The model Oklahoma Christian University student is not hard to find. They have an active role in chapel; they make good grades and probably hang out in the Brew. He or she posts encouraging messages on Instagram and smiles at everyone they pass by.
These are all good and applaudable characteristics, but true authenticity travels far beyond these surface-level attributes.
I have one year left at Oklahoma Christian, and despite all of the amazingly positive aspects of attending school here, I cannot help but notice the lack of vulnerability in so many students.
I find, especially in circles where we should feel the most comfortable, Christians put on a mask. I see people walking around Oklahoma Christian’s campus pretending to be happy when in reality they feel broken inside. Of course, not every happy person falls into this category. Sometimes, the desire to appear put together crumbles us from the inside. It has crumbled me from the inside.
I was a healthy and normal child up until I turned 10 years old. Rashes and spots started appearing all over my skin. Nothing from the local pharmacy would help, so eventually I went to my pediatrician.
Unfortunately, he could not diagnose the problem.
Then, I went to the first dermatologist. She could not help either. After a few months of tests, IVs, biopsies, cat scans, going to pediatric hospitals and being treated by adults with “Make-A-Wish Foundation” attitudes, I was diagnosed with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, mycosis fungoides. It is a mouthful.
Most people freak out when they hear the word lymphoma because they immediately think “cancer.” And I guess it is cancer, a kind of cancer that usually occurs in men over the age of 50, not 10-year-old girls. Technically, there is no cure to completely eradicate the disease, and I will have it for the rest of my life. But really, I am fine. It is much worse if the problem goes undiagnosed.
Once doctors figure out the issue, the condition is relatively easy to manage. While I did have a few doubts about God and wondered why something like this would happen to me, these thoughts were often overshadowed by the fact that it could have been so much worse. Grappling with the reality of having an illness did not affect my faith as much as one would assume, but the way God worked through the situation changed my life forever.
God showed me what the church looked like in action. Women sewed stuffed animals for me to squeeze while I received IVs and shots. People gave me gifts and told me they were praying for my family. Everybody at church encouraged me and encouraged my parents. I remember getting excited because my name was even in the bulletin. In my 10-year-old mind, I thought I had finally made it. I was famous.
I knew I wanted to be a part of something as special as the church, which made a sick 10-year-old girl feel special. I wanted to be a part of a group of people who took care of each other like family because they were.
I want Oklahoma Christian to be this kind of place for all students. To students who feel like they do not belong or fit the typical Oklahoma Christian mold, it is okay. Every person on this campus has baggage, whether they desire to share it or not. Every person belongs whether you feel it or not.
Typically, I never tell people about my condition, but I have found bottling everything inside does not help anyone, especially not myself. I do not share this part of my life to seek attention or pity but to encourage every student at Oklahoma Christian to share their stories. Their true stories. The good, the bad and whatever you do not want people to know about yourself. You never know how you can inspire someone.