Afterglow

“Here on this earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”       – John 16:33

I awoke surprisingly early to the sound of my fan whirring and birds chatting. My room was still dark, and I had to blink a few times to gain my bearings. My sister was still asleep on the couch in the living room, my parents and our dog snoring in odd harmonies in their bedroom.

My bed creaked and groaned as I sat up to plug in my Christmas lights and grabbed my Bible and prayer journal. I winced as I nestled into a comfortable sitting position, my bed still trying to alert the neighborhood to my movement.

I glanced at my phone: 4:15 a.m. In a few hours, I would be on my way to Emporia State University to speak at an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk. This event was and still is extremely important to me. These walks are set up by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). They raise awareness and funds to not only help prevent suicide but provide comfort and healing to those who have been affected by mental illness of any kind and suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, 42,773 Americans die by suicide. On average, there are 117 suicides per day.** It is a very real and very sad issue that we have in the world today. As many who follow my blog know, I was almost a statistic added in to the death by suicide totals. So, I support these events and love to be involved in any way that I can. I was honored to be asked to speak at this one.

Did I mention I would also be seeing my… ex… boyfriend* for the first time since we parted ways in February?

I began my own personal Bible study and pondered what God was trying to tell me. In Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha had Jesus in their home. Martha flit about, distracted by appearances, whereas Mary sat at Jesus’ feet intent on listening to him. When Martha asked him to tell Mary to help her get things ready, Jesus replied, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (v. 41-42)

At the time, I thought God was telling me that I needed to learn how to sit at His feet and be silent. Now, looking back, I realize that He was trying to comfort me. I was so anxious about the day ahead and all of the various details involved. Seeing Joey, speaking to a crowd about my story which happened to also include my testimony and the gospel… I was feeling better about it all than I had five days prior, but I still couldn’t shake all of the nerves.

God was trying to tell me to breathe and to just trust Him. Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’ feet over fretting about the details. Jesus was there in her home! Why would she want to ignore Him and clean!? Worrying over details won’t really help any situation, it only succeeds in making you more anxious! It’s very counterintuitive.

I spent quite a bit of that day praying. Of course I wasn’t just sitting in silence 24/7, but I would be in constant contact with God, asking Him to give me courage and strength, and most importantly to speak through me to these people who were hurting. He knew what was on their hearts much better than I did. He knew what they needed to hear.

Thankfully, God showed up as I knew He would. When I was introduced to to crowd, I gathered myself and my notecards, said a silent prayer and walked up to the microphone.

“We all have a story. Every single one of us are here because of that story. Some of you may feel broken. Others may be feeling bitter, angry, confused, lost… or even empty. Some of us are still trying to pick up the pieces. Today, I’m here to tell you that you can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. I am one of the many people who are struggling with anxiety and depression. Here’s my story…”

I can confidently write my introduction and my bullet points for you because notecards helped keep me organized and on track. As far as writing my speech word-for-word? I can’t.

You see, I prayed that God would speak to those people- over 300 people to be exact. And He did. I cannot remember what I said, and I know that’s because God spoke through me. He comforted them, reassured them, and ultimately loved on them through my words.

I am SO GLAD He showed up, because before April 2, 2016, I had not truly shared the gospel with anyone. I was able to do so twice: once during the car ride to Emporia, and once during my speech. God prepared me in ways I didn’t fully expect, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Of course, I was feeling slightly awkward in regards to seeing Joey. I was so used to being in some form of constant contact with him, or both of us being overjoyed to see one another, so that day was…  unfamiliar.

I am thankful to those who came with me that day, because they were able to keep me distracted. Brianna, who is basically the closest person to being my sister, kept a watchful eye on me. She noticed any time I seemed downtrodden and lightened the mood, or simply gave me a knowing smile. I would watch Joey as he ran about, volunteering for this and that, always aware of his presence. I felt a warm sense of pride and gratefulness as I watched him. He was as much a part of the event as the coordinator. It made me so happy to see that. I don’t believe he was doing it solely for me, but for himself and the many who struggle as well. Mental illness and suicide share a role in both of our lives, individually and together.

