Just like me, this blog is a work in progress. God seems to be writing it one word at a time. Not me. It's His voice I'm listening to. I'm just the one holding the pen. If I can help just one person, then all my years of crying out were worth it. You've got a friend and you are not alone. Maybe you can see yourself in me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drugs and Mental Illness

Ray was a persistent felony offender my husband was representing on drug charges.  Since Ray was a carpenter who had no money, Phil asked if I felt comfortable with him coming to our house to turn the garage into a bonus room, which would be his payment and something we'd wanted to do for some time. I said he could come -- that I wasn't afraid. 

So in April of 1991, Ray, the carpenter, started his adventure of enclosing the garage. That same month, on April 21, 1991, at 12:10 a.m. my husband's dad died from a heart attack he had experienced two days previously, after returning home from a two-day fishing trip he and Phil had been on in Erin, Tn. On the night Bill died, as Phil lay mourning in bed,  Ray was drinking coffee, carrying on a conversation with me in our living room. To say the least mine and Ray's life were entwined. It was a night I regret. 

Ray, the persistent felony offender, the drug addict, the criminal who lost his license, his car, his wife, his relationship with his daughter plus his relationship with his mom (whom he lived with, who needed the lawnmower I had bought which Ray sold at a pawn shop for drug money) who also had an open wound on his left leg that would not heal, who was emaciated, gray, snaggled tooth and lonely, who wouldn't answer his phone because it might be a creditor, who constantly was looking over his shoulder because of threats made by people he had taken advantage of, who was jobless, penny-less, constantly in need of cash, as opposed to checks, (you can figure that one out can't you?) who insisted on being paid daily so he could feed his hungry demons that had to be fed regularly. 

On May 19th, one month after meeting Ray, he became a Christian. Coming up out of the watery grave Ray was saved but still a drug addict. A hard truth, but reality.

On June 6, 1991 Ray entered the hospital to "dry out" and I was there. Either in person or on the phone I went through it with him. I would call in the middle of the night and he would be throwing up. I would go visit and he would be smoking, feeding another addiction. I had no idea at the time that drug addicts use de-tox as a means of getting empty so they can start back using drugs all over again. Much to my chagrin, this was his seventh time. I brought Ray home on June 12. That afternoon he and his mom had an argument in my living room. That night I took them supper. 

I have no recollection of when the den was completed. I do know, however, that he did eventually sell drugs again, to an undercover police officer that ended up putting him in prison. Spending time but being released, I heard little from, or about him, until I saw him maybe ten years ago, buying groceries for his mother looking like a new man. I told him how good he looked and he said he and his mom were attending a little church downtown -- that both he and his mom enjoyed worshiping at. He told me his mom was in declining health and he was taking care of her. James Ray Shields II died on September 6, 2012 and Majel Lois 'Madge' Ison Shields, his mom, died on November 19th, 2013, outliving him by fourteen months. She died just one month ago.

God used Ray to teach me one of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned. When I thought God was using me to teach Ray, he was using Ray to teach me. I have never looked at myself the same since. I cannot fix your problems. You cannot fix mine. That is a simple, yet profound truth.

Never in my life had I met anyone as needy as Ray. All of his problems I noted above were simply unfathomable to me. How could he ever get out of this hole he had dug? Could even God reach him? 

Having never experienced any of his problems nor having any professional expertise myself, I came to the conclusion that all I could do was what I could do. I could talk, listen, feed, take him to the doctor, enter him into the hospital, visit, counsel, instruct, take him to church, encourage, rebuke and show him the love of Christ. 

I could do what I could do and God could do what I could not. Lesson learned. 

Whereas Ray's problem was taking too many drugs, many people suffering from mental illness who need them won't. Whether you think it's a sign of weakness or you just don't want to add another drug to your regimen, please reconsider.

If you're suffering in silence but don't know what's wrong, if you're watching someone who is suffering  but won't admit it, or if you're plain old ashamed to go get help because of the stigma mistakenly attached to mental illness listen to me. Take it from someone who's been-there-and-done-that, you will not get better until you do. 

