111219-07By April De Haan 

I’ve never been one to jump outside of my comfort zone very quickly. I like to stay where things are “safe” and where I don’t have to take much of a risk. I prefer to stay in familiar places, be with people I know well, and eat food that I know I like. This summer I realized that my spiritual life and relationship with Christ were also stuck in the safety of my comfort zone.  

Up until this point, my life goal was to become a music teacher, teach somewhere in the Midwest (which is my home), and hopefully start a family. Not that any of these things are bad, but where was Christ in it? I started to ask myself this, and then I read a book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper. The entire book was incredible, but the chapter that stood out to me the most was titled Risk is Right–Better to Lose Your Life than to Waste It. Wow. Even that title was convicting.  

As I read through, I learned that scripture had this message woven into it all over the place. Think about the story of the spies going into Canaan from Numbers 13-14. Twelve spies went into the land and ten of them came back saying, “It’s too risky,” even when God had clearly called them to go into that land. Piper describes that the result of these ten spies’ decision was hundreds of wasted lives. I’ve always read this story and thought that they were crazy to not follow God’s will and trust him in the risk, but how many times have I said that to God?  

How could God possibly be asking me to do this with my career or start a conversation with that person or change my major to that? It’s much too risky. But that is the opposite of what God calls us to do. His will for our lives is surely going to include risk, because taking risks is how we make much of his name, and shouldn’t that be our goal as Christians? That being said, taking risks is still terrifying.  

Something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is potentially teaching in a big city outside the Midwest instead of teaching near home when I graduate college. Would that be a risk? Absolutely. I would be far away from home and family, with people and places and situations I’m very unfamiliar with…but if going to a big city is what God is wanting me to do in order to make His name known, then taking that risk would be right. And while God does not promise success or safety or comfort when we take risks, he does promise that his love will triumph in the end.

Piper states that “on the far side of every risk—even if it results in death—the love of God triumphs. This is the faith that frees us to risk for the cause of God. It is not heroism, or lust for adventure, or courageous self-reliance, or efforts to earn God’s favor. It is childlike faith in the triumph of God’s love—that on the other side of all our risks, for the sake of righteousness, God will still be holding us. We will be eternally satisfied in him. Nothing will have been wasted.”  

110519-08By Dawson Jacobsma 

While trying to work on this ncourage and find God’s inspiration, I settled to look at my phone, something our generation is great at doing. I immediately went to social media and began my search for meaningless information. I began with clicking on an unknown stranger then moving on, each time I saw something I wanted to fill my life with. Whether they were exploring the world, getting a tattoo, or had a meaningless photo I wanted to put myself in their situation. I first realized that I wanted to be somebody else, looking at my life in a negative way.  

It is often hard to recognize what God wants for each of us personally without getting down about where we are at in life. Paul helps us recognize what to fix our minds on in Philippians 4:8 by saying, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything, worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” This passage is interesting because Paul does not tell us to dwell on the past, previous criticisms, or what is going wrong in our lives, but he encourages us to fill our minds with good, true, and hope-filled things. This inspires me to be satisfied with where God has placed me at the very moment. 

As a Christian, I have found it very difficult to have a positive focus and be satisfied with where I am with God. Whether I am struggling with school, sports, or the relationships around me, I try to search for God, but He does not always appear when I want Him or where I want Him. The beginning of my struggle to find him really begins my junior year of high school. After an injury to my leg keeping me out of the track season and the sudden death of my grandma, I went searching for answers. I began to fall into a depression and found it easier to shut out the people around me rather than to have them try to support me or build me up. My life became unbalanced and I was no longer searching for the beauty of life that God created in all of us.  

Repeating the voice of God became the only way to look forward to what God had in store for me. I found myself meditating and repeating Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” This reminded me that God’s grace has covered my failures and negative actions towards him and others. God’s unconditional love, a love that cannot be earned, was way more than I deserved and covered every hopeless or gloomy outlook that took over my heart. If God was able to extend grace to me when I did not want to pursue him, then his grace was more than enough when I was ready to seek out his confident, hopeful, and assured love.

I start off the day feeding myself positive thoughts; the best way to nurture positive thoughts is to do the following: breathe, sit with your feelings, and be present with others. 1 Corinthians 2:16 gives a powerful idea of our mind by saying, “For who has known the mind the Lord, that he will instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” It is hard to have the mindset and embrace the reality that we have the mind of Christ. We must train our thoughts, so our reactions to impossible or overwhelming situations are approached with the mindset of Christ. We must believe the best about ourselves and focus on what we want to improve in our lives. Belief will lead to positive thoughts, which will lead to actions that show that we are enough. Even when we have times we will fail or have struggles, we are more than enough because of Christ. 

Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to guard our heart by saying, “Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.” God’s words are only positive, truthful, and hopeful, so placing them in my heart and meditating on them strengthened the desire of God’s will in my life. The brain craves what you feed it, when you feed it positive words from God, the brain will be prepared for what the future contains, attacking whatever God gives to you. One of my favorite runners, Jim Walmsley, could have not said it any simpler, “Ignore the negatives and embrace the positives.”  

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.”