It was painful, I can’t lie about that. Our encounters were mostly shortlived. However, it was very therapeutic to watch him from afar. I could tell that he was just as anxious to see me, but that he was doing okay.

During the walk itself, he walked beside me and we had the longest conversation of that day. He told me how he was doing, and it eased the pain to know that he now had an accountability partner whom he had Bible study with and that he was going to counseling. God was speaking to him and teaching him, and he was growing. That in itself reassured me that this “break” was the right decision.

    I still love him, and I told him as much after asking if it was still appropriate to say such things. Of course, he replied, “I know,” in true Han Solo fashion. We shared a laugh at that and it felt so good to hear his chuckle. It’s still one of my favorite sounds in this world.

I gave him his class ring and a few other things before parting ways again. I also handed him a letter that was filled with thanks and all my love hidden between the lines and within each word. I hope he caught on to that.

Our last few hugs were the longest of the day, which I was thankful for. Our words may have been few, but our smiles and eyes said everything. He whispered in my ear, telling of how proud he was of me and that he could see the change in me both physically and spiritually. He could tell that I truly was happy, and that I was different. I let him know throughout the day and even then how proud I was of him.

Knowing that my friends and I were going to eat and explore Emporia for a bit, I invited him to tag along. Understandably, he had things to do. It hurt slightly, because I was so used to him being with me while I was visiting his college town. I smiled and nodded. As tradition, he walked away but stayed to see me off. As we drove away, he waved goodbye.

The entire day was filled with emotion for me. I am so thankful for the opportunity to share my story and my joy in Christ with others. And I am thankful for the closure I had in my interactions with Joseph. I understand now that he never really was mine. He’s always been God’s, and I was holding on way too tightly to realize that. I had to let go completely so that the both of us could get back to what truly matters- our relationship with God.

No matter what happens in our lives, I will always be thankful for Joseph. For his generosity. For his support and comfort. For his gentleness. For his kindness. For his love. For his laughter and sense of humor. For the nights he would sing me to sleep. For his way of smithing words so eloquently. For his warmth and cuddles. For his acceptance. For his geekiest moments. For his forgiveness.

For everything.

   Until God moves, I will bask in the afterglow of the multitude of moments we shared. To an extent, I regret not having God first and foremost in our lives during our relationship. However, we may not have learned so much without every event leading up to this point in time. I am thankful for our trials, now more than ever. One tends to find God in the midst of suffering and heartache.

   Mayhaps that was the point, after all.

 

 

* It’s still very hard for me to see him as my “ex”, and I rather loathe the term entirely. It just sounds so negative and hateful.

** Source: http://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

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Embracing the Dreaded Change

“Change – n. the act or instance of making or becoming different.”

     I’ve never really been the type of girl who enjoys change. I distinctly remember drawing a very solemn Stitch on my whiteboard during the last few days as a freshman in college. Those who I considered to be my life-long brothers and sister were gathered in my dorm room for one last hurrah before summer break. In that moment, among various others, I could emotionally connect with Hermione when she asked the guys, “Everything’s going to change now, isn’t it?”

I didn’t want things to change. I was perfectly pleased being as we were, filled with anticipation for the coming years and still consumed by laughter with enough time for one another. No one felt neglected. There were no mixed emotions or awkward feelings between us. We were easily excitable; our future seemed so easily obtained that there were few worries between the five of us.

Everything changed, as things often do, and it took time for me to cope with it. There were rifts and emotional turmoil, as well as heaping doses of worry, stress, and reality thrown into the mix. Difficult lessons were learned, and through all of it somehow there was growth.

Now, three years later, I have a completely different outlook on change.

