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My Journey to the Light: Lessons Learned in the Dark

Also appeared in Persevering Hope, October 2019.

DISCLAIMER: Triggers for mention of suicide.

 On April 9, 1999, I had penned these words, ““I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”  Though I had been already battling depression for over five years at that point, that month was one of the lowest for me.   I had few, if any, friends, and I felt those closest to me could not relate with the emotional anguish and sickness that I was going through.  School was very stressful for me, as I endured a difficult class with an even more difficult teacher, who was verbally abusive to me and others.  Thankfully, God, in His mercy and grace, met me where I was at, a little over a year later, and did not allow me to give up on myself or on life.

I continued struggling through depression through my college years, and even still struggle occasionally now. However, I can attest that things have been much better now than they were that April day, twenty years ago!  In the deep darkness of my battle, I have learned so much that has enabled me to help encourage others who may feel that they are in the deep pit of despair and hopelessness and who are close to the end of their ropes.  Here are some of the lessons that I learned along this journey from the darkness to the light:

  1. Never give up! There is always hope when you are alive. Always! —I have wanted to give up more times than I could count, but God, in His sovereignty and love, never let me get that far.  I remember having symptoms of depression since I was ten years old.  When you are battling something that seems chronic or suffering for a long time, it is very tempting to give up on life and on God. However, perseverance is always worth it in the end.  For instance, when I was the most depressed, I thought no one would understand or even care about what I was going through. I hid the pain and the fears of having been bullied and rejected by some peers when I was growing up, and thought if I just tried to forget about it, the pain would eventually go away. However, when it manifested in increasing discouragement and an insatiable hunger for the desire to be accepted and love, and deep despair when my desires were not met, I thought more and more about ending my life.  Thankfully, God eventually took a hold of my life, and I began to see the purpose of my life. I also began to be increasingly motivated to spread God’s love to others.  Never would have thought then, that I would be surrounded by so many loving and supportive family and friends that I have today. I am truly blessed.  Had I taken my own life then, I would have never saw the light God had prepared for me today.
  2. Be compassionate and caring to those who are in pain, either and both physical and emotional. —I wish the people in my life now were there when I was struggling to see my value in this world and if there was any hope left in my life.  I find that when I am able and willing to even speak a word of encouragement to those who are stressed out at work, that their countenance begins to spark and brings them hope. When you see someone visibly upset and in pain, never stare judgmentally at them, but try to comfort them and offer them words of encouragement.  Nothing irritates me more than those judgmental, cold stares and comments from people when I am upset! I’m sure that upsets others in pain as well. When you take the time to care for and encourage those in pain, you bring them the hope and love that they have needed all along. Yes, sometimes caring for people is hard work, but you can possibly save a life when you take the time and effort for them. It is also so worth it!
  3. I learned that there was a purpose to my pain. — I have to admit—I have an intense phobia of suffering. Not only do I hate when I suffer, but I also detest when my loved ones and friends have to suffer as well.  However, when I am able to see the big picture of why God allowed me to go through the struggles and battles of depression and anxiety, I see that He was shaping my purpose to be able to help others who needed hope as well.  Had I not struggled with depression, I would not be able to relate to, on more than a superficial level, with the intense struggles that the people around me have had to go through. This truth is also emphasized in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (KJV), where it says, “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” So, when we go through trials, God will comfort us, both so we can endure the trial successfully, and for us to be able to then comfort others.

So, as I continue to apply and review the lessons that I learned in the dark and afterwards, I taste and see that the Lord is good.  Because God did not allow me to give up, I am able to see the bountiful blessings that He has given me, the opportunities He has given me to care for others who are in need of hope, and I learned that I have a calling in life that required me to go through some pain in order to be able to fulfill it.  Do you feel aimless or in despair?  There is purpose to your life, and God can use you to help others in their pain if you don’t give up.  There is always hope when you are alive— and my journey to the Light is a testament to that fact!

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On Vulnerability, Depression, and God’s Sovereignty

No one knew.

Growing up, I seemed this bubbly, albeit, times, hyperactive little girl who got decent grades at school. I seemed to have it all—two parents who loved me, a cute little brother, and stability. 

What they didn’t know was that inside I was being tormented by thoughts about never being “good enough” to the outside world.  Unfortunately, many of them confirmed my fears.  Most of my peers didn’t want to know me on a level deeper than “acquaintance”.  I was bullied by several of them for any quirks that they saw in me. There also were some racial and cultural prejudices that I had to endure. 

I remember at the tender age of ten when the word “suicide” first entered the recesses of my mind. The demons in my mind deceived me into thinking this was a way out of all the pain I held inside for so long, laughing that they were going to somehow get me to ruin myself.

However, God in His sovereignty didn’t let that happen. I am still here, more than twenty five years later. 

