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How the letter 's' changed one teenager’s life: Finding passion in grief

Jim Denison
Jim Denison

Abigail Mack doesn’t like the letter “s.” And her explanation for her scorn of the letter helped to get her accepted by several universities, including Harvard, Notre Dame, Dartmouth, and Northwestern. She chose Harvard.

She also shared the essay she wrote in a TikTok video which went viral with 19 million views.

Why does that one letter matter so much?

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“Of the 164,777 words with ‘S,’ I only grapple with one. To condemn an entire letter because of its use .0006 percent of the time sounds statistically absurd, but that one case changed 100 percent of my life. I used to have two parents, but now I have one, and the ‘S’ in ‘parents’ isn’t going anywhere,” the 18-year-old said, adding that her mother died of cancer.

As Abigail wrote the essay, the spelling and grammar website she used told her that she was using the word “parent” wrong. But, she notes, cancer doesn’t listen to edit suggestions. “I won’t claim that my situation is as unique as one in 164,777, but it is still an exception to the rule—an outlier. The world isn’t meant for this special case.”

After her mother’s death, she distracted herself by filling her time with extracurricular activities, such as academics, theater and politics. “There were so many things in my life I couldn’t control, so I controlled what I could—my schedule.”

Abigail said she stopped running away from a single ‘s’ and began chasing a double ‘s’—passion. “Passion has given me purpose,” she said in the essay.

The viral video struck a chord with a lot of people. The past year has included changes for all of us. But for some, the changes have been more personal, as with Abigail. In those cases, 100 percent of a person’s life changed.

The teenager showed wisdom beyond her young years when she chose to control things in her life that she could, and to do so with passion.

I am not a grief counselor. I am not writing about how anyone should handle loss, especially a close family member. I was touched by Abigail’s comment: “Passion has given me purpose.” She is so right.

Theologian and Greek scholar William Barclay once said, “A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.’”

For a Christian, we must have a “ruling passion” to live the life we are designed to live.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment in the Law, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37–40). 

When we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, we love him passionately. Every part of our life focuses on him. We walk with him daily, letting his heart be our heart. We worship and revere him daily, letting his awe fill us. And we love his truths, his Word, letting his counsel guide our steps.

Then and only then we will be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).

One day in 1873, Fanny Crosby was visiting with a friend, Mrs. Joseph Knapp, a musician of sorts and wife of the founder of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. During their visit Mrs. Knapp played a tune on her piano, which she had recently written. She then asked Fanny, “What does this tune say?” After kneeling in prayer for a few moments, she rose and declared, “It says, ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!’”

Crosby found her ruling passion even in the midst of incredible loss of sight and an infant. Her passion gave her a glimpse to the second part of Paul’s proclamation to the Philippian Christians: “and to die is gain.”

The first stanza of the familiar song she wrote is the assurance we can claim:

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.”

Is this passion your story?

Originally published at the Denison Forum 

Adapted from Dr. Jim Denison’s daily cultural commentary at Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a cultural apologist, building a bridge between faith and culture by engaging contemporary issues with biblical truth. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in February 2009 and is the author of seven books, including “Radical Islam: What You Need to Know.” For more information on the Denison Forum, visit To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit or Original source:

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