Posted: 21 Apr 2012 11:00 AM PDT
I recently had the wonderful opportunity to chat with one of our own NSB sisters, Suzanne Auten, about her experience at this year’s Women’s Retreat. She has graciously agreed to share her story with all of us! My questions are in bold. I know you’ll be as encouraged as I was by hearing her story and all of the amazing things God has been doing in her life.
Tell us about how you came to be at Women’s Retreat this year. In the last year I recommitted my life to the Lord. While I’m not normally prone to New Year’s resolutions, this year it was clear that the Lord was asking me to make one. I committed to trying new things and branching out in ways that, in the past, I have been nervous about. This included attending Women’s Retreat. I was interested in attending Women’s Retreat but it seemed that I didn’t know anyone that was going. I hesitated signing up in part because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go if I didn’t know anyone else that was going. The topic “Time For A Fresh Start” sounded really intriguing—with all the things that had been going on in my life over the last year or so, I knew that I was living a fresh start! The final Sunday that registration was offered I was attending the 5:00 evening service. As I thought about the retreat, I recalled an experience I had during the Sunday evening service a month prior. The worship team had led us in the song “Jesus, All For Jesus” while offering was being taken. The third verse started: “For it’s only in your will that I am free.” It hit me in a new way. It’s only when I’m really living in Your (God’s) will that I am actually (really) free. I’ve always been on a search to be free. And I stopped in my tracks (I was collecting the offering) as that verse washed over me a fresh reminder of my freedom in Jesus. I was so overcome by the truth in that verse that others had to keep the offering plate going for me! The final hook for me to sign up was the zip line. I used to be an adrenaline junkie—I’ve even been skydiving—and I have always wanted to try a zip line. So I signed up for both Retreat and the zip line!
Was there something Connie Cavanaugh said that made a strong impact on you? Saturday morning Connie spent time talking about our secrets; that we all have secrets that we don’t share with others, that we don’t want anyone to know about. At one point, she read a list: secret after secret that women keep. As she read down the list, it was obvious by the stillness in the room that women in the room were relating to each secret. “I have a problem with anger. I have been unfaithful in my marriage. I’m an alcoholic. I had an abortion.” The list went on for quite some time. Finally, she reached the end of the list. But it seemed she left one out—my secret. Six years ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I was misdiagnosed for 30 years. Thankfully, since an accurate diagnosis and now correct medication, I am in recovery, but it has been a very difficult struggle. It is also a struggle that the church seems to not know much about or know how to address. As I’ve opened up and shared my personal struggle, I have realized that I’m not alone. Others within the church also struggle with mental illness themselves or have family members that do. Mental illness and having a mental illness has been stigmatized, forcing people to hide and keep secrets. How painful and prohibitive to healing!
I was able to talk with Connie after the session and share my secret with her. It was through this conversation, and then later through the other sessions, that I learned she, as well as family members, also struggle with life-long mental illness. Their struggles are with depression, anxiety, and panic disorder—a different type than mine, but mental illness all the same. This was a secret that she herself was familiar with!
What was the most meaningful lesson or experience for you at retreat? That it’s okay—it’s okay to be me. Bipolar and all. I’m finally free to be me. It’s not a punishment, and it’s not a joke. I spent years feeling like I was being punished or that God had played some cruel joke on me, that He really wasn’t there when I was created in my mother’s womb. That I wasn’t actually “fearfully and wonderfully made” like Scripture promises. But those were just lies. I can be myself and not feel ashamed or hide it anymore (Jesus likes me, not just loves me). Who I am and what I struggle with are not the same thing. I have a brain illness that’s not my fault. My identity is not my illness. I have bipolar disorder. I am a Christian. My identity is that I’m a daughter of the King. It is no longer my secret. I have received a new kind of freedom and peace. I have come to see that we’re all alike in that we’re all different. No two people are the same—from physical characteristics and then on. We all have secrets. We all have something to give regardless of circumstances and past experiences. I have what I need now to make a move and act (“be the tree,” as Pastor Jonathan Alexander would say.) I don’t have to be you and you don’t have to be me. Because of my experiences, I can touch someone you can’t touch. Because of your experiences, you can reach someone I can’t reach. And together we work for Jesus. I love the quote from the Christian movie October Baby: “To be human is to be beautifully flawed.” That’s me. Human. Flawed. And learning, beautiful. God gave me this passage from Zephaniah 3:14-17: “Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! . . . The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
Tell us about your zip line experience! The zip line was the chocolate frosting on the cake! (FYI, chocolate is one of the four major food groups!) As I mentioned, I used to be an adrenaline junkie and I just could not wait to get on that zip line and GO! As soon as I was all geared up and hooked up I asked, “How can I go really fast?!” I think my enthusiasm confused the staff. “You want to go fast?” they asked. I stepped off that ledge and whooped and hollered the whole way down! And I had so much momentum towards the end that I nearly knocked the next staff person over that was waiting to help me out! It was such a blast!!! Such a wonderful illustration of my renewed sense of freedom in Jesus. I even had someone tell me, “Next year I’ll pay $8 just to watch you go!” That experience was so exhilarating I had to find out if there were more zip lines in the area. I’m ready to do a Tour de Zip Lines! (As it turns out, Cascades Camp has the only zip line in the state!)
For some great resources and further reading, please check out the links below: