“My feelings about art and my feelings about the creator of the universe are inseparable… it means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory.” Madeleine L’Engle
So, what gives your life “its tragedy and glory?” For L’Engle, she ultimately desired to bring glory to the creator of the universe through the life she lived, but how did she do this? She wrote novels of fiction from her experiences and imagination, to allow people to simply enjoy and gain new perspective on what it means to be human. She took wisdom from her years of life, then transcended them into concepts that would impact readers, not just on the surface, but also on an existential level.
The quote that you first read, comes from one of her novels called “Walking on Water”, where she explains what it’s like to live a life of faith and pursue the extraordinary life of an artist. Now, in my own words, I will attempt to find my reason for what brings my life its tragedy and glory. Along the way, I hope you will find your answer as well.
What I mean by this, is that the faith I have in the creator of the universe, will bring His glory to my twisted tragedy that I live as a human being. That He will bring goodness and beauty to my sinful story. It’s that simple, and in this simplicity, there is a beautiful, chaotic sophistication about it. As I continue to walk in this life, I have found that there is beauty in simplicity, but there is also beauty in the chaos of sophistication. Sometimes the simplest of answers, will require you to discover the chaos and the cosmos that is held within.
With this truth, I don’t want people to simply accept or reject these ideas, but rather I want them to test and approve this possible truth for themselves. Living with this desire as the forefront of my passion, consequently brings positive and negative ailments to my story. What I mean by this, is that the life I live, will be nothing like what I expect it to be.
Up until now, the majority of my life has been lived with Christ, and from this, I can safely say that living a life with Christ is far from the idea of ‘normal’. From the places I’ve seen, people I’ve met, lives that touched me, experiences I’ve faced; never would I have thought that my existence would look like this.
But now, you’re probably asking yourself the question of, “What possibly could be the “negative” ailments to your life?” Before I continue onto these proponents, I must say that the negative ailments I’ve faced are no more different than anyone else’s; we all experience pain and we all suffer, the most noticeable difference within this, is the type of pain and suffering that we experience and how we cope with it.
Up until the age of 16; the perspective of driven optimism marked my life. Nothing I had faced or experienced as a child or teen, was that of anything that would alter my perspective on how I would live day to day. I had walked through life with the mentality that God is good, living is easy, and I am here to make the most of it. Sure, I went through a typical teenage liveliness of getting into trouble and my parent’s grounding me, ‘break ups’ (they were never relationships, but each one ended like they were), broken bones; you get the picture. But on the night of July 20, 2012, my esprit of walking with God had changed forever. The Aurora Theatre shooting completely shattered my perspective on what it means to have a heart driven by optimism.
Somehow I escaped from this crippling tenet and I ran. In this time of running, I chose to live my life the way I pleased, away from the One who wanted to do life with me. I ran to momentary pleasures that would allow me to escape the reality of my life, but that’s the calamity of it all, each pleasure was a momentary escape, never a cure.
After searching and falling short time and time again, I decided that I would end my life. The emotional, physical, and mental dilemmas that I was experiencing, were far too great of a feat for me to handle. I had thought that nothing on this earth could save me… and I was right, but someone who overcame the world could. As I was on my deathbed, contemplating the how of my life, with tears running down my face; God spoke to me. I knew it was He because of the simple, compassionate, and still small voice that spoke to me. He told me that my life could positively impact somebody one day, but out of my own freewill, I would have to make a choice on whether to live or die.
At the time, it didn’t seem very compassionate of God, the One who dearly loves me, to say that I had the choice about my life; I expected Him to swoop down and hold me in His arms, to let me know it would all be okay, but there is something that God has blessed us with called Freewill. It’s the phenomenon of making my own decisions in life and accepting whatever consequences (good or bad), that will follow. Up until this point of my history, I knew and had head knowledge of His most prominent characteristic being love, but I was lacking of this truth in my heart.
Because of this head knowledge, I knew that no matter what I would choose to do, He would still love me. Whether I chose death or life, His devotion for me would never change (but that is no excuse to begin living a life of sin). By now, you can probably guess which path of existence I chose. My reason for this option, was because my time on this earth hadn’t had meaning except for what I thought was to suffer, but now knowing that my traumatic season could impact somebody one day, to have a purpose; that was enough of a reason for me to continue on through the pain.
