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Eat, Pray and Love: How a Bible verse written in lipstick and a trip to the Sistine Chapel brought spiritual awakening

When she sat down in front of a vanity to have her hair done in her sophomore year of college, there was no to know this would mark the beginning of a spiritual journey that would change the course of her life.

“People always talk about the incredible changes that occur during college, but I had no idea what I was in for,” says Stephanie May, a recent graduate of the University of Colorado. “It was wonderful, but also a really rough time in my life.”

Raised in the Episcopal Church, she always believed in God, but knew nothing about the Bible. “I would have called myself a Christian, but it was more for the ‘morally upright’ social connotation I felt came with it,” she says.

Admittedly, her moral choices reflected a self-centered, rather than God-centered approach to life. “I completely lost myself in my search for happiness and completion. I looked everywhere — getting caught up in all of the destructive pastimes that college so conveniently provides,” she says.

Beneath surface appearances, she felt “there was a greater plan at work…that somewhere down the line I would see why everything had happened the way it did.”

On a Friday night during her sophomore year, she sat down with the president of her sorority for a haircut. “She was famous for doing hair, so I found myself sitting in the chair in front of her vanity as she teased my hair within an inch of its life,” Stephanie recalls.

As she gazed into the mirror, she saw something unusual. “I noticed a quote written in lipstick. I’ve always been a quote junkie and so it piqued my interest right away,” she notes.

Stephanie in Ghana

The quote said “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I’m going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

Something about the words captivated Stephanie’s heart. “I asked her where the quote was from, and almost sheepishly, she said it was from the Bible. I was shocked.”

One of Stephanie’s favorite books during college was “Eat, Pray, Love,” the 2006 memoir by American author Elizabeth Gilbert. After a horrendous divorce, Gilbert traveled through Italy, India, and Indonesia in a quest to find meaning and put her life back together.

“I read that book as I was going through a horrible break-up of my own — and my story, it turned out — started to mirror her story quite remarkably,” Stephanie says.

During Stephanie’s junior year, she studied in Sevilla, Spain. “As I got to Spain, I began to put my heart back together. I also began to pray. But somehow over the years, I had cultivated an extremely negative view of college Christians and so I just wasn’t sure how I was planning on forming a relationship with God. But I was praying about it a lot.”

During Spring break, she took a nine-day trip around Italy with friends. On the third day, she toured the Vatican. “As we walked into the Sistine Chapel, I looked up on the wall and saw Michaelangelo’s stunning depiction of The Last Judgement.”

As she stared at the massive fresco that depicts the second coming of Christ and the apocalypse, she had a powerful encounter with God.

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Mark Ellis is a senior correspondent for ASSIST News Service and the founder of  He is available to speak to groups about the plight of the church in restricted countries, to share stories and testimonies from the mission field, and to preach the gospel.

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