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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.

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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.

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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.

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By Michael Simmelink, Resident Director of Hospers Hall

A portion of the 2013 Wilderness Leadership Expedition (WLE) trip was spent paddling canoes through the wilderness of Canada. To this day, I have no idea where we were. We had driven a van an hour and a half past Thunder Bay into the middle of God-knows-where-Ontario and dipped our canoes into blue lakes that had ice on them only a week before. There was more than one joke about the water temperature on this Coldwater Foundation trip.

We put in our canoes that evening, and paddled a measly five minutes before we shored on a peninsula to set up camp for the night. Tomorrow would be the first full day of paddling.

The start of my career as a paddler was the antithesis of ideal. My friend Zack entered the canoe and then stabilized it for me to join him. Carefully, he positioned himself away from the rocky shore so our canoe didn’t get beat up, but still tried to keep it reasonably close for me to throw a leg in. I do not recall what led to me being in the water up to my armpits, but I remember it being stupid cold. I was in two feet of water and couldn’t move my limbs to doggy-paddle. My breath left me; my lungs felt like they had shrunk to the size of two earbuds. Apparently I had slipped on the rock, and after an excoriating seven (eight? nine? eleven?) seconds I was shaking water out of my boots in 40 degree weather on shore. Thirty-five minutes after waking up I had successfully made myself ridiculously uncomfortable and cold. I succeeded on my second attempt entering the canoe, and we paddled to catch up to the group. We still had a full day’s travel ahead of us.

The sun moved behind clouds and across the sky, and we came to a portage near the end of our day, and I acknowledged that I was numb from my abdomen down. I was a little nervous about that, but I knew if I worked my legs hard, I could raise my body temperature. I loaded up two Duluth packs on my back, snatched the team’s equipment bag, and ran the 300 yard trail with close to 120 extra pounds.

I rumbled to the end and dropped the gear. Panting and hopeful, I slapped my thighs to see if the mission was accomplished. Hardly. My anxiety level rose. When the rest of the group caught up, I told our leader what I was feeling (or lack thereof). He reassured me that we’d camp on the next lake, and the best thing I could do is go to the bathroom so my body doesn’t waste energy maintaining temperature of waste.

I trounced through the bush and found a birch tree with a smaller fallen jack pine leaning against it, recently dead. As I stood at this urinal, tears began to form and fall. A lot hit me at that moment.

I was only alive because God wanted me to be. The wilderness could not care less if I live or die; it was completely agnostic towards my fears and feelings. I was alive because the Creator of the universe felt that wasn’t such a bad idea, and He was sustaining me as He always had. It wasn’t just God’s sufficiency in that moment of near-hypothermia; it was His sustenance for me day after day after day after day after day. Ongoing and never-ceasing.

I received the challenge I sought from this trip, but I always expected to come out of it feeling stronger, individualized, empowered. That was true to an extent, but it was overshadowed by feelings of affirmation, claimed, cared for, protected. Christ had always been guiding me to the warmness of a campfire and change of clothes, metaphorically speaking. On that day, it just happened to be literal. I peed on some trees while soaking wet and freezing cold, and I garnered a deeper sense of God’s providence.

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By Caley Vink

During the summer of 2017, I was working in the local county tax assessor’s department as an intern. I’m not typically a fan of working with numbers, but as it was my first real “grown up job”, I was excited about it. At this government job there was a woman, we’ll call her… Amanda, who was a secretary in the office. One day at work I overheard her talking to someone about some severe discomfort she’s had in her foot for over a year. The scientific name was plantar fasciitis. It was a sharp pain in her foot that made it so that she only found comfort by walking in a certain pair of wedges that took the pressure off her heel. But the moment she took the shoes off, terrible pain made it difficult for her to walk and sometimes sleep at night. I could hear in her voice how weary she was of dealing with it.

When she had finished explaining it to the other woman, I relaxed into my creaky swivel chair, contemplating her words. I thought, “It’s a little risky to ask to pray for people at a government office.” Most government offices are not typically places that are very hospitable to the expression of one’s faith in the way that I was planning to express it. But, I knew my boss was a Christian and I felt that he wouldn’t have a problem with me offering to pray for her healing. And so, compelled by the truth that I know how my Father loves and cares for me, and how he desires for me to be well mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually; I also knew that those same truths applied to Amanda. So, with that in mind, I decided to step out in faith. Which, for the record, is something that I have had to grow into.

I approached Amanda privately and asked if I could pray for her healing. She welcomed it, and as she sat in a chair I got down on my knees and placed my hands on her feet. I reached out to God and asked Him to heal her. I spoke of how pain does not belong to us and that we know this to be true because of what Jesus did on the cross. I rebuked the pain and commanded it to leave Amanda in the name of Jesus. I told her feet to line up with the Word of God, and I welcomed the healing that comes from the Lord to make the nerves, muscles, tissues, and bones of her feet like new again.

Our shared time of prayer lasted about a minute. Afterward she thanked me, and although she couldn’t test her foot for healing right then, she promised to check for it when she went home that evening. The next morning Amanda approached me, her face was alit with joy and tears were in her eyes. She proceeded to tell me that when she went home the night before and removed her shoes, the pain she was so accustomed to was totally gone. Filled with gratitude she told her husband what had happened, and the two of them continued to praise God throughout the night. They were so excited about it that they could hardly sleep!

When she finished telling me this, a few tears slipped over my cheeks as I hugged her and thanked God with her. God had healed her, and for the rest of the summer I rejoiced inwardly each time I saw her wearing new shoes around the office.

Every time I see God work in these ways I am left grasping for words to describe it. Please be sure not to look at me as some expert who has it all together. I am constantly having to learn and to grow in the ways the Spirit leads me. I am just an ‘ordinary-Joe’ with an extraordinary heavenly father. But even in our ordinary lives, we are called to do as Jesus did and engage in the fight to crush injustice everywhere we go – even if it means doing so in a place, at a time, or with people that are out of our own comfort zone.