The Gift

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Honesty.  Sometimes, you have to admit, it’s overrated, (and sometimes you just don’t want to be honest, like today, I’m cringing as I write this because I don’t know how people will respond!) but as I was battling anxiety, depression, and feelings of abandonment, I was more honest with God than I had ever been before.  I’d heard my whole life that I needed to pour out my soul to God, tell him anything and everything, but I didn’t think anyone actually meant that.  I mean, are you really supposed to tell God that you feel like you’ve been duped by placing your trust in him?  I felt like a kid who asked for a bike for Christmas and got a package of underwear instead–just underwear (seriously?).  But I was at the bottom of the proverbial barrel, and pretending like everything was good, and I was fine, was not working anymore.  So I let God know (often) that I felt like the Titanic, and I thought he might be the iceberg that had delivered the fatal blow, or at the very least, failed to rescue me. In other words, I thought he was really blowing it.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, I think I knew I didn’t have the whole story; and when I met “Jane,” my counselor, some pieces of that story began to fall into place.  During one of our very first conversations after she listened to my story, we were sitting in Jane’s SUV in front of a strip mall in Chiang Mai, and she looked at me and said, “You’ve been given a gift.  Now you just have to figure out how to unwrap it.”  It was the last thing I expected to hear, and really, I thought she might be a little crazy.  But I was willing to listen to how she thought all of this might actually end up being a gift.

 

It’s Not Safe

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India July  2008 RB Putna 017

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When we began traveling around the country raising support to go on the mission field, we were asked several variations of what would you do if something bad happens to your children while you’re in India?  I think I cheerfully responded, “There’s no safer place to be than in the center of God’s will.”  I retract that statement.  It betrayed my naive worldview which was being rocked to its very core, because in the middle of my storm of anxiety and depression I was anything but safe–emotionally or spiritually.

Ultimately (meaning heaven) there is no safer place to be, but in this life, even when we’re doing exactly what God has asked us to, He doesn’t promise us safety.  If that were true there would have never been, and will never be any more, martyrs.  But he does promise us his presence when we walk through hard times, and often it’s in those hard times that we experience a fullness and sweetness in our relationship with Jesus that defies description.  I wasn’t there yet, but God hadn’t given up on me either.  And in just a few days I was going to meet “Jane” (not her real name), my wonderful counselor, whom God would use to speak to me in a profound way.

 

The Diagnosis

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While awaiting our flight out to Thailand we stayed with some dear friends, and my husband and I did something that God used to begin our long road to healing: we opened up and talked about what was happening.  Once again, we weren’t sure what the response would be, but our friends were so loving, compassionate, and kind, allowing us to vent and cry as needed.  As we talked, our wonderful friend “Sandy” suggested that, when we got to Thailand, we look up a counselor that one of her friends had highly recommended.  Sandy tracked down her phone number and we made a plan to get in touch with her when we arrived in Bangkok.

One of the first things I did, at my husband’s prodding, when our feet touched Thai soil was make an appointment with a psychiatrist at Bumrungrad hospital.  I walked into his office, answered a short series of questions, and left with a diagnosis of depression and a prescription to match.  In a fog of disbelief, with tears welling up in my eyes, I made my way to the closest bathroom, locked myself in a stall, and cried, silent body-shaking sobs.  My anger and hurt were growing by the day, and the official diagnosis left me feeling like I was no longer myself, but someone I didn’t even recognize, and I resented (a lot) having to take medication just to feel “normal” again…

(to be continued)

Abandoned

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Looking back, the path that led me to anxiety and depression was not a straight one. It was more like stacking an impossibly high tower of blocks, each block representing a different aspect of my life in India, that was bound to topple as each new and overwhelming experience was piled on.

(You’re about to learn more about me than you probably care to know, but…) I’m an introvert, who can tend to spend way too much time inside my own head.  I also have an empathetic spirit, but I don’t like to show my emotions.  So I tend to take difficult, sad things and internalize them.  That turned out to be a devastating combination, spelling big trouble for me in India where nearly every place I looked was full of extreme poverty and need.

I would walk or ride down the street only to have a never-ending stream of dusty hands reaching out, begging, for a few rupees or something to fill their hungry stomachs.  Tin shacks, lining the streets, gave little protection from the elements.  Everywhere I looked a desperate face peered back.

Faced, for the first time in my life, with such destitution and hopelessness an ugly question started to creep into my soul.  God, if you’re good, why do so many people suffer so terribly day after day with little hope of seeing anything change?  It was the first time I had ever really allowed myself to question my beliefs, but, faced with my new reality, it was unavoidable.  I had to know the answer.

That seemed to open up a gauntlet, and as my personal struggle with anxiety and depression worsened, with panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, I began to feel abandoned by God.  I moved from questioning God’s goodness to doubting that he was good at all.  And then I got really angry…

(To be continued tomorrow…)

“I’ll Leave Tomorrow”

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I had spent the past few weeks huddled under my blankets after my very first anxiety attack.  My kids had been working on a puzzle and wanted my help, and as I sat at our worn wooden table staring at the mixed up faces of Aladdin and Jasmine my heart started to race and my skin got clammy.  I stumbled from the table, suddenly terrified.  What’s wrong with me?  I thought.  Why can’t I even do a simple puzzle with my kids?  I was alone in our house with my two small children and I didn’t understand what was going on with me.

Shortly after we arrived in country I was talking with another missionary who shared a story about how one of her friends dealt with the challenges of life in a third world country.  She said, “my friend told me, ‘I just take one day at a time.  I keep my bags packed, and I keep telling myself I’ll leave tomorrow.'”  That’s one piece of advice I’ve never been able to apply to my own life–living day by day.  I’ve always been a dreamer, and I love to think about the future, but for the first time in my life all my thoughts about the future were frightening and bleak.  I imagined all of my days stretching out before me as I languished in this black hole of depression and anxiety, and I was scared.

On one of our first few nights in India we had checked into a guest house in Gurgaon.  Surveying the room I looked at the bed and, turning to my husband, said, “Does it look like the covers are moving?”  Looking closer we realized that hundreds of ants were residing on the sheets and dozens of dead ones had been caught in the pillowcases.  That night I didn’t sleep and I put “Worth it All” by Rita Springer on a continuous loop on my ipod and prayed.  I prayed for God to use us in a country with needs so vast that it was completely overwhelming, and now, just a few months later, I found myself overwhelmed by the thought of even getting out of bed….