img_5823-minBy Garrison Hazen

In my weakness, he is strong. In my weakness, he is my joy. In my weakness, is he gone? I remember so vividly when a girl I had been dating for a year broke up with me. This break up really destroyed me. I thought I had everything together, and I was so happy that a girl would take the time to even show that they cared for me, besides those family and friends that obviously did. 

In the moment of what I thought was a massive catastrophe in my life, I asked the question: where is God? When I was dating this girl, this question seemed to be non-existent. But now, in the climax of my pain, it seemed to me that God was not around. This was a dark time for me where I not only questioned myself, but my faith as well. I would take long drives by myself, and as the miles passed by I would talk and ask God: where are you? Why did you do this to me? Don’t you care about my feelings? Don’t you want me to be happy? 

I yelled at God and I was angry with him for all the pain in my life, for everything that was going wrong, and for not providing me with relief from the situation. I think this is important in our weakness. So often I see how I hold back what I am feeling from God because I am afraid of some kind of judgment from him or reprimand for getting angry at God, but I don’t think God wants me to hold back – even the messy, ugly, raw parts of me like my anger or sadness. It’s when I hold back that I don’t fully give my problems to God.  It’s easy to hide these emotions because it is hard for me to believe he could fix them. When I can begin to let go of this pain to God, he begins to help me understand where he has been the whole time. 

In my time of pain, I began to learn just how close God had been to me. In my weakness, God was with me in my decision. In my weakness, God provided friends I wouldn’t have met had I still been in this relationship. In my weakness, God pushed me to apply to be a camp counselor. In my weakness, God showed me my errors: errors that revealed my true intentions for being in the relationship, errors of what was important to me. In my weakness, I had nothing, and in my weakness he made me something. 

God showed me that in my weakness he isn’t in front of me or behind me, but he is right beside me. Because God is everywhere, I believe he is with me. In times of pain, it is easy to lose faith, and it is easy for me to turn my back on everything I believe. But in these times where I often say, God, where are you? Christ shows us that he was there the entire time, all we sometimes need to do is reflect on where he has already been. It is when we begin to reflect that I think we become aware of his presence in our lives.   

In Genesis 3:8-13 it says, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” What I realized from this time of reflection, is not ‘Where is God?’ but ‘Where am I?’ In my time of trouble, I began to understand that God is not some far off person that doesn’t care about my problems, or someone that is hiding from me. But, as Genesis 3:8-13 is saying someone I am hiding from. Because when I asked God where he was, he asked me where am I and revealed to me that he was next to me the whole time.  

img_5825By Jessica Rogers

A lot of people comment that they don’t remember seeing much of me my first semester of college. To this I’ve been scolded, “Your door was always shut!”
 

It’s true, I spent a lot of time that fall studying and trying to piece myself back together behind closed walls. It’s what I had been doing my entire life, shutting people out and shutting God out. 

I’ve never been one to have lasting friendships and that created a lot of distrust in my heart. I also felt that as much as my family loved me, that love had taken years to truly reach me. It was only through coming to know Christ in these last few years that I was able to understand that I was worthy of love and could receive it no strings attached. 

Recently, I’ve listened to some Christians wonder aloud about what life without knowing Christ is like.  In my experience, it leads to a deep emptiness and lack of hope. When one door closes you don’t expect another one to open. You don’t dare get your hopes up. Before Christ I couldn’t identify who I was or what I thought my future would hold. I honestly didn’t understand why there was breath in my lungs most days.  People assured me that my life had importance and that everything would workout great someday, but I couldn’t see it.  I felt like all I did was let people down with all my imperfections and fears.  I had no idea that my sins were already paid through love.  There was also a digging feeling that other people knew some secret to happiness that I didn’t. They trusted and loved people, even those that had hurt them. And there I was trying to pick a career and lifestyle where I could continue to completely avoid people and the possibility of pain. 

