A long time ago there was a woman who was treated badly by the people she was working for in their attempt to solve a problem their way. As their plan progressed she was treated even worse and she ran away. God pursued her and met her where she was. He didn’t tell her everything was going to be ok but He did tell her that her descendants would be too many to count and a bit of what the future would be for her son. She called Him “the God who sees” and she named the place He pursued her “a well of the Living One who sees me.” (You can read the whole story in Genesis 16.)
Have you ever felt seen like that? Have you ever been in a dark place and God shows up and and gives you hope and encouragement that you need to keep doing the difficult thing that lies before you?
That happened to me at church today.
May 23 has long been a difficult day for me. I knew it was coming up and I warned Glenn that I would need time this afternoon to stop and write because this year would mark 20 years since May 23rd became a significant day to me, not just a normal day on the calendar.
2001 was a year that marked many Americans forever. That infamous day in September when we were attacked changed us and a lot of our assumptions and thoughts of the future were forever impacted. For me the day in 2001 that changed my life forever was a few months earlier.
On May 23, 2001 my mom, who had had lupus for many years and had recently suffered a few heart attacks, was taken in for a heart catheterization. A heart catheterization is a pretty routine procedure. My dad had had one before and I didn't think that there was any need for concern. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned and our lives were forever changed. We drove the 15+ hours up from Tennessee to be with her in the ICU and within a couple of days it was decided that more long term help was going to be needed and so Glenn went down to TN where friends helped put all of our possessions into a moving truck which he then drove up to NY where we put our stuff into storage as our little family of 3 moved in with my dad for a season and did what we could to support him as he made daily trips to the hospital to be with mom. Mom bounced between the various levels of care in the hospital in Rochester until late that summer when she was stable enough to be moved to a nursing home in Geneva where she spent the last 16-ish months of her life unable to talk or move of her own volition.
Glenn and I had plans. We knew the direction that we felt God calling us to and what steps we needed to take to make it a reality but that day everything got put on hold as we stepped into a very difficult season.
This morning my count up Psalm was Psalm 42. It’s a Psalm that speaks to me deeply. It speaks of a longing for things to be made right, a longing to come into the presence of God. It speaks of crying day and night and wondering where God is. It speaks of remembering good times before. It wonders at the despair in the soul. It speaks of feeling forgotten and mourning and oppression, being crushed and reviled. I have felt all of those things, especially in that very difficult season. The Psalmist ends with hope and choosing to praise God because He is the help of my countenance and my God.
Psalm 42 was mentioned this morning during the church service. I love when God does that. Ross King, a singer/ songwriter was at church today and he shared about his experience with depression in both word and song. It felt like a hug from God, like He was saying, “I see you. I know what day today is. I have felt the pain you feel. I value your story. I have watched you struggle over the last 20 years and I am here for you, for your healing and to give you hope.”
I have long struggled with depression. It didn’t start that day 20 years ago but the battle with depression definitely increased as things progressed with my mom and after the births of my girls. Depression has been a regular companion of mine over the years, worse in those gloomy New York winters and as particular dates popped up on the calendar. Over the years I’ve learned some of my triggers and I’ve learned some things to help to mitigate the impact like journaling, getting regular time in the Word (particularly the Psalms), time outside (preferably near water), and time exercising (usually walks or runs).
It was so encouraging to me to hear a sermon on “the elephant in the room” of depression on this 20th anniversary of the day my life as I knew it changed. One thing that stuck out to me today was something that his wife recognized in him one day: that he was grieving the death of the life he thought he'd have and he didn’t have time to grieve the loss of his dad. That really stuck out to me. Like I said, Glenn and I had plans the morning of May 23, 2001 and they changed forever that day. Not only did I have to grieve the loss of my mom as I’d always known her and then the loss of my mom’s physical presence less than 2 years later but I had to grieve the life I thought I would have. A life where my kids knew and loved their grandma and grandpa and we would stay with them when home on furlough. A life where I had a mom who knew and loved me and would pick up the phone when I called to listen and to give advice and to point me to Jesus when trials of various kinds would come and so much more. A life where we wouldn't have taken so many breaks in Glenn's education. I have had to grieve the loss of that life I thought I would have.
The last 20 years have looked much different than I dreamed they would have looked. Eventually Glenn did go on to finish his undergrad degree and he did become a doctor. We did work at a mission hospital for a season and, Lord willing, will do it again someday in the future. The timeline has been nothing like we had planned but I can see God’s goodness, His gracious hand and His blessings through all of the trials and detours and seasons of deep depression. He has refined me. He has comforted me as only He can. He has given me opportunities to comfort others. He has brought amazing people and circumstances into our lives that we couldn't have orchestrated in our life plan. His plan has been good, better than my plan.
Over the years I have often felt shame at the feelings I’ve had. Sadness. Anger. Stress. Anxiety. Why be sad when I know that God has a plan and that He is going to work it out for His glory and my good? Why? Maybe because it’s another way to be like Jesus. When Jesus showed up at Lazarus’s house he knew Lazarus was dead and he knew that in a few minutes He was going to raise him from the dead. Yet, in those few minutes, Jesus cried. It’s ok to cry about what is going on and what you are feeling. It’s ok to grieve your losses. It’s ok to be sad. We live in a broken world. Things are not as they should be. Jesus felt sadness. Jesus felt anger. Jesus felt pain. Jesus felt extreme pressure. When you feel those same feelings “You're in Good Company” as Ross shared in one of his songs.
We were left with 3 pieces of advice for those struggling with depression:
1. tell someone - often the first step toward healing is to bring the hard things into the light. Name them. There is no shame in having emotions and in struggling with depression. Let others in. You don’t have to be healed and to be able to wrap it all up in a pretty bow for your story to matter. Share it.
2. get help - be that counseling, medication, or something else. I know that my Untying the Knots of the Heart group has been incredibly helpful to me but I think that I am going to need more than just that and I am worth the investment of counseling to get me mentally healthy. So are you.
3. don’t quit.
On this, the 20th anniversary of the day my mom’s life changed for the rest of her days on this earth and my life plan changed, I am so thankful that I follow “the God who sees me” and that He is pursuing me and healing me. I am thankful that I have learned that it's ok to ask questions and to have feelings. I'm thankful my life hasn't been messed up, He sees the big picture, and I can trust the plans He has for me.