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By Olivia Vander Ploeg


“And you say that I don’t answer

Just because you have not heard

But you don’t know yet how to listen

Or to understand my word.”

~Shasta’s Complaint, Sarah Sparks


I finished high school feeling completely exhausted spiritually and I found myself in a spiritual desert. Still, during my freshman year of college, outside of my relationship with God, life was great! I adjusted well to living in a new place, I enjoyed all my classes, and I was making a lot of amazing friends. But something was still missing. The biggest growths in my spiritual life had been in the hard times, so I was completely unsure what it looked like to grow when life was good. There seemed to be nothing to compel me to read my Bible, so I rarely did. I would pray about my lack of spiritual motivation and ask God to help me, but He was utterly silent. I began to get angry with God. I read verses like, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” and “Ask and it will be given to you” with complete bitterness and confusion. I wanted to be close to God again, but I couldn’t get myself to do anything about it, and He was not helping in the slightest.

I knew I should talk to someone about how I was struggling in my faith and beginning to doubt, but I was too ashamed. Finally, I worked up the nerve to talk to my youth pastor. I called him often, crying, to talk about how far I felt from God. He offered a lot of wisdom, but things didn’t get any better. I was so angry that God would do nothing to help me in this desert.

One night in January was the worst of it. A friend from back home had stopped talking to me and wouldn’t tell me why. I was feeling so worthless. It felt like I had been rejected yet again, and I didn’t even know why. I was completely weighed down by all the possible things I could have done wrong, the ways I could have made this friend ignore me. I was weighed down by the guilt. The shame. The loneliness. The failure. The rejection. The brokenness.

My roommate was gone that night, so I felt the freedom to cry about it. I laid in my bed for hours, in the dark, crying because I felt so unloved. I felt like I had been rejected too many times. I felt completely alone in the world and that I had no one to turn to, so I prayed. I begged God to let me feel close to Him. I pleaded with Him to show me that I was loved.

There was no response.

I was so angry. Shouldn’t God want me to feel valuable? To feel loved? So why did He not answer my prayer? I felt like now I hadn’t just been rejected by many of my closest friends, but also by God.

The rest of the year and into the summer were the same. I felt the same spiritual hopelessness and lack of growth. But, as I began this school year, things slowly began to change. I looked back in my past year and realized all the times God had been there. I had been waiting for God to show me His presence in some big, obvious way, so I hadn’t noticed how He had been showing me His presence in everyday things, like a friend’s smile. God was there in tandem biking adventures with friends. God was there in the late-night conversations. God was there in friends lying on the golf course, staring up at the beautiful stars. God was there in the laughter at the supper table. God was there in my youth pastor – always willing to talk when I needed to. God was there in my youth pastor’s wife traveling four hours to be with me. God was there in professors’ little comments of encouragement. God was there in the books that I was reading. God was present. I had been focusing on all the wrong things and it was only in looking back, in remembering, that I saw what was really important. I realized that God had answered my prayer on that January night. He showed me I was loved, just not in the way I expected. God showed me I was loved by being present when I wasn’t looking for Him.

I have been focusing on all the wrong things and it was only in looking back, in remembering, that I saw what was really important. I realized that God had answered my prayer on that January night. He showed me I was loved, just not in the way I expected. God showed me I was loved by being present when I wasn’t looking for Him.

I still struggle. I still doubt. I still have days here and there when I forget to read my Bible. But God is teaching me how to listen, how to understand His word, and how to see His presence in daily life.

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By Jimmy Tidmore

I have been a “Christian” since I was in fifth or sixth grade, but my faith was never truly genuine until my graduation from high school. I used to think that my hardest trials would be before I became a Christian, but I honestly believe that some of the most difficult trials happened after I really came to faith in Christ.

I had always thought that truly giving my whole life to Jesus would make everything better, that God would wipe me clean of my sin and make me new in a moment – BOOM. Suddenly, I’d have it all together. Boy, I could not have been more wrong. In the first few months after beginning to learn the depths of God’s holiness, He made me aware of the reality of my brokenness in ways I never expected.

For years I struggled with lust and falling into the temptation to look at pornography. It began to affect my whole life and it made me feel disgusting and separated from God. On top of that I supplemented my habit of smoking pot with cigarettes, thinking that “at least it’s not an illegal drug.”

In the months after Christ became the head of my life, He began to show me how destructive and disgusting cigarettes are, and quitting was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. Jesus was so faithful in those dark and miserable moments though, continually giving me the strength to overcome.

