Ok, I have tried to write about this without writing about this. I have eluted to it multiple times, but never really told my story.
September was Mental Health Awareness month, and I sat down several times to tell my story, but just couldn’t. (and for the record I am always a day late and a dollar short, so I will do my Mental Health Awareness post a month late. I like to be consistent )
A few weeks ago, a tragic story, made me hold my breath the entire time I read it. It was about an Assemblies of God pastor that took his own life after battling depression. I didn’t know that Pastor or his family, but it impacted me deeply. I shared a post about it on facebook, and someone thanked me for using my voice to shed light on the subject of Christian’s walking through depression. Honestly that made me feel convicted. I was really using someone else’s story, someone else’s voice. Later that story was told here in Costa Rica at my home church from the pulpit. His story rippled around the world, it wasn’t just me that was impacted
I decided it was my time to share my own story, in my own words. In my own messed up way. I just couldn’t be silent anymore. It is time for the mother of all confessions. It is time to talk about my battle with depression. So here we go. Grab a drink and a snack, this one is a long read without a lot of pretty pictures. You get a free invitation to come over and sit around my faux Magnolia/Antrhopolgie/Pottery barn table with a big glass of sweet tea, and a slice of hummingbird cake if you make it to the end.
Let’s go back a few years, before we ever booked our one way ticket to Costa Rica.
A year before we came to Costa Rica, almost to the day, my mom found out that she had stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her liver, bones, and broken the blood brain barrier. Without a miracle, she would not survive this diagnosis. She, with the faith of a mustard tree, decided to fight. I don’t know what goes on in someone’s mind when they get this kind of news. I don’t know how they process all of the emotions, and find a way to plan for the future. My mom chose to fight it. I am not sure if she ever truly understood, that with chemotherapy they were only making big cancer small cancer. There were days when I lived with her, that I had to tell her that same description, “mama, they are making big caner small cancer, they can not get it all” over and over again. I don’t know if because the cancer was in the brain, if that affected her decisions and cognitive reasoning. All I know, is that she was in for the fight of her life, and we all rallied around her to do what we could to help her fight.
She lost the fight, 6 very short months later. Sometimes I think she chose to fight so we could all have one more Christmas. Her parents made Christmas a BIG deal, so did she. We all got to be with her, for one more Christmas Eve’s at Grandma’s house, for presents piled as high as the tree. With more food than we could eat. We would have ham, her broccoli casserole (although that year she let Maggi help her make it), the best vegetable ever – Grandma Mac’s macaroni and cheese, we would have red velvet cake (even though she swore I threw away her recipe card), Jake would get the chance to eat as many rolls as he possible could, all of the grandkids had a stocking with their name on it hanging on the tree, Emma would wear her Santa hat and help pass out gifts, she would sit in her big chair watching the Christmas wrapping fly all around while hearing “thank you Grandma for the . . . ” from every corner in the room. Everything that made Christmas, well Christmas, was there.
That is what I choose to think anyway, that she bravely fought so that we could have one more really good day. A day that cancer couldn’t take from her. One of her favorites, Christmas Eve.
But before Christmas came, I went in my mom’s bedroom one day and caught her in bed, reading the Bible. She had her hands raised in praise, with her little bald head looking up to heaven. Another day, I went outside and found her listening to “How great thou art” in a Cracker Barrel rocking chair by the rose bushes and hydrangeas with tears streaming down her face, caught listening to the words of the song. These images are seared in my memory.
Instead of being inspired, I felt all kinds of emotions, but the strongest one was anger, Why would God not just touch her body. With one touch, one whisper, He could make her whole. Why would a kind loving God turn His back on her.
I don’t know if that is when depression starting taking things from me.
Maybe it started a few weeks before when I had a yard sale, and watched things that I loved get sold in a yard sale for pennies on the dollar. My pottery barn outlet finds, that made me feel like a gold medalists in the over looked Olympic sport of bargain hunting. Maybe it was taking pictures off the walls, the one that has 13 spaces for your children’s school pictures, that were just beginning to fill in. Or painting over height marks on the wall. Maybe it started when I turned my work badge in, to a career that I loved. It definitely had taken root when Maggi had to give dog away, and watching the devastating pain in a little girl’s face, knowing that your choice, was causing it. It multiplied watching Emma say good bye to her best friends’ that lived in the houses all around us in the type of neighborhoods American Dreams are made in.
I don’t know where depression started, but I felt like I was a thriving plant, that had been lifting out of the soil, with the roots still dangling.
Six months after we said good by to my mom, we moved to Costa Rica.
We landed late one evening, and the very next day put our girls on a taxi to a new school. Y’all, I honestly sent an email to our language school before we left asking if we were supposed to pack their lunches in America for the next day when we would be in Costa Rica. How was I going to find a way to make it to a grocery store the night we land, and find things for lunches?
Our first week here we had an earthquake, and I realized that I had no idea where in the capital city my girl’s school was. If things had turned catastrophic, I wouldn’t even know how to locate them.
In the first three weeks we were here we were moved into three different houses. (To back up a little, because of my mom’s diagnosis, and Dave being from California, and me being from the Carolinas, we had already moved 3 times in the 6 months prior to hitting the ground in Costa Rica). It is a long story, and the details are hard explain in a way that would make sense to you, or that won’t make me cry. For one move we literally rolled, our suitcases from language school to the new apartment.
Think about that for a minute, a long line of white Americans in a parade of suitcases. My friends actually got the apartment before me, so as they were passing me after dropping the first suitcases to get to more, I asked if the apartment looked safe and clean.
The first apartment we stayed in didn’t have a lock on the back door, and was covered, and I mean covered in black mold. Our second night in the place we started in the kitchen removing everything from the cupboards and using bleach to clean them, black mold literally poured all over us and dripped down the walls and the cupboards. I am only sad I don’t have photographic proof.
Welcome to missionary life 101 I guess. Well, y’all, even though Dave and I had a bed in the living room, we didn’t have a house that we could lock, and we were in a “less than safe barrio”, we were going to make it work. I had overheard someone say you can tell a lot about how the missionary is going to survive/thrive based on how they handle the first obstacles. I had determined we were going to make it work. However, the Holy Spirit prompted our Area Director in the middle of the night, and the decision was made on our behalf that it would be better for our family to move to a safer environment. We never complained or had to say a word. The Holy Spirit fought for us.
I like to call it the journey of a 1000 houses.
I seriously could write a novel on our first 150 days on the field. It does not compare at all to the stories of the missionary heroes you have books on. However, we suffered and fought very personal, and walked through dark times, as soon as we stepped off the plane. That attack would stay consistently hard and painful for our entire first term. Everyone in the family faced their own battles & periods of adjustments. One time one of our colleagues said, “you don’t know how good y’all have it”. I cried for the next 24 hours. Those words were hard, because it meant we felt truly alone because the people around us, never really knew us. Part of that was our fault, we didn’t know how to let people in.
That is how we started. With life moving one day at a time, wether we liked it or not.
Looking back, I think I went from the most organized packer ever: My system: I put things in everyone’s color coded tubs, I would wrap the important item up, with a tag of where they got it, who gave it to them, why it was important, was it an heirloom. . . and then I would take a picture, print the picture and put the pictures on the outside of the tub in a plastic sleeve, so that when we stacked them, I would know exactly where to find something if we needed to. (I have mad organizational skills) I went from that to taking on the role of nurse with my mom, to then home school teacher for the girls, and full itinerating missionary. There was no time for grief, it literally got pushed back and postponed from one major life event to another.
I am a nurse. I know all about Kubler Ross and her stages of grief. I just had never walked through it. ( but I don’t I followed her cycle, mine was more like a whirling typhoon/tsunami/hurricane shaped pattern) ( I am also an overachiever-OBVIOUSLY)
So here we are, in the country we talked about standing before churches the last 18 months of our lives. We told them how excited we were, and the we were called by God. Literally “here I am” send me.
I should have been thrilled, ready to begin this amazing adventure. I was not.
The first week we did a stress test, you know where if you loose a job you get a number score, if you take a pay cut, if you have a move, if you have a close family death, all of those numbers add up. . . well guess who got the highest grade in the class? Thats right, yours truly. The first competition I wish I wouldn’t have won. I had a friend, who was sitting beside me, who came in second place, and made a comment, about how if they would have had a parent die, there number would be higher than mine. Y’all, I know they didn’t mean it harshly. But I am going to be honest, do you want to know how this chica handled it? I thought about how I could stab them in the eye with my sharpened number two pencil. Real missionary like I know. Be impressed. They probably don’t remember ever saying it, it was not meant to hurt, it’s all good now, we are friends, but still. . .