In the years that I was absent in my relationship with God; I gained insight on things that I could never have learned if I were still with Him. My time away from the light, taught me what it was like to live in the darkness. The amazing thing is, as I thought I was running away from God, He was actually running after me. He sought after my heart, wanting to restore the brokenness and help pick up the pieces, to put me back together. After a grueling four years through all of this, I had finally decided to let God back in.
Since then, in times of introspection, I now understand the darkness and appreciate the light much more because of it. Like I said, my purpose in the days that I’m given on this earth, is to bring the light of truth to the lies of darkness. I went from a cave, living as a shadow in the dark, hiding from people who wanted good things for me, to a now, bright lighthouse on a hill, desiring to bring the light of truth to those who are caught in the fog of life. In other words, God has brought His glory to the tragedy of my story. My faith in the creator of the universe did exactly what I had hoped He would do.
Now a new question arises, “I thought you just said you didn’t want to be with God?” You’re right, I didn’t, but apart of me wanted to be with Him. My flesh of sin wanted to resist God, but my spirit of truth wanted to be with Him. Confusing, right? Paul, a traveling evangelist writes, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” What Paul is getting at, is this idea that we are sinners, yet we are saints. Why do I do the things I know I shant do?
How do I solve the problem of self? Who am I? These questions lay dormant in the story that I live out day to day; in the scripts I write, films I create, words I choose to use. It’s the chaos within the cosmos; the wisdom to know that which I fully am and the strength to accept that fact of my enigmatic ways. David, the once King of Israel wrote, “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.” We, I, are Homo sapiens; man who ponders thought. The One who created thought, knitted the fabric of our very souls in the wombs of our mother’s. By the breath of His lungs and the fire of His spirit, He forged man and woman with the essence of His love.
The last part of tragedy is this: to know that we were meant for so much more in life, but our beautifully sophisticated, paradoxical selves chose (out of our own freewill) to live within not just the cosmos anymore, but also in the chaos. As humans, we were never supposed to endure the pains and sufferings of the lives that we now live in the chaos. We were called to live a life with the Creator of the universe in the cosmos. Now, there are bits and pieces of both beautiful divines that we experience day to day.
Faith and myself, the tragedy and glory. To know the meaning of my existence; the why for my sufferings, and the wisdom to understand that who I was, am, and will be, is precisely the way I should be. I am a conscious, yet beautifully sophisticated paradox that chooses to live within the chaos and the cosmos, to bring glory to my Creator, and tragedy to self.
This is my story, this is who I am. A conscious child of God, who is beautiful, sophisticated, and paradoxical; called to live my life in an intimate relationship with Him, so that He may use the tragedy of my life, to bring glory to Him so that all may see, so that all may know, who they too, are; a beautifully sophisticated paradox, living amongst the chaos and the cosmos, in need of a Savior, who brings glory to their tragedy.
So, I leave you with this, “Sooner or later we must distinguish between what we are not and what we are. We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty, but also in the its great and very simple dignity: created to be the child of God, and capable of loving something of God’s own sincerity and his unselfishness.” Thomas Merton
I now challenge you to go out and discover for yourself, the truth and meaning to your life.
Growing up, I evaluated from a kid who played mass at home and preached to the family congregation in a non-understandable language, to a lapsed Catholic who pretended to sleep on Sundays. It worked from time to time, but my parents got me on this.
Sure, I was baptized, received Holy Communion and was confirmed, and I was learning about the Catholic faith in School, at home and even at mass through the priests preaching. But, becoming a teenager made me drift away from Catholicism, not in the way of leaving Church or not attending mass. I was just not interested in this topic, nor did I realized at that time, that God is a friend of mine, someone who strives for a relationship.
As a family we attended mass every Sunday, we prayed the rosary and faith was kinda important for my parents. I remember days, when my mother would come up to me and my brother, telling: “It would be nice if we would pray the rosary together.”
We knew that this kind of prayer wouldn’t be short, what means, when we accepted the invitation it would be more like: Hm, we would rather continue playing PlayStation or watching television instead of sitting down twenty and more minutes for the rosary.
My parents were good people, and all they tried was to live their faith and share it with us. We knew the commandments, the sacraments and some prayers, but I must admit that my relationship with God was similar to a machine you mostly find on train stations. I would put in as many prayers as I could, mostly before exams and after them, praying for a good mark or something else. Imagine putting in prayers like coins, pushing the button and waiting for something good to come out.
My prayers were rather one-sided, if you compare it to a relationship with a friend. How else should it be, because I never heard that the big mysterious invisible guy sitting in the clouds could be a friend, someone who strives for a relationship with every individual.
I never enjoyed school, mostly because of mathematics and physics, but after finishing it finally, I found the freedom to pursue my goal of being a graphic designer. And I did it. And I worked for a while as a designer in Frankfurt, the major financial center of Europe.
At this time I went to mass in a Croatian community near Frankfurt, mainly because I would meet there a friend of mine. But, one Sunday morning at mass, while standing in line for Communion, the choir sang Adoro te devote from Thomas Aquinas.
The words hooked me immediately and did something to me I can’t explain. After this experience, I attended mass every Sunday, no matter if my friend was there or not.
But, I started to feel like I was in a wrong place at work.
I felt a kind of restlessness in my heart. Like the priest-theologian Michael J. Himes writes in his book Doing the Truth in Love, restlessness is the path to joy, which keeps you hungry. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which drives us to always want more, to give more and to seek God.
This restlessness brought me to the enormous desire of working and serving in the Church, but not as a priest. I came to the conclusion that I should study theology, but I had to go back to school and get my A level, the general qualification for university.
In this period, I drifted deeper into the Croatian Catholic community by working on their new website. I even started to write for some religious websites, and found out that writing, journalism and media can make an enormous impact on people. I loved to communicate this way.
Well, through the time I met new friends in Church, attended mass on a regular basis even throughout the week and started to read the readings at mass. Years before I was probably the most shy person on earth, and I couldn’t imagine to stand there in front of five hundred and more people.
My brother always asks:
“What has happened to you? You are like a new person, not the old one, the shy boy who couldn’t even look at people.”
Indeed I changed radically, but the upcoming months and years were full of up and downs, tears and failures, situations and moments with no hope. Without faith, I wouldn’t come through. Failing the exams, being lost and not seeing your goal anymore felt like darkness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun, experienced also moments of darkness. “If you only knew what darkness I am plunged into!” she once said to the sisters in her convent.
But, faith strengthened me, and after all these up and downs, I finally got my matura, which opened the door for university and my desire: theology.
Throughout these years I learned that God wants to be in a relationship with us. He communicates with us in many different ways: through emotions, feelings, memories, desires and prayers, but also through people and happenings in our daily life. Not to forget, relationships are also a way of communication God uses.
Through my girlfriend, I learned that prayer is not always a quiet moment in your room, but living your life and being aware of his presence. Through her, God showed me that prayer also means to be and to live, to enjoy time together, to laugh and live his love through our lives. It means being aware of his presence and love. “Imagine God looking upon you and smiling”, the Jesuit Anthony de Mello once said.
You probably know some of these desires: becoming a better person, loving more and so on. It’s not about having visions or experiencing tremendous miracles, it’s about having an open heart which let you find God in All Things.
This is the real miracle that happens every day.
When you walk to the train station, to school, to work or wherever else, try to experience his presence. The wind rushing through the leaves in autumn, the snowflakes in winter, or the wonderful sunshine in summer.
Knowing that God is your friend, walking with you, makes live much more interesting, for you have so much to discover. Here ends my piece, but not my way, not my life and not my searching.
How about you? Are you already on the way?
Mario Trifunovic is a student of Catholic theology in Frankfurt/Main. He is writing on English and Croatian on his website called, “Think outside the box”.
When I had just turned 16 years old, I had a stunning realization. For the first time, I knew my life purpose. After giving a self-confidence empowerment workshop to a group of 8th grade girls, it felt as though God had spoken to me and let me know that I was here to continue the work I was doing on media, body image, mental health, relationships, and more.
At the time, I had no idea what the actual path of my newfound life purpose looked like, but I knew that I had one and that it involved utilizing my passions, public speaking and organizational abilities, and more.
Four years later, it has resulted in co-founding an organization called MOVE, dedicated to empowering young women through workshops and week long summer programs. It has resulted in me publishing a book, giving speeches at several conferences, developing important connections with girls, and much much more.
For the past few years, I have been wholeheartedly and entirely fulfilled. It is to such an extent that my heart was constantly aching with emotion and the understanding that what I was doing was critically important.
The number of times that I have teared up with gratitude and contentedness that I found my belonging is too many to count.
And then, somewhere around the start of this new school year, I started grew restless. For several months, I refused to fully confront it and instead commented on how unfulfilled I felt, without actually doing anything about it.
