“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.”
– Corrie Ten Boom
My girlfriend’s mother wanted to meet me. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I was 19 at the time, and I hadn’t had a “meet the parents” moment before, so this was a big deal. I pulled up to the driveway and I heard someone yell, “No! He stays in the garage! He’s not good enough to come into my house!” at which point an angry woman quickly approached me. She said, “Look! I don’t know you and you could be a nice guy, but this isn’t going to happen! You’re black. She’s white. I’m not doing this. You’re not good enough for her! Don’t look at her. Don’t talk to her. Don’t call her. I don’t want you anywhere near her! Do you understand me?”
I think I managed a “Yes ma’am…” but I’m not fully sure I even responded. I was in complete shock and was doing everything I could to hide my emotions and hold back tears. That was lot to process. I didn’t know what I had done to deserve that, but I knew I was the problem. I wasn’t good enough in her eyes because of what my skin looked like. How do you improve upon that? How do you change that? I began to despise myself. What was wrong with me?
I took that emotional low coupled with the recent death of my father with me to Southwestern Assemblies of God University to begin my sophomore year in college. I did my best to keep my mask on because I didn’t know how to express everything I was feeling. I would ask people how they were doing and all I heard was, “Hallelujah! Bless God! Everything is wonderful and the joy of the Lord is my strength…” I didn’t have that. I wasn’t feeling that. I was looking around at other believers, but I didn’t feel like one of them. I didn’t feel like I could relate – so I withdrew. I isolated myself. I would attend chapel services, but I felt like the odd man out – other times I would skip service to go to the lake or the cemetery to be alone with my thoughts.
I decided to go see a counselor who gave me an analysis that resulted in being diagnosed with severe clinical depression. She suggested that we meet and talk every week and hinted at the idea of taking medication. I met with her twice more before I stopped going to see her. I despised the label of being called depressed. Even more, I despised the idea of having to be medicated to feel “normal”. I would listen to loud, angry music while cutting myself – somehow I was getting back at myself for the way I felt. What’s wrong with you? Why are you always such a problem? Why can’t you just be normal? The burning sensation of a razor blade against my skin somehow brought a temporarily soothing feeling. That’s not something you can openly discuss – especially being a Christian. So I struggled alone – because sin thrives in isolation and in darkness. The longer we struggle alone, the longer we struggle.
I was alone in my dorm room one night – the night I decided that I was done. I told God that I couldn’t do it anymore and that if He didn’t stop me, I was going to end my life. At that very moment, my phone rang. On the other end of the line was the one person I had been able to confide in – the one person who knew what I was dealing with and she said, “Stop! The Lord just told me to call you! Whatever it is you’re thinking about doing right now, don’t do it! I don’t know why, but I just got the weirdest feeling right now and God told me to call you and tell you to stop whatever it is you’re about to do…”
I broke. I cried myself to sleep that night and woke up the next morning to the most tangible presence of God I have ever felt. The only way to describe it is to say it felt like God was giving me a big hug. I went to chapel and came across a passage:
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
I wept and praised God through the entire service – and all the way through my next class and through the following lunch break. What a relief! In a world where love comes with conditions, the love of God is unconditional. In a world where “you can’t get something for nothing”, we have received the greatest love of all – that costs us nothing though it cost Him everything. I rediscovered my identity that day.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1a
That is what we are! That is who I am! The only one who can label us is the One who created us. We are not confined by the standards of the world – we are defined by the love of God.