The first doctor I went to tore a page out of the PDR, telling me to take it home and read it -- that I had described depression to him better than anyone ever had. He gave me the first of many medicines I would be taking even to date. I noticed an improvement in my thinking and ability to cope almost immediately. Anti-depressants were absolutely necessary to treat my chemical imbalance; even more-so when the chemical, post-partum and situational depressions converged. I was descending into a place, I fear, from which I would never return. The medicine was absolutely necessary to keep me from going there.

Had prayer, faith, Bible study or support from family and friends gotten rid of the illness, the medicines I am on today I would not still be taking. Having tried numerously but failed in the past to stop, I recognize I still have the problem by what happens when I try.

Several times, in my darkest hours, I sought prayers from the church. I walked to the front of the auditorium at the end of the sermon begging people to pray for me. Someone would always come, whom I knew personally, who knew what I was going through and sit with me, hold my hand and shed tears to empathize. For those people I am very thankful. But what happened the next day, none of them could perform. I always found myself in a doctor’s office seeking professional help and counsel, assured that God had led me there. Nothing a friend could ever offer was ever going to be enough. I know many people who believe faith is the answer, but along with faith must come medicine.

My dad is 82 years old, in a nursing home and has been bi-polar, from what I've gathered, most, if not all, his life. Within the last five or six years, he has asked me what was wrong and I quite bluntly told him, “Dad, you have an untreated chemical imbalance for which you have never sought treatment because you've either thought you haven't had one or wouldn't have taken the medicine had a doctor told you so. I simply gave him the bottom line because truly in a nutshell that was the answer he needed to hear and I'd had this discussion with him before.

Untreated mental illness is as dangerous as untreated diabetes. Just because it's invisible doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Why suffer in silence, or in shame, when you could be taking medicine administered by a qualified doctor or specialist who knows how to treat it and have a more fulfilling life?




Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts of Suicide

Having experienced thoughts of suicide as a struggling mom, at the age of twenty-nine, here are my thoughts now twice that age, a grandmother at the age of fifty-eight. 

If you know someone who is, or appears to be depressed, be a warm body. Just be there. Job’s friends sat on the ground for seven days and seven nights. "No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.”

Listen. Don’t talk. Pray for discernment as to when.

There’s a difference between wanting to die and not wanting to live. Most people struggling with depression just want to get away from the pain and don’t know how; I did.

“Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain."  http://www.metanoia.org/suicide/

You can be around someone everyday and still not know what’s going on in his head. It’s not your fault you didn't know. 

You cannot help a person if YOU don’t know they have a problem. You cannot help another person if HE doesn't know he has a problem. You cannot help a person who WON'T ADMIT he has a problem. 

You are not responsible for another person’s actions. You cannot control another human being.

You cannot make someone talk. If someone believes depression is a sign of weakness she will be ashamed to share her depressed thinking. She probably doesn't know she’s depressed, but knowing, doesn't solve the problem either. It only begins the process of knowing.

You cannot hear another person’s mental chatter. Mental chatter to a depressed individual is his reality. Mental chatter takes a problem and only escalates it.

Realizing a thought is just a thought is impossible for a depressed individual. He simply cannot comprehend it. The fact that a memory is a simple, harmless thought passing through your mind is simply incomprehensible.

The mind can assume anything. Some people have a relationship with their mind. The mind never leaves but people do.

The rational mind that helps us cope, if irrational, is the very thing that would help us cope but cannot, because of its irrational thinking. Hence the inability to make wise decisions. This is the reason anti-depressants are so helpful. They do not change a person's thinking. They change the chemistry of the brain that controls his thinking. 

Be patient. Healing is a slow process for a troubled individual. Nudge, but don’t push.

If suicide occurs, remember her life and not just her death.

Please read the book "No Time To Say Goodbye" Surviving the Death of A Loved One by Carla Fine. It comes from someone who's been there and experienced it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Patience -- waiting on God's perfect will

"I waited patiently for the Lord" Psalm 40:1

No, I didn't. I had no idea what patient waiting looked like. I didn't know when I was ages twenty-nine to thirty-nine that waiting is necessary to go from one stepping stone to the next.

When God was giving me just enough light for the step I was on, I wanted the whole path illuminated.

