Written and Media by Joey Clinton.
(Continued from Part 1.)
When I realized I wouldn’t be returning to Purdue, I tried my hardest to move on. It didn’t work.
I enrolled at a local community college. I got a soul-crushing job at Walmart. I had panic attacks almost daily. I was depressed, suicidal, and unresponsive. I would go to school, then work, then come home and immediately go to bed without a shower. I talked to no one, I cut off contact with my friends from Purdue, and I just lay there and counted out the hours until my death. I grew fat and miserable. Eventually, the constant strain became too much, so I had a complete mental breakdown and was taken to the hospital. For a brief period, I started to recover, with the help of my family and Emily—the one person from Purdue that I kept in touch with.
This was when I learned something interesting about psychology. The human brain is amazing at protecting us. In times of severe trauma, the brain will sometimes delay processing that trauma until it believes you to be in a safe location. So, in my case, my brain delayed processing the trauma until I was in my final semester of my Associate’s Degree when my mom walked up behind me while I was on my computer and startled me. That triggered my first flashback to the shooting.
My therapist told me that I had PTSD and that I had finally reached a point of feeling safe enough to deal with what happened that day. This led to a period of almost six months where I did not get a full night’s sleep, having the same nightmare every night, where every loud sound made me break down into tears and hearing the words “school shooting” was enough to send me into an emotional meltdown.
This is where something happened that assured me that God had a purpose for all of this. Emily, the one from Purdue who kept in touch with me, asked me to review a book her church was considering using as a curriculum. It was a book targeted at Christian men called “Wild at Heart” by John Eldredge. Over and over in this book, Eldredge discussed the idea of a wound—the idea that the wound is where Jesus finds us. He talked about how our idea of masculinity can be distorted by the world around us, and that to be a true man is not to be an unfeeling monolith of stoicism, but to love and to feel and to truly live life, to weep as Jesus wept. This got to me and cut me deeply.
The truth is, the reason I couldn’t move on from the shooting was that I hated myself for my response. I was deeply ashamed, as a man, that I ran and hid—that I didn’t stand up and do something. I always imagined that if I was in a disaster situation, I would be the big man going around, barricading doors and getting others to safety. I thought that I was worthless as a man for my response. But reading “Wild at Heart” helped me realize that God does not love us without feeling. God loves us in a vulnerable, painful way. He was willing to love us so deeply that He gave Himself up to die on a cross for us.
I finished the book that night, and I lay there staring at the ceiling, wondering if God could ever meet me where I was wounded. I wondered if God could ever use my wound to do something great. It was at this precise moment my phone beeped with a notification. Switchfoot, my all-time favorite band, had dropped their new album: “Where the Light Shines Through”. I started listening, and what I heard changed my life forever. The first track, “Holy Water“, had these lyrics:
I felt like this when I was a boy
A firefly in Illinois
A pair of wings and an electric heart
Broken wings and a shot in the dark
And later, the title track said this:
Why’re you running from yourself now?
You can’t run away
Cause your scars shine like dark stars
Yeah, your wounds are where the light shines through
So let’s go there, to that place where
We sing these broken prayers where the light shines through
The wound is where the light shines through
I know that it sounds silly to say a simple song can change someone’s entire worldview. But I believe that God uses His own methods to meet us where we are; He uses what He knows will get through to us. And at that time, in that moment, those lyrics were confirmation of what God was trying to tell me. I knew then that, with Christ, I would be more than okay. See, through all this, God taught me that cynicism and apathy are ridiculous responses predicated upon fear of the future. To be cynical is to live without hope for the future. Christ is hope personified, so a life lived without hope for tomorrow is a life lived without Christ. God has the power to not just redeem our sins, but every aspect of our life, every wound we receive, until it becomes something so much more beautiful than we could ever imagine. The book of Romans says in chapter eight:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And, in Deuteronomy 31:6:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
That is who God is. He is the one who will never leave us or forsake us. And I realized in that moment who I am. I am a child of the One True King. To quote Doctor Who, “I am and will always be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and dreamer of improbable dreams.” I am brave, daring, chivalrous, and courageous. I don’t have to hate who I am because I am His.
You see, Christ didn’t die for the hypothetical perfect Joey that I’m always comparing myself to. God doesn’t love the fictional character that I have in my mind—the Joey-that-could-have-been. God loves me and died for me as I am, still a sinner, still flawed, still striving. That is the person He fell in love with, and that’s the person He’s working on shaping every day to be more and more like Him. He changed me in that moment. I took control of my life and actually started living. I lost fifty pounds in the next six months, I finished my Associate’s Degree, I started telling people how I felt about them instead of sitting idly by, no longer passing up opportunities to connect and love. I applied and was accepted to Greenville University, and I am finally secure in who I am.
Do not let fear of what the future might hold keep you from moving forward, because you know the One who holds the future. Trust me, I speak from experience: God can and will wipe every tear and redeem every wound in your life given enough time. Things may look rough now, but there is a greater plan at work than you could ever imagine.