A couple of weeks ago I gave my first witness talk at Lifeteen. I seem to find that the more I work with Lifeteen, the more I grow in my own relationship to God. It really is an amazing thing. Anyway, I've been meaning to post my talk. It was planned only a day before Lifeteen. I was actually supposed to be planning a couple of weeks in advance for my Life night, but my friends Sarah and Darrin lost their little boy Henry that week, and so my priorities were elsewhere. So a day before my Life night I got together with my youth minister to try and figure out what we were going to do for a night that revolved around choices and beliefs, and trying to get the teens to vocalize what they believe. We decided we would split them into groups and have four stations, and one of those stations was my witness talk, which means, yes, I had to give it four times. It was very hard for me to open up to the teens, but it ended up being a very rewarding experience. So here is what I said:
I want to talk to you tonight about my choices and my beliefs, and how my choices have affected my beliefs. Like many of you, I was brought up in a Catholic home. I went to church on Sundays, and when I was your age, I decided to get confirmed. My mom gave me the choice of whether or not to get confirmed, but I felt it was something I should do, so I did. It wasn't because I felt some great connection to God, but because I felt I should do it. I don't feel that it made my relationship with God any better and I still didn't feel a huge connection to God or the church.
Around this same time in high school I began to deal with clinical depression. This only had an affect on my relationship with God when I would get really down, and then I would get angry. I hardly ever prayed, but on my worst days I would blame God. My biggest question was why. Why me? Why do I feel this way? If you're so great, why do I feel this way? If you healed all those people why can't you heal me? If you LOVE me SO much, why can't you take this away from me? This isn't love! God answered me, but I never heard him.
After high school I moved out to Maryland for a year, and while I was there I met a guy. I fell in love with this guy and he had no interest in God, so neither did I. It wasn't that he was an atheist necessarily, he just really didn't care if there was or wasn't a God. I became so wrapped up in him that I forgot all about God. Everything I was, or thought I was, was identified in Jeff, not in God. And it didn't matter that he put me down on a daily basis. It didn't matter that I spent hours getting ready for a company Christmas party because I thought he would finally tell me that I was beautiful, only to have him say nothing when I revealed my new outfit, hair, make-up and nails that I had worked on all day. It didn't matter that he made fun of me for my weight. And it didn't matter that when we would argue he would hit me, or throw me down the hall. It didn't matter because he loved me. And he was the only one that was ever going to love me, or so I believed at the time. He loved me, so the abuse didn't matter...and neither did God.
Finally after five years with him, I came to my senses and moved back to Wisconsin. I still did not feel I had a relationship with God, and I rarely prayed. Even so, I found myself surrounded my religious and spiritual people. It wasn't that I was looking for those types of people, I just seemed to be drawn to them. This was especially true when I went back to college for music. The majority of friends I made there were people who had good relationships with God. One of those people in particular was my husband, Jonathan. Jonathan and I were friends long before we dated, and he had a fairly good relationship with God. We would often discuss God, along with other "meaning of life" conversations.
Almost two years ago, while I was living in Milwaukee, I started to have trouble with depression again. I didn't have health insurance so I couldn't afford to see a doctor or be on any type of medication. I had never felt pain like I did then. I was sad and exhausted all of the time, and I do mean all. I lacked motivation to do much of anything, including going to school. It got so bad that one night I called up Jonathan and I said "I love you, and thank you for being there for me, but I'm not going to be here tomorrow. I've decided to end my life. But it's okay, because it's not going to change anyone else's life. I'm just in too much pain and it doesn't make sense for me to stay here. "
Jonathan talked to me for hours that night. He told me of his love for me, and of God's love for me. I again questioned that. "If God is so great and loves me, why is he letting this happen to me?" It was during this discussion that I heard church bells being to ring. It was spring and my windows were open, and the parking lot of my apartment building shared the parking lot with a church just behind my building. But in the two years I had lived there I had never heard church bells. I immediately thought it was God's way of mocking me, which made me more angry and more determined to end my life. But Jonathan somehow convinced me to get through the night and let him call me in the morning. In the morning he called me, and about 10 minutes into the conversation I heard the church bells again and I began to cry. But this time I wasn't crying because I thought God was mocking me, I was crying because I could feel God's arms around me. I have never felt so loved in all my life. I knew that He had been talking to me and holding me for a long time, but I had pushed so many people away in my life that I included Him, and I wasn't willing to listen for the answers he was giving me.
I found out later that spring that someone had donated the money for church bells at that church, and that Saturday and Sunday that I heard them were the first times they were used. After that night, I waited to hear them everyday and have since loved the sound of church bells.
This is not my way of telling you to wait for some sort of sign from God to fix all your problems, but this is my way of telling you to trust Him. He is there, and He is listening and He loves you! Hand him your struggles and he will take them. He may not take them in the way you expect, but He will take them. He will always catch you when you fall. We put our trust in Earthly things and not in God, and then we are hurt when that trust is broken. But God is constant. Your trust in Him will not be broken. Be willing to listen to what he is saying to you.
This is also not to say that I don't still struggle, because I do. I have bad days, and there are things that happen that I don't understand, and I go back to questioning God. Last week one of my oldest friends lost her three-year-old son, Henry. He was such a beautiful and joy-filled child, and he was my friend. When he died, I wanted to know why. I know that Henry is in Heaven, but why did he have to die. Why do my friends have to go on living without their son, and why are so many of us left with this hole in our hearts? But I realized that asking why isn't for us to do. There are times when we find out that answer, but more often then not, we don't find the answer. This is not because God is cruel and won't tell us, but because we have Earthly brains that can not comprehend the vastness of God's Kingdom. And God has reasons for things that we can not fathom.
Faith means sometimes believing before understanding. When Henry died, I had to have the faith to know that he was with God and God had reasons for his death, even if I don't understand those reasons.
What I want you to do now is take a piece of paper and write down something you struggle with. No one will read this paper but me, and don't put your names on them. I am going to read these and I am going to make you two promises: the first is that I promise I will read these and pray for each and every one of you. The second is that if you take your struggles to God, He will listen, and He will always catch you when you fall.
The struggles that the teens wrote down really were amazing. They opened up to me, because they knew they could. I was God's instrument that night, because as sure as I'm sitting here typing this, I'm sure God was reading those papers with me. And I have faith that He was holding each one of those teens in His arms, just as I have faith that He is holding Henry high above us until we can see him again.