Treat them as Gentiles and Tax collectors

“…let him be to you as a Gentiles and a Tax collector.” Matthew 18:17

I walked out of church this Sunday with a skip in my step all because of this verse.

 

This year has been a battle of forgiveness; learning to forgive myself and others.

Myself, well I found that slightly easier. I was able to write down all the things I needed to forgive myself for and learn to deal with the mistakes head on. I could forgive my flaws because I knew I could fix them and I suppose came to understand God’s forgiveness for me.

Forgiving others; that is another story.

This has been a year of ups and downs as many of you know and within it there has been a lot of relationships hurt and broken. I knew I needed to forgive them and well I was trying, quite a lot. However, something was missing. I was able to forgive them outwardly; I could be civil, have conversations and act like it had all blown over. Inside my thoughts were different. I would remind myself of how I had felt hurt by them and get frustrated at why they didn’t seem to face the music of their own actions.

Really, I was acting forgiveness without actually forgiving.

On Sunday, as the speaker came to his final point he read the verse “…let him be to you as a Gentiles and a Tax collector.” (Matt 18:17). A friend and I turned to each other with raised eyebrows as she said HARSH. To be honest, hearing this at first I had a slight smirk – I thought “knew it, I have the right to feel this way – I can treat them as “gentiles” and “tax collectors”.” The problem, I was thinking of the way the communities treated these people not the way Jesus treats them.

As the speaker continued he brought us to the stories of Jesus’s actions towards these people:

  • Healing the daughter of a Canaanite (Matthew 15:21-28)
  • Heals the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 8: 5-13)
  • He called a Tax Collector to be his disciple (Matthew 9: 9-12)
  • He asked Zacchaeus (the chief Tax Collector) if he could stay at his house. (Luke 19:1-10)

So what is the common factor in all this stories?!

HE SHOWED THEM LOVE.

I realised, I was missing love. If someone asked me had I forgiven them, easy – the answer was yes. If they asked me whether I loved them. Ha, well that is where the hesitation came. But on realising Jesus showed them love it was a light bulb moment for me and in this same moment I felt I could finally answer the question Yes I did love them. Why? Because I grasped the understanding of Jesus’s love from this one verse. I was now able to say with confidence that I really did love them and know that I didn’t feel the resentfulness or hurt. I was finally able to know that if they came to me with any problem, just general chat or to be friends I could be there without wanting to go through everything that happened. It had all truly passed all because of love.

Later I came to Colossians 3:13-15.

“…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…”

Which summed up forgiving perfectly.

Forgive

Love

Peace

This sounds like one of those cheesy mems/good quotes but you know what?! It’s true.

We need to forgive with love so we are at peace.

As christian we want to reflect Jesus right? So let’s forgive as God has forgiven.

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Let’s Talk.

I must have been around 7 years old and I remember crying my eyes out because I wanted to be adopted. I didn’t want to live with these people who had only ever shown love to me.  I had the most wonderful up-bringing imaginable. The best parents I could have asked for, a bother and sister who I love to pieces and extended family around me who I adore. Yet, in the mind of a 7 year old the grass was greener on the other side – I didn’t want to live there anymore.

At around 14, 7 years later, I felt the same desire to remove myself but this time from my friends. I remember apologising to my three best friends at the time for being a ‘crap friend’ when they continually reminded me this was never the truth. I had a boyfriend I would fly off the handle with for no reason because it was easier to push him away yet he still stuck by me. Despite this support I still shut them out and shut my mouth for over a year and only talked when absolutely necessary. I became in a sense a recluse, I hibernated into myself to a place that no one could reach because it felt safe there with me. I continued to believe the lies in my head telling me I was ugly, worthless, had no friends. Really I began to think life would be easier if I just didn’t have friends – a lie that so often still pops up now.

This continued throughout my childhood but I always put it down to being an attention seeking child and a melodramatic teen. (Like I mean, we all had those MSN’s with the deep meaningful lyrics right?). I just assumed this numbness, emptiness and the emotion ‘it’ was normal. I never fully understood what it was that was happening to me. Why? Well because I was never fully educated on it.

Sure I had PSHE lessons we learned to some degree about mental disorders but it was never highlighted to us that anyone can suffer a mental illness. Despite the attempt at education a stigma still existed in my mind and of course in my own eyes I didn’t fit this stigma. I didn’t ever suffer abuse, I would never say I was bullied, I didn’t have any family trauma so really what I was feeling was self-pity, a very selfish kind of self-pity that I could not pull myself out of.

Now at 21 years I am learning that depression doesn’t attach itself to one type of person and it most certainly is not self-pity.

I have finally acknowledge that depression really can affect anyone and I have to be one of those anyone’s.

Since ‘coming out’ so to speak about my depression numerous people have come to me with encouraging words of their own experience. These people are never the people I would have expected or fit in with my stigma. Recently, I read a book Depressive Illness – The curse of the strong and even in the period since I have read it I realised the truth this title holds. The people who have confided in my are those people that I look at with admiration, the people who seem to be the strongest and hold themselves together, the type of people I would want to turn to when I am having my own meltdowns. There have been people who have held me up this year who have over time come to admit they also suffer(ed)…these where the people who were helping me survive.

From conversations over the last week I am coming to realise that my passion is to eradicate to some degree the stigma’s and stereotypes of mental illnesses. Those people are hesitant about sharing their experience because of what people might now see them as. However, as I see it if more of these people open up and share their experiences the more chance we have of removing this stereotype. We no longer feel abnormal we can, to a certain degree, feel normal with an illness and can know the stereotype that is so easy to believe in is in fact completely and utterly false.

Although I long to remove the stereotype myself – I want to make a worldwide difference because I want people to understand they are not alone, they are loved  and we are survivors together – right now I can’t. Right now all I can encourage people to do is talk. The more stories of unexpected people experiencing depression the more chance we have of elimination this stereotype. We can stand beside each other and say it’s okay because you know what I was at the same stage as you, I stood staring death in the face but here I am today, smiling, laughing and writing a blog on my experiences.

People who don’t suffer depression are great support, they really are but those of us who understand really do have a heads up on this one. I am not saying if you don’t suffer depression you can’t help us. In fact, when you don’t suffer but we are in the depths of a bout having someone who doesn’t suffer but is sensitive to the illness can be one of the biggest blessings. However, I have found that the best people to help me in my meltdowns are those who have been there themselves. They know exactly how to act, they know what to say or even if anything needs to be said.

So really, I have written this because there are three things that need to be done:

1) Educate, Educate, Educate.

2) Let’s get rid of the stupid stereotype

3) Knowing others suffer can be the reason we survive

LET’S TALK.

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A hidden blessing

It is easy to be surprised when someone tells you they are suffering a mental illness. We usually look at these people as if they have ten heads – why? Well because quite frankly they are not who you expect. They are the ones who make you smile, laugh and seem to have it together. They chat away to others or seem to be content just being by themselves but really underneath the surface it is really complete chaos…you know like the swan analogy? Calm on the surface but underneath their feet are paddling like crazy.

I recently read a book titled ‘Depressive Illness – The curse of the strong’ (Chris Cantopher) and each day I realise the truth in this. The more people who tell me they know what I have been through because they have too, the more I realise they can be the ballsy-est boy or the most confident girl (outwardly) but their outside appearance doesn’t reflect the reality of their feelings.

I find those people who seem to be suffering are those who hold their head high, can sort out any problems and they tend to be the people you run to when you need help. Why do we run to them? Because they are the ones who understand.

Earlier this year while having coffee with a friend and she asked “How has it been having depression?” My answer, “A blessing.” Now, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.

A disease which well at times seems as if it has taken everything away from me. My hopes, my friendships, relationships, determination, motivation absolutely everything can disappear in an instant. Yet, I still call it a blessing – yea I know I’m a bit odd believe me I learnt that a long time ago but let me tell you why I have learnt to take it as a blessing.

You see suffering from this means we can sympathise with those who feel the same. We can understand exactly how it feels when someone comes to us and says they are upset but do not have the reason or words of explanation. We know how to react when no words of comfort seem to be working because we have been through it all. We know a hug or someone watching pointless TV can make all the difference which words will never do. I am not saying those of you who have never suffered do not do a good job of supporting us – you do, believe me, you really do. However, I do feel we (we referring to us that have depression or anxiety) have one up on this occasion. Part of me feels privileged that I can turn to that teenage girl and say yes I know exactly what you mean but you know what it is going to get better, I can say this because I have been in your shoes.