Lets just say it was not my finest hour.
I think I landed decompensated, with no reserves left, in the worst emotional position of my life. I equate it to when laboring women ask for an epidural. By the time they are ready for an epidural, and the anesthesiologist walks in the room, there is nothing they can do to help them to manage the pain. They will sign whatever consent form you give them, they will throw whatever is on the bedside table, they will say words they wouldn’t want the preacher to hear. There are no more tools in the tool box, so to speak. They are decompensated. They are like one of my good friends said, the anesthesiologist kept talking about all the risks and complications, and she finally said “you had me at hello.”
When I landed, over the last year, I had sold almost everything I had. I had driven cross country at least 5 times, in the same year. I was living on one side of the country and Dave and the girls on the other. (we were saw once in 8 weeks, in Vegas of all places). There was no “how to book” for this stage in my life.
I went to visit a friend who had bought my stuff at the yard sale never thinking I would step foot in her house again. However, I flew back to stay with my mom for a while, and when I went into her house, I saw my stuff on the wall, I started ugly crying. Then I thought about ripping them off the wall and running out the door. I don’t know if you can tell, but I am excellent under pressure and emotional stress. I became a home school teacher. I took a major pay cut. I watched cancer steal something new from my mom every day. I spread her ashes a week before leaving the country. I landed decompensated. I had no back up reserves.
The name of language school for missionaries is CINCEL, all of those letters stand for something, but it is also the Spanish word for chisel. How appropriate, because what happens after you win your all expense paid one way trip to the CHISEL is not pretty.
I am writing 6 years after the fact, and hindsight is really 20/20. What I see now, is that language school has very little to do with language acquisition, but more about missionary formation. Maybe that unknown secrete is supposed to be kept “in house”, but I am blowing the whistle. Almost everyone I know, that went on the “chiseling block” looses parts of their lives. We are chiseled away until there is nothing recognizable. Maybe it’s our identification that is chiseled away, maybe it is who we thought we were, maybe it is our talents that can no longer be used in this context, maybe a hidden battle with something comes up, maybe all of the things you suppressed in childhood and junior high have decided they would like one more chance to bring you down. . . the chiseled parts that remain on the floor look different for each person.
I have explained it like this. I went from being a nurse for more than 15 years in labor and delivery and teaching child birth class, to not being able to speak in complete sentences. I went from being a carpool mom, to not being able to drive. I went from choosing where we lived based on the school district, to no control over their education or where we lived. I went from being on the Parent Teacher Advisory Board, to not even knowing where my girl’s school was. I walked into the grocery store, and didn’t recognize the ingredients needed to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
I was no longer a nurse, I was no longer a “soccer/ballet mom” who made treats for everyone on the team & went to Zumba and pilates at the “Y” 3 days a week, I was no longer the wife who could find ways to surprise my hubby with small things like his favorite desert, or a fantastic well planned date night. I was no longer my mom’s nurse.
Those may seem insignificant, but those were things that defined me. A nurse, a mom, a wife, a daughter.
Back to our blessed arrival, after the third move, and a few months into language school, the dust began to settle, and then that is when grief came in waves. I no longer had “the next thing” that required all of my focus that could push the grief down for a little while longer. I had all of these emotions, bubbling up, that I didn’t recognize, nor could I identify. So I did what I had done for the past 40 years when I had a horrible day and couldn’t pick myself up, I picked up the phone to call my mom.
I remember literally coming home from language school, going into my room, shutting the door, sitting on my bed and picking up the phone and while I was dialing the only phone number I have ever remembered it occurred to me she was not going to pick up the phone. I cried again just writing it.
And then I fell. I fell hard.
In fact, there was no bottom to my fall. There was no branch to try to grab on to. Just a long dark endless fall.
