harsh with me earlier surrounded me with warmth that afternoon as I claimed my covenant and my spiritual healing. I was still mulling over be called arrogant, but I have come to now understand that they saw in me someone who longed to know God and yet was completely terrified that God might not deem her as worthy to love. I didn’t fully realize the impact of that day at the time, but I had started a journey into an authentic relationship with my God and King that was not defined by anything I could do for Him or give to Him. It became all about me finding and accepting God’s delight in me as His daughter, created perfectly in His image!

I had surgery on my Achilles’ tendon last October. I was in a wheelchair at the Legacy Donor Event for Pathways, sporting an elegant black cast that I had accessorized with some sparkly glitter. My husband and I were serving as volunteers, and when we had finished greeting the arriving guests we headed to the ballroom, where I was faced with a long winding staircase to conquer. I was in the process of telling my husband Mike that I would just stay upstairs and watch the event from above when Tim, my TA from Step Beyond, came up the stairs to meet us. He said that it was unacceptable for me to stay upstairs and not be a part of the event, and then offered to carry me down the steps. I thanked him profusely, but said that I would be far too heavy for him to manage. He looked me squarely in the eyes and asked, “Are you going to deny me the opportunity to give you medicine?” I replied, “Oh, honey – it’s not that. I don’t want you to have to get medicine because of me!” About that time a couple attending the event as our guests arrived and announced there was a ramp through the kitchen and no one would have to carry me. Via that ramp we made it easily down to the floor level and enjoyed the evening alongside everyone.

When I got home that evening, I began to revisit Tim’s offer to help me and my unwillingness to accept it. All of a sudden, I realized that… I WAS arrogant! I was too arrogant to accept his help! I realized how many times in my life I refused the offer of help because I didn’t think I needed it. It also dawned on me that night how often I had turned an arrogant and deaf ear toward God! That really brought me to my knees! It was a full-circle moment that confirmed that there are indeed no accidents, and that God knew what He was doing in that Step Beyond circle when he used my TA to bring me into closer communion with Him.

I am so grateful that Tim harnessed that revelation for me, and I’ve had the opportunity since to thank him for the word he gave me at Step Beyond. It has changed my life in a powerful way. A word well-spoken in love and truth changed my life!

Pathways provided me the opportunity to pursue and develop a genuine, true, amazing love and acceptance of myself, just as I am! I have come to look deeply into my heart and see beauty, strength, authenticity and grace – grace I freely give to myself as freely as I give to others. My heart is filled with a peace that passes all understanding. It is a peace that comes from knowing who I am and loving myself as God intended. My heart has always been filled to overflowing with love, acceptance, grace, and an overwhelming need to give all of this to everyone around me, but all the while I never ever believed that I was deserving of receiving such magnificent gifts. Somewhere along the course of my life, I learned that I was not really deserving of happiness. My happiness could only come from giving to others and doing for others – I hadn’t even considered what happiness looked like for my heart! In my training I learned, at a heart level, that I need to give to me first in order to give to others. In fact, I learned that if I don’t take care of me first, I won’t even know how to take care of others or give to others or even love deeply. My focus has shifted dramatically to realizing that I deserve happiness, I deserve to take care of myself before others, and I deserve to love myself as I love my neighbor.

To me, taking ownership of my life quite simply looks like taking control and taking initiative, sliding into the driver’s seat and knowing that I am ready to create the life I want and the life God created me to have. I will always want to care for those around me, but I have a focus now that empowers me to set goals and determine how best to accomplish them. Ownership beckons me to accept responsibility for defining my needs, goals, time commitments, personal commitments, and spiritual commitments in a way that feeds my soul with joy and deserved happiness. It is the difference between settling for something and really defining what you want. In taking ownership of my life, I have purposefully reduced and eliminated many activities or jobs that I accepted with the sole intention of pleasing others. Instead I seek to use that reclaimed time to nourish my soul with activities that I want. These include setting aside a time of quiet reflection each day to dwell in the scriptures, pray, and journal. I have set a daily goal of walking in our neighborhood, as well as swimming each week. I have also revisited my writing and set up a place and time to continue to grow as a writer. Perhaps the greatest gift that ownership has given me is the gift of grace to know that I am the only one who can determine my own worth, value and acceptance of who I am. That gift of internal, residing joy will sustain my life forever.

What is passion for any of us to know? Is it that all-encompassing, joyful leap we take when we step out of the boat and try something we have never done, or thought we could never do because we just didn’t see our worth and beauty and strength? Perhaps it is a quiet, unseen feeling that powers us forward when it seems as though our hopes are unattainable. I have discovered my passion for loving and living life to the fullest, to let go of needless worries, to let go of trying to please everyone except God and myself, and to find strength and beauty and worth inside me. Passion comes when we give ourselves permission to dream and remember what it felt like to be a little child who was pure and trusting and full of goodness. Have the courage to claim what you want for yourself and the strength and desire to go after it! Define who you are at the depths of your soul. Extend grace and mercy and healing to yourself. Surround yourself with those who love you right where you are, unconditionally and without judgment.

I did not know what to expect when I walked into the Weekend on a cold Friday night in January of 2016. I did not know a soul in my class of almost 60 people. By the end of the Weekend, I came to see those strangers as family. I came to see myself as deserving of grace and love, and I left craving the hope that results from knowing that you are loved unconditionally and nonjudgmentally. Most of us have never really experienced that feeling. With each part of my training, that became much more significant and tangible to me, and now, almost two years since I entered the training room doors, I continue to grow in learning to live the one life I have been given to the fullest, with hope and joy and peace. This journey continues to reveal to me who I really am – an amazing woman of priceless value. I have found that joyous little girl again, who reminds me every day that I am worthy and I deserve happiness. With confidence and boldness and a joyful noise, I proclaim my contract:

“I AM a strong, beautiful, authentic woman, a Daughter of Zion, and I AM WORTHY!!”