“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.
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/