110519-07By Anna Boyles 

Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother [and sister] is born for a time of adversity.”

Coming to college I had certain expectations and certain fears that I had already created in my head for myself. Some of them were associated with my academics, some with my social life, but most of them were with soccer.

Growing up I had played soccer with the same group of girls since we were 6 years old. We were best friends. We knew how each other played. We trusted each other and were very successful. So, coming to play soccer at Northwestern not only meant leaving that group of girls, but it meant leaving my home state of Kentucky behind. And I’ll be honest, I was nervous. My hometown was fairly small. I had always done well in school and had known all my teachers. I had a church family around me all the time, so I knew I could rely on them if I ever needed them. I’d known my childhood teammates my entire life. We grew up together on a soccer field. I didn’t have to “get to know them.” I had always known them. Now, though, all that I had known was 14 hours away. Me being the independent person I am, it wasn’t always easy for me to make friends very fast. But, right away, during soccer training camp, our team grew extremely close and we became great friends. However, it wasn’t until this year that I realized just how much that friendship really meant to me.

Near the end of last season, I got a concussion. This concussion ended up causing a lot more trouble for me than anyone thought it would and made me miss the rest of that season, our spring season, summer training, and now most of our fall season. I was devastated. I was so afraid that I would grow disconnected from my team during all of this since I wasn’t able to play. I never voiced it, but in my head, I knew that since I was so far away from my support system back home, I needed my team now more than ever. But I was scared that they wouldn’t be there. And by this point, I was so frustrated and confused with God that I wasn’t really talking to Him very much.  

But, my fears were far from the truth. My teammates not only remained connected, they have become my strongest support system. They have helped me stay positive through everything. Regardless of the medical test or even the doctor visit on my 19th birthday, my teammates have been right by my side. Whenever I need someone to talk to, they are here. And, when I don’t want to talk, they help me get my mind off recovery: we go to the movies, shopping, or just hang out. My team is always here to pick me up when I’m down and they always have my back. They also continue to remind me that I have to trust God even when I’m frustrated and don’t understand what He’s doing.  He is where I find my identity and He has control of my life.

As 
I think about our relationship over the past two years, I realize that it has changed. Last year when we first got on campus for training camp, we were total strangers. By the end of the season, we were best friends. Now, we are family. Actually, we are an extraordinary family. We support one another through any and all adversity, whether we feel like we need the help or not. Sure, there are days that we need space and want to be alone, but there are also days that we need a shoulder to cry on. No matter the circumstance, we always know that we have a whole team of soccer-sisters who have each other’s backs. And, when the moment comes that one of us can’t make it on her own, the rest of the team is there.  

No matter how independent you think you may be, there comes a point in life when you simply can’t remain alone. Just like players on a soccer field, we each have our own talents and our own responsibilities. We cannot isolate ourselves and expect to achieve all that God has planned for us. God expects us to have relationships with one another.  He desires for us to support each other and to allow ourselves to be supported.  As a matter of fact, you need to know that you aren’t and never were truly alone in the first place. Whether it be someone in your dorm, a bible study group, a classmate, or on your sports team, someone is always there to support you and love you. God never leaves you. He uses the other people in our lives to remind us of His presence. He is always right here – just waiting with open arms. 

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.