Tag Archives: Unconditional

Mother’s Day blessings…

MyZoo

What is Mother’s Day?

It’s a day most of us celebrate the women who have poured love into our lives, nurtured us, cared for us, kissed our boo-boo’s, held us when we were sad or afraid, and so much more. It’s a love that’s irreplaceable and no one else can fill that role.

Not everyone has that love. Some never had it. Some had it in a warped way. Some have lost it. There are many things in our fallen world that separate us from the most special bond God intended us to have.

A mother isn’t just someone who physically gives birth to you. For me, while I have loved my mother, she was also not the mother I needed in some of the hardest times of my life. That abandonment still affects me greatly today at the age of 39. It’s a longing my heart aches for. It’s a loss I don’t want to accept.

I spent my very first Mother’s Day, back in 2001, alone. I asked my husband to take my son and go visit his family and leave me alone. I believed they were better off without me. I believed I deserved to be alone. Oh how wrong I was but the lies I’ve believed all my life tainted any truths I needed to believe.

That little boy will soon be 17. He amazes me more and more each day. Sure, we’ve had our issues and all I can say is I have messed up and apologized many times, as has he. And over the years, #2 and #3 have blessed our family. Most days, it’s a zoo but it’s my zoo. Most days, I’m tired, worn out, wishing I could find solitude in a tiny cabin in the woods where I can be alone with my thoughts, yet I know I would quickly feel lost in the quiet.

What I have learned is that being hurt by your mother doesn’t mean you will be a bad mother. I think in many ways, it’s helped me be a better mother. When our oldest son was five and I made a choice that too closely resembled choices my mother had made, I hated myself and feared I was becoming her. I knew my son deserved better than that, just as I had. I cried out to God with two requests:

“God, either you’ve got to take over or I’m not going to make it.”

I remember saying those words out loud and I can hear them just as clear today as I did on that September morning.

The roller coaster of life has continued as it does for most. There have been amazing times and there have been horribly, hit the bottom, completely empty times. Through it all, God has placed just the right people in my life at just the right times. For so long, I was angry at God for allowing things to happen in my life and for not having the mom and dad I saw so many others have. I wanted to feel that unconditional love, to have that complete trust in someone that no matter what happened, they would hold you, cry with you, and believe you.

I didn’t have that. I won’t have that. I have to accept that.

But this Mother’s Day, I’m going to celebrate in spite of the wounds I carry.

I’m going to celebrate the three amazing blessings that call me mom.

I’m going to celebrate that God has led me down a different path from my own mother’s choices.

I’m going to celebrate that even though I am completely broken, my children know they can always depend on me to believe them, hold them, cry with them, and love them.

I’m going to celebrate the many people God put in my life to keep me going and even though I wanted them to fill roles they couldn’t possibly fill, I can clearly see what special gifts each of them have been.

I fear naming them as I certainly do not want to leave anyone out but I can honestly say, so many people have greatly impacted my life and I am grateful for each of you. To those of you have been the closest to tending to me like what I imagine a mother or father would, I thank you. I probably put unrealistic expectations on you and for that, I’m sorry. But know that my heart is full because you poured into my life.

From earlier days in my life, thank you to my 6th grade friends who gathered with me in the small teachers lounge as I poured out my heart, wow…what a crazy position you all were in. I asked you to swear on the Bible not to tell and though you did swear it, you knew what I had said was something worthy of breaking that promise. You knew it needed adult intervention. And you made sure I got that. Thank you for being my friends, the first people I ever felt I could share my secrets with. And I so wish I could have said thank you to Mrs. Glenda who was the first adult I ever confided my secrets to. I learned she passed away a while back. She had such a gentle, loving spirit. I was drawn to her because she felt safe. She was my voice when I couldn’t speak. Even though things did not go well, I know she believed me. I am thankful for Mrs. Carson, my 8th grade English teacher who became a light in my life. I’m thankful we are able to still stay in touch. And I thank you for all you did for me and all you taught me. To Mr. Black, my high school art teacher, thank you for rocking the Duke sweatshirts and pulling for the “right” team! Thank you for fueling my love of drawing and art. Writing and drawing have been outlets that got me through life. I suppose you could say among many unhealthy was,  those have been my healthy ways of coping. Thank you for giving me something else to think about, to strive for, to love when my world was pretty dark. To my high school buddies, Erin and Christina…I kept you at a distance personally, just as I did everyone, but you were my friends and I’m thankful you were there. You helped create many good memories! My softball buddies, Kelly and Angie – fun times. Man, I lived for the dirt and I’m so glad we had so many good times together in a place I loved so much.

