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Defining Moments

Epiphanies can be grand: the Star of Bethlehem revealing to the Magi where the Christ child lay; the "lightbulb" insight – or falling apple – that leads to a major discovery. They can also be quiet moments that forever change the way we understand ourselves, our work, our faith or our world. Here, Whitworth faculty and staff members share pivotal revelations that divided their lives into before and after.


  • Tim Caldwell
  • Assistant Dean for Student Life

When I was 19, I worked for a backcountry wilderness camp in upstate New York, where I took a dozen 10-year-olds hiking and camping in the Adirondack Mountains. Until this point, the camping I had done could be counted on one hand, and all of it involved driving to the campsite. "Hard" does not begin to describe the difficulty of that summer. I struggled, I failed and I longed for something easier. But at the end of the summer, I realized that I had grown. As I reflected on my life, I began to see a pattern: the times when I had grown the most were when I had struggled or gone through hard things. Difficulty was not something to avoid, but something to embrace. This realization transformed my life and led me to do the work I now do in student development.

  • Kathryn (Hendricks) McInturff '17
  • Coordinator, Office of Church Engagement

I struggled with reading comprehension for much of my elementary school years. I have vivid memories of sitting with my mom, pulling out a book from class and reading the words aloud. When I finished, my mom would ask me, "Now, what did you just read?" I would sink down in my chair and say, "Mom, I have no idea." It wasn't until my sixth-grade English class that I realized the purpose of reading: to connect with a story outside of my own. I have loved to read (and understood the words that I read) ever since.

  • Dale Soden
  • Professor of History

When I think of the times when my life seemed to turn in a different direction, I think of the first college history course I taught. I was 25 years old and I felt very unprepared. But when it was over, I realized that not only did I really like teaching, but students seemed to like the way I taught. That realization changed my life.

  • Elizabeth Abbey '03
  • Assistant Professor of Health Science

During my year of AmeriCorps service after finishing my master's degree, I volunteered at an after-school program for kids from low-income families. I offered a 10-year-old boy a strawberry, and he didn't know what it was. He said that in his home, fruit only came in cans. At that moment, I realized that cost shouldn't be a barrier to healthy food. This solidified my desire to continue my studies in nutrition.

  • Ron Pyle
  • Professor of Communication Studies

My life changed on March 25, 1993, when I provided preaching training to 14 African American pastors in Spokane. Ten minutes into the first session, it was clear that I was the student and the pastors were my teachers. I soon realized that much of what I had assumed was universal was not. I discovered a new way of doing biblical interpretation, of structuring messages, of relating with the listeners, of using language and more. From that experience emerged a Jan Term class that I have taught eight times with my dear friend and mentor, the Rev. C.W. Andrews of Calvary Baptist Church.

  • Kathryn Picanco
  • Associate Professor of Education

A marathon was an interesting choice of races for our college cross-country coach to pick as our senior season came to a close. While I was self-assured in ways and ready to embrace the challenges life would soon bring, troubled thoughts filled my mind as we waited for the starting gun. Was I prepared? Was I strong enough? What if I failed? Facing uncertainty, I settled into a steady pace, my confidence growing as the miles flew by, striding ahead of the boys to the finish. Inner strength won. I knew then that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to, but only if I was willing to take the chance.

  • Landon Crecelius '04
  • Director of Student Success

The train was traveling to Switzerland, and I was sitting across from Ron Pyle on the Core 250 Jan Term study abroad program. I was asking him my toughest and what seemed like my last few unanswered questions about life and faith, as it felt like I was close to having an answer to most things. Ron responded to my questions not with an answer, but with a framework that changed how I approached the world. "Landon," he said, "the older I get the less I'm sure of, but the things I'm sure of I become more sure about."

  • Meredith (Tegrotenhuis) Shimizu '93
  • Associate Professor of Art

During my sophomore year in college, I had the chance to visit the National Gallery in London. I had never been in an art museum, but had recently encountered books on art and I was eager to see real paintings. Entering a room with 18th century paintings of tourist views of Venice, I moved from painting to painting, examining how the tiny brushstrokes combined to create the effect of an elaborate picture postcard. I knew nothing yet about these artists or paintings, yet I felt something in my brain click into gear. It was an epiphany of sorts, and I knew it at the time, but it took years before I connected this experience to my intellectual interests in history and theology. When I finally did, my next direction seemed obvious and I applied to a Ph.D. program in art history.

