“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” Psalms 139: 13-16 (ESV)
There are moments that seem so surreal that you’re not really sure if you’re living within time and space. One of these moments was on June 24th, 2022. I was browsing my Facebook feed and saw a particular post that read “Great Job Supreme Court”. I immediately opened up a second tab, typed in CNN.com and saw “Breaking News: SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS ROE V WADE”.
I should have been elated.
Then why did I have such a sinking in the pit of my stomach.
I thought a lot about what I wanted this post to be about. Would I passionately defend my pro-life position? Would I go on a tirade about how sinful abortion was in the eyes of God?
Truth is, I have little idea how to address my feelings about what has transpired this past week.
All I know is my conviction. That I believe life begins at conception. How I hope that some unborn lives will be saved. How my prayers include pleas for God to change the hearts of people so they can see the humanity and value of human life.
How I’m terrified to express my satisfaction at the court ruling. If I said my piece, my point of view, the backlash I might face from colleagues, friends and even some family members.
Yet, I must stand in the truth of the Scripture. Jesus already prepped us to face opposition to our beliefs. Through Him, we can stand firm in our convictions despite what others say about us.
I recall the story of many disciples deserting Jesus in John 6:66. Much of Jesus’s teachings required His followers to deny themselves, walk on a narrow path and preach the gospel which had many detractors.
Jesus gives us the courage to stand up for our beliefs. A scripture that helps me is Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”.
Well, I believe in life. A right to make your mark on this world. That life matters no matter what life form.
“Would anyone like to volunteer to share a four minute story? We’ve got prizes”. The MOTH presenter, *John, enticed. I looked greedily at the stack of books he plopped down on the podium. Always a sucker for free literature and immediately raised my hand. Me. The young woman who can sometimes barely look a person in the eye. Me. The young woman who freezes mid conversation with a complete stranger. Me. The young woman who used to keep her eyes planted on the sidewalk. Me. The young woman who immediately races past chatty church folk to get to the seat in the farthest corner, usually hidden by a concrete pillar. Me. The young woman who stayed silent at staff meetings even though a tornado of thought and ideas were swirling around her head.
“Awesome! Come on up!” John eagerly welcomed me to the front of the room. The story I picked was random; an anecdote about my time working at a small movie theater walking distance from my house. God gifted me the title on the spot “Well Spoken”.
I’ll tell you the tale of “Well Spoken” in another blog post. What mattered to me was not the story I told, but that God blessed me with the courage to tell this particular story in the first place. As far as stories go, there were far more compelling and poignant ones in my repertoire. And I really wanted the bell hooks (RIP) title “All About Love”.
After I finished my story I received enthusiastic claps and John smiled and said “That was awesome, you finished in 4 minutes exactly!” He continued “There’s so many ways to expand on that story. Great Job!”.
I grabbed my literary prize and two new friends I made at the MOTH workshop congratulated me on telling my story.
What’s wild is that I wasn’t even supposed to be at that storytelling workshop in the first place.
Let’s rewind to the night of June 17th.
With Juneteenth approaching, I felt like I needed to commemorate the true “independence day” (loosely independent) for Black American. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture , a historic institution that specializes in archives of Black history, was holding a literary festival in honor of Juneteenth. I browsed the list of events and The MOTH storytelling workshop immediately caught my attention.
The MOTH is a non profit organization that specializes in oral storytelling. The organization hold various storytelling workshops, story slams (people compete) and community sharing of stories. The premise is to tell a mostly unedited, true story in 5 minutes or less. The stories can range from a person’s first kiss to the time they were chased by rabid monkeys in the rainforest. Each story should be unique to the person, raw and exposing in some aspect.
I was excited to see a free workshop and I quickly clicked the link to register. To my disappointment I saw there were no more spots left and no where to put your email on a waitlist. Bummed I prayed, “Lord, if it’s you will, I would really, really, super really like to attend this workshop”.
Well, you know the rest of the story.