To my Guardian Ad Litem, Anne, who was there for me during some of the hardest times. Thank you for listening to me, for believing me, for treating me like I mattered, and for giving me a voice even though I was afraid to use it. I knew I was safe with you and that’s what mattered.

To my sweet grandparents, affectionately called Nana and Papa. I miss you. Thank you for taking me in when you were both facing your own nightmares. You had each been diagnosed with cancer but at the same time, you were there for me, supporting me, and taking me in as your own. You had always been there but you made your home mine too. You loved me as much as you could. I know it was hard. I was horribly broken. I was a depressed, hurt, abandoned, and lost teenage girl. I know it was hard on you. But you loved me anyway. Nana, you had your moments that really hurt. There were stings from you that I still feel today but at the same time, I remember those moments when you let me crawl up on your lap and cry. It was the only place I could cry. That meant more to me in that moment than anything. When I needed a place to cry, you gave me that. And Papa, I don’t think you ever did anything wrong in my eyes. I looked at you with nothing but admiration. You were the perfect gentleman. You taught me to love others, to help others, to care about others, and to forgive others. You taught me what real, safe, true love looked like. You smiled at me at all the right times. Your eyes filled with tears when you knew I was hurting. Your face showed disappointment when you knew I’d made bad choices. But you never stopped loving me. You never stopped letting me know I was loved. You are the reason I am married to the man I am. He is God’s precious gift to me and he came just as you left. God didn’t allow me to be without that one perfect man for me. First it was you and when you could no longer fill that role, it became Tony. He’s so much like you. The perfect gentleman, the one who would help anyone, who has forgiven endlessly, who has shown me every single day of our life together that I matter and he loves me. Thank you for being such a great example of what a real man is. And thank you for playing ball with me, for late nights, for giving me and Nana lots of giggles when your teeth fell down or your major comb-over had come to the dark side, lol. Thank you for giving me my blue eyes when no one else in the family had them…just you and me. And now, no one in my little family has them except my own daughter. What a special gift we share with you. Thank you for loving me.

Danny and Lee, thank you for loving me, for caring about me, for loving my grandparents and being a support to them as they faced their own trials and raising an abused, scared, angry teenager. What a world they were thrown into. Thank you for taking me in when I had no where else to go. You not only provided shelter for me and my sweet Tippie, but you provided a sense of family I’d never experienced. I got a glimpse of what a real family looks like. For a short time, I got to know what it felt like to have a sister and brother, a mom and dad. And though you couldn’t really fill those roles, you certainly did all you could to make me feel at home. The physical gift of providing me shelter was beyond wonderful but the emotional love you showed me was priceless.

Jimmy and Cindy, thank you for making me laugh. Oh what fun times we had…and some not so fun (like stacking the phase 10 cards just to see me get mad or flipping the hat off my head). Sure, those things made me angry on the outside. My short fuse often reacted. But on the inside, I knew you loved me and cared about me. I knew everything you did was out of love for me. You not only loved me but you gave me the outlet I so desperately needed. You gave me other things to focus on than my own nightmares. You gave me reasons to smile and laugh. You stayed up late endless nights with me playing Rook. Those moments were a treasure because I wasn’t alone. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have been alone in my own world of darkness, despair, and hopelessness. When I was with you all, you lifted my spirits and shined your light into my darkness.

To Becky and Bill, I guess if anyone could claim to be my parents, you both could. At times, you have loved me like your own and from day one, you claimed my kids as your own grandkids. I have loved that. What a special treat it has been for myself and my kids. My biggest regret is that we haven’t made much time for you all lately. Life has been busy and has taken us in different directions but you are never far from my heart. You’ve loved and supported me since I was 17. You were there when my grandpa died and again when my grandma died. You were there when I needed help with Noah and your love for him was priceless. You’ve continued that and I am so grateful for all you have done for us. Thank you for loving me and my family.

To my church family – there’s no way I can name each of you individually because I would certainly miss someone. Each of you have impacted my life in some way. I won’t say it’s always been easy or even good but that’s how families are. I know first-hand that families are dysfunctional. What you all, my chosen family, have taught me is that families work through those things, they overcome trials, they support one another, believe one another, and forgive one another. What amazing lessons I have learned from this sweet family God brought me into.

Thank you Skip and Jeff for being faithful leaders who have taught me more about myself than I ever imagined. You’ve taught me I’m not alone and you’ve accepted me in my darkest moments. You never turned me away. Instead, you poured hope and love into my life. You showed me that I was worthy of your time and God’s love. What greater gifts could I have asked for than for someone to reassure me that God has a plan for my life?

