Grace was the furthest thing from my mind on the morning of 7 January 2006 as I sat in a cold Manchester hospital. However, my life was already being transformed by grace, the grace by which Jesus Christ would grow and transform me from suicidal and racked with mental illness, to living in his very image.
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
- Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NIV)
It is much more than a modern cliché that tells us there is a season for everything. It is a biblical truth.
God is sovereign and the chapter above later explains that "He has made everything beautiful in its time." In short, we live through seasons which evoke all of our human emotions, and we live them for His purpose and glory.
In his book, Desiring God, John Piper describes that purpose in saying "the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."
I know I'm not alone in finding that an immense challenge. We can all find joy when life is going well for us, but how do we find it in the challenges, in those moments where we feel He has deserted us, where our selfishness and humanness take control of our emotions?
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
- Philippians 4:4-6 (NIV)
I am not too proud to say that tears flowed very freely for me during church at Holy Trinity Clapham this morning. It wasn't the talk of Reverend Jamie Mulvaney alone which moved me, nor was it a sudden epiphany, although it has never been lost on me that God used this day to reveal himself to me in the darkness of my own mind in January 2006.
Somehow it doesn't seem it can be 13 years ago today that I attempted to take my life for the third time; at times it seems to belong in another life and yet it is always so lucid in my mind as it were yesterday.
There remains stigma around suicide but I am lifted to know that we live in a world where attitudes towards mental illness are changing greatly although I would proffer that we have so much still to do.
One of the stagnant responses is that of suicide being selfish; I don't claim to have the answer for each individual who has died from suicide or who has made that choice but I do know that it is very rarely selfish.
In my case, I had lived with a serious and undiagnosed mental illness, Rapid Cycling Bipolar Type I for close to 15 years. Quite simply, it is a devastating illness and the impact it had not only on my life but those around me was shattering.
Even now, after several years of God given wellness, I can still remember clearly the horrific extremes of emotions that I could simply no longer endure. I was exhausted to a point of no longer being able to absorb what was happening to me and what it meant I was doing to those I loved. Jen Simon, a writer for the NY Daily News perhaps describes it best.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re abandoning [your loved ones]; it feels like you’re freeing them from the burden that is you and your illness. You feel like you are doing the world a service by leaving it.” - Jen Simon
I've said, often before, that there was never a day on which I didn't believe in God but such was the depth of my despair and self-loathing, I could see no way in which He could believe in me. I was wrong.
It is not my place to understand God's timing, only to know that it is perfect. There was a season for my darkness and there is a season for my joy, a season to reap the fruits of being transformed by grace.
There was also a season for me to rebuild. Let me be quite clear, I was reborn not just in the evangelical sense but as a person. When I woke up from that final attempt on my life, I was a baby boy living inside the body of a 31 year old man and it took time to learn how to live again.
I hadn't known an adult life without this horrible illness and I literally had no idea how to live as a functioning adult. On that dark night, I died; God tore through the shattered debris and created a new life in me. The person who woke up the next day was transformed by His grace and alive in Him.
I can so deeply understand and cling to the words of the prophet Isaiah to give such clarity to my journey. In the few years after that defining day, I was a boy in a man's body just learning how to live, to function, survive. I suspect it is like an addict overcoming their affliction... I was addicted to a life of chaos and illness without God and had to learn how to exist otherwise.
I simply clung, for so long, to the words, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." (Isaiah 43:1) Those words are still so powerfully precious to me, but I have come to realise that God's hand was so much more powerful than redemption alone.
As Jamie spoke this morning, as I contemplated the miracle of God's healing, he spoke with conviction the words that "God transforms us with grace from the inside out."
TRANSFORMED BY GRACE. I realised, in that moment, that I wasn't defined just by redemption of Isaiah 43:1 but had to recognise God's true miracle in me, transformation from the inside out.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland - Isaiah 43:19
So what does that new thing look like? I firmly believe that we are the sum of every experience through which we live. In every challenge, every achievement, we fix our eyes on Christ with joy, knowing that He gave it all for us.
I would not change a single thing because for every season of my life, God had a sovereign purpose. Now, I have the blessed opportunity to serve Him by living with His love and compassion, His transforming glory in that very life.
There have been chapters written, read and closed, and none excite me more than that being written right now as Claire and I prepare for marriage in early February. My prayers continue to be that God will equip me to be the best husband I can be to Claire and that He will equip us to love those around us.
So yes, today I cried freely... I softly cried a tear of grief for the terrified, broken young life that God mercifully took into His arms, but above all tears of joy for the new life transformed by grace, His grace, and for joys I scarcely deserve but accept with the same grace with which they are given.