Sunday, August 21, 2016

My Testimony

Tonight I want to do something different. I want to tell you a story. My story.

I don't quite understand why. I've never bared my soul to anyone; not even my closest friends. Only two people know the story I tell you: myself and God.

But I want to share this with you now, a calling perhaps, a prompting that nudged me for a while. Until tonight I've been a coward. I don't wish people to get too close. I don't want them to look at me differently or with pity in their eyes. I"m sure some, if not all of you understand. My story isn't a grand redemption. But I share it with you with the hope that you will read it and be encouraged about the might, grace, and love my God abounds with.

It began one night at supper with a bowl of macaroni and cheese. I was five months shy of my fifth birthday. Throughout my life, my parents brought me to church where I attended Sunday School; Wednesday mornings I accompanied my mom to Bible study. At both, I learned about Jesus sacrificing himself to redeem us from sin and about his resurrection. That night, as I sat at the dinner table over my bowl of mac&cheese, the pieces suddenly clicked in my tiny brain.
I remember bursting into tears and when my mom asked what was wrong, I told her that I couldn't fathom why someone would go to such lengths to hurt someone else, or why someone would desire to endure such pain. She explained to me the reason, and I accepted Christ into my heart that night, praying to accept his salvation. I also told my mom that I never wanted to intentionally hurt anyone. That statement, however simple, lingers on, a shadow behind me at all times that has grown into another thing. More on that later.

The years passed, and I regularly attended church throughout elementary school, middle school, and into high school; I participated in church choir (and the mission trips they included) and acted as many believe Christians should. I learned. Heaven knows I learned, but I never delved deep into my faith as I grew older. I learned, yes, but I never studied. Sure, I read my Bible on a regular basis, but more to mark a check off my daily list rather than because I possessed a hunger and desire to read.

Trouble began my sophomore year of high school. As classes and homework piled up, I frequented the pages of my Bible less and less until finally I stopped reading it save Sunday at church. Then stress hit and with it, depression. And I fell deep. I've never been good with emotions; I bottle them up until the dam bursts and all that I pent up washes over me in a tidal wave of anger and rage because I lost control. Sometimes it would strike and I would be doubled over, unable to breathe because the pain stole the air from my lungs. I retreated inward; not outward to God. I thought that, in time, I would learn to control the depression, rule over it instead of the other way around. Needless to say, I've always struggled with control issues, a battle I fight even today and probably will over the course of my life.
Eventually my mom and I analyzed what I was feeling, a process that took months (yeah, I'm that bad as deciphering feelings), and as the school year ended, so did my problems. Or so I thought...

...when out of the blue my first full-fledged panic attack happened. Over the last two years I've learned somewhat to recognize my triggers, but again, I believe that's God reinforcing the notion that I cannot control everything. Depression came and went in waves. It still does. During the summer months I read my Bible consistently and through the process of familiarizing myself with the symptoms of anxiety and depression, I prayed the words "Okay, God, I 'trust' you," more times than I care to count. I write 'trust' because I trusted God in words only. Never once did I relinquish control of my life to Him entirely.

Senior year. Not even twelve months ago. You've arrived at the part that only a couple people know bits and pieces of, and what only God and I know.

Looking back, I realize how blessed I am to have been raised by my parents, to have the people in my life I do, and to have the church and mentors that surrounded me with the unfailing love of Christ during this particular period of time. It was only a short time ago that I came to the chilling realization that, had I not been a Christian, I could very well be in a wooden box buried six feet under, having committed suicide. Even as a Christian, I contemplated the outcome. But I believe that God values all lives. And I knew I couldn't pass the burden of my death onto my family. I couldn't hurt them. I couldn't. To my parents reading this now- please know that I'm sorry. This was never your fault.

