Part of "A Journey to Charis"
It was a holiday weekend, nearly two years ago now. My journey had already seemed so long, and I was quite physically and emotionally spent. I felt like running away, so I did just that. Hastily, I grabbed my Bible and the keys to the van and said something in passing about how I needed to get out. Backing out of the driveway, I glimpsed my brother-in-law, arriving for his weekend visit. His eyes grew large and his head tilted in concern as I turned the corner and sped away with a half-hearted wave and a frown turning down the corners of my mouth.
After heading north on the freeway for a few minutes, I decided to exit and found my way to a park overlooking the ocean. I cracked the windows, breathed in the fresh, salty air and began to read a few Psalms. I had a lot of "why's" and I was desperately searching for something. Solace, comfort, healing, answers. To know that God remembered me, to know that He cared... something I knew to be true in my mind but that which was muddled and unclear in my heart.
Soon, I found myself walking through the neighborhood along the cliffs that erected themselves high above the Pacific. I sat on a wooden bench and looked out on the shimmering waters, watching the seagulls soar and dive, crying out in the wind.
What would it be like, I wondered. To spread my arms and soar off the cliffs and then be consumed by the foamy turquoise water. I entertained these thoughts for a few minutes, and then pushing them out of my mind, I began to cry out... cries that could only be heard inside my head, full of desperation and loneliness. I asked God what to do. Was I even on the right track with the treatments I had tried? Was there something I needed to do to bring about healing? Was the suffering meant for a purpose? I pleaded for answers, but only heard the waves crashing below, and felt my own salty tears streaming down my face.
I heard something in the near distance that diverted me away from my prayers. The footsteps grew closer on the asphalt road behind me and then crunched over the decomposed granite. Then they stopped altogether, and I could feel the presence of someone standing directly behind me. Certain I was going to be mugged, I found myself hoping it would happen quickly, so that I could get back to my thoughts and questions and prayers.
Then she questioned, "Are you okay?"
I turned my head sideways, trying to somehow conceal my teary face and reddened nose. "No, I'm actually not okay," I replied to a perfect stranger. She was an African-American woman who looked the picture of strength and health. Her eyebrows furrowed and the small dog she was walking sniffed inquisitively at my feet.
"What's going on? Would you like to talk about it?" she asked with a sensitive, kind cadence to her voice.
Not even knowing her name, I proceeded to tell her about how I was chronically ill with autoimmune and glandular issues. She specifically asked about my diet and affirmed that I was on the right track. Then she asked about how I was mentally handling things and that she understood how tiring this journey must be. Did I have a therapist to talk to and did I feel like that was a safe place to be? Yes, I did feel safe there. It was as if God was answering all the questions and doubts I had just confided in Him only moments before.
"My name is Daphne, by the way," she said. "Would it be ok if I gave you a hug?" I nodded and we embraced.
"Do you see that house, two houses in there?" Daphne asked as I looked in the direction of her finger. I nodded. "Well, I rent the place in back. If you ever need to talk about anything, you can come see me, ok? You are going to get through this... keep on doing what you are doing."
Thanking her, I watched as she walked off with the little dog leading the way. I was so comforted that God, with His kind and generous heart, gave me such a tangible answer so quickly. It helped me to hold on to hope.
At this point on my journey, I knew I had physical health issues, but I hadn't officially been diagnosed with major clinical depression and complex PTSD. This past weekend, as I read the account of a pastor's son who had been suffering with mental health issues for years and ended his life, I could relate well to his story and his pain, because I, too, experience the affliction and despair that accompanies mental illness. There are a lot of us out there, trying to do the best that we can, longing for the time that we can fully rest in Jesus' arms. We need Daphne's to lovingly speak kindness and compassion, hope and encouragement into our lives. We need tender hugs and the knowledge that you will be there if we need to talk... that you will understand or at least try to. We need you to gently point the way to God without boiling things down to Christian cliches. Most of all, we need the grace of God... because it is often trying just to make it through the day.
Friends, it is difficult to know what is going on in anyone's mind. Err on the side of extravagant grace, because you never know how your words may be offering hope from Jesus to a weary and troubled mind.