To my sweet friends who have come, gone, or stayed by my side, I thank you all. Even if our ways have parted, you were there at just the right time and blessed me beyond anything I ever deserved. In your own ways, each of you has allowed me to be a part of your life and your family. You have shown me the love of a sister or mother when I needed it most. I realize expecting that unconditional, irreplaceable love from you was never fair to you and probably only hurt me more. Even still, you showed me the closest love of a sister or mother than I could imagine. Leslie, Ashley, Jennifer, Ambra, Rachel, April, Karin, Keg, Julie, Trish, all my amazing Bible study sisters, thank you for walking through this life with me. I know I haven’t been the perfect friend – far from it and you loved me anyway. I know I carry with me some pretty heavy baggage. You’ve helped me carry it. My emotions and reactions can change instantly. You love me through it. You’ve accepted me. You’ve allowed me the freedom to be honest about things I maybe never felt safe enough to share. And you’ve prayed for me so many times. What an honor it has been to have each of you in my life. My heart will always hold you in a special place and I am a better person because of you.

To my amazing Armstrong family…wow. What a beautiful blessing it has been to be a part of such an amazing family. I often jokingly say  you are the most normal family I could ever imagine but really, it’s true. Sure, there are kinks but I have never seen such love for one another, encouragement, love, and support. And I get to be part of that! It sure has been nice to feel like I am part of a real family. I hate we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like. You all have shown me what “family” really means.

There are so many more people I could name, who have touched my life in amazing ways, who have shown me that I matter, encouraged me, pushed me, and loved me. My SCS friends and family, the kids I’ve been blessed to work with through subbing, my photography friends and families who’ve trusted me with their most precious treasures and those who’ve allowed me into their lives during some of their own most difficult losses, to those in the fire department and rescue squad who became my family when I had none. I know they call it a brotherhood and I was the only girl around but you didn’t leave me out or single me out. You made me feel like I belonged.

And to my sweet “friend,” Kara. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day. I know you and I have a different relationship and most days, that’s more than frustrating. And yet I know you want the best for me, even if that means things are different. You’ve provided me a safe place to bear my heart, to cry the tears that have flooded me inside. You’ve taught me more about myself than…well probably more than I ever wanted to know, lol. And you’ve helped me make sense of my own mess, my broken world. You’ve helped me patch the wounds, right the wrongs, replace lies with truth. You’ve taught me my own truth and you’ve taught me God’s truth. You’ve shown me a love so unconditional, I can’t even put into words how priceless it’s been. You’ve believed me. You’ve encouraged me. You’ve supported me. You’ve prayed for me. You’ve allowed me to be real with you. You’ve helped break down the walls I had built so high and strong. You’ve made difficult choices when you needed to knowing it would lead to hurt or a loss of trust, but you did so to keep me safe, to protect me, because you care. You have become such a huge part of who I am, of who I am becoming, of who I will someday be. Everything you have done for me is irreplaceable and even if there are times when I want assurance that you are who I want you to be, you are always who God made you. You have taught me to trust. To trust you, to trust others, to trust myself, and to trust God. I came to you having little to no trust and look at where I am now. I’ve still got a long way to go so don’t plan on going anywhere :)

So you can’t all be mother’s, in fact, none of you can be my mother. There’s only one woman on this earth that was given that name. What I ask of all of you is that you pray for her. My life is very different and I am stronger now. I have had to be a mother to my children. I have had to protect them, guide them, love them, and everything that I am supposed to do as a mother. Part of that was saying goodbye to my own mother. I know it hurt her. That was never my intention but it was what was necessary for me and my family. I have never, not one day hated my mother. I have loved her and wanted a mothers love more than anything. But what I’ve learned is that just as I am broken in my own ways, she was broken in hers. Part of that was in her ability to be the mother I needed. Please pray that she can find peace in her own life and know that she is loved from afar.

And because I’ve lived without a dad too, we’ll go ahead and count this as my Father’s Day note too. So here’s to all of you…Happy Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, friend day, sister day, brother day, family day, etc.

“To the world you may only be one person but to me, you’ve been the world.” – unknown

Back to Life…

2015_BacktoLife

I am currently leading a Bible study at our church based on the book, Living So That, by Wendy Blight.  If you have not had a chance to read it, add it to your list.  It’s an amazing book digging through Scripture and life.  Wendy does an excellent job taking us on a personal journey of growing closer to God.

Chapter 4 of Living So That is about trials.

We all face trials.  We all deal with suffering, pain, grief, loss, and so much more.  Life is hard. 

