Anyone else feeling a little ineffectual lately? Is it just me? I doubt that, but I’ll take the heat. I’m feeling ineffectual.
This is mostly concentrated in my days at the K-8 school where I’m doing my internship: the land of all things ranging from adorable to overly hormonal. I’m coming to the end of my time there, and I run a few groups and counsel a couple of individual students, so I’m starting to wonder if I’m actually even helping them or making an impact at all. Am I helping them get what they need? There are so many things in their lives that I can’t control or help or have access to. I mostly just don’t know what to do for them. I just don’t know. And it feels like I’m just a drop in the ocean and that they’ll forget about me as soon as I hit the door. Besides. Winning the love and respect of middle schoolers is a hard thing and I’m pretty sure the girls in my social skills group only still talk to me because I brought them cupcakes two weeks ago, and those cupcakes just so happened (okay…very much on purpose) to have fish on them because they know I am afraid of fish and I wanted to show them that I can be edgy, too.
I expressed my concern about this to my supervisor, and she told me that it’s super normal to feel that way and that middle schoolers can, indeed smell fear. But also that I do actually matter. That listening to girls about anime and Korean boy band music (I’ve got nothin’) matters. That sitting with a 7th-grader for 30 minutes every week who gives me down the road because I’ve never been to China Buffet – where the crab tarts are apparently amazing – matters because he probably doesn’t have anyone else in his life who does that. She told me that it all matters. That everything matters. And that I never know – these kids could look back on their time in middle school and hang onto something I taught them. Even if that thing is that it’s okay to be afraid of fish and own it.
But she said that thing about looking back on certain times in our lives and it stayed with me because, confession, I have absolutely been avoiding said practice for the past several days. There’s this app called Timehop and it tells you everything you did on social media on this date 1, 2, 3 and 4 years ago. And so for the last couple of days, I’ve been getting a play-by-play of every status update and tweet and thing I did on my phone this weekend, four years ago. And it just so happens that on this weekend, four years ago, I was first diagnosed with depression and began my medical leave from Wofford. The “D-word.” I know, I know. It’s not exactly my favorite thing to reminisce on. Don’t really want to walk down memory lane on that one, Timehop. And I've had about 6 or 8 or 14 assignments that have asked me to track some critical incident in my development that affects me today. So it's coming in all directions. Not the happiest time. Not something I want to want to get periodic updates about on my phone.
But, oh. You guys. I am so glad that I do get them. This is something that hasn’t happened in previous years, and so I’ve been able to escape reflecting on what this week is the anniversary of – until you say the word, “Thanksgiving,” and then I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Official depression. Big red X. Don’t wanna think about that when I’m supposed to be thinking about what I’m thankful for.”
But when I’m able to move past all the shame and embarrassment that I feel about digging back into that season, there’s so much about this weekend, four years ago, that I have to be thankful for.
Mostly…people. People loved me really well in a time when I know for an actual-scientific-empirical fact that I was very, very difficult to love. Not just during the weekend in question. I imagine that I was hard to love, at times, for the rest of college. When I say hard to love, I mean a lot of things. Hard to be around, hard to talk to…I mean, bless my lab partners and roommates and classmates that depended on me for things and stability and whatever else I wasn’t able to deliver at the time. I was hard to love and people stuck around anyway. People loved me anyway. People helped me with genetics problem sets and forgave me when I bailed on dinner plans because I couldn’t get out of bed and wrote me encouraging notes all the time anyway. People hugged me and prayed with me and for me and at me. People begged God for things on my behalf long after I’d given up on that. They asked me how I was doing and knew I was lying when I said “fine” and let me sit on red couches and have a breakdown when they for sure needed to be getting work done. They probably sat there and watched all of this and looked at their efforts and then at how much my situation was not changing and how much worse I got instead of better and wondered if they were actually even helping me or making an impact at all.
Some of you were there. Some of you were those people. And I know that was hard. And you probably wondered if your efforts were nothing more than a drop in the ocean. If God was even hearing you. If any of it even mattered, because I imagine that people mostly just didn’t know what to do for me. I mean, I didn’t even know what to do for myself. But I want you know that it did matter.
The thing about four years ago is that once I dig through all the stuff that is hard to remember, I get to all the beautiful stuff. I remember going to that doctor on that Friday and I remember those assessments, and I remember calling my father from that parking lot, and I remember going to Panera and buying $40 of baguettes and pastries and bagels. Because I didn’t know what to do. And nobody else knew what to do, either. Nobody knew what to do for me. I told my Young Life high school girls and my roommate and my suitemates. Some good friends that are still good friends (they know too much) took me to Greenville and we sat in a hot tub and I really can’t tell you anything we talked about. And I can’t tell you anything I talked to anyone about the next few days, but I’m sure Timehop will be able to chime in on all that. But I can tell you that people helped me pack up my car, and told me that they loved me, and hugged me, and they kept praying and they kept loving me, and they kept doing a lot of things like that, which may have felt like nothin’. And people did that for years. They walked across campus with giant stuffed animals when I was having a hard night and needed comfort. They put up with my nervous breakdowns during Christmas parties and forgave me when I said things that were out of character. They just loved me. Even when I didn’t thank them or fully understand the gravity of the gesture at the time.
I’m sorry I didn’t say this sooner.
But it all mattered then and it all matters even more to me now.
The love and the hugs and the space and the prayers.
The grace and forgiveness.
The hot tub, the bread, the hugs.
It all mattered.
You helped me get what I needed.
You believed in me when I didn’t.
You put in so much effort and I was so unresponsive because I didn’t know how to feel anything.
I hope I didn’t make you feel ineffectual.
I was just terrified, and I didn’t know how to tell you thank you then.
And this doesn’t feel like enough, but thank you.
You matter, you matter, you matter.
You just being there matters.
It all really, actually, does matter.
Even if the person who’s hard to love never thanks you – it still matters.
Even if the middle school girls keep their poker faces and you really can’t tell if you’re doing any good – it still matters.
Even when it is hard to look for the good, look for it anyway.
Even when it feels like a waste.
Especially when it feels like a waste.
It still matters.
And I’m thankful for what happened four years ago. I’m thankful that I can look back with fresh eyes and see how very not alone I was even though I felt so scared and lonely. I’m thankful that there are so many blessings to be found in such a hard season, and I’m thankful that people stuck with me even though I was giving them no reassurance that their efforts actually mattered.
Thank you, and keep going.
And I promise that it matters.