Not what I planned

When I was younger I never imagined that I would be living in Duluth MN….married…and a father. I saw myself more as a bachelor living in a major city. Chicago or New York maybe. What I have now is not what I planned.

I love the energy that a major city offers. The hustle and bustle is something that makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger, greater. I remember as a kid sitting on the front porch of my Grandparent’s home in the Wrigleyville area of Chicago. Even when the Cubs were not playing there seemed to always be something going on. People coming and going. Cars driving down the street, often times too fast for my Grandfather’s liking.

I remember walking down by Montrose beach, looking at the skyline and just being in awe. So many buildings, so many people, so much life. Of course, I assumed I would be single, then I could do as I pleased when I pleased.  I loved the city. I loved the idea of not having responsibilities.

That is so not what happened. My plans didn’t just change they went on a complete 180! I just found myself looking at farm land online. Farmland! I’m looking for a place with rolling hills, a spot for some horses and quiet. I don’t need anything extravagant. I want a small house, a shop to work in, and a front porch to sit with my family and watch the sun set in the evening. I want a simple life. The opposite of what I dreamed of growing up.

In fact at one point in my life I was so opposite of this I hated to look outside. My family growing up moved to a small town in Northwest Wisconsin. All I saw was forest in every direction. I hated those trees. I hated the town. It took me all of about a month after turning 18 to move to the city I am in now. A city that was meant to be a pit stop in the road on my way to the big city back in 1993.

So what happened? Mostly, it was because I met a girl. Women have a way of getting a man to change his mind about things. This one changed my mind about everything. I never wanted to stay in a smaller city. I didn’t want to have kids. I didn’t want to get married. I definitely never wanted to live on a horse ranch.

Two days ago I celebrated 19 years of marriage to that girl by driving home from the Celebrate Recovery Summit in Nashville Tennessee, with a teenager in the back seat and a travel trailer behind my pickup truck. I found myself looking at open fields wishing I owned one of them and wondering how I got to that point. And how in the world did I get to being happy about being at this point?

The answer is God.

My wife didn’t fix me. I didn’t develop a love for the land on a whim. I didn’t learn to enjoy the quiet. God changed my heart to not be afraid. I wanted busy to drown out the noise in my head. I wanted to stay single because it seemed safer than to risk being hurt. I was afraid to be a Dad because I didn’t want my child to turn out like me.

I am not a different person than I was growing up. I didn’t lose me by becoming a Christian, by sobering up, by risking to love. I became me. I am able to realize who I am. I am able to realize who God created me to be. And here is the strange part. I like it. I like who God is shaping me to be. I haven’t arrived yet, but I can see where I am going and I like it.

If you are struggling to see where you are going. If you are struggling to see hope. If you are struggling to see purpose. If you are struggling to see your worth. Please hear me when I say that it won’t always be this way. I will never promise that life will be perfect. It won’t. You will get hurt, you will have loss, you may have to live in a small city that somehow manages to get 13 months of winter every year. However, if you hang on, if you let God have control, you will find your way. Something I never thought I would do. But the reason I couldn’t see it was because I was looking for it in the opposite direction. What I wanted was not what God wanted. And what God wanted is so much better. Please don’t give up. If you are willing, over time, God will show you a way. It may be just a different way than you thought. A better way.

We can’t force happiness, but God can cultivate joy. Don’t give up.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

Faith through the Pain

We are in the middle of Celebrate Recovery East Coast Summit 2018 in Hendersonville, TN and let me tell you it has been quite an experience. I might also mention that this is also my very first Summit that I have attended since being in CR. I have always wanted to go, but never in my life would I have ever thought that I would be where I am now. I have listened to story after story from those who have come up to the CR Mental Health Initiative table and poured their heart out, spoke of their struggles and how they have overcome them. I have listened to uplifting devotionals and I have heard encouraging speakers. Within all that I have experienced this week, through my own personal struggles, I have come face to face with a recurring theme: I am in the place I am right now because it is right where God wants me.