I hoped that my restlessness would go away, and told myself that when I gave workshops over my college break in January that I would feel better.
Yet, I didn’t feel better. In fact, it forced me to confront the sad but inevitable fact that I am growing and changing, and so was my purpose.
I am in the process of finding fulfillment again. Here’s what I know to be true, and perhaps some ideas on how you too can discover your purpose as I re-discover mine:
Growing up, my parents encouraged me to try everything I could. I learned that I hated sports, was not good at playing instruments, that dancing was not for me, singing was okay, and finally that I LOVED doing theater.
I was originally intimidated to try out theater and audition for the school play—so scared that I didn’t audition whatsoever in 6th grade—but conquered that fear a year later to learn that I really found comfort in creating something beautiful with friends.
Trying different things gave me an opportunity to figure out what I liked, and allowed me to develop my strengths in areas that I cared about. Taking the time to learn about and understand myself really benefitted me later on, as my public speaking and teamwork skills are critical to the work I do for MOVE.
So, try everything you possibly can. Especially if you’re a little intimidated to do it. I’ve found that a little fear (within a safe range) allows the most growth to happen.
If you have an idea, take it and run with it. My friends and I decided at age 15 that we wanted to give a workshop, and so we ran with that idea and made it happen.
When I gave the first workshop, I didn’t realize what would follow. I actually thought that I would give one, it would be cool, but that would be that.
Your ideas are worth a shot. They really are. And I encourage you to go for it. I know that social pressure and a desire to fit in make trying out ideas scary, but sometimes you need to put yourself and your ideas before your ego.
More than that, devote yourself to doing what you care about. Currently, I don’t know what my next purpose is. But, I do know that the way I discovered my original purpose.
I had the idea to write a book, and made it happen, because I took the time to learn first about the issues I cared about. I’m dead serious. Learning led me to understanding, which gave me ideas, and led me to creating my own ideas.
So, I’m spending my time learning about what does currently interest me: Political Science. I am so interested, that I changed my double major from Communication to PoliSci.
I’ve also made it a New Years Resolution to read 25 books on political issues this year. Two done. 23 to go. Speaking of which, the learning that I’ve done already has actually given me the idea for my third book!
Learning about what you care about works. It gives you ideas because you’re able to see what’s missing and you can fill in what’s needed with your own work.
At workshops, I always ask girls to consider the three things above. Previously, and to an extent still, I am passionate about ideas, bringing people together, and more.
I care about body image, media, self-esteem, mental health and more. And I am good at organizing, leading, and public speaking. So, I combined the three to create MOVE.
Today, my strengths and passions are still the same, but what I care about is shifting and I’m starting to consider how I can use what God gave me in another way. All I’m saying is that the more I learn and think about how I can do my part, that honestly running for office has crossed my mind more than a few times.
Now, how can you combine these? If you love it more than your ego, you’ve found it.
And finally, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her home as, “returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego,which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself.”
In other words, Elizabeth Gilbert loved writing more than she hated failing or her own ego.
For so long, I loved MOVE more than my ego. The things people would say to me or behind my back did not matter to me, and I would brush it off easily. Who cares what you think—I’m doing God’s work and nothing can stop me! And in many ways, MOVE is still my home. But I’m moving—or MOVEing—on.
Either way, think about what you love more than your ego. And that’s when you know you’ve found your purpose. To reach out to me, check out www.ashleyolafsen.com
I had never fully bought into the God thing. At least, not the “big man in the sky” imagery that was presented to me by the private Christian schools I attended in my youth.
I remember one particular moment, when I was about 7 or 8, that I was alone in the kitchen one afternoon drinking a cup of water. I was suddenly struck by a peculiar idea to push the cup over the edge of the table to see if God would stop me. I don’t know why my kid-brain thought this was such a terrible act, but I got nervous just thinking of what the ramifications could be. Surely God could read my thoughts and know my ill-intent, but would He stop me? Curious but scared to death, I checked to make sure no one was watching and started to edge the cup towards the floor very slowly. With each inch, I expected some invisible hand to slap mine away, but nothing happened, and eventually the water fell to the floor. A strange mixture of great relief and vast disappointment filled up my little body.
Fast forward to college. I’m 18, unsure of what electives to take, and decidedly agnostic. God didn’t fit into my life, and I didn’t fit into His. If you had asked me, I would have said that all I cared about was getting my degree. I didn’t know that there was something secretly inside me hungry for answers. My first philosophy class awakened that in me, however. I had never analysed the world around me in such a critical, almost scientific kind of way.
