Saturday, May 27, 2017

The moment of total surrender

Let me start off by saying that I am in no way licensed, trained, or certified to give counsel on this subject; however, this message has been written on my heart for a while. I can only write and share my personal experience. My hope is simply that my story is able to help someone who drifts upon it and needs to know they aren't alone. The image to the right is a painting by Eric Samuel Timm, who I had the pleasure to meet recently. I love what he has to say about hope. Hope becomes a reality when we execute it into reality. Hope isn't something we pray for. Hope is something we are to be. Thanks for the painting Eric. I cherish it, and admire the work you are doing for the Kingdom of God.

For the past couple of years I've been on a crusade to change my life. Although there is now clear direction and purpose in my life, that wasn't always the case, even after I began my relationship with Christ. Maybe like some of you, I thought I could just kick back and set life to cruise-control after I said the prayer to accept Christ in to my life and be baptized; however, I learned the hard way that my journey and God's work in me was just beginning.

My valley started with something we have all experienced — grieving a loss. In my case, it was the end of a four year relationship. I had been on the losing end of a few other relationships throughout my life, including a five year marriage, but for whatever reason, when those relationships ended, although there was disappointment and heartache, it was short-lived, and as they say "life goes on".

The end of this relationship can best be described as chaotic. There was virtually no closure, for either of us, and it ended with us living 500 miles apart, and starting life over, yet again. The first month apart was relatively uneventful. But as Thanksgiving came and went, and another Christmas season was looming, I found myself more lost than ever, incredibly lonely, and seeking. For right or wrong, I reached back out to my ex, in hopes of reconciling before we grew further apart. In my head, it was that simple. But there was one thing I hadn't planned for. The time I had spent planning for reconciliation, she had spent moving on, and meeting someone else. Ouch!

This particular relationship however, was designed to crash and burn. It's easy to recognize that in hindsight. It started too quickly, progressed too quickly, and didn't have a foundation in Jesus Christ. That made everything from the way we communicated, to the way we parented, to our idea of quality time together, a minefield of broken dreams — and by the end I'm fairly certain we had set everyone one of them off.

God's light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.
- John 3:19
I'm not sure if the downward spiral from this news was a jealous reaction, or simply having to accept and grieve the loss finally — I'm sure it was a combination of both. But what transpired over the next several months, were the darkest days I have ever experienced.

Let's be clear, this valley didn't involve drugs, alcohol, or any other kind of substance abuse. I didn't need any. There was already a fog of depression that cluttered my mind 24-hours a day, every day, every night, without relenting. I parented still of course. I worked still. I continued to function, at least to the outside world, but I felt lost, with no purpose, and each minute that I existed seemed worse than the previous. To say I had reached the depths of depression would not give justice to what I was feeling. I know what you're thinking — over a breakup? Yes, over a breakup! You see, my priorities were a mess. I wasn't walking close to Christ — that journey had started, but it was still one-sided at this point, and I wasn't being intentional about pursuing Jesus in my life. On top of that, I was weening myself off a lifetime of idolizing the wrong things. So this loss was more than just a breakup to me, it was the loss of what I had convinced myself was the most important thing in my life. I don't need anyone to tell me how warped my thinking was. That was part of the disease, the depression, and the vicious cycle that I had allowed in to my life.

Nights were the worst. It didn't matter what I did during the day. When the sun set, Satan would pull up a chair, and get to work. He buried me under the weight of my failures. All I could do was cry myself to sleep in utter exhaustion, in prayer, hoping it would all just be over in the morning.

Mornings were bittersweet. On one hand, I was alive and breathing, but on the other hand, I was already dreading what I knew would be waiting for me that night — more attacksmore anxiety — and more pain. This battle went on for quite awhile before I finally had the courage to breakdown to my counselor about having suicidal thoughts. What!? I purposely had avoided this conversation for several reasons. Part of it was pride. But truth be told, I was still in denial about it. But the thing that caused me to hesitate the most was because once you say the word "suicide" out loud, you can't take it back. Opening up and being completely transparent about my feelings turned out to be a really important decision in my life, even though I didn't know it at the time. I was brutally honest about everything, and after much contemplation, I agreed to go on anti-depressants and medicine to help me sleep. I have to admit, I didn't give the medicine enough time to work perhaps, but for me personally, my reaction to the medicine made the depression exponentially worse. Sleep was almost non-existent, and the suicidal thoughts were getting stronger, and becoming more of a reality every day. I prayed until I was literally sick about what to do. I kept reading Psalm 34:17:

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
- Psalm 34:17
All I could think was... Lord, can you hear me? Why do I have to live through this pain over and over and over again, every day, and why can I think of nothing else but ending my life? Is that really what I'm supposed to do?

In somewhat of a desperate move, I asked my counselor, and my doctor, if I could stop taking the medication. It's hard to explain why, but I felt like God was telling me I needed something else — perhaps a miracle at this point. They agreed to stopping the medication, and I couldn't get rid of it fast enough. The first several days letting my body adjust was unexpectedly more difficult than I thought. My mood swings and depression were all over the place. The highs were short-lived, and the lows were drawn out and the darkest few days I've ever known.