How in the world, am I supposed to call anyone I know. . . friend, foe or pastor and say, “Hey, you know what, this whole missionary thing just isn’t working out for me, can you pray I don’t throw what’s left of my worldly possessions out of the window? And my specific need is for traveling mercies when I hitch hike a ride headed North on the Pan American Highway. . . especially the part going through Mexico I heard that gets a little sketchy?”
Every day, I would come home and things would be harder and harder. And Darker and Darker.
Every week we would have missiology classes at cinHELL (see how I changed the name there. . . don’t judge, I heard wailing and gnashing of teeth) This is where veteran missionaries would come through to teach on different aspects of missionary life. I got sooooooo tired of hearing these missionaries say, “Enjoy this time at language school!! It doesn’t get easier than this, your only job is to learn the language”. Enjoy.
Finally by the 794th time I heard that same quote, I told my area director, “if this is good as it gets, I am out. I can not do this”.
I tried so hard to learn language, and only focus on that. But here is something hind sight showed me, clinically depressed people have an extremely hard time learning something new. (and I am just going to add this free piece of info here, so do people over the age of 40). So no matter how many note cards I made, no matter how many times I wrote my irregular verbs in past, present, future, and the other 7 million tenses, or the many times I tried to remember a Bible verse in Spanish. . . it just would not stick.
So now we are in deep. I am spiraling down, I am not picking up the language, I am not “winning” at adulting or missionaring (that’s a word right?), and I start to feel like I am loosing at the role of wife and mother. There had not been a moral failure on anyone’s part, no big sin, no big rebellion, but lots of small fractures were starting to cause big cracks.
Do you want me to be real honest, and confess the whole truth and nothing but the truth, y’all, I had been chiseled down to nothing. All I had left was anger and hurt, bitterness and big imaginary walls.
I tried, in a my own small way to reach out to see if others had walked through any one tiny part of my journey of 1000 houses (it really wasn’t about the houses, but that’s what I have named my journey cause it’s catchy and cause I can, it’s my story to tell). And y’all I couldn’t. I never heard one person say they struggled with their call. I never heard one person say “if you find yourself in a deep dark place, I know how to walk out with you, because I was there once too.”
So now, I am thinking, I am loosing at life.
I still read my Bible, I still prayed, I still journaled. I did everything Christian’s are supposed to do it. I have been trained well.
And because, I am “practically perfect” in every way, I knew it was not my fault, so I blamed sweet ole hubby. I am not a loser, I am a winner. It was his fault we were here, it was his fault the girls were in a school environment that they were not thriving in, it was his fault that we had been in rainy season for 5 months and mold was growing on our clothes, shoes, and lunch boxes, it was his fault moths were eating my clothes. AND IT WAS MOST CERTAINLY HIS FAULT GECKOS HAD JUMPED OUT AT ME IN THE SHOWER, IN THE PANTRY, THE TOASTER, AND WHEN I WENT TO GET THE LAUNDRY SOAP. (Just a side note, we have one, maybe two geckos they stay contently hidden downstairs in one room of our house now, and have no mold, its the small things in life that make a big difference)
My sweet area director kept gently saying, “Amy, we have counselors you can talk to if you ever feel like you would want to”. She wouldn’t stop saying it, every time she saw me, she would say it. Ugh, for the love lady, I get it.
So one night when I realized that I not only blamed Saint Dave (after living with me the last 8 or so years now, he really deserves sainthood, but since we aren’t catholic, I’ll have to think of another title, Honorable Brother Missionary?), but I also blamed God. I blamed him for giving my mom cancer. I blamed him for ignoring her when she prayed to him. I blamed him for just about everything I couldn’t reasonably blame Dave for.
I found myself looking up plane tickets home every day. (multiple times a day to see if I could find a better deal). I would sometimes look up one way tickets home for just me. Lets be real. I wish I was making that part up, to add a little humor, but God’s honest truth.
So finally, I came to a place, where I knew, that if Dave and I could talk to a counselor, she would obviously agree with me, and tell my husband all of his faults, and recommend us leaving the field immediately. That way, it wasn’t me making the call, we were not going to get fired, we were going to be asked to leave to maybe go to an intensive marriage seminar, maybe in Hawaii or something, and then be able to go back the American Dream with the two story house, a play room over the garage, gardenias in the front, and hydrangea on the side, my job would admit they couldn’t make it without me, and everything would be normal again.