I quickly made philosophy my minor, and every subject within it was like a new turning point in my understanding of life. I went from claiming to be agnostic, to atheist, to existentialist. I was all over the place, but happy about it because each new step felt like growth. Still, a part of me was left unsatisfied. The majority of the philosophy subjects were of Western focus. They dealt with metaphysics, ethics, politics, and society–everything I would need to be a critical thinking citizen and perhaps, one day, a political leader. But it was hardly anything I could apply to my day-to-day life for when I was just human me, alone, and not another cog in the machinery of society. Who was I? And did I even matter?
Not that I regret one moment of it. In fact, I think everything aligned perfectly to set me up for where I am now. But it was my own thirst to continue learning about philosophy after graduation that led me to the discovery of Eastern philosophy and religions. I had heard of Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism before, but never quite understood them. If you’re unaware, Eastern philosophies tend to focus more on our relationship with nature and the question of the divine spirit. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between Eastern and Western religions, but having lived in such a Western society, I was only getting one piece of the puzzle.
I won’t bore you with the particulars. The point is that I came to the understanding of how interconnected we all are and how deep the rabbit hole goes. Sure, society and the governing of society is important, but on a broader perspective we aren’t just one city, one state, or one country. Focusing on only one religion, one race, and one understanding, shortchanges us all. It leads us to war with each other and ban each other from our homes when we get the most benefits from coming together.
Spirituality is more than a belief; it’s a journey of understanding. It’s seeing the oneness of the human race, and its connection to the world around us. Are we God? Are we the love, compassion, mercy, and restraint that we’re all so desperately looking for? Maybe. Maybe it’s all baloney and maybe it’s not. But it’s a question definitely worth asking, and it’s an answer I will always be seeking.
Coming to terms with the mortality of success remains the harshest reality to strike me in the past two years.
The summer before I started college I won two national championships in the high jump and competed at the 2014 World Junior Championship. Since my junior year of high school I believed I was going nowhere but up, and my successes only reinforced the naïve belief.
I started jumping my freshman year of high school. I came from a family of volleyball players, but I never wanted to associate myself with my sisters’ interests. Essentially coached by a school priest and YouTube videos, I took to the event quickly and became passionate about every aspect of jumping. Freshman year was a season of constant improvement. I hit a slump in my sophomore year, which led me to make a series of influential changes, the greatest being the decision to devote myself to my faith.
I began devotional sessions every evening, reading the Bible and writing about how the message spoke to me. I attended church every Sunday with my parents, and rarely took a Sunday off, even when I was traveling. My junior season began with a personal record, and ended with a state championship after finishing first in every meet of the season. Through the entire season I made it a point to recognize my trusting relationship with God as the reason for all success. I continued this mentality into my senior season, and I continued to get better.
On the morning of the New Balance Outdoor National Championship, I attended church with my parents. I found a small Catholic church in Greensboro, NC, which is now one of the most memorable churches I have ever visited.
Not one part of me was nervous. I knew that I had prepared as much as I could, and it was now in God’s hands. Throughout the competition I remained in constant conversation with God. I never asked for a victory. I simply just asked for His presence. I went on to win the competition without a single miss and achieved a new personal record. I used my faith in the next championship two weeks later and the success continued. The great change came after the world championship.
I slowly began to believe my success was a result of my own work. My focus shifted from God to myself. I transitioned into an arrogant and ungrateful athlete. I can remember throwing fits at my parents when I did not get what I want, at one point exclaiming, “I did this all on my own. You had nothing to do with it.” I had truly let the success consume me. I broke promises I made to myself and to God. Going into college, I believed there was no way I could fall down. I convinced myself I would continue to progress the way I had been the past two years.
Boy, did I get slapped with humility! I never stopped working hard. I never missed a day of practice. I never gave up on my dreams. However, I did give up on the one thing that got me to where I am, my faith and humility. College has absolutely not gone as planned. I jump significantly lower than I did as a senior in high school. Some days it even feels as though I am continuing to fall down into a hole and there’s no way out. In all of this pain and struggle, I have matured and learned more about myself than I ever would have had everything gone as planned. You don’t truly realize what you are blessed with until you are knocked down scrambling to get back up.
Now, I make it my goal to find my faith again and remain humble, so when I get back up and find success again, I won’t allow the same arrogance to creep in. I no longer believe my success is inevitable. I understand nothing is a guarantee.
