CHAPTER 4: YOU ARE MY STRENGTH!

CHAPTER 4: YOU ARE MY STRENGTH!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Presents Teens Talkin' Faith

Chapter Four

You Are My

Strength!

. . . THE LORD WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH COURAGE AND STRENGTH . . .

Some of the excerpts written in this chapter deal with very serious issues. Teens write of experiences such as drug use, abuse, and grief. Although I understand that these topics are quite extreme, I have chosen to include them in this chapter to demonstrate that even in the most desperate of situations, the Lord will provide you with courage and strength to endure such life experiences. I realize that you may read this chapter and think, Gosh, my life experience is mild compared to some of these people. Why would God take time for my little problems? Know that God does take time because He loves you. If you need the strength to deal with the pressures of achieving academically or meeting your parents’ expectations, God will provide. Or perhaps you’ve prayed for the courage to reach out and make a new friend. God knows the importance of your prayer. You don’t need to be dealing with a severe situation to call out to God for strength. On the other hand, if you do identify with some of the serious issues addressed in this chapter, feel free to turn to the “T” Talk at the end of the chapter for reassurance and advice. Also, pray for the courage to talk to a trusted adult. Regardless, please know that whatever your situation, mild or extreme, God will be there.

Mrs. T

I DON’T HAVE THE COURAGE OR THE STRENGTH IN ME TO STAND UP AND SAY NO . . .

I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have a strong personality. Peer pressure is a hard thing for me to deal with because of that. I don’t have the courage or the strength in me to stand up and say no. Sometimes I end up doing stupid things, and people get upset with me, but no matter what, God is always there. In some situations, I find it easy to just step back, reflect, weigh the consequences, and let God guide me to the right decision. I know that He can provide me with the strength to say no if I honestly don’t want to regret a potential poor choice because of peer pressure. So when I don’t have the strength to say no, I look to God and use His strength.

BRIANNA, 15

I RETURNED FROM MY VACATION UNCERTAIN OF WHERE WE WERE TO LIVE . . .

“You are a strong person” were the only comforting words I received from my father when he told me there had been a fire and we had lost everything. I had been camping with a friend during one of the hottest weeks of July 1999 when a fire spread across the six-family apartment building where I lived, leaving nothing to spare. I returned from my vacation uncertain of where we were to live and how we were going to survive. While finding a place to live and buying new belongings through donated money, I began to feel very frustrated with God. My head was filled with questions. Why me? Why did my home have to burn down? Why did my parents have to be divorced? Why couldn’t I have a normal life? Eventually, I realized I had no right to be frustrated with God; in fact, I should be thankful that He had given me these experiences. God had allowed these things to happen to me not because He wanted to see me suffer, but because He knew I could handle them. I began to see that through my trials, God led me to become a stronger person.

RANDEE, 18

IN MY HEART, I KNEW WHAT I HAD TO DO . . .

My senior year of high school was definitely an experience . . . full of fun and friends, but also trials. When finals rolled around, my brain was not the only thing being tested; my heart and my conscience were as well. About a week before the scheduled final for one of my hardest classes, a rumor began circulating that three guys in my class were going to steal our teacher’s final. Very quickly, the bidding began. It felt like the entire class was offering to pay the guys as long as they got a copy of the final ahead of time. Right away, I was posed with three different choices.

My first option was to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. I mean, it’s not every day that a final is available ahead of time, and I had so many to study for. I was nervous about all of my upcoming finals; having this one taken care of would definitely lighten my study load. I would only have to come up with the proper sum of money, deliver it to those gutsy guys, and I’d have it made: one A+ in the bag, baby!

My second option was slightly different, but at least it would save me money. I could not participate in this very risky and very illegal endeavor. I’d just ignore what it felt like everyone was doing, study for the final, and most definitely sulk as I saw my classmates receive their A+s.

The last option was by far the most difficult. Up until this time, what I did affected no one. If I joined them, they’d be happy (at least about the extra money), and if I stood by and minded my own business, they wouldn’t care. My problem was that little cricket sitting on my shoulder and screaming in my ear.

