A few months back, I was speaking with my friend, Britton Sharp who works with Collegiate Abbey, a campus ministry. We were talking about walking through challenges. His words were powerful and provided a frame for thinking about how we might navigate tough times. He suggested when he is facing a challenge he asks himself, what can I do to 1) shine light in the darkness and 2) bring something about this from death to life?
I have thought about Britton’s ideas when meeting one on one with students in high challenges and in my meetings with staff both in and out of my office… Look for opportunities to shine a light into hard dark places… Shining a light on the challenges and looking for the way forward helps us all to gain understanding, then find a pathway through. I am also aware that darkness is often the best backdrop to see light, even dim light.
A few years ago, I spent a little time professionally in the office of Student Conduct working on coaching style meetings with students who had some challenges and teaching/developing the first educational classes offered by that office on ethical decision making and academic integrity. I learned that some of the best lessons in college may not always come from a classroom. I routinely found myself suggesting to students in my classes and coaching meetings, “When life brings you to a hard place, it is important and up to you to figure out what is the lesson in it.” I couldn’t tell them exactly what that was, and it wouldn’t have been effective for them if I had. They needed to discover it for themselves. I would maintain, that if we don’t dig deeper and identify what lesson life is trying to teach us, we are destined to repeat it. I have certainly seen that play out in my own life and the lives of people around me. Figuring out the lesson now at 18 or 20 something will always serve you much better than ignoring it or looking to blame someone else and circling the block over and over falling into the same pit for the next 18 to 20 years.
In the work I do in Student Life, I am an educator, but my classroom may not always have walls, desks and white board. Think about this… What hard places has life brought you to? Do you see any light in it? Where does light need to shine? How can you bring something good from the hard places?
We are a community that has been hurting. I am writing this on the heels of a great tragedy witnessed by many of you. The loss has been real and deep and may be compounded with other loss and high challenges. As I look for the light in the darkness, I see it all around us. There is light in the love poured out on a brotherhood of men who are devastated and hurting. I see light in the small gestures of food and condolences from our organizations and the contributions people have made to the fund for the family. There is light in prayer gatherings to lift up the life of young man who will be missed not only by his family and friends and our campus community, but by those who did not yet have a chance to know him and see his impact on the world. At the hospital Friday night before we had been told of his passing, one good friend told me, “Tanner is one of the smartest people I know. He will be going to Mars one day. I just know it.” Each hug, each warm message of love, and support through endless posts/texts or just sitting with someone who is hurting and not saying a word, because there are not good ones to say… that is light.
In the dark places, where can we bring death to life? I believe in this community and we will honor Tanner’s memory and find our way forward. Today, I want us to take the time to grieve, surround one another with support and lean on the resources available like counseling support, 974-HELP, spending time with one another, talking about what we are feeling and letting people know what you need and looking for ways to fill the needs at the appropriate times and in the best methods. If you are a praying person, pray and connect to the fellowships around you. If you are having a hard time with classes, talk with your faculty, let them know. Bottom line, stay connected, look for the light, shine a light, or be the light.
We will get through the hard places. I want each of you to know, we are a Big Orange Family and like family, we will get through this, together. Vols Help Vols.