I bring this up because the time is right to share this story with you.  I spent last night sharing with my class about this recent trial I faced.  I needed them to hear it from me.  I have spoken with a few other people that I needed to tell face to face.  Now I need you to hear it from me…I need my story to come from me.  (warning…it’s long!)

It’s no surprise to most of you that I struggle with depression.  It’s something I have dealt with most of my life.  My depression is based on circumstances and experiences.  The past year has probably been one of the hardest years but also one of the most rewarding and growing.  Over the past year, as I’ve struggled with my depression, I’ve also dealt with thoughts of death and suicide.  I’ve written about it.  I haven’t hidden that.  I’ve admitted that times are hard.

Today, I’m going to let you in…I’m going to take you on a journey inside the mind of depression and suicide.  My husband says, “Depression steals your will to fight.”  And he’s right.  Depression stole my will to fight.

On Sunday morning, February 15th, I went to church with my children.  My husband was working that day at the fire department.  Admittedly, I sat through Sunday School not really listening to our Sunday School teacher (Sorry David!).  I was distracted.  My thoughts were elsewhere.  My thoughts were on death and dying.  I looked up in the back of my Bible, “Suicide.”  That word is not in there, but death is.  I started flipping through my Bible and reading verses about death and dying.  I read the notes.  I debated those thoughts in my own head.  I wrote in my journal.  I spent the entire hour of Sunday School reading and thinking and about death.

This is not new.  As a person with depression, it’s something I’ve faced many times.

I don’t belong here.
Everyone would be better off without me.
This hurts too much.
I can’t take anymore pain.
I will never heal from this lifetime of hurt.
I can’t keep living this way.
I’m not really living.
Life is too hard.

When you’re in that place, the thoughts of dying make sense.  It’s hard for anyone who’s not there or who hasn’t been there to understand.  While my thoughts may have been irrational, they just made sense.  I believed I could finally be free from this lifetime of pain and at the same time, I believed those that love me would be better off without me.  I was convinced dying was the right answer.

I left Sunday School and hesitantly headed to preaching with my boys.  Our music minister stood up and said, “We may not know what the person next to us is thinking.”  He was right.  I looked around and thought, “He’s right…no one here knows what I’m thinking.”  And I looked around the sanctuary and wondered, “How many other people here are thinking the same thoughts I’m thinking?”  I was thinking of dying. 

I wanted so badly to run up on stage, grab the microphone from Rodney and say, “Stop worrying about how you’re dressed, what you’re hair looks like and how pretty your smile is…let’s get real…people are hurting here!”  But I didn’t.  I wanted to grab my friend Julie and tell her what I was thinking…but depression said, “No!”  I wanted to walk over to my friend Keg, grab her hand and take her out of there so I could tell her what I was thinking…but depression said, “No!”  When my sweet friend, Ambra, came over to hug me, I didn’t want to let go.  I wanted to hold her and tell her what I was thinking…but depression said, “No!”

I had never felt more lonely than that moment, standing in a sea of people in my own church.

Rodney read from Psalm 118.  I can’t tell you now exactly what verses he read that morning but it prompted me to go back and read it in my Bible.  I came to Psalm 118:17 and knew that was exactly where God had directed me that morning.  And later, I would learn why…

I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done.  Psalm 118:17

That was the verse I read on the morning when I was preparing to die, just moments after Rodney had said to a church full of people, “We may not know what the person next to us is thinking.”  I will never forget that morning.  I had not wanted to be there but there was a reason I was there.  That morning, our pastor preached a sermon on…suffering.  I may not have wanted to be there but I needed to be there.  I needed to hear that message.  I needed to hear that verse. 

The day went on as usual but the thoughts did not go away.  In fact, by that evening, I was convinced that Friday would be the day I would say goodbye.  I was certain.  I was sure.  I had peace about it.

Monday morning, February 16th, I spoke with my best friend, Jennifer.  She reminded me that they were coming to our house for some family fun time Friday evening.  I love them all dearly but I was not thrilled about them coming.  It was messing up my plans.  She had no idea what I had been thinking and I had no intentions of telling anyone.  I thought out the rest of my week and realized I had commitments or appointments every day except that Monday so I thought to myself, “Well, it’s just going to have to be today.”  By that evening, I was ready.  My kids went to bed.  My husband went to shower.  I went to the kitchen and grabbed a mixture of pills.  I had been sitting in the living room that evening reading Chapter 4 from Living So That and reading Scripture.  I sat back down next to my Bible.  Three times, I prepared to take the pills and three times, God intervened.

