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By Emily Sorensen

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things, you have to believe in a God who controls the little things. It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” –Elisabeth Elliot 

College has taught me that God is a God of the little things. Just in the past two weeks I felt a slight tug at my hamstring during track practice. It slowed me down for five days. Five days to a runner is quite a bit of training. As I drove to work during those five days, I was telling God that “God, I really am not done with my college track career. I wanted to compete well in the last month I have.” And that’s when it hit me. I had not had the attitude of finishing as strong as possible in my track career, I was coasting it out. But when God took the ability away from me, He was proving His point – I need to finish well. God uses hamstrings. 

My sophomore year, college was really hard for me. I couldn’t seem to find my place in the big world of Northwestern. God led me to find and write down every single good thing that happened during the day for a week: no matter how ‘big’ or ‘little’. Whether it was someone smiling at me, my favorite food for lunch, or having fun at track practice. Every good encounter. God showed me that He is enough and is everywhere, and that I don’t need to fit in to be happy. I need to be following Him and to be thankful. God uses the disappointment of college not living up to the hype. 

God led me to serve at a summer camp in Alaska after my freshman year that I found on the Internet. I didn’t know anything about the camp, I didn’t know anyone there, and I had never heard of it until Google. I wouldn’t trade that summer, though. The people I met, creation I saw, and opportunities I had were incredible. God uses the Internet. 

God has used words from a teammate to show me that it doesn’t matter how fast I run a quarter mile, but that it matters how I treat people. God has used professors gracefully extending deadlines to show me that everything really does work out. God has given me joy when the caf workers taking our dishes say “thank you” back to me. God has given me new perspectives because of the words of friends.  

Looking back on these things from my college career, were these God encounters ‘big’ or ‘little’? Maybe the tug in my hamstring was a big thing. Maybe learning to be thankful because of “little things” is really a big thing. Maybe a response from a caf worker is a big thing. We serve a big God who uses everything. “It is we, of course, to whom things look ‘little’ or ‘big’.” 

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What advice would you give to underclassmen regarding their personal faith walk while here at NWC? 

Northwestern was the only college I visited that offered constant, spiritual engagement opportunities. At the end of the day, your personal faith walk is determined by your daily choices to engage with the Lord. While Northwestern certainly checks the box of hosting powerful worship nights and captivating speakers, the difference-maker in my mind is the magnitude of opportunities that fill the gaps during the week. I think the healthiest relationships in life tend to have the most interaction, and the same rule applies for one’s personal faith walk. While experiencing a “spiritual high” is an amazing experience, even better is maintaining that height and compounding growth within it. By having the daily opportunities to spiritually engage with my environment, (RA, RD, prayer groups, praise and worship, chapel, accountability groups, NED talks, team Bible studies, faith-based learning in the classroom, and countless discussions resulting from those) Northwestern allowed me the opportunity to strengthen my relationship with Christ in a constant manner. My advice is to choose to engage. There are opportunities surrounding you on campus, and a simple “yes” can lead you to extremely healthy places, people, and practices. Much like infrequency makes a long-distance relationship hard, a similar structure occurs with the Lord. This is the easiest time in your life to encounter constant, spiritual engagement opportunities, so why not say yes! 

In what ways is God challenging you to grow now? 

Preparing for full-time employment isn’t the easiest transition to take on. Trying to narrow my search to a certain city or field of work is troublesome in the same way picking a major was. The pressure to interpret or discover God’s calling for your life is one I think a lot of college students can probably relate to. I’ve been challenged lately to be at peace in wherever this process leads me. Fears of making the wrong choice or valuing the wrong qualities in a job inevitably cross my mind, but finding rest in His redemptive faithfulness pull me through. I’ve also been challenged to realize not to overvalue my occupation. In a culture so easily driven by money, success, and power, it’s natural to crave those “worldy” attributes. It’s also natural to come out of undergrad and desire the acceptance of my dream position, but more importantly I need to keep my heart and mind focused on things above. I don’t really think pursuing a certain major or career (within reason) will go against God’s will, rather disregarding written and clear instructions definitely does. So whether I end up on a coast, in Iowa, or somewhere abroad, my job does not define my identity. I will never explicitly be told where I should go or work, but I know who I am called to be. By being committed to pursuing God’s redeeming work in the world, the stress of knowing all the answers dissipates. I can confidently follow wherever life may be opening doors and know my identity aligns with the Lord’s will. 

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What advice would you give to underclassmen regarding their personal faith walk while here at NWC? 
 

