An abundant life. That phrase brings concepts of prosperity, usefulness, and work to the forefront of my mind. It's almost a revolting phrase. Pastor Jim uses it liberally in every sermon and prayer. Miss Mandy and MIss Theresa put it in every time they pray with the nursery workers. And I see abundance as part of the Misery-Inducing American Dream.
I have hit, not THE lowest I've hit but still down there, low points in the thirteen months I've attended JCI (Joy Church International). I've started having what can best be described as black-outs, where I'll stop breathing and seeing and forget how to start again, and seizures, where I will be aware of what's going on but incapable of responding. I've been cutting and spending hours in solitary confinement in my room or outside. I've even spent hours a day dreaming about suicide, beating myself up, imagining scenarios where I get what I deserve. I'm twenty years, three months, and nineteen days old. That's a lot of sin to be punished—painfully—for.
At all of these low points in my life, the thought of an abundant life made me stomach-sick, and I couldn't talk to anyone about it without them bringing it up. You can't interrupt the pastor and ask him about it, at the beginning of nursery is not the time for a two-hour discussion on abundance, and it's not really a phrase we use here at home. I was honestly repulsed by the idea ofmore work, living your identity through your usefulness, and living in a state of prosperity that falls away in moments. I'd already dealt with that, thanks anyway. I didn't want abundance. I just wanted it to be over. I was tired of cutting, I was tired of false smiles, I was tired of working to let no one worry about me, and I was just plain tired. I wanted to die. I tried to make people angry, tried to make them hate me. Maybe they would cast me out, hurt me like I deserved, or kill me like I wanted. Maybe I could finally be at peace, live in a place I was loved unconditionally, be with the people who went before who I mourned daily... maybe Christ Himself would hold and comfort me like I was promised. Cause I sure wasn't seeing it now.
I didn't want abundance and I resented people who pushed it on me like it was a requirement for Christianity and those who resembled that abundance to me. Donna, Cassie, Jason: I apologize. I really resented those who wouldn't hurt me or just let me die, so major apology goes to Raen, Linny, Rachael, Scott, and Jacob.
A few weeks ago, I was stressed to my maximum, going nonstop and learning a new job. I resented being forced to get a job and still struggle with bitterness that absolutely no respect was given by my mother to my pursuit in finishing my novel and trying to get it published. Labor Day "weekend" was insane, quite literally, and I was pushed to my limits in every way possible the first two weeks of this month... only to find I'd been shortchanging myself. Ican work six hour shifts without energy drinks. I do have more patience than the average chihuahua. And with these realizations came bigger ones. I've fought depression for over five years and I'm still alive, so I'm stronger. I haven't cut since January (or March, I forget which) 11th, and I can only see the scars when searching. I deal better with my problems after praying with someone over theirs. Maybe I could get through these seizures and black-outs after all?
Last Wednesday, my ten year old sister was so excited. She was getting baptized that evening. I felt the strongest joy I've felt in years for her, and when I got dropped off at church at five that evening, I was calm enough to read for the first time in awhile. I pulled out my 113 year old volume of Tennyson. Starting with my favorite, "Crossing The Bar", I read aloud a little. I loved that poem so much, I memorized it in my freshman year of high school. It's about death, but it holds a major key in the end: "I hope to see my Pilot face to face/When I have crost the bar." I, too, longed to see Him face to face when I died. And my sister would have visible confirmation that day that she would too. I turned back to the beginning.
I found a poem called "The Two Voices". I started crying. I wasn't alone. That voice inside whispering to me, "would it not be better to remove yourself" hunted him as well. I wasn't alone! I kept crying, devouring his refusal to kill himself, feeling his fight. And then it came. His final stand. Loosely translated: Whatever crazy emotions tell us, nobody's really longed to die, they just thirst unquenchingly for life and it more abundantly. When at the most numb, I just wanted to feel something, which was why I cut. "Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive..." I listened that evening to Pastor Jim's exact phrasing of the abundant life phrase. I heard what I thought I heard in Tennyson—life... and it more abundantly.
Abundance is not the subject of the sentence. Life is. I heard a cry for hope in Tennyson, a need to find something to rejoice in. There was a second voice and it spoke of a hidden hope. I heard it too. I heard life in that voice's words. When Pastor Jim talks about an abundant life, he's not talking about prosperity, usefulness, and work in an existence (alone, anyway), he's talking about life and large amounts of it.
When I think of abundance, I see superficiality. When I think of life, I taste fresh strawberries, feel snow on my toes, hear laughter, see dancing, and smell rain. When I think of life, it's joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and perseverance and self-control and, above all, love. That is the life Jesus came to bring, and it more abundantly just means large amounts beyond anything we could ask or dream.
And I have it. It is literally right now in my own spirit. I don't have to go beyond death for what I've been thirsting. It's available to me in the here and now and in that availability, I found healing. I tested it yesterday pretty hard and spent a lot of yesterday evening resting from the trying of the strength found in the joy of the Lord.
- I had an eight hour workday and I discovered I love opening shift. I saw my favorite constellations on my way into work.
- I got to go to church. Amber Davis scared me for a moment with her lawyer-assistant role and I got to thank her for following Christ and being who she is because she might have been that woman who scared me.
- I spent about an hour talking with Hannah Marrero, who is an epic blessing.
- I watched Cassie, Tim, Will, and Scott be themselves (can't vouch for Jason, but he doesn't seem to have very many masks if any) and I loved every moment of it.
After twelve hours of sleep, I woke up at 10:10 in the morning. I could never remember the reference for the 'life and it more abundantly' verse, so I looked it up. John 10:10. My family used to joke that 10:10 was happy hour, because when the hands of the clock are on 10 and 2, it looks like a smile. What an awesome reminder of His promise!
So today after more than five years, I sit, healed, with Tennyson and wondered why I ever chose the lesser of two voices.
"I marvell'd how the mind was brought
To anchor by one gloomy thought;
And wherefore rather I made choice
To commune with that barren voice,
Than Him that said, "Rejoice! rejoice!"
The Amplified Bible, John 10:10: "The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)."
Our God is more than just something to bow to. He is a Fulfiller of promises, a Redeemer, a Healer, and Love itself.