I had a conversation with someone about the story of Job and how it seemed that perhaps God did not care much about the lives of those servants, Job’s family, and the others who were negatively affected by allowing them to die regardless of their faith in Him. It wasn’t fair. The person admitted that it was a good point, then posed this question to me…”Who was the one getting the lesson in the story?” In my haste I answered Job. However, I was then corrected and told that it was Satan who was receiving the lesson. God used Job and his faith to teach Satan a lesson, to show dominance in the war between good and evil. Job was right where God wanted him to be, struggling, grieving, in physical, mental, and emotional pain, and even questioning God Himself. Job was someone who was trying to live his life, yet he was afflicted with all of those losses and such deep pain. Here is the kicker…Job had done nothing wrong to bring on these terrible things, to have to lose everything. He had committed no sin or wrongdoing. Still he suffered greatly, suffered immensely.

Job endured this pain and loss for a great time. Finally, he spoke his pain out to God, questioning why he was born, why he had not died at birth. In my perception, one of the most powerful things he says in his spoken word is

“Why is light given to him who is in misery,
    and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not…”

This is often how I myself have felt. I have questioned my existence. I have questioned if I matter, if I have a purpose. I have questioned why I continue to have such painful situations happen in my life, why I continue to struggle deeply with my mental health. I have asked God How are you using me, God? Isn’t there a better way?” Yet, God has not changed what I am experiencing. He has not given me an easier path. And today, it really hit me as I sat and thought about the conversation I had today.

God had Job exactly where he wanted him. He knew Job had unshakable faith and would remain loyal, and even boasted to Satan about Job’s faith. Even though Job had faith, he still endured pain, still struggled, still questioned. God trusted Job. It wasn’t about Job at all…it was about God’s greater purpose. To continue to fight against evil. THAT was Job’s purpose. There was purpose for Job’s pain, in his suffering.

Therefore, I took a look at applying that to my own situation. I have asked God why. I have thought that I must have sinned or committed some form of wrongdoing for God to allow such persistent pain in my life, even though I have remained loyal. However, that is not true. Perhaps God does have me exactly where He needs me to be in the fight against evil. Perhaps my faith in Him is serving His greater purpose in reaching others, to be open and vulnerable about my struggles, about my mental health issues. To talk about it and share my testimony. Perhaps where I am in my struggle is going to save others from the effects of evil, from the effects of a silent struggle. See, the enemy wants us to say silent. I’m fighting against that silence. So if the enemy wants us to stay silent, then I am fighting the enemy. God is using my pain, my struggle to speak through me, to use me for His greater purpose. Everything that I have done up until now, everything that I have endured, has led me to this moment right here, in a position on the CR Mental Health Team, something that I never would have dreamed that I would be doing.

IT’S OKAY TO STRUGGLE. IT’S NOT OKAY TO STRUGGLE ALONE. TO STAY SILENT.

God has us exactly where He wants us. We just have to remember that just like Job, it’s not all about us. It’s about the greater purpose. It’s about spiritual warfare. It’s about having FAITH in a God who can speak things into existence.

We must continue to lead by example. Don’t stay silent. Keep talking through the struggle. Keep taking it one moment at a time. God uses the broken. He is also using us through our struggle with mental health issues, too.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Starbucks

I am sitting in a Starbucks right now. The people around me are typing away on their computers. Scrolling through their phones and generally not wanting to interact. Every once in a while I see a couple of people come in during a break from the office building next door. They chat with each other while they are here but they don’t stick around.

I wonder what is going on in the lives of the people around me that led them to isolate from the rest of the world in the solitude that comes with a coffee shop. Maybe they are here because it is the only place they have to get some work done without someone asking something of them. Maybe they just want to feel like they are a part of something, anything, but there is no way they are willing to risk going to a place where they may be turned away. Starbucks is a safe place. Maybe they just needed a cup of coffee and there is nothing more to it than that.

