The story of Jodi Carlson is, “one story with two layers,” as she puts it, “the ‘show worthy’ exterior layer, and the one I like to hide.” Growing up Jodi was blessed to be raised in a healthy, happy home with parents who created an environment where fond memories were made and bonds between family members were sweet and solid. Jodi was a varsity athlete, on prom court and graduated valedictorian of her high school. Attending a small, private Christian college led to more success academically and launched her into her dream career as a talented writer. Over the years, Jodi’s writing has opened doors and opportunities in Colorado, Portland, and Washington with major Christian ministries and has eventually brought her back to Bend, OR, a place she has always loved. Through hard work, Jodi has found success. Dream opportunities and experiences have led her on a path that has always looked bright. This is the layer of Jodi’s “show worth” life.
But there is another layer to her story. “I’ve kept the other layer of my life hidden because shame tells me to,” she says, “ But it’s here that the Lord has done His deepest work, and it’s here He continues to meet me.” With a smile on her face and sincere optimism, Jodi courageously faces two different handicaps. One, commonly understand by the world as a handicap, and one very misunderstood. As both are physical, her lifelong, daily struggle is against her own flesh and blood.
Both Jodi and her brother were born with mild-to-moderate hearing loss which bonded them together in a unique way. To remedy the situation, Jodi has worn a hearing aid since she was 3 which left her in a world where she felt “different” and “on the outside” all growing up. Experiencing the world through this varied lens impacted the way that Jodi functioned in relationships and engaged in the world around her. “I had wonderful friends, mind you, but I always felt I had to earn acceptance, and to prove myself in order to be liked and loved. This is a pattern that started when I was just a child and continued through my 20s,” says Jodi. This striving approach has become deeply ingrained over the years and has touched many of her relationships along the way. Though self-acceptance and confidence has come more in her 30s, she still fights the temptation to walk in anxiety and insecurity in relationships around her.
Beyond Jodi’s hearing deficit, her other handicap is a lifelong struggle with insomnia. Her inability to sleep well at night is not a periodical challenge, but has been a constant struggle she has endured since birth. Insomnia for Jodi has created a villainous “beast” she must face when the sun goes down and the rest of us are hunkered in our beds to get the rest we need. Sleep deprivation has created a deep sense of alienation from the resting world. An unhealthy cycle started long ago which has led to deep rooted anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, and an overall change in lifestyle and personality. Over the years, Jodi has been in and out of doctors’ and psychotherapists’ offices, out countless thousands of dollars searching for a cure amidst the endless research. “[I have cried] out to God on my own and with prayer groups, feeling extremely alienated, misunderstood, alone, and hopeless,” Jodi says, “It has shaped my life and personality in ways that I only wish did not have any part of me. And yet, it’s the thorn in my side God has used to draw me closer to him, night after night, year after year.” As this constant thorn has threatened jobs, relationships, and the hope of Jodi living a “normal” like, her attitude is heroic and her life still brims with hope. God has met her in dark places with His presence and allowed His grace to be enough. Jodi has also been carried in prayer by communities in several cities and seasons. Small miracles and grace along the way have further convinced her that God has not left her alone.
To see Jodi and the sweet spunk with which she lives her life, you truly would never know the villains she faces on a daily basis. Her life is marked by a steadiness and peace that emanates from her beautiful smile. God has worked in the midst of Jodi’s story in ways sometimes only seen by her in those secret places. Through it all, her faith and trust in who God is inspiring, “He’s the only one who can “go there” with me. He’s never left my side,” she says, “He is there in my deepest, darkest nights and my most grueling, exhausted days. I have learned as Job learned to say, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.’ His glory and His character do not change, no matter what I may think or feel. It’s not our thinking, feeling, or experiences that determine God’s goodness. It’s not up to our feelings to determine who He is. He is who He is and we get to shape ourselves around that reality, not the other way around.” Though the reality of managing these disabilities is something Jodi has come to grips with, it is the way that she has leaned into God’s goodness despite circumstances that challenges the faith of others.
Desperation and pain have led Jodi to the beauty of true intimacy with Jesus in unexpected ways. Jodi knows Jesus. Her sacred moments with Him have shaped who she is and given her life hope and purpose beyond circumstances. The power of Jodi’s story is found not in easy solutions or an instant turn around. Jodi has trusted and remained faithful even when things look different than she’d hoped for. “It doesn’t matter what the struggle is – God uses exactly what each individual needs to shape us, in ways as unique to that person as our very DNA,” she confidently shares, “He does this to grow our faith, which is of greater worth than gold. We forget this when life is comfortable. He’s also not a God who can be put in a box. Ever. He is raw, gritty, the quiet lamb and the roaring lion. His ways are not our ways, neither are his thoughts our thoughts.” Jodi’s trust in God’s unchanging ways is the very thing that sustains and steadies her. Day by day she experiences freedom from what binds as the authentic work of Jesus takes deeper root in her life.
As we face struggles and challenges in our lives, Jodi’s testimony stirs us to go deeper in Christ. May we discover, like Jodi, the beautiful mysteries of God’s goodness that can only be found in hidden, broken places. He is good. He alone is worthy of our trust, and faithful to the end.
Written by: Jenna Anderson || Photography by: Erica Stubblefield