Becca Ryan was an integral part of the InterVarsity Core team at UVM. She was taken from our UVM family in a tragic climbing accident September 16th 2017. Through this time of mourning, God's power has been shown through Becca's testimony, openly declared on campus at both a prayer vigil and her memorial service. This is Becca's Testimony, written in her own words.
I can identify two moments in my life where I felt completely stripped down to the literal bone, with my weaknesses and pain in the spotlight, where the allegiance of the heart was drawn from within. Everyone experiences moments like these when something happens out of our control and the tragedy strikes as seemingly otherworldly unfair. You know the tragedy I speak of—the one that sneaks up on you when least expected, when you have your life laid out just right before you like a perfectly arranged dinner setting with plans set in stone, everything the way you know it is supposed to be. This tragedy catches you off guard; it rips the tablecloth from beneath you and the wine spills, the cloth is stained, the plates, and you, even, can be broken. And in this moment, when struck down and the depths of our hearts are exposed without a single fortress of worldly barriers to keep our vulnerability within, there can be a found a staggering truth about the human condition.
I first remember sliding for far too long on snow that felt like sandpaper. It was my first downhill race, the fastest event in ski racing. I had plenty of training for this, as I attended an elite academy for ski racers to receive some of the best training and opportunity in the country. I was a Junior in high school and the previous year I had won a National Championship title. January was right in the heat of the racing season and the weight of national qualifications, my future career in ski racing, and expectations were slowly narrowing my perspective with every race and perceived failure. Though I was coming out of my best season ever, I had raced horrifically at the majority of the races that season because of the pressure. But I had a plan nonetheless; my table was set just right. Here it would all happen for me: I would lower my FIS (international ski federation) points enough to qualify for nationals, then compete there to eventually make the National Training Group, and then I would go on to the U.S. Ski Team.
Despite my plans for the future, there I was sliding out of control, and one glance at my leg would haunt my nightmares for months to come. My bone created a jagged, seemingly fake angle, making a joint where no joint was meant to be. When the sliding stopped, I was on my stomach with my mangled limb somehow dangled behind my head, so deformed that I was incapable of moving myself. Though maybe it had only been minutes that I was alone in the middle of that course, a twisted, human pretzel screaming for help, it felt like hours. I was stripped. The pain of severe trauma was next level to anything I had experienced, but the tablecloth had been yanked from beneath me, and that was far more frightening than any way my limb could be distorted. The contents of my heart were spilled on the snow like marbles and they were slipping away. As I watched the pieces of my identity rolling down the ski trail, all I could think or say was just how otherworldly unfair it all was.
Our lives are defined by what we love and desire. It is the filling we allow into our hearts, subconsciously or consciously. Those layers of pursuits, people, and things build up to create what we call our identity. Until my first semester of freshman year of college, I never thought about the depth to my desires, nothing outside their immediate effect on my life or what I wanted for my future and myself. There was never a second level for me, never a moment beyond the sandpaper snow, the reality that the marbles were slipping away, and the bone that had been broken just right to put me out of ski racing and end my competitive career. The emptiness I felt never got a deeper look beyond my singular desire to ski race again, that singular desire for transient filling.
But I started noticing my desires when I was invited to a bible study my first semester of college. I remember the internal debate, one part of me searching for any excuse not to go, the other part, nudging me forward, highlighting my brokenness, telling me that I probably need it. I was not at all sure what “it” was or why I would find that at a bible study. Regardless, the strength of the voice convincing me to go won. In a group of women with desires stemming from Jesus, I noticed theirs were vastly different than mine. The big gaping hole in my heart, as one could imagine, did not keep quiet when I was forced to go to college with ski racing behind me. It demanded to be filled with whatever it could get its hands on—alcohol, drugs, boys, classes, eating disorders—anything. But on a Saturday night, while I desired to party and search for attention from anyone, the women in my bible study simply desired to spend quality time with people they loved, a concept foreign to me until I looked beyond the Sunday morning hangover. I noticed darkness, a trail of poison leaking out of my desires and contaminating every area of my life. It left me feeling disgusted with myself, the physical hangover becoming debilitatingly spiritual. The only relief I could get from the toxicity was when those Christian women surrounded me; they were digging and digging within me, beyond the superficial, poisoned clutter on top, to find any hint of light possible. When I was at a bible study and sensed a presence that was different than any relief I could find at a party, I almost believed that whatever they were searching for, was real.