If this was me from two years ago, I would have sulked and thought, “oh well, maybe next time”. But I shot my shot. I strolled into the workshop 30 minutes before the start time and asked another attendee if she knew if there was a waitlist. She responded she wasn’t sure, but encouraged me to stay.
Because I was bold and took a chance, I met two new friends, both aspiring writers. I learned about different storytelling techniques. We listened to one of the presenters tell a compelling story about his time in Paris, France.
If I hadn’t approached that brightly lit room, walls covered with pictures of smiling black and brown faces, in the basement of the Schomburg, I would not be telling you this story right now.
God wants us to be bold.
If you look at His creation, the entire planet is a bold statement of his majesty! We are told to fan into flame the gift of God that is is in us (2 Timothy 1:6). I boldly prayed to get into that MOTH workshop and 1 John 5:14 was fulfilled in that moment; “ And this confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us”
One day, I’ll work up to the MOTH storytelling stage. I truly believe God has placed an abundance of stories for me to share. Perhaps He can use my stories to spark someone else into sharing their own story.
Because we all have a story to tell. And we have one incredible Author who writes our own.
Well, I’ve come to a place in my seven day writing marathon where I’m feeling the strain and exhaustion of pouring out intimate parts of myself. There’s a rawness to realness and right now my innermost parts are sore. I find that the second to last part of any journey or goal is the hardest. I’m almost to the seven day mark of my writing sprint, but this sixth day is pushing my limits!
What I’ve found fascinating about the writing sprint is the different directions each blog piece has taken. As if the words came alive and said “not this way, but that way”. Originally, today’s post was going to be about love and an intense conversation I had with a woman in my Bible talk about the topic. I sat down to write about our conversation and my learnings, but the words were stuck in a pipeline of the muckiness of writer’s block. I crossed out sentence after sentence until I paused. “Perhaps I should write a poem about love” I thought. No go.
That’s when I realized that I was tired. The week had been long, strenuous, my students ancy in anticipation for the weekend. For five days straight my fingers sprinted across the keyboard, producing words that were pent up for years and years. The process was liberating, exhilarating and a hundred mile per hour coaster with dips, loops and twists. My energy is at an all time high.
Now I’m pooped.
And that’s perfectly fine.
I think about the concept of a marathon. The goal isn’t to finish first or finish the quickest. The goal is to simply persevere and finish. At times, that means taking breaks. Or say more with less. Writing is hard! Even if the words are flowing perfectly in my head, getting what I want to say on page is a whole other event. I wish I could lasso the words in my brain and yank them right on the page. However, each lap I complete is a victory. Each time I put my writing out into the world of the web is an accomplishment.
Last summer I went to Seattle,Washington with a good friend I met at graduate school. She’s an experienced hiker who thrives in nature. I’m more of a “sit my tush down underneath a shaded tree in a park with a Starbucks a few blocks away” type of gal . One foggy morning we hiked up Mt Rainier. I thought I was either going to pass out or tumble down the mountain. There were times I needed to slow down. My friend would be way up ahead and I was far back huffing and puffing the higher the altitude became.
But I hiked that mountain.
A scripture I came across in the Bible is 2 Chronicles 15:7 “But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!” (New King James Version) There were times I didn’t know if I would be able to commit to all seven days of writing a blog . Yet, God has a lot to say through me and trust me it’s best to let Him speak!
“Hopeless”. “Desensitized”. “Numb”. “I don’t feel safe here”. “I’m always looking over my shoulder”. “ I feel like I always have a bullseye on my back”. “This happens all the time”. I’m honestly ready to die”.
These words, spoken by my former students, shattered my heart. I looked around at the Black and Brown solemn faces, resignation and weariness etched in the expressions. What was frightening was how permanent those etchings were.
I teach 9th grade English and part of the school culture is “healing circles”. Healing circles happen when there’s harm done in a community; usually a classroom where a fight breaks out or a major conflict between two students. The circle is meant for everyone to express, openly and without interruption, how they were impacted by the event. In this circle, we spoke about the Buffalo, NY massacre where almost a dozen, mostly African American, were killed by an 18 year old white male.