I wonder if any of these people are here against all odds? Maybe they have agoraphobia and the fact that they are in this place at all is a testament to their incredible strength. This make me want to go around high fiving people yelling out “I’m proud of you! Good job.”

Maybe someone is here because they are trying to hide from someone. There is a responsibility that is being pushed aside; amends that are refusing to be made. Who did they hurt that they don’t want to face? What did they do that is so terrible that facing the other person is so hard? It makes me want to go around yelling out, “Face it before it’s too late!” Maybe someone is here because they are processing the thing they wanted to say but never got the chance to say. Regret is painful.

I wonder if there is anyone here who is waiting for their appointment that is coming up any moment. What are they feeling? Are they excited because they are waiting for a job interview at a place they have always wanted to work? Are they nervous because they are waiting to talk to their doctor about what to do with the diagnosis? Are they wondering what they will tell their loved ones? Will it be good or will it be bad?

I see a couple of guys that just walked in. They look like they came right from the gym. They earned that latte!! Something I have not done.

This place makes me wonder. There is a safety that can be found here. It pains me when I think of the men in Philadelphia who lost that safety and were arrested because the color of their skin made them suspect. They don’t know the safety I take for granted.

This place makes me wonder why I don’t wonder more. Everywhere I go I see people doing their thing. Living their lives and I don’t think about them at all. Why don’t I think about them? I should. Everyone has a story. But how many people never get to tell their story because I wasn’t willing to look up from my phone long enough to hear it? How many people in this world have been told that their story doesn’t matter? Told so many times that they now believe it. Even though it isn’t true.  It makes me want to run around yelling, “Your story matters! You matter!”

But I don’t. I sit here keeping to myself because that is what is socially acceptable. But I can’t be ok with that. I just can’t.  God help me to not be ok with that. Give me the chance to hear their story. And help me to share yours.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

On the Edge of Expectation

“Expectation is the quickest way to disappointment.”

The first time I encountered the painful truth of disappointment, I was a young child. Growing up, I quickly learned that when you went to the grocery store with Mom, you sure didn’t ask for anything because you know you weren’t going to get anything, and there was no reason to ask. “Mom, can I……..” and then you got THE LOOK. You know the look I’m talking about, just kinda stops you in your tracks. You just shut your mouth and kept on walking. And then, I found myself disappointed in other situations as well. I remember one time we had been told that we were going to go to the beach, and I was so excited! I had packed up all my things, eagerly anticipating the trip to one of the best places ever! It was gonna be great! My parents, my sister and I going somewhere we rarely get to go. So I got up that morning, and I walked into the living room, and everyone was asleep. Okay, I guess they’ll sleep in a little more. So I waited. And I waited. It’s almost noon, and I walk in there, and asked my Dad if we were still going, and he said no. I still remember the crushing disappointment as I realized that what I had been looking forward to was not going to happen.

Through a vicious cycle of dysfunctional relationships and boyfriends, I found myself disappointed time after time. After some time, I began to realize that it was what I was expecting from them that was leading me to being disappointed. If I didn’t expect anything from them, I could never be disappointed right? So yeah. This refusal of expectation thus also led into my spiritual life, where I also figured that I would most likely expect too much from God and be disappointed again.

It was through CR that I found out that I had this whole expectation thing all wrong. It wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting that was leading me to feelings of disappointment, it was who I was expecting things from. My expectations of others was unhealthy, and stemmed from my inner need to control those people. What was I expecting from those other people? Was I expecting them to fix me? Was I expecting them to fill the empty hole that was left in my heart? Was I expecting them to to essentially be God?