It’s hard to believe it, but these four years at NWC fly by faster than you can say community. My advice to those of you still in the midst of this crazy, beautiful, stressful, sleepless, and exciting adventure is this: take your time. Take your time to delve into all of the things NWC has to offer. There are so many amazing people on campus to help you grow in your faith. Get serious about your faith, ask questions, and seek out people who can mentor you and pour into you. Now is the time to really own your faith and get serious about the kind of relationship you want to have with God. Sure, you have all those assignments waiting for you, but take some time and set those aside to make time for your faith. Living off campus, I’ve realized that NWC is a place like no other – I knew not being on campus was going to be different, but nothing can prepare you for entering back into the real world. You aren’t going to have all this support and people wanting to minister to you and help you grow spiritually at any other point in your life. Take advantage of it! 

Describe a time at NWC when God’s presence was obvious to you.  

In the fall of my junior year, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a place very dear to my heart as I had done camp there with TEAMeffort in summer 2016. I wanted to do something to help my PR family but I had no idea what. I was in school and had no money but my heart hurt just sitting around hoping that something was being done. Weeks went by and I had this nagging on my heart to do something, organize a fundraiser or do anything. But my first thought was: who am I to do this? There’s no way I’d be able to pull it off. God had other ideas. After a random late night conversation with my friends Jenni and Abigail, where I shared my heart and hypothetically shared my idea for a fundraiser, they enthusiastically encouraged me to pursue the idea. God made these two my encouragement and support throughout the whole process and let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy thing. There were many times when I questioned if this was worth it, or if it would turn into anything. The day came and I woke up uncertaindid I really want to do this? Anyone who knows me knows I’m outgoing, but walking around the dorms asking for money is a whole different thing. I was the leader and I scared! I was supposed to be brave, yet here I was. God was faithful in reminding me through my devotional that day that his power is made perfect in my weakness and that’s what happened. It was incredible to see the response from studentsrunning around their rooms trying to find money to donate. While counting the money, it just seemed to keep multiplying as we kept finding more envelopes that we hadn’t counted. God’s faithfulness in the midst of our fear and discomfort that night was incredible to see. He had given me this little dream I doubted would succeed, but with his faithfulness, the people he provided who encouraged me to follow it, and the generous hearts of NWC, this lofty dream to help my PR family became a reality. God is faithful and will do amazing things if only we can learn to trust him. 

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By Rebekah Muilenburg

One individual that has had the most profound impact on my life was someone I encountered while working as a live-in assistant at
L’Arche Chicago—a community of group homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. This individual had a diagnosis of both Down syndrome and schizophrenia. She often heard voices that told her she was not good enough and that she was ugly. I distinctly remember crawling into bed, turning off the light exhausted and ready for sleep, when suddenly I heard the softest of knocks on the door. I got up to open it, and she would say the same line to me every time—”The voices are making me angry again.” The voices had a reputation for threatening her and preventing her from sleeping.  

Comforting her proved to be a challenge at times, but it helped me better understand mental illness and the tolls it can take on your life. I learned strategies to help with these episodes—often constantly reassuring her that the voices were not true; she was loved, she was valuable, she was beautiful. I said this to her an average of twice a day for the entire summer, yet she could not shake the lies of the voices inside her head. I tried my hardest but realized in the quiet moments of prayer with her that simply being an un-anxious presence and a shoulder to lean on was sometimes all I could do. 

Fast forward a few months later and my life changed drastically. I had just returned from studying abroad in Romania: reverse culture shock became an everpresent struggle, my relationship of three years ended abruptly, my future was staring me in the face, and I had no plans to counteract its punches. These circumstances went along with deteriorating thoughts such as “I am worthless” and “I am not good enough.” Day after day, I heard these voices—In short… the voices were making me angry. 

As the trusty psychology major I am, I turned to self-help books in my time of dire need. Humanity has an innate desire to be understood, and we all want to “find ourselves.” Personally, I attempted to accomplish this by taking countless personality tests. I figured out through this process that I am an INFJ, Type 9 on the Enneagram with a 1 wing, a Ravenclaw (#Ravenclawpride), and my spirit animal is a horse. Fun stuff… but ultimately pointless tests that don’t actually define me. One book in particular I picked up shortly after Christmas break talked about how we can find ourselves simply by blocking the lies we tell ourselves, in five easy steps. When I first read the steps, I was skeptical; if it was this simple, why wasn’t everyone living their best life and discovering themselves? Why was my life in complete chaos (and for this, the very reason I picked up this book)?? 

