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I am overwhelmed.

The last three days of my life have been filled with powerful stories, beautiful music, compassionate souls, and an irrepressible sense of faith. The North American Christian Convention is the first time I’ve been surrounded by so much grace and belief in God and I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience. Today’s sermon by Jeff Vines of Christ’s Church of the Valley, San Dimas, and his utter transparency of the struggles in his life inspired me to do the same today, with the hope that maybe someone with the same kind of struggles and the same kind of pain, may find some comfort in my story.

I’ve been told I have a nice smile so I like to do it often without bias and without hesitation. But behind that smile is a person who has struggled through years of depression and anxiety, both of which has caused me innumerable amounts of pain, money, experiences, and people. It is an invisible disease that takes over a person’s life and that can be so crippling that it’s hard to get out of bed, eat, or take part in the simple joy’s of life. It’s difficult to describe to those who have never experienced depression exactly what it feels like, but it is a sadness that can overtake the soul. It’s a weight that is carried day in and day out until it feels like you can’t carry it anymore.

The first time I tried to take my own life was when I was 15 years old. I was struggling with my faith in God and bewildered by the overwhelming melancholy that had pervaded my every thought and movement. I felt so alone. Thankfully, I did not succeed and through the guidance and compassion of my parents, I’m still here. After that attempt, my mother gave me this passage from the bible that still helps me today—

The Lord himself goes before
you and will be with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
– Deuteronomy 31:8

I would love to say that I am fully healed and that my life is perfect and I am whole and unbroken and happy and at peace but that is not the case. I am not a perfect person. I can be cruel and unforgiving, misguided and lost, too stubborn and too proud.

When the beginnings of another dark depression began about four years ago, I told myself I could do it alone, that I was strong and that crying was weak, and that I had the answers as long as I could keep it together. The problem was that I couldn’t do it alone, vulnerability is not a weakness but a strength, and that I didn’t have all the answers because no one truly does. Again, God showed up in my life by bringing me someone who was kind and patient and loving. I truly believe that He placed by my side, someone who could encourage me to get help, to face my inner demons, and to learn to love myself.

Unfortunately depression is a mental illness that doesn’t just go away. A few months ago, I felt another bout of deep depression coming and I was angry and frustrated and questioned, if God really does exist then why does He put me through this over and over again? If He really is all powerful, if Jesus really died for my sins, if He really is my salvation then why does this keep happening to me again and again and again? I was again feeling lost and broken, without purpose or meaning.

About a month and a half ago, my sister asked me to accompany her on the piano at an open mic night. I love anything musical so I jumped at the chance until she told me it was at a church. I hesitated because in all honesty, the whole idea of being at a church and hanging out with Christians made me incredibly uncomfortable, especially with the way I’d been feeling. With her encouragement though and her assurance that Christians are normal people with their own problems and that they are not these perfect sinless people, I decided to go. What could it hurt?

There I met some amazing people that in a short time have shown me so much love and kindness and have welcomed me without hesitation and most of all have helped to reaffirm my faith in God. After the open mic, InsideOut Church LA‘s pastor, Mike Malatka, contacted me and asked me to be part of the worship team. Again, I hesitated telling myself I’m not religious enough, that I’ve made too many mistakes, and that my faith wasn’t strong enough. How could I be part of a church? I felt like a fraud. Again I spoke to my sister and again she reassured me that this church was not judgmental and that no one is perfect and that music made me happy so I should do it, if only for that reason alone, so I did.

I can’t pinpoint the exact instance it happened, but I know that the last month and a half has been a God moment, a true blessing in my life. I feel happier, I feel involved, and purposeful. I know that struggles will happen and that I will experience sadness but I will also experience joy. Most of all I know that God is there for me and that this is just a part of my story and that with God I will have a better story in my future.