ncourage-template-07
By Debola Adeyemo

“For thou will light my candle and enlighten my darkness” – Psalm 18:28
 

It’s my sophomore year and I’m sitting in the fishbowl room with other intercultural interns. The topic of conversation is how to best approach a polarized issue with love and grace. I’m quiet and remain so for a good amount of the meeting but I’m screaming on the inside. Everything sounded so hypocritical. I was angry. That’s how I felt.  

After the meeting I bolted to the prayer room in Ramaker. Partly because I needed a place to hide the tears of anger that started rolling down my face. I wouldn’t make it to Fern in time. I sit there with my hands hanging, face to the ground, I’m rocking back and forth.  

I kneel. “Why!? Can’t you see what is happening, why won’t you do something!?? There is so much hate and pain in your world! Nobody cares! Why even bother? What is the point of all this if it’s all just going to be like this all the time?” My chest is tight, I’m angry and frustrated, at God, at people, at myself for even feeling angry in the first place. I was furious at God. The one I thought I’d known all my life. I was trusting Him less, I didn’t understand Him anymore. I mean I never did but now I really don’t know this dude. And I hated it.   

I cried so hard that all I wanted to do was take a big fat nap afterward, so I did. I took a nap in my dorm room and then woke up with a massive headache. My head was throbbing so I went to get some painkillers. I took the lid off and tried to shuffle out the prescribed two tablets. With a more forceful nudge than I intended, a couple seven or so popped into my palm. And for the first time in my life I paused at the decision of shoving them all back into the bottle within the second. I looked at my closed door, I had the room to myself. The dialogue going on in my head was: Nobody cares anyway, no one would find me. In the scheme of things, it didn’t really matter what happened to me, right? 

The anger, sadness, disappointment, all the emotions I felt, I just wanted them to stop. I wasn’t really sure what taking a lot more pills would do to me, I just knew it might be my best bet to getting away from this feeling. I wanted to be numb. That’s what I thought. That’s how I felt.  

It’s taken too long for me to decide now. So I just shove them back in and take only what I need for the pain in my head. I leave my room and I could feel the pain in my heart. I couldn’t recognize what it was before but I could now because I had seen how far it had taken me.  

There was a distance between me and God in my sophomore year that I am still making my way across. That day wasn’t the dramatic moment of realization where my life took a turn for the better. I still didn’t get the answers to my questions. But it was the day I saw what pain so deeply rooted in confusion can do to faith and love.  

I think what really got me was that as the events unfolded, I could still feel God in some way. I was still being surrounded by relationships that I saw Him in. But during that time as I ignored phone calls from my family and begrudgingly exchanged pleasantries with people, what hurt and confused me was the feeling of not being able to reach Him even when it felt like he was everywhere. Everything pretty much felt like it was in black and white.  

So it was the day I saw where I was and where I needed to go to get back to life in technicolor. It was the day I started to build my understanding of experiences of pain and love; how sometimes experiences in our lives might be visitations from God in some way and how perhaps every time the spirit breaks, it creates room for Him to enter in. It is one of the reasons I’m a little particular about the relationships and interactions around me. I’m still reaching.  

Danusha Laméris, in her poem titled Small Kindnesses puts it in better words:  

“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a left over from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat, “Go ahead – you first,” “I like your hat.” 

ncourage-template-08By Sarah Brown
Two years ago, I asked God what my word of the year should be. I was waiting for some word I could “work” with. The word acceptance popped up one day and it stayed with me. I now know why God laid that word upon my heart.

Just as I thought I had things figured out, those things started to change. Later that year, I started having seizures. I met with a neurologist and she said the words “You have epilepsy.” In an instant, I was devastated. I was filled with a fear that at any moment epilepsy could take its toll. With no clear reason for the occurrences, I was stuck in a depression I couldn’t get out of it for quite some time. Being real is hard. But being real when you’re going through things you can’t physically hide is even harder. Dark days of depression, a heavy load of loss, and an overwhelming sense of being out of control.

As a result of the seizures, I focused on what I had lost instead of what I had, people who loved me and wanted to help. I had tried to juggle everything all by myself and now I had to rely on others.

I always thought I had control over my life. God chose to show me I was wrong and ultimately reminded me he was the one in charge. I was left with questions. I learned from Naomi in the book of Ruth. Naomi was bitter because of her circumstances. When pain happens, we struggle to find joy. It’s ok to grieve and hurt. However, it’s not ok to be bitter. It’s tough to see through bitterness and see what God can do through the circumstances in our life. I wrestled with so much anger towards God and how he could make me go through something like this.

