On February 13, 2008, I prayed for one of the first times in my life. I prayed that God would wake me up because I felt dead inside. I felt that there had to be more to life than just worldly measures.

The next day on Thursday, February 14, 2008, my life was altered forever. As I was sitting in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, a gunman burst in and started firing bullets everywhere. I quickly threw my laptop so I could get up from my seat and dove into the aisle. Once I was in the aisle I was trampled by classmates trying to escape. I was about 15 feet away from the gunman, so I thought that I had no chance of surviving. Right when I was ready to lay down and surrender, paralyzed in fear, I looked up and saw light shining in from a door 30 feet in front of me.

I decided at that moment that I had to at least die trying. I got up and started running for the door. Out of the corners of my eyes, I saw my classmates being shot, falling down and bleeding. By the grace of God, I made it to the glass door, pushed it with all my might, and started running.

I made it out of the classroom that day. However, five others weren’t so lucky. One of the victims was Gayle Dubowski, a disciple and member of the Chicago Church. I knew Gayle growing up. Her dad, Joe, was my soccer coach. But unfortunately, we lost contact after middle school. Just when I thought all hope was lost, God wasn’t finished yet.

He worked through the Dubowskis, who reached out and loved up on me for five years. On April 27, 2013, I made Jesus Lord of my life (in the Dubowski’s backyard). Ten years later, God is still producing hope and healing.

My heart was very heavy that night as the death toll kept rising. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. All I could do was pray. Pray and write. In my anguish, I penned a letter to the Parkland shooting survivors and other mass shooting survivors. I wanted them to know that the world can be a dark place, but there is always hope. There is always healing. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, I decided to send my penned letter to the Daily Herald (a large local newspaper in the suburbs of Chicago).

They contacted me about eight hours later notifying me that they would like to publish the article in the paper and online. I was flattered and agreed. They also sent a photographer to my house to get a picture for the story. The photographer asked me what I wanted to have in the picture, and the only thing I could think of was my “Love One Another” sign I made.

The next morning I went to pick up the paper and my mouth dropped when I looked at the front page. The Daily Herald put my letter and picture on the front page, above the fold! I was blown away! The representative from the Daily Herald contacted me again and told me if there is anything I need or any community event I needed help with, to give her a call.

I sat and prayed and asked God, “Do YOU want me to host a community event?” The answer was very clear, “Yes.” I asked God what kind of event I could possibly hold, and the answer was even more clear – a candlelight vigil.

In a day and a half, I planned and organized a candlelight vigil for the Parkland students. I had so many people volunteer to help. The Daily Herald published another article highlighting the vigil. One of the news stations even broadcasted an announcement about it! Once again, I was blown away.

After we prayed we noticed one news station van pulled up. Then a second. Then a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth. The first speaker was Curt, who prayed an incredible heartfelt prayer. The next speaker was Joe Dubowski, who gave a moving speech about moving forward with one another. Next, Laurel Dubowski and I read the 17 victims’ names Then I spoke. It was so hard, but God was speaking through me! My message was one of hope, resiliency, and kindness. I challenged everyone there to promise that they would do acts of kindness to help make the world a better place. As Morgan Freeman says in Evan Almighty, “You change the world with one small act of kindness at a time.”

Five local news channels reported on our vigil. Numerous articles were published with our church name and location, and there are even a few people studying the Bible already!

I say all this to say that God is faithful. I am beyond grateful that he is using my suffering to illuminate his purpose. So, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to, “ Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer ” – Romans 12:12.

You never know how God can use your pain and suffering. All glory goes to God. See more: