There is a certain type of life that can only come after a journey through death. Here, first-year Master of Divinity and MA in Counseling Psychology student Kelsey Paulsen likens the difficult, frightening, and often lonely process of telling her story and pursuing healing to a journey into the wilderness—which looks far different than she ever expected.

Over the past few months, I have been invited to step into the wilderness…alone.

This barren land is a place of searching and longing. It’s a place where the deepest and darkest traumas of my past, the tragic stories that have been carefully hidden for decades, are uncovered and seen. This wilderness is a place where God isn’t just the One who extended the invitation, but the One who has never left my side.

There is something so beautifully tragic about journeying in the wilderness. Death comes before life in this place.

When I first began this journey, I imagined myself in the desert. I imagined rolling hills of the hottest, driest sand stretching for miles and miles, with no sign of an oasis. The dusty air filled my lungs and there were moments when I could not take another breath. Uncovering my past was excruciating. The pain blinded and bound me, and I was unable to move, unable to take another step. There was too much hurt, too much harm, and too many wounds that were being excavated from the depths of my heart, and I could go no further.

God was nowhere to be seen, yet I could hear a reassuring voice in the distance—”Keep going, my daughter. I am here. I am working.”

As my journey continues, my capacity to hold these painful moments has grown. The tragic stories that had never been spoken of before have now been told and retold countless times, making them easier to hold. I now imagine myself in the luscious forests of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of trekking on the dry, hot, desert sand that blistered my feet and dried up my lungs, I now walk on the soft, mossy floor of the most green, life-filled forest I could ever imagine. The trees overhead are a canopy for my soul, offering comfort and protection. The soft rain sprinkles overhead like a faucet of life as blessings are poured over my wounded heart.

In this wilderness, I am still alone, yet God is everywhere. God is walking beside me, holding my hand and wooing my heart, leading me to a place of healing—”Keep going, my daughter. I am here. I am still working.”

“God is walking beside me, holding my hand and wooing my heart, leading me to a place of healing.”

I am terrified of the work I am doing because it is changing everything. This work, this journey in the wilderness, is altering the very fabric of my existence. Everything I thought I knew about myself has been shattered. Everything I thought I knew about my family has been crushed. Everything I thought I knew about God has shifted.

There are parts of me that are dying, but death must occur for new life to spring forth. These dying parts are the unseen places the enemy has been hiding, slowly destroying me, lying to me, and stealing me away. These deep crevices were once created to protect my heart, yet they are no longer needed and are instead being used against me. Death must occur, yet death is still death.

Death is agonizing. Death is violent. Death is not quick. Death is not easy.

On my journey in the wilderness, I have come to experience death in a way no man or woman should endure, however I have also experienced the most abundant life I have ever lived. I have challenged the enemy’s lies. I have cast out the enemy’s words. I have been given a new name and a strong voice, and I am becoming the woman I was intended to be before Creation. I am brave. I am courageous. I am worth this fight. I am beautiful and strong, and lovingly, thoughtfully, and intentionally created by a mighty King.

I continue my walk in the wilderness, across the mossy floor of the forest, and along with the sprinkling rain overhead, the birds chirping in the trees, and the sound of my heart beating, I continue to hear, “Keep going, my daughter. I am here. I am working.”