Instead, during our first Skype counseling session, as I am mentally thinking which room I will start packing first, the counselor gently says, “Amy, I need to meet with just you”, alright, now we are getting somewhere, finally. . . She is going to tell me all the ways Dave has to make up for all of the damage. . . but she says. . . “Amy, you are clinically, severely depressed, we need to get you stable. You need help. I need to have a session with you as soon as possible.”
Um. What did you just say?
Y’all, I wish this is where things became clearer and I immediately saw “the light”, but it wasn’t quite like that.
Instead, I didn’t say, because bless my heart, I was not raised like that, but I thought really loudly “Where in God’s name did you get your license to practice lady, because you are clearly incompetent. I would like a full refund plus 20% for wasting my time. You may want to think of another career honey, bless YOUR hear.”
I honestly, never in a billion years, saw that coming. You would think after my thorough semester in my psych rotation, and the two patients I saw in the psych ward that would make me a qualified trained professional & I would have been able to see my symptoms. But I didn’t.
I felt such shame. All of my life I thought depression, was something that you could pray through, you could only get if you were not spiritually strong enough, and you could certainly fight it without antidepressants.
It took me weeks, to process everything. She recommended continued sessions and antidepressants.
I don’t know, is that where the pastor who chose to end his life was? Did he feel like a fraud? because I did. Did he let what people that were sitting in the pews thought of him influence his decisions? I did. Did he feel like a failure and everything would be better if he just could step out of the picture? I did. Had he ever heard any one say that Christians struggle with depression, and that finding helping is ok?, I had not.
Being at rock bottom is profoundly crippling.
People have described depression as:
- “wanting to say what’s on your mind, but you can’t even explain it, so you just cry because you don’t even know what your feeling.”
- “exhaustion, not only physically, but also mentally. Mental exhausted from having to apologize for who you are (or are not). Physically and mentally exhausted from living.
- “feeling numb and the feeling of unreality, I can see and take my surroundings in, yet I don’t feel a part of it, like a dream sequence”
- “apathy, your ability to feel joy from the things you normally love fades”
- “not knowing something is wrong in the early stages, and unknowingly hurting others”
- “The foggy thinking was the main thing for me, making it almost impossible to concentrate or remember anything”
- “It is like trying to hold on to water, as soon as you start to grasp it, it slips from your grip”
I eventually made the very difficult, personal decision to start antidepressants, and continue therapy. I felt like the ultimate christian loser. I had only been told as a Christian that depression was a symptom of sin in my life or other spiritual failing on my part and all you needed was to pray more and trust God and you can “overcome.” And most certainly it would be a sin to take a “drug” to help you. That would be a overt demonstration of lack of faith on my part is what I had been taught. Now please understand I have complete faith in God and that He is fully able to heal depression. However, he can heal diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol too but no one thinks taking medication for those medical conditions demonstrates a lack of faith in God, but taking a medication to balances your brain’s chemistry somehow does. I had never heard, from the pulpit, that I can recall, how Christians, good faithful God loving Christians, suffer with mental illness. I had never heard how to manage, actually manage, symptoms of mental illness. (like counseling, or drug and behavioral therapy, etc.) And since I had never heard another missionary say that they struggled with depression, or anxiety, or any other real mental illness. I hid it all. The counseling, the meds, the depression. Which of course made it harder to find a way out.
The climb up was long, and I fell so many times along the way. I had skin cancer that had to be removed my first year on the field. The immense amount of stress caused very real physical problems that didn’t have easy solutions. I truly could write a book, on how intense the spiritual battle was for me. Now I look back, and I don’t know how we all survived. Only by God’s immense grace.
I had to fight for every single inch out of that long fall down. It took more than three months for the meds that I took to build up to a therapeutic dose. I had to increase it along the way. Every single day I hated it. I hated to think a pill could change me & my prayers couldn’t. I understood how medicine could help a diabetic, or your thyroid levels. But I had never been taught that clinically depressed people have chemical imbalances that cause the depression, and can be rebalanced correctly with antidepressants. I literally couldn’t promise that I would stay the full three years of the first term. I had to say I will stay this week, and on Friday, I will make another decision. That was what the counselor said I could do. Can you imagine how that impacted my husband. He didn’t get served up a big heaping hot pile of depression, he came ready and willing to serve.
life was so messy. life was so outside the lines.
