Last week, Michael Louderback invited us to consider the fate of pain and how we respond to it (or not) in our lives. Here, Heather Casimere, first-year MA in Theology & Culture student, writes about her own relationship with pain and the call to a long, complex journey of daring to engage her pain—and tell her story—with integrity and care.

German philosopher, scholar, and cultural critic Friedrich Nietzsche has a beautiful quote I find to be particularly resonant to my life in its current state of development. His words are as eloquent as they are simple: “Become who you are.” These words, plainly stated and yet so fitting, apply not only to the call on this generation to step into their true identities but also to my decision to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit via an unexpected route to grad school in Seattle.

I have spent the last ten years of my life running from, learning to face, and daring to stand in the tension of becoming who I am.

I grew up in a unique world—the San Francisco Bay Area. Creative and free-spirited, I was an African- American artist raised in a primarily white middle class suburban community. I received a plethora of love and acceptance at home, yet my formative years were spent attending a school in which only one in every seven students was black.

To my family, I was only ever me, and loved for it. Yet to my elementary/middle/high school peers I was “too smart” and “too articulate” to be black; “too skinny” and “too white-washed.” I found it difficult to feel accepted or even seen for who I was, when so many of my peers seemed keen to stuff me into boxes in which I didn’t fit. I presented a brave, confident face to the world. But internally, the sensitive artist and writer that I was was scarred. The creative little girl I loved, so eager to present her art to the world, wondered why it seemed she could not be seen for who she was. Not knowing what else to do with those hurts, she pushed them down and forged forward the best that her brave heart knew how.

Upon entering college, I was thrilled to get a second chance, a new community. For the first time in my life I was totally accepted by my peers in an incredible, well rounded group of girlfriends of all races and colors. We were a community, and we loved each other and God, despite where we may have found ourselves amidst the various phases of running to and from Him as college students. Studying English and Black Studies at San Francisco State University, I found people who accepted and loved me for me. I flourished within this community of acceptance. I was blooming! Heather, the beautiful flower I was named for, flourishing amidst the rocky places.

After graduation, I left the West coast for the East, following my dream of being an author living in New York City. I created a beautiful life in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I fell in love, worked at Columbia University, and lived five years of the greatest adventure of my life exploring New York City and New England. Yet, a few years into my time in New York City, I began to experience panic attacks and anxiety. I began to run from the fear and overpowering anxiety that seemed to threaten at every turn. Having no idea where it had come from, I tried to ignore it. Outrun it. Drown it. Where I had once been fierce, I became a victim.

In late winter of 2013, I felt God leading me to leave New York City; leave behind my wildest dream, and move back to California to heal. I began therapy and the painful process of healing. The kindness and compassion of an incredible therapist helped me to face down and overcome every obstacle I have encountered in my way. Throughout what has been one of the most painful experiences of my life, I am learning to run to God, not from Him.

I am learning to run to God, not from Him.

God  placed deep within me a desire to write a book and create art, leading other young people struggling with emotional disorders of anxiety and fear into the God-led, incredible lives which He has called them to. I believe this is my life’s work; at least for this portion of the road!

I believe that God led me to Seattle to study Theology & Culture in order for me to learn to be the leader I had been scared to be because of the hurt of past rejection and lies spoken over me. I believe He has called me to share my incredible, unique life experience in order to lead others out of their pain and into God’s grace.

The dreams in my heart are things I know in my spirit I am called to, yet I have no idea how I will land. I just know that I have seen miracles in my life before. I have experienced my wildest dream become my reality. I have seen a dead man raised. I know that God is not intimidated by things that to us may appear impossible. I don’t know the how. I’m just following the call. That is where I now stand, trusting, in the tension.