When asked to picture your top fear, what comes to mind? Spiders? Heights? Natural Disasters? The Unknown? Ordinarily these handful of fears resonate in people’s brains and just the thought of them sends an involuntary shiver throughout their bodies. Fear is this itch crawling in the back of your skull that most often we cannot seem to reach, leaving us with this uncomfortableness that restricts us in various ways. Though those common fears listed previously are a part of my life, they are not what mentally displays itself when I picture my worst fear. At this moment, my case is much different and to some may be seen as unusual or even frivolous. The worst moments of fear occur when someone, speaking in a solemn voice, tells me to sit down for a talk or when I receive a phone call at what would be considered irrational times. These situations terrify me beyond belief, and I truly believe they will accompany me, hand in hand, until my last breath.
This sense of terror all began the year 2013 rolled around. To assist you in visualizing this terror, I would say it was like a dismal cloud that gravitates towards the sun, or in other words, happiness or goodness. Gradually, that cloud conceals the sun from sight, stealing all that come from it: warmth, light, and energy. For me, I never saw that cloud coming, and it completely blindsided me.
By 2013, my family had been dealing with a certain hardship for almost 2 years. I remember the day my parents quietly told my brother and I to stop what we were doing and take a seat with them. Different situations swamped my brain, beginning with divorce. Every child fears their parents separating; tearing their family apart. Yet, another voice whispered into my ear. Death. Did someone die? Was a loved one currently dying? After a few long seconds of silence, the horrid words left my mother’s tight knit lips: “I have cancer.”
For moments my mind couldn’t wrap around the concept, couldn’t comprehend the simple words that she had just stated. Then, the weight hit me directly in the chest, running the risk of concaving. Whirling emotions of anger, confusion, and desperation each took their turns to strike me. No, this couldn’t be! We’re a good, Christian family. God wouldn’t allow this to happen, right? He couldn’t! My mother continued to explain in a trembling voice. An oncologist had diagnosed her with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a potentially aggressive form of cancer that easily metastasizes throughout the body.
Since that day, two years had passed by, during which she suffered through multiple surgeries; having her appendix and parts of her colon removed. While she suffered physically, our family struggled emotionally and spiritually. Fights arose between family members as our patience and tempers strained under immense stress and tension. It would be stereotypical and an absolute lie to state that through that time of tribulation our family stuck through and created a stronger bond, because we didn’t. If anything, our relationships crumbled a bit. We became hostile towards each other and towards those around us. Yet, this was merely the beginning.
In August of 2013, I began my sophomore year of high school. The first few months I studied hard, kept up with classes, and spent precious time with friends. It almost seemed like the sun was finally peeking out from behind the cloud, and I desperately craved to feel it again. Summer seasonally turned into fall and fall into winter. When mid-November came into light, the sun hid again; not returning for a very long time. I remember specifically sitting in my squeaky, old desk in my first period World History class, listening to my teacher talk through her lesson and students hushed laughter occasionally catching my ears. I never would have expected our school’s executive director’s towering body to walk through the door, a grim expression plastered to his face. Once again, the fear presented itself as my heart dropped.
That morning our young minds became aware of the gruesome world that surrounded us and the terrible tragedies that occur daily. We were informed that a boy in the grade above us had attempted suicide the night before. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I had never experienced something like that before. I remember staring at Mr. Ernstmeyer, waiting for him to burst out with a cynical laugh and state that he was merely joking; but it never came. Knowing someone that I saw on a weekly basis in the hallways, occasionally smiling at students as they passed by, yet being so distressed that they would rather die than live another day, seemed almost unreal. Both my life and those around me in the Lincoln Lutheran community turned upside down. After weeks of receiving uncomforting news on his state, we were told that he had moved on; resumed an eternal life with our Savior. The worst noise I have ever heard, that still haunts me, were the wails that rose up from his friends and fellow classmates. It was the sound of pure mental and emotional agony.
The atmosphere at school was the first aspect to change. Lincoln Lutheran is a lively school, yet following the incident, it became completely silent. Rarely anyone talked in the crowded hallways as they dragged their bodies to different classes, like they were practically on autopilot. The silence began to scream into my ears, and I couldn’t take it. I started to close out the world and cling to my own thoughts, beginning the process of evaluating my own life and my own faith. Doubt and anger bubbled up inside my heart against the world and against God. Why did something like this have to happen to us? What did we do to deserve this? Why is God allowing more clouds to build up in my life?