The voice of the cricket was, of course, God. In my heart, I knew what I had to do. I had to tell my teacher what was going on; he had to know the plot to steal the final. Doing this would surely provide me with a long list of brand-new enemies, all foaming at the mouth, ready to kill me for spoiling their A+s. The strength to go to my teacher, knowing full well how many people would hate me after I did, was not my own, but the Lord our Father’s.

The afternoon I chose to divulge my information felt like an eternity. As I walked up the seemingly endless steps to my teacher’s office, a voice in my head kept repeating to me: your rewards will not come in this life, but in heaven. That voice was the only thing that made me climb those steps. All the way up, there was a screaming match going on inside my head because there was also a voice crying out that I was flushing a perfectly good A+ down the toilet. Anyway, I made it up the steps and was somehow able to muster the courage to knock on my teacher’s door and take a seat across from him at his desk. I told him the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so helped by God, of course), and I actually survived. Many times, I told myself I could not face the situation, for it was just too difficult. But I did somehow, and the relief I felt after the fact was wonderful.

If left to my own human weakness, I have no doubt I would have given in, forked over the dough, and taken— actually stolen—the A+. Instead, because of the strength from God, I know I did the right thing. I can look at myself in the mirror every morning with no shame and, actually, a bit of pride. I took the test, which my teacher undoubtedly made a great deal harder after I left his office, and got a B. My grades are very important to me, but I treasured this B, not for its value in my GPA, but for what it said. The strength I lacked to do the right thing was made up for by God, and that B will forever remind me!

MARIAH, 19

A SLEEPER WAVE CAME AND PULLED TWO OF MY BEST FRIENDS INTO THE FRIGID WATER . . .

In the eighth grade, my school basketball team entered a tournament on the northern California coast and stayed the weekend there. We, the team, had a great time hanging out with each other and enjoying the basketball tournament we played in, even though we were the worst team that attended. On our last day, minutes prior to our departure, we all decided to climb down to the tide pools to view the sea one last time. A sleeper wave came and pulled two of my best friends into the frigid water. The father of one of my other teammates, an ex-Navy Seal in his late fifties, dove in after them. He managed to save one friend but drowned in the process. One of my best friends and my teammate’s dad died that day. This experience was so foreign to me and seemed unreal. I didn’t know where to turn, so I turned to God. He gave me strength to be with friends and family in this time of need. He helped me to get over this tragic situation by helping me feel fortunate for what I have—great family and friends—and to be thankful for every day I live on this Earth. I was given the strength to continue living life, without forgetting this tragedy. I remember the heroics of my friend’s dad as he put the lives of two boys before himself, and I will never forget him or my great friend who also drowned that day. God has given me the strength to remember them, yet to move on simultaneously. When I think back to the two people who died that day, I remember their character and the good times with them, and I am happy that I even knew them at all.

RUSTY, 18

THAT’S WHEN I GOT INTO DRUGS . . .

In the beginning of the sixth grade, my parents were starting to have some big problems. Each time they fought, the yelling and fighting seemed to get worse. About the middle of that year, my parents got a divorce. That devastated me. I have always relied on my family. Now my family was all broken apart. My little brothers and sisters were too young to understand, my mom didn’t seem to care, and my dad was moving to another state. My life was falling apart. I started hanging out with some older friends all the way through that year. I noticed they were into drugs, parties, girls, and alcohol, but I didn’t do that stuff because my mom and I were very close, and I didn’t want to do that to her.

Well, about the summer before my seventh-grade year, my mom started seeing this guy. He was nice, very religious, and treated my mom like gold. I was happy for her at first, but then she started to get serious with him. She started spending all of her time with him and not much time with me. That’s when I got into drugs. I started to hang out with those friends a lot more. All we did was drink, do drugs, go to parties, sneak out, and get into trouble.

My mom noticed the change in me. I was never home, I would talk back, my grades slipped badly, I hated her boyfriend, and I never did what she asked. I know she suspected that I was using, but she had no proof. Still, I was excluding myself from my good friends, my family, and my real self. My mom got worried, and she and her boyfriend sat me down and talked to me. They asked me if I was using drugs and all that stuff. I denied it all. I just told them what they wanted to hear.