The Serenity Prayer says that we are to take, as Jesus did, this sinful world AS IT IS, NOT AS I WOULD HAVE IT. So, in my realm, my expectations were saying that I was not accepting the world as it is, I was accepting the world as I wanted it to be, as I thought it should be. In my mental health recovery, I cannot expect other people to fix me, as that is not their responsibility. I cannot expect other people to always be there on-call even at 4am in the morning, I have to respect their boundaries. I cannot expect other people to be able to read my mind, I have to take responsibility to reach out to others and honestly, truthfully let them know what’s going on and how I feel. I cannot expect that my psychiatrist is going to know exactly what combination of medications that I need, as it is trial and error, and it is going to take time, patience, and honest consistency to continue to coordinate care to find the right combo for my specific needs. I cannot expect that it will only take a few sessions with a counselor to process a lifetime of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, just like it took a process to get to where I am, it is going to take a process to get to where I am going.

The real question is, what am I expecting of God? What am I expecting of myself? If expectations are what I am seeking, then what does the Bible say?

Matthew 6:33 “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”

Jeremiah 33:3 “Call to me and I will answer and show you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

Proverbs 23:17-18 “Don’t envy sinners but always continue to fear the Lord. You will be rewarded for this; Your hope will not be disappointed.”

Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply every need of yours…”

…and perhaps one of my favorites…

Hosea 2:15 “God is the only one who can make a valley of trouble a door of hope.”

Where do your expectations lie?

edge-of-expectation-elephant

 

April Brantley
National CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

I don’t wanna!

As I write this I am sitting outside. Why is that important? For the most part it isn’t something that you should ever need to care about. Today however, it is important.

It is important because I don’t really want to be sitting out here. I live in Duluth MN and even though this is the first day of Summer I have a blanket over my lap because it is cold out; cold enough for me to need a blanket anyways.  My home is close to Lake Superior which makes for some beautiful scenery but when the wind blows off the lake I get to enjoy the air conditioning effects of water with an average temperature of really really cold.

I’m more of a southern kind of guy. I like hot weather and sunshine, not 9 months of winter. I really want to live in southern California but I haven’t won the lottery so that isn’t going to happen. Florida sounds nice but everything that lives in the wild is designed to kill you. I am leaning more toward Texas right now. Near the gulf because I want the water. Ya, that sounds nice.

At this point you may be thinking, “Nate, go inside or move and quit your whining.” Fair enough. Which brings me back to my first point, I am not here because I want to be. I am here because, at least for the moment, this is where I have to be.

God hasn’t released me from this geographic location, and because of the lack of sun I am outside by doctor’s orders. Being outside and being active are a part of taking care of my mental health. And my mental health as of late has been bad. Really bad. Scary bad.

So I went to the doctor yesterday. A new doctor because my old one moved. I don’t particularly like doctors, not because of who they are as people I am fine to hang out with them all day long, but because of what is involved the job they do. They get all up in my business. I don’t like to be examined. I don’t like that I pay them to do it. I did it anyways. Because that is what living in recovery with a mental health issue is. Doing things that I don’t want to do because I know that they are good for me.

Going to the doctor is good for me. Sitting outside is good for me. Exercising is good for me. Taking my medication is good for me. Taking my vitamins is good for me. Being honest with those who are a part of my recovery is good for me. So I do it.

Sitting in my Laz-Y-Boy watching Netflix all day is NOT good for me. So I don’t. But that is what I want to do.

People tell me quite regularly that what I do, being a mental health advocate, is brave. Getting up in front of people, sharing my story, sharing my vulnerabilities. I don’t see it as brave though. I see it as a way to show people something that God showed me a long time ago. Growth only comes when I am uncomfortable. I have to be doing the things I don’t want to do but know are good for me. I have to be willing to step out of my own head and do something that is bigger than me. And when I do I reap the reward.

I love what I do. I love who I do it with. Being on the Celebrate Recovery National Team is amazing. The opportunities I have had are incredible. I have been able to hear on multiple occasions “You saved my life.” Something many people don’t get the chance to hear once. I don’t take for granted the opportunity that God has given me. And it is from Him. I know this. I am not where I am because of me.