When times have got really tough you learn to see how many friends you have that will stick by you through thick and thin. We can lash out without even anticipating it ourselves; we fly off the handle for an unknown reason; strike up an issue that frankly is not an issue. We understand we can be a handful sometimes and maybe there are some people who cannot be around you for these reason. That is okay, I understand it is not easy we don’t blame you for this. Yet, at the same time there are those who will hold tight no matter what. In March, I went to visit a friend, one of my closest friends and I ended up having one of my ‘outbursts’ I didn’t know what I was saying, didn’t understand what I was doing. She should have turned around and walked away from our friendship but she didn’t. She stuck by me despite my unexplainable actions. Thus, depression has been a blessing in that my eyes have been opened to truly understand the friendships that we have surrounding us stand strong even when we fail to recognise them in the depths of our despair.

The most import blessing probably goes without saying; it was coming back to the foot of the cross to be cliché. Okay so for those of you who aren’t Christians you are probably thinking wth is she on about. Well, if I hadn’t had depression I can say that it is pretty likely I would probably not be a Christian. You see I prefer to believe I can do things on my own (independent right?) but the times I find myself reaching out to Jesus are the times I sit in my bed room, in the dark with my arms wrapped around my knees as the tears trickle down my cheeks and don’t believe I can go on anymore. I know I am surrounded by a world full of people who will listen and despite everyone knowing what is going on I find it difficult to really say when things are tough. I prefer to sit in own little room with Jesus. Just me and him.  So the biggest blessing is that I have been able to have my Saviour in my life and no matter what it throws to me it is nice to know that He is my comfort blanket He has it sorted. Really, it is kind of reassuring when you cannot even make the decision whether to have a chicken sandwich or a bowl of soup to know that someone else has it in control already. It lets me escape for a while and allows me to set down the weight I carry on my shoulder because it is no longer mine to bear.

I am not saying for a minute the disease is a blessing; it is the furthest thing from and I would not wish it on anyone (literally noone).

However, I am realising it isn’t going to get up and go anytime soon so I now look to see the ways it has changed my life (and hopefully others) for the better.

Depression really is the curse of the strong.

Life Lessons

My reason for continuing this blog is I guess to try and give you an honest and true journey of a christian girl trying to overcome this ugly disease known as depression as well as dealing with everything reality throws at me.
Hopefully, it will give you a bit more insight and understanding as to what it feels like and the up/down struggle that continually occurs as someone fights their way through.
I may be healed, and I stick by this, but it doesn’t mean that life is smooth running and depression does like to show its face every once in a while.

Life can let you down.
You can let people down.
People can let you down.

There are hard times and lessons to be learned. .

This year has been one of the most challenging years of my life.
And it’s only April.
I have made some of the biggest mistakes of my life.
I have put a dent in friendships that might never be able to be repaired.
I have lost opportunities.
I have been hurt beyond anything I have felt before.
I have been heartbroken.
And I still feel lost.

As I sit with tears rolling down my cheeks I reflect (well try) and look at the lessons all of this has taught me.

1) We mess up and we can do it big style.
Sometimes you think you know yourself but then you go and surprise yourself. This is exactly what I did a few weeks ago. I became a person I did not recognise; I had never seen before; I did not know existed. It changed the way people saw me. I struggled to come to terms with what I had done and how I would ever get over it. This set me back right to square one. I started to allow these mistakes to define me which eventually led to me to seep deeper into the depression. All I could see was the fog in front of me and feel that self-hate that likes to creep in. These feelings were made worse due to being so vocal about my christianity to then portray this person I felt I had betrayed everything I was trying to reflect. How could I ever talk about God again? I was just another hypocrite right? Wrong.
As embarrassing as this is, it was JB’s lyrics “people make mistakes, doesn’t mean you have to give in” that brought me back to reality.
My lessons; we will always make mistakes but they don’t define you and you don’t have to let go when you mess up. We will hurt people but the most important part is how you deal with it afterwards. You can’t take back what you have done but you can always do your part to apologise, make it up to them (sometimes this takes thinking outside the box). Then use this experience to change. As JB says (once again sorry) “My reputation’s on the line, So I’m working on a better me”