Through multiple conversations, I realized why this is. It’s because attempting to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves is incredibly difficult, maybe even one of the hardest things to do. This is true regardless of how many self-help books we read and counselors we see. We will continue to fall flat on our faces. After a few weeks, I decided to try again, but this time turning to the Bible for answers instead of one of the bazillion self-help books on my bookshelf. I am thrilled to say I got answers—answers so profound and so clear that I was ashamed I hadn’t realized it much, much earlier. 

The voices say, “Nobody loves me”; God says, “I love you” (John 3:16). The voices say, “I can’t go on”; God says, “My grace is sufficient” (II Corinthians 12:9). The voices say, “I feel alone”; God says, “I will never leave you” (Hebrews 13:5). The voices say, “I am worthless”; God says, “You are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). 

Reading this came as a shock to me, but the kind of perfect shock at just the right moment in time to jerk me aggressively out of my funk. This is how God performs miracles; he used my broken circumstances to transform me into the person I am meant to be. I decided to start taking the advice I gave my friend at L’Arche. Over the course of only three months, I have drastically improved my attitude toward myself and others, have renewed my inner spirituality, been accepted to occupational therapy grad school, and remain more happy and hopeful than ever before—complete with booking a plane ticket back to L’Arche Chicago to visit my cherished friends over spring break. 

The voices don’t have the last word—grace does. 

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By Hannah Lindsey

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on the Wilderness Leadership Expedition (WLE) with the Coldwater Foundation. Initially, I thought I could never do a trip like WLE – a 12-day canoe trip in the wilderness. Going into the trip I felt totally unprepared and it was this feeling, along with all of my insecurity and doubt, that followed me.  

From a storm that took my canoe out on the first day to struggling to carry an off-balance canoe amidst rocks, downed trees, and long stretches of mud, everything reminded me of my weakness and made me feel like a burden to the rest of my team. I decided that the best option was to try to hold in all of the negativity, the doubt, the shame, and the emotions. I didn’t want everyone else to know just how little I knew and just how out of place I was.  

Several days later however, my tired body could no longer hold in the pain. While unspoken, I felt as though I needed to be as good as everyone else and that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to breeze through a portage like it was a walk in the park. I was confronted with my weakness and was unable to reconcile it. God stopped me dead in my tracks that day when one of the leaders pulled me aside on the trail and provided a space for me to embrace my inability to go on, as I broke down and gave a voice to my struggle and pain. I can’t describe how good it felt to let it all go and to simply be vulnerable. It was at that moment that a weight was lifted (although I still had to carry the pack). 

I don’t think there was a single day where I didn’t face my own weakness on WLE, and it is because of this that my trip was characterized by the word brokenness. While this word typically has a negative connotation, it has come to symbolize hope and new life. I had been living an independent and self-reliant life for way too long, which was characterized by shying away from vulnerability and honesty, rejecting community and relationship, and hiding in shame, weakness, and inability. The “easy” life I was living – characterized by closing off my heart to avoid the pain of saying goodbye, or experiencing the hurt of separation and pretending like I have it all together so I don’t have to feel failure – was broken down. Instead of making my life easier, I had created unrealistic expectations and was living in a life that was fake, restrictive, and unfulfilling. 

I had been broken. Brokenness on WLE meant bringing me to my knees in a giant mud hole while double packing, forcing me to do nothing but wait for a teammate to come pull me out. Brokenness meant building shelters for the fifth day in a row, battling dark and mosquitos when it would be easier to let other people deal with the hassle. Brokenness meant admitting and owning my weakness, relinquishing one of my packs to a teammate when I couldn’t take another step. Brokenness meant becoming humble and taking the help offered by others, instead of trying to prove how well I could do a task. Brokenness meant waking up every day and crying out to God for strength. Brokenness meant sharing the most intimate parts of my story and allowing the walls I had built to come crashing down. Brokenness meant coming to terms with the me that has been hidden away, longing to come out and not only to know people but to be known by people. 

It took me going on a trip on which everything was stripped away from me to understand that God wants to know me and wants to be known by me, so much so that He is willing to leave all else in pursuit of me. When I speak of brokenness, I can rest in the fact that that which was broken was my physical self – the self that felt the need to measure up, the self that had something to prove, the self that needed to get things in order before coming before God. What I was left with was the raw self – the self that was weak, the self that was filled with emotion and longed to be known, the self that leaned in instead of trying to carry it all. God may have broken me, but He didn’t leave me broken. God revealed that the person I was trying to be was not who He created me to be. When I was trying so hard to hide the flaws and the ugliness I saw, I was actually hiding the beauty and joy He had placed in my life that flourishes in relationship and connection, both with God and with those around me.