Summer 2022
Main Page Download

‘I can trust him with the things that are most precious’

stories of Faith, Grit and Joy

Abigail O’Grattan

By Jeremy Lloyd Even before she arrived on campus for the first time, Abigail O’Grattan had her college experience all mapped out.

“When I was looking at colleges, I was looking at three things,” she says. “I wanted to be able to swim, I wanted to be able to study the Bible, and I wanted to take ancient languages as part of that education.”

A competitive swimmer in high school who has always felt a call to vocational ministry, O’Grattan was able to check all the boxes as a biblical studies major at George Fox.

“Fox was the perfect fit for me because I could play my sport, I could study what I wanted to study, and I could participate in the honors program,” she says. “Plus there were so many bonuses – it was just beautiful and I fell in love with the campus.”

But just months into her freshman year, O’Grattan’s plans quickly began to unravel.

“The first couple months of the swim season were hard because it’s a college sport, but it was also really fun,” she says. “But pretty quickly I realized I was having some severe neurological symptoms. I was losing vision when I was racing, and I was really dizzy all the time. It was getting to the point where I wasn’t sleeping and I had chronic migraines. My brother, who also goes to Fox, would come to my dorm and walk me to my classes because he was worried I would fall and not be able to get back up.”

That first semester on campus was marked by MRIs, multiple trips to the ER and even a visit to an optometrist. Nothing was conclusive, and the symptoms kept getting worse. Finally, a trip to a specialist revealed the culprit: severe mold poisoning.

“I had been exposed when I was really young,” she says. “When you have any amount of that in your system, it can get triggered really easily, especially in a beautiful wet climate like Oregon. I ended up having to stop doing any cardio activity because it just pumps it through my system.”

A lack of cardiovascular activity combined with a special diet and a well-filtered dorm room reduced her symptoms almost immediately. But that also meant no more competitive swimming – an activity O’Grattan had not only loved, but found her identity in, for more than 12 years.

“When I realized I wouldn’t be able to play my sport anymore, I was really angry,” she says. “I was like, ‘I’m being obedient, God. You told me to go here and I knew it would be hard, but I said yes. Why don’t I get to swim?’

“My whole worth was wrapped up in how well I performed, and if I wasn’t a very fast swimmer, I wasn’t worth very much in my mind.”

Just four months into her college experience, O’Grattan had lost her identity as a student-athlete, her health, and the sense of community she had felt with the swim team. She considered giving up and just staying home, but her dad – her biggest fan at swim competitions – encouraged her to keep going.

“I remember him telling me that Fox and my college experience is so much bigger than four laps in a pool,” she says.

Soon, a new community began to develop around her. There were O’Grattan’s “big sisters” in the honors program, who provided encouragement and a sense of belonging. There were her swim teammates, who continued to stay in touch. And there were her theology professors, who “cared super deeply about what I was going through.” She also started serving at her church, “which has been a huge source of strength in community.”

Along the way, O’Grattan has learned to trust in God like never before.

“Especially the last three years, it’s changed from me having my own plans and dreaming without God to inviting him into that, knowing that his plans are better,” says O’Grattan, who graduated this spring. “I can trust him with the things that are most precious to me.”

This summer, O’Grattan will begin to pursue a career in ministry with an internship at Portland Seminary’s Institute for Pastoral and Congregational Thriving. She can’t wait to discover what God has in store.

“I’m excited because I know that I love to teach and that I love Scripture,” she says. “I’ve seen spaces where the Lord has given me permission to steward his presence in a space, and I’ve seen people changed by that. To get to do that is just the most exciting thing ever.”

facebook sharing button
twitter sharing button
email sharing button

Summer 2022 Cover

Cover of Summer 2022 issue

Looking for more?

Browse this issue of the George Fox Journal to read more of the stories of George Fox University, Oregon's nationally recognized Christian university.

Browse Summer 2022