Processed with VSCO with m5 preset
By Hudson Johnson

I do not think that there was ever a moment in my life that I questioned the existence of God. I always believed that he did indeed exist, but I hated him for it. I was in love with my lusts and at war with his truth that condemned my sin-loving soul. This was the state I was in until the summer before my sophomore year of high school. It was at this time that I underwent a fairly dramatic change, for this is when I heard the gospel and called upon the Lord. My life was changed.

I began to love what I once hated and hate what I once loved. It felt as if my life was forever going to be well. That is, until some Wednesday night in November. It was at this time that my youth pastor was preaching a sermon on various prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus and how staggering it was that they were spoken hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. His purpose in this sermon was to encourage and strengthen our faith by means of these fulfilled prophecies. To no fault of my youth pastor, with each prophecy he mentioned came a terrifying thought: does God actually exist? Or is all of this just deception? I was horrified. This deafening question roared inside my mind and left me questioning my newfound God.

The next day I went to my first period class at school, Latin, and was still haunted by this question. It affected me to the extent that I was physically shaking and could barely talk. My teacher took notice and as I was packing up my stuff at the end of class she came over, put her hand on my shoulder, and asked something along the lines of, “Is everything okay?” I never thought I was a very emotional person, but the weight of that question came crashing down on me all at once, and I broke down and cried like a child. I was such a wreck that I was sent home for the day.

That day marked the beginning of my long fight with doubt. That question concerning the reality of the existence of God tormented me for around 6 to 12 months. I never thought that it could get any worse, but it seems as though I was wrong. My struggle with the reality of whether or not God was real morphed into the question of whether or not I was really a Christian. It was when I read the frightening words of Matthew chapter 7 that the question of true conversion arose – Matthew 7:21 states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Where I once struggled with the doubts of whether or not God is real, I now struggled through the doubts of whether or not I was truly a converted, born-again Christian.

This lasted for years – even into my time here in college. Throughout this season of doubt, I agonized over whether or not I had the authentic fruits of conversion, or if I had repented enough, or if had enough faith or even believed rightly. I was stuck in an introspective downward spiral. I wish I could say that God worked a miraculous deliverance in the blink of an eye, granting me that assurance for which I longed. But he didn’t. God thought that it would be better to do something else.

I remember hearing a sermon when the pastor used the phrase “outside us” to describe the nature of salvation. His point was that salvation is entirely found in Christ. So regardless of whether or not I feel like a Christian does not negate the work that Christ has already accomplished on my behalf. Now, this is not to say that all my problems went away the moment I discovered this truth, but rather it has been a gradual realization that my acceptance with God is wholly found in Christ. So, God has shown and is still showing me that my feelings are an insufficient measure for ultimately determining the reality of my faith, and that Christ is the wholly sufficient and external foundation for my salvation. God has shown and is showing me that truth lies in him and is not negated by my wrestling with doubt.

img_4094
By Emily Reynen

One of the things I strive to be is strong. Physically, I want to be the strongest one on the court or in the weight room. I want others to be strong as well, that’s why I chose exercise science/strength and conditioning as my major. But I can’t help but ask myself, what about being spiritually strong?

I’ve been blessed with an awesome family and a great group of friends who encourage me daily in my faith. I grew up in a Christian school and went to church on a regular basis. When I got to senior year, it was all about the gains, literally. As an athlete, in school, in the weight room, and with Jesus – I was where I wanted to be. I loved what God was doing in my life. Athletics were going well, school was great, I had opportunities to share what God was doing in my life. Senior year was awesome until a certain point…

I was on a run with my dad one rainy, April afternoon. Suddenly he collapsed, and being the healthy physician that my dad was, it didn’t occur to me that something was wrong. Long story short, my dad ended up having to go to Sioux Falls in a medically induced coma. In that period of waiting for him to wake up, the only thing I could do was trust that this was in God’s hands. I had so much hope that he would wake up, but he never did.

My dad passed away a month after the incident. My anger was evident in my life. I was doing everything right. I gave God my time and effort every day. I served Him and others. And this is what I get. I was angry that He took away my best friend.

