The Light of Erskine in the Darkness of Depression

This semester has been emotionally, mentally, and physically draining for me. The stress of being at college, a family member’s passing after a horrible accident, and other events left me worn out, heartbroken, anxious, and eventually physically ill for several days. Every day hit me harder and harder than the day before. I started to feel trapped by the inability to breathe or swallow because of the heaviness that settled in my heart. One night, as I was sitting in front of my Supplemental Instruction class, a stabbing, physical pain in my heart overwhelmed me to the point that I couldn’t speak or move. I am convinced now that I was depressed.

Now, I know that my depression was not as serious as others’ sufferings, and I am not trying to overdramatize my life or situation. I definitely was not diagnosed with a depressive episode or anything, but I was not just in the doldrums or melancholic from a bad day. For the duration of almost a month, I felt like a completely different person. All of my usual vitality and joy was replaced by fear and emptiness. Yet, when someone asked how I was going, I persisted in giving the typical response: “I’m okay. How are you?” The last thing I wanted to do was push my burdens onto my friends, plus I hated the crumbling wreck that I was inside.

William Styron described depression as “a storm – a veritable howling tempest in the brain,” and that’s exactly how I felt. My soul felt like it was torn in two, and I feared that the lighter half was being overcome by the darker half. The amazing part of this story is that God never let me lose hope in His goodness in spite of everything. He taught me complete reliance in my utmost weakness and re-opened my heart to the incredible joy of being seen as a righteous daughter of Christ when I feel most worthless.

So what does this have to do with Erskine?

In all honesty, I felt trapped by Erskine. Over the past two years, I had become so involved with various areas on campus. Now, at the peak of involvement, I felt completely incapable of handling everything, which only increased my anxiety. It turns out that Erskine College was exactly where I needed to be. By God’s grace, so much goodness came out of my weakness. My grades remained high even though I had lost all ability to study well. Organizations that I had poured my heart into last year grew stronger and more stable, even as I pulled away. God sent me an abundance of encouragement and support from my family and friends. I was flooded with people who shouldered my burdens, who delighted in praying for me, people who encouraged me that it was okay to not be okay. I was constantly surprised by an encouraging message or a hug from students I barely knew, often when I was hitting my lowest point of the day. I had a community of people who listened patiently and gave me a shoulder plus a dozen Kleenexes to cry on. I had professors give me understanding and comfort. Most of all, I was reminded of the hope of the preeminent existence of God’s goodness every day in class, in chapel, through RUF, with my friends, and by the community as a whole.

I do not take any of this for granted.

This battle has lasted for almost a month, but now I am starting to feel more normal than I have in a while.

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.” (Psalm 71:14)

When College Destroys Your Joy

By junior year, the newness of college has worn off, much like the sheen that used to brightly gleam on my room key. During the summer, I found myself lacking the familiar, bubbly excitement at the prospect of returning to friends, classes, and the typical routine that I have grown so accustomed to. Don’t get me wrong. I dearly love the people and the work (yes, even class work) at Erskine, so this emptiness was both puzzling and disturbing. Have I grown more cynical in just nineteen years of living? Has college sucked away my soul just like people joke about? How could I lose enthusiasm about something that used to give me so much joy? I used to be that girl who equated the first day of school with an unofficial holiday because of how special it was. Feel free to make fun of me at will.

This blog post doesn’t necessarily answer my query. I suppose you could see this as the electronic scribbling of a tired junior. However, all of these reflections provoked me to crack open my Bible in search of a specific verse in Philippians that popped in my head. Instead, I flipped the pages to the book of Hebrews, which is so full of rich, clear, references to the beauty of God’s care for us. In the middle of reading, I was reminded that I don’t need to be excited about school or classes in order to give thanks and praises to God for all that He has given. My focus should not be on the my current workload or how overwhelmed I will feel from being immersed in a concentrated community after only spending time with family or a small group of friends during the summer.

