Struggle

God Doesn't Waste Pain

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All along there was Jesus.

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During my time with Anthologies, I have heard and read many stories. Some are filled with joy, some are filled with blessing, some with suffering, and some with pain. But all of them display God’s work through human lives. I sat down with Cathy and was quickly made aware that this story is one of pain that reveals God’s steadfast presence, His provision, and His use of the pain we cause each other to reveal Himself to us.

The story of Cathy’s childhood is replete with pain: physical and mental illnesses, dysfunction, alcoholism, misery, injustice, abuse, abandonment, suicide, and legalism.

Hers is a story of how sin wreaks havoc in children’s lives, of how people either knowingly or unknowingly bring such deep harm to each other that some only see escape in death.

Hers is a story of a schizophrenic mother forced to live in institutional care away from her children, repeatedly attempting suicide, eventually cancer took her life.

Hers is a story of a father abandoning children emotionally and physically; a father that divorced his mentally ill wife, remarried and brought one of his daughters with him when he moved to Florida, leaving the others behind.

Hers is a story of siblings torn apart, some forced to live in abusive and crowded foster homes; a brother who passed away from leukemia and another who committed suicide – his step-daughter died from an accidental overdose just 9 months after.

Hers is a story of a Baptist-run foster home with instability due to legalism and constantly rotating foster parents; sometimes they were good, sometimes they weren’t.

Hers is a story of having just enough to live through college and summers where a home wasn’t guaranteed.

But that is not all of the story. All along, there was hope. A hope that can’t be undone by pain or erased by sin.

Cathy encountered Jesus while living in a Baptist-run foster home. She watched a Christian film at church that day and accepted Him as her savior and Lord. She remembers seeing a rainbow in the sky that evening, marking the beginning of her transformation into a woman of faith. She finally met Jesus, the same Jesus who carried her family, sometimes unbeknownst to her.

All along there was Jesus.

Jesus who strengthened Cathy through her suffering with a work ethic that got her into Cedarville University despite a lack of resources, showing His truth through Ephesians 3:20, which has become her life verse. He blessed her with extended family and friends to provide a home each summer.

Jesus who saved her mother with His grace, healing her enough to get her out of the institution and back to her children before cancer set in.

Jesus who revealed Himself through the brother who died while still in high school from leukemia; sharing the gospel through his testimony to all who would listen.

Jesus who led her father to salvation, and during his third marriage to a Godly woman brought her remaining siblings into his home.

Jesus who showed her brother His love and gospel through Cathy before he took his own life; and showed her Psalm 116:1-6.

Jesus who brought Cathy and her sister into His service using their testimony to fuel His ministry; Cathy serves the mentally ill and her sister works in an inner-city ministry, creating Christ-filled rap music.

Jesus who empowered Cathy with grace to comfort her sister-in-law with the love that only He can generate as she endured the loss of her husband and daughter just months apart.

Jesus who brought a man into Cathy’s life with whom she can share her love of Jesus for a lifetime; together they have three children who all love and serve the Lord. They consider their house church to be family.

Jesus who gave Cathy a love for us that she would share her heartbreaking story of pain and ultimate redemption so we could know the truth of our Lord Jesus even more than we do now; and bring comfort to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

As Cathy says, “I want to be used by God.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

 

Author: Jonathan Allain

In Your Weakness I am Strong

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When lies take a foothold inside his mind, Josiah knows from years of experience that suicidal thoughts will soon creep in, and he will make plans to destroy himself.  Once, he’d convinced himself that the world would be better off if he wasn’t here and he headed to the train tracks.  He’d fully intended to step in front of the next train, but God had a different idea.

Until now, suffering two to three times a year with depression to the point of making plans to kill himself was not something Josiah Stroh has felt comfortable sharing.  He thought people might doubt him or question why he’s in ministry.

“There is a social stigma associated with any mental illness, of which depression is one, especially from people who have never experienced it before.  It’s not discussed much in the church, but in my house church and community we talk about it a lot.  It’s a very real problem when your brain’s not working right, you know it’s not working right, and there’s no real explanation.  Telling someone with depression to cheer up or pull yourself up by your bootstraps is like telling someone who has cancer to just stop having your cancer.  It’s not an answer!  It doesn’t help.  That’s the problem; it’s not something that you can control.”

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After fifteen years of suffering its symptoms, Josiah feels strongly that depression, or any mental illness, needs to be shared.  He described what depression looks like for him, what techniques he uses to combat his symptoms, and the support he’s constructed to, in his own words, “make sure he doesn’t kill himself.”

“It usually starts with not as much joy or interest in life any more.  A dampening, if you will.  Normally I enjoy things: the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and life is good.  I feel joy until all that emotion gets depressed or squished.”

“When the darkness starts to come, it’s brutal.  I can still function and do my work well, but relationally, I am closed down. I feel like people are simply tolerating my presence.  Lies begin with thoughts like, ‘life really isn’t as good as it should be’ or ‘the world would be better off if I wasn’t here.’ But where do they come from?  Is it a spiritual attack or because I didn’t eat right, or sleep well, or haven’t exercised?  Is it physiological or a chemical imbalance?  Is it one thing, or all things building together?”

When the lies take a foothold inside his mind, he knows from years of experience that suicidal thoughts will soon creep in and he will begin making plans.

During a really dark time in college, he hated himself and figured God felt the same way.  He was convinced he should destroy himself.  He walked to the train tracks near his university intending to step in front of a moving train.  He hurled accusations at God as he went.

“God, you don’t love me!  I’ve got no reason to exist!”

A few paces from the track a man he’d met at a Campus Crusade meeting was pushing his bike along the path.  “He recognized me, which was significant because there were 700 people a week at our Crusade meetings.”

