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    I Buried My Feelings

    I didn't want my college friends to know what was going on inside.

    Josiah Stumbo as told to Ann Swindell

    Relationships at schoolMy dad and I had just finished unloading my stuff into my new dorm room and were walking toward the family van.

    "Bye, Josiah." He paused. "I love you." He gave me a hug, and when he pulled back, there were tears in his eyes.

    "Love you too, Dad," I said. He then got in the van and left.

    I didn't think much about that day until I had a conversation with one of my friends later in the semester.

    We were driving back from a concert in Minneapolis. It was late, and the lights on the highway reflected off of the dashboard as we drove.

    "I'm excited to go home for Christmas break," my friend said. "I've really been missing my family."

    I was quiet for a while. Family? "I haven't thought about my family much lately. I guess I haven't actually missed them yet," I said slowly.

    "You might …" Her voice trailed off.

    "What?"

    "Well … you might want to see a school counselor. I've been dealing with some emotional stuff lately and decided to see somebody in the counseling center. The counselor has really helped me."

    While I didn't respond, I wondered why she thought something wasn't quite right about the way I'd been feeling. But as we sat there in silence, I started thinking back over the past few weeks.

    My life looked pretty good on the surface. I'd run for freshman class representative and won; I'd made a lot of friends. But inside, I wasn't really feeling much of anything. I wasn't happy or sad or lonely; I was just numb. But I didn't want anyone to know how I was feeling. I didn't want to seem weak. I wondered if my friend could tell I was putting on a show to look like I was feeling OK. I wondered if all of my friends could tell. I quickly shoved those thoughts out of my head, determined to stay far away from the counselor's office.

    In a chapel service a few weeks later, we were told to "draw a picture of your heart." I started drawing and ended up with an ice cube. It was all I could think of to describe how I was feeling.

    Maybe I do need to see a counselor.

    It took me until after Christmas break to get up the courage to make an appointment at the counseling office.

    Walking down a long hallway to the office door, I felt exposed and worried that others might see me. But I took a deep breath, turned the handle and walked in. When my counselor started to ask me hard questions, I thought about getting up and leaving. But I didn't. As hard as it was, something told me this was the right thing to do.

    Over the next few months, I learned that no emotion is morally wrong—it's OK to not be happy all the time, it's OK to need time alone, and it's OK to miss my family. After each counseling session, I called home to talk through what I was learning. I came away from those phone calls with a sense of freedom—the freedom to be real about what I was feeling. I realized I didn't have to put on a show or impress anyone, and this freedom carried over to my prayer life. I learned that God is OK with me being angry and down sometimes, and that I don't have to put up a front for him. He accepts me just as I am.

    Seeing a counselor taught me that the people at my school are there for me when I need them. Now that I've stopped seeing a counselor, I'm being mentored by a professor I had for one of my classes. And the guys on my floor always have their doors open for a conversation or a laugh. I guess that sort of stuff is a good part of what Christian community is all about—opening up and being real with people who really care about me.

    Josiah is a graduate of Crown College in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota.

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