The twentyish minutes that I spent with those thirteen chapters in Hebrews filled the void that was so deeply rooted in my stomach, but not for the reasons I previously described. I still feel overwhelmed and apprehensive about the rest of the year, but I am trusting that I can make it through each day with a joy that comes from hope that is “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). I firmly believe that the only way I can survive each day is through sheer dependence on God’s goodness and love. At the beginning of the semester, I was given a morning prayer that has become my prayer for the rest of the semester, but also for the rest of my life. I hope this excerpt, which runs through my mind continually throughout the day, is as encouraging to you as it is to me:

Take my life and make it count. Take my little and make it much. Take my weakness and make it strong. Renew me through and through.

The Misadventures of a Scatter-Brained Sophomore

This story is a shout out to all the students who feel like they’re scrambling to just survive the endless world of tests, papers, and studying. I’m right there with you. This is only one of many accounts that shows how untogether my life truly is. Hopefully you’ll find a degree of encouragement and humor somewhere in this event.

My story begins at a table in Snappers, Erskine’s greasy, delicious substitute to the cafeteria. After a long day of classes and labs, my friends and I treated ourselves to some much-needed comfort fries. That was the last time I remembered seeing my wallet.

Flash forward to my room after dinner. My roommate and I had some time and energy to burn, so naturally we had a Disney dance party, where we discovered our ability to perform ballroom dancing in tight quarters. I was so excited about dancing that I threw my backpack and jacket onto my bed and leapt into action. After the dance party, we settled down into our normal studying routine.

The next morning, while I was rifling through my backpack for my student ID, I realized that my wallet was missing. Normally I would pack everything into my backpack the night before class, but I had stayed up so late studying that I went straight to bed without bothering to pack up my things. Obviously losing one’s wallet and all of its contents is kind of a big deal, so I started searching around campus as soon as I could. I tried to recall the last place I remembered holding my wallet, but of course that memory was blocked. Go figure.

My wallet hadn’t been put in any of Erskine’s lost and found boxes, so by this point, I was pretty freaked out. As I ran (and I mean literally ran) around the Erskine campus, hoping the wallet was somewhere in the grass, a horrifying thought entered my mind. What if I accidentally threw my wallet in the trash at Snappers while I was throwing away everybody’s trash? I immediately returned to Snappers and asked if I could dig through the trash, despite still being dressed up from having lunch with a prospective student. However, Sue, my friend who works at Snappers, wasn’t about to let me root around in the trash, and she voluntarily dug through three bags of trash before reporting that there was no way my wallet could be there.

With steadily increasing anxiety, I walked across campus to my room (by this time, I was out of breath from running) and proceeded to tear apart every inch of the room in search of the wallet. I tore everything off of my bed, ripped out all of the clothes in my dresser and wardrobe, and threw everything out of my desk. The wallet was nowhere to be found. A ray of inspiration hit me as I sat on the floor in despair. I remembered helping Daria carry clothes up from her car last night. Did I take my wallet with me for some odd reason? A new wind hit me and I sprinted out the door and down the hill to her car, but the wallet wasn’t underneath, nearby, or inside her van. As I walked up to my dorm room, I felt more discouraged and stressed than I had felt in a while. Losing a wallet seems like a small problem now, but it did was a tremendous toll on my emotions at the time. It’s extremely frustrating to not be able to find something that is lost. Then, when I walked through the door to my room, I saw it. My wallet had been hanging on a thumbtack on my corkboard this entire time.

This is proof that putting things away in their proper place is dangerous and wrong. Just kidding.

Long story short, my life is definitely not all together. I’m clumsy, forgetful, easily stressed, and my short-term memory is completely worthless. So how do I make it through each day’s problems and mistakes with a smile and the energy to face another day? God opens my eyes to see and give thanks for the everyday blessings and joys that can shine through the blunders. Today, God answered my desperate, freaked out prayers to simply find my wallet. He provided support from amazing friends like Sue, who cheerfully picked through trash in order to help me. That kind of love still overwhelms me. It’s such a huge relief that my weaknesses can be blessings in disguise by causing the strengths and goodness of others to shine out.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10

 

RUF Fall Conference: A Spiritual Shower

This past weekend, I went to the RUF Fall Conference at Camp Greystone in North Carolina. At first, I thought I would be overwhelmed with the awkwardness that comes from being a freshman surrounded by upperclassmen. However, I soon got over my discomfort as I bonded with students that I hadn’t known super well and I’m so thankful for that blessing! Don’t get me wrong. I still awkwardly shot a strawberry from my plate to the floor with my fork and I may or may not have called an RUF intern’s face fat, but at least no one rubbed honey or shaving cream all over my face while I was sleeping.

