"I dunno. I just get really down I guess."
After the first time.
"I feel like I got nothing really left to give."
After the second.
"I got no friends." "No one cares about me"
After the third.
These are all from the same person. A former student that struggled with various kinds of mental illness. Which usually led to the same place. Self-affliction and attempting suicide.
For some reason, (a reason I am incredibly grateful for), they came up short. Still here. Still with a reason to live.
I told them that and shared with them every time how all of those lies they told themselves were just untrue. I shared with them how much God loves them. How much Jesus loves them. And did so in every way you could think of. Nearly burnt myself out because of it. They understood. They were thankful. They yearned for this love. They declared it. Yet, they'd end up in the same place all over again. Harming themselves or thinking about it.
So I asked myself and God a question. How far can I go to show this person, rather than just on a Sunday or Wednesday, that they truly matter?
So for a few years we'd meet before school with a couple of other students. Every single morning.
I figured if we could start their day off right, we could maybe help set the tone for the rest of it. I wasn't looking for a total behavior change at school. I wasn't looking for a complete fix. I was just hoping to get them to a place to know that they matter. To get them to a place where contemplating ending their life wouldn't happen as much.
Our morning meetups were nothing too out of the ordinary. We'd come together, read some scripture, pray, and hang out. That was it for awhile. But it wasn't fully registering.
Then this student ended up back in the same mess they started by the end of the school day.
I realized I had to get deeper yet simpler. I had to put it in their terms while getting real enough.
And so I started with myself. I asked why was I helping them? What was it that I saw in this person in particular that made me want to help them like this? And I realized in order for me to truly get to them, I had to be honest about me. Because the truth was, I saw a piece of myself in them.
So I shared with this student what only so few knew about me. That I too, a youth minister who had a wife and child, have struggled with depression since I was the same age as they were.
So our mornings started to differ in content. I prayed and wondered what something was that we both connected on really well. And as I sat in prayer the answer was so obvious. We both liked telling stories. We both loved movies. And they were just starting to get an interest in books. So I complimented our scripture readings with tiny, simple messages that shared hope revolved around these interests. Each a new message for that day or week.
Sometimes they were pieces of poetry, other times they were stories and some others were like 3 line micro-sermons. But all centered around the same idea:
Your life is a story that matters.
These pieces were written not just for this student, but for me as well.
They grew loving this concept that their life could be seen as memorable like one from books or movies they loved. And so did I. And it wasn't just that their story was important that made the biggest difference. It's that our lives are stories that matter to God above all. That He cares for us, He loves us and He wants to bring us into that love that tells the greatest stories each and every second we breathe.
Together, and with those other students, we read those pieces that God put within me to share and each day, somehow, seemed a little brighter than the previous. For both of us. For all of us.
Slowly but surely, the late night alarming phone calls and text messages, the isolation, the fresh markings on the wrist, and the thoughts of taking the whole bottle of pills...they faded.
And this student, by God's actual redeeming grace, is still here. They love Jesus. Their faith in God matters to them. And they are living an epic story as we speak. Full of struggle and sin, of misbehavior and issues, sure (just like so many of us). But also full of something they never had before. Hope.
A hope that says to keep going. As far as I'm concerned, nothing screams epic like that.
It's for this reason that I wrote the book, "Creatures Called Stories". Most of those poems and stories I shared with that student are exactly what's in this book. (The others are for the next one).
I saw how much these pieces have spoken hope into one life, besides my own. I've personally felt the pain of depression. I've seen the struggles of affliction and suicidal thoughts. I've witnessed the darkness trying to proclaim victory. Yet for some reason, these words in even the simplest of ways, seemed to help.
And I still believe they can help more people. Even you.
I'll end with one of the stories that I think exemplifies the message in full:
is my story worth watching?
is my story worth reading?
"I believe so, just keep on breathing."
Be blessed and know that your story matters to God.