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By Liz Ellis

Let’s talk about mental illness
: specifically, depression. Having depression sucks; it can literally make one’s life a living hell from the comfort of their own dorm room. It can haunt someone on the way to class and force them to just put in their headphones and look at the cracks lining the sidewalk. Depression can turn the most beautiful fall days or the most blissful snowfall nights into a gloomy fog.  

My story with depression is twofold.  

The first part is my story. Between the ages of 13-16 my struggle with depression was a secret. I hid it by being loud and “fun”.  I took charge in every situation and always looking for something else to distract me. I never realized that the thing that would fill the hole in my life was a relationship with God.   

I was diagnosed when I was 16 by a therapist after my parents found out I was depressed. They found out after the police showed up at my house because of a tip that I was going to kill myself and was causing myself harm. I remember feeling so isolated but so publicized that I was hurting. The isolation I felt during this time caused me to slip further into my depression. I longed to be understood. Not only was I haunted by this darkness, I felt like it was the defining factor of my life and who I was as a person. I felt like depression had become my identity, not to mention that this affected the way I made relationships with others and the way I looked at myself – both physically and mentally.  

When I was 18, I started taking medication for my depression as well as anxiety. At first it was really hard to manage the “blocking out” of feelings I had when on the meds.  I still wanted to feel emotions, but some days I would feel emotionally numb for hours and other days I would feel everything at once, like an overwhelming tidal wave. But thankfully, it got better soon.  I adjusted to being a “normal” person again. I still have bad days, but mostly it feels like a voice in the back of my head that I can block out. I developed tools for fighting my depression such as poetry, both written and spoken, and studying Scripture, which leads into the second part of my story.    

I am not alone. For most of my adolescence I felt as if I was the lone soldier in a battle against myself, but as I have grown in my faith, I’ve come to realize that the real fight is against evil in the form of a mental illness.  But, I’m not alone in this fight, I fight with Jesus by my side and it took a long time for me to realize that every time that I felt alone in the darkness, Jesus was my ever-present light.  My relationship with Christ has grown through the struggle of this mental illness and it is continually being shaped. I discover new things daily about religion, faith and myself even through the darkest parts of my life.   

I am not alone, nor forgotten.  Depression is a part of my story but does not define who I am or who I will be, Jesus’s love does.

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By Jacob Johnson

“And Boom Goes the Dynamite” is quite possibly one of my favorite YouTube videos about a nightly news sports highlight clips with a struggling announcer. His classic one liner is where the title of the video comes from. This is my go-to phrase I use during Minesweeper, a small ropes course event I lead at camp with senior high age students. During the event, two students are paired up together and one must use verbal commands to guide their partner across a “minefield”. The mines are objects such as hula-hoops, cones, and frisbee, aka the camp basics. Once everybody guides their partner across, we switch partners and they get to give it another whirl. However, the second time I run around the minefield moving objects right in front of the blindfolded person. The blindfolded campers have no idea that I am trying to sabotage them, so it seems like they are just getting mixed messages from their partners. My favorite move is placing a hula hoop over top of them, forcing them to take a giant step out. Picture this: the volume of 8 students shouting directions to their blindfolded partners, counselors moving objects to cause chaos, and 8 frustrated and confused blindfolded partners in the middle of the minefield. It’s fantastic. Afterwards, the group comes together to process how each person felt and how it can apply to our spiritual lives. Usually the group ends up talking about the unexpected curveballs that life throws at us. 

It was Tuesday morning at camp this past summer when the camp director snagged me for a hot second to tell me that my dad was going into surgery that day. They found a tumor in his stomach and it was growing quickly. They were going to remove it and check for cancer. It was so hard present at camp because my mind kept praying for and wondering how my dad was doing. That very same day I lead minesweeper, which was already planned the day before. As we wrapped up and started to process the event, I broke down in tears. My dad’s surgery wasn’t in my plan that day. When we started talking about life curveballs, I had been hit by a huge one earlier that day. 

If you don’t believe God has perfect timing, get this: that SAME day we were teaching the theme verse from John 16:33. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What a promise! Jesus tells us that we will have trouble in this world, and boy did I feel it that day. Praise God it doesn’t stop there. Even in our troubles, we serve a God who has overcome the world! 

Here’s the best part. God doesn’t stand at the other side of the minefield barking orders at us. He doesn’t let us walk blindly stumbling along the way. Instead, we have a God who goes before us, with us, and behind us. He doesn’t promise to take away the mines, but instead promises to be with us every step of the way. I am grateful for a God who sees the big picture. My prayer is that I would listen to God’s direction, even if I feel like I know what’s best for my path. Hard? You better believe it. Is it worth it? You better believe it. 

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By Libby Ven Huizen

“It’s your choice!”  

Those three words might be the three words I hate the most. I would consider myself a pretty indecisive person, I don’t have really strong opinions about many things. So, let’s just say I’m usually not thrilled when someone gives me the opportunity to be the decision-maker.  

Although I personally don’t like making decisions, I involuntarily make hundreds of decisions every day. When I wake up, I decide that hitting snooze just one more time won’t hurt. Maybe I choose to hold open a door for someone, or I decide something as mundane as what I’ll eat for lunch, and I decide every day whether or not I’m going to love God.  

I never really thought about loving God as a choice until recently. A few weeks ago, in my Theology of Worship class, something said during the discussion that day made my mind hit a roadblock. I just couldn’t understand why our God who doesn’t even need us, would create us knowing that we would reject Him and His love repeatedly. So, I asked Dr. Lief this question, and his response was:   

“You can’t have love without freedom.” 

And then the lightbulb went off.   

God decided to create me with free will, knowing that I would abuse it every single day. He knew I might not choose to love Him, He knew I would break His heart with my sin, and He knew that I might even completely reject Him at one point or another. And even though God knew that this abuse of free will was inevitable, He also knew that drowning in sin would leave my fragile human heart in desperate need of Him.  

Seeing love as a choice made me understand that every fiber of my being was created to need and crave God’s love, but He still created me to be able to decide if I wanted it.  He gave me the choice between complete satisfaction and empty, worldly fulfillment—knowing all along that I could only truly be satisfied in Him. If God forced me to love Him, my love would not be true because it would not be freely given.  

Realizing that loving God is a choice convicted me about the way I love others. I’ve always known cognitively that I’m supposed to love my neighbor, but I never really understood spiritually that that means making a daily choice to love others despite their flaws and messiness and shortcomings, because that is exactly how God loves me. He chooses me daily even when I mess up, and He calls me to choose others daily too. 

This whole “choice” concept was really eye-opening for me. To me, loving God was always something that I did, because that’s “just what Christians are supposed to do.” I never realized that loving God was a choice to be vulnerable and completely dependent and known, but also to be completely satisfied. I never realized that having the freedom to choose God brings Him the most glory, and I never realized that having this choice might be the best gift I could have ever received. 

So, although I (and maybe you too) usually dread the words, “It’s your choice,” loving God is one choice I don’t think I mind so much. I think this is one choice I’d like to make over and over again every day.

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.