First, my therapist emailed and I asked her if we could talk by phone.  She agreed and she called but I couldn’t tell her what I was thinking.  I had stuffed the pills in my Bible until after I finished talking to her.

Next, I opened up my Bible to read where I had stuck the pills.  It was Deuteronomy and I thought, “I am not reading there.”  But there was a letter tucked into that same page.  It was something my middle son, Caleb, had written back in November about the things he was thankful for…me being included.  The last sentence of his letter said, “These are the most important things and would be terrible to live without.”  I put them back in my Bible.

A little bit later, I was ready again.  I held the pills in my hand and was just about to take them when I heard my husband coming into the room.  I quickly shoved them back into my Bible.  I was angry.  I grabbed all my stuff and headed for the bedroom.  It was bedtime.  My plan had failed.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.  Proverbs 19:21

The next morning, our kids were home due to an ice/snow storm.  We played outside and while we had a great time, I couldn’t stop thinking about how differently their day could have been.  I also couldn’t stop thinking about the thoughts.  I kept thinking the thoughts would stop, they would go away, it was all behind me…but it wasn’t.  That afternoon, I met with friends, Keg and Julie.  I had no intentions of telling them what I’d been thinking or done.  I was determined not to tell anyone.  I couldn’t.  Partly, I didn’t want to admit it and partly, I didn’t want anyone stopping me.  When I met with them, they could tell something wasn’t right.  My sweet friend, Julie, wouldn’t let up.  She kept asking until I finally told them.  The encouraged me to talk to my therapist and to be honest with her.  They supported me.  The loved me in spite of me and my choices.  They loved me through it all, unconditionally.  Everyone deserves that.  Everyone needs that.  I needed that.

I met with my therapist that Thursday afternoon and I told her all about Sunday and Monday.  And I cried with her.  For those of you that know me, you know I don’t cry…rarely.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve really cried.  That day, as I told her about wanting to die and how I had it all planned out, I cried, big, heavy tears.  Of course she was concerned and insisted I have someone with me at all times for the next few days.  I agreed.

Friday morning, I met with my friend, Keg, at a local coffee shop.  We worked on our Bible study from Living So That.  Over and over, we saw connections with the Bible study and the things that had transpired in my life that week.  It was clear how God was working, how He was present through it all.  I felt hopeful…yet at the same time, my thoughts still clouded, still heavy.  My therapist called to check on me.  I still couldn’t tell her I was okay.  I didn’t feel okay but I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling.  I had some extra pills I was supposed to give to my husband…but I didn’t.  Instead, I stuck them in my purse with others, just in case.  I still thought it was all behind me.  I tried to believe that.  That evening, our friends came over for our family night.  We enjoyed our time with them but I’m sure Jennifer could tell something wasn’t right with me.  Finally, we had a chance to talk.  I shared with her about the week.  Like Keg and Julie had, Jennifer loved me through it.  She was concerned for me but she was thankful I was sharing with her and I was alive.  She loved me unconditionally.  I didn’t tell her the thoughts hadn’t gone away.  I couldn’t tell anyone.  They left our home a little after 11p and we all headed to bed.  Tony laid down.  The lights were off…I grabbed the bundle of pills from my purse.  I can’t tell you where I was when I swallowed them…I’m not sure if I was in the bedroom, the bathroom or the kitchen, but I swallowed them.  I didn’t tell anyone.  I laid down in my bed and expected to not wake up.  I didn’t really think beyond that.  I didn’t need to.  I had thought about this for months.  I was ready.

Depression is an ugly thing.  It clouds every thought but in such a way that is so convincing.  I said it before…those thoughts make so much sense to the person going through it.  It affects how you view yourself, how you feel about others, your inability to function in healthy ways and make appropriate or healthy choices.  I could hold it together.  From the outside, I looked okay..and sounded okay.  I’ve spent my whole life perfecting an appearance that “I’m okay” because I’ve had to.  I was always alone.  I had to take care of myself growing up.  I had to be okay just to survive.  I learned to shut off feelings, to shut them out.  I learned to push people away.  I learned to say the right things so that I always appeared “Okay.”  Now was no different.  Though I had opened up to a few and admitted my struggles, I still kept them at a distance and withheld my deepest thoughts.  Depression was killing me.

Saturday morning, February 21st, my husband woke me up to tell me goodbye as he left for work.  That was about 7:30a.  I didn’t tell him what I’d done but as soon as he left, panic overtook me.  I was scared.  What had I done?  And I was alive…I wasn’t supposed to be alive, I thought.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.  I hadn’t gotten sick.  I hadn’t felt anything.  Nothing happened.  Nothing…and I thought, “Now what?”  Concerns were…

How long does it take for these pills to take effect? 
Are my kids going to see me suffering now? 
Am I going to get sick? 
What’s going on with my body now? 
Am I dying and just don’t know it yet? 
Should I go to the hospital? 
Should I tell what I’ve done?

