The first time I met Gary (Not his real name) he was high as a kite, kinda bouncy, talked A LOT, and wanted everyone who was there to know that God brought him to Celebrate Recovery (CR). I greeted him,  shook his hand and told him I was glad he was there. He shook it back and grinned. He said, “I just know God has something for me here. I’m ready to make a change.”

Over the course of the next few months Gary became a regular at our Thursday night CR. I saw some real improvement in the choices Gary was making and he was clean for the first time in years. He told me stories of getting reconnected with family a little bit. And he was open with the difficulties of staying on the path of recovery, ”but determined to make it stick this time.”

One night I ran into him at the neighborhood grocery store. He had gone for a drive and pulled into the store just so he had something to do. It was late and our city doesn’t offer too much along the lines of a night life unless you drink. He  said he didn’t really have anything that he wanted to buy, but this was not a liquor store, and it was better than the silence of home. We stood in the canned goods and talked for an hour about what was going on in his life. At the end of the conversation he asked me to be his sponsor. I was already sponsoring a couple of guys and knew I couldn’t take on another person but I gave him my number and said, “Put this in your wallet. If you want to use call me. You can use after I hang up if that is what you choose. But let me try to talk you down first. You are not alone in this.” He promised me he would and he went home for the night.

Gary was one of the guys I liked working with. Seeing a night and day change in a person is exciting. I was looking forward to the days when he was handing off recovery medallions to new comers. Helping those who were yet to get to where he was. I really thought this guy was gonna make it if he could just get over this hump.

Fast forward a couple months and I had noticed that Gary was showing up for church but not making the Thursday night meetings as much as he had been. I wanted to connect with him but we never seemed to be able to make it work. Because he said he was still sober I didn’t try to force it & besides I had time and it would happen eventually.

Then, one day while out running errands, I got a call from the office administrator of my church. This was not something that typically happened, but not really unusual either so I didn’t think too much of it.

It would become a call I will never forget.

She was letting me know Gary had taken his life. I made her repeat it because I just couldn’t believe what she said. “Wait. What? Which Gary? No way, what?”

I sat on the phone dumbfounded. “What was going on? How could he have…”

But I had been there. I had tried before myself. Still there is no making sense of all of this. There was so much possibility, so much potential, and so much hope. And then one day it finally hit me. Of all of the conversations that we shared; never once did we talk about his mental health. He had been open about so much, yet he must have felt that he just couldn’t go there. Something inside him said it was not ok. The stigma that often surrounds mental health had stopped one more person from reaching out.

About a year after this happened I received a phone call from Pastor John Baker, founder of Celebrate Recovery. We had met and started to get to know each other a little, and he was aware of my interest in mental health and what I felt the church’s involvement should be. He asked me to come on board as the National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery. I had about a day of shock just from being asked but when that wore off I questioned myself, “Is this something I should even be doing?” and then I thought of Gary. At that point “should I?” became, “How could I not do this?”

People often ask me why I do what I do, what is my motivation? John 13:35 says “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (NLT) If I want to show someone that God loves them, then I must show that I love them. And love is not pure if it is conditional. I want to help the church to understand a subject matter that has been misunderstood and has been keeping people from feeling a love that is whole. It is not a sin to struggle with mental health! I have felt hope, and I want to show hope to the person who is struggling with their mental health. Yet, I cannot show hope if I don’t also show love. My diagnosis does not define who I am. My identity is in Jesus Christ! When I understand where my identity comes from, I can understand how to live my life – a life filled with purpose and meaning.

I have tried to end my own life, but I never wanted to die. I just didn’t know how to keep on living.  I know how to live now. God has shown me how to live. I want to pass that along to those who need to see it as well. I cannot love conditionally. I cannot love partially. I cannot love silently.

Please help me in helping to break the stigma that surrounds mental health. Help me to show love completely.

Nate Stewart,

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

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