Psalm 119:105
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my pathway." Psalm 119:105

In the Greek lamp and light really are two different words. Lamp (niyr) as in candle. Light ('owr) as in the sun, moon and stars. The candle lights the feet. The sun lights my path. I wanted the sun, moon and start instead of the candle.

God has his own plan -- the only plan. I thought I was going to retire a high school English teacher, but he didn't. He knew where he wanted me to go and how best to lead me. I had been the stubborn child who became the helpless adult he was supposed to agree with. Remember? He was teaching me I needed to agree with him; not the other way around.

Or maybe he was teaching me I didn't even have to agree with him. We take our own children kicking and screaming. Don't we?  I didn't have to agree and neither do you.

I had to learn the hard way that God does things in his own time. If I am waiting  for God, he is waiting until I am ready. If I am waiting on God, I am waiting until he is ready. God isn't in a hurry.

In 1984 I had no idea that it would not be until 1994 that I would receive proof of the chemical imbalance. For ten years I went from doctor to doctor wondering what was wrong, finally finding a Neuro-psychiatrist who ordered the right test that I wish I could tell you the name of. The test revealed I had a very overactive hypothalamus, which controls vomiting, I might add. I have no medical information to back this up, but I've often wondered if this wasn't the root of my obsession with vomiting.

Why did God want me to wander ten years before discovering what if I'd known in 1984 could have spared me years and years of grief and wondering?

Why should God treat me any differently than any other person he's created? God really does have a plan for each one of us; one for you and one for me.

Only God can make things grow. Remember Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.

Wisdom, what people seek from me, has taken a life-time to grow. It's not achieved overnight. It comes from years of trial and error and waiting on God. If you want to know how to do something right, do it wrong. Much wisdom comes from learning from your mistakes.

Moses, who thought he would be a leader forty years before he became one, is a perfect example.

Acts 7:23 was another pivotal verse for me that proves God's timing.
After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.

Moses fled to Midian after killing the Egyptian "where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons" verse Acts 7:29 tells us,  for forty more years.  He lived as a foreigner, much like I felt wandering in my wilderness too. At the age of eighty Moses was where he wanted to be, but couldn't be, when he was forty. For forty years Moses falls off the radar.

Another pivotal verse surfaced when I found Acts 7:23:

Isaiah 48: 3
I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.

God foretells, he plans and then he suddenly acts. He suddenly acts. Yes he does. I've seen him do it time and time again.

Just yesterday I had a lady come to me who is barren, who so desperately has wanted a baby for years. Harvesting of eggs, shots, invitro fertilization, miscarriages. Hopes dashed, prayers prayed over and over again. Now since the adoption process has started, doors are opening quickly. Time has speed-ed up and she sees God's handwriting on the wall. Daily, her waiting is making sense. When she thought God was sitting on his hands, he was working fervently for her.

God knows what's going to happen if the plan goes according to his design, or even if it doesn't. God uses even the tangents for his glory. Even though some think the time is wasted, the most meaningful part of the trip when you've missed the road,  is the one that takes you back to where you went wrong.

The greatest way I can defeat Satan is to glorify God for recovering me when I was lost, comforting me when I was weary, healing me when I was sick--thanking him for my situation whatever it is.

All the years I was in the pit, God knew exactly where I was and what he was doing. The puzzle pieces were fitting together, coming together one piece at a time. I am now standing on the rock, telling others about him. Even if you can't see his hand, trust his heart that he knows what he's doing.

Psalm 40:3
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord. And they are. You are.

Mental illness is the route God chose for me, which may be the route he's chosen for you, to grow close to him. He is a jealous god who wants your undivided attention. He'll go to great lengths you don't understand to get it.

But how can God use mental illness as a means of glorifying him when people think it's wrong for a Christian to have it? Just because one person has an opinion does not make it a fact or mean I have to believe it. If God chooses to leave a burden in my life, then it's for my benefit and for his glory. Who am I to say, or who are you to say, that God doesn't know what he's doing?

Paul says in Romans 7:22:

For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

Paul's words are mine.

Five words in this passage I can relate to: War. Mind. Prisoner. Wretched. Rescue.

How did God use depression to rescue me?

1) Being in the pit, I had nowhere to look but up. I kept bumping into God.