A young man who could have been one of my students.
We are living in troubling times; a two year pandemic, natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, the war crisis in Ukraine and ever present gun violence. According to the National Public Radio there have been 198 mass shootings in the United States. Everyday a news article pops up detailing a shooting in New York City.
Sometimes it’s all too much.
When I listened to my students a heartbreak and fury arose in me. I am furious at lawmakers, politicians, guns rights advocates, adults in general. We have to do better for our children. They deserve to live in peace. They deserve to live without a cloak of heavy fear weighing them down.
I too at times feel hopeless. The Bible tells us “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, and they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31, New International Version).
What happens when all you want to do is faint?
There is no easy, quick 1-2-3 remedy. In troubling times, God understands that we are running on empty. The Bible is excellent at giving feedback on when you’re just too fed up with this chaotic world. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). In thinking about this, here are a few ways I can share on how I remain hopeful when the world is going crazy around us;
Find a quiet place in nature (a park or taking a walk in a garden or wooded area): I love going on nature walks when I need a break from the noise of the world. Praying in a park or a beach, sitting down under a tree and journaling are great ways to appreciate the natural artistry of God’s creation. Being in nature reminds me how vast God’s majesty and sovereignty are.
Healing circles and support groups: Part of what attracted me to the High school I teach at was their response to community tragedies. The support staff and administration do an excellent job of preparing students to lead Healing circles. Being able to hear from your peers and know that we are feeling going through the same trauma helps us be more connected. Churches are also great spaces to s
eek out people who will pray with and for you when the world gets too overwhelming.
Gratitude Journaling: One of my friends gave me a challenge; everyday list five things you’re grateful for. focusing on what’s going well and how God blesses you can shift your mindset away from the negativity around you.
Lastly, living without fear. When you look at the news, Facebook, twitter and other social media; we’re inundated with negativity. I always hold on to 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (New King James Version). God wants to live without looking over our shoulder for something to go wrong. Of course we should live wisely, be aware of our surroundings and let family and friends know where we are if we have to be out late or going on a long trip. However, God gave us life to live in full, not in fear.
At the end of our circle, one of the students said “This is why I cherish every moment like it’s my last”. I hope that all of us have an aquarium filled with moments of laughter, joy, peace and love.
Resources: These are the websites of churches I’ve attended that have prayer teams and support groups.
I sat across from my friend, ***Tara, as she took another sip of her drink. What she was referring to was for me to ask the women in my Bible talk how they perceived me.
Earlier in the day, during the fellowship break at Sunday church service, *Tara approached me me all smiles and sunshine radiating in each step she took. I tried to smile away the unease that had been resting inside my stomach since I left my apartment.
“How are you?” She asked.
“We’ll talk”. I replied. “We’ll talk”, is code for when I’m absolutely overwhelmed or inexplicably lonely in a place where I’m supposed to experience love, friendship and unity.
Tara and I made plans to meet around seven at night. She mentioned a craving for Wendy’s fries and the sugary strawberry lemonade. She picked me
A little after 7, Tara picked me up in a cute black and white Mini Cooper and we drove to a Wendy’s close to my apartment. After we ordered our food, settled in our seats, I spoke openly.
“Honestly Tara, the only reason I think I’m still with the church is because of accountability”. Our church has a culture of “discipling” where each member meets with a man or woman who holds them accountable to the standards of the Bible. Each of us is supposed to meet with our discipler once a week to discuss areas of spiritual growth, pray and confess any sin we need to get out into the open. Tara had been my discipler for 9 months at one point so I rapport was easy and light. I knew she wouldn’t judge or rebuke me harshly.
I continued softly. “Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming back to the church”.
Tara nodded at me to keep pouring out my thoughts. “It’s like people only like me for who they think I should be or who they want me to be”. I stared at my half eaten bourbon bacon cheeseburger.
“I feel so pressured by people to be someone else”.