We all got up, but then my mom’s boyfriend pulled me to the side and asked me if I knew God. I said, “Of course, I know God. I’ve gone to church, and I know He is there.” He said, “No, do you actually know God?” I was like, “No, I don’t know Him.” He told me a lot about God that night. He told me that I needed to open my eyes and realize that there is something greater than me. Then he asked me how my life was going. I said, “Good, I guess,” but I knew that inside my life was in pieces. And I know he saw right through me. He said, “God is there. He will listen, and He will answer. He will be your strength.” He also said, “If you don’t believe me, just try to discover God yourself, but mean it.” He challenged me that night to read the book of John from the New Testament. I did, and just reading that one book changed a lot of my thinking. I realized that there is someone greater than me, who has a never ending love for me and gave His Son for me. I sat in my bed that night, and I wept while asking God to forgive me for all that I had done and all the people I had hurt. I asked Him to help me in my ways, give me the strength to resist my temptations, and be with me.

As I began to focus on my grades and the important things in my life, I became closer with God. It hasn’t always been easy, but my life became so much better. It turned out that everything my mom’s boyfriend (now my stepdad) said was right. God provided me with love, strength, and a better life. If it wasn’t for Him, I might not even be here right now. So, I ask you to believe. Put your faith in God and rest. You will be saved in more than one way. People and friends come and go, but the Lord remains forever.

REEVE, 15

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Reeve learned that when he put his faith in God, he was provided with a life far better than the one he was living while using drugs. If you or one of your friends has a desire to turn away from drugs, I encourage you to talk with your parents, a counselor, or a pastor. You can also contact the National Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-800-HIT-HOME (1-800-448-4663) or the National Drug Abuse Hotline at 1-800-662-4357 for support services in your area.

. . . I STARTED PRAYING TO GOD FOR STRENGTH . . .

When I used to get teased, I always came back with a smart-aleck remark, making my bullies tease me even more. Every day was the same. I started getting really angry at them. I would get into fights and cause lots of trouble. I had no friends other than my twin sister. When we went into the seventh grade, I was still being picked on. I had made some friends, but they got picked on, too. Finally, I had had enough, so instead of getting angry and going right back at them, I started praying to God for strength so that I could resist my desire to fight them. And slowly, I found that His strength helped me face my tough days. Now, I use kindness rather than anger. It is amazing, but I don’t get picked on as much anymore, and I have great friends!

DANITA, 14

SO WHEN YOU ARE TROUBLED . . .

When I was asked for my thoughts on the strength I find in God, they came from my heart in a poem. It goes like this:

God is my strength!

The strength to love

The strength to live

The strength to forget

The strength to forgive

Strength in numbers

Strength in pairs

Strength in friends

And the lives they share

We find strength

In every nook

In a family

Or in a book

But where does the original

Strength come from?

The strength to go on

When our hearts go numb?

“Who created

This strength?” you say

God Almighty

He helps us in every way

So when you are troubled

Do not shed a tear

Turn to Him for strength

And have no fear

SALEENA, 15

I WISH I COULD END THIS WITH “HAPPILY EVER AFTER” . . .

When I was ten years old, I couldn’t have been happier. I was a carefree young girl just living my life. I was the child of divorced parents, but that didn’t bother me because each of my families loved me equally, and I saw them both often. I went on Christmas vacations during the winter and to camps during the summer. I thought this was how life was supposed to be forever. As I grew older, I began to realize that problems do occur, and life isn’t always easy. This realization came on a day that I will always remember clearly.

I was sitting in the kitchen at my dad’s house, and he told me he needed to talk. I didn’t know what about, but I said okay, and when I looked at him I knew that things were not okay. His face was very sad, and his eyes were filled with tears. He told me he had been diagnosed with something called ALS. It is a motor-neuron disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He told me that there was no current cure and that the doctors had only given him two to five years to live. I felt like my world was crumbling. There wasn’t anyone who could fix it, and no one who understood how I felt.

