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Dark But Lovely

Jess McKay is leading a journaling workshop.

Sometimes the brightest light shines from the darkest circumstances. This turned out to be very true in the case of Jess McCay.

“I had a great childhood,” Jess said of growing up in Huntsville. “I was happy and loved.”

But at just 8 years old, Jess’ world crumbled around her when her parent’s divorced and her mother remarried a man who quickly became physically and emotionally abusive.

“It was definitely a huge shock to me,” Jess said. “I went from having this perfect family to juggling two very different home environments.”

On one side, her father was a very godly man who did his best to pour love and truth into her. But at her mother’s house, Jess’ new stepfather did the opposite.

“I was constantly being criticized. He would tell me how I was fat, ugly and worthless, and that no one would want to marry someone like me,” Jess said. “It really affected my self-esteem as a teenager.”

Jess was often the target of bullying at school.

“I started to become very quiet or overly hyper in order to hide my inner life and home life at school. People saw me as odd or annoying and bullied me when I gained weight from being depressed. No one understood what was going on behind the scenes.”

For many years, her stepfather was physically or emotionally abusive, yet life at her mother’s house came to a head one fateful day when she was in high school.

“While my mother and sister went out to the store, my stepdad told me to reset the table after brunch — and I did. But all of a sudden he began yelling at me that I didn’t clean the table correctly, and I must be stupid. He forced me to come and wash the table over and over again, while he yelled and insulted my looks, personality and who I was. I fought back my tears by becoming angry, and at a moment I did not think he was looking, I threw a crumb on the ground out of frustration. However, he saw me and erupted. He was screaming at me, but when he heard my mother and sister had returned he stopped, went and sat on the couch, and acted like nothing happened as I fled to my room to cry.”

Shortly after, Jess’ father dropped by to drop some things off for her sister, and she asked if she could go with him. He agreed but said she needed her mother’s permission. When Jess asked her mom, who did not know what had just happened, her mom was inexplicably and furiously answered, “If you do, you’re not coming back. Get your stuff and get out”.

Jess was crushed. She just wanted to escape the pain, not hurt her mother. Jess wept uncontrollably in the car on the drive back to her father’s house. He did not know how to help Jess make sense of everything and decided it was time to put her in counseling.

There, Jess’ counselor challenged her view of God in her situation. “I had grown up knowing that God existed, but I couldn’t love a God who allowed this hardship and rejection. I wanted nothing to do with Him if he would allow my family to be destroyed and then bring in an abusive man into my life.”

Yet God was moving in her life in many ways. First, her Sunday school teacher, Janine Rodriguez, became a loving, fun, God-fearing mother figure to Jess. Jess attended a retreat with her church, in November 2003. At the retreat, she was deeply moved by the testimony of Rachel Scott, a Columbine shooting victim. After Rachel’s death, her journals were shared nationwide and became a source of inspiration to many people, including Jess.

“I saw the way she talked to God, like He was real, and He really cared about her,” Jess said. “That was when I realized I could go to God with my problems and really build a relationship with Him during my pain.”

Soon she began her journaling journey, one that has lasted for the past 16 years.

Jess began to see the value in the practice of journaling. “It is my history with God, His revelations to me — His lovingkindness and faithfulness towards me.”

She can see how God has worked in her life across the years as she reflects on her old journals. For example, in 2007, Jess found a painted journal in a bookstore. And when the store went out of business, she decided to do her own painted journals. Later that year, God gave her a promise that He would use her creative talents and give her a business that would impact many.

In her journal, Jess recounted a message from God that He had new things on the horizon for her. She would be able to pass on skills that seemed easy to her but could be life-changing to others. Jess realized years later that this would manifest in her business as she painted journals and taught others how to journal as well.

Ten years later, this vision came to fruition. Jess started her business, DarkbutlovelyCo.

The name behind Jess’ company uniquely reflects her own story.

“In Song of Solomon 1:5, the Shulamite says, ‘I am very dark but lovely, do not gaze at me because I am dark,’ ” Jess said. “The Greek meaning for lovely is beautiful, becoming, and fitting; while dark means stained by sin, or full of darkness. As a child of divorce, abuse and broken relationships, I was well acquainted with sin and darkness. Yet, God in His mercy revealed to me that darkness was not His purpose for me, but rather I was deeply loved by God and He would use every darkness for His glory, just like Joseph spoke of God’s plan (Genesis 50:20).”

Jess’ artistic creations are the face of the brand, as she creates awe-inspiring, painted journals and Bibles for sale. But DarkbutlovelyCo covers much more than that. The first is a journaling blog where Jess gives tips on journaling. The second is biblical counseling, where Jess leads those who are struggling through Bible-based therapy.

She also leads journaling workshops and Bible studies.

As DarkbutlovelyCo grows, Jess desires to see more and more people get into journaling. “This simple discipline is a way to know God and see what He has done, as well as a way to know yourself,” she said. “As God calls you out of sin, He will speak tenderly to you, calling you back to Himself and to the light, as it is written in Hosea 2.”

Through the process of starting her business, God has taught Jess that He is worthy of her trust. “Over and over again He shows me His goodness and His plan,” Jess said. “His NOs are often the biggest blessings.”

About the author

Claire Simpson

Claire Simpson

Claire Simpson was born in Nashville, grew up in East Asia, and has now made her home in Madison, Alabama. Claire is passionate about using her writing skills to tell others about the Lord and bring others joy. She enjoys spending time with the people she loves, like her kindred spirit, Sarah, and her family. You will most likely find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, in her room cuddled up with a good book, or on a coffee date with a friend.

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