Though God saved my life through Jesus’ shed blood on Calvary seven years after I first battled depression and that ugly word crossed my mind, it wasn’t until about seven years ago today that God revealed to me that I had indeed another weapon in my arsenal to defeat the demons in my head that had harassed me for so long. 

My voice.

However, I was terrified to be vulnerable (i.e…open up) to others about my struggles. I feared rejection, ridicule and condemnation, which I believed would kill me emotionally and spiritually, if not, physically as well.  In fact, in high school, I was voted “Most Paranoid” because I trusted so few people.

But through the Spirit’s promptings, I obeyed Him, and began to share my story and my struggles to others—first just to close friends, then more publicly in my blog.

The rejection and ridicule I feared receiving was few and far between.  Most people instead either related to me about their own similar struggles with depression or said that they would use my story to help their loved ones who were struggling similarly. 

The more I opened up about my struggles, the more I saw people around me, both online and offline, the more I realized that my story needed to be told.  God, in His sovereignty, had a reason for allowing me to go through these trials. He needed to use my story to give people His hope and love that He gave me so many years ago, when He first came into my life and saved me.  God saved me from more than hell—He saved me from giving up on myself and those around me that needed to hear my story, as much as I needed to hear theirs.

Image by Vicki Nunn from Pixabay
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On Combating Loneliness


image by : Lukas Rychvalsky

written 4/1/2019

A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.

We were all created for community. Even when Adam was surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be surrounded by people, at least some of the time.  Believers in Christ or not, we are all created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood.  Many people, especially the younger generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up. 

Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also be more isolated.  While we may have more virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have suffered.  Because many people may see that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality.  For instance, in my personal life, I found that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more. 

One of the things that God has taught me through all that, is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!  However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.  Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place!  Also, when we are part of a community, there is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25, Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t neglect your local church community).

Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge idols.  I know several people who have turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or loneliness, in their lives.  One of my pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.

So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.  One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character.  In my class that I attend Thursday nights at church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap again.

God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may crave it.  This may be due to a number of reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again.  They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it will ruin them as well.  I used to be one of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others, and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely, but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in life.  So, how was I able to be more “real” and “vulnerable” with others?  First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest times.  I also strived to forgive those who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people respected them, I sometimes felt alone.  However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships with these managers also started to improve dramatically!  Also, in order to not feel lonely for a prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on relationships completely.  Also, God may want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.

We were not created to be alone. That is why children and adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.

Source:

  1. Jenkins, Aric. (1 May 2018). Study Finds That Half of Americans — Especially Young People — Feel Lonely Fortune. Retrieved from: http://fortune.com/2018/05/01/americans-lonely-cigna-study/.
  2. Hedegaard, Holly, etal. , Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (June 2018). NCHS Data Brief, 309. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db309.htm.
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Keep on Fighting

The s-word.    It carries more judgment, stigma, and heartache than any other word in the English language.  Yet it affects more people than we care to realize or notice, but we dare not talk about it.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S, in 2017, a whopping 9.8 million people have had serious thoughts about wanting to commit suicide. 

I can relate to those 9.8 million people.  Having struggled with depression for over half a century, I have had those same thoughts of suicide.  However, because of Jesus, He has pulled me through every one of those episodes and has never given up on me. Additionally, Jesus has provided me with a great support system that will listen to and help me through whenever I feel this way, without judgment or condemnation. 

Unfortunately, not everyone struggling right now has an adequate or a good support system. The good news is that, we can strive to be a support to at least some of those around us who are struggling right now. The good news is that if you are struggling right now, there are resources and people who want to encourage you and give you the hope and encouragement I got through Jesus and my support system as well.  I would also like to share some things that my support of family and friends have collectively taught and reiterated to me over the years when I feel like life is just too much:

You are a survivor!

Like me, you may have encountered people that have betrayed and abused you.  But, then, Jesus will give you strength to survive them or He will take them out of your life.  Keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel that your efforts to succeed in life are never enough, and that you always fall short.  Don’t worry. Jesus will provide the strength you need to truly succeed—maybe not as the rest of the world sees “success,” but more importantly, how He sees success. Keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel sometimes that no one truly cares for you, or really knows you.  But, then, Jesus brings people into your life that will prove you wrong.  So, keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel disconnected from society or that you don’t belong anywhere.  Then, Jesus will provide His Church and/or those around you to remind you that you do impact their live and that you do share a part of their heart. Keep on fighting!

Whatever you are going through and wherever you are in life, don’t give up! I almost did, but I am glad that Jesus didn’t allow me to end it all, because I never would have known the blessing of redemption and love!

You are a survivor! Keep on fighting!

Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml#part_154973

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Lessons Learned in the Dark of Depression

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay

For over 25 years, I have gone in and out of the throes of depression. During my worst episodes, I seriously considered ending my life. Thankfully, every time I wanted to give up, God rescued me out of the pit of despair and helped me see His love and light. Even though I would have preferred to not go through the darkness for so long, and though I had wanted to give up so many times, I am thankful that God taught me so many valuable life lessons that I now strive to apply to my life:

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

One lesson I learned from going through depressive episodes is to be more open and genuine with others in expressing my true self. In the past, I was so afraid of what people would think of me, that I never told anyone for a long time about my struggles, past and present. Unfortunately, I got so used to hiding that when I finally decided needed help with my issues, some people thought I really didn’t have those issues! However, the longer I struggled, the more apparent it became to me that I needed to talk to someone about my issues, and more than likely, several people.

Then, I started to talk. I began opening up the layers of my pain in my past. What I realized is that many of the people I opened up to struggled with similar issues! Also, I didn’t get most of the judgment or condemnation I had feared, and those that judged me were often the same ones that God would later remove from my life anyway. When I started opening up and being vulnerable with others, not only did I forge stronger bonds with those around me, but I found that the pain I went through in my depression lessened, as I started to heal.

Another lesson I learned from going through depression is to be value my time– especially the good, depression-free times– more. When I am depressed, I can only see the wounds and ugliness of myself and life. I feel like I am in a long, dark tunnel with no end to it. However, when I am content with life and glance back at (but not dwell) on my depressive episodes, I realize how blessed I am! Reflecting back causes me to value and appreciate the good times more, because I see how far God has brought me from the darkness of the worst of my depressive episodes.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The most pertinent lesson that God has taught me from going through depression, in my mind, is that He had a purpose and a plan for allowing me to walk in the dark for so long. I have learned that God has been using my struggle with depression, and the past hurts that had exacerbated my depression, to help me minister to others with similar or even more complex issues than I ever had!  He has also used my struggle with depression to help me be more compassionate and caring towards others in pain, and in order to strengthen my character by tearing down the layers of selfishness and self-righteousness in my heart.

If anyone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts right now, know that God has a good purpose for all you have been through. We may never know what it is this side of the world, but God never wastes our pain.  Let this be our hope to never give up no matter what life brings us.

Image by brigachtal from Pixabay
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Glorious Joy

 written:  12/23/2018

I was in so much despair

Thinking I was beyond repair

Joy was not a part of my life

I was suffering from much strife

 

Everything seemed to go wrong

Life seemed to just drag me along

But then God rescued me

And His love I began to see

 

Like a growing tree, my joy grew

I learned contentment that was true

As I was led into the light

My life became a glorious sight

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Saving Grace

written on:  9/30/2018

 

I watched you die inside

Tears fell from my one heart

As I watched you suffer

And your life got rougher

 

Don’t you know I love you?

How much I care for you?

You have been seeking love

A love that is most true

 

People have lied to you

They have abandoned you

But I’ll always be there

And give you so much care

 

I will always be true

To you, for all of all time

I will never hurt you

And I want to save you

 

Save you from all the lies

Save you from the empty pain

Save you from much disdain

Giving life in your soul

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My Journey Out of Darkness

*=all names have been changed for privacy reasons

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2016, approximately 16.2 million adults have suffered from depression, and approximately 3.1 million teens suffered from depression in the same year (1). In 2016, though I still struggled with depression, at times, I was much better than I was in the past.  In fact, depression is something that I have struggled with since I was about ten years old.  If you struggle today or have struggled in the past with depression, you are not alone.

As I said earlier, my depression started in my childhood. Though I may have appeared to most people to be the traditional, happy, go-lucky child, I constantly struggled with making lasting friendships with my peers, and because of certain quirks I had, some of my peers would even bully me relentlessly and  mock me by pretending to be my friend, before I knew of their real intentions.  Because of this, as I got older, I trusted people less.  However, as attested by a fellow classmate, I was very difficult to get along with, probably because of my rigidity and selfishness.  I wanted things done right and my way, but because I didn’t really know how to accommodate or listen to other people’s views, no one wanted to really pay attention or work with me. As a result of this rigid personality, combined with my peers’ bullying and lack of understanding, I often felt lonely, bored, and depressed. I desperately wanted to “fit in,” but I didn’t know exactly how to go about this.

Then, I grew up. I no longer was as rigid and self-centered, but the years of being bullied and teased had taken its toll.  I had grown so paranoid of people that in my senior year of high school, I was dubbed “most paranoid.”  I still struggled to make close friends, as people had already settled in their cliques by then, and I felt like I really didn’t belong anywhere.   Also, during this time, in addition to my depression, which had gotten a bit worse at this time, I also struggled with other mental health issues that almost sent me to the hospital! I wanted to be a successful person, both academically, and eventually financially, but I felt it was never good enough for either myself, my parents, or anyone else.

