“I began my studies in social science in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1983. On reflection, I was a very vulnerable, insecure nineteen year old. I was bubbly and confident on the outside, which hid my insecurity and fear. I came from a troubled, financially disadvantaged background and didn’t hold any trust that I would achieve my degree. I was accustomed to life being unpredictable and disappointing. Life in my experience held no guarantees.
“My refuge was God, my secret friend. God had answered a desperate prayer when I was ten years old and from then on I spoke to Him all the time. I was a devout Catholic. I went to mass every day and ‘confession’ every week. I believed this was what God wanted from me. I was a heavily rule–bound soul, constantly striving to stay in God’s will.
“However, my sociology studies at University lead me into tremendous inner turmoil. I was challenged by what I read about the church and social order, evolution and feminism. I struggled to deny that this material was affecting my thinking, but in the end, I had to admit that I was doubting the goodness of God and indeed his very existence.
“For me, God and the Catholic Church were one and the same. To doubt the Catholic Church was to doubt God. By the end of second year, I angrily renounced both and became an atheist.
“I had a friend at university, Linda Tracey, who intrigued me. Linda was a member of the Christian Union at TCD, and invited me to CU events regularly.
“Linda was unique. She was incredibly peaceful and exuded kindness and warmth. She never seemed to be in a bad mood, or stressed. She accepted everyone, no matter how they presented. I knew she had a faith, but it didn’t seem to be one that judged people. It didn’t seem to have an agenda either. Initially I was wary of her, wondering if she was trying to get under my skin and convert me to Protestantism. It took a long time for me to realise that she wasn’t up to anything. She was just being herself.
“In first year she went to mass with me. I thought that was incredibly gracious of her. She let me explain what it meant to me and I felt very connected to her after that. She showed great kindness in being willing to simply hear me, just listening.
“I don’t know if she ever knew that my studies were eroding my Catholic beliefs. I was just impacted by her confidence that God was real and indeed her freedom where I was concerned. She didn’t appear desperate to get through to me. She didn’t actively pursue me, or push anything. However, she seemed to always be there at the right time.
“One such time was a fateful day at college, Easter break 1987. My atheism had led me to see life as quite meaningless and I no longer cared about my degree. I resolved to quit college and was probably going to make a mess of my life. Linda walked up to me as I waited to meet the Dean of my department. I was astounded to see her. It was Easter break and she had no reason to be in college. She told me God told her to come in and she didn’t know why, until she saw me. We went into a small room and prayed and the God I believed didn’t exist, met us both there. I was terrified, as I had rejected God, but the Gospel of forgiveness and acceptance took my fear away. What followed were Bible studies with Linda and the realisation that I too could have the freedom Linda had.
“I completed my degree and years later I did a Masters in Biblical Counselling, where I studied under Larry Crabb and Dan Allender in Colorado Christian University. I have worked as a psychotherapist ever since, in general practice, but specialising in trauma recovery. When one works with trauma, one touches the darkness. I had been in the dark, where meaninglessness is as acutely painful as fear. Perfect love sought me and lead me to my calling, where every anguished moment and circumstance of my troubled life has proved meaningful and purposeful in the fullness of time.”