Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Position Paper: Yes, Jesus Loves Me

Over the past few days I have seen Christianity labeled as a "hateful religion." I cannot perform religious apologetics, but I can share what I know to be true on a personal level. And that's this: When I was at my weakest, my worst, my lowest, Jesus Christ gathered me in His arms and He loved me. When I felt that my mind was decaying; when I feared that I was literally at my wits' end due to incapacitating anxiety and deep depression; when I couldn't catch a glimpse of a brighter future due to the pain of the present, He showed Himself to me. He overwhelmed me with compassion. He set my feet on the Rock (Psalm 40:1-2). He gave me a look at how He sees me. He reminded me of who I am through His Word and the words of other believers.

I have given Him imperfect love and divided attention. I have tried to earn and to prove my own righteousness; I've put my accomplishments on a pedestal and yearned for the glory that can always and only be His. I have failed and I have fallen short, but never once has He turned me away. My Father loves me. He provides for me. He protects me. He sets me free, directs my path, and despite my complete inadequacy and inability to love Him back in the way that He deserves, He calls me His beloved (Song of Solomon 6:3). This is the God I serve and desire to emulate. These are the characteristics I long to embody. I don't serve my God perfectly, but because His perfect Son took my sin on His shoulders, I get to wear Jesus' perfection (John 3:16). I am covered by it; dressed in it; arrayed in a splendor not my own (Isaiah 61:10). The only response to the love I've been shown is to give love in return, first and foremost to my God and Savior, and second, to everyone else He created. "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Debates and rants and questions of "why" and misunderstandings and hurtful accusations fold together into something that feels a lot like chaos, and nothing like "love winning" anything at all. God is Love, and furthermore, He is Light—"in Him there is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5) I pray that His light shines through me, emboldens me, and attracts others to the God I serve rather than turning them away. I cannot speak to the grossly inappropriate presence of hatred in various forms throughout the history of institutionalized Christianity, but I can confidently proclaim that hate has no place in the relationship I've found with Jesus Christ, and will have no place in me as I continue to serve Him through and in and during whatever lies ahead.

. . .
Psalm 40:1-2 "I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." 

Song of Solomon 6:3 "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies."

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Isaiah 61:10 "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

1 John 4:18-19 "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us."

1 John 1:5 "This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all."

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Ending to the Story

While scrolling through social media yesterday, I came across a story about social media. Not "How to Use Instagram to your Best Advantage" or "Build a Bigger (and bigger, and bigger) Following With These Five Tricks," but "Split Image"—the story of a star athlete who portrayed a perfect life on Instagram, but internally struggled with anxiety and depression so deep that, eventually, she took her own life. A friend had tweeted a link to an associated video interview with the following endorsement: "This is the most important thing you'll see today." I clicked.

He was right. It was important for me to hear and to read Madison's story, mainly because it could have been my own. In the article, Madison is described like this:

"Madison was beautiful, talented, successful—very nearly the epitome of what every young girl is supposed to hope she becomes. But she was also a perfectionist who struggled when she performed poorly. She was a deep thinker, someone who was aware of the image she presented to the world, and someone who often struggled with what that image conveyed about her, with how people superficially read who she was, what her life was like."

Instagram wasn't around during my freshman year of college, but Facebook was. I remember uploading entire albums of photos that showcased the glamour and excitement of my new life in California. Edited pictures on the beaches of Malibu, dinner at Geisha House (Ashton Kutcher's restaurant!) in LA, walking with friends along Hollywood Boulevard. I looked so happy. But I was functioning like a shell, or a robot. Completely numb, going through the motions without emotion. I was achieving and interacting, but doing so was like an out-of-body experience. Because despite the images I was showcasing and the things I was doing, I was shouldering a debilitating load of anxiety and—although I didn't know it until a year later, when I finally opened up and told someone that something wasn't right—depression.

During that time, I remember feeling that it was a victory if I could claim even three seconds of mental peace without a searing thought burying into my mind and forcing me back into a cycle of irrational fear. I was sure that I was broken, that I was losing it, that no one had ever been through what I was going through, that everyone else was happy and healthy but me, and that no one would love me if they really knew what I was going through. I called my mom one day and told her I wanted to die. Not that I wanted to take my own life, but that I just didn't want to live anymore if this was who I really was. I told her I thought I had a brain tumor, and that I hoped I did. It would at least be an explanation for the mental anguish I was living with day after day after day after day.

That summer when I came home from college, I went to the doctor to prove to myself that I actually did have a brain tumor. Instead, I came home with a diagnosis of depression. In the state I was in, that felt even worse. I had no explanation for the torment I was living under other than my own mental weakness—or at least that's what I thought at the time. Like Madison, I said to my parents, "I just want to sleep."

And I did. For 14, 16 hours a day sometimes. For a season, it's like my body shut down to protect me from my own mind. But then, slowly, three seconds of mental peace became three minutes. Three days. Three months. I went to counseling and I didn't stop. I opened up about the depth of my pain and confusion, my sorrow over the fact that my "perfect life" had disintegrated so suddenly. I talked to my parents, to pastors, to my sorority. I told people that everything wasn't okay, that I needed prayer. Even still, I didn't understand the shapes my anxiety took for a long, long time—it took the personal, healing touch of Jesus Christ on my life to show me once and for all who I was again, and that didn't happen until almost three years after the whole thing first began. 

Oh, those three years of waiting for complete healing were hard. They were isolating, and dark, and confusing, and terrible despite the good things that still continued to happen all around me. I wouldn't want to go back to that place, not ever. But praise be to God, I don't dwell there anymore. And praise be to God, I can talk about those years without fear anymore! As I read Madison's story yesterday, I wanted to shout these truths from the first available rooftop! I wanted to hold this precious girl in my arms and tell her, "Listen, take it from someone who has been there. Our identity is in His righteousness, not our perfection. We will get through this. We will feel again, we will love, we will get married, we will go on new adventures. We will wake up without heaviness, without fear of fear. Our battle with anxiety and depression wasn't an internal weakness, but an external battle against the enemy of our souls who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. We have something to keep living for. We have Someone to keep living for."

I wanted to tell her all of these things, but it's too late for me to reach her. So I say it and share it with anyone else who might come across these words—all these dark things that I sometimes want to pretend never existed at all, because I can't feel them anymore. I dig into the old pain and share it because of this:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I have received this comfort! This life-giving, life-sustaining comfort! And so how can I hold it in, keep it to myself? I have to extend it, have to tell all about it, have to let others know that there is hope and healing and fulfillment of promises; that the darkest night masquerading as an ending can truly be the very beginning of the best part of the story.

"We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on GOD, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us." 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

There is freedom! There is life lived abundantly! There is constant and continual Love, despite what we've seen, known, experienced, thought, feared!

"Who are you...that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread." Isaiah 51:12-14 

I share Madison's story in part, but my battle with anxiety and depression has another ending. If you're there today; if any part of you can relate to looking like you have it all together but feeling broken inside, I charge you with this: Don't give up. Don't keep it all in. Don't pretend everything is okay. Don't stop asking for a healing touch, or waiting on the Lord's promise of deliverance. He will come through not because that's what He does, but because that's who He is.

"If I should say, 'My foot has slipped,' Your lovingkindness, O LORD, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." Psalm 94:18-19

Karley with a K. Todos los derechos reservados. © Maira Gall.