My name is Jai Starling, and I am a single mother of two beautiful little girls. I applied to Trevecca Nazarene University’s MBA program in the summer of 2020. I was in the middle of a painful divorce and was desperately searching for guidance and “next steps” related to my future and my ability to care for my daughters.
After almost five years of marriage, most spent as a stay-at-home mother, I knew that I needed to pursue higher education and a broader skill set. Having been out of a classroom setting since 2010, I was intimidated and overwhelmed at the thought of returning to school.
When I applied to Trevecca, I was somewhat convinced that I would not finish the program. Considering my circumstances, it seemed overwhelming to add school to an already chaotic situation. During the registration process, I found myself wrestling with doubt one minute and the concept of faith the next. Was I wasting time and resources believing that I could finish an MBA program, or was it simply a lack of faith?
Before divorce, I thought I understood the concept of faith and believed that I had been operating in it rather well. I soon realized that what I had previously exercised wasn't faith at all. What I once considered faith was characterized by independent decision-making and shared responsibility for those decisions as I heavily relied on family to fix problems. Pursuing an education as a single mother and full-time employee, six hours away from relatives while going through a divorce, would require a genuine faith in one who could overcome the barriers of distance and resources: God.
I've always quoted the scripture 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” without fully understanding it. However, God used my circumstances to teach me what that truly meant. He helped me to foster a genuine faith while I experienced real weakness. He further impressed upon me that if I had not walked through those circumstances, I may not have come to know His power in such a tangible way.
There were days that I could not fathom how I would manage every responsibility, given the fact that there were only 24 hours in a day. I would go to bed at night and not remember how tasks were completed, but somehow, they were. In such a traumatic season of my life, our needs were met.
At one point, I was balancing two jobs, two energetic little girls, and emotional distress and exhaustion. Still, against all odds, I managed to earn my MBA.
God continues to open new doors both personally and professionally, and my daughters are healthy and thriving. I am so glad that I decided to silence my fear and believe in God rather than obsess over my limitations. I obtained more than an education in this season of my life. God used my circumstances to redefine my faith and foster a more profound understanding of His word.
I believe that God allows the believer to experience and overcome trials for development and future service. When we walk through difficult circumstances, the knowledge we gain should be used to serve others who may encounter the same difficulties. I believe I am called to advocacy in both a spiritual and professional capacity. My deepest longing is to encourage and walk alongside individuals who are afraid to speak when they are hurting, lack access when they need resources and feel hopeless. I believe that serving people in this way is what scripture is communicating in Matthew 5:13: "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds." I believe this verse is less about photo ops and stages and more about showing up for people in the most basic ways. I hope to have a career in consulting or leadership/development one day.