Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 3

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.

I was a year out from the epicenter of the origins of the depression. All this while, I moved through life. Teaching. Working. Churching. Life moved and unfolded continually around me.

Perhaps, you ask what the origins were.

In 2015, a perfect storm collided, intersected in my life.  Two events of extreme elation and devastating loss occurred within two months of the other.

In August, Westbow Press published my first book Growing Room: For Life in Tight Places.  I remember the day my author’s copy arrived in the mail. My husband and I stood in the break room of work, and I cried into his chest, the book clutched between us—my top bucket list wish held between two covers.  In September, my local library held a book signing event for me. I sat at the desk and signed the inside of book covers. A hundred people talked to me, spoke to me, bought my book, and shared with me. My local and hometown newspapers shared my story. Messages poured into my social feed. I was humbled. Undone by the response. Still am.

In October, Steve and I went to Gatlinburg to celebrate—a hand-holding, sharing ice cream, kissing on the streets kind of weekend. After a couple of days in the heart of the town, we went to bed exhausted. In the middle of the night, my phone rang. The perfect storm arrived unannounced and unpredicted. Two fronts collided. My only brother, eighteen years younger than me, had been killed in a car crash.

How do I write from here? I’ve led you into a series, and many will dismiss the subsequent posts because they are heavy and quite frankly, depressing. But this is the geography of depression. And for me, because it was mild to moderate I still functioned.

 I write because I know many struggle as I did. I share because others need to know they are not alone. They are not isolated in their darkness. They are not excommunicated from the community of faith because this entity has a daily appointment.

Many beautiful, faithful, committed Followers of Christ inwardly battle the creeping fog and the pressing dusk. I know; I’ve talked with you. In my living room, through text, through email, through Facebook messages, in cafes, and in the aisles of grocery stores. I’ve heard the laments, the cries, the anger, and the frustration. I’ve heard it vented and whispered.

I know where you are. Where you abide right now. I know.

Many, if not all, have experienced a perfect storm in your life of one kind or another—a collision, and the fallout, the debris, the consequences, and the chaos loom. A clear path or way through to the other side is not visible.   And everything inside you seems to be breaking into splinters and shards, and you’re being cut and wounded by your own brokenness. There’s a slow leak of life-blood, a hidden hemorrhaging. You are plugging the holes of the dam with your own fingers.

And you’re (I, we) are crying, “How long, Lord? How much more can I take? How many more bad things will happen. How many more hard situations will we face? How long will you wait, O God? Where are you?” We whisper these questions inside our souls where no one can hear them. Breathe them quietly so no one can point out that our faith is weak or that we doubt or offer us flat platitudes when we are bailing out the water in our boat in the middle of the whipping storm. 

But, my Friends, there is hope.

A precious friend told me to convey this truth to another friend recently. She said, “Tell her there is hope.”

There is hope. An anchor.

An anchor that will hold in the fiercest and wildest of storms, and we will get to the other side.

Out of the Land of Shadows, Part 4—The Other Side is coming.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow, Part 2

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.

Something amiss, yes. But this alarm, this wake-up call, pierced through the dusk settled on me like dust on a long-forgotten corner table.

During the episode of my burnt fingers, awareness spread like light moving across the morning sky, but the light was faint. I recognized this geography, this terrain—I dwelt here once before, and I knew the action I needed to take to return to myself.

I knew my first task. I needed to identify the triggers, the origins. Could I trace them? Could I follow the thread through my labyrinth mind?

I tried.

My fingers healed long before my soul did, but my index and middle fingers remained tender, sensitive to heat and cold. And a numbness stayed in the center of my fingers’ first digits.  One numb circle persisted as the rest of the flesh quickened.

During the late winter and early spring of 2016, my husband and I planned a bucket list trip. For twenty years or more I planned this itinerary in my head. My husband tells a story of one afternoon when we gathered around my computer and scrolled through images of Ireland. I rattled on and on about the places I wanted to visit: to set my feet down on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, to enter into the long path way of Newgrange, and to climb the stairs of Skellig Michael. Later, after we married, my husband shared with me that as he watched me in this virtual tour, he kept saying in his head, “Then let’s go. Let’s just get married now and go.” Little did I know, right?

But as we prepared for Ireland, a battle waged in me; the depression, the dusk, created a reluctance in me to go on this once-in-a-lifetime sojourn. I waffled. But I knew I needed to push through the hesitancy. We planned and planned and planned some more. Sadly, I struggled with my lack of desire and enthusiasm. I found or created every excuse I possibly could to cancel and not go. But my husband, the steady anchor, would not allow me to cancel. He deflated every problem I presented.

We came home with memories, three thousand photographs, and treasures.

With our return, more of the darkness lifted and thinned, but I remained weak, fatigued, and weary. Jesus’ words, “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” applied now directly to me. The toll I paid depression was in emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Some people might call it burn-out, but I am not sure this is an accurate description. The flame still burned though faint and low. I was tired.

