A Story to Tell

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And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,
who have been called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28

“I’m so glad to hear how well you’re doing now.” There was sunlight sneaking through the cracks in the blinds lending a bright lemony glow to my room, and her words were another beam of light, shooting through time and space and out through the earpiece of my phone.

“I can hear the smile in your voice.  I wish I could see it.  I remember how far away that smile was nearly every visit when you lived down here.”

“That’s funny, I am smiling.  I almost can’t help it.”  And I was.  Sitting alone in my apartment, my phone to my ear, grinning widely at the wall in front of me.  “I know there’s still work I need to do.  But I can honestly say, I’ve never experienced happiness like this before.  I didn’t know…” I paused as I pondered how to complete that thought.

“Didn’t know what?”

“It’s hard to find the words.  I knew other people were happier than I was.  Maybe even most people.  But I guess I didn’t have any frame of reference for what that meant.  It’s kind of like the dark tinting has been removed from my eyes, and I didn’t even realize it was there.  And now I’m seeing colors the way they really are.  They’re far brighter and more beautiful than I knew.  And every time I open my eyes, I’m amazed by what I’m seeing.”  I felt a bit foolish as I said all this, but I couldn’t think how else to explain the experience, and even this wasn’t quite enough.

“Michelle, that is so beautiful.  And tell me… how have the violent thoughts been?”

That grin slowly slid from my face, and I felt my brow furrow a bit as I sat a moment in silence.

“Michelle?”

“I’m thinking.”  I was actually trying to remember.  Not what those thoughts were.  I could never forget that.  For many years there was a near constant tape playing, the underlying theme to my personal story.  It was words and phrases, sounds and images.  There were intense scenes of violence, complete with blood and gore, and there were shouts and whispers, the most hateful and destructive words.  I would fall asleep and wake up to these things.  I would go about my daily routine: get ready, go to work, interact with people, get the job done, come home, talk with friends, talk with family, go to sleep.  And every day that tape would play in the background.  I was used to it.

When I first started therapy, I didn’t even bring it up.  Not because I was afraid or embarrassed.  I didn’t bring it up, because it didn’t occur to me.  It was my normal, along with that dark tinting on my eyes, the clouds that always shrouded the sun, the mass of brambles in my brain that confused my thinking.  I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know the extent.

When I finally did tell my therapist, a year or so in, I saw immediately in her eyes that this was serious.  But I was so numb at that point, I couldn’t really feel it to be that serious.  There were the immediate questions of whether or not I had a plan.

“A plan?”

“To end things.”

“Oh…No.  No plan.  I’m not really a planner.”

But I was tired.  Exhausted really.  In spite of the numbness, I felt that exhaustion, probably most of all.  I used to look ahead at all the years of my life left to me, and I felt despair at the thought I might actually have to live them.  I hoped I wouldn’t.

“If you’d rather not talk about that, Michelle…”  She was concerned by my silence, I could tell.  Not wanting to ruin the positive discussion from earlier.

“No, it’s fine.  I’m just realizing, I can’t remember the last time I had one.”

We were both silent, then.  On my end, the air felt electric.  I had shivers running across my arms and shoulders, and up the back of my neck.  How did I not see this before now?

“Michelle, that’s amazing!”

The tears were flowing freely at this point, and since I was alone, aside from the person on the other end of the call, I let them fall.

The violent thoughts were gone.

I couldn’t even pinpoint when the thoughts started, when they had built themselves up to be so perpetually present.  I remembered some times in high school.  Pretty sure there was something there in middle school too.  A definite presence during college.  And when I moved to Los Angeles after school, the violent thoughts followed and carved out more room in my mind.

After sharing about them in therapy, I was encouraged to share with a psychiatrist.  We tried a few different things, and then hit on one medication that made a dent.  That violence in my head would now sometimes pause, then start, then pause, and so on.  It was just one aspect of a lifelong struggle with severe depression.  But it came to be a defining factor for me, mental images of self-inflicted violence on repeat.  And then they just disappeared.

At the time of this phone conversation, I had stopped attending church.  I wasn’t reading the Bible or praying regularly.  I had stopped taking the medication that had helped me in the past; too expensive.  I wasn’t taking care of my physical health.  What I had done, was allow someone I love and respect greatly, whose love for me I’d never questioned, come alongside and pray.

My mother and I prayed together.  We asked questions and tried to listen for answers.  What was the purpose of all of this?  What did I do?  What could I have done?  Where were You?  What do You want to tell me?  And we asked for deliverance, for freedom from darkness and thoughts that enslave.

I don’t know the day, hour, second when He took those thoughts out of my head.  I’m not always the most observant.  But when she asked me that question on the phone and I realized – in spite of the fact that I wasn’t doing the right things, and that my faith was small, and my sense of mission in life immobile – He had altered my mind so completely that I was experiencing life as I never knew I could.  I had no means to fix myself at that point.  Over thirty years of darkness, and at least fifteen of internal violence.  Gone.  I was overwhelmed that He would do that…for me.

That phone call with my therapist was a celebration.  And I immediately called my mother afterward.  We had so much to be grateful for.  I have so much to be grateful for.

I look back on my not-so-distant past.  My life in shadow.  My mind filled to the brim with darkness I couldn’t control.  I think of these things, and I know, I wouldn’t change it. I’m daily overwhelmed by the beauty of what was done for me; I don’t want to give that up.  I don’t think the colors could be so bright now, if they hadn’t been so dim.

I still don’t know the purpose of all this, beyond the potential to show the beauty of God’s love for the broken.  And we’re all so broken.

But I have a story.  It’s not the story of a woman of great faith who brought the love of Jesus to the nations, like maybe I would’ve hoped.  It’s the story of a woman, broken and weak, without hope and hardly able to care for the people closest to her.  She reached out her hand in her despair and found the hand of Jesus.

I will fall again, we all will.  But I know that hand is there.  Not because I deserve it, but because He loves me.

And now I’m grinning at the wall again.