Trust in a Time of Crisis: Senior Reflection from Madeleine Wiggins ’20

Every year during a spring Chapel service, graduating seniors are invited to share their stories with the Gordon community. It’s a chance to reflect on their time at Gordon and pass down some of their wisdom to the rising seniors, juniors and sophomores. And given that campus is going to welcome a new class in about a week, The Bell is resharing these senior reflections so that incoming students—first-years and transfers—can enjoy them too.

Meet psychology major and 2020 alumna Madeleine Wiggins. Like most 2020 graduates, she finished her college career remotely. She missed out on the classic rites of passage like the senior formal and a May commencement ceremony. But COVID-19 wasn’t the only major “antagonist” to interfere with what some might call a “traditional” college experience. Living with a chronic illness, she experienced several interruptions to her plans and, in time, learned how to accept a situation beyond her control. Here is her story:

Taking Medical Leave to Search for Answers

After one semester of college back in 2015, Wiggins put her education on hold for medical reasons. While her Gordon classmates were studying for exams, she was undergoing chemotherapy and trying to get a medical diagnosis that could explain why she was in constant pain. While she waited for a diagnosis, her health continued to decline and so did her trust in God’s plans for her future.

During her senior reflection, she said, “I was taking classes online and wondering if I’d ever get back to Gordon. The future was full of unknowns. . . and yet I knew my only option was to trust that God had a plan and that my suffering was not in vain. [I had] to trust that what would eventually turn into three semesters off from school had a purpose.”

Adopting an Eternal Mindset and Accepting a New Normal

During her third semester of medical leave in 2017, Wiggins went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to attend a month-long pain clinic. It was there, in a room full of other young people suffering from chronic pain and illness and in a moment of brutal honesty, that she found a way to see through the veil of her own agony. She explained, “That day, we were being taught to grieve our old normal and to accept our new normal . . . We were told by the doctors that the majority of us, if not all of us, would be sick for the rest of our lives.”

Finally, Paul’s words found in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 made sense to her. For months, she’d grown to hate them. Before, these verses seemed cold and unsympathetic to her state of constant pain, but now they held promise. The verses read, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

She explained, “It was in that moment I realized, ‘Wait, I’m only going to be sick for the rest of my earthly life, which doesn’t even compare to what it will be like in eternity with my new body.’”

Even if she would be sick for her entire life, her suffering would come to an end. That truth, she says, made it possible for her to “stop dwelling on the present moment of suffering and take the blinders off . . . to trust [God] more freely and open [her] hands from the death grip with which [she] was holding onto [her] own plans.”

After the clinic—and this realization—Wiggins was healthy enough to return to Gordon and resume her studies.

Finding Meaning in the Struggle

This practice of trusting God in the midst of pain and suffering, while difficult, is something we can all learn to do. Wiggins said, “I’m excited to say that I’m at a place where I’m thankful for my suffering. . . My reality has been filled with suffering and challenges I didn’t ask for, and yet, alongside those difficulties came friendship and knowledge I didn’t know I needed. I didn’t realize how much they would add to my life and my relationship with God.”

It’s hard to be grateful for periods of suffering, especially when you’re in the midst of them and the end isn’t in sight. Take it from someone who knows that her suffering may be lifelong and has found hope in God’s eternal promises anyway.

“Seeing how God is using what I went through to encourage others and prepare me for what he has planned next has allowed trusting God’s plans over my life to become a source of freedom and joy,” says Wiggins. “Amidst the uncertainties and sicknesses that our world is currently facing, it is my hope and prayer that you would continue to trust the Lord’s leading. Jesus said, ‘In this world you will have troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world.’ Although what you may be going through now or will go through in the future is at times unbearable, there is hope because Christ is returning and will remove us from all suffering, pain and death.”