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My friends and I woke up early to watch the sunrise on the dock. Even though the sky was cloudy, the scenery was beautiful.

Let me just say that the sleeping arrangements and the food were amazing. For $55 (the prodigious Paul Patrick managed to raise donations to give scholarships to the Erskine students), I got to sleep in a semi-bug-free cabin with all of my friends, running hot water, a scarily loud toilet, and cool wooden bunk beds. Oh, and the food was delicious! There was fresh fruit, steaming plates of yummy dishes like grits, meat, bread, taco salad, etc. I thought the camp food would be nasty, but I’m pretty sure I gained three pounds this weekend.

Every morning and evening, there were sessions where all of the RUF groups from different schools would congregate and worship God together in an outdoor pavilion. That was my absolute favorite part of the trip. There’s something magical about being outside and singing praises to God with a body of believers that gives me more joy than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Saturday's evening session as we stood united in worship.

Saturday’s evening session as we stood united in worship.

The speaker at the sessions was the previous campus minister at Western Carolina, Dave Osborne. I really enjoyed his style of teaching because he would save his main point of the lesson until the end and I would never expect the point to be what it was. He focused on the book of Mark and the four things that we can’t exist without: the Father’s voice, knowing our place in the world, understanding the progress of waiting, and being beautiful only through Jesus.

I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about his lessons, but I will share the biggest lesson I got from his teaching:

I need to be thankful for my circumstances and situations, because God has put me exactly where He wants me. Lately I’ve been griping to my friends about how obnoxious people are or how much work I have to do or how annoying it is when people take my clothes out of the dryer without my permission. This weekend, I realized that I had lost focus on what really matters. Instead of making my life about furthering God’s kingdom, my heart was set on expanding my kingdom. I just want to say that my kingdom is a miserable, dark place and the deeper I go, the more miserable and dark I become. When we turn to God, He gives us a refreshing light to cling on to in a dark tunnel. We don’t get happiness from God because He takes away our trouble. God gives us joy by giving us something to depend on and hope in as we deal with every day’s struggles.

I absolutely love singing hymns because their words are so powerful and the melodies are so beautiful. This morning, we sang one of my all time favorite songs, “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.” The third verse literally made my heart feel like it was being filled to the brim with joy.

Let us sing though fierce temptation

Threatens hard to bear us down

For the Lord, our strong salvation,

Holds in view the conqueror’s crown

He, Who washed us with His blood,

He, Who washed us with His blood,

He, Who washed us with His blood,

Soon will bring us home to God 

Praising God despite all of the temptation and the guilt and the hopelessness that stem from temptation… That’s so powerful. I think that if I walked through life, always keeping “the conqueror’s crown” in mind, I would always be so joyful and I would be so much better at “pressing on toward the goal… for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). That’s honestly something I desire more than anything else in life and I’m so thankful that God used the RUF Fall Conference to wash away my distractions and to refocus me back on Him.

Erskine RUF takes Camp Greystone

Erskine takes Camp Greystone

God’s Gift of Grace

It has been exactly two weeks since I left my home and entered a new life at Erskine. I haven’t quite gotten homesick yet, but there are a few things about my home that I didn’t start cherishing until I left. In fact, if someone asked me what the hardest thing about college has been so far, I wouldn’t say it’s been the workload or the classes or even the communal bathrooms. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things have taken a while to adjust to, but they definitely haven’t been the hardest thing to get used to. The biggest trial that I have had to overcome is the loneliness that comes from not being surrounded by the close friendships that I had at home. I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard to go to a college where you don’t know anyone, even if it’s only 30 minutes away. It’s hard to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to meet people while feeling pressured to find your best friend in the crowd. It’s hard to hold onto the hope that you will make lifelong friends even though you’re not as outgoing as others around you. 