Again, I sidelined my Bible and it sat, collecting dust on my shelf. Dealing with depression for over a year provided insights about means to hide the pain. And hiding it, I excelled at. I wore a mask, became the happy Christian teenage girl people expected me to be. But inside, it felt as though someone hollowed out my chest, leaving a cavity filled with pain and anger.

I cut in such a way that, if someone noticed and pointed it out, I blamed it on playing with our cats. I cut beneath the band of my watch, leaving it to conceal the scars. I also cut along those scars to cover up the number. I didn't want my parents to share my burden, my pain.

This summer, on a mission trip, one of the adults accompanying my group, sponsors, we call them, shared her testimony and it convicted me. Again, I'm horrible with emotions and never cry when in a group environment. But I cried. I sat in the corner against a wall and cried. My heart broke, and later when our group dispersed, I confessed most of what I'm telling you now to my mom.

I also rededicated my life to Christ.

That was June.

Since then, God has come through in more ways than I can name, but I'll list the most frequent one. I prayed about finding a small group in which to study and grow in my faith; out of the blue a dear friend, a brother of mine, invited me to attend his. Last Monday we switched some things up. Our group leader decided to send us out onto the streets and evangelize. Suddenly singing to inmates in juvenile detention centers seemed easy, preferable, in fact, to talking to a complete stranger about my faith.
I prayed the entire drive to the leader's house, pleading with God to tame my anxiety and to provide me with a small group alongside at least two of the three people in the main group whom I'm comfortable with. And He did.
At the restaurant, the three guys I was with began conversations with several diners, leaving me to scope out the room, reluctant to venture outside my comfort zone. On one of my sweeps, my eyes fell upon a middle-aged woman, and I felt a slight nudge in my heart, to which I immediately answered "nah." Another sweep, and the nudge returned, harder. Again, I thought, "nah." A third time, and the nudge practically shoved me out of my chair. The conversation with the woman was actually quite encouraging. Prior to that evening, I dreaded conversing with people, especially concerning my faith, but God is faithful and never ceases to work wonders. I won't delve into further details, and what I said probably passes for rambles, but it's important to the next event.

Through Tuesday I floated on what I call a Jesus-high. It was as though I stood atop a mountain, close to God. Then before I knew it, I found myself lying in a crumpled heap on the pavement with no memory of falling.

Depression sucks.

Thursday it struck, and then I recognized a pattern: Confusion-> frustration-> fear-> anger. Confusion that my plans and God's plans conflicted; frustration because I prayed over them, so why shouldn't they line up? Fear because events appeared to spiral out of my control. Anger as a result of the mixed emotions I was clueless to direct or diffuse. All summer I've sought to retain control over circumstances in my personal life; that struggle with God causes pain. I know that battle I will fight for the remaining time I have left on this earth, but I've tried to resign myself with the peace of Jeremiah 29:11, which says "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'"

I still endure bouts of pain and depression. But it's aided in how I relate to other people.
Part of how my anxiety and sensory sensitivity works is that I'm almost fine-tuned to analyze behavior and recognize subtle changes in body language, facial expressions, tones of speech, etc. (the downside of which this means problems due to my tendency to over-think nearly every memory and situation that occurred throughout any given day). But in regards to the people I care about, I deeply and genuinely care about them. A lot. I loathe seeing someone else hurting and feeling helpless to ease their pain. God answers prayer. He doesn't wish his children to suffer.

For those of you whom I know personally, if I ask you often whether you're all right or not, it isn't because I wish to pry into your private life. It isn't because I'm trying to flirt (or however else I may come across). It's because I care and am concerned about you- more than I'm inclined to openly display.

I apologize if I rambled a bit through this post. It's late here and I'm quite tired, but I knew I would be unable to rest until I shared what lay on my mind and heart. It is my prayer that my testimony is encouraging to those of you who may be struggling, and those of you who are not. I've bared my soul tonight, an uncomfortable and terrifying feeling, I admit, but God is greater than my fear and He works in ways I cannot begin to comprehend.

I wish you all a good night. May God bless you,