Hope, Depression, Healing, Community (Anniversaries and All Saints)

I woke up this morning thinking about hope, about depression, about healing, and about community.  Big topics for early in the morning, but understandable given that today is not only All Saints Day, but also the tenth anniversary of a life-changing encounter that I had with Jesus.

Ten years ago today I started having the sorts of experiences that are somewhat more common in my life now.  I was seeing pictures in my head, and hearing whispers in my thoughts.  I thought they might be whispers from God, whispers that I’d been praying and longing to hear, but I wasn’t sure. I went to a small group gathering that evening and cornered a friend who was my go to source for all things “crazy and strange” religiously.  (What I mean is that he was further down the road of charismatic experiences than I, and that while I tended to panic about such things, he embraced them.)  I began to share what I’d been feeling and seeing that day, and it took only minutes before he became antsy, asking me to head out into the night and walk with him.  I remember protesting, due to the blizzard that had begun, but grudgingly following him outside.  We walked the neighborhood for a long time that night, until we were cold and wet, and then we settled in his car. We talked and talked and talked, and prayed a little, and talked and prayed some more.  My friend invited me to come before Jesus in a new and honest way that night, and it changed me.  For the last ten years I’ve celebrated that night as an anniversary of healing from depression.

If you know me well, that last statement might puzzle you.  I don’t exactly work to hide the fact that I take an antidepressant/anti-anxiety medication on a daily basis.  I don’t hide the fact that I spent several years of the last decade in therapy, working through a lot of hard stuff in my life. In fact, I tend to proclaim those things, preferring to do everything in my power to ease the stigma that kept me from seeking help for so many years.  What I mean when I say that I was healed from depression that night is this: in that car, that cold November 1st ten years ago, Jesus met with me, and the hopelessness that had pervaded my life off and on since childhood, and continually for nearly seven years, was broken.  Since that night I haven’t ever gone to bed and prayed to die in my sleep, something that was a routine practice in my life at that time.  I didn’t see a reason to be alive, but I wasn’t willing to end my life, so I sat day after day in hopelessness and exhaustion.

I want to clarify that statement about healing.  I take medication to help manage my moods.  It’s an important part of my day-to-day survival.  I believe that mental illness can and does have a physical component – that it involves diet and chemical imbalances and stress and lifestyle choices.  I also believe that the spiritual world impacts our world, and in my life that played out as an overwhelming fear and hopelessness. That night, what I experienced was a spiritual healing, a lifting of the darkness and hopelessness, a renewed strength to fight the physical battle.  I was gifted that night with spiritual healing, but also with a practical physical healing.  That night I slept six straight hours, something I hadn’t done in nearly seven years.  It was the beginning of a journey.  It started with the spiritual, and eventually moved into the realm of the emotional and physical as I began to fight back, to stubbornly cling to hope.

I remember very few details of the conversation that I shared with my friend that night, but one phrase still runs through my thoughts, all these years later.  I’d been re-reading Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia at that time and this thought occurred to me, “C. S. Lewis looked at God and created Aslan.  I look at Aslan and wish I knew a God like that.”

Ten years ago tonight Jesus began introducing himself to me as one who is “not safe, but good” to again borrow from Lewis.  It’s a big and ongoing lesson, and some of the lessons over the last decade have been ruthless.  It’s lessons like those that led me to tattoo the phrase “stubborn hope and joy” on my right forearm over the summer.  He is not safe, but He is good, and so I stubbornly hold on to the hope that He gifted me with on that night.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the role that community has played in my healing.  My friend was there for me that night.  He’d invited me into that place probably more than a dozen times in the few years that I’d known him, and I’d refused every time, but he persevered and continued to listen to me and offer his friendship, and because of that, when I was at my most broken, I was willing to let him lead me before Christ.  I fell into a group of people shortly thereafter who taught me about the new things I was experiencing, and then taught me valuable lessons about the value of choosing emotionally and spiritually healthy companions to journey with.  There are the group of women who I met online, two especially, who journey with me long distance.  There is my bestie who lives on the other side of the planet now, but lived with me as a roommate through some of the hardest years in the middles of this decade.  She wrote cards, offered hugs, and sometimes even had flowers waiting when I came home from the hard work of pursuing healing and hope.  My family walked with me, and cheered me on through all the stumbles, even when they didn’t know most of the details of this journey.

I’ve learned a lot about community, and how central they are to healing and wholeness.  Without each of those people I mentioned, I would be less whole.  And I’m learning about community in new ways this fall, as I connect with a local church body again, as I make new friends who share my Catholic faith, and as I push deeper into other relationships.

Healing is a communal sport.  Without the people in my life, and without “the great cloud of witnesses” that the writer of the Hebrews references, I would be less healed, less able to cling stubbornly to hope and joy.

Ten years on, it seems somehow appropriate that a journey lived in community began on All Saints Day.  It makes me laugh, since I certainly had no inkling a decade ago that my journey would lead me into the Catholic Church, but that heavenly sense of humor is one of my favorite characteristics of the God who is like Aslan that I’ve begun to know over the course of these ten years.

So today I’m thinking about healing, about hope, about depression and about community.  I’m thinking about how grateful I am for a God who is not safe but good, how grateful I am for that moment when I was given the gift of hope again, how grateful I am for the lessons I’ve learned about managing my physical and mental and emotional health, and how this journey wouldn’t be possible without the many people who have served as companions along the way.

I’m celebrating today – a moment of healing, and a feast of All Saints – a feast of the great ones who have walked ahead of me on this path to knowing Christ.  I’m celebrating, and I’m grateful.

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