By Kim Stiles Calkins ’99, a soccer star on The Bluff who then coached at Gonzaga, is now pursuing her master’s degree, and glories in her three children.
It was at the University that I began to investigate my own belief in God, and it started when one of my roommates introduced me to chilly mornings, fleece coats, coffee with caramel, and writing in a journal in a coffee shop near campus. I had not seen an early morning by choice since I was six years old, racing to catch Saturday morning cartoons, and it took me a while to learn how to write a journal that wasn’t mere teenage gossip. I learned to write down bits of reading that inspired me, I learned to be silent and observe people, and I learned, eventually, how imbalanced my own life really was — all I cared about, I realized with dismay, was physical fitness, crushes, and schoolwork. It was humbling to read my own life back to myself.
And the more I wrote, the more I discovered how little I really knew of God. So I set to work. I read many books, I took every comparative religion course I could find on The Bluff, I attended all sorts of forms of worship. I talked to people from all sorts of faith traditions and from none. And then I went abroad, on the University’s program to Granada, where I happily allowed myself to be culture-shocked in Spain, Portugal, and north Africa. I thought and wrote everywhere — by the Mediterranean, on the steps of the Alhambra, on park benches, amid olive trees. My questions about God continued to unravel with pen, journal, and Bible. The caramel coffee was replaced with small cups of café con leche. The average workday in Spain was from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, so I was forced to slow down and observe, explore, read, write.
But when I returned from Spain, I plunged back into a pressure-packed life, teaching English to adults in downtown Portland, taking demanding upper-level courses, writing papers and projects seemingly by the dozens. Pride kept me from lightening my load and acknowledging that I would need a fifth year to finish everything. One night, overwhelmed and exhausted, I left the building where I taught English, thinking how I would be up all night with academic work. An elderly homeless woman was sitting on the steps of a dark church as I walked by. She smiled at me; and something about her smile, so genuine, so honest, stopped me in my tracks. I sat down with her. I offered her money. She declined, saying a young lady like me out so late should always have a little cash on hand, and that I needn’t worry about her because God was taking care of her. Her confidence in God was astounding, and I realized, with a sinking heart, that all I ever worried about was taking care of me.
I bid her farewell and walked to my warm car, to go back to my warm house, with my warm friends, while she sat alone on the cold concrete steps, allowing God to take care of her. I started the car and the tears began and I don’t have very good words for what happened next. I was suddenly aware, is the closest I can come — powerfully aware of the sin in my life, wholly aware of the hands of Jesus reaching into my soul and removing the cobwebs. I remember that my chest hurt each time He reached into my heart. I was breathless. I was emptied and free. I cried and cried. Through the waterfall of tears I was finally able to see my life for what it was, and what it could be, in Him, and I surrendered, I trusted, I committed, I said yes.
I cried all the way home, tears of exasperation and relief. And I was up all night working, but now I was trying to write down what had happened, what I felt, what had changed. Very late that night I emailed Father Art Wheeler, to show him what I had written. Like so many other students at the University over the years, I had come to completely trust Father Art — and indeed I immediately received an e-mail back from him, asking for a meeting first thing in the morning in his office.
When I poked my head around his door in the morning his office was dark, but there was Father Art, with a Bible open on his desk and a serious look on his face. He motioned for me to sit. He began to read Paul’s letter to the Romans aloud, and it was word for word what had happened to me the previous night. It was the first time I learned and understood the Bible as the living word of God… that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation….
Father Art then told me quietly that he had forwarded my midnight mail around to his colleagues, and that my epiphany was exactly the sort of moment the University was founded upon, and that every professor he knew would help me in any way possible.
I have written ever since that day, every day — prayers, notes, ideas, thoughts, questions, discoveries, proclamations, plans. I still write in the stillness of the morning, with coffee, and now with the occasional contribution from a scribbling toddler. And every morning I study the word of God, and every morning I find wonder, truth, and wisdom. Since that tear-stained evening in a little green Ford Escort in downtown Portland, I have tried to persevere in listening to Him, savoring the miracles, enduring the pain. I have been blessed with a husband and three children, stabbed by the death of my sister, stung by a miscarriage. I have watched God work beauty from ash. I witnessed hope and strength that comes to us not from this world. I have fed my soul and seen His glory. Someday, all that He has written in the world will be made perfect again in Him; this He has written, and this I believe.