This anger present in my heart began to eat away at me and I started to plunge into a depressed state of mind; I was emotionally drained. Things that used to interest me became bland. School became just another nuisance to deal with rather than a place to gain knowledge; people (even my own friends) seemed distant even when they were right beside me. I isolated myself from others, not wanting help nor even caring if I received any. Depression became acquainted with my long-known friend, anxiety. My brain started to over analyze the smallest of bits of information, overwhelming me completely. I developed high stress levels leading to getting physically sick when stress became present. Symptoms became common in my daily actions: bodily jitters and shakes, being on the brink of throwing up, deep pounding within my skull, a slight speech impediment sitting on my tongue, my fingers involuntarily picking at my skin, and blood rushing to my cheeks. At moments, I felt as though I was standing at the edge of insanity; simply waiting for something to push me.
I remained in this waiting game for the following months of the school year. I desperately awaited the days where I could escape the building, which held so many painful memories. All I needed to do was make it through finals, as simple as that. It was practically in my grasp.
Then one night, it once again slipped through my fingers. I had just fallen asleep when I was startled awake by the loud ringing of the house phone. I lay awake, staring at the darkened wall of my bedroom. Who would be calling at this ungodly hour of the night? Was it a family member? A telemarketer? The lights of my parent’s bedroom flicked on as the sound of my mother’s quick pace makes it to the phone. All went silent as I strain to hear what she says, but nothing comes, not even a murmur. I hear the click of the phone being returned to the receiver. The hallway lights are turned on moments later. I shield my eyes with my turned shoulder, squinting at the shadows. I feel a presence approach behind me; the sweet smell of my mother’s lotion subtly fills my nose. She shakes my right shoulder gently, whispering, “Mikaela.” I murmur a response to let her know that I’m awake. “That was the school” she drifts off. The school? Why would they be calling? We couldn’t be having a snow day in the middle of May. I hear her sigh before finishing her sentence. “Koby Hruza died tonight. He committed suicide just a few hours ago. School has been cancelled.” I’m so emotionally drained all I can muster is a whispered “Okay.” I could tell my mother yearned to comfort me, to comfort her hurting child, yet I also knew that she didn’t know how. After the few minutes of her simply standing there, staring into the darkened shape of my body, she finally turned and left my room to console my brother. I remember laying awake for a bit, breathing in the leftover scent of my absent mother, before falling into a restless sleep.
Now, I’m not writing this to be a sob story. I don’t want pity; actually, that’s the last thing that I want to receive. I’m writing this as rather a lesson – a reflection on my life. Rather than focusing on the negative aspects, I strive to point the light on how I’ve overcome, how I’ve been shaped, and how my perspective on the world has changed.
Looking back to 2013, I realize what I overlooked; what I was blind to because of my pain. Overcoming this challenge, or setback, in life was a very slow and agonizing process. What and who assisted me in this overcoming? The first that comes to mind is my friends and family. Without them, I cannot imagine where I would be. They stood by my side, even when I was probably the most intolerable person. I don’t know if they sensed what was going on, but that doesn’t matter. They held my hand and assisted me in the journey to a happier place – a happier state of mind. Though I’m no longer “clouded,” sparse clouds still fade in and out of my life now and then, yet never completely obscure my sun. The most significant influence was my Lord and Savior. I truly believe that I would not have been able to make it through this darkness without The Light. My foundation was built on Him, and only through Him I was able to get back up onto my feet and dust myself off.
Though I have overcome, I have also been influenced and impacted by my past. I think that I have become emotionally vulnerable and more easily impacted than I was before 2013. I’ve noticed that certain things trigger the pent up emotions, and often I feel obligated to hold them back. Yet, mentally, I believe that I have become stronger, more down to earth and clear minded. I am no longer living in this imaginative state of mind, but rather in reality; able to see the awful things that not only happen to me but to everyone. I realize that I cannot live in a place where I believe that nothing will ever happen to me because I’m Christian. If I do, I will be blindsided again. As Christians, we must realize that we live in a sinful, corrupted world that hates us with a fiery passion. For it states in John 15:18 that, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”1 The world hates us because we have God within our hearts, because we are not blind to the truth. In a way, my tribulations allowed me to grow a closer relationship with my God, and witness how He brings good out of the bad due to his unconditional love for His children.
I know, in my heart, that clinging to the past is unhealthy and unnecessary. Rather, the past is placed so that we may reflect on it and learn from it; putting our newfound wisdom into action. Though the wound that was inflicted on my heart is still fresh, I can feel it slowly, but surely healing. It is with deep gratitude that I thank my family for dealing with me in my lowest moments, my friends who picked me up and dusted me off, Lincoln Lutheran who provides me the knowledge and good news of the Gospel, and my loving and gracious God who sent His Son to die for all of my sins, knowing that I couldn’t pay for them myself. I’m glad that I have been blessed with knowing that “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities nor powers, neither things present nor things to come, neither 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” (Romans 8:37-39).