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Living with depression on the Race has been quite the adjustment. Without coping mechanisms and comforts at home, it seems to hit harder and linger longer. For those of you unfamiliar with my story, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety when I was fifteen years old and bipolar disorder 2 years later. Over the past 8 months, the Lord has done incredible things in my life and the lives of those around me. I believe that the Lord is a great Healer, a powerful Redeemer, and a compassionate Restorer. For years I have wanted my depression to go away, but for the past 8 months I have asked the Lord to take it. In fits of desperation, in nights of darkness, and in moments of absolute loss I have lifted my hands and cried out to the Lord, pleading to be relieved of my depression, anxiety, and bipolar. Though the Lord has brought me through moments of tremendous healings pertaining to my past and choices I have made, my mental health seems to be untouched by Heaven. Holding fast to my powerful conviction of the Lord’s ability to heal, I can only reason that the Lord hasn’t restored my mind and body or taken away my mental health issues, not because He can’t, but because He is choosing not to. For months I have fought to praise Him in spite of that, but there are days I have lost the battle.
Two nights ago, my team and I were visiting one of our squad leaders in the hospital. While we were there, we prayed and worshiped together and sang one of Hillsong United’s songs, “Even When it Hurts”. I laid back on one of the empty hospital beds and let some of the words wash over me: “Take this mountain weight. Take these ocean tears. Hold me through the trial. Come like hope again. Even when the fight seems lost, I’ll praise you. Even when it hurts like hell, I’ll praise you. Even when it makes no sense to sing, louder then I’ll sing your praise.” Immediately, my ill-contentedness with my mental health filled my mind as I petitioned my soul to praise the Lord in spite of my pain. Everything in me wanted the Lord to take away the mountainous weight of my depression and my tears abundant enough to fill oceans. I desperately yearned for victory over the trials and his rescuing hope. The last verse of the song goes like this: “Even when the morning comes, I’ll praise you. Even when the fight is won, I’ll praise you. Even when my time on earth is done, louder then I’ll sing your praise. I will only sing your praise.” As I sang that verse, I envisioned the chemical chaos in my mind coming into order, the thick inclination of anxiety beginning to melt away. I was elated at the prospect of my definition of “normal” coming to fruition. I thought in that moment that the Lord was speaking into existence my freedom from depression. Almost as quickly as I formed that first thought, the Lord gave me another: He was indeed promising me a faultless life without blemish, a life with no sickness and no pain, a body and a mind completely renewed and rid of disorder or ailment; He was promising me this at glory.
I wept. I fought to anchor in the hope of receiving my promise someday while my flesh selfishly fell apart realizing I might not receive my promise this side of Heaven. As I sang the last verse the Lord said to me “what if the morning doesn’t come? Will you praise me? What if the battle is not won? Will you praise me? Even if your time on earth is ended without you being healed, will you praise me?” I continued to weep as I cried out “yes, Father, I will praise you. But I’m gonna need some help. I’m gonna need your help.”
“Hold tight, my beloved. You will receive your rescue.”
The next morning, I woke up around 9:45am, nearly two and a half hours later than I had been getting up. Something I know about myself is that my body and my mind thrive on routine. As much as I love sleeping in, repetitive sleeping and eating schedules benefit me greatly. Not only did I sleep in too late, but I was supposed to meet with my team in 15 minutes. It had been raining for a couple days and was overcast and gloomy outside as I lacked urgency to get ready. (I also thrive on sunshine.) I had to get dressed, tidy the room, and pack my bag. Already late and making my team wait for me, my backpack fell over and my water bottle opened and spilled all over the floor. Mix in the fact that I had hurt my hand the day before and apparently I was having a rough morning. I didn’t even want to leave the room.
As I walked alongside my team a couple blocks to a coffee shop, the rain pelted my face (because I forgot my rain jacket) and I grew increasingly downcast. My body felt heavy and submissive to my tiredness. As the rain soaked my hair and my clothes, tears welled in my eyes as I recognized that the Lord was creating an outward representation of what my depression felt like: dark, looming, disorderly, numb, retreating, confusing, and consuming. He was giving me words and pictures to explain what was happening inside of me when I didn’t know how to. By the time we got to the coffee shop, I had completely retreated into myself and lost the will to fight against it. I was too tired, too… well, depressed. After shutting down externally, I kind of existed numbly. I didn’t want to watercolor or talk to my team. Recognizing how deep I had begun to fall, I needed to fight even harder to get out. It honestly took everything in me to pull out my Bible, to take a drink of water, to try to eat a cracker and tears only came stronger and I only felt more helpless as I realized how difficult it was to act…normal. But I didn’t want to give up. I didn’t want to quit. I didn’t want to be a victim anymore. My teammate noticed me falling apart and was quick to pull me aside and help. The tears fell without any help as I just sat and listened to her recount how she noticed I was having a hard morning, how she didn’t know what that was like, but she could imagine how hard it must be. She looked at me and said “I know you didn’t want to be here today. I could see it. But you did it. You got out of bed. You’re here.” I cried as I fought to get words out in an attempt to explain what was so hard, why I didn’t want to be there, why I felt guilty for having no control. I knew that I always have an option to go back to the hostel, to take the time I need, to regroup. I had done it before on the Race a couple times when I really needed it, but today I only wanted it. I knew that in this specific instance, the Lord wanted me to stay. He didn’t want me to leave. He didn’t want me to feel condemned to always having to retreat and take a breath, unable to carry on with what I was doing. He wanted to give me victory. And I wanted that victory. I wanted it so bad. This was one of the hardest days I’d had on the Race and I wanted the triumph over the darkness.
We prayed together, bound the enemy and cast him out, I cried some more, and then my teammate walked me back to our table. I sat down, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and consciously chose to ask a question about water coloring. I chose to pick up a brush, chose to enter into conversation with my team, and chose to laugh. It was beautiful! I actually felt like I had a choice, no longer condemned to the weight and decision of my illness. If this is what victory felt like, I wanted to drink it in without coming up for air. If this is what it felt like to have the Lord fight the battle for me only to give me the reward in full, I wanted every bit of it. If this was triumph, I never wanted to lose again. The Lord gave me victory and triumph while still reminding me of the war ahead. Though He had won me this battle, He had not yet taken my depression from me completely. What he gave me instead was of greater value, though. He proved His faithfulness, His power, and His steadfastness. He proved that the battle could be won; my illness could be conquered. He gave me hope for the continued war ahead, a war that will wage until Christ returns.
My God is bigger than my depression. He is greater than my sickness. He has promised me goodness. He compassionately pours out blessings. He wants me to hurt no longer, but more than that, he wants me to be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4). He allows me to face trials so that the testing of my faith will produce perseverance (James 1:3). Without the dark night, he wouldn’t be able to teach me how to glory in my suffering, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4). With that hope, I will not be put to shame because God’s love has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit given to me (Romans 5:5).
My God lets my heart break and I will fall at his feet and thank him for that one day.
Father, I can’t wait for that day. I will sing until the miracle comes. I love you, Lord.