How Jessica McLean made 2017 her year of change.

by Jessica McLean
TEMPE, ARIZ.

One of the enduring memories from my childhood is going swimming with two friends I had known since grade school. We were in junior high school by then, and they forced me to get naked and held me under water until I begged them to stop. That apparently wasn’t enough, so they locked me under the bathroom sink and called me a dog in a kennel. I wanted friends so badly that I continued to hang out with them.

This cycle of abuse manifested in my romantic relationships. During my senior year of high school, I got involved in a toxic relationship that stretched on for five years. I received the Gohonzon in June 2014 at my low point, when I was searching for something that would help me to grow.

I found that chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo and going to meetings were helping me change my karma and become happy, and I enjoyed introducing Buddhism to others, including my two best friends who used to bully me.

About six months into my practice, I was given the opportunity to take on responsibility as a vice district young women’s leader. This felt like the first step to deepening my faith, but I struggled with self-confidence and didn’t consistently participate in my district activities.

My first real chance to test my faith and practice came in August 2016, when I moved in with a guy I had been dating. I never felt more alone, and I was back to not caring how I was treated. Even though we lived together, we were like strangers.

When January rolled around, I told myself: Enough. This is my year of change.If I wanted people and the world to show up for me, I had to show up for myself and my Buddhist practice. I had no idea, though, how I was going to break through. There were days I would come home and literally collapse in front of the Gohonzon and cry, not being able to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo even once. I was a victim of my own circumstances.

How can  I have fear when I have faith?
They don’t coincide. 

I started chanting to be happy, no matter what, and mustered the courage to ask my boyfriend, “Do you believe I deserve the world?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Will you be able to give it to me?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

That night, I went to my young women’s leader’s home  to chant with her. And in that crucial moment, while chanting, I looked at the Gohonzon and smiled. I realized that I had prayed for this—that this was the best possible outcome for me to forge unconditional happiness. All doubt left my heart, as I told myself: How can I have fear when I have faith? They don’t coincide.

I needed to have wisdom, courage, compassion and life force to not only chant but also to see my prayer through. Two days later, I found an apartment with a room I could use as a Gohonzon room for members to chant with me. I moved in right away.

This March, I was given another opportunity to expand my life and faith. My young women’s chapter leader had left the state to accept her dream job. When I first learned about this, I struggled knowing that I wouldn’t have her here anymore to support me.

How much care does it take to enable one person to stand up in faith? For me, it took 22 home visits by my chapter young women’s leader before I became consistently active. I realized I needed to advance in my faith and step up, not step back from my leadership responsibilities. After chanting about this, I was given the opportunity to become the young women’s leader for Tempe Chapter in Arizona. I accepted immediately.

Jessica with her chapter young women’s leader Tanushree Salvi.

I learned later that my region young women’s leader also chanted every day for a year to visit me. Every time she reached out, I responded that I was “too busy,” but she never gave up on me.

I had only been a chapter leader for a month before April, a month directed toward home visits. I had always been the one to be visited and not the other way around, but now it was my time to pay it forward. I had built such beautiful bonds with my seniors in faith and considered them my Soka sisters. I wanted to develop that kind of friendship with the young women in my chapter.

By April 7, I hadn’t done any home visits yet, so I made a determination that day to visit eight young women in the 23 days left in the month. On April 30, I completed my eighth visit, creating so many friendships that I would have never imagined possible when I first started practicing.

Through this process of polishing my life, my ex-boyfriend suddenly reached out to me. He asked me to introduce him to Buddhism and said he wanted to attend an SGI meeting and try chanting. In the 11 years I have known him, I had never seen him cry until then. We have since discovered a deeper love for each other. He is now my partner and best friend.

SGI President Ikeda says: “People shine when they have a sense of appreciation and gratitude, and are always striving for self-improvement. Those who have the spirit to keep growing and improving are strong. Since we have been blessed with life, we should dedicate ourselves to some worthwhile purpose—and there is no higher purpose or way of life than working to spread the Mystic Law toward the realization of peace and happiness for all humankind” (July 10, 2009, World Tribune, p. 5).

I helped a friend receive the Gohonzon in May and have recently begun chanting with my little sister. I am determined to introduce my whole family to the practice.

Still, there are other struggles I have to overcome, but I know now that my environment is mine to change from poison to medicine. I am no longer accepting less than I deserve. I’m here to fight for kosen-rufu and win.