Below is an (almost) unedited copy of the extensive letter I wrote to the members of Tenth Avenue North to be put in a book called “Beyond Words” that will be given to the band as a collection. I heard about it on Twitter the last day before the deadline while I was trying to pack for vacation! This is my testimony- all the ugly truth laid; the light meeting the dark.So if you ever wonder where I’m coming from, here’s my explanation.
Hey Mike, Jason, Jeff, Ruben, and Brendon!!
Let me just start off by saying that the first time I saw you guys perform in 2010, I have no idea what you sang or said, because I was sitting in the back cutting myself. I was kind of rebellious at that time. You guys are now my absolute favorite band of all time. The end. But you know, I don’t think a letter to you guys would be complete unless I told you what your songs have done for my life.
I don’t say this often, but for the past eight years I’ve been struggling with obsessive fear and extreme anxiety caused by lies. It started when I was eight years old, when a random thought of cursing God popped into my mind. I freaked out, as you can imagine an eight year old would. I cried and screamed and believed I was all alone, now condemned to hell and unforgivable. Fallen from grace and broken beyond repair. I hid from God, ashamed. How could I ever look to God again and say, “Hey! I just had a thought of cursing You in my mind and I feel like I’m going to hell now. Just thought I’d let You know! Okay, now let’s continue on with life.” And how could I ever tell anyone else? That just wasn’t normal! So, I‘d run from God and try to not think about it. Thus, my life became a game. How long could I go without thinking about the torture? How long could I go without letting that thought come back? How long did I have to cry in order to make reparation for my sin?
With time, the torture faded. I’d get distracted. You know, school, boys, Internet. And I’d push those thoughts back inside of me. Eventually I said, “Hey! I guess I’m still a Christian! Well, I better be careful to not let that come back! Otherwise I may not be so lucky next time. I hope they don’t come back…” But they did. They got stronger. My whole body would become paralyzed when a thought would show its face. And I was so confused! What were thoughts about cursing and hating God doing in me? I didn’t even want them there. But, they’d fade again, if I could find something to focus on instead. Idolatry became my weapon against the voices, but all it got me was covering up torment on the inside, putting on a happy face at church and pretending I really am good enough.
For years, idolatry and distractions (boys, boys, boys…) kept my mind off of it. I mean, it was still in the back of my mind, but at least it didn’t control me. It was deep inside, safe and sound. Nobody needed to know; especially not God. Somewhere in this time, 2010 happened and my mom became in love with your song “By Your Side”, because God had proven to be by her side when she was sick without explanation and close to death. And she loved you guys! Every two seconds it was “Tenth Avenue North! Look! They have a myspace!” and I was like “Ohmygosh, I don’t care! They probably don’t even love God. They probably just think they’re cool because they all look good.” I apologize for such wrong thinking. 😉 And in the very midst of my boy obsession/distraction from torment, I went to a Tenth Avenue North concert, which, you know, didn’t go so well with me. Cutting. (I’m still so mad about that! I missed Tenth Avenue North over a boy!?!) You guys were wonderful, so I was told. But, there was hope. Just five month later, I found myself really wanting a legit relationship with Christ. I vowed to really be sold out for Him, and I surrendered myself. Oh, my God captured my heart. I realized He was all I needed and I was soon head over heels. He called me to be a writer for Him, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. I was filled with love and joy like I’d never experienced before.
But, I had much more room to grow. His Holy Spirit showed me that I had an idol in my life that was driving a wedge between the two of us by keeping my thoughts on it all the time. So, with His grace, I was able to let go.
If I only would’ve known…
With that idol gone, there was now room in my thoughts for that thing I’d pushed down to come back and haunt me. And it did. When I was fifteen (a year after that TAN concert) the thoughts came back. And it was torture. I cried, as I had before, scared and ashamed. But this time, something was very different. I knew God now. He was my best friend. I no longer believed I had a right to hide from Him. With LOTS of prompting from His Spirit (even using “Healing Begins” and “Beloved’s line, “The past you’re afraid I might see”), I finally was honest to God. I told Him what was going on, knowing that He already saw it all. I wasn’t fooling Him by hiding.