"I realized the purpose of reading: to connect with a story outside of my own."

  • Erica Salkin
  • Associate Professor of Communication Studies

There's an old story about a man stuck in a rushing river, who rejects assistance from firefighters, Boy Scouts, even the Coast Guard because he believes God will save him. The man dies, and when he complains to St. Peter, the angel notes, "Well, He sent all that help – why didn't you take it?" For me, that story was an epiphany. I had been lamenting what I saw as roadblocks in my life – unexpected job loss, illness, misfortune – keeping me from achieving my goals. Yet each of these so-called roadblocks were really just God in my life saying, "No – go THIS way. THIS is where you're meant to be." I was the guy in the river, refusing His excellent direction and stubbornly waiting for life to go as I expected it. I can't pretend to be an expert at adversity today, but when it does happen, I try to look for the new direction it may end up taking me.

  • Caleb McIlraith '13
  • Whitworth Arborist

There are whole periods of time in my life that I look back on as single moments. One particularly pivotal moment lasted just over three weeks: Jan Term at Tall Timber Ranch, studying ecology and the Bible. There I discovered a living thread, a root or tendril, connecting grace to the very ground I stood on. I caught a glimpse of the created world as its Creator sees it, and I fell in love. I still perceive a polyrhythm in the heart of God that says the reconciliation of all things has already begun, and I am invited to help.

  • Noelle (Giffin) Wiersma '90
  • Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences

When I was little, I wanted to be a monkey trainer. This later translated to "psychologist." When I became an academic, I added "teacher" and "researcher" to my sense of professional identity. My epiphany came when I became an academic administrator. I continued to hear from former students that what I ultimately taught them was that we should not stigmatize mental illness. The breakthrough moment, or series of moments, was coming to understand my vocation much more broadly and on a higher order level: I am here to promote empathy and justice for those of us who have psychological struggles.

  • Christopher Parkin '05
  • Senior Lecturer, Music

At the age of 15, my biggest musical achievement was participating in the All Northwest Honor Band. I felt proud be selected from thousands of students and I was the youngest kid in the saxophone section. For the first time, I recognized and acknowledged the gifts and talents God had blessed me with and firmly believed I could be successful in an artistic career. This confidence ultimately shaped the trajectory of my life, as I am now a professional performer and Whitworth educator.

  • Toby Schwarz
  • Coach and Professor of Kinesiology & Athletics

[I used to believe that] two types of people existed in the world: emotional and rational. Emotional people were weak and undesirable while rational people were successful and thus, desirable. After working with a wide variety of humans over the past three decades, along with much self-discovery, I came to a different conclusion. There is only one type of person in the world: 100 percent emotional beings. Therefore, the difference between people is that some are able to think rationally more often than others. Emotions are the foundation of who we are. The key to life is not to eliminate emotions but to understand our emotions and then to maximize those emotions that inspire and drive us, while managing those emotions that limit and discourage us.

  • Laurie Lamon '78
  • Professor of English

Richard Hugo, a poet I was fortunate to work with at the University of Montana, was impatient with his students who were too eager to publish. Our poems were younger than we were. In the presence of this gentle, gruff master we had the opportunity to learn how to build a true writing life. He told us that if we wrote for twenty years, we'd no longer be apprentices. I was in my late thirties when I had a life-shifting period of time. I couldn't continue writing during these years without finding a stripped-down form, language without metaphor, a different meter and line. I was on medical leave. I was reading John Berryman's Dream Songs, Dickinson, Paul Celan. In one sitting I wrote the first of what is now a manuscript of the Pain Poems. Only the first two are autobiographical. They span over fifteen years. I can’t explain what happened, except that I truly broke through. This experience altered everything about what I know of writing poetry, and the mystery of poetry.