As time went on, I watched my dad, who had done a half–IronMan Marathon less than a year before, start walking with a cane. I watched my dad, who used to have a bowl of ice cream every night before bed, hardly eat at all and often have to spit into a cup because it was too hard to swallow. I watched my dad, someone who used to call me at least two times a week to check in, now have to get my stepmom to call while we talked on speaker phone because it was too hard to hold a long conversation because his speech had deteriorated so badly. I watched my dad, someone who used to fly his plane up to where I live to watch my brother and I play sports, not even be able to drive his car. I watched my dad go from being a big, strong, six-foot man, to being able to count almost all of his ribs. I watched my dad until he died.

Our only sense of peace was that we knew he was in heaven, and that he was out of his sick body and was happy. As time went on, I realized that I was not going to be able to get through the loss of my dad all by myself. I was going to need the support of my family, friends, and God. I felt that the only one who knew exactly how I felt was God. He had listened to all my thoughts and prayers throughout my dad’s sickness and knew exactly what was in my heart. I knew He had heard everything and was going to continue to listen when I talked to Him. I know now that He gave me the strength to begin to overcome this difficult part of my life. I wish I could end this with “happily ever after,” but that chapter in this story is yet to be experienced. Life isn’t always like the story books that I read when I was ten years old. But I have learned that God will always be with me, no matter where life’s journeys take me.

EMMA, 17

I WAS LOST IN WHO I WAS, WHO MY FAMILY WAS . . .

When my parents got a divorce, I became suddenly lost. I was lost in who I was, who my family was, who my leaders in life were. With encouragement from a friend, I went to a local youth group. It was only once a week and was for about two hours. Through the group, not only did I have time away from my family troubles, but time to be with God and find out who I really was as that was something I was really struggling with. I started praying every night. I prayed for His guidance and compassion. Slowly, I came to realize that things were getting easier and beginning to be okay. I don’t know if it was just by chance that things got better when I started praying, but I really think it was because I let God know that I knew He was there, and I needed His love and guidance.

My parents’ divorce has just become final. I know it will take a long time to get over it and accept everything that has gone on, and what my parents have done to each other and our family. But I think with time and the help of God, I will have the strength to make it through everything just fine and maybe come out a better person. If another teen asked me for the best piece of advice I could offer, I would have to say this: If you are trying to find out who you are, who you want to be, or where you are to go in life, go and find God and talk to Him. It is so easy, and He is always there for you. He understands what you are going through. He won’t leave you like a friend might, and He is only a prayer away.

SUMMER, 14

WHEN WE DO NOT HAVE THE STRENGTH TO PICK UP OUR HEAD, GOD WILL HELP AD, GOD WILL HELP . . .

The dictionary defines strength as being “the power to resist force,” but even the strongest man has emotional weaknesses. Many times we don’t have enough strength to pull through the most emotionally straining times in our lives. Yet, God is there to guide us through these times. He knows that after persevering, struggling, and encountering hardships, these difficult life experiences will make us stronger in the future. This is not the physical strength described in Webster’s Dictionary, but a strength defined with God’s love and devotion to all of us. When we do not have the strength to pick up our head, God will help us gain enough strength to do so.

MICHAEL, 16

HE GIVES ME THE STRENGTH TO FACE MY DAD . . .

Abuse. It is a scary and very real word to me. I am not saying that it happens all the time, but it does happen often. Sometimes it’s not always physical abuse, but it’s mental abuse, too. I think what hurts the worst is that I didn’t do a thing to bring on my dad’s anger. It’s not so much the physical abuse that hurts; it’s the mental abuse. It hurts me so deeply that I become very afraid of him. He has made me so insecure about myself that I have subconsciously put up a wall around me. There are only a few special people who have gotten through this shield, and God is one of them. He has gotten past the wall because He gives me strength, courage, and hope.

On the days that I just don’t feel like living, He gives me the strength to do it. He gives me the strength to face my dad and the rest of the world. He gives me hope that maybe someday my dad will see how much he hurts me and stop the abuse. And maybe that will come sooner now because, most important, God gave me the strength to finally talk to someone about what my dad was doing. God just gives me so much that my dad doesn’t or can’t give me. That is one of the reasons He has gotten past my wall. I am very grateful to have God in my life. Amen!

