I was reflecting on my testimony the other day and thought at some point I should take the time to post the whole tale. Then I saw the topic on Friday's Show Us Your Life at Kelly's Korner was focused on testimonies. I figured the time is now.
At one point in my life I wanted to kill myself. I mention this first because if you met me now, or even in the last decade, you would probably never guess it.
I grew up in a Christian home. My parents were both raised in the Catholic church. My mom was "born again" when she was 16. When she met my dad and realized his faith was in words only, she broke up with him. This led to inevitable soul searching and he accepted Christ as his savior. They got back together and were married shortly thereafter. They stayed in the Catholic church until I was a few years old, not too long after my brother was born. At this point, they realized they couldn't reconcile some of the church's theology and started attending a charismatic church. This is the church that I remember from my childhood.
It was such a far leap from the Catholic church. Here there was speaking in tongues, anointing with oil, and so on. I was anointed with oil for my eczema. I must have not have believed hard enough because I still have eczema! All that aside, it was a good church to grow up in, despite its very conservative nature.
When I was about 4 or 5, I can remember our family returning home from a night with church friends. My mom took me aside and told me she had learned that Care Bears were magic. And my church did not associate with magic. My parents in no way forced me to get rid of my pink Care Bear, they presented the facts as they knew them. Care Bears were magic. Magic was bad. Therefore, I decided to throw my Care Bear away. And in the same moment, I decided to accept Jesus into my heart. I had no concept of what I was doing, other than it made my parents happy and it seemed to be the thing to do at my church.
Unfortunately, not all was right with this church and we left after a scandal occurred. We went elsewhere for a year, where I learned what hypocrisy meant. I became cynical towards the church and was not in the best of places by the time we arrived at the church I attended through part of high school. (I should note that my parents continued to worship at this church for many years; I left after my sophomore year because I had become involved with an amazing youth group and wanted to be more involved in that church.)
I also went to a Christian grammar school from kindergarten to 8th grade. Between church and school, I was getting a lot of head knowledge but very little made its way to my heart. I enjoyed learning about God and memorizing the books of the Bible. (Bible drill, anyone?) While I had incredible godly examples all around me, I never noticed that my version of faith was weak and watered down. Church attendance, memory verses, saying the right thing? I had that down pat.
By the time I got to 6th grade, it was more difficult to be at my school. My parents weren't rich and it was a sacrifice to send me and my brother there. They felt that a Christian education was very important so it was a sacrifice they felt was worth making. I don't begrudge them this. In some ways, I'm sure that the grammar school saved my life. But it was not an easy place to be, when most of my classmates had wealthy parents and were given the latest gadgets and coolest clothes. I was not as aware of this until junior high and I shudder to think what it must be like for kids today!
While I had some good friends, I was not part of the "cool group." I wanted desperately to be popular, to be invited to all the parties. This is when my depression began. To the outside world, I was a nice, quiet girl who did her homework, followed the rules, and participated in a few activities. On the inside, I was a wreck. My self-esteem was in tatters. I cried myself to sleep every night. I was convinced that I was ugly, worthless, and that no one would miss me. I was certain God hated me and that all these junior high travesties were a punishment or curse.
My thoughts began to go to darker places. Envisioning my funeral. Envisioning my funeral with no one there, as I rationalized no one would care whether I was around or not. And then thinking about how I could actually kill myself. It was not a matter of if, but when.
I was not a happy person during that time but no one had suspected I was depressed and suicidal. Teenage depression was not really on anyone's radar at that time. I couldn't have even identified myself as depressed. I just knew that this life was not what I wanted.
One summer night before 8th grade started, I decided I'd had enough. Everyone was asleep. I planned to go to the medicine cabinet and take whatever was in there, likely nothing more than aspirin and vitamins. I got out of bed but couldn't make it past the doorway. I literally couldn't step out of the door, which I now feel was God's protection. I turned around and threw myself in to bed, sobbing that I had failed even in this. I never moved forward with my plans to kill myself after that point. However, my depression only grew worse. Without an end in sight, I'm not sure how much more miserable one person could become.
There were glimmers of hope, though. God used family, friends, and Sunday sermons to speak to me. My beloved great-uncle was diagnosed with brain cancer in the fall of 8th grade. His courage and faith in God were inspirational to everyone around him. He lived just long enough to see 3 more grandchildren be born before he died. I could not escape the fact that his faith meant everything to him and how comforted my family was in knowing we would see him one day in heaven. It all got me thinking but I still didn't see how God could be the answer to my problems.
My parents were forcing me to go to youth group at this point. I hated going, not only because I didn't believe in God anymore but because of the cliques. I would go to Sunday School and Wednesday night but that was it. A friend finally convinced me I should go to the Second Saturday event, held in Chicago. If you're unfamiliar with Second Saturday, there was usually a band and then a speaker. All the area youth groups would go. Deb thought we could at least check out the cute boys.
Geoff Moore and the Distance played that night and Geoff Moore was incidentally the speaker. My friends and I were unfamiliar with their music so we walked around the venue trying to find guys we knew and meet new ones for most of the performance. We sat down when Geoff began to speak. I zoned out for much of his talk but I still remember the moment that grabbed my attention. He was talking about the letters he received every week, from girls who were pregnant and didn't know what to do, guys who feared they were gay, and people who were so depressed they wanted to kill themselves. People who were so depressed they wanted to kill themselves. I felt like he was speaking directly to me. Geoff went on to talk about the hope that we have in Christ, that it's the only thing that matters and the only thing that helps. Even though I had heard this to some degree my whole life, it finally clicked in to place. I didn't know if it would make a difference but I felt I had nothing else to lose.
At the end of the night, Geoff invited everyone who wanted to, to pray the prayer of salvation. I silently invited Christ in to my heart and asked him to forgive me of my sins. After the prayer, Geoff invited everyone who had just prayed the prayer to stand up. I stood up, my friends looking at me like, "I thought you already were a Christian!" A relationship with God is more than saying and doing the right things. I knew that I would never be "good enough" for God but I was ready to embrace His hope and grace. As new believers stood up, the crowd went wild, with Geoff exhorting there was an even bigger party going on in heaven.
I can't say that my issues just magically went away after that. I can say that my friends and family noticed a difference. I was lighter in spirit. I was happier. I no longer wanted to kill myself. I gave my testimony at 8th grade graduation. A part of me hoped that everything would be peachy keen after this. However, depression is deeply rooted and I continued to struggle with my self-esteem throughout high school. After my freshman year of college, I saw a counselor because I knew that I needed to deal with my messed-up view of myself once and for all. It made a huge difference and I am happy to say that I don't have the same struggles anymore. I still have down days but I am aware of my triggers and know how to take good care of myself. In this, God has healed me. I am not the person I was 16 years ago who wanted to end it all. I am someone who is grateful to be alive and humbled that God wants to use my life to bring him glory. While my faith journey took a few detours and side roads after that, God has patiently seen me through it all. I have actively pursued a relationship with Him for the past 6 years and my faith has grown leaps and bounds because of this.