Despite the fear and worry that can come with it, we shouldn’t run away from change. Yes, it’s understandably intimidating! At the same time, it is fantastically interesting and absolutely necessary. To look back over one’s life and see the how behind the metamorphosis is riveting. The clarity we now have as we delve into our past gives us a better appreciation for what we have been through.

For example, when I began my freshman year of college, I had this… well, honestly this uncanny confidence in humanity. I genuinely believed that every person was good and had no ill intent towards me or anyone else. However, I was playing with fire concerning an older man who, I believe, had every intention to take advantage of me. He was kind and flirtatious when I complied to his tastes… yet the instant I showed signs of defiance or an inkling that I had my own voice or opinion? I suddenly became unfit of his attention or time. This lasted even after I withdrew from college! Granted, I gave him a few years of silence after receiving a threat from him. He made contact with me through Snapchat and I reluctantly agreed to see him. Needless to say, after attending a meeting with him one night and being humiliated and manipulated, it finally donned on me that I was merely a plaything to him. He did not respect me as a woman or as a human being, and thankfully I finally realized that I was worth more than how he made me feel.

Even though I would never wish that kind of experience on anyone, I am thankful for it. Oddly enough to some, I look back on my life and can’t think of any situation that I would erase or alter even the slightest detail in.

You see, I am no longer a naive young woman without a voice of her own. I used to have others handle my conflicts because I feared it so much. Even though I still dislike it, I am able to stand my ground and respectfully and lovingly handle conflicts. How is that possible? Growth. Change. What I’ve been through allowed me to learn, which lead to growth and maturity, ultimately changing a few aspects of who I am as an individual. This may seem obvious to some, but I know many who still hate the possibility of change in their lives, regardless of the positive effects.

I used to be one of them: “I like things just the way they are, thank you very much! Who needs change? Why would I want to lose what I have right here and now? The future couldn’t possibly offer me anything better than what today has given me! Tomorrow scares me. What if things change and can never go back to how they were? I can’t handle that.. I can’t risk that.”

I understand, trust me! I hope you understand that to stay in one place in time ultimately stunts your growth and the growth of those around you. “How can that be,” you ask? Well, think of it this way: A baby needs to be able to fall in order to learn how to stand back up and get going on her little wobbly way again. She also needs to learn how to go to sleep on her own, eat solid foods and go to the bathroom like a big-girl. Could you imagine a 22 year old woman who still needs to be picked up by someone else when she falls, tucked in and checked on every 10 minutes at bedtime, eats mashed peas and carrots and still wears diapers?

“Well that’s just ridiculous,” you say. Yes, it is. Don’t you realize that you’re stunting your own growth by trying to stifle necessary changes in your life? You could be potentially hurting those around you as well, like your children, family members, friends or even co-workers. I don’t know your exact situation but I can tell you from experience, change is essential for life to be lived.

I have certainly been through many changes, other than the obvious puberty and whatnot. I have lost quite a bit in life, and each loss taught me how to appreciate what and who is still with me. I have been hurt by many people, yet I still have hope in others and I have learned how to forgive as I have been forgiven by God. I have come close to death myself, and now I greatly value the life I have been given. I have lived selfishly and out of God’s will for my life, and now I can’t imagine going back to the misery and emptiness I once had. I have experienced what life is like while running away from God, and can rejoice in the beauty and JOY I have now that I spend each day running towards Him. I have lived silently, battling things on my own… now, I cannot imagine going through this life alone and without hope or help.

I am not who I once was. And I am perfectly pleased with who I have become and am anxious to see who I have yet to be.

Change doesn’t have to be gloomy or petrifying. Sieze the opportunity that change provides! It may open up a door for a better job, an adventure or two, romance, new life… the possibilities are endless.

Don’t let the fear of tomorrow keep you from living. You can do this. Just breathe, and take that next step. We’re all right there with you, trying out best to follow suit, one baby step at a time. We may fall down, but the best part is that we can get back up. Be thankful for what was, find joy in what is, and have hope for what may be.

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