Proceed with caution! This is where the tide turned; however, this is also where I hit my rock bottom. It was a Wednesday night, I was alone, and Satan brought everything he had at me. I'm talking a full onslaught of hate, and evil, and tearing me down. I gave up. I accepted that he was right. I was worthless, and no one, and I mean no one, was going to pull me out of it this time. Satan showed me the way out, and I conceded — my life is over. I collected my thoughts, and got my affairs in order. My last will and testament was already prepared. I had a password document ready for my brother so he could access all my files and accounts. I even had put together documentation and instructions for work with everything they would need to keep projects moving without me. There was only one thing left to do. Say goodbye to everyone.

I spent the next several hours writing personal goodbye letters to twenty of my closest family members and friends. Every letter was different, and each more difficult to write than the previous one. But something happened as I got to letter twenty. Maybe one day I'll share who that letter was to, and what was said, but what's important is that as I sealed that letter, an overwhelming feeling, impossible to describe, took over, and I found myself in my bedroom closet, in the dark. Why the closet? I have no idea. But I dropped to my knees, literally, bawling, and began to cry out:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
- Deuteronomy 31:8
I continued to cry out to the Lord, still on my knees sobbing in the dark. I'm so tired. I can't do this life alone anymore. I'll follow You wherever You call me. I surrender all of it to You. All of it. Come burn every part of me Lord. Come fill me with Your spirit, and be a shield of protection around me. My life is Yours Lord, do with it as You wish. I won't try to save myself any longer — I can't — instead I trust solely in You Lord.

Moments later, I walked to my bed, still weeping, lay my head on the pillow, and rest for the first time in months, maybe years. I slept in the next morning, and when I woke up, my Bible was lying next to me, open. That wasn't uncommon, but what was unusual was it was turned to the Old Testament, where I didn't spend much time, and right in front of me was the following:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.
- Psalm 40:1-3
This became more than just an anthem in my life. This became a continual reminder that our God is real. I cried out, and He listened. He lifted me out of despair, and He stood with me in the fiery furnace of Satan's war against me, and provided the comfort I had desperately prayed for.

I died to myself that night. I truly believe that. I also believe that it's no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives within me. That next morning was the first day of my new life. The first thing I did was shred every last one of those goodbye letters I had written the night before. Then I deleted thousands upon thousands of emails, text messages, and photos that were keeping me from fully grieving and healing.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Galatians 2:20
I restructured my entire life from that point forward (remember, total surrender). I put Jesus Christ front and center, in all things, for always. Next was my daughter. She's a blessing I'll never deserve, and I made it a priority to make sure I covered my life, and hers, with the character of Christ. Then was my family. Years of too many unreturned phone calls and solitude had to stop. Then I started pouring out my love and compassion to my friendships, my small group, and my church. I started to really value and cherish the relationships God had blessed me with.

God saw my heart and went to work. Life didn't suddenly become perfect, but it got easier, each day, as I replaced old habits with new ones, and made Christ the center of all my decisions. God started a transformation in my heart, and has me on a relentless pursuit to glorify His name, and to bring others to Christ. Being a disciple, and a defender of the faith, are the instructions God has written on my heart, and I choose to obey.

Satan continues to scheme. Always. He's cunning, and desperate to destroy me, and break me down again. He still gets a few good punches in from time to time, but he forgot one thing... We serve an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God, that gave us His only son, died our death on a Roman cross, and on the third day rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures. God chose love, because God is love, and in a selfless type of sacrificial love that none of us deserved, my sins, your sins, and all of our sins, past, present, and future, were nailed to the cross, and with the words "It is finished" (John 19:30), Satan was defeated. Sure, Satan will rear his ugliness in our lives, but we can boldly say as Jesus said:

Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.
- Matthew 16:23
If you're asking yourself why I'm sharing this story, and why now... it's not for attention.... and it's not a cry for help. I'm far removed from those days, and God holds me in the palm of His hand, and His love, grace, and mercy cover my life, completely. I waited to share this story because I needed time to heal. I needed time to understand. I needed to listen to God when He asked me to be still, and to speak when He asked me to speak. Suicide isn't something I ever thought I would consider, and certainly not something I would expect to be writing about, and sharing as part of my testimony. But not only did suicide nearly take my life, it unfortunately did claim my grandfather's last year. I desperately wish I would have been brave enough to speak out earlier, and recognize the signs, and although I may never fully comprehend why, this ended up being a significant catalyst in my spiritual journey, that solidified my confidence and trust that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

I challenge you to take the first step, and the first step is placing your trust in Jesus Christ, and inviting Him in to your heart. You don't have to understand it all, and you won't have all the answers, ever. You start with whatever faith you have. Great faith feels like nothing at first, but even faith as small as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20) allows God to start His work in your life.

Let me close by saying this. Depression is real, and you're allowed to feel pain, and experience brokenness, and want answers — but you're not alone. Let me say that again, you're not alone. If you find yourself ever thinking there's no other way, please know that there is, and by the grace of God, I can personally attest to that truth. God's love for me saved my life, and His love for you can do the same thing. I may not know you, and I may never meet you, but as your brother in Christ, I hope you know I'm praying for you, and I love you, with all my heart.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- 1 Corinthians 13:7