On not giving up
ENC Conference 2019 testimony
On the first night of the ENC Conference in Chantilly, VA, we sang a song during worship that tugged at my heart strings.
Didn’t I conquer this last year?
Tell me what I missed ’cause I fear
That it’s coming back up again
Must be something I ate
Some song, some show, some hate
The devil wants to extend the game, free throws
And when it ends he wants to make the sequel
’Cause if he has another chance
He feels like he can take
My joy, my peace, my faith
Droplets of tears welled up from the corner of my eye. The lyrics to “Cycles” explained how my life has been going up until that point in a single stanza. By the end of the song, I found myself on my knees calling out to God, repeating His name over and over again, because that was all I could say.
The days leading up to the ENC conference were some of the darkest, most hopeless days. For three weeks, I cried almost every single day, sometimes more than once. The fear and sadness sprung on me at any given time; it didn’t matter if I was reading a play for my German class or talking on the phone with my best friend. I cried so much and for absolutely no reason at all that I was physically exhausted from crying.
There were days that I was so afraid I would randomly burst into tears that I only left my room to go to class and get food. Feeling trapped, the love-hate relationship I shared with my college campus shifted to become one of avoidance. I left campus every weekend I was not on CA duty, and when February break came, I hopped on a train to New York as soon as I got out of class. I don’t know what I expected; the tears didn’t stay in the confines of my dorm room. Like the anxiety that hit in full force after years of being subdued, the tears followed me to New York and then to Chantilly.
It felt darker than the week leading up to the ENC conference last year, when I was sexually assaulted by the boy I was dating, and proceeded to spend my February break sleeping at odd hours, skipping meals, and pushing through CA break duty.
In the midst of racing heartbeats and self-harm temptations, I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t want to die, either.
I needed God to meet me here because the stakes were increasing by the day.
I was looking forward to the ENC conference because I can still clearly remember how God met me there last year. He showed me that being unable to trust Him meant that I could not have a personal relationship with Him. Over the past twelve months, He has slowly softened my heart to take the steps to go towards Him.
As I waited, I wrote letters to God and prayed for peace and freedom. My life has changed a lot in the past year, and even though it didn’t feel that way, I know I am in a better place with Him.
A verse that came up was one that Christina had given me at ENC Fall Retreat. In Psalm 40:1 — 3, King David recounts God’s deliverance from bleak surroundings. I believed that it is God’s promise. I still do.
I don’t think I can remember a day in my life where I was not anxious. At this point, anxiety feels like a part of my identity. Even though there were no sermons or breakout sessions that explicitly focused on mental health, God used this conference to teach me how to navigate my anxiety and depression through His lens.
In the breakout session “Build My Life”, the speaker, David, reminded us of that Jesus is the only foundation worth building our lives on, and that we can do so meditating on the gospel. In his words, “you become what you behold”.
My anxiety has become an increasingly dominant part of my life. I believed that God was present, and trusted that He had Lordship over my life (including my mental health), but it has been hard to set my eyes on God when anxiety felt so much more tangible and constant. God used this moment to bring light to the extent to which fear was controlling my life, as well as shame surrounding past relationships.
One thing David said that really stuck with me was that the way we pray can tell us a lot about our lives. I realized that a lot of prayers had been about myself — not that I had any intention to be selfish, but because I was, quite literally, trying to get through life one day at a time.
I knew the Biblical truth — that His Grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9), where the Spirit of the Lord there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), the Lord will fight for me (Exodus 14:14).
Yet I could not completely surrender my fears to Him. Brokenness feels familiar.
That night, we went back to our respective hotel rooms to debrief and pray for each other.
My discipler, Flo, stressed the importance of staying rooted in His Word. She also told me that I needed to learn to speak truth into and rebuke lies in my own life because Jesus has empowered me to. I might be weak, but He is strong.
Abby’s encouragement was a little different. She sang a verse from “Echo”, another song we sang during worship at the conference.
When my mind says I’m not good enough
God, You’re enough for me, yeah
I’ve decided I’m not giving up
’Cause You won’t give up on me
You won’t give up on me
How could I give up on my life if God isn’t giving up on me?
This same anxiety has resurfaced this past week, five days after it last hit. My heart pounded, my chest tightened, my mind blank. I sat on the floor and cried. But this time, instead of running away from both God and the people I love, which I usually do when I cry, I vocalized these fears to Him. I asked for Him to speak to me, and for a mind that is silent enough to hear His words. God used “Mountains Move” to remind me that in His presence, every fear is silenced and nothing can stand against Him because His word is true.
He also reminded me, like the lyrics to Hillsong UNITED’s “Oceans”, that I am His, and He is mine.
I had been fearful. But God is faithful.