Ever since I joined the church I currently attend almost four years ago, the members, mostly well meaning women, have tried to mold me into a gregarious, spiritually fruitful, bubbly social butterfly, hoping I will shed my bashful nature.
I remember one woman from my Bible talk told me that my love for the congregation will be proven by the way I hug the other members of the church. I’m a side hugger, but the expectation is that you greet each sister and brother with a full sized bear hug.
When disciples coach me on how to be a more social member of the church, I smile, nod and do my best to take the feedback. Yet something inside me seems hollow, inauthentic and unnatural. As if I have to put on a performance or dress in a personality that is too oversized for how God created my fit.
I’ve grown to appreciate the quiet, reflective, and sensitive nature that God is cultivating in me. I’m not sure other people do.
The topic is a recurring theme in my therapy sessions. My therapist repeatedly encourages me to “honor the spirit of God inside you”. I think the struggle with the culture of the church is that there’s an expectation to conform to a certain way of behaving. Of course I’m going to be obedient to God, serve others, and do my best to love like Jesus does.
However, there are times that people are trying to be my potter when there is a perfectly capable potter in Heaven. One of my anchor scriptures, particularly when it comes to identity is Isaiah 64:8 “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter ; we are the work of your hand” (New International Version). I wish people understood that its not their role to mold other people into who they expect them to be.
Too often I tried to mold my identity into what was pleasing to other people. Through prayer, therapy, and self discovery, I’m figuring out who God intended me to be. Turns out I’m royal, chosen, special and holy (1 Peter 2:9). That I am wonderfully and fearfully made (Psalm 139: 13-14).
Of course God wants us to grow into a holy and righteous person. He made us in His image and He’s the standard for how we should live and behave. But the unique characteristics He created in us shouldn’t be stripped away for another person’s preference . I’m learning to set healthy boundaries when people offer me feedback about myself. I discern, take what’s useful and leave the rest at the door.
Every Sunday the church I attend participates in communion. Prior to the symbolic breaking of bread, there’s a sermonette segment of the service dubbed “What the Cross Means to Me”. The purpose of the time is for each member to reflect on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. A member comes up in front of the congregation and shares about how the sacrifice of Jesus has changed them in a certain way.
In Luke 9:23, Jesus discusses that His followers must pick up their “crosses” everyday and follow Him. For Jesus, the cross was bearing the sins of the world, past, present and future. For us, God gave me a revelation that we will have various crosses to bear in our lifetime. I see each day as a new cross to carry.
When I think about what the cross means to me, there’s victory. While I was on hiatus from the current church I attend, I worshiped with a bilingual Spanish church. One of the Sermon’s was titled “The Victorious One is Here”. The sermon examined Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem a week prior to His crucifixion (I think this was the palm Sunday service). The pastor passionately asserted that Jesus was crucified so that we could have victory in our walk.
Most of my life, I lived in a constant state of defeat. . I brushed off life, expecting to fail at my goals, dreams and desires. I developed a defeatist attitude in all areas of my life; ministry, jobs, friendships, leadership roles at my school, and different degree programs. Mentally and emotionally, I gave up on ever truly belonging or finding that solid forever friend group. One little setback and I’m saying “nothing ever works out”. I gave up on marriage. Having children. Writing. Feeling peace. My anxieties, fears, depression, insecurities and doubts were waging war in my mind and at times defeat felt imminent.
Jesus is victorious. He didn’t suffer for hours, almost naked, lungs bubbling with blood, flesh hanging off and bearing the crushing weight of my sins for me to dwell in defeat. He conquered death, a victorious eternal king. Paul directly states in 1 Corinthians 15:57 “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. Whenever I’m tempted to walk with the weight failure, I cling to God’s truth. That because of Jesus I can overcome, persevere, dream, and try.
The next steps are to put on the victorious casing in my daily walk with God. A practical way to walk victoriously is to celebrate and thank God for the victories I experience each day; a lesson plan that my students enjoyed, making a colleague smile or uplifting the spirits of someone who was having a crummy day. I can look forward to and believe in future victories; a family member or close friend saying yes to Jesus, my students graduating from High school, a finished manuscript of my first novel. SOmetimes I will fail or take a misstep. Yet I remember who I belong to, the one who overcame the world, death and sin.