2) God had my undivided attention. Being unable to think about anything but me made soul-searching easy. Silence was the key to hearing God's voice.

3) I was forced to run to scripture--where God could be found.

Nothing physical touches the soul. Nothing external satisfies our deepest inner needs. Remember that! The soul belongs to God. He alone can satisfy us in that realm. Charles Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge.

Ecclesiastes 3:11
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

God created the longing for faith. One has to acknowledge there is a God before he can doubt that he exists.

Where does faith come from.

Romans 10:17
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. NIV

I needed faith, especially the kind that moves mountains--the kind that you and I need. And developing it takes time.




Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Absent Parent

It’s very hard to live with depression while having children, but I actually give them credit for saving my life when thoughts of suicide surfaced.

Phil and I used to, and still do, sleep on a loaded 357 Magnum. I asked him to move it to the closet, then take the bullets out of it, then take it out of the bedroom completely. Never, did I ever get close to using it. I never acted on the thoughts at all. I just certainly never wanted to give myself the opportunity. 

Because David and Laura were very young when I was at my worst, I knew someone had to be present at all times. It was actually because of having children that I survived.

Not only was I suffering from depression, I also had headaches -- terrible migraines. 

Over the years I've had CT Scans, MRI’s, trigger point injections, Toridal shots, many office visits, many closed doors, darkness, silence, and the usual prescription and over-the-counter drugs every other migraine sufferer has to take.  

I've celebrated New Years Day thinking I have had a brain tumor, having to choose which hospital I’d like to use should I have to have surgery, and as recently as in 2012 I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Eve after having been diagnosed with a complicated migraine rather than the stroke I thought I was having when admitted.

Our neighborhood pool, where David and Laura both took swimming lessons, was in walking distance and sight of our house. So when I couldn't function, when David and Laura got older, I would send both of them to the pool, for Steve, the lifeguard, to watch, so I could lay down. 

It was a safe neighborhood and all the lifeguards were dependable. I had no qualms about sending them any time. (Note this was in the eighties and nineties—a completely different day and time.)

Notice I used the word “had” headaches instead of  “have” headaches. When Laura was ten, on my way to taking her to school and on my way to the hospital to have trigger point injections in my neck, I wrecked my car on the tenth day of a twelve day migraine. Phil had been asking me every morning, before taking Laura to school, if I was able to “operate a motor vehicle.” (He is an attorney, you know.)   

I had been telling him no, but on this particular morning he assured me that I could. So down one street I went, turned left down another, turned right down another, accelerating rather than slowing down, taking out a whole row of metal mailboxes, that were up by 5:00 that afternoon,  I might add. ( Kudos to the United States Postal Service!)

Luckily for me and Laura my car was still drive-able. So, on I continued, driving Laura to her school and myself on to the hospital to get the trigger point injections. To say the least, this migraine got my attention.

I was prompted to play detective, keeping a food diary that revealed I was allergic to chocolate, caffeine and vitamin E.  (The week of the wreck I had been eating Purity Triple Chocolate ice cream. It’s quite obvious why I had had one.) 

I have had none of the above now for NINETEEN YEARS, and have only had one migraine since 1994. Thank you Jesus!!!!!

Because of the panic attacks, migraines and suffering from depression, when it came to going to the kids’ Thanksgiving and Christmas programs, the first day of every school year, field trips, ball games, voice recitals, family reunions, holidays, etc.  I was a very absent parent. Phil was always the parent who showed up.

Here's what I was thinking, that I couldn't verbalize then, you may not be able to either.

I was exhausted from doing mental calisthenics no one else could see, on an emotional roller coaster no one else could stop. I was emotionally gutted. My mind had shut down and my body was retaliating. When I stayed in bed all day, I was insulating myself from the pain and feelings of hopelessness.

I was lethargic. Every ounce of energy went into just putting one foot in front of the other. I too wish I could have done more.

To make myself take a shower was impossible--the hardest thing I had to do. It required more time, effort and energy than I could muster.

I couldn't socialize. My eyes were turned inward. I had no interest in you or in going out.

Getting dressed required making a decision, something I could not do. What once had been so simple, I now saw so complex.

I needed you to be patient with me. I needed your strength to lean on--to be there for me time and time again until I could cope. I too doubted my future.