YOLANDA, 14

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you have ever found yourself in a situation like Yolanda’s, please talk to a trusted adult. A teacher, school counselor, pastor, or family friend can guide you to seek help. You can also call the National Youth Crisis Hotline at 1-800-HIT-HOME (1-800-448-4663) or the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect at 1-800-394-3366 for guidance, support, and referrals. Know that no one deserves to be abused, and it is an individual’s right as a human being to be safe. And when, like Yolanda, you just don’t feel like living some days, please refer back to the “T” Talk in Chapter 3 for reassurance and guidance that suicide is not the answer. Seek comfort and courage from God, and find the strength in Him to talk to someone about what you are feeling.

. . . HIS STRENGTH CAN BE OUR STRENGTH . . .

“Put some muscle into that, boy!” “I expect you to have enough strength to lift that weight!” or “Put your back into it!” are all ways of saying that you need to put effort and strength into whatever you are doing. There are two different kinds of strength, though. There is man’s strength, and then there is God’s strength. God didn’t intend for people to carry their burdens by themselves. God wants all of us to know that His strength can be our strength. When we dwell in God’s strength, we receive grace, love, and forgiveness. God gives us strength in our lives when we face new challenges, when we doubt or are depressed. Often we can find His strength through prayer. When we pray, it gives God a chance to comfort us and guide us through our trials. So look to God for strength. He works in mysterious ways and will build you up when you are lifting a heavy load!

JASMINE, 14

“T ” Talk

I am a very energetic and enthusiastic person. I have always loved challenging myself athletically. When I water-ski or play sports, I push myself to the limit. I suppose it is just my personality; I have an innate desire to compete, but even more important, I love to have fun! My husband is much the same way. Together we spend a great deal of time outdoors. With our children, we enjoy hiking, biking, and skiing. We also love to camp. When my daughter was a little over one and my son was three years old, my husband and I took them camping. The campground was dry and very dirty, but we had a fantastic time. I think our daughter ate more dirt that weekend than she did food! Little did I know that our fun-filled camping trip would change my life.

Over a month later, I began to feel sick. At first, I thought I had the flu. I was nauseous and fatigued. Throughout the next few months, I lost weight, muscle tone, and strength and experienced difficulty breathing. Anything that took muscle exertion left me breathless. As active as I normally was, I was devastated by my physical condition, and I was terrified that something was seriously wrong with me. I visited many doctors, but they were baffled by my condition. At one point, a specialist at a nationally acclaimed diagnostic institute patted me on the back and suggested that I was overstressed. I left there not knowing if I should cry and scream or commit myself to a psychiatric ward. People who know me call me an eternal optimist, but at that point I became depressed. I didn’t have the strength to be the mom and wife I had always been, and no doctor could tell me what was wrong. I began to doubt myself and my symptoms.

Tragically, as my body deteriorated, I feared that I was dying. Finally, after six months, I saw another specialist who diagnosed me with Lyme disease, a bacteria that replicates as it invades your body systems and renders them useless. Apparently, a tick bit me when we were camping. The tick carried Lyme and passed it on to me. After five long years of treatment, I feel very blessed to be in excellent health today. Yet, I am also aware that my faith in God and my belief that He would be with me gave me the strength and courage to persevere. I am cognizant, too, of the many valuable lessons that God taught me through my illness. One encounter, in particular, reinforced the power of God’s presence in my life.

It was a beautiful winter day as I traveled along a mountain road to meet my husband for lunch at a local ski resort. My body was quite weak and I had yet to be diagnosed, but I was grateful to be getting out and enjoying the day. As my children slept in the backseat, I drove along listening to the radio, when all of a sudden my right hand began to feel tingly, as if little needles were prickling my fingers and the palm of my hand. As the feeling progressed up my forearm, my fingers began to involuntarily curl into a tight fist. I began to feel afraid, not knowing what was happening to my body and very aware that if something happened to me, my kids would be alone and unprotected in the car. Suddenly, my right arm contracted and began to curl into my body. My left arm also began to follow the same pattern, tingling, contracting, and becoming useless. I feared that perhaps it was the altitude that was causing this episode, so I thought I should try to head back down the mountain. Even with the full use of one’s hands, it would be a difficult turn to make under winter conditions. To my right was a huge wall of snow and to my left a sheer drop-off. Ice coated the road in an invisible sheet. But at that point, I felt that turning around was my only hope. I was beginning to feel the same tingling sensation in my face, and both of my hands now seemed glued to my chest. Without the benefit of my hands or forearms, I used my elbows and chest to turn my car around and guide it to the side of the road. I was unable to put my car into park and feared for my children’s safety, sure that I would soon lose consciousness. With my foot on the brake, I waved my elbow out the window hoping someone would stop to help me, though no one did.