Romans 5 says pain has a purpose. I don’t know why this happened to me. And I may never find out why. And I am ok with that now. It took many hard months of processing the changes. All the frustration, anger, and misunderstanding I had been feeling is now replaced with a sense of peace. Jesus said trials would come. These trials pointed me to greater joy in God than I could ever find in myself. We can never rely on our circumstances for contentment and joy. In Jesus, we have a hope we can stand on. Assured all things will work out. God is beyond all details of life. Purpose for our good and His glory. We can trust Him, especially on days when things make no sense.

Many times, I found myself wishing I was the author of my own story. But then I started to thank God for the things I had been going through. With life always changing, one thing remained constant: God. Challenges gave me the opportunity to change and see more of who He is. We aren’t called to be comfortable. To get through things, I now cling to the fact that God says with Him anything is possible. I am not what has happened to me. I am who He calls me to be. In order to accept something, you have to think differently. I’ve learned glorifying God through the things I do and how I react is a bigger priority than having a structured life. I am surrendering to him and not my circumstances. I had to learn what it meant by “in His time and in His way.”

ncourage-07By Bailey Banwart

We will all go through seasons of life in which we feel God’s presence fade, for the lucky ones, it will fade the smallest amount. But for others of us, we will lose this presence altogether. This loss is what I’ve been working through lately. As I await God’s promises in this new season of life, I often feel as though He has left me defenseless. I’ve been combatting this feeling of emptiness and isolation every day by allotting myself time with God, and for God, and reading His word. Perhaps my greatest tool in this fight against my feeling of abandonment is the book God, Where Are You?! by John Bevere. This book, along with my wonderful support system of family and friends, reminds me that God has not left me alone, rather He is right alongside me. It’s me who has turned away. I’ve made the decision to put God on the back burner and go through my days alone. It’s me who has chosen to tune out the sermon or the speaker. It’s me who says, “No, I don’t have time”.  

God has shown His faithfulness to me in small ways every day. And it’s in the little things and the small moments that I gradually turn back toward His love and kindness. It’s in the chills I get at P&W, in the faces of my classmates, and in the sounds of my roommates’ laughter.  Our God is so much greater than our doubts, our fears, our rebellion. He holds tightly to us, even in our time spent turning away from Him. I’m reminded of his love when I read Psalm 37: 23-24, “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they may stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  

I want to point out two different things here. One: God delights in our lives, in every single detail. In the bad times and the good times God is watching over us and is delighted in us. Even when it feels as though I’ve failed, or turned away, God is there with me, delighting in my steps leading back to him. Second: the difference between stumbling and falling. God prevents me from falling, even if it feels as though I’ve just face planted, God was right alongside me and He has kept me upright. God does not promise our journey of faith to be easy, He knows I will stumble. Even if I feel as though I’ve been stumbling for days, weeks, maybe even months, it’s a comfort to know that God will prevent me from falling over.  

The season I am currently navigating through can sometimes be referred to as the desert or the wilderness. A time in which I don’t exactly know where God is taking me or when He will move me next. This desert land, I will point out to you all, is not void of God, however. The desert is a place to rebuild and challenge our faith. The desert can be a spiritual wall we’ve hit, or a spiritual dry spell as we listen for God’s call. We will go through so much in this life, whether it be trekking through deserts or sitting through storms. But one thing is for certain, although God will not always calm the waters right when you ask him to, He will be there with you through it. I encourage you all to fix your eyes upon God, even when it feels as though all is lost.  

 

ncourage-08By Ali Almail

I am sure all of us have encountered the 
popular phrase of the Imago Dei, emphasizing that we are fashioned in the image of God. This phrase is instrumental in fostering an environment that values humanity through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. However, this term is often applied in reference to a single person, which I find dissuades us from a more holistic definition.  

Stepping back and observing creation as a whole, we can observe that all of us reflect the image of God. Creation is a beautiful mosaic where each component is a masterpiece by itself and becomes an even more grand work of art when combined with fellow masterpieces. I see God weaving his beautiful tapestry of grandeur and faith when I look into the lives of people around me, as each person humbly reveals a unique aspect of God. 

Throughout my journey with Christ, I have found that when I surround myself with people who share in the Christian faith, I feel full yet empty. Conversely, when I surround myself with people of different faiths, I feel empty yet filled. These thoughts and feelings have prompted me to ponder this odd occurrence. Due to these continued feelings, I have come to believe more in the communal Imago Dei. Each of us reflects God’s nature, and we can perceive parts of him through the lives of other people. Oh, has it been a blessing to nourish my faith amidst people who present a different element of God’s unified nature!  