The man asked him, “How are you doing?”

Josiah lied and said, “I’m fine.”

The man looked puzzled. “You’ve just got a really weird aura about you.”

Josiah blew him off and kept walking.  From over his shoulder he heard the man say, “I’ll pray for you.”

“It kinda threw me a little bit.  I said, “God, how dare you send someone.”  I heard Him say in my brain, “That’s not the only one I’ve got praying for you.”  That really ticked me off.  I said, “Why would you do this?”  Then, as clear as if someone had said it aloud, I heard God say, “I would move Heaven and Earth to get to you because I love you.”  I stopped. “Okay. This is good,” I thought.  I turned around and went home.  It was the first time I felt truly loved by anyone.  It blew me away.”

Josiah uses that experience as his first defense when his symptoms begin.  He remembers where he was when God came and got him, “when I wasn’t worth getting, but He still did it. I can hold on to this truth and ride out all the feelings.”

His next step is to contact his quad.  “My brothers.  They know I deal with it and they know it’s not rational. They are quick to remind me: ‘This is what the gospel is, this is who God is, and this is who you are.’  Another level is a handful of people I deal with daily, my co-workers, who can be that check, and help keep me from doing anything stupid.”

“I find when I’m helping people and interacting with others, it helps in a small way to deflate the feelings.  A lot of depression is centered on ‘me, me, me,’ very inward focused.  I quickly try to serve somebody else, get someone a cup of coffee, anything to get the eyes off of me helps quicken the cycle.”

There are points where Josiah has turned to professional counseling.  “If it’s physiological, there’s a chemical problem in your brain and it makes sense to try and get it fixed.  But mostly it’s community, it’s having people who care enough to say ‘I love you, I’m not going to try to rationalize what you're going through because that’s not possible. I’m here with you until this is over, and then we can have fun again.”

He would recommend to anyone battling depression to tell the people who love you what’s going on.  “Until you are willing to be vulnerable, you will go through it alone.  And going through it alone is very, very dangerous.  It’s just you and the voices you are hearing.  Listen to the voices of your friends who you trust and you know aren’t going to steer you wrong.”

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Josiah says it’s freeing to know that he doesn’t have to be strong all the time.  “There are people that God has sent to catch me when I am weak. Praise God, I can be there to catch them when they are weak.  Depression sucks, but there’s that verse about Paul where he talks about the thorn in the flesh, and he asks God to take it away.  And God says, ‘no I have given you this to keep you humble and in your weakness I am strong.’  So when my depression comes I have learned to rely on Christ and the body of Christ.  In my weakness He shows himself strong, not once, but every time.”

 

 

Author: Carrie Kempisty

Photographer: Sarah Maiger

Hustle, Hush

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The hustle returns. My striving is starving me. I have to ask God to nourish my soul and fill me once again. My life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush.

"You need to be better." The summary of my childhood. I hustled to be better than my three older siblings, to be the perfect daughter. I was terrified of breaking the rules, and made mental notes to do or not do what my siblings were doing in order to please my mom and dad. My parents rarely disciplined me because I would melt if they used that tone of voice or hint that they were disappointed. "You need to be better," rippled into my teen years too, but my desire to be seen as perfect now included the opinion of everybody else. All A's. Student body president. Team captain of the soccer team. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

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My perfectionism was insatiable, eating away at every good thing in my life. While playing soccer as a freshman in high school, I lost over 30 pounds. I wasn’t eating and I was working out all the time, even after soccer practice. Though my parents took me to every professional to help me, and my friends and family tried to nourish me with their love, I kept on starving. I never felt deserving of any love I received.

That year I was stripped of my life. I had to quit soccer. I lost the upcoming student body election. I was empty. But God.

Jesus said "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13)

That year God filled me up again, not with food, but with himself.  God used a youth pastor to tell me the story of the woman at the well in John 4 who was trying to fill herself with men. I was the woman at the well, just trying to fill myself with other's approval. No amount of hustle could save me. No number on the scale. No grade card. No checkmark on the never-ending list Satan himself was crafting for me. Jesus Christ shredded that list and saved my life. He gave me freedom from myself by giving me himself. He filled me with the spring of water welling up to eternal life. "You need to be better" transformed into Jesus whispering, "You need Me."

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My older cousin reached out to me at this point in my story and mentored me. She shared that she had the same struggle, but that God was using it to pull her to himself. Up until that part of my life, I idolized my cousin. I wanted to be her. But God. He showed me again that no human is perfect. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23.)

God has given me so much joy and freedom in my life since he started to invite me into his story of grace. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love." Psalm 139 says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  God has overwhelmed me with his love and satisfied my soul. Praise the Lord, I am an imperfect person loved by a perfect God.

What does that look like now, over ten years later? God led me to become a counselor so that I could help others like I was helped. God has given me multiple opportunities to encourage others to the path of freedom, much like my cousin did with me. There have been so many times I've had to ask God to change the inner dialogue I have towards glorifying Him instead of myself, especially in times of transition. Getting married. Having a baby. Starting a house church. Quitting my job to take care of my son.

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If I am not careful, perfectionism can creep its way back into every detail of my life. Some days, I'm pinteresting how to make baby millet cereal or trying to make the most gourmet potluck dish for house church or staring at my post baby stretch marks in the mirror or running mile after mile and I'm left empty. The hustle returns.  On these days,  I pray that God would show me that my striving is starving me. "God, nourish my soul and fill me once again." So my life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush. This side of heaven this will be my soundtrack. Hustle, hush, hustle, hush.  "I will quiet you with my love."  And he does. Every time.

 

 

Author: Jillian Vincent

Photographer: Linnea Banz

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