I have been taught more by failure than success could ever teach me. None of this means that I have accepted failure or that I am content with where I am, and I shouldn’t be! You are allowed to be upset by your failures.
To pull a quote from Meredith Grey, “Progress looks like a bunch of failures. And you can have feelings about that because it’s sad, but you can’t fall apart.” It isn’t always about how you feel about failure; it’s about what you do to keep yourself together so you can move forward. I choose to use my faith to hold me together.
Find what keeps you grounded, let that pull you to the top, and know that some things are greater than success. As I begin to focus more on humility, I try to keep a verse from Proverbs in mind: “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but before honor comes humility” (Proverbs 18:12).
On January 3, 2017 I moved to the District of Columbia for an internship with United States Representative David Scott from Georgia. I say this because I have now supplanted myself at the political center of America and the pertinence of understanding my feelings of this regarding the greatest country in the world speaks to me now more than ever.
For an African-American male who has always felt like I am in a constant battle with an institution that is not built for me, working towards success comes with enough setbacks and disappointment of itself, requiring a hint of inspiration or hope to keep going in the midst of it all. President Barack H. Obama was that hope. To amount to the highest office in the world in the field that I take interest in was all of the hope and inspiration that I needed. But as that beacon of possibility is set to retreat from the spotlight I search for the thing that will now keep me going in the future.
In that very search I begin to reevaluate my status in this country and whether or not my ability to amount to the success I dream for is even possible. The drive is there. The passion is there. The fight is there.
Countless times those that look like me are wrapped up in an unjust justice system that treats them unequally to counterparts. Too many times those who could be my family members are on the receiving end of unwarranted force often leading to their beautiful souls settling in a better place. Too often is the balance of the financial market tilted toward the few leaving the struggling of the many. These are just a few things to mention. These are all things too close to home.
I believe my purpose in this world is when all is said and done to eliminate these unfortunate beliefs from the young minds that will find themselves in my same position somewhere down the road. But the road is brutally tough.
Setting aside partisanship and political bias, this country lives at a time where bigotry and marginalization has become a social norm—again. Just as this country had begun to move forward and I felt as if inclusiveness had pieced together a broken country, it all fell down. In a boomerang effect it had reverted right back to where it all began. This country is definitely not where it once was, but it is also not where it should be. It is demoralizing and dampens the spirit of hope.
Finding my place in the field of politics my calling is to help people. I truly want to make a change; a difference in as many lives as possible by the time my body releases its last breath. I desire to be that change I wish to see. But even I need help and sometimes when I look up the ladder for someone to help pull me up, it feels as if they are removing the rungs as I try to climb. Each and every day I wake up and work to ensure that I can move past all of the trials and tribulations and find hope in God, because often times He is all there is.
So although it may not be the most inspiring time to be alive, the greatest thing about problems is that there is a solution to be found. I hope my story will be drastically different weeks, months, or hopefully not too many years from now. But faith as small as a mustard seed can lead to possibilities unimaginable. I intend to put my head down and pledge to move this country forward, and through all of the darkness, I will find the light.
There I was… I sat in the cinema and watched The Magnificent Seven. I sat and watched in awe, but also in terror.
The glamorizing gunshots, explosions, and loud cries kept my eyes and brain glued to the screen; yet there was a part of me that was terrified.
Even though there was chaos, confusion, and agony that surrounded me in this moment, it fell silent and shattered my heart.
Before I continue, I would like to give some backstory into who I am. Currently, I am at the age of 20 years old. I was born and raised into a Christian household, so my beliefs and convictions align with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible.
Yes, most of which that I will be writing about, comes from a place of God in my heart and the experiences that I have faced with Him. But I hope you know that I am not here to preach at you about God, rather, I am here to share a little part of the larger story that He has written for me since the beginning of time. This story is of truth, hope, love, and redemption.
Ask yourself this question and be truthful about the answer. What has been the greatest challenge in life for you to overcome? Now, if you think that you haven’t had to overcome any plight, or if you think that your quarrel was compared to nothing, I would ask you to rethink your reasonings.
The great thing about this question, is that everyone will have a different answer. There is no right or wrong way to navigate this question. We all have different walks of life. This is what makes us unique. Some people are faced with moral dilemmas, some are faced with overcoming injuries, and others with pain and suffering. To each his own.