Side by side with Jesus, I’ll always strut in victory.
*Scriptures related to victory*
1 John 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Deuteronomy 20:4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” (New International Version)
Each Sunday I wake up with the same tightness in my chest; the thought of going to church is supposed to encourage and uplift my spirit. The church I currently attend laudes itself as “the fellowship of believers” or the “God’s family”. The culture thrives on intimate connection through Christ, which is 100% biblical. The church leaders expect us to be immersed in each other’s lives, no boundaries and with complete trust. Almost every Sunday service there’s a member tearfully expressing how much they are grateful for the body of believers. The scripture often quoted comes from Matthew 13:44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field( NIV Version)”.
I sit in silence as church goers weave right past me. This is the part of the service called “The Fellowship break” where eager congregation members huddle, all smiles and hugs. I watch as women in flowery dresses squeal in delight as they approach another sister (in Christ). I watch brothers (in Christ) fist bump and bro hug. The cacophony of conversations swirls all around me and one part of my brain begs “Get up, go say hi to someone. This is why you’re lonely and don’t feel connected. You’re not trying”. Then the dominant, insecure part of my brain retorts “I told you we don’t belong here. No matter how hard she tries, she’s never going to feel connected. We’ll always be on the outside”.
A close friend of mine point blank asked me “I wonder if you really value the Kingdom” (the members of the congregation). The more I ponder that question (and she asked me this almost a year ago), the more I find myself wrestling with the requirement of being bonded with a single fellowship. Naturally, I’m an introvert and coupled with social anxiety creates a cocktail of overwhelming feelings when I go to church for various “meetings of the body”.
Instead of experiencing encouragement and love, I am ready to leave as soon as I get to the 3rd floor of the building where the service is held. Sweaty palms, fuzzy head and blurry vision I take my seat. Instead of clapping and bouncing along to the sounds of worship, all I experience is a hollow heartache. I wonder why I decided to come back after leaving the Church in May of 2021. It seems the more I try to connect with members, the more the emptiness and disconnect increases.
My therapist attributes my social anxiety to the fact that I purposely made myself a wallflower to protect myself from being hurt by others. She said “You’re not used to putting yourself out there and initiating conversations. Oftentimes you’re going to have to make the first move”.
There are times when I make an effort to connect with the women of the church. I smile, make small talk, but then the conversation stalls or feels too forced, inauthentic. In fact, I often feel like I have to put on a facade, conform to the person the people in the fellowship want me to be ; gregarious, talkative, peppy. Sometimes I feel like I have to be someone else to be accepted, to be chosen to participate in service or just plain seen.
There’s a quote from one of my favorite movies “The Breakfast Club” (John Hughes, 1985). Andrew, the jock, says to John Bender, the trouble maker, “You know, Bender, you don’t even count. I mean if you disappeared forever it wouldn’t make a difference. You may as well not even exist in this school”.
That sums up how I can view myself in the context of the church I attend. Invisible. Overlooked. There’s a desperation and longing to experience the same fellowship that is so praised by the church leaders and members. But I don’t. And there are many times I don’t think I ever will.
Then I think of Jesus, how I belong to Him once I said “Jesus is Lord”. John 1:12 “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, he became the right to become children of God”. I may be one of God’s shier sheep, but I have to remember “The Lord is God. It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture”(Psalm 100:3).
Another important point is to know that I am not the only person who struggles with social anxiety, loneliness or feeling invisible. It can be hard to admit these struggles in an environment where instant bonding is celebrated. I’m reminded to pray and seek out those who are overlooked.