And that honesty opened doors. Since the voices came back a year and a half ago, I’ve seen the stress take its weight physically. I have trouble breathing and my heart often is in literal pain, and I now have this weird thing that causes blood to rush to my sinuses and press on my brain, shutting down certain functions. I often go entire days or weeks under these symptoms, gasping for breath and unable to see clearly or think properly. I mean, it’s constant chaos. But in this struggle, God has shown me grace. Unfailing love. Over and over again, in my deepest darkest pain, God has proven that His love is over and underneath. Inside and in between. That my times are in His hands. Just one example of the wonderful, loving things He has done for me was when one day when I had awful head symptoms and was confused and hurt, I asked God to play a Tenth Avenue North song for me on the radio when I got in the car, since you were now my favorite band. You know, to prove He loved me. After asking, I realized that I shouldn’t test God, so I took it back and forgot about it. Yet, when I got in the car, the bridge to “You Are More” played. I was like, “Uh, thanks.” But I wasn’t actually believing the words I was hearing you sing. So I had Bible Study that night, and on the way there, “By Your Side” played on the radio. And then, when I left Bible Study, when I sat down in the car, the bridge to “You Are More” played. Again.
Although this struggle has worn me down, it has opened my eyes. I’ve learned more about myself and my God in the past year and a half then I have in my entire churched life; glory be to God. I’ve learned that I am loved unfailingly. I’ve learned that God’ longs to pour grace on me. I am not too far from grace. Fear is just a lie. Satan can put voices in my head and confuse me. But even though Satan is the father of lies and seek so kill and destroy me, Jesus is the Truth and He wants to give me life! Perfect love casts out fear. God promised to never leave me. His Spirit groans over me. Jesus suffocated on the cross so I could breathe freely in Him. The crown of thorns was dug into His head so I could use my mind how He wants me to. It’s not only okay to tell God how I feel, but it’s necessary. It’s not love any other way. He’ll break open the skies to save those who cry out His name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save me. His blood can cover me. I am more than my fear. Fear addict is not my name. I am a child of God who just so happens to struggle with fear. But hallelujah! We are free to struggle; We’re not struggling to be free.
With the encouragement of Healing Begins, I’ve been open like never before, being honest with my friends and my family and my pastor and youth pastor. And I really am healing because of it. People pray for me. I am able to be honest. I am forced to spew out the lies that I believe into the light, and there is grace. You know, “Empty My Hands” has shown to be my favorite song of all time. That song is a description of my life. Because of God’s grace, He is emptying my hands of these fears. He is filling up my heart with His love and promises, so that I can breathe. He is capturing my mind with Him, so that I can think again. And you know, I am still struggling, but that’s okay, because He is by my side and He is the Lord. I’m taking it one day at a time. I know there’s hope, because one day grace will wash away my fear forever. One day He’ll wipe away our last tear as He holds us close to His heart. One day, we’ll be with Him, face-to-face. Forever. His love binds us to Him. We’ll be in love and unashamed for eternity. But for now, we just take it one day at a time, praying for heaven on earth and the grace to believe that we are more by the blood of Jesus.
So, Tenth Avenue North, I want to thank you. Thank you for your concerts, thank you for your music, thank you for pouring your hearts out. Thank you for sacrificing so much to do what you do. Your music helps me every day, and every song clings to my heart and gives me another reason to praise God. I own all your albums (except for the old ones you made before you got the record label… you know they go for $80 now?) and I am beyond psyched for The Struggle! I also have the UR> shirt, the bracelet, the poster…. Etc. : ) I keep praying that you guys will be able to do what God has called you to do without the annoying, fleshy distractions that so easily entangle us, since you guys have been so honest about that being a problem. I can’t say thank you enough. Oh, and by the way, I don’t cut anymore.
One last thing… Hey, Mike! My youth pastor says he went to high school with you. You know, Frederickburg Christian. He was a couple years older than you. He showed me the yearbook to prove it, since he knows I ADORE you guys and everybody I know at school and youth group all pick on my for constantly talking about Tenth Avenue North. (You sure have changed a lot!) He’s your friend on Facebook, too! But anyway, he said that he kept trying to get in contact with you, but his wife and I have to keep reminding him that he really isn’t best friends with you like he thinks he is. 😉 He said that his friend got her youth group backstage or something and he’s all, “Come on, Mike!!” and we’re all, “You don’t know him!”
Okay, I lied about that being the last thing. One last thing. My best friend, Mercy, and I were there when you guys filmed the “Losing” music video in Fredericksburg. That was so great! You probably don’t remember this, Mike, but you looked right at me and sang “The Truth is Who You Are” and said something about grace. It was great, because “Grace” is my nickname and that is my favorite concept of all time. So thank you.
I lied again about that being the last thing. One last thing and I promise I’ll stop! I got tired of waiting for you guys to take a picture with Mercy and I, who love you guys to death, so I drew a picture of the two of us with Mike. I will tweet it to you… so if you ever see that, remember that it was the girl with voices in her head and who was in the “Losing” music video. 😉
Another grateful fan,
PS: I adore Mrs. Donehey’s and Mrs. Owen’s blog!