Secondly, I am not perfect, I messed up pretty bad. I wanted nothing more than to hide my face and run away from everything most especially Jesus – the one who saved me. I couldn’t face even going to church because I reckoned I must be the worst person in the world so God couldn’t love me anymore. That was it, my last performance was the final straw. Yet, if I had done that, then I would have completely missed the point of who I believe God is. He is a God of grace not of chances. I am not a true reflection of Christ but his forgiveness towards me shows his true character more than I ever could. Even when people find it difficult to forgive (believe me I understand that but we’ll get to that later) he forgives (Mark 3:28-29; 1 John 1:9). It was the small reminder of his grace that finally allowed me to overcome what I did and again fix my eyes towards him and get back on track.

2) Sometimes I still feel as if all I am doing is “surviving”.
Kate Nash’s song , Foundations, says it best (well in my opinion at least) “my finger tips are holding on the cracks in our foundations” (I am aware this is about a relationship but please just roll with me on this one). If you imagine a toddler taking their first steps and they have to watch their feet as they carefully plant each step. This is what it feels like in life – you slowly plant your foot hoping that each time you won’t fall.
My lesson; make sure you have someone “surviving” with you. Tell people and you will find someone who is willing to hold your hand as you take each step. I have been so unbelievably blessed (cliché I know) with the girls I live with and family/friends around me that even when I feel I am only “surviving” they survive alongside me and that always makes those steps a wee bit more confident until I gain my full stride again.

3) Situations and people in life can let you down and set you back.
Relationships can hurt, friendships can hurt and circumstances can hurt.
Confession time, for a long time this year I found it difficult to get rid of the bitterness, anger and frustration I have felt about particular things that have happened. It built up until literally (and I mean quite literally) I exploded. Basically, this is me confessing I was finding to difficult to forgive when I needed to do it most and this lead me to turn into what I can only describe as a monster.
I got lost thinking that forgiveness was just bottling up all the hurt people had cause me, I told myself “negative” feelings shouldn’t be felt and I had to carry on with life, being happy go lucky with everyone I saw. Making an effort to put a massive smile on my face and appear super friendly. Underneath the surface my walls were being slowly torn apart and the emotions were fighting against me as I tried to push them lower and lower. Yet, even in the bible (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) it in fact permits us to feel all these emotions. The emotions aren’t the problem it can be the actions produced by them that causes the issues – as I have discovered the difficult way.
My lesson: forgive and learn to properly forgive, not your own version of forgiveness. Colossians 3:13 hit me in the face the other day, if I was to forgive others then I need to understand God’s forgiveness for me. When I look at my life and the things I have done I want to bury myself in a hole but despite this I am forgiven. I started thinking if God can forgive me for what I have done then how can I carry on showing unforgiveness to others. Forgiveness is not defined as pushing negative feelings to the back of your mind in a hope they just up and go but completely letting the negative feelings knowing consciously they no longer exist. Honestly, I am still trying to figure out what this looks like and how to really feel forgiveness – it isn’t an easy task. However I know that it is what I need to do for my own good as well as those around me.

My final lesson and probably the most important one I have learnt is to never give up and teach yourself to see the good in yourself.
I still struggle to see the good in myself, in fact I fail to see the good in myself.
So in those times when I feel lost, hurt, betrayed, ashamed, guilty, embarrassed
I look at myself in the mirror usually with a tear-stained face, smudged make-up and a faint, vulnerable smile and I tell myself
“You are beautiful”
It isn’t all about appearance (although I don’t doubt you reading this are outwardly beautiful) but it is about believing you are a beautiful person.
Right now I don’t believe it but I tell myself so that hopefully someday I believe it enough that it reflects itself in the person I am.
Now I challenge you to do the same even if it is through a sad smile and gritted teeth.
Someday you will come to believe the truth in it.

 

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Healing and Hope

I have depression.

Yes – sassy, crazy, centre of attention Hannah has depression.

We all have our secrets and that has been mine for the last 21 years.

But I also have something else in my life. I have Jesus.

