The Beginning: Part 1
Today’s Devotional Exercise… Future: Will Peace Ever Come?
1) How does your future look? How does faith in Christ affect the way you look at your future?
My future looks exciting and awesome. I am so excited to see what God has in store for me. I’m excited because I know and I trust that God is going to give me a more amazing life than anything I could plan, if I trust him. So I am so psyched.
It wasn’t what I thought it would be.
None of it was.
“Wait, this is it?!” I asked from the back seat, peering out the window as my dad pulled the van into the circle drive. “Are you sure?”
“That’s what the sign said,” my dad replied, putting the van in park.
I was 19 years old, and had just dropped out of North Park University in Chicago to go work and live at the camp where my high school youth director, Lisa, was now a director of the Youth Ministry Team (YMT). Talking on the phone with Lisa during the spring of my freshman year, I told her how much I hated the thought of being stuck in a classroom for another three years, and how impatient I was to be “out in the real world, experiencing real life.”
What I didn’t talk about were the panic attacks. Banging into my dorm in Anderson Hall, I’d yank the books out of my bag and throw them onto my desk, thinking about how much studying I needed to do that night, and then my mind would race to the part where I had to do this same exact thing for the next three years. The routine, the monotony…walking to class, sitting in class, writing papers for class, taking tests for class. Every time I thought about sitting in those classrooms at North Park, I could see the walls start to close in on me, trapping me in.
So I started skipping class, either from oversleeping or in favor of hanging in my dorm room and hoping for another Lucky scene in General Hospital. There were a few days when I decided I was going to make an honest go of it again: I got dressed, packed my books into my bag, left Anderson Hall, and started walking to class.
And then turned right around again and went back to my room.
Looking back now, it’s so easy to see that I was in the throes of long-term, undiagnosed depression. My whole life, I had loved learning…I used to lay on the floor and read my way through Mrs. Bloome’s collection of Encyclopedia Brittanicas during free time in the 3rd Grade, fascinated that one book could contain info about so many new things. When I got older, studying became a means of both comfort and accomplishment: I’d sit at the dining room table, textbook open, notebook at the ready, taking meticulous notes and telling myself that getting great grades would open all the doors for me, give me the opportunity to do whatever I wanted.
But then something profoundly traumatic happened the summer before my junior year, so profound that I couldn’t even think about it, wouldn’t even talk about it except to acknowledge it once or twice to my very closest friends, and then never again. I barely even acknowledged to myself that it happened. I thought if I just pretended that it didn’t, the whole thing could just fade into the ether.
And at first, I was right. It didn’t affect me, at least not in ways that I could immediately see. Now though, when I look back, it’s so obvious…all the signs were highlighted in bold for anyone who knew to look for them. I overslept to an alarming degree; dropped out of all the activities that had once meant so much to me; started fighting with my best friends; and my favorite hobbies no longer held any interest for me. I also severely restricted my eating and began working out - hard - twice a day, and skipped school so much that I almost didn’t graduate due to time missed.
Rationalizing that I was just bored with my small town and tired of everyone in it, I thought NPU would be the answer, the new start I needed. And at first, it was…but after the shine of college life wore off, I started doing all the things I had done senior year of high school: I slept all the time, started skipping classes (even the ones I really liked), and dropped friendships.
My classes are way too easy, this college is too small, the city is giving me claustrophobia. Once again, I told myself that the problem was just everything outside of me.
Sometimes it’s legitimately hard to sit back and think about how, if I had just known enough to go and get diagnosed for the severe depression and PTSD I was so obviously battling, my whole entire life would have turned out so much differently.
Either way, though, I just wanted to get out there. I listened to “#41” by Dave Matthews Band and “Wide Open Spaces” by The Chicks on repeat, wrote “All who wander aren’t lost” on everything, and told myself and skeptical friends that I would make my own way in the world, create my own path…I didn’t need your bourgeoisie college-to-white-collar-job-to-marriage-house-and-babies bullshit! I wanted to live a life outside of my comfort zones, I declared. I wanted God to stretch me. And that wasn’t going to happen at a tiny Christian college in the middle of Chicago where they still sent our grades to our parents (which is now illegal, btw) and we couldn’t even be in a boy’s dorm room past 10 PM.
I wanted to embark upon a life of adventure…do something exciting, daring, sprint down the path less taken, all that bullshit. The problem was, I didn’t know where or how to actually start doing that, yet. I tossed around a hundred different ideas: move to Colorado and work at a ski resort…follow The Dave Matthews Band around the country…get picked to live in a loft with seven strangers and have my life taped to see what it’s like when you stop being polite and start getting real…or, my favorite, become the kind of wilderness guide who takes groups of kids on the kind of adventures that I had gone on with my youth group during high school.
“How about coming to Okoboji?” Lisa suggested, instead. “You can start as a camp counselor this summer and see if you like it, then apply to YMT, the year-round youth ministry team.”
I sat on the floor of my dorm room, holding the phone to my ear and staring up at the photos I had tacked on the wall above my bed. I had loved going to Bible camp in high school…my favorite, most important memories had been made there. It was where I had found my faith in the first place.
Still staring at those photos, the word tumbled out of my mouth. “Sold.”