One challenge I literally just gave myself as I conclude this post is for next Sunday; find someone who is sitting alone, who isn’t engaging in conversation and just say hello. We have a God who sees us even when people look right past us. I am 1000% guilty of staying in my bubble, too afraid to move when someone is feeling the exact way I am. Sometimes my I get so caught up in my owns thoughts, I need to have eyes like Jesus, able to see the Zacchaeuses longing to be seen from the treetops (Luke 19:1-2)
I’m grateful to be able to write about this topic. Social anxiety, loneliness and the persistent feeling of being left out may not be the most comfortable topic within a church. It requires examination internally and externally. My prayer is that all those who feel like I do know how much God loves and cares for each of us. As much as I would like to at times , we are not meant to live life alone. God created Eve for Adam because He knew it wasn’t good for anyone to be alone. Perhaps one day the connections will come. For now, I’ll fix my eyes on Jesus, because I know He calls me friend.
And with a friend like Jesus, who can ever be lonely?
I found a $20 dollar bill in the pocket of my winter coat this morning. I thanked God for the unexpected birthday gift since I woke up with a rancid stomach and a cloudy head. Usually, birthdays, at least for me, bring a sense of invigoration, a chance to revive old dreams and to create new goals.
Instead, this year I felt similarly to Samatha Baker from the movie 16 Candles; only instead of friends or family forgetting my birthday, I wanted to forget my birthday. Just let the day pass as quickly as daylight during this time of year. I even cried a little last night, wanting to sink into my mattress for the impending 24 hours. Thankfully, I was able to connect with a dear friend after church, have a delectable Brazilian steak dinner with my father and then cake with family. Gradually I found myself smiling more and more throughout the day.
It’s incredible that I’m double 16 (some folks I come across say I can still pass for 16). And for that, I should be grateful. This is why the initial apathy I had about my birthday was concerning. I mean, I just moved into my first solo apartment! I have a stable job. Health insurance. Decent health. A loving family. Friends.
I asked myself; “what is going on with me?” Despite having what I desired for years after I graduated from college (career, own place), I found myself disturbingly discontent. Lonely. Depressed. Barely able to get out of bed in the morning. And this is after I went through an intense form of Cognitive therapy procedure. I kept thinking I was supposed to be “cured” of these issues. That as the “brand new” Leah, I conquered the insecurities, fears, and trepidations of my former self. The dreams I had long smothered would magically revive into manifestation.
Instead, for the past two months, I’ve felt like I missed a mark. That the direction I took was a derailment, a wrong turn and now I’m lost even though everything seems like I’m driving in the right direction.
Then there’s the passage of time. Relatives growing older. The inevitable transitions. Hearing about sickness, aches, and pain during conversations. Wishing that there was infinite time to be with loved ones yet knowing that’s not reality.
Solomon, in the book of Ecclesiastes tells us there’s a time for everything; to be born and die, plant and uproot, tear down and build, weep and laugh, to search and give up (Vv. 1-8). I think my issue is that I’m not sure what time God has me in. Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. I feel jumbled in unfamiliar seasons.
As another birthday concludes, where I find an appropriate stopping point for this blog post and work up the courage to face tomorrow, the answer always circles back to God’s word. I’m shameful to admit that through this haze, I haven’t been connecting with God like I should. He can’t work in me if I shut and lock Him out. He’s always standing, waiting patiently for me to answer. Its up to me to open the door. To invite Him in. For Him to show me the plans He predestined for me.
Besides, our Lord loves s good celebration. And I can wager He’s the most excited to celebrate year 32 right beside me. Wrapping me in in His love as we blow out the birthday candles.
I decided to go grocery shopping today. I dragged my cart down three flights of stairs, stepped out into the liquid steel gray morning and trudged the 25 minute walk to Aldi’s. On the way there, I decided to pray. I spoke to God, thanking Him for the miracles in my life, speaking healing over my sick relatives, increased faith and to build up the confidence to share my faith with those in my circle. I entered Aldi’s pumped up, ready to take on the dairy and produce aisles. A clerk greeted me warmly and pointed me in the direction of the fresh, sun colored sweet corn. I sashayed through throughout the store, energized by my power prayer walk. I left the store and started back toward my apartment.