Looking back, it’s funny that my dad’s favorite saying was “Embrace the Suck.” It’s something that he had started to say a couple of weeks before he went down. Embrace the suck is a military saying, “Face it, soldier. I’ve been there. This ain’t easy. Now let’s deal with it” (Austin Bay). I felt like God was saying; “Yeah Em, this does suck, but this is what you’ve been preparing for physically and spiritually.” I knew I had to get back to “practicing” my faith and making my relationship with God stronger. But I was scared that if I trusted Him wholeheartedly, he would take something away from me again. I became weak in my faith and I just couldn’t get the motivation to get going again. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul encourages us that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness,” and we should “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when we are weak, we are strong.” I kept feeling this tug saying, “You can’t grow stronger in anything if you’re not uncomfortable for a while.” Sounds pretty familiar, right? It’s the same concept in the weight room. You don’t get any stronger without a period of some pain, suffering, and even weakness. I need to live with God’s “power resting on me” (verse 9).

In the late fall of my freshman year here at NWC, I made it a habit to spend time with God again because I knew that’s what I had to do. The cool thing is that God promises to help strengthen us; 1 Corinthians 16:9 says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth, seeking to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” He wants our desire to be spiritually strong, and he promises to be that extra “pump.”

It’s easy to slack off physically and spiritually. When we don’t put effort into our workouts or practices, our performance suffers. It’s the same with our spiritual life. When we don’t put in the effort to practice our faith and exercise our relationship with God, we become lethargic in the way we live for Him. So, when those challenging times hit us, we should be confident that with His help we are strong enough to “embrace the suck” because we are spiritually strong.

chie-2
By Chie Lee


When I was a freshman, I had a couple of good friends at NWC who were not Christian. One day, one of them shared her story with me because she was so hurt. She shared with me that she had told a classmate that she was not a Christian, and the classmate’s response was “Oh… Really? I am sorry that you are not saved”. After she shared her story with me, she said, “People are nice here, but often I feel like they treat me differently and don’t completely accept me.”

I said “no”. I told her that I loved who she was and that she was so worthy to me and other close friends she had made at NWC, including Christians, who treasured her and whom she treasured.

At the same time, I could not defend the “many Christians” that she referring to and say, “No, no, no! Christians never do that to non-Christians! You don’t have to worry because it was just miscommunication.” I knew that often Christians pity non-Christians because they don’t believe in the Christian God. I knew that often, unintentionally or intentionally, Christians dehumanize non-Christian people and see them as a target or project to evangelize.

For these reasons, I could not say, “That is just a miscommunication.” I wish I could.

I have seen Christians (myself included) confuse pity with love. Who am I to pity someone while I myself am deeply broken before God? God’s invitation to us is so much more than pity – God’s invitation to us is to love, which is mutual and empowering. The pity that I am talking about here (I would call it “broken pity”) has the potential to greatly harm or sometimes even take away people’s dignity because this pity is not mutual but rather exclusive and looks down on others. This broken pity can lead to powerlessness or worthlessness. This story of my friend is one of the consequences of broken pity.

I believe in the love of God. I could not be here without that love. Jesus, my Lord and Savior, came down to earth from heaven. He chose to stand on the same ground that I stand on. He is the one who has been telling me, “I walk beside you” in every season of my life. This love empowers me. His love gives me dignity and worthiness. God is the one who gave me love instead of broken pity. And this is the love that I believe in. The love that walks besides me.

God came down from a higher place because He is God. But we are human, so there is no place for us to go up or down. Christians often say, “we should love others like Jesus did,” meaning Christians should “come down” (assuming that we are at the higher place) for the sake of OTHERS in order to love. That is broken pity.

We are all God’s creation and we stand on the same ground. That is why we need to learn how to humbly walk beside each other, no matter what our similarities or differences are.

I have learned and grown so much from I walking beside people who are not Christians. Non-Christian people have kindly walked beside me in mutual relationship, helping me engage my own Christian faith in a beautiful way. When I was struggling with the gap between God’s love for us and our broken love for others I told my friend that I wanted to quit being a Christian. It was this non-Christian friend who told me “You SHOULD NOT say something like that.” It was my non-Christian friends who asked me good questions about Christianity, questions that I had never asked myself. It was my non-Christian friends who taught me how to have respectful and fruitful conversations, all the while believing in different things. More than anything, I learned so much from my non-Christian friends’ character and

attitudes in this Christian community. They have told me that they are thankful for their experiences in a Christian community and for the close Christian friends they made at NWC. They are some of the most respectful, strong, and kind people that I have ever known.