But there really is no wall God can’t kick down. During high school I heard Him gently knock on my door to inform me that I wasn’t alone. That even if no one in my high school of over 4000 saw me that He did. I took a big risk of trusting His plan for me and changed schools my junior year.  Although terrifying, it was one of the best decisions of my life.  It was my first step in believing in God’s goodness and encouraged me to take an even larger risk following Him from California to Iowa for college. 

I was trusting God for the first time in my life, and during my first semester at Northwestern I thought: oh no, He might be wrong about this. I can’t do this. These people and this place are great but I’m still not enough. So, my door was shut. But God tore through these lies and towards the end of the semester surrounded me with people who accepted me; who loved me as a sister in Christ whether I was quiet and awkward, crazy and sassy, or some quirky in between. And this semester God has furthered numerous friendships through intentionality and vulnerability. 

Today I cringe if I see my door closed, and I have deliberately turned my wing’s hallway into constant homework parties so that I can spend more time with people!  Although I never would change how my testimony played out, I do wish I would have let my walls down sooner rather than making God karate kick them down. My life has never been more joyful and fulfilling than it is now standing on the other side of the threshold.   

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By Maddie Godfredsen

I spent this summer on an SOS in Kasei, Ghana. Every morning, before the clinic day started, devotions were held for patients and staff. For the first couple of weeks, the same woman and her baby attended. I never knew her name, but her faith in God and the way she worshipped him through singing and dancing was something special. 

On the Friday of our second week working the clinic, I went to the pediatric unit to meet the nurses. Unsurprisingly, the woman and her baby were still there. On that sacred day, I learned this woman’s story is filled with hope and spontaneous acts of grace. 

The woman was working as a trader at the market one day when a young teenager approached her with a newborn baby in hand. The young girl asked the woman to watch her newborn son while she got what she needed from the market. The woman gladly agreed to help out. What she didn’t expect, though, was how her life would change that day. 

The young girl never came back. Rather than contacting social services (the laws on adoption and guardianship are much different there), the trader took this baby home to her husband and two children. She put aside her personal need and interest and decided to care for the baby as her own. She did everything she could to give him what he needed, but it just wasn’t enough. Formula is a luxury in Ghana and money isn’t something this woman had in excess. She began to ration the baby boy’s formula, which led to severe malnutrition by the time he was eight months old. He was hospitalized for two weeks before being discharged back into this woman’s home. A couple weeks after discharge, she returned with him for a follow-up appointment and he was thriving. I saw the most raw, genuine joy in this sweet woman’s eyes. Even in the hardest moments, when she could have given this baby up to make life easier, I witnessed her worship the only God she knew and give this perfect child of God hope. How amazing is that? Had she not made the sacrifice or shown the young girl grace, this little boy would never have survived. 

Heading into my SOS, I was so ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus through nursing. I expected the need for healthcare to be great and my presence to be beneficial. I had a plan. However, God showed me that none of it was up to me and that was okay because he was working anyway. God opened my eyes to see the lives of those living in the village. God opened my heart to love a little more like he loves. God opened my hands to receive more of his gentle and incredible grace in the midst of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. 

God spoke to me so clearly through the woman and her life of sacrifice. He showed me what it means to sacrifice nearly everything for those we don’t even know. He showed me what unconditional, never-ending grace is through a woman I never even got to know beyond a smile, a story, and wave. On this trip, where I had expectations of what I would experience, God showed up; I saw God in the face of a stranger. 

 


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By Josh Dahl 

As we, the 2018 Summer of Service team, prepared to head out and do God’s work, I was feeling pretty confident. I grew up in a Christian home, had relatively strong convictions and I thought I would have all the answers. After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Don’t get me wrong, our team leaders had done an incredible job of preparing us, but they couldn’t do much with stupidity and arrogance- which I was full of.  

While working at Dublin Christian Mission in the heart of Ireland’s capital city, our days as interns/grunt workers for the mission consisted of gathering food donations, peeling roughly thirty pounds of potatoes per day, and submerging ourselves in the lives of Dublin’s homeless. I quickly learned that I was not in my element. I had never really dealt with such poverty and hopelessness.    