Living in Duluth I have met some amazing people who will always have a special place in my heart. People who have walked this road with me and helped carry me through the times that I couldn’t carry myself.

And I have been blessed with a wife who loves to exercise so when I go for a walk I have someone to come along with me. Sometimes she kinda has to drag me. But either way I get to be with her.

Recovery is not about making life easy. Managing your mental health is not about making life easy. “Easy Living” is an oxymoron. Recovery is living on purpose. Letting God guide you in a way that makes the life you experience an adventure, and not feel like a punishment.

I am still cold. I am still struggling. I still have stress. I still have debt. I still have days when giving up seems like a viable option. I still have all of the things that make life hard. But the thing that I do have-that I didn’t have before-is HOPE. Jesus gave me that, He uses the world to shape it. I am on a path He is directing. And that is right where I want to be.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

Breaking the Silence

Depression is a monster, a foul beast that creeps into the mind, a storm that torments the soul, wreaking havoc, and destroying hope. I struggle with that beast daily. My name is April, a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with depression and anxiety.

Ephesians 4:29 states, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to others.” I hope that my story can provide some hope and encouragement. I was born the last day of June, on a Sunday. During my mother’s pregnancy with me, the doctors had told her that I was going to be born mentally disabled because at 8 months, I had stopped growing. My father, at that time, did not believe that I was his. At 19 years of age, with my father disbelieving I was his, and my mother struggling with depression, my mother still decided to keep me and raise a child who was to be mentally disabled. Unfortunately for that doctor, his diagnosis was completely wrong.

Once I was born there was no denying that I was my father’s child because I looked just like him. Through most of my childhood my parents struggled to make ends meet, causing stress and tension in the household, and many arguments. With my Dad being self-employed and just starting out in his business, it took its toll on their finances and on their new marriage. Still we thrived, and I lived as an only child for five years.

Throughout those five wonderful years, I spent weekdays at my grandma’s house so my parents could work and every weekend I could with my grandparents. Those were the best times of my childhood. My Mema and Papa believed faithfully in Jesus Christ and went to church every Sunday, and took me along. When I was just a few weeks from turning 5 years of age, my little sister was born. It was a huge surprise to me and I was completely jealous because I didn’t want to share the attention. But I grew to love my sister and to protect her. Soon after my sister was born it seemed that my mother was spending a lot more time with my sister and less time with me. I was deeply hurt. My mother began to get angry with me over little things, and I didn’t understand why. It seemed that my mother had developed a special bond with my sister, one that I just could not seem to compete with. Although try as I may, I could not garner the love and attention that I so desperately needed.

Being a daddy’s girl, I LOVED my Daddy with everything I had. He drove a big log truck, and I would be so excited when he would come home. I was so proud of my father. But my father was gone for long hours, and was gone even on the weekends. I rarely saw my father because he was a workaholic, a self-employed businessman trying to make ends meet. Money was always an issue. There were fights between my parents, and I tried not to get in the way. Sometimes I thought I was the reason they didn’t have any money.

I tried to protect my sister from everything so that my sister would not have to experience the emotional trauma that I was going through. We got along great, and I still remember the smiles and laughter we had as we played at Grandma’s house every weekend. We would sing praise and worship songs while I played the keyboard and Grandma sang. And boy, she sang so beautifully. I had even given my life to Jesus Christ. Every Sunday. For a month. I just loved the attention which I did not seem to get at home, and I did not fully understand what I was doing. But at the time, nothing could have taken away my happiness. Except cancer.

My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember her losing her hair, and we would play dress up with her wigs, and I would help her with her breathing machine. She would always say that she was going to get well enough to run circles around the yard with us, and I believed her. She couldn’t possibly lie to me, right?!?!

