Rock bottom means something different to everyone.
For teenager Andrew Langenstsein, it meant a two-year battle with anxiety and depression that took him on a rollercoaster ride to places darker than most of us can imagine.
Three years ago, Andrew was both excited and nervous about starting his freshman year at Richwoods High School. He strolled the hallways avoiding seniors and thinking often about girls and baseball. But as the year progressed and winter turned into spring, the wrong crowd came knocking. Andrew answered.
He started smoking marijuana. Soon, his occasional urge to get high turned into a multiple-times-per-day habit. He was breaking every rule at home. He wouldn’t listen to his mom, or anyone, he says. School became a low priority. In the first two months of his sophomore year, he missed more days than he attended.
“My mom and I would argue every morning about school,” said Andrew, who begged her, to no avail, to pay for online classes. “I had real bad anxiety when I was at school.”
During Andrew’s junior year, he would typically have his mom call him in late, but never show up. That gig ended when the school called his mom and revealed that he had missed enough days to be expelled.
In September 2017, things went from bad to worse. His older sister was in the hospital scheduled for her sixth open heart surgery, so Andrew was borrowing her car. Cops spotted him and a friend parked in a vacant lot. They searched the car and found 3 grams of marijuana and a scale.
“They called Mom, and she was not happy,” said Andrew. “It was the only night of the week she got a chance to go home and sleep.”
Grounded for several weeks, Andrew sat in his room thinking about the direction his life was going. Voices in his head told him that he had no value.
His mom finally allowed him to leave the house and drive to East Peoria to see his baseball hitting coach.
As he headed over the Illinois river that day, he saw a way out of his troubles.
“I thought, what if I just drive off this bridge?” he said. “It would be easy, and I would never have to see my mom that disappointed in me again.”
Andrew shook the fog from his head and kept the car on the road. He didn’t do it this time, but similar thoughts plagued his brain whenever he went out. He would stay in his room for days at a time because it was the only place he was sure he wouldn’t hurt himself.
One cool November night, just two months after he was caught by the cops, he told his mom he needed to go to the store. That was a lie. When he drove away from his home, he was determined to find a way to end his life.
Andrew drove the back roads of north Peoria searching for the right method and the right place to end his life. Voices were spinning inside his head. In a matter of minutes, he found himself in a dimly lit parking lot. He put his car into park and looked up. He was at Northwoods, staring up at the prayer tower.
“I sat there and bawled my eyes out for a good hour,” said Andrew, who had only been to Northwoods a handful of times when his sister had taken him. She graduated from a christian college, and Andrew always admired how she attacked life with a smile and a happy outlook despite her serious medical issues.
After an hour of complete breakdown, Andrew became determined.
“I got a thought that said, ‘Quit being such a big baby and just go do it.'”
He stepped on the brake and grabbed the shifter so he could put his car in drive.
“Right when I touched it, my whole body went numb,” said Andrew.
Andrew stepped out of his car and walked into Northwoods. It was after 10p.m. on a Saturday night. As he entered the main lobby, he locked eyes with café manager, Bonnie Bridgeman, who was there late, cleaning up from the weekend service that ended three hours earlier.
“When I looked into his eyes, I could feel that he was on the edge of something,” said Bonnie. “I knew it was just a miracle. If I’m not here, he walks right back out that door.”
Andrew began spilling his story onto Bonnie’s empathetic heart. He told her he didn’t want to be here anymore and that he was “over” everything. While Bonnie listened, she called Student Life Pastor Jon Rychener.
“We pray that people would be drawn not just to this building, but drawn to the spirit of God,” said Jon. “That night there was something about Northwoods that caused [Andrew] to believe he needed to be here.”
Andrew wasted no time in telling Jon his story. He said he couldn’t get any lower. And his last chance was to give his life to Christ. If that didn’t work, then nothing would.
Pastor Jon talked to and prayed with Andrew. In a matter of minutes, the teenager who was on the verge of suicide had instead given his life to God.
Andrew said the next few weeks were strange for him. He had to convince himself that he belonged in the new crowd.
”It was just so different from where I had been, and I was just weirded out because they were all so welcoming and inviting,” he said. “I was still just going through the motions.”
But Andrew didn’t give up. Over time, he built relationships and made friends at Northwoods. Today, he calls some of them his best friends. He has stopped arguing with his mom and has been taking online classes. And if you look close enough, you will see Andrew working at Northwoods on the campus services team, giving back to the building, people, and God who changed his life.