In March through mid April 1999, I suffered verbal abuse at the hands of one of my instructors. This instructor basically had said, in so many words, that I would not amount to much in my life, and sadly, for many years, I believed him.  In fact, I had so unconsciously internalized his searing words of condemnation that this had resulted in me contemplating, more than once, ending my life. In fact, on April 7, 1999, I had written in my diary, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”

A few months later, God gave me His answer by rescuing me from some of my self-destruction, and I finally found hope in Him. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  Slowly, but surely, with God’s help, I would climb out of the pit of darkness and despair.

I didn’t get out the pit immediately, though. In fact, it took awhile. However, by the time I started college, I was beginning to open up to people and develop closer relationships, which, most of them unfortunately have faded. However, I will never forget their kindness and understanding to me during the years I was there.  I changed my major from biology to writing and publishing (one major) and Spanish (my second major).  However, even though I graduated with honors from the college, I had an incredibly tough time finding a job in my field, and I was beginning to fear that my instructor from high school was right–that I wouldn’t amount to much in this life.

It was during this time that I really searched for my specific purpose and call in this life. I tried many jobs and volunteer opportunities that I thought I could do, but most of the jobs weren’t the right fit for me. I was beginning to get discouraged again, until I met my mentor J. After meeting J, about several months later, I started trying to find jobs that were better suited to my abilities and interests.  After about six months, I found the first job that suited me well.  However, after almost three years, I felt God leading me to somewhere else. 

I had applied at a bookstore that was opening about twenty five minutes from where I lived.  I was ecstatic about finally getting an interview after applying the second time. However, the day of the interview came, and I quickly found out that I wasn’t a good fit for that job.  My worst fears were confirmed after they hadn’t called me back after several days and later told me that they had moved on to other candidates.  I became discouraged again, but didn’t give up finding a job. 

Then, several weeks later, on February 25, 2016, I was at my current workplace, and wanted to check the status of my resume, since they hadn’t contacted me for several days.  So, I talked to the HR coordinator, and she then scheduled an interview for me at 1 pm. Since I don’t live that close to my current job, I had no time to change into better “interview” clothes,  and then I went back at about that time and was interviewed by Chris* who later became my manager too.  I did not know it at the time, but the fact that Chris was willing to hire me partly helped me to recover from the depressive funk that I had suffered from for so many years!

During the next six months, many changes happened to my family and me. My brother moved out to go to school in another part of the country, where he has been living ever since.  I also felt called to move to a different church. I began to take my blog that I had started in December 2015 more seriously.  These changes, which may have left many people frazzled and/or depressed, actually brought me joy and opportunities that I may never have had if these changes did not occur.

I also faced a big change at work.  I was talking to another manager, Hope*, one September in 2016, when she and I discussed about the possibility of me being full time at my company. She agreed that I should be full-time, and then she changed my status to be full time on September 9, 2016. That was one of the happiest days of my life! Even people that knew me well didn’t think I’d ever be able to be full-time, so I was surprised, but also grateful for this opportunity.

Now, more than two years later, I continue to learn and grow. Yes, there are still times when I feel depressed and stressed, but these episodes are much shorter and less severe than ever before.  I have finally found people, both at my current job and at my church, who I believe value and love me as I am.  As I look ahead to my future, I would like to show as many people as possible the love and joy I have found through God and others in my life, and give them hope, that they, too, can conquer their demons and live in abundant joy.

Source: 1) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/

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Hope -a poem

-to everyone going through pain and hurt right now

When everything falls apart

When things start to unravel

When you are on your last rope

I still see a glimmer of hope

 

Because one day I almost died

In me, there was almost no fight

I almost missed that glorious light

But that bright light filled my soul

 

The light can also bring you much hope

If you let the brightness fill your soul

You will be able to see much love

And again your life will be made whole

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Healing

Author’s note: This poem illustrates how God has saved me from darkness and depression and has given me love, joy, and peace. This poem also illustrates how I aim to love others who are going through suffering and trials. Many interpretations are possible. I hope this poem gives you hope if you are going through a trial right now. 

poem written: 8/29/2018

The same things every day

You are tired of the drudgery

And of all of the hurt and pain

Hoping that you still stay sane

 

To the world you wear a smile

But inside your heart is breaking

From all the agony and guile

Of the people surrounding you

 

You ache for something true and real

You want an end to all this pain

You want to taste joy and love

You want peace from up above

 

I will hold your hurting soul

When you feel broken inside

I will heal your hurt and pain

So again you can be whole

 

I will give you all of my love

I will sacrifice myself for you

So you will know true, real joy

And the peace from up above