My eyes were opened to the reality of my desires, the sum of my identity, as lost and empty as it seemed. When I was drinking on a weekend, or when trying to score lower points at a ski race, I had a desire to fit an expectation, to be enough, filling myself with whatever the world had told me would be enough. Each time I would fall-short or people and things surrounding me would fail to affirm my worthiness, I could hear the whispers of the world saying, “try harder. Just do this instead, if you’re like this, if you do this better, you’ll be good enough.” But harder never worked. I was never good enough at ski racing, successful enough, attractive enough; I was never enough for the world. I saw this ultimate division in me between the darkness on one hand, the place I easily resided in and standards taunted me constantly with the shortcomings of my identity, or the other hand, the one that I could not quite comprehend. I found it in the presence of God, where, for once, those surrounding me blatantly displayed their weaknesses, where imperfection was accompanied by joy. In that space, it was celebrated to live and love on a diverging path from what was expected. I spent countless late friday nights in a friend’s apartments blasting irish folk music, dancing and talking about who Jesus was, having Christmas parties that involved ugly sweaters and board games, and house parties where everyone was so focused on spending time with one another, alcohol and social tension were out of the question. There was a dissonance between the affirmation to be different I experienced amongst Christian friends, and the pressure to do what was expected in every college setting. And in the affirmation of the uniqueness and purity deep within me, was a source of life flowing from Jesus. Throughout the months to come, the light was continuously revealed to me, and in it I saw snippets of hope for the future, something that had evaded me since that moment I slid across sand-paper snow.
But staying right where I was in a darkness full of expectations, resisting change, and avoiding eye contact with Jesus was far easier. It was not overwhelming and did not challenge me to get out of my own bubble and see existence from an unprecedented stance. It did not cost the sanctity my reputation or the abandonment of standards. So, for a while I stayed there. I lived in the transient fillings, in belief that I deserved better than what I got from life; I lived in intoxicated mental states, where I sprinkled in bits of Christianity as an ego booster, without looking at the next level within my heart. But the reality to transient fillings is they are just that. I continued to find myself more and more empty, stripped and lifeless. I had no more left in my heart, no more marbles of my identity to feed to the world’s expectations of me. I knew that what I needed and what my soul deeply desired, was whatever was in the light. And when anyone chooses to reveal genuine need, longing for acceptance, and brokenness to a boundless, loving God, He will meet you in an instant. I meet Him there every day.
It is in human nature to chase after desires, to work hard at what we love; these things, places, and people that take the most space in our thoughts, they inevitably define who we become whether it is acknowledged or not. So in that moment on the sandpaper snow in high school, so mangled I could not even move, the fillings in my heart proved to be more unreliable than I could fathom. But with the eventual revelation of darkness and light and a second look within, there, I no longer fumbled around in the dark. I found genuine light in my weakness, strength in my exposure, purity in my imperfection, and permanent filling. I found Jesus there.
During my sophomore year of college, at a bouldering competition (a type of climbing), I found myself fallen in the floor in the same sort of traumatic pain that had rocked me when I slid across the snow in high school. With my tibia and fibula snapped, displaced, and punctured through the skin, stripped down to the literal bone of any strength I might have, well, here I felt the most strength I ever had in my life. In this moment when I could not rely on myself in any way and the allegiance of my heart was drawn from within, when the Emergency Medical Transporter told me she was impressed at how calm I was, I said, “I’m a Christian, so life is just different for me.”
There is no greater relief than freedom from finite desires, the freedom to be unapologetically me, not caring whether my own desires align with the desires of the people and the world around me. There is no greater joy than the ability for me to be completely exposed in all of my weakness and find strength that stands against all human logic. Logic tells us to base our self-image on what we have done and who we have proven to be, it tells us to base our happiness on circumstances or future. Logic tells us that sometimes life and situations, like an extremely rare and unlikely ankle or femur fracture, is just unfair at the root of it. Jesus however, stands far above logic. He loves me regardless of my social resume or how good I may have proven to be. Jesus shows that forgiveness and sacrifice overpower the existence of evil in any circumstance. On the cross, Jesus took on the fate of the entire world’s pain and darkness, an eternity’s worth of separation from the light experienced in the presence of God, and became the epitome of unfair circumstances. He showed that his deep desire for every individual to experience true love and freedom, though illogical, changes everything. There was no greater freedom for me, than being pinned down by a tragedy that once had me crying, “this is otherworldly unfair,” only to say, “life’s just different for me because I’m a Christian.”
I’m a Christian and I love Jesus. What fills my identity is not what I search for in the world or what I decide I must be to be good enough. My identity is based in what is greater than me, in God, who has redefined love and affirmation and redeemed me in all of my scars. And from that place, I caution you—not in a manner of condemnation; I will not wave my finger in your face, call you a filthy sinner, or shout at you to repent—I merely caution you to take a second look at your desires. I challenge you to go to the next level within your heart and name the fillings you are chasing after so that you know these desires. I caution you not to lead a life where the desires you choose are based off of what society has expected of you, where life is experienced weekend to weekend, or just a routine of daily motions. I challenge you to consider whether you have ever really been loved beyond who you have made yourself to be or have been told you are, beyond faults and successes, with a love so deep and unwavering it exceeds reason. I challenge you to ask the big questions, to step into vulnerability, and consider that your worth and uniqueness might be far more vast than you ever knew. I challenge you to seek a true wholeness in the identity in a world of transient fillings.