One man open fired in an auditorium full of human beings, killing 12 and injuring 60. This is not including those who had and still are suffering from various forms of mental illness.
My pain and suffering came in the form of internal stresses. According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) and my Counselor, I met the criteria for PTSD and Delayed Response, which include depression and anxiety due to the events of that night.
Three months after the shooting, I was in shock. I was going from one thing to the next, without taking the time to stop and ponder what had happened that night. One day, as I was snowshoeing in the silent mountains of Colorado, I felt a boulder drop on me. Not a literal boulder, but an emotional one.
The images, sounds, screams, and smells from that night; It all came rushing through like a tidal wave. I felt guilt instantly and it spoke to me saying, “You got out alive yet there is a little girl who lost her life, and you stood in shock and did nothing to help.” This was every day when I awoke from bed and when I fell to sleep. I put on a façade of happiness when I went to school, but inside I was desperate and crying for help.
I then began to think to myself about how I could fix all these internal struggles. How is a 16-year-old supposed to deal and cope with such a trauma? My time as a child and life prior to the event told me to run to Jesus, but there was another part of me, the part of me that is now living this pain and suffering, that told me to run away. So I ran.
How can I run to a God who let such events happen? So, I began to run to worldly pleasures, thinking that they would bring me comfort and fulfillment, but I was naïve, lost, and wrong. This way of thinking and “healing”, ended up bringing me further down the rabbit hole of depression.
Growing up in the church, I always heard that suffering was valuable. It creates perseverance and reliance upon God. I truly believed this, until I experienced it for myself. The only time I would actually call upon God was when I wanted Him to deliver me from these challenges. I was too scared to face the reality of what I was dealing with. So I continued to run from my internal struggles and bottled them up. Eventually… I popped.
To see it in such a way that is positive, rather than negative. Not every session was great, but not every session was terrible. Progress was happening and change was enacting in my thoughts, but not in my heart. During these times, It was crazy for me to experience the phenomenon of my head and my heart feeling like they were a million miles apart.
My head would say one thing, but my heart would speak another. In my thoughts I knew the truths about God and pain and suffering, but my heart didn’t want to believe it. Depression dug down deep. Lies, anger, and bitterness towards life were tenants who rented out my heart and whose payment was in the form of hate.
I began to ask myself what I wanted to do. It seemed like no matter what I did, I would still feel empty inside. Nothing could fill this shattered, yet naïve heart. Thoughts of suicide began rushing into my head and at one point, I thought it was all I had left. But to escape this suffering by the way of death didn’t seem right to me.
There was this minute piece of light within me that told me there was more to life than pain and suffering. That one day, my life would impact someone.
The truth hit me: the reason for my empty, broken, and desperate heart, was having a lack of purpose to live for.
From the novel, Man’s Search For Meaning, By Viktor E. Frankl, this man attempts to find reason in his pain and suffering, while he endures unnecessary acts of evil during the times of the Holocaust. While I read his experiences in detail, I began to see that pain and suffering is a way of life and that we are promised to cross roads with it.
In Acts 14:22 Luke writes, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom.” I don’t want to speak for Viktor, but something tells me he knew this truth. So I began to constitute that, even though I am guaranteed to suffer in life, the only thing that I can do, is change how I see it. James 1:2-4 began to have new meaning for me, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
For far too long I chose to only see my current situation, which was agony and pain. I didn’t have a purpose to live, because I wasn’t living for anything except the depression that was killing me. I didn’t look beyond my current situation to see the glory and joy that would come.
Thus began the slow transformation of my heart and the way in which I thought. One of the biggest lies that I believe we as a human race have believed for far too long, is that pain and suffering is the end and there is no moving forward.
From the life of Job, this man went through innumerable amounts of pain and suffering, yet at the end of the story, “… the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12). He experienced death and loss from his wife, children, and livestock, but after, God blessed him with more than what he had before. This isn’t the only truth that stands out to me, but there is one more that comes from verse five, chapter 42, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you…” What Job is saying is that he never experienced God in a true and intimate way for himself, but because of his pain and suffering, he was able to.
Job began to see God in a new way. His eyes were opened to who God is. Our God that is full of love, glory, majesty, joy, compassion, power, grace, and many more characteristics that my mind cannot fathom. Job experienced this. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Like Job and his life before pain and suffering, I too had only heard of God. Even after my trauma, I believed that I was worthless, unloveable, foolish, and weak. I believed that I was beyond saving, that I could not come back from this.