The next big area He began to work on was my struggle with purity and holiness, an addiction to pornography. It took almost two years before I fully surrendered to the Holy Spirit and opened up to others about this struggle. I was so filled with shame at first, fearing being open about it, even to God. What would people think? How could I ever be looked at as a leader with such a dark and disgusting sin? But praise be to God that He gave me strength to open up and be accountable to some brothers in Christ! Through this openness, and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, God has given me so much freedom! He gave me brothers in Christ that would ask me how I was doing, allowing me to keep my phone in their rooms if I was feeling tempted, or praying with me when I would fall.

The biggest way God worked through this was by continually replacing the lies of the enemy with the truth of His Word. Slowly but surely, through encouragement and transparency, God has given me victory after victory in reclaiming the purity and holiness that God calls us to. I still have to fight every day for this gift that God has given me, but it has gotten easier as time goes on.

God has been so faithful to transform me in many ways over the last few years, and although I still struggle and fall short in so many ways, He is always at work in me. Because of this, I truly have come to believe this verse in my life:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil 1:6

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By Lucas Sander

I grew up in a family of 10 kids. We were all homeschooled and grew up in a farmhouse in the country outside of Newton, Iowa, but moved to a house that we had built when I was 16. One day while I was working with Dad on unfinished parts of the house, he took a phone call over our lunch break. When he got back from talking, he told me that our pastor had been unfaithful to his wife and was in denial to the elders of the church about his habitual sin. There were a lot of spiritual issues tied up with how he was living, and his betrayal had a deep impact on the church, but it didn’t stop there.

Mom would be at the church in town a lot as Dad was building the house, and since Pastor Jim was often there, too, she had become pretty close with him. She took Jim’s side on the divide in the church, and separated from my Dad – who had been the one to find out Jim’s unfaithfulness and bring it to the elders in the first place. They got a divorce a few months later.

There were still eight kids still living at home at that point, so a schedule was set up for the younger children to go between Dad’s house and Mom’s, where she now lives with Jim. I was old enough to choose to live with Dad permanently, but even when I visited Mom’s house it never felt right, it never became normal – if divorce can ever be normal. I was torn because I believed that my own mother was living in sin, that she had willfully left the church and broken our family. I was never told how I was supposed to deal with that.

The hardest part of this process was when I graduated high school in 2015. We had a graduation ceremony at our church for homeschool families in the area, families that we had been friends with since our parents were in college. The parents who put the event together had been with my Dad throughout the entire divorce process, and together made a decision to send a letter to my Mom telling her that they wouldn’t let her come onto the stage to present my diploma because she had broken our family and abandoned the education of her children. I agreed with them that my Mom was living unrepentantly and agreed to sending the letter, but it put me in an extremely tough spot. There were two different times when my Mom asked me what I thought about the letter, and I avoided giving a direct answer. I didn’t know how I was supposed to tell my Mom that I didn’t believe she was a Christian anymore. Eventually, I avoided going to her house altogether.

Last spring, I began to realize that I had not been reflective of Christ in my relationship with my Mom. Instead of pouring out the unconditional love that saved my soul, I was hiding it because it seemed too awkward and hard to talk about. God spoke to me, and told me that I needed to make things right, so I braced myself to do one of the hardest things I’ve ever done: apologize to my Mom.

There was one week between when I went home and when I left for my summer job, so during that week, I texted Mom and asked her if I could come over. It took me several tries to get it out, but right before I needed to leave I asked her if we could step out on the porch. We sat down, and I told her that I had done an awful job of being a follower of Christ, and I asked her to forgive me for letting my feelings and my view of her get in the way of showing the love that Jesus poured into me.

We were silent for a long time, and finally Mom began to tell me how proud she was of me. Perhaps it was a smaller moment than I anticipated, but in that small moment, the truth came out and even if my Mom and I were at very different places, I had stopped letting that get in the way of love.

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By Lexi Weaver

Something has plagued me since my teenage years – the mirror. For as long as I can remember, the mirror tried to morph me and convince me of all sorts of things about myself – that I’m overweight, not good enough, etc., etc. These were the thoughts that haunted me daily, and sometimes still do.

I remember sitting down in a young adult group this summer, and being called out by God to SAY SOMETHING. I needed to say I was struggling, say I couldn’t keep it together, say I never felt good enough. So as the group drew to an awkward silence I spoke, I cried, I pleaded.