I called my husband at work and told him what I’d done.  He didn’t get angry but he was concerned.  He told me to call my therapist and see what she thought I should do.  I called her.  She told me to go to the hospital.  Tony came home from work and stayed with the kids while my friend Julie took me to the hospital and we were later met there by another friend, Keg.  We were there nearly all day…from around 830a until about 4p.  Between the doctor and a social worker, I was cleared … mostly based on the idea that I would go to another hospital that had a mental unit where I would check myself in.  Keg and Julie drove me to another hospital where we had to wait in yet another ER.  We spent about 5 hours in that ER before I was transported to the mental hospital a block away.

I was scared.  I had no idea what to expect.  I was worried about people finding out.  I was afraid of what others would think, how I would be judged, condemned, criticized.  I was afraid that I would lose the opportunity to continue teaching Bible studies.  I was afraid people would deem me inadequate…for having a broken mind…for having so much pain that I was ready to give up on life.  It wasn’t fair that those were my concerns…but in a world where mental illness carries such a stigma, that’s what we face, on top of the struggles that are already too heavy.

At the mental hospital, I was stripped of everything…my jewelry, my clothes, my hat, my shoes, everything.  I walked through those doors with nothing of my own except the bra and panties I wore underneath paper scrubs and my coat.  The doors locked behind me.  I had no idea when I would get out or what kind of life I would face in there and after I left there.

It was late.  All the other patients in my unit were already in the bed.  I had no clue what kind of people I would be there with.  I didn’t know what to expect.  A nurse checked my vitals.  Another nurse took me in an office to ask me questions.  There, I was stripped and all the markings on my body were marked in my chart.  I’ve been a cutter since I was 14 so every scar on my arms and legs was marked on this chart.  It was humiliating but I understood it had to be done.  I was there for protection.  They had to ensure my safety and part of that was in knowing about my cuts and ensuring I didn’t do anymore harm to myself while I was there.  I was sent to my room…a cold, dark, lonely room.  I thought about that Sunday, when I had stood in that sea of people and felt more alone than ever…until this night.  I was truly alone.  I had no one to talk to.  I was scared.  I was physically alone.  I had been stripped of everything…even my dignity. 

But God…God never abandoned me.  Those words he had planted in my heart and mind that Sunday morning…they replayed over and over in my head…

I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.  Psalm 118:17

I asked the nurse if I could have a pen and paper.  Now, if you’ve never been in a mental hospital, you may not know this but when they give you a pen, it’s not a real pen.  It’s about 3 inches long and not much more than the ink portion of the pen.  Me, being the writer and pen snob I am, had to adjust quickly and be thankful that I, at least, had something I could write with.  In that moment, that pen and pad of paper meant more to me than anything.  I was beyond grateful.

I wrote page after page that night as I sat in my dark room, alone.  I wrote about my fears.  I wrote about wanting to hug my children.  I wrote about the things that mattered most and how God had brought me there to show me what mattered most…writing, teaching, friends, family, and God as the center of them all.  I wrote that in my little make shift journal with my nothing of a pen…but that night, that pad and pen were everything.  I poured my heart out to God!

I wrote that verse…I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.  I cried.  I cried out of fear.  I cried because I missed my life…the life I had tried to run away from.

And then the lyrics of a song God had planted in my heart and mind came up… (For King & Country – Shoulders)

When confusion’s my companion
And despair holds me for ransom
I will feel no fear
I know that You are near

When I’m caught deep in the valley
With chaos for my company
I’ll find my comfort here
‘Cause I know that You are near

My help comes from You
You’re right here, pulling me through
You carry my weakness, my sickness, my brokenness all on Your shoulders
Your shoulders
My help comes from You
You are my rest, my rescue
I don’t have to see to believe that You’re lifting me up on Your shoulders
Your shoulders

Those words and God’s words brought me comfort that night.  I can’t think of a more fitting verse or song.  God knew exactly what I would need.  When I had been stripped of everything and everyone, God was there.  He didn’t abandon me.  His words brought me comfort.  I didn’t have a Bible.  I didn’t have a radio.  But I had those words planted in my heart.  He had given me those words when I needed them most.  I was not alone.