The mission I worked with focused on building relationships through the mess of humanity and sharing the Good News from there. I learned to sit and listen. Truly listen. But I’ll be honest, at times it was difficult to understand them through slurred Irish accents and full mouths. Were these small distractions preventing me from doing what I was called to do? As I’d listen, I couldn’t help but wonder – How often do I listen to respond rather than listen to understand? Many of the guests who would come to the Lighthouse (our “soup kitchen” branch of the mission) only wanted to be heard and to know that their story mattered to someone. Sitting and listening wasn’t much but it was all they needed. 

I’m not gonna lie, it was really hard listening to certain stories. There was so much hurt and emptiness in these people. Several times, I wrestled with the idea that most of them had grown up similarly to how I did – as I heard person after person allude to having a good family where God at least being acknowledged in their lives. I realize I haven’t lived nearly as long as they have but what made me so different?  

I wanted so badly to help them. To point them to the Gospel and say, “Hey, Jesus, can help you!” Often, I was shut down. Too many of them had been hurt by Christians before and didn’t want anything to do with religion. They were just there for the free meal. It was when I came to the realization that I couldn’t force my own religion on someone that my arrogance dissolved. I couldn’t change people if they themselves didn’t want to change. Who was I to think I had all the answers? All I could do was scatter little seeds – seeds that could one day take root and grow into something spectacular. 

The sad part about short-term missions is that you rarely see any results. Though I prayed to be used by God, I have no idea if that one conversation with that one guy made a difference in his life or if that cup of tea served with a smile really brightened someone’s day. Nonetheless, I was called to go out, and I obeyed.  So I don’t know if I really even made a difference or scattered seeds in a faithful way that would produce life and maturation in Christ.  My obedience isn’t filled with certainty as much as trust. All I can do now is pray.    

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By Jason VanDyke

If I wasn’t dating someone I would be wishing I was. Through middle and high school, I found a lot of my identity in my relationships. If I were to describe my high school life with one word, that word would be the one – “relationships.” At this time in my life, my faith was not very personal and in many ways I was going through the motions of a Christian life. I went to church because that’s what my parents did, and the idea that Jesus might be interested in how I was feeling was completely foreign to me. 

Without that realization that I could have as personal a relationship with God as with anyone else, I was trying to fulfill my desire for intimacy through the people I was with. Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see that this was a bit misguided and my desire was never fully satisfied. This wasn’t because the people I was with were bad people, it’s simply because my friend or girlfriend could never fully and perfectly satisfy the desires I had, such as the desires to be loved, to be accepted, and to be seen as good enough. 

This truth continues to become more evident to me today.  As I continue to do life at college and grow closer to God in this season of singleness, one verse I’ve held in my heart since high school is Psalm 73:26 which states, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This verse has helped me recognize this flesh I live in is not perfect; I have desires and feelings, both good and bad, but they should not be what I build my life on. Feelings come and go, meaning if I try to build my life on them, things will fall apart very quickly. A good example would be my supposed “need” for some amazing shoes or a new video game; over time my shoes show signs of wear or that game starts to get boring, leaving me with something I no longer desire. My feelings are so prone to change from year to year, day to day, and even minute to minute, but the one thing that will never change is my God.  He will always be present and will always be able to fulfill the desires I have, which is obvious when I consider it is him who gives me these desires in the first place. He is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.   

When my desire for intimacy gets strong, sometimes to the point of overwhelming me, I look to God for love and peace. It is not an easy thing to do, coming from where I’ve been, as I always had someone else around that I’ve allowed to be the one to fulfill that God-sized desire.  But when I begin to taste the goodness that God is the only fountain that can satisfy my thirst for intimacy – this God-given, God-sized desire – it just becomes a natural thing to seek him out to fill my cup more often and more fully so that I overflow.  In light of where I am at this point in my life, I know God can be intimately trusted to be the one thing in my life that remains constant because he has promisedin Psalm 73:26that he is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.