I trusted that she would get better. I didn’t know what cancer was at age 11. Looking back on it, she had been trying to tell me goodbye when I left her that day, but I didn’t know. I knew she wasn’t feeling well, so I left her my teddy bear, believing that she would be okay with him by her side. November 30, 1996, my grandmother passed away. That was the worst day of my life, and it caught me by complete surprise. I was not expecting to hear the words, “She’s gone”. That was the day that the illusion of my life, and everything I thought I knew and trusted about it, was destroyed. I began to hate God, question His existence, and if I even mattered to Him. I was angry with God. He had taken away the only security blanket that I had, the only life I had ever known. I slowly became an atheist, and would continue walking that rebellious path for 12 years.

After that day, I began to slip into a deep depression. The kids at school bullied me daily and I hung out with the kids that no one seemed to want to hang out with, but who accepted who I was without judgment. In eighth grade, as I got off the bus, I was told I walked like a kangaroo, every day, without fail. It began to take its toll, and I had lost my virginity, smoked my first joint, and my first cigarette, all at age 13.

Working full time, my parents didn’t get to spend much time with me, and I had trouble making and keeping friends. I felt completely alone. I hated school, and I began to hate myself. In high school, I sought out the attention of males because it was the only thing I knew how to do. I had learned that if I gave them sexual attention, then they would give me attention back, just not the kind of attention that ever filled my needs. I stole boyfriends from others, and persuaded guys to cheat on their girlfriends. I began to be violent towards my sister, physically and emotionally abusing her because I had nowhere to place my anguish. I was no longer a good girl.

In school, I was made fun of and isolated because I didn’t fight back. I reasoned with myself and made the excuse that if it was me that was getting made fun of, then it was preventing the bullying of someone else. I justified it and begun to accept the things that I heard, believing the lies that I was not good enough; that I didn’t belong. That I deserved the pain.

A few months later, I decided that I did not want to, and did not need to live anymore. God hated me or didn’t exist, my family wasn’t available for me, and my grandmother had been taken from me. I wrote a poem about suicide and showed it to one person, who told the guidance counselor, and I was summoned to her office. I then confessed that I did not want to live anymore, and I was sent to a local mental health facility to be evaluated and voluntarily committed. I stayed for a week, and that week was the most horrible experience.

As if I didn’t get made fun of enough in school, I was made fun of by the kids in the co-ed psych ward, and the nurses and doctors did not seem to care. In fact, the first day there I was not aware that I was supposed to choose what I wanted for my meals for the next day. No one took the time to explain anything to me. How in the world could I make a decision about what I wanted to eat when I could not even make the decision about whether or not I wanted to live? In that ward, I learned that if I just pretended that I was okay, that if I showed that I was happy and could manage, then things were okay. All I had to do was pretend and hide the pain, the hurt, and the suffering. So I bottled it up. After a week, I was discharged because they said I was stable enough to go home. However, I was definitely far from it.

I was still totally against God and church, only choosing to go again because of someone I dated. I wasn’t there for God. I was there because I wanted attention. Fast forward a few more relationships, and then I was engaged to be married. I met someone else who was engaged to be married, and I fell in love. Both of our engagements fell apart, and I’d like to say that it wasn’t my fault…but I’d be lying. We found ourselves fast, best friends who could just hang out and have fun.

I got married at age 22 to that best friend and the love of my life. Him and I fought constantly, and I found myself in a deep depression again. I felt isolated and inferior at my own job. I struggled with my anger and uncontrollable emotions, and I was someone that no one wanted to be around. Because of this, I was kept at the same position for years without consideration of getting a promotion. I could not control my depression and I lashed out in anger and pain. One day, I just lost it. I broke down. I completely lost all emotional control, and I was sent home from my job. Because they did not seem to care to ask, nor did they fully understand what was going on with me, there was no way they would have known what was to come next.

I went home and immediately attempted to take my life. I thought it would take me away from all the pain and suffering. It was supposed to be my freedom from pain. My attempt failed, leaving me emotionally overwhelmed. I had to deal with it, by myself, by my choice. I never told anyone about that unsuccessful attempt on my life, not even my husband nor my coworkers. I kept it bottled up inside.