Even after running from him for four years, never truly knowing him before my suffering, and living in constant sin; He still loved and wanted me.
I saw and experienced His relentless pursuit and commitment of love and grace for my heart. I finally SAW the truth that God is love and He wants good things for me. Therefore, I stopped asking God to take away the pain and suffering and instead, I asked him to help me see it in a new way and to walk with me through it.
I came to this conclusion that, it didn’t matter what I expected from God or this crazy thing called life, but rather what God and life expected of me. To be in an intimate relationship with Him and to live my life as a light to those who are in a dark place.
By this time, I’m sure you have an answer, but I want to add a little more to this question… “and how did you overcome this?” Some of your answers may be like mine where you chose to let it defeat you, for others it may be that you whizzed on by with no problem, but for the rest, you haven’t faced it.
God has allowed me to experience such a trauma that I would have never dreamt of facing, but through this, I have come out on the other side as a testament to God’s faithfulness and to the truth that pain and suffering is a gift… because I now see the beauty in life and God.
The hope of my writing and experience is to illustrate that when pain and suffering comes, you shouldn’t run away out of fear or let it defeat you like I did. Rather, you should run head on toward the challenge and face it.
To quote Viktor Frankl once more, “Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” Now, while you run head on into pain and suffering, know that God is with you every step of the way and that this momentary affliction, is no match for the glory that will follow.
“Sometimes the only way around suffering is to go straight through it.” -Anonymous
One day I looked in the mirror
To see if what I held most dear
Was clear, or if it was fear
That held me in its snare.
Perhaps I just didn’t care
It didn’t seem fair
I wasn’t aware
Now it seems so clear
As long as the Lord is near
There is no room for fear.
There is only one way
And though you may say nay
There will come a day
We walk together, that lonely pathway
The most earth-rattling, indescribable word.
How is it possible that it only takes a matter of seconds to never see someone again? Never talk to them again. Never see their life-changing smile again.
You try to come up with any and every possible reason why they were taken away from you, but you never find one that can heal the pain.
Everyone experiences all types of pain, from physical ache to heartbreak, but this type of pain is unbearable.
Sure, you learn how to suppress it on occasion, but that pain becomes a part of you.
It is a giant hole in your being, because the person you lost helped shape you.
I envy those who can find overwhelming peace by turning to the Lord in this unbearable time.
I wish I had that kind of relationship with God, to not have a doubt in my mind that everything was going to be okay. That the person I lost was the happiest they’ve ever been in the gates of heaven.
But the sad truth is that I do not know. I do doubt.
At only 21 years old, how have I already experienced so much loss?
How was my best friend’s boyfriend so unhappy at the naïve age of 16 that he took his own life?
How could the most uplifting coach, mentor, and teacher be killed so suddenly, leaving behind his two little children without a dad?
How could three boys that were just about to embark on the best four years of their life encounter such a tragic incident, leaving one mentally handicapped and one gathering the community for a funeral?
How could everyone’s favorite Auburn Tiger, with the most God fearing family, no longer walk this earth?
And how could five beautiful college girls, that have made such a remarkable impact, have their futures cut short?
I have to believe everything happens for a reason.
I have to believe that heaven is one hell of a party.
I have to believe that these beautiful people served their purpose on earth, even in such a short time frame.
And I have to believe that eventually… we will all be okay.
Too often in life we focus on performance and assessment. We are expected to hinge our success on how well we have performed. How am I doing in my job? Am I performing well enough to get that raise? Am I out performing my coworkers? All these things continually keep us preoccupied and focused on this earthly life.
My bible study was over performance and how our performance as Christians and performance in life doesn’t help us have a seat on the throne of God. How well I do in school and how well I do at work have nothing to do with how God sees me and it doesn’t determine whether or not I’ll spend eternity in Heaven.
So why is it we are so consumed by our daily performance? As long as we are saved and we walk with God we are guaranteed a seat at the table with God. With God leading you through life, you will always perform at a high level. He will lead you to the promotion or the raise or maybe even a new job in His timing.
Let us remember that God will always provide in any situation. We may not always understand His plan, but we should always have peace knowing that He will provide for His people.
“I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God! For He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in His wedding suit or a bride with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
I’m not perfect and will sin along the way, but He has saved me a seat at His throne. I will always give Him praise for all He’s done for me. And I will not forget that He have a plan for me and for you. With His help, I will continue to grow in my walk with God.