That morning wasn’t any easier.  I was still a mess.  I was still crying.  I was still scared.  I missed my kids.  I missed my life.  I missed my freedom.  I felt like a prisoner…trapped in this hospital and trapped in my own world of desperation and hopelessness.  I begged my therapist to get me out of there.  I needed to go home.  I learned quickly to put back on my “okay” mask so I could get out of there…and that’s exactly what I did.  Tony was able to come visit me that day at 1p.  It was so great to see him…and to make things even better, he brought me real clothes that I could wear!  I had no idea how great it felt to wear my own clothes (instead of paper scrubs) until they had been taken away from me.  Once I put on my own clothes, I felt like a new person.  I met with the doctor that afternoon and he asked me a ton of questions.  I answered them beautifully…because I had to get out of there.  I didn’t lie to him…but I wasn’t fully honest with him either.  I just answered what I needed to in order to get out.  He said I could go home in a day or two and at that point, I knew I could make it that long.  I was ready.

I spent the rest of my time there getting to know the other patients.  They weren’t freaks.  They weren’t scary.  They were broken people just like me.  In our unit, we were all there for the same reason…we had all tried to take our own lives.  Twelve of us…but these hospitals stay full…so there are many more.  As Rodney said on Sunday morning, February 15th, “We may not know what the person next to us is thinking.”  Like the person at the drive thru window of a fast food restaurant, the person in front of us at the check out line at Walmart, our child’s teacher, our own pastor, a family member, a neighbor, our spouse or child, anyone…any of these twelve could be anyone.  They are normal people.  We all face trials.  We all face suffering.  We are all at risk for depression, brokenness, and in need of help.

That weekend, I met…

A young man who’s father had abandoned his mother and four children.  They were now struggling to survive.
A nurse who had felt so much grief and loss that she held a gun to her head.
A middle aged woman who felt she could never be good enough or do enough as a Christian woman.
A young man who, as a young boy, had found his father’s badly decomposed body.
A teenage girl raising her own three year old and two siblings after losing her mother to cancer.
A mother of two boys who’s husband was leaving them.
A middle aged woman and former Christian school teacher who didn’t know what to believe anymore.
A teenage girl struggling with an addiction to drugs while raising her one year old son.
A young woman, also struggling with drugs, who had lost custody of her two daughters.
An elderly woman who’s mind wasn’t working quite right anymore.
A middle aged man who had simply lost his way.

They were real people.  They came from normal lives…just like you and me.  It was simply more than they could handle.  How alone did they feel?  Here I am, a wife, mother, friend, and Bible study teacher and I felt incredibly alone in a sea of people.  Did these people have anyone?  If they didn’t, how much more alone did they feel than I felt?  I have support.  I have friends who have shown me over and over they aren’t going anywhere.  I have a church family that loves me and supports me.  I have people encouraging me and telling me they are there for me.

And yet, I felt so incredibly alone.

As my husband said, “Depression steals your will to fight.”  And it had.  But that wasn’t the only thing it stole.  It stole my desire to seek help, to reach out, to find comfort, to trust others, to be honest about my struggles.  It stole my hope in humanity and in life.  It filled my head with clouded judgement…lies that made sense.  Depression is not something we can just magically wave a wand and say, “Be gone.”  It’s an illness…just like cancer, just like heart disease, just like diabetes, just like anything that affects your body.  Depression has affected my whole life.  Depression stole my desire to love my family.  For months, I had shut out and pulled away from my own husband and children.  Now, I have to learn to reconnect with them.  I have to force myself to allow them back into my heart.  Depression says, “I don’t want to do that,” but this is what I have to fight through.  I have to fight to survive.

I wrote yesterday about our dear friend, Brad, who passed away on February 21st from cancer.  Brad’s lesson to me is to keep fighting.  Even when I don’t want to, I have to keep fighting.  He continues to remind me the fight is worth it.  God will use this.  God will do something with all this pain, all this suffering.  God will use it…maybe to remind someone else they are not alone.  To tell someone else, “The fight is worth it.”  Maybe to give someone else hope.  That’s why I’m here.  I have to believe that.

Those people I met in the hospital were a gift to me in many ways.  They reminded me I wasn’t alone…but they also opened my eyes to mental illness.  Being someone who’s suffered with depression her whole life, you’d think I wouldn’t be one of the ones that adds to the stigma but even I had feared the people I would meet in the mental hospital.  Even I had judged them.  And I was just like them.  I was wrong.  They are good people…with broken hearts, broken minds.  They need compassion, understanding, support and love.