I remember waking up one day, and going to language school, our last month of course, and taking a test.
For the first time, in the entire time of language school, I could recall every. single. thing. I studied.
It was surreal.
Then I realized that the emotions that had crippled and stolen from me and my family, were not as strong.
I was getting my life back.
Life really does just keep moving.
The amount of my prayer had not changed, my Bible reading had not changed, the amount of geckos that mocked and purposely tried to take me down had not changed. The only thing that was changing was the chemical imbalances.
Now I can look back and see that my mom died because of lung cancer from smoking. Our choices have consequences, we live in a broken world.
The entire time I was with my mom, the entire 6 months, we did not get one new pledge. This was during the time we were supposed to be raising our support to get to the field. People and churches pledge to give us monthly support, that is how we as missionaries stay on the field. New missionaries have a certain amount of time to raise support, and if you can’t raise it in the specified time, you are not permitted to continue. You can apply for extensions, etc. but you can’t just keep trying. . . I took it as a sign that we were not suppose to become missionaries, I mean how many people don’t get pledges for 6 straight months. God was punishing my mom, for our decision to answer the call.
I know that is not true, it is not solid doctrine. But that is what I was feeling. Now looking back, I see those 6 months as a treasure. If I would have gotten the news about her caner a few weeks earlier I would have been living in the same state, working full time. I would not have had the freedom to be with her. If I would have gotten the news 6 months later, I would not have have been close enough to walk with her those last months I would have already been in Costa Rica. I now see the last six months as a gift. I treasure that time. For once in my life, I could spoil her, and try to make life as good as possible, like she did for me during my junior high years (Up until that part, that was the hardest part of my life). I could help her navigate all the meds, and all of the side effects, I got to use the education she and my dad gave me, for her. My sister and I even stalked her doctor one time when we could not a refill for a drug she needed. We were not going to leave the doctor’s office until we had that prescription.
Depression is not something that is best done alone. Especially not if you are a believer. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. Eventually I messaged two of my oldest friends and said, “Y’all I need your prayers, I am embarrassed to say this, but I have been battling depression and I need your covering.” It was a hard message to write, I had not told anyone up to that point. What I found was that each of my friends had just walked though really hards times as well, and needed help carrying a burden too. A few years later we celebrated surviving hard seasons with a fun girl friend getaway to NYC. Those friends have carried me through some of the darkest days of my life. 3 years later my dad passed away, and together they created a basket that had everything I would need after walking off a plane and driving straight to the ICU to say goodbye to my dad. One lived close enough to meet me at a store and help me buy an outfit to wear to the funeral. I remember her calling and asking me where I was, I told her I was trying to find something to wear to the funeral. She met me there and took me by the hand and walked beside me, when I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other.
Don’t live life alone. Trust someone. Have faith in someone. Let them walk with you.
If you can relate to anything in this story: shame, hurt, hopelessness, isolation, crippling fear, anxiety, anger, hurt from God. . . please know you are not alone.
I have wrestled with whether or not to tell this story. Missionaries are supposed to share their success stories, of all the ways they are changing lives. No one wants to hear the person they have supported struggled to find their meaning of life.
After about a year on the meds, I was starting to wean off, and that is when I had to say good bye to my dad. I didn’t get the 6 months with him. In fact, the last time I saw him, he told me as he was hugging me for the last time, “If something happens to me, don’t you come home to burry me, keep doing what God has called you to do.”
Again, I cry as I type that. One of my dad’s friends was at the hospital after he passed away, and after I walked out of my dad’s hospital room I ran to him, and the sweetest man let me soak his shirt with my tears, (I wish I cried pretty) I needed to know that it was ok that I disobeyed the last thing my dad said to me. He held me for the longest time, and reassured me it was ok that I was there.
This loss was profound for me. I know you are supposed to count the cost when you sign up to be a missionary, but I didn’t know what all the cost’s were. No one on earth will ever be able to replace my dad. He was extraordinary, not perfect, but extraordinary. I wrote about him here, around this time last year.
I decided, with the help of those around me, that it would be best to stay on the meds for another year, as we were transitioning back to the states, and facing another transition after a significant loss, could start another downward cycle.
When we were in the states for our itineration 2 years ago, I shared this story a few times, and I learned valuable lessons. People didn’t know I was hurting, because my life seemed so perfect on social media. People didn’t know that missionaries struggle with the same things other’s do. (but neither did I before) They too, had never had people stand up from the pulpit and share deep struggles with depression. We are not heroes, we are not extraordinary. Missionaries, and Christians are not immune from depression.
That is why this is confessions of a missionary wife. I want you to know what my journey is like. Maybe it looks like yours, maybe not. I am pretty “special”.
I have found that every time I post something personal, I get so much feedback, it has never been critical or negative, . . . well there was this one time, but bless her heart. . . she didn’t know better. . . haters are going to hate. But I get lots of messages from missionaries who share their stories with me. Newbies who needed to know, that hard and lonely, is sometimes normal, it doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.
It is risky and terrifying to share your deep inner struggles, your weakest moments. But I have a voice, and have like 25 readers (you 25 are amazing and I owe you all coffee) and if my words, my voice, can speak life into you, or give you hope, or let you know, that yes, even though you have known the Lord your entire life, there are times that you can’t walk on your own. There are times that define us, when we are chiseled down to nothing, and what we do next is crucial. Do we allow the Lord to then use clay and remold us into what He sees, or do we stay broken and hurt.
C. H. Spurgeon, suffered from depression and discouragement, and actually tendered his resignation 32 times in 39 years.
Elizabeth Elliot, my missionary hero, was very open about dealing with depression.
Mother Theresa struggled with depression, and even C. S. Lewis. The list is long and real. Remember King David, Naomi, John the Baptist, Paul. . . .
I doubt anyone reading this would argue that these individuals had a very real relationship with God and I think you would be hard pressed to say their fight with depression was a result of sin or other spiritual deficiency. However I doubt they had anyone to turn to nor felt safe to seek counseling or proper medical care. Why does the church believe diabetes or thyroid disease, which are the result of malfunctioning chemicals and hormones, or the bodies receptors for them, but not the hormones which result in depression.
I had a little poster in college that said, bloom where you are planted.
What happens, when you have been plucked up and ready to be replanted, but the roots got cut, and their is no where to be replanted. What happens then?
I din’t know either.
I have struggled this week, whether or not to share this story. I had my daughter’s read it, because I had not shared all of these details with them before. I was told, not to share everything with your children. Don’t let them see all of the times you cry. I tried, but after a year of crying, you run out of hiding places. I have heard them start to tell their stories to their own audiences, with their own memories, and I love hearing how God cared for them, and they found strength, and are thankful to have grown up the way they have.
After Dave read it, he asked me why I wanted to share something so personal. I told him, I just can’t get away from this, If my journey could help just one person, it would be worth it.
So that is why I am sharing.
I started not to hit publish. That blue box is hard to push sometimes. Very intimidating.
Yesterday a friend called, and had no idea what I had already written, and brought up the pastor that had committed suicide. It was a pastor in her district. We talked about how different churches responded. It later occurred to me, that some of my supporting churches, may not agree with me. They may believe it is a spiritual battle that can be won in a different way. What if I lost support? (it wouldn’t be the first time something I have said ended in someone dropping their monthly support, I wish I could say I don’t take it personally, but I did).
So I decided again not to hit publish.
Then last night, someone different asked me about my grief when I lost my mom. She talked about some of the things I had written, specifically a Christmas memory. That was no accident. definitely not coincidental. That was the Holy Spirit nudging me and reminding me of my own words, “if my story could help one person know they were not alone, it would be worth it”.
So if you are reading this, you know some how I managed to hit the blue publish button. I am not a counselor, I am not a theologian. I am obviously a little crazy, but if I can use my pain and experience to walk with someone, or throw a rope down a long dark hole to a friend who can’t find a way out, then it is worth it.
Don’t struggle with depression alone.
God wastes nothing. He uses it all of we let him. The pain, the loss, the grief, the gains, the wins, the new buds. He finds a way to replant us and gives us new roots.
And surprisingly sometimes we grow into something entirely different, with deeper roots, stronger branches, sweeter blossoms, and a more fragrant scent.