Years later someone was hired at my work that MUST have been sent by God. I was still a practicing atheist at this point, so I was skeptical when he began talking about God and what He had done in his own life. He told me how his church was planning to start this thing called Celebrate Recovery. I looked it up, so desperate for this hope and healing that I was hearing about. But I had to wait. And I didn’t want to wait. As time went on, I began to lose all hope of being healed. I thought to myself, “God, if you are truly alive and well, then please show yourself to me. I only want to be happy. Lord I NEED to be happy. Or I need to die” I even went to my knees, and pleaded with God to just take my life, for I was not worthy of living. I pleaded and pleaded with Him to take the pain away, but it did not happen. Still it remained, and still I lived.

I was invited to church, took a seat, and waited for it to start. It just so happened that the preacher was preaching a sermon series on “How to Be Happy,” based on the beatitudes of Jesus Christ. The pastor was preaching on the HOPE choice, Principle Two which states, “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and that He has the power to help me recover.” And the verse that started my whole recovery, “Happy are those who mourn for they will be comforted,” Matthew 5:4.

For the first time, I had hope that I would be comforted in my pain if I followed Jesus, so I rededicated my life back to Christ. I so desperately wanted a change from the life I was living.

I purchased a Celebrate Recovery bible, eager to get started on that hope and healing I kept hearing about. When I received it, I the first verse that jumped out at me was, Psalm 25:17, “Relieve the troubles of my heart, and free me from my anguish.” That was God telling me that He heard me, He had heard my angry heart crying out for help, and this was His answer.

In August of 2015, our Celebrate Recovery began its 30 days of prayer, and in September, launched the step studies for leadership training. I wasn’t there to help anyone else. I was there to fix myself. I was broken, hurting, and desperate for love, hope, and healing. I had no intentions of being a leader, a volunteer, or anything else. I started attending the step studies, and opening up was the hardest thing I had ever done. Having built up my inner fortress around my heart and soul for so long, I did not want to tear it down, much less let anyone in.

But, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, we must do the thing we think we cannot do… and so I did. I began answering those questions within the step study book, and writing down answers to those difficult questions. I dreaded attending CR every Friday night. I dreaded having to answer those questions in front of everyone. I was ashamed of my depression, and I wanted to hide it. But every Friday I still showed up. Keep coming back right?

Working the steps, I was able to ask forgiveness from my sister for the pain and suffering I had caused her. I was able to forgive my mother, and ask for forgiveness for how I had hurt her. We had that conversation the day that my mother had the test that eventually led her to find that she had a mass in her kidney, which later was revealed to be kidney cancer. It is through God’s grace that I was able to spend what little time I had left with my mother and show her the love that I refused to show her through my stubborn anger. One year later on December 1st I was able to be there for her when she needed me when she was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer after being taken to the ER, something we were all not expecting. I was able to take care of her like she had taken care of me when I was a child when she came home and into Hospice care. I was able to hold her hand as she took her last breath on December 29th. I thank God that through CR, our relationship was restored so I could experience all of those beautiful, painful things.

During those 30 days of prayer I felt that God was calling me to volunteer in CR, but I asked why me? I was not the person for the job. He answered, “My child, who is more qualified to take someone through the darkness than someone who has been through the darkness themselves?” I went to my God-sent friend of mine and I asked, “Have you ever struggled with something that God has called you to do?” The answer was so simple but so powerful. “Yes, I have struggled. But I have never been disappointed when I have answered that call.” So I signed up to volunteer as a co-leader for a small group.

1 Corinthians 7:17 states, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” And for the first time, I took a leap of faith.

A few months later, I began to sink into another major depressive episode. I attempted to hide it, but it came to a point that I could hide it no longer. I could no longer deny that I was struggling with depression.

