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true beauty: jessica barnes

I first met Jessica in college. I had just returned from living overseas and she was a new Delta Gamma (the sorority I also happened to belong to). It was a difficult time in my life, but Jessica was always there to hang out with, grab coffee with, and chat honestly with. Over the years, our friendship continued to grow and to this day we still remain close—despite the miles of distance that physically remain between us. I can say with complete honesty that Jessica is the most selfless person I have ever met. She is humble and kind, and eager to serve those around her with the love.

What is your greatest passion in life? How do you live it out?

I have known for years that I love to serve others. I feel like I am living out the person I was created to be when I am helping meet other people’s needs. Living this out, however, has taken many different forms. I have held jobs from waitress to nanny to baker to wedding planner. Each one contained some aspect of serving others, which is what drew me to those jobs.

Yet, it wasn’t until I was offered a job to teach at Pepperdine that I realized I am called to serve within the four walls of a classroom. I felt myself come alive in a new way when I was facilitating the learning process and mentoring college students (who need a lot of love and encouragement).

In pursuit of making this a career, I am currently a doctoral student in communication studies at the University of Texas at Austin. I was given the opportunity to teach at UT during my four-year sentence journey to obtain a Ph.D. I know that I am living out exactly what I was called to do and that this work, as well as all the other jobs that came before it, were prepared in advanced for me, just as Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advanced for us to do.”

What woman inspires you?

My character has been shaped by so many women whom I try and reflect just a smidgen (yes, I just said “smidgen”) of their strength, poise, class and wisdom. One woman who has been a light to me in the past few years is Keli Myers. Keli, at one point in time was my professor at Pepperdine when I was a graduate student. Since then, a wonderful friendship has developed and Keli has been a tremendous mentor figure to me in more ways than she probably realizes.

When I felt the pressure of being the youngest professor at Pepperdine, Keli was there to tell me I would get through it and to recommend that I listen to Beyoncé before class to boost my confidence. When I was living in Australia last year and went through a period of joblessness and confusion, Keli was the first person to offer a home to me should I want to come back early. Beyond intelligent, thoughtful and beautiful, Keli exudes Christ’s light to all she encounters. She speaks up for those who don’t have a voice, even when it is extremely uncomfortable. She is my champion in my absence and an example of waiting patiently on the Lord for all good things. I am a better woman because of the time and prayers she has invested in me.

How does what you do for a living fit in with your passions and what you feel is your calling?

About four years ago, a professor asked me to write down the three things that give me the most joy. I wrote down “serving, public speaking and cooking.” I found this piece of paper two years ago and realized how much these callings had transpired into the things I was doing. At that time, I was spending my summers traveling to East Africa teaching food sanitation and opening small bakeries. Although cooking is now one of my favorite pastimes, I get to live out my other passions regularly by speaking in front my students and serving by teaching and encouraging them.

When do you feel most alive?

Many things make my soul feel alive: my sneakers against the pavement during a long run, the smell of fresh baked goods, a hearty belly laugh, the adventure of traveling to new places, waking up from an afternoon nap, scuba diving, the embrace of a friend, the view from a mountain top, consuming dangerous amounts of guacamole and, of course, playing with puppies. Yet, I know that I feel most alive when I am outdoors. I grew up in Colorado and the outdoors have always been a part of my life. You will find me hiking, biking, snowboarding, surfing, rafting or running any chance I get.

What do you think is the most challenging thing about following Jesus as a 20-something girl?

Following Jesus at any age is a challenge, but your “turbulent twenties,” as I like to call them, are especially difficult. You are graduating from college, finding a job that you may or may not like, leaving jobs, moving to new places, figuring out your post-college friendships, dating or not dating, getting married (or, in my case, watching your friends get married), finding a church community and learning how to save and spend money. As we currently manage so many different aspects of our lives, it is harder to act wisely in each situation and to trust in God to work through all things, no matter how trivial they may seem.

Also, all of us 20-something girls are so busy being everything to everyone. I, for one, am a sister, a daughter, a teacher, a student and a friend to many. All these relationships take time, which is just the thing we are so short on. Learning to use our time wisely, to put the Lord first, to be present and content in any circumstance is especially hard when we feel pulled in a dozen different directions.

What do you think is the most rewarding thing about following Jesus as a 20-something girl?

Since our twenties do define the rest of our lives in many ways, we are able to see so much change in such a short amount of time. Looking back and seeing how far you have come in your twenties is a powerful indicator of God’s timing, love and ultimate plan.

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