March 11, 2012

"How Jesus Has Seen Me Through"
Andrea Woolley, preaching

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Psalm 19

For those of you who know me even the slightest bit, know that I am a very private and guarded person. I am cautious of what I tell to who and how much I share even when it is regarding good and happy stuff. But I am downright closed off when it comes to telling of the despairing and dark seasons of my life.  And yet, this morning, I am choosing to tell you my story of “how Jesus got me through.” We have heard during this Lenten season from Darrell Adams and Kaw Waw how Jesus has gotten them through times of tragedy and loss and unspeakable violence. And we will, in coming weeks, hear from others.

Though, all of our stories differ greatly, I hope that you all hear a recurring theme – that God’s grace is indeed sufficient through the despair and darkness, as well as the joyous times, of life.

I was at the nail salon recently, and due to the bright  fluorescent lights and the UV lights curing my manicure my forearm was illuminated.  The scars that are not usually visible became perfectly clear. The story that I wish was not my story is clearly and forever etched into my arm. And though not noticeable to any one else in the salon, I was painfully aware that my story is indeed MY story.

I was in seminary. I had been noticing for over a year my lack of energy and motivation. But I didn’t think anything was wrong. After all I was taking a full load of courses every semester and working multiple jobs at any given time to make ends meet. It seemed normal almost expected that I wouldn’t want to get up in the mornings. It seemed typical that if I did have a free moment, I would rather stay locked up in my apartment than go out with friends.  I didn’t realize at first the darkness that was settling in around me, the despair that was weighing me down and clouding my perspective of everything.

I compare it to going out on a hike and getting lost. The harder I tried to find my way out, the further into the dense forest I found myself.  Eventually, I got so tired of wandering around, that I laid down in the forest to rest. Except as far as I had traveled into the darkness of the forest, the sunlight could not be noticed. Day and night seemed the same. It was hard to tell if one day had passed or a week. All I new is that I wanted out of the forest. All I wanted was a glimpse of the sunlight through the dense canopy of trees. But it had been so long since I had caught a glimpse of the sunlight that I began to doubt that the sun ever existed.

I was in seminary when the subtle first signs of my depression began to show. But it wasn’t until my last two semesters that I couldn’t hold the pieces together.  Late spring of 2006 I went to my doctor self-diagnosing myself as being depressed.  She agreed, gave me some medication, told me to come back in a month to evaluate things.  I took the medicine for a month, but I didn’t go back to see her or to get my prescription renewed.  I wasn’t ready to accept my problem, or admit that I could have a mental illness. So I took care of things on my own, or I tried. But things got worse. The next time I ended up at my doctor’s office was in September. The fall semester had just begun and I had already missed 5 days of school because I simply couldn’t get out of bed. Then one night found myself in the bathroom with a knife carving my inner pain into my forearm. Not attempting to kill myself, just attempting to release some of the pain.

I had disassociated so much from everything and everyone around me that I was easily able to draw my own blood.  That single act brought me back to the present for long enough that I knew I needed help. And finally went back to my doctor. Within the week I had found a therapist and was trying different medications.  I wish I could tell you that it got easier after that. But it didn’t, not for a long time.

I could continue telling you of the gruesome details of continually cutting myself, or the progression to suicidal ideation and later concrete plans. I could tell you in detail of the persistent sadness and darkness that eventually led to complete numbness, or the horrifying and self-loathing thoughts that plagued most of my wakeful hours. But ultimately, this story is not about that. This story is about God’s sustaining grace.

In the moment….in the impenetrable darkness, God seemed absent. God’s grace during that season of my life seemed like a joke. In fact, God seemed non-existent.  More days than not, during those months, I doubted God’s very existence. Because, if there was a god, surely that god would not allow so much pain and anguish to exist inside one person. During those times of darkness, to hear of God’s love or grace did not relieve any pain, it only intensified the pain. I say that for those here this morning who are walking through the darkness, “I know.” I know, that my words will not comfort you. I know my words of God’s love may cause you more pain this morning. I know because I have been there.

But, I do not tell this story from the midst of the darkness, rather, I tell the story from the other side. I can clearly see now that God’s grace was sufficient through the darkness, though at the time, God seemed to have disappeared and abandoned me. God’s presence was best seen through the presence of those around me who loved me and walked alongside me through the journey. God’s grace was seen through the graciousness of professors who extended deadlines and modified assignments. God’s love was felt in the warm acceptance of close friends who became my “safe houses.” Those friends who opened up their homes and offered me a safe place to stay when I simply could not trust myself to be alone with my own thoughts. God’s healing was found through doctors, medication and therapists.

The day I finally caught a glimpse of the sunlight that pierced through the darkness was several months into my journey. This fleeting glimpse of God’s grace was just enough hope to keep me waking up each morning. I read now from a journal that I kept during that time….

I woke up this morning wanting to give myself permission to put yesterday behind me. I wanted to say and believe that today is a new day, and I should move on from what I did again yesterday. But there as I was getting ready to go to work this morning was the knife still laying on the bathroom floor, the towel crumpled in the corner with the blood stains, and the scars that are left from my moment of weakness and desperation. I can hide the knife and I can wash the towel, but, alas, the scars remain. I feel guilt and shame at what I did. … And now, I tell no one… I want to hide it. And I do, but I can’t hide it from myself. My arm is sore this morning, and though the sleeves cover the ugliness, I feel the cuts as they rub against my sweater, and I know what lies under my sleeve, and I am reminded of what I did. …

But even in this guilt and shame and fear I found myself, while drying my hair this morning, humming (quite subconsciously and completely unaware of what I was doing) “Have Thine own Way.” I can’t even remember when the last time I heard or sang the song was. In fact, I couldn’t even recall any of the verses …, but I think somewhere so deep within me I know all the words but I am just unable to pull them out. But somehow knowing that I needed to read the rest of the verses I found them online.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.

I have to think that as sick as my brain is right now and as unreliable my emotions are, my soul is still intact. And though I consciously cannot come up with words to pray, and I have difficulty worshipping privately or corporately right now. My soul is still in communion with God. I have to believe that even though I’m not present right now, God is.

My soul resonates in this song …wounded and weary, help me, I pray…touch me and heal me…

We read in Jesus and Evangelism of Jesus encountering individuals and healing them, or restoring them to the community, or saving them. And I become so frustrated in the class. And more in that class than any other one, I don’t want to go. Because I become so frustrated…I want to yell, “God! Heal me! Remember me! Find me! Restore me! Touch me!” But nothing seems to happen, and God seems more and more distant. And today I wake up with more scars on my arm, but singing.                                 October 30, 2006


It was a glimpse. I didn’t suddenly become happy, nor stop taking medication, nor stop seeing my therapist. It was simply a glimpse to remind me that the sun still exists even when I can’t see the sunlight, and it was just enough of a reminder that God’s presence and grace are abundant even when we can’t feel or sense God.

It is as the verse in Psalm 19 says, as Paw Law Eh Thaw, beautifully read for us, “The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what God has done. 2Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next. 3They don't speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. 4Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world. “ (CEV)

Even in the silence, God is here. Even in the darkness, God is here. God does not abandon God’s children. God does not make us walk the journey alone. We will glimpse the sunlight again. Our souls will sing God’s praises again. I know because I have been there.