That’s when the enemy flung depression right in my face like a monkey at a zoo throwing its dung in its cage. As I struggled to push my cart up hills a barrage of thoughts such as ” you have no friends”, ” no one cares about you”, no one is thinking about you”, “you’re always going to be left out”, “you could disappear and no one would notice” drowned out the previous, kinetic and powerful pray from just 30 minutes prior.
The backdrop was mockingly perfect. Gray, sunless skies along with a taunting drizzle became my own little movie set as the wheels of my cart hit cracks on the sidewalk. The closer I got to my house, a place that is supposed to provide comfort and relief, the more I felt a growing void insidiously growing inside. Empty and colorless. I thought to myself, “You’ve been here before. Just get into the Word and then watch the church service. You’ll feel better”.
Except the void only expanded. Try as I might, the worship and message of the pastor failed to soothe the burning depression searing throughout my body. The music from the worship team sounded like a baby banging on pots and pans on the kitchen floor. The words from the Pastor dulled into my brain, but go figure, I could hear the enemies taunts of “you’re not good enough”, “what have you accomplished for God?” “Look at everyone else, they’ve got something to show, they’ve got the talent, the anointing”, “what have you got?”
Like a twisted melody, I let the enemy continue his sinister symphony. Even now as I’m writing, the burning in my chest persist.
I, like 16.1 million adults in the United States, battle Major Depressive Disorder (according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America). The National Institute of Mental Health has the figure of 17.1 million adults as having one depressive episode. These past two weeks I experienced the symptoms of “persistent, sad, anxious mood”, “feelings of pessimism”, Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”, “Restlessness, irritability” “Insomnia, early-morning awakening,” and “Loss of interest in hobbies and activities” (adaa.org).
Even today, I considered calling up a friend and saying I was no longer wanted to go on our trip to Montana. I ruminated on how to tell her that I didn’t want to go on the trip she is so pumped about.That I wasn’t interested. That I would feel like a third wheel.
Depression is one of the devil’s favorite friends. he uses depression to suck the joy and light out of anyone who has a dastardly encounter with it. Like a puppet, the talks through depression saying “When was the last time anyone texted you to hang out” and “See, you’re never invited to hang out or go on dates”, and “you’re not appreciated at work and your colleagues don’t respect you”. And worst “Look how you’ve wasted your time and life. God isn’t using you because you’re useless”.
Depression makes you feel like a bird alone on a roof. An unstable and collapsable roof.
Then, just when you’ve run out of tears to spill, another bird joins you on the roof. He shoos the enemy away and turns to you. He says to you ” Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14: 1-4, The Message Version).
This bird will never leave you alone, even though that’s exactly what you want to be at the moment. This bird nestles next to you, sings a song of hope, light and love. The bird urges you to fly with Him high above the void that the enemy tried to pull you into. He takes you on a new route, the route of life and Truth. He restores your smile. Your outlook.
When Jesus was about to go to the Cross, he made sure that His disciples would be taken care of. He didn’t leave them alone, but sent His Holy Spirit as a comforter. The Holy Spirit helps us remember the character and promises of God. He’ll vacuum out the dusty cloud of lies that the enemy left behind and remind us that we are chosen, thought of and loved.
And my mind has a lot dust to vacuum.
I used to be ashamed of depression. On days when we duke it out and depression seems to have the upper hand, I think that I’ve failed God. That my faith is weak. In these moments, I’m reminded of the words the Lord spoke to Paul “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” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Instead of embracing depression, I am encouraged to embrace God’s grace and power. Battling depression has made me more emphatic and understanding. An advocate of mental health . And living proof of God’s grace and mercy.
With the Month of May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, now more than ever, I feel compelled to share my story. I may still be smack dab in the middle of a depressive episode, but that’s all the more reason I need God to use me. For me to tell you there’s hope. That struggling with your mental health isn’t shameful or an indication that something is wrong with you. I am proof that depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, maladaptive behavior and other mental health challenges don’t have to rule your life. Because at the end of that long, dreary walk through that dark tunnel is light.