I went to have coffee with a friend, who recently experienced burnout that landed her in the hospital. I wanted to share with her what made all the difference in the world for me when I experienced my own crash.
And so I told her about the time I got a D in organic chemistry, which was the needle that pushed me over the top.
I can still see myself standing in the hallway looking at my grade with a backpack full of college textbooks. The heavy load on my back was symbolic of the heaviness I carried in my spirit.
My father had wanted me to be a doctor for as long as I could remember probably because it was a dream he’d had and couldn’t fulfill for financial reasons.
But now, I’d failed before I got anywhere. A horrible sinking feeling washed over me as I thought about what this would mean for my future.
It was my second year of college, and I felt lost not only because I’d failed organic chemistry but lost in life with a deep, aching hole in my heart.
My parents were Seventh Day Adventists and as a family, we went to church nearly every weekend. As a child, I’d memorized Bible verses that I could recite at the drop of a hat, but as a young adult attending a large secular university (approx. 45,000 students), I questioned my parent’s faith. Who was to say they were right and everybody else wrong?
I wasn’t sure what I believed in anymore. I didn’t doubt God’s existence – I had the fear of God planted deeply in my heart and that kept me out of trouble. But I felt the emptiness of my life. I knew I was a sinner and God seemed so distant and unreachable.
I tried to find meaning and purpose in achieving things and working hard. In addition to my part-time job and a full-time course load, I was involved in starting a bilingual student newspaper, volunteering to feed the homeless and leading a student group on campus. I had a good-looking boyfriend and on the outside, my life looked good and normal.
But inside, I was lost and confused. I remember organizing fancy, gala events through our student group where hundreds came, but I’d go hide in the bathroom because I couldn’t stand feeling so lonely in a crowd of people.
Shortly after I got the D in organic chemistry, I ran into a friend on campus who used to say he was an atheist. But now, he told me that God loved him and that God loved me! I could see that he was different – he had a sense of peace and joy, which he didn’t before.
So one cold, December day, while sitting hunched over the steering wheel in my father’s old minivan, I cried out to God in desperation. I prayed as I’d been taught as a child and it went something like:
Dear Jesus, all my life I’ve said I believed in you but I don’t know what that means. I’ve said that I love you but I don’t know how to love you. I’m so lost and confused. I know I haven’t lived my life right. If you are really there, will you please help me?
And as I prayed, I felt this warmth come over me and in my heart, I heard this quiet voice telling me that I was loved. And I knew it was God. I cried and cried. God loved me and in that moment, I could feel His love washing over me even as the tears streamed down my face.
I’d memorized John 3:16 as a small child: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
And now, I finally “saw” it: For God so loved Hulda …
I know I didn’t deserve His love but He loved me just as I was. It wasn’t about the striving and the working hard to make something of my life and finding my self-worth in achieving things. He simply loved me.
And I told Him I was sorry for my sins. I knew that I had not been living for God but for my selfish desires.
That day, I felt like someone turned the light on and the confusion and heaviness I’d lived under vanished. Part of my load was the secret shame I’d carried in my heart. And as I wrote earlier, I’d worked hard to cover up my sense of inadequacy, of not being enough. I didn’t have all the answers to my questions, but I had a deep assurance that God was going to take care of me.
I used to find Bible reading boring mainly because I didn’t understand what I read. But from that day on, I found life in the Word of God. Like my once atheist friend, I couldn’t wait to tell others about what God had done for me.
The encounter I had that day affected every single decision I’ve made since then. I never did make it to medical school and my father was deeply disappointed, but I had peace that God was going to work it out.
Nearly 25 years later, I can say that He truly has. I used to view God as someone to fear and who lived far away in Heaven. But I’m so glad I was wrong. Now, I know He’s a kind, loving Father who loves His children.
As simple as this may sound, one of the most beautiful truths I’m learning more and more each day is that I’m a child of God, a daughter of my Heavenly Father. And one of the joys of my life is discovering what it means to live as one in this broken, sin-filled world.
The thing that my aunt was so ashamed is something, I’m thankful for today. I know who I am — I’m a Peruvian Indian but most of all I’m a child of God.
I wish I could say that I’d stopped the striving and working hard … overcoming that tendency has been my ongoing journey. On the best days, I live out of a place where I know I’m loved and on the worst days, I have spiritual amnesia. I forget who I am and I crawl back under my shame and my desire to cover up my imperfection and brokenness.
But God is faithful and He always leads us back home.
The tears ran down my face, as I shared my story with my friend, and I had to search my purse for tissue. For God’s love, His deep amazing love for me always overwhelms me in such a wonderful way.
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ro.8:38,29