 I was trying to fight a fight by myself that I was powerless to fight.

One Sunday in June, two years ago, I didn’t want to fight back anymore. I sat in my driveway, determined to end my life. I sent only one text, which wasn’t expected to be immediately read, but it led to a 2-hour phone call that saved my life. After the crisis was over, I was gently reminded that I had made the choice to continue living. That meant there was still some fight left in me. And let me tell you, that was God’s strength, not mine, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

I made the choice to begin to seek treatment. I began to reach out for help. I began to open up for the first time in my life, and boy did I have a lot to say. I sought professional help. No longer did I have to hide the fact that I was suffering with depression. I now realize that I am not my depression. That I am worthy of love and grace. That I am worthy of being alive. That I am worthy of recovery. I have a choice to recover. This month I will receive my two-year coin for continuing to make that choice. I earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to Him, and He has the power to help me recover.

If you are coming to Celebrate Recovery for the first time, I just want to tell you that I am thankful you are here. I am thankful you came through those doors against the fear of the unknown.

It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s NOT okay to give up.

By reaching out for help and through talking about mental health struggles, we shall begin to open the dialogue for mental health recovery and break free from the bondage and chains of the stigma that bounds us to shame and guilt. We no longer have to be chained and bound. We can be free. I still struggle, but I cannot, and will not, give up. If you are struggling, ME TOO. It’s time to break the silence.

1 Corinthians 1: 3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

I am so thankful and so blessed to be a Mental Health Champion and part of the National CR Mental Health Team.

Thank you for letting me share.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

Purpose in Suffering

I am not a fan of suffering, of struggling, of enduring hardships. Yet right there in the serenity prayer that we read it clearly states that hardships are a pathway to peace. Well surely there must be another pathway, right? There’s got to be more than one way to peace rather than to follow the yellow brick road. It says that hardships are A pathway, not THE pathway… there is no possible way that a loving God would allow me to suffer, to put me through these difficult trials and situations. I thought if I loved him that I would be free from evil? I mean I’ve heard before that God won’t give me more than I can handle, and God knows that I can’t handle much so surely he knows not to give me very much, just the easy stuff. God can give it to one of those stronger warriors I keep hearing about. That’s not me.

Yeah. We all know it doesn’t quite work like that. But I have had this conversation before. I have asked God these questions, gave God these stipulations, and questioned why he would allow me to go through so much that I could not possibly bear anymore. In fact, I have felt like that for most of this year. I haven’t felt very strong. I felt as if things have been piling up on top of one another, suffocating me in my struggling, overloading my abilities to effectively cope with life. I have been angry with God, questioning why I have to endure such hardship, such pain, to fight an ongoing mental health battle at times. Well, God has an answer, and of course it wasn’t the answer that I was hoping for, but it’s the truth.

 

God allows us to suffer and to struggle because it is a gift.

 

God allows us to go through the darkness, to struggle in the midst of our chaos and our unexpected situations because there is a greater purpose in store. Nate shared this quote with me, and I found it quite fitting. “God won’t keep anything from you that will make you more like Christ.” In the Bible, Christ suffered. There mere fact that we are following Christ on a spiritual journey does not exempt us from the darkness. Instead, we are taught how to use the darkness. When we say yes to God and give him our will, we are asking him to change us to be more like Christ. As humans, we can be kind of stubborn. Therefore, God often utilizes pain and suffering to change us. Pain changes people.

 

Suffering allows us to learn how to cope, to be resilient, it highlights our strengths, it allows us to be able to appreciate the blessings that God gives us and has in store for us. Our suffering allows us to be closer to Christ. God uses suffering to strengthen our faith. God uses the darkness of suffering to allow his light to shine brighter, the light that is within all of us who have Christ within us.

 

We all suffer. However, we have a choice as to how we will the let pain of suffering change us, either to make us bitter, or make us better.

 

1 Peter 2 21

 

Thank you God for your gift.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-factor