Two months ago, I started taping scraps of paper with peoples’ names on them to my office walls. Yes, I am suffering mental illness, but I’m told it’s not the sort which often results in erratic redecorating.
Having recently gone public with my battle against depression and anxiety, notes of love and encouragement poured in from friends and family, parishioners, acquaintances, and almost-strangers. Knowing that the depression demons would continue to pick at my efforts to heal, I started putting up the names of these dear people on my wall–an unassailable visual symbol of the community God has gathered around me to offer their love and hope. I wrote about the joy and grace of something so tangible on my blog last month; soon after, one of my favorite bloggers on love and hope recounted her own experience with a love wall.
As I’ve let this wall grow over the last eight weeks, I’ve learned something about Christian community.
My parameters were simple: anyone who reached out to offer acknowledgement, comfort, prayers, thoughts, or good vibes over my mental health struggles would have her name scrawled on a piece of paper with a colorful sharpie, to be affixed to the wall with a bit of washi tape. People emailed, sent flowers, texted and called; a few even stopped by my house and sat in silence with me.
These clear boundaries were tested a few weeks in when a person for whom I don’t have a natural affinity sent a sincere email or note. I debated for a moment whether I might change my rules–if a name was a thorn every time I saw it, what was the point of being an uplifting practice? Almost as soon as the thought took form in my head, the response was clear: who was I to judge who was used by God to bring me love and comfort in my affliction? All the names went up. Even if I wouldn’t choose to invite the person or other to a dinner party. We don’t get to choose those who are members of God’s family, submitted to his will, called by his name. We are fortunate to journey with and be blessed by our siblings in Christ–whether they’re playing the part of annoying little brother or demanding big sister.
The other thing I was surprised to learn through my love wall was how much it meant to others to see their own names posted. Though I created the wall for my own encouragement and daily nourishment, as I wrote about it and then shared a photo of the installation online, people delighted in finding their own names in the collection. They’d text or call to tell me, with great joy, how it made their day to see their names comprising part of my wall of love. At first I wondered at their delight–she’d written that note to me, he’d told me when he was praying for me–of course I’d include them! Then I realized that it was less about the well-wishes they’d sent to me and more about the community I was calling on and identifying by my wall. These sweet people were already my tribe, already my brothers and sisters through Jesus’ claiming us all, but when I showed in my wall-art that I claimed them as my family too, we could all see more clearly the web of loving Christian family that God creates around each of us.
One sweet young soul glimpsed the awesome wall through an open door and asked her mother if she could add her own name to the throng–everybody really does want to be a part of God’s big crazy family.