It was when there was no broken pity in our relationship that I could meet these people. I could meet these people and learn from them when we mutually walked beside each other. And this is the love that God has showed me in my life.

img_6327
By Aaron Rinehart
In 2017, my spring break story was a little different than most. When I got home from school last March, my brother-in-law, Josh Meinders, asked if I would go witness with him at the Memorial Union (MU) on Iowa State’s campus. I told him I would, not knowing that chasing this opportunity would result in a permanent life change.

At this point, my walk with Christ was not authentic, I had decided to go with Josh just to boost my reputation as a “good Christian kid” something I could put on my snapchat story so everyone could see what I was doing. Yet, as we walked around the MU talking to people about the gospel and what Christ had done for us, I saw it truly impact people. One student we talked to from Dubai, Yosef, broke down crying saying he prayed to God for the first time the week before, asking that He would show him that he was loved by God. Yosef was so excited because he had never had a father. One of his friends, who was a member of Salt Company, told Yosef that God is our heavenly father and that He can show us true love – a perfect fatherly love for his children. Yosef’s prayers had been answered, Yosef’s life changed, and my life used by God was soon changed as well.

After my experience in the MU, I decided that I was going to rededicate my life to Christ and live a life that would follow in His footsteps. On top of that, I asked God to teach my how to listen, listening to God is just as important as praying is. When we talk to God we have to listen as well, this is something that I was challenged with because I enjoy talking, a lot.

This also meant I had to be still and focus on what God was telling me, focus on the opportunities that He had placed before me. However, I am not the type that enjoys being still, I would rather do something and cloud my mind with less important things. Yet, Christ humbled me, He taught me to listen by using my own father, who I would not listen to either. It wasn’t until all the poor choices I had made in the past caught up with me, my dad called me out, and I had no choice but to listen. This conversation with my dad also forced me to listen to what Christ was saying to me.

As I grew to listen to God, more and more opportunities to be a witness came forward every day. Sometimes, so many that it would be overwhelming. All I had to do was say hi to someone, or ask them to sit down with me and talk about their day. Sometimes, their week would be completely changed because the Holy Spirit was working in powerful ways through me. It is through the ordinary “hellos” and the intentionality that we bring to a friend that the Holy Spirit can work. By listening, I was able to become a witness for Christ, and the opportunities came that challenged me and helped me to draw closer to God.

God changed my life. He has changed others as well. So for me, why not let God continue to work in me the ways he has been? Why not let him continue to change my life the way he did with Yosef? There is no person the Holy Spirit cannot reach, including me; may I listen and understand so I may speak and be understood in the name of Jesus.

image-1-png
By Celeste Ryan, Resident Director of Stegenga Hall

Not enough. Words I hear often, tell myself almost every day. Not funny enough, not cool enough, not good enough, not outgoing enough. Celeste, you are not enough.

I spent most of last year listening to Satan as he sought to fill my mind with lies about who I am and my inadequacies, and I allowed those words to shape and define me and my work. And it sucked. It made me second-guess every interaction, over-analyze and over-think each moment, and generally feel like a failure in every aspect. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, my insecurities were what kept me from doing the work I love, kept me from thriving, kept me from building relationships I deeply desired.

This summer, I committed to giving these words to the Lord. I cognitively knew that my identity was found in Christ, and not in other people’s opinions or my own perceived successes or failures, but I didn’t feel it or believe it. So I prayed that God would help this head knowledge become true heart knowledge. I prayed that He would help me see that I am enough.

As I prayed and sought the Lord in this, He slowly revealed and gently whispered this truth to me: Celeste, you are not enough. And that’s ok. Because I am. You were created to live in communion with me and rest from striving and measuring up. You were never made to live this life on your own. You were made to need me and rely on me.

What sweet, sweet freedom and rest is found in acknowledging that I am not enough. This truth has soothed my soul in ways I never thought possible. In almost every aspect of my life – wife, mother, RD, friend, sister, daughter – I have found freedom from trying to prove myself and be enough.

The truth I’ve found is this – when we faithfully seek the Lord, spending daily time in His word and in prayer, He is faithful to fill us up. Out of this fullness comes kindness and gentleness and grace and patience and every good thing. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that I’m perfect (those that know me well know this). I still unintentionally say the wrong thing, or forget to do things I said I would, or struggle with selfishness. But I also now have a greater understanding of grace and know that there is understanding and forgiveness for those things too.

We serve the God of abundance, who is waiting to give us everything we need, and yet we operate in this mindset of scarcity. We are not enough because He is more than enough. Rest in that today.