I was frustrated, helpless, and afraid when I realized I hadn’t yet asked the only one who could help me. God knew my situation, and He was near. I prayed with all of my heart for God to give me the strength to hold on and to please have the next person stop. I also remember asking the Lord to let it be a good person, someone who would help me and protect my children. And He did. In fact, He sent two people in the next car. They reminded me of my parents, as the man got into my car and drove my children and me safely to an emergency room. His wife followed us and then made sure the kids were taken care of until my family arrived.

I later learned that the bacteria from the Lyme disease had attacked my respiratory system and ultimately caused that reaction in my body. But through that experience, the life lesson that I learned was most precious. I was reminded that God is always near, yet sometimes we forget to call on Him for help. He knows when we are afraid or hurting. If we turn to Him when we are troubled, He will comfort us with His strength.

Because I am a very independent person, I often try to control many situations in my life. Even when I am failing miserably, I stubbornly persist and usually watch things get worse. But when I let go and realize that, in fact, I don’t have to be in control because God is, things seem to work out. It is difficult for Him to take care of me unless I allow Him to. Just like on the mountain, I couldn’t make people stop to help me, but God could. I had to get beyond myself and my control to let God help me.

I don’t believe that God caused my Lyme disease, but I do know that I have grown spiritually because of my encounter with Lyme. God has taught me and touched my life in so many ways through the disease, but when I was initially sick and undiagnosed, I couldn’t see it.

I think that most people have experienced a time when life doesn’t make sense. Have you experienced a trial in your life that left you feeling overwhelmed and unsure? Maybe like some of the teens who wrote for this chapter, your situation is severe and you feel as if your world has collapsed around you. What can you do? Rely on God’s promise to pull you through. The Bible says that God is our rock, that if we rely on Him, He will be there. If we lay our fears and confusion on the foundation of God’s love, He will give us the strength to persevere through our most challenging life situations. Do you remember the story from the Old Testament about David and Goliath? David knew that he could conquer Goliath because he understood that he would not face the giant alone. David knew with certainty that God would guide him and keep him safe. His courage flourished in the knowledge that God was with him.

If, like Yolanda, who shared her encounter with abuse, you, too, have had a similar experience, God can give you the strength to seek help. It is important that you do this because you do not in any way deserve to be abused. In fact, it is your right to be safe. It may be scary to reach out on your own for help, but with God beside you, you can do anything. Talk to an adult whom you trust, like a teacher, pastor, or school counselor. Let God take you by the hand and lead you there because you are His child, and He wants you to be safe. Let God pour courage upon your soul and give you the strength to protect yourself.

At the same time, perhaps the problems that you deal with in your life aren’t extreme, like some of those you just read about. As a teacher and speaker, teens often come to me to talk about their problems and, although this chapter addresses very sensitive issues, most teenagers deal with dilemmas that are less intense. Many teens feel overwhelmed with school, sports, activities, or work. Others get disappointed with friendships or boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Some teenagers feel frustrated when their parents don’t seem to understand their problems or when their younger siblings invade their space. Perhaps you can relate to these issues. If so, please know that God is there to provide you with strength, too. The fact that your problem may not involve an extreme situation doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t call on the Lord for support and strength. The Bible tells us that God always wants us to call on Him. No problem is too big or too small for God because He loves us.

Extraordinarily, the power in His love breeds hope in our lives and gives us this strength. As a teen, your life can be very confusing, emotional, and lonely. It can also be fun, exciting, and filled with friends. Let God be one of your friends. Let Him share your life and bring you strength!

Mrs. T

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