Northwestern has been and will continue to be a place where I can learn more about Christ’s nature by surrounding myself with people from different walks of faith. From those who approach God with a child-like faith, I have learned trust and humility. Looking into the eyes of the skeptic, I have found comfort in their questions that they pose to God. As I shared in the pain of others, I have learned to surrender my cares and worries to God.  From the reverent Muslims I have learned that we cannot pray to God enough and that we must earnestly seek an intimate connection. From the Hindus I have learned to love and respect people who walk a different path in life. From all my friends I have glimpsed the love of God, and oh is it so sweet. All these people, who share in the communal Imago Dei, have nurtured my faith and helped its roots soak into Godly soil. These lessons have taught me about the sacrificial and loving nature of Jesus Christ which is best reflected in his ultimate sacrifice where he shed his blood for us.  I am thankful for these people that God has placed in my life, who have taught continually drawn me in to the infinite nature of Christ. 

As colors are to a painting, we are all masterful creatures that when combined together, form a glimpse of Christ’s awe-inspiring nature. 

 

 

100819-07By Andrea Freeman

Making choices. For some, it might seem easy, but for us mortals, it is the worst thing to do. It seems every decision I make has a thorough vetting process through which I weigh the pros and cons, think about how it affects my future, and considering how it might affect others. 
Above all, I worry if what I am doing is a part of God’s plan, and it seems that I might never get a concrete answer. A lot of choices are made quickly with little thought to the consequences, such as picking a cereal to have for breakfast, or choosing what pajamas to wear that night. When I was young, I had a system for making choices: do what I want to do or what my parents would want me to do. But when I started thinking for myself more in high school, I realized that I did not want people to make choices for me. That shift did not start easy.  

At first, I let my friends make my decisions, because I wanted them to like me. Decisions like, how I should dress or what my hair should look like, or even, what classes I should take the following year. If I couldn’t ask my friends, I would ask my parents. I found that doing things because other people wanted me to, did not make me happy. I did not want to be anyone’s doll, devoid of thought for themselves. I did not want to ask for advice anymore, but I had never been taught how to make decisions. So, I didn’t. I froze. Hard decisions like picking a college, or major, or what I wanted my career to look like, went unanswered for so long.  

I was terrified of making a choice I would regret for the rest of my life and being unable to go back. What if God had a specific plan for me, and one wrong move would ruin my life? This buildup followed me for so long, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I had mounting anxiety as graduation loomed closer. I was depressed because I felt like I couldn’t make a choice and that I would die, lonely and unaccomplished because of it. Every night I would pray that God would somehow reveal to me, clear as day, what I should do. My older sister was the one who finally threw me into the deep end. After a family night, she took me aside and set me on a laptop to apply for at least one college. I told her I couldn’t, that I did not even know where to start.  

She asked me what college I had heard of recently that I was mildly interested in. I pulled out all the crinkled fliers and pamphlets at the bottom of my backpack and the top one was Northwestern College. It was a free application and took a short amount of time and little effort. I was surprised and relieved. When we got to the section full of possible majors, however, that relief drained away. I had no idea what to pick. I enjoy so many things, but what would give me the best career, what would make my parents proud of me? Once again, my sister came to the rescue. I had told her I like science among other things, and she knew I liked art. She chose computer science as my major (even though it isn’t what I normally think of at the word science), and art as my minor.  

Looking back, I could have picked undecided, but that was not the lesson I was about to learn. When I visited for the first time, I felt, for the first time, excited to make the step into college life. Terrified, but excited. Finally, it seemed like God was giving me a concrete answer, shouting “Yes! This is the one! This is what I want for you!” I knew, at the end of the day, I was going to Northwestern College. Every day felt amazing, because even if the day didn’t go as I expected or wanted, I knew this was a part of God’s plan for me. I felt so relieved. My first year here was amazing, and I felt great about how it went, but was afraid of where I was going. I considered switching my major and at the end of the summer, decided to switch to ecology, but the classes I wanted to take were full. Once again, I was petrified. I could stay in my current major, but if I decided later that I wanted to change it, I probably wouldn’t be able to graduate in four years. But I couldn’t think of another thing I wanted to switch to.  

That’s when I realized the lesson God was teaching me. God promises that whatever choices you make in life, He will be there with you. No matter what you decide, God’s going to be there with you to help you through it. What I learned, was that the important thing isn’t what choice you are making, it’s that you make it. Being frozen was not going to help me. An answer was not going to fall out of the sky. So, I’m sticking with computer science for now. It may not be where I stay, but that does not matter to me right now. What I have learned is that you must make the decision, even if you are not sure it is the best one, because then you can keep moving forward, learning, growing, and changing. I do not know what the future holds, but I don’t need to! God is taking care of it. My job is just to keep walking through life, one decision at a time.