By Rebekah Muilenburg

One individual that has had the most profound impact on my life was someone I encountered while working as a live-in assistant at
L’Arche Chicago—a community of group homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. This individual had a diagnosis of both Down syndrome and schizophrenia. She often heard voices that told her she was not good enough and that she was ugly. I distinctly remember crawling into bed, turning off the light exhausted and ready for sleep, when suddenly I heard the softest of knocks on the door. I got up to open it, and she would say the same line to me every time—”The voices are making me angry again.” The voices had a reputation for threatening her and preventing her from sleeping.  

Comforting her proved to be a challenge at times, but it helped me better understand mental illness and the tolls it can take on your life. I learned strategies to help with these episodes—often constantly reassuring her that the voices were not true; she was loved, she was valuable, she was beautiful. I said this to her an average of twice a day for the entire summer, yet she could not shake the lies of the voices inside her head. I tried my hardest but realized in the quiet moments of prayer with her that simply being an un-anxious presence and a shoulder to lean on was sometimes all I could do. 

Fast forward a few months later and my life changed drastically. I had just returned from studying abroad in Romania: reverse culture shock became an everpresent struggle, my relationship of three years ended abruptly, my future was staring me in the face, and I had no plans to counteract its punches. These circumstances went along with deteriorating thoughts such as “I am worthless” and “I am not good enough.” Day after day, I heard these voices—In short… the voices were making me angry. 

As the trusty psychology major I am, I turned to self-help books in my time of dire need. Humanity has an innate desire to be understood, and we all want to “find ourselves.” Personally, I attempted to accomplish this by taking countless personality tests. I figured out through this process that I am an INFJ, Type 9 on the Enneagram with a 1 wing, a Ravenclaw (#Ravenclawpride), and my spirit animal is a horse. Fun stuff… but ultimately pointless tests that don’t actually define me. One book in particular I picked up shortly after Christmas break talked about how we can find ourselves simply by blocking the lies we tell ourselves, in five easy steps. When I first read the steps, I was skeptical; if it was this simple, why wasn’t everyone living their best life and discovering themselves? Why was my life in complete chaos (and for this, the very reason I picked up this book)?? 

Through multiple conversations, I realized why this is. It’s because attempting to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves is incredibly difficult, maybe even one of the hardest things to do. This is true regardless of how many self-help books we read and counselors we see. We will continue to fall flat on our faces. After a few weeks, I decided to try again, but this time turning to the Bible for answers instead of one of the bazillion self-help books on my bookshelf. I am thrilled to say I got answers—answers so profound and so clear that I was ashamed I hadn’t realized it much, much earlier. 

The voices say, “Nobody loves me”; God says, “I love you” (John 3:16). The voices say, “I can’t go on”; God says, “My grace is sufficient” (II Corinthians 12:9). The voices say, “I feel alone”; God says, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13:5). The voices say, “I am worthless”; God says, “You are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). 

Reading this came as a shock to me, but the kind of perfect shock at just the right moment in time to jerk me aggressively out of my funk. This is how God performs miracles; he used my broken circumstances to transform me into the person I am meant to be. I decided to start taking the advice I gave my friend at L’Arche. Over the course of only three months, I have drastically improved my attitude toward myself and others, have renewed my inner spirituality, been accepted to occupational therapy grad school, and remain more happy and hopeful than ever before—complete with booking a plane ticket back to L’Arche Chicago to visit my cherished friends over spring break. 

The voices don’t have the last word—grace does. 

By Hannah Lindsey

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on the Wilderness Leadership Expedition (WLE) with the Coldwater Foundation. Initially, I thought I could never do a trip like WLE – a 12-day canoe trip in the wilderness. Going into the trip I felt totally unprepared and it was this feeling, along with all of my insecurity and doubt, that followed me.  

From a storm that took my canoe out on the first day to struggling to carry an off-balance canoe amidst rocks, downed trees, and long stretches of mud, everything reminded me of my weakness and made me feel like a burden to the rest of my team. I decided that the best option was to try to hold in all of the negativity, the doubt, the shame, and the emotions. I didn’t want everyone else to know just how little I knew and just how out of place I was.  

Several days later however, my tired body could no longer hold in the pain. While unspoken, I felt as though I needed to be as good as everyone else and that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to breeze through a portage like it was a walk in the park. I was confronted with my weakness and was unable to reconcile it. God stopped me dead in my tracks that day when one of the leaders pulled me aside on the trail and provided a space for me to embrace my inability to go on, as I broke down and gave a voice to my struggle and pain. I can’t describe how good it felt to let it all go and to simply be vulnerable. It was at that moment that a weight was lifted (although I still had to carry the pack). 

I don’t think there was a single day where I didn’t face my own weakness on WLE, and it is because of this that my trip was characterized by the word brokenness. While this word typically has a negative connotation, it has come to symbolize hope and new life. I had been living an independent and self-reliant life for way too long, which was characterized by shying away from vulnerability and honesty, rejecting community and relationship, and hiding in shame, weakness, and inability. The “easy” life I was living – characterized by closing off my heart to avoid the pain of saying goodbye, or experiencing the hurt of separation and pretending like I have it all together so I don’t have to feel failure – was broken down. Instead of making my life easier, I had created unrealistic expectations and was living in a life that was fake, restrictive, and unfulfilling. 

I had been broken. Brokenness on WLE meant bringing me to my knees in a giant mud hole while double packing, forcing me to do nothing but wait for a teammate to come pull me out. Brokenness meant building shelters for the fifth day in a row, battling dark and mosquitos when it would be easier to let other people deal with the hassle. Brokenness meant admitting and owning my weakness, relinquishing one of my packs to a teammate when I couldn’t take another step. Brokenness meant becoming humble and taking the help offered by others, instead of trying to prove how well I could do a task. Brokenness meant waking up every day and crying out to God for strength. Brokenness meant sharing the most intimate parts of my story and allowing the walls I had built to come crashing down. Brokenness meant coming to terms with the me that has been hidden away, longing to come out and not only to know people but to be known by people. 

It took me going on a trip on which everything was stripped away from me to understand that God wants to know me and wants to be known by me, so much so that He is willing to leave all else in pursuit of me. When I speak of brokenness, I can rest in the fact that that which was broken was my physical self – the self that felt the need to measure up, the self that had something to prove, the self that needed to get things in order before coming before God. What I was left with was the raw self – the self that was weak, the self that was filled with emotion and longed to be known, the self that leaned in instead of trying to carry it all. God may have broken me, but He didn’t leave me broken. God revealed that the person I was trying to be was not who He created me to be. When I was trying so hard to hide the flaws and the ugliness I saw, I was actually hiding the beauty and joy He had placed in my life that flourishes in relationship and connection, both with God and with those around me.