Monday morning, February 23rd, before I was scheduled to be released, our unit met in the TV room for some group time.  It was a morning of great discussion.  Everyone chimed in.  We talked about the stigma of mental illness, how alone we all felt.  We shared and learned that we all had the same feelings.  Each of our stories were different.  We had all come from different lives, different ages, different upbringings, but our pain and our grief was the same.  We had all lost hope.  We had all experienced incredible pain and suffering.  We could understand each other.  We weren’t alone.

We got a Bible from the nurses desk…a Gideon Bible.  I have to tell you this story.  I’ve never been a fan of Gideon Sunday…when the guys do the sermon that day and it’s all about how the Gideon Bible is used and changes lives.  Honestly, it simply never mattered to me.  I never thought I would be in a place where I would need a Gideon Bible.  But there I was, desperate for God’s word and what did they give…a Gideon Bible…with the dark blue cover.  We brought that Bible into the TV room and I started underling the verses I that I had been reciting over and over.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  2 Corinthians 10:5

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

I am torn between the two:  I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.  Philippians 1:23-25

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12-13

If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  1 Peter 4:16

And the verse I held tight to that Saturday night as I battled between life and death…

I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.  Psalm 118:17

Suddenly, that Gideon Bible meant more to me than I could have ever imagined.  A group of us started reading aloud from Psalm 118.  We read in front of the rest of the group.  One young man said, “I don’t believe in anything,” but he sat there beside me and read those verses with us.  I had the opportunity to talk to him, to ask him questions.  He assured me he’d read in the Bible and it didn’t apply to his life.  I encouraged him to read it again.

God used that time…not only to heal some of my own wounds, to remind me of what matters most, but also to encourage others.  I am not ashamed of what I’ve done or where I’ve been.  God is using this.  God will use this.  This is my story…of coming back to life.  I’ve been dead.  I’ve prayed for death.  I’ve begged God to take me away.  All this time, I’ve cried out to Him in desperation to be free from this pain and all this time, I’ve known He’s got a plan for all of this, believing there is purpose in my suffering.  I don’t regret going to the hospital.  And I don’t regret how things happened that difficult week back in February.  God taught me so much about myself, people, how to live, what matters most, and more.  He didn’t abandon me.  He gave me strength, courage, and hope when I needed it most.

On the morning of February 21st, I thought I would not wake up.  I am here today because God is not done with my story.  There is no other explanation.  I have to believe that.

Does it make everything easy now?  No!  Far from it.

I came home a changed person.  When I walked out of the hospital that Monday morning, February 23rd, I walked into a freedom that I no longer understood.  I walked back into a life I wasn’t sure how to live or if I even wanted to live.  I had been stripped of everything in the hospital…to ensure my safety…and walking out, I was given back all the things I’d once seen as privileged only now, I could no longer view them that way.  They were now weapons I had used to harm myself.  Things as simple as sitting down in a restaurant and having access to a knife.  Or coming home to my hair dryer and straightener…both tools I use daily and now, I saw my straightener as a weapon I’d used to burn myself.  My view of people had changed.  Now, I look at people and wonder…

What pain are they hiding?
How can I help them?
What can I say to give them hope?
Do they know they are never alone?
Do they know they matter?

That week changed me.  I will never be the person I was before then.  While it was traumatic and scary, while I had hit rock bottom, God was my rock.  God was the foundation I fell upon.  He comforted me when no one else could.  His words filled my mind when no other sounds came.  His words filled my heart when nothing else could.  I feel closer to him than ever.  Through this darkness, through this painful journey, He’s only drawn me closer to Him, to a place where, when I had nothing else, He was what mattered.

This is why I share with you today…

I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done.  Psalm 118:17

If by my sharing…

Someone finds hope.
Someone is reminded they are not alone.
Someone believes they can make it through one more day.
Someone reaches out.
Someones decides to press on.
Someone finds their will to fight.

Then it will all be worth it.  My suffering and my pain means nothing if I am too afraid to share it.  I am not ashamed.  I am not afraid.  What can man do to me that hasn’t already been done?  What can anyone say that I haven’t already said to myself?  Nothing.  No one can deny or take away from me, the fact that in those darkest moments, my faith is what carried me through.  My dependance on God, His word planted in my heart and mind, songs of Him being with me, are what got me through.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

That’s just it…I have to be honest and share because God will use my pain and my suffering in order to comfort someone else with the same comfort He’s given me.

He prepared me for this trial. 
He is bringing me back to life.
He is worthy of praise.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are in a crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1800-273-TALK (8255).  They have trained counselors available 24/7 to provide free, confidential help.  Seek help.  Call a friend.  Go to your local Emergency Room.  You have nothing to be ashamed of and you deserve help!

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