I pleaded that somebody would save me from myself. I told these girls every struggle that was eating me to my core. I told them how when I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw. I prayed that they would understand. Deep down, I knew my thoughts about myself were unreasonable and from Satan. In this moment of confession, it didn’t seem to matter what my fellow sisters in Christ would say to me, they could tell me I was thin and they could even lead me to scripture about how I was made in the image of God. But what I do know is that for the first time in my life, I laid the ugly at God’s feet. I laid it all down in hopes I would feel different. I cried out that this weight would be lifted.

See, that is the cool thing about God. He asks us to lay the good, the bad, and the ugly at his feet. He wants an intimate relationship with us. As I show God more and more of me, I feel closer and more connected to my Father, my Abba, my Daddy. He knows the hairs on my head. He knows the thoughts of inadequacy that plague me. But, He calls me His. When I dive deeper into knowing more of Him, He shows me what is in me that is FROM Him.

I could lie to you and say I have this all figured out. But I do not, and it is more powerful to be honest with my family in Christ than to live a lie of perfection. I still struggle to see myself as God does. It is a day by day fight between me and the devil of inadequacy. But because of God’s grace and understanding, I am loved as I am but called higher to give it up to Him. When I struggle, I am reminded to lay at his feet. He will wash me clean. God has already sent His son to remind me I am His. As the prayers go up, the blessings pour down. We’re all human, looking to be loved, already loved by a perfect Father who makes us whole. At the end of the day it is about knowing that I am loved by an omniscient Father that helps me realize I am already beautifully crafted by Him. He speaks Proverbs 31 over me, ” Lexi is Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear, she smiles when she thinks about the future. Lexi conducts her conversations with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern.”

Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last, but a woman who reveres the Eternal should be praised above all others..

Psalms 31:30

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Ben De Boer

I am a huge fan of movies. Anyone who is somewhat close to me knows about my obsessions over movie series such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and so many more. Although some of these movies fit into the same genre, they are vastly different – except in one main area. In each one, the protagonist must overcome a sense of fear to accomplish the task at hand. Frodo Baggins summons the courage to be the ring-bearer at the Council of Elrond, Luke Skywalker decides to travel to Alderaan with Ben Kenobi, and Harry Potter lets Voldemort strike him down for the good of all.

These heroes were able to put their own desires aside to bring about the good of many – oftentimes saving the world as they knew it! If they can summon courage in the face of these odds, why do I struggle to live fearlessly?

Throughout my four years in high school, fear drove my actions. A voice in my head told me that I wasn’t good enough, or something needed to change. This fear grew in me until it reached a breaking point. At this moment in time, fear took over and I decided to change who I was. In order to fit in with the crowd, I began to talk constantly about sports, make crude jokes, and converse about other things that I honestly had no care in the world for. I placed a mask over my true self to conform to the people that seemed to be in a better place than me.

If asked to describe Benjamin De Boer in one word, most of my high school classmates would likely say the same word: athlete. Being an athlete and talking about sports was the easy thing to do – so I did it, and I succeeded in fooling many people. Deep down, I knew the truth of who I was, but I kept that side of me away from as many people as I could. As far as I could tell reading books, learning history, and acting were by far the best parts of high school – all things that would’ve placed me in a category that I mistakenly assumed to be a lower social tier.

Something snapped in me, however. I realized that I had lived in fear for way too long, and decided to let my real passions show in my daily life. College was a time for me to start over and show people who I really was. Although I’m only a single semester into my college career, I’ve made more friends in the past few months than I did in four full years of high school. My friends at Northwestern don’t care when I sing along to Disney’s Moana, they come support me as I attempt to act on stage, they appreciate my love of history, and greater than all of this, they help me grow in my faith. Growing closer to Christ is a hard thing to do when you fail to acknowledge who he made you to be.

For the first time in years, I believe that God is smiling at who I’ve become – a man who doesn’t live solely for the approval of others. I might have different hobbies, strange habits, and an eccentric personality, but these things are what makes me who I am and are not to be hidden. What I’ve learned is that no matter what, someone is going to accept you for who you truly are. It might be a sole individual, a significant other, or even a large group of people, but they’re definitely out there. All that I needed was patience and trust in God’s great plan.

I wasted multiple years of my life putting on a false front for the sake of others, a mistake that I aim to never make again. From now on, I plan to let people know the true Benjamin De Boer, all quirks included. In doing this, I know that I can better live into God’s great and perfect will for my life.

1 Peter 5:7