I was sitting in the departure lounge waiting for my flight to board when that dreaded announcement graced our ears, “The 3:30 p.m. flight to Dallas, TX will now depart at 5:40 p.m. Thank you for your patience.”
I looked at my fellow passengers and questioned the origin of the gratitude for “our patience,” comment. I decided the announcer must be resting in the truth that, “Faith comes by hearing.”
Apparently most of the people at gate A23 must have been deaf, because patient, they were not. It was our flight’s third delay and people’s tempers were wearing thin. I picked up my briefcase and returned to the coffee shop where I was becoming a familiar face. I chose a cup of tea this time and found a quiet table in the corner. I was just settling into to read my newspaper when I became aware of someone standing in front of me. I looked up to see a woman, about my age, tall and slim with short blonde hair.
“Would you mind if I joined you for a moment?” she asked.
“No, of course not,” I said.
When she sat down I noticed an unusual tattoo on her wrist. It was a semicolon.
“May I ask what that means?” I said.
She looked down at it and rubbed her fingers over the black ink.
“It’s about choosing to live one more day,” she said. “I’m part of a movement.”
“What’s the movement?” I asked.
“It’s called Project Semicolon. I joined after I heard you speak,” she said.
She told me that she’d heard me speak at a conference hosted by Saddleback Church. I remembered it well. Kay Warren had invited me to be a keynote speaker at the first annual symposium on The Church and Mental Health. The genesis of this event was the devastating suicide of Kay and Rick’s son, Matthew.
I was unusually nervous as I flew out to speak that first night. I wasn’t quite sure what I could add. The line-up of speakers was impressive and intimidating, including United States Surgeon General Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, and the former head of The American Association of Psychiatrists, whose name eludes me (put it down to the medication!). Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy was a keynote and many, many more were there as well.
I was the speaker on the opening night, which I was grateful for. It meant I didn’t have to follow anyone. I remember my opening line so well. It’s something I could never have said for most of my life.
“Good evening. My name is Sheila Walsh and I am profoundly grateful for the gift of mental illness. It means that I can look into the eyes of someone else who is suffering and say, ‘me too.’”
Such little words, but how I would have welcomed them when I was in the middle of the darkest battle of my life. In those days the Church rarely addressed any area of mental illness.
“Did you find the conference helpful?” I asked.
“Lifesaving,” she said. “I thought I was the only one.”
“So, what does the semicolon mean?”
She looked down at her wrist again and said, “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to. You are the author and the sentence is your life.”
I thought of how often we need to remember that. Not just for someone struggling with mental illness but someone in the middle of chemotherapy, in the middle of a divorce, in the middle of any of the inevitable struggles we all face. The truth is your story is not over yet. Yes, it’s hard and I know there may be many times when you feel like quitting.
But Jesus is there.
When I feel tempted to go there I remember the words that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18 (ESV)
Your story is not over yet! Hold onto the one who is holding on to you. There is life beyond the semicolon.