For as long as I can remember I have been riddled with an emotion I came to call ‘It’. A lot of the time ‘it’ looks like a thick mist whist in a maze which is never ending, no matter how many more steps forward you take you can never see a clearing. It engulfs you, inhibits you, it takes away your characteristics creating a zombie. Sometimes it causes you to become a recluse never wanting to face another person again and at other times you do not want anyone to ever leave your side. It ruins relationships with family, friends and boyfriends, it stops you reaching achievements all because you cannot love or believe in yourself. It is something you can never fully explain to anyone because you cannot even explain it to yourself.

I know so many of you will be sceptical as you continue to read this but at least hear me out. I have grown up all my life hearing who this guy God was, understanding what it entailed to be that ‘perfect’ Christian. I heard the stories of all the great things he had done for other people, how others had been made completely better. Lucky them, right? How fortunate are they God is healing them so why not me? I’m not good enough for anyone, not even God. God loves everyone but me, I am yet to see any proof that he loves me. I battled with these thoughts and believed I couldn’t be healed because I could never be this ‘perfect’ Christian I had to be which eventually lead me to run away from my faith to seek assurance in anything but God.

I tried various different techniques and used numerous people over the years to try and heal it. I became a gym fanatic (which I still am but not for the same reasons), I became dependent on my appearance, I watched endlessly to see if the number of likes would increase on my latest post, I had to be the most popular and loved girl in school, and constantly relied on having a boy. Each of these, one at a time began to overrule my life all because in my head each one I tried MUST BE the solution.

I could not have been more wrong.

The day I was healed was the day I realised I needed nothing more than simply Jesus.

Knowing Jesus was the solution.

I had been on anti-depressants for 4 months after finally 20 years later I found the courage to admit I was not well. These drugs were continually upped until I was almost at the maximum dose possible – it still wasn’t working, I couldn’t see any future where happiness existed, at 20 years old I didn’t even understand what happiness felt like. However, finally one Saturday night this January (which I will never forget) I was healed. I sat in the snow with non-stop tears listening to the depressing playlist I had on repeat for weeks thinking of ways to make sure I wouldn’t see the next day or the one after that (you get the picture). Yet, for some unknown reason after 9 months of refusing to acknowledge Jesus I played the song ‘One thing remains’- Hillsong.

When I was younger I imagined the day I was healed to be a big wondrous miracle, like a musical on Broadway. It was nothing like that. It was quiet and dark with only me sat in the snow freezing my ass off, listening to the reminder that even when I fail his love never fails and he simply healed me. Somehow that night – I am yet to understand how – he reminded me he never asked me to be the ‘perfect’ Christian and I didn’t have to be to be healed he asked me to accept him as my saviour, he was all I needed. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Don’t get me wrong ‘it’ is part of me, it will never leave and every day I still have to take those tablets, without them I feel myself slipping back into the self-deprecating person I was. Healing has not come in the way humans expect it whereby it leaves and will never exists again such as when someone is healed of a physical illness. One thing I am certain of is that ‘it’ is still very much in my life but Jesus healed me by giving me the opportunity not to let ‘it’ rule my life but to let him rule my life.

Those who know me are very aware I am nowhere near this ‘perfect’ Christian and mess up every single day and will continue to do so (I am human). I still long for that relationship with a boy and to feel beautiful but when this happens I remind myself of the love I felt that night. Even when I hate myself and feel others hate me – he loves me, even when I cannot accept myself and it feels as if no one else accepts me – he accepts me. This is difficult to come to grips with and for some people it takes a lot longer than 21 years but it is possible for everyone. He wants to show you the love he has for you if you let him.

Clearly, I have grown up with Christianity surrounding me and so I don’t blame any of you for thinking it is all well and good for you having Jesus but he isn’t for me, he won’t change my life. Erm, negative. Jesus is for everyone and he wants you to accept the relationship he offers. In acts 10:34-35 it says “Truly I understand that God shows no particularity, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” There is no one God will not accept if you accept him. As I said I am the furthest thing from perfect which many of you will have seen multiple times (prominent example, nights out), I have messed up as much if not more than many of you reading this (if you want to know just ask) and will continue to do so. I am a sinner. But you know what Jesus himself said,

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

It was never that God was not healing me it was that I wasn’t letting him.

There is always healing and there is always hope.

Never give up.