this is my what

The familiar catchphrase rings in my ears…

“Yeah, I know what I want to do with my life, I’m just not sure how God will choose to best accomplish it.”

Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself developing a few catchphrases that represent events of the year. I had a handful of them in 2019 and a handful of them last year, 2020. There’s been some overlap, yes, but not a ton. However – this is one of the phrases from 2019 that was lost over the past year… but that I’m wholeheartedly committed to bringing back to the forefront of my mind.

Since the last couple of years of high school, I’ve thought about and researched nearly every type of career known to mankind (just ask my parents!). Everything from vocational ministry to teaching to healthcare to commercial airline… if the career exists, I’ve thought about it. At times it has been a total pain, feeling like I have zero focus at all and like I’ll never be able to make a decision and get on with my life.

But now that I have a much clearer picture of what I want my life to be about, of my life “mission statement”… I can see why God wired me to NOT settle on any one career in particular.

I think for most of us, the “what” of our life often relates closely with the “how”. The two are tied together, sometimes even mutually exclusive. But for someone with such intense struggle and pain and life experience in her short 27 years… what I want my life to be about, the ways and messages I hope to share with the people around me… it becomes infinitely more important than the job that I work.

It’s no secret that mental illness is becoming a bigger and bigger issue here in America. It was already bad and turning to much worse before COVID-19 shut everything down, but now that people have spent months in isolation, living on a reduced or even nonexistent income, their routines and daily lives thrown completely upside down… well, I think we all know where things are going.

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so many years focusing on little else besides recovery, self care, and healing. I’m grateful for the opportunity to put such time and focus into it, yes. I’m grateful for all of the therapy and groups and treatment. But… why couldn’t that have happened concurrent with so many other things? Why did it take until age 26 or 27 to feel like I’m finally beginning my adult life?

Well, for starters, things overall would have played out far differently. No one can know what would have happened if I had in fact moved to Minnesota for college in August of 2012.

Here in 2021, though, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that God has given me experiences and equipped me in such a unique way to tell His story of love and grace and redemption… and to tell it as it relates to mental illness.

When I think about every single person out there who wakes up to fight these demons of darkness on a daily basis, it’s easy to feel so helpless. But in that helplessness, I remember this amazing God we have, and I remember that it was when I turned to His power and His power alone to finally break my chains that the change and healing actually came.

Coming face to face with the reality that it was my inability to believe that God’s love and forgiveness could cover the mistakes I’ve made was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

And yet… admitting it was the best thing that ever could have happened.

Why? Because the moment we begin to shine the light in the darkest places is the moment when change and rescue and redemption can finally begin.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be that person. I grew up in church, I knew Jesus, I knew this whole bible and Jesus loves me thing. But deep down? I really was that person.

It was that season of my life, a season of calling out and acknowledging just how unforgivable I had been feeling for so many years, that helped clarify what has now become my “what” in life. As I spent time sitting with the reality of feeling unforgivable, feeling ashamed and embarrassed but grateful to finally be walking towards freedom, I began to understand what I had heard so many people describe. I began to fully appreciate just how hopeless a person could become as a result of feeling outside the reach of God’s love and forgiveness.

It’s something that never once did I expect to become such a cornerstone part of God’s work of healing in my life. But… sometimes it’s those unexpected things that can become the greatest gifts.

Since that season of healing there has been no shortage of the Lord at work in my life. Five months after everything changed He called me to pick up and move across the country to Richmond, VA. It was a move with work, yes, but the nature of my new position meant that I was essentially beginning a brand new job. It’s been a crazy fifteen months since I left California, and it’s been some of the hardest times of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Why? Because every moment along the way – even the moments of pain and heartache and questions and tears – pushes me further into the “what” of my life. Each experience further equips me to minister to anyone around me through my listening, my speaking, and my actions.

When I walked through the healing in 2019, I became even more acutely aware of the Church’s struggle to acknowledge two things simultaneously if they seem to oppose one another. What do I mean by that? Well, the idea that I could be human and question and be that person who felt unlovable and unforgivable even by Jesus Himself… and yet NOT have that invalidate my worth as a daughter of God?? Woah. Talk about an earth shattering truth there.

And not just that – I also had to come to terms with and begin to articulate the idea that our negative emotions… the grief, the anger, the pain… those also can never, ever negate our worth as a Christian or separate us from God’s love.

The example I often use for that one – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. We are told that we should never grieve as those without hope… But we are not once told we should never grieve at all.

The Church’s relationship with mental illness and with those of us who deal with it on a daily basis still has a long way to go. Even in my lifetime I’ve seen the improvement, and please believe me when I say it’s so very encouraging. But just because we’ve seen a little improvement… that by no means should indicate that the work is done.

If anything, it’s only just beginning.

Even under the umbrella of this already specific topic, there are so many different things and changes that could help so much. One such example is that the church would do well to realize that the idea of “mental illness” goes far beyond what most of us think of when we hear “depression and anxiety”.

But perhaps even a more impactful change, the thing that I truly see as my “what” in life…

The reminder and truth that all of our emotions, all of our chronic (mental) illnesses, all of our anger and our questions… all of our humanness that comes from living in a broken world… well, I’ll let Romans 8 finish the thought for us.

“So now I live with the confidence that there is nothing in the universe with the power to separate us from God’s love. I’m convinced that his love will triumph over death, life’s troubles, fallen angels, or dark rulers in the heavens. There is nothing in our present or future circumstances that can weaken his love. There is no power above us or beneath us—no power that could ever be found in the universe that can distance us from God’s passionate love, which is lavished upon us through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One!”
Romans 8:38-39, The Passion Translation

Most of us have heard that scripture passage and that truth. But how much have we actually thought about it? How much have we internalized what it means specifically to us, specific to our sin and our mistakes?

How much have we thought about it in the context of the struggle and pain and heartache that comes from living with mental illness?

As I’ve been walking more and more towards the “what” that I feel God has placed on my life, I don’t think I’ve found too many who challenge this truth. But as someone who grew up in a wonderful and healthy church, who grew up surrounded by some of the most amazing people and believers… it wasn’t until I was at absolute rock bottom that I was able to learn and internalize all of this for myself.

It was at rock bottom that Jesus came to sit with me in the ashes… to pick me up, carry me out, and walk me into this beautiful life of freedom with Him. It’s not a life free of my chronic illness. Believe me, that’s still alive and well.

But it’s a life of freedom… freedom to feel and hurt and to be human.

And yet, deep in the middle of all of that, freedom to be a child of God.

So that’s my “what”. Reminding all of us (myself included!) that it’s okay to be human and to hurt and ask to questions… but that even through all of that, we are beloved sons and daughters of God. And that, particularly as it relates to mental illness, nothing could ever change our worth as a Christian or separate us from the immeasurable love of God.

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