My Father knew I was tired. The good good Father knew what I needed. He knows his children.

For thirty-plus years, the Father had been hiding his word in my heart. His Spirit planted holy words deep in the soil of me, and those seeds, long-dormant, sprang to life. Pieces of Scripture long forgotten returned to my memory and leafed out in me. I grasped his words, and the stalks of them became my lifeline. Please understand this: my Bible remained closed most of the time. The books that littered every available surface of my home went unread.

But the Word of God in me opened. His word sustained me. Religious cliché? No, just the simple truth.

Please come back for Part 3.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Out of the Land of Shadow--Part 1

Twenty-three months ago I entered into a land of shadow—like the brilliant day when the sun disappears because a cloud moves in front of it. Suddenly the bright life is dimmed. Eyes must adjust to the now faded light; you attempt to open them wide, to expand your pinprick pupils, but they are slow to respond.

I kept waiting for the cloud to move along, shift to the right or the left. I woke each morning, slowly. Hoping the bright blue sky would reappear. Many days I didn’t think about it at all—at least consciously. I just went about my business; I lived the daily-ness of living:  the routine, the rote, and the rut. There were moments the sun filtered through broken patches in the clouds. Glimmers of light dappled through the cloud cover, and I followed them like a child chasing fireflies at night.  

You see I know the truth: I am a child of the light. I belong to the Father of lights, and there is no darkness in him. But I saw and felt the darkness in me, and it frightened me. I don’t like darkness. I don’t like the sun obscured by the clouds—at least not for undetermined periods of time.

I did all the things everyone tells you to do. Or I tried.


Reading (the nourishment of my life) became a chore. I struggled through reading a paragraph.

Praying (the necessity of my life) became a battle. I fumbled through one sentence prayers.

Writing (the expression of my life) dwindled and dried like a well in the heat of the summer.

Teaching (the calling of my life) became a duty. I grappled through lesson plans and Bible studies.

Loving (the joy of my life) became a burden. I stumbled under the weight and responsibility of it.

And the cloud remained. Eventually, my eyes adjusted to the dimness. But there is a sharpness lost when the light is low. The keen edges are dulled, and the vivid colors are muted.

I wrote about this place, talked about it in a post. I thought to be vulnerable, transparent, and confessional (to speak the darkness out loud) might help, but I encountered responses and reactions I didn’t expect—others reading my confession didn’t seem to like my filleted-open emotions. And they spoke words and opinions that pierced (though unintentional I am sure). Their words tapped on my spirit, and like a turtle, I pulled back into my shell and just decided it was safer inside.

Sunlight did break through several times, and like a cold-blooded creature, I moved into that light as quickly as possible. I curled up in it—trying to give my body time to soak up the heat and the light. For a long while, that’s the only response I could muster.

Mustering a different response as a course of action did not last long. Mustering anything required feats of strength and stamina of which I had little. I conserved my energy, pulled in all my limbs and appendages tight.

I gathered books and notes and Bibles and journals, even coloring books, and hoarded them as if the very possession of them would aid me. Books littered the house, and with every one of them came the heaviness of obligation. These tools remained stacked on the ends of counters and tables and in towers on the floor beside my bed or chair—cairns of intention, silent stones of expectations. Perhaps, I thought, there will be something in the pages that will awaken my spirit. But the books remained closed, and more often than not my Bible remained on the table unopened.

The weight of depression pushed down on me. Heavy-handed oppression pressed in on my spirit.  The pressure weighted my grieving heart.  I held grief deep and tight, wrapped my arms around it as if it were a flailing, exhausted child. Instinctively I knew if I didn’t contain this sorrowful creature it would break loose and wail.

At first, my heart was just numb, sensory abilities depleted.

In January 2016 an accident occurred that broke through my numbness and revealed my mental and spiritual state. I reached into a very hot oven and pulled out a terra cotta Dutch oven. My potholder slipped, and so did the dome lid. Steam burned my right hand—all four fingers, but the first two were severely damaged. I went to the doctor (who had a great deal of experience treating burns), and he and his nurse explained the seriousness of these burns. A day later the blisters on those fingers covered the entirety of the first two digits, and they were over an inch high. I visited the doctor’s office every day for almost a week to change the dressings and for them to assess the damage. Eventually, both blisters burst and the raw skin of my fingers was exposed. They explained to me that each day my fingers would need to be debrided and this would be quite painful.

Day after day I went in and sat on the white papered examination table. Each day they unwrapped my fingers and winced when the last bandage unwound.  The first time they debrided my burn they watched me closely.  Apparently, I remained rather stoic, and this reaction (or lack of ) surprised them.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” they inquired.

I shook my head negatively.

One nurse (who knows me quite well) leaned down and looked into my face when she asked this question.  Her eyebrows drew together and her lips pressed into a thin line.  She proceeded to gently scrub all the white, dead tissue away, exposing new flesh, raw and red.

But the fact that I felt almost nothing during this time alerted me to something being amiss.