I got so lonely and frustrated during the first few days. I mean, obviously you can’t rush into a close friendship. Friendships grow over time. But I just wanted one good friend with whom I could laugh and talk and be myself around. I prayed to God for days to either send me a friend like that or to give me the strength to keep my head up and continue to hope in His plan. Thankfully, He answered both prayers! He sent me an awesome girl by the name of Grace.

Isn't she a cutie? ;)

Isn’t she a cutie? 😉

She’s funny, crazy, wise, and really in love with God. We hit it off as soon as we started talking! At first, we bonded over the shared qualities of our boyfriends, but we soon progressed to becoming really good friends in a matter of hours and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Well, not really.. We aren’t always together. However, we try to eat meals together; we share two classes together; we even study together in the evenings!

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“Studying” = Sleeping and sad selfies

I’m so thankful for her. Her sweet spirit always warms my heart, plus she’s really fun to pick on! For example, we have this game at the cafeteria where we try to steal each other’s plate and take them to conveyor belt for the dirty dishes. I normally win, but I have a slight advantage, being a ninja and all. 

So in conclusion, I’ve been so blessed by God in several aspects of my life. However, the biggest blessing that He’s recently given me is the gift of Grace as a wonderful, beautiful, and amazing friend. I’m so excited to seeing what the future holds for us and our friendship. She might even convince me to give horseback riding a try! 

Living Lent: World Down Syndrome Day

Today is 3/21, also known as World Down Syndrome Day!  Today’s post is dedicated to my little brother and every beautiful soul that got a little extra love from God–in the form of an extra 21st chromosome.  While in some ways the word “disability” makes sense to me, I find that it limits expectations all too often.  What individuals with Down syndrome may “lack” by the average person’s standards is far surpassed by everything they do have.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, my brother has taught me so much about determination, hard work, forgiveness, and unconditional love.  No one can bring a smile to my face like he can.

heartbeat international

Like this adorable poster reminds us, true love doesn’t count chromosomes.  It doesn’t count shortcomings or wrongs.  Every single child is formed by the loving hands of God, and God does not make mistakes.  Though I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be the parent of a special needs child, I do understand how such a child has completed my life, my family, and so many other families I have had the joy of meeting over my lifetime.  From being involved in Luke’s therapy, classes, special olympics teams, and life in general; to working with Camp Joy and Joni & Friends campers at Bonclarken for several summers; to every story I read about lives transformed by an extra chromosome, I thank God for these individuals.

Speaking of heartwarming stories…read this one or this one, or take some time to watch this ESPN video or this video.  

From me to you, happy world Down syndrome day and God bless!

In Christ,
Christine

buddies! siblings

a precious moment between my mom & little brother ♥

a precious moment between my mom & little brother ♥

dancing with my dear brother at my sister's wedding-one of my favorite pictures ever! ©Marni Rothschild Pictures,LLC

dancing with my dear brother at my sister’s wedding-one of my favorite pictures ever!
©Marni Rothschild Pictures,LLC

Luke and I matched PJs..we're so cute.

Luke & I got dressed up for his Special Olympics prom last summer

Luke & I got dressed up for his Special Olympics prom last summer

isn't he a stud in his tux & bowtie?

isn’t he a stud in his tux & bowtie?

precious.

Living Lent: blessings abound

Where did today go?  Whether we are knee-deep in classes or on break, it seems that time skips gaily by while I am left in the dust wondering where it went so quickly.

Today I promised part II of my list of blessings, so without further ado, I shall continue. [Sidenote: yes, I have been reading poetry.  Why do you ask?]

my books don't quite fit on my bookshelf...

my books don’t quite fit on my bookshelf…

12. Literature 
Books, books, books.  What is the best book you have ready lately? What is the last book you read?  I have been an avid bibilophile since I was little and scared myself silly reading too many Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.  I used to get in trouble for reading when I wasn’t supposed to.  (Yeah, figure that one out.)  Literature has provided me with entertainment, friends, profound emotional experiences, a greater understanding of the world, a better perspective of the human condition, and a basis for my understanding of God.  Though I am not the most talented writer in the world, I have a sincere respect and appreciation for those that are blessed with a such a talent.  And I am truly, deeply grateful for the gift of words.

13. Home

Charleston: home sweet home

Charleston: home sweet home

Home is where the heart is.  Home can be anywhere, and is anywhere.  Some once tried to tell me that I couldn’t be homesick for Scotland because it was never home–I respectfully disagree.  I believe that home is anywhere where there is a piece of your heart; though I only spent 4.5 months there, it was enough time for my heart to grow some and leave a piece behind.  Of course, home is definitely wherever my family is, too.
I am getting ready to graduate and go to grad school, though I’m still not sure where yet.  I literally have no idea where I will be in 6 months.  But I am so fortunate to have places to call home.  And I am excited to see where else God will let me call home!

14. Friends
I am blessed to have friends all over the world, even though I don’t get to see many of them very often.  Friends amuse, encourage, love, provide companionship, and help you learn valuable life lessons.  True friends are hard to come by, and quality is definitely more important than quantity.  Who cares how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers you have?  I am grateful for those who know the real me–good points and flaws together–and love me regardless.

Holly decided to surprise me...

Holly decided to surprise me…

my wonderful friend Sarah from St Andrews! she's working in DC now.

my wonderful friend Sarah from St Andrews! she’s working in DC now.

15. Health
Not much explanation is needed here.  Though I would/will praise God no matter what, I am grateful for the health that I have enjoyed thus far in my life.

16. Hope
Hope allows me to dream.  Hope gives me something to smile about on the worst days.  Hope has guided me through darkness.  The capacity for hope is something which separates us from the rest of God’s creation, something which beats pessimism and cynicism.  I hope for a lot of things, and it gives me direction and goals.  Hope shapes our lives in so many ways.

17. Forgiveness
Christ died for me on the cross.  What else needs to be said?  But there IS so much to say.  I mess up daily, hourly.  I am the queen of making mistakes.  God’s forgiveness is one of the single greatest blessings I have known; and I truly appreciate forgiveness from friends, family, and foes alike.  I am grateful for the capacity to forgive others, and how I learn and grow through that process.  I am sp blessed that forgiveness  affords me opportunities for new beginnings.

18. Oxygen
Breathing is, well, necessary for survival.  I am blessed to have every breath that God has allowed me in my life.

came across this gem while exploring St Andrews

I came across this gem while exploring St Andrews

19. Nature
Speaking of life…how incredible is the world in which we live?!  We get our food, the components of our clothes and houses, and so much of our inspiration from the natural world.  From the daffodils blooming everywhere right now to the mountains to the vast ocean, and everything in between, I consider the earth to be a blessing from God.  Though it’s easy to take it for granted,  I appreciate any opportunity to be out in the fresh air soaking up the sun.  Or being rained on.  Snow is great, too.  I’m not really picky.  And sunsets are often known to stop me in my tracks.  God is truly the greatest artist!

I took this outside of my dorm in St Andrews last spring

speaking of daffodils: I took this photo outside of my dorm in St Andrews last spring.

20. Peace
The more I hear about the war and unrest and fighting in other areas of the world, the more I feel blessed to live in such peace and stability.  (Governmental disagreements aside.)  Yes, crime happens.  Yes, We have been victim of terrorist attacks.  But compared to countless millions who live in constant fear for their lives, I am so blessed to sleep each night feeling safe.

21. Children
How can the sight or sound of a young child–especially a baby–not make you smile?  Children represent imagination, innocence, hope, joy, love.  I hope to be a mother some day, and for now I cherish any opportunity I have to spend with kids.  Every child is truly a gift from God!

22. Emotions–all of them

happiness.

happiness. [photo by Mayank Kapadia]

When I say all of them, I mean the bad ones as well.  Without sadness or anger, how can you understand true joy?  Without frustration, relief means little.  Emotions remind me that I am alive.

23. (one to grow on) YOU!
Whether I know you personally or not, I know that God made you with care and that He has a great purpose for your life.  I consider it an honor and a blessing to share this world with you, and to be able to share pieces of my life with you.

In Christ,
Christine