When I entered my freshman year of college, Tenth Avenue North, with its melodious and stirring music, was my favorite Christian band. The group is best known for the single "By Your Side," in which it gave God a voice: "I'll be by your side, whenever you fall in the dead of night, whenever you call..."
Needless to say, I was ecstatic to visit the street in South Florida that gave the band its name: Tenth Avenue North. Shortly after snagging a photo, I went to freshman orientation at Palm Beach Atlantic University, in West Palm Beach, Fla. The campus was only minutes from the famed street. Members from the band had even attended the school that I would now call home, a 20-hour drive away from my friends and family in Arkansas.
Growing up in church, I knew a number of believers had testimonies similar to mine. Church was part of the weekly schedule and they, like me, had grown up in its safe confines without ever feeling true, heart-wrenching pain. Like many other middle-class teenagers, I had never been through rigorous trials and tribulations. Life was easy.
But that changed the second I set foot in my college dorm room. God does his best teaching in the midst of tragedy, and double-digit hours from home, my training was about to begin.
It started on moving day. Like everyone else, I was straining to pick up heavy boxes and carry them to my room when I suddenly felt a painful pop in my lower back. Throughout the course of the semester, I ran, hiked and surfed like normal. But I continued to feel tremendous pain that eventually forced me to visit several orthopedic doctors. With my family so far away, I made the trips alone. Throughout the course of physical therapy for a low back injury, I watched other people rehabbing other joints, wearing the same squinting mask of pain mirrored on my face. It shocked me, the simple fact that God would allow people to undergo this amount of pain. I had never seen anything like it, and I began to question everything I had absorbed in church.
A doubt storm had blown in with gale force winds.
During my second semester, God decided to give me a larger perspective of pain. As a journalism major, I began writing articles for the school newspaper and my assignments weren't for the faint of heart. I wrote about the horrors of sex trafficking, explaining that the world has more slaves today than ever before in human history. I took notes as a Salvation Army worker explained to me his previous life of homelessness.
It wasn't enough, in God's eyes. He allowed me to experience more. At the end of my second semester, I spent a week in the hospital, undergoing three stomach surgeries that melted 15 pounds from my already skinny frame. It was a freak incident - one day I was at the beach, and the next, I was writhing in pain in the emergency room. Lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a machine, I questioned God's so-called plan, His so called sovereignty. I had gone from a normal teenager to a broken college student in less than a year. The only time I mustered a smile was during visits from family, friends, and the gorgeous blonde with big brown eyes who became instrumental in my recovery process. She's now my girlfriend.
Still, pain prevailed. I fractured my already weak back the following summer, and continued to struggle with stomach problems after having my gallbladder removed.
As I started my sophomore year, God began showing me how to deal with pain. Not with a thundering clap or a bolt of lighting, but like He always does best--through other people.
With a recorder in my hand, I met with an elderly woman to hear her story of surviving the Holocaust as a young Jewish girl. Her parents had been snatched in the middle of the night, her father locked away in a concentration camp and her mother used like a lab rat for medical experiments. The elderly woman also endured the chaotic scene of downtown Manhattan when the Twin Towers fell in 2001.
Her life story shook me. How could a woman who had been through so much remain so grateful and joyful? She wasn't bitter, or angry about her experiences.
I later interviewed a man in his mid 20's who broke his neck after smashing headfirst into shallow sandbar while surfing. The accident almost confined him to a wheelchair for life. He matter-of-factly told me that everything happens for a reason, and told me how precious life was.
It's funny how God works.
My older and incredibly knowledgeable brother told me something that every college freshman should realize: "College will change you. You'll change more in the next four years than you ever will."
Through other people and my own maturing process, I've learned that pain can be part of God's plan. It stealthily stalks every human being on the earth, exploding into their emotions. There's a chance you may feel it your freshman year, studying far away from home. If you do, reach out to your support network and don't be afraid to speak up.
You may think that everyone else is fine and you're the only one who's not. But it's quite the opposite. Everyone is dealing with something, so don't be afraid to grasp for help. And if you don't feel heart-wrenching pain, keep an eye out for those who do. Even though they hide it, they may need you.
One of Tenth Avenue North's songs deeply resonates with me when I think about pain. It's called "Healing Begins."
"So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you're good
And you can't believe it's not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside
So let 'em fall down
There's freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We're here now
This is where the healing begins..."
Yeah. That's where the healing began for me too.
Cash Lambert is a junior at Palm Beach Atlantic University, in West Palm Beach, Fla. He is majoring in journalism.
Editor's note: This column is part of a series of essays on a back to school theme. Click here for a list of other essays in this series.