I didn't want you to tell me to snap out of it. The part of me that was reason-able was the very part of me that was sick. You were dealing with my brain, my mind--my feelings. You couldn't fix me like a broken arm or leg. My pain was inward--something you, nor I, could see.

Remember who I was thirty years ago is not who I am today. You have a future and you have a hope. 

Hold on to this verse. This was one I found at just the right time:

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
For his compassions never fail.
They are new every  morning;
Great is your faithfulness,
I say to myself, "the Lord is my portion;
Therefore, I will wait for him."
                             Lamentations 3:22-24

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Less Is Best--lowering your standards


In this picture, David and Laura look to be exactly the ages they were when I was twenty-nine, at the time I had my surgery. They’re sitting in a chair at Dot and Bill’s house, Phil’s parents who stayed with us and took care of them for the ten days I was in the hospital and for five weeks after. Had it not been for them I’m not sure how we could have survived. 

Bill was a hospital administrator and Dot a housewife, so they were available almost any time we called; and we did often.  They lived two and one-half hours away—always were willing to drop everything, come to our house or let us stay the week-end with them, or longer. They kept the kids when we wanted to go on vacation, or just get away for the week-end, when the kids got older. 

It was in Sturgis, where they lived, that I wrote He Has Made Me What I Am. I knew I needed uninterrupted time and that Dot would take care of the kids royally. I wrote the entire series of thirteen lessons in one week-end. 

Never did I ever have to worry if they were being taken care of. Her care always surpassed mine. I never had that motherly instinct that supposedly every mother is born with. I've only heard one other mother say that she wasn't born with one either. I guess Dot was born with both of ours.

Laura developed a very close relationship with Dot because she was always there for her, giving her her undivided attention when I could not. Regretfully I was so focused inward nothing else seemed to matter around me. 

I have minimal memories of Laura’s childhood, especially the very early years. Knowing little, but some, about emotional detachment, I would say we qualified. I explicitly remember the night terrors that would come years later.

Dot is now widowed twice and lives within two miles of us. Laura, now twenty-nine (the age I was when I had the surgery) spends as much time with her as she can.  You can see the closeness between them; it’s quite obvious. 

With Dot and Alton (whom Dot married after Bill died) was one place Laura lived when I insisted she move out when she was in college. She was living at home, I was speaking nationwide and our values did not mesh. I made a wrong decision I painfully regret now.  (If I could take it back I would.) In some of the most difficult years Dot was there, even then.

David has told me he has very few memories of me actually spanking him, which is great, but I do. One of the few memories he does have, however, is extremely funny, looking back; it was not at all then. I was getting ready to spank him in the bathroom and as he was backing up to get away from me, he stepped inside the commode. Oh how I wish I had had a sense of humor! What a laugh we could have had. I’m sure the spanking would have fallen by the wayside.

I mention all of this to say, children are resilient. If you’re suffering from depression, some other mental illness, or your life is just a mess right now, you’re probably doing the very best you can. Don’t be too hard on yourself. There was a time when I considered a successful day just getting to the end of it alive. Remember? Supposedly, children will even put up with abuse just to be with their parents.  

Even though David and Laura are very different, they both learned something from my illness, each in their very own way. 

David says he determined not to be an angry parent and make the same mistakes I did. He is a very patient, loving, active, caring father – everything I wasn’t. 

Laura is now a mental health counselor, working with children from grade school through high school. She has first-hand experience with dealing with adversity, though not nearly to the degree she sees daily.

God can take a very bad situation and make something very good come out of it.

Ultimately how did I become a better parent? Basically, I lowered my standards. When I have said that’s what I did, some have said that’s unacceptable. God doesn’t think so. 

Look at why my standards were so high and what God thinks about lowering them.

1) I was rarely praised and felt like I was never ever going to be good enough. My dad had been a very strict disciplinarian, believing praise would go to a person’s head. 

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 NIV

2) The only form of discipline I’d ever known was spanking. I honestly didn’t know any other. I remember being spanked frequently, which may be a wrong perception, I admit. But it has always been mine.

“Parent, don’t come down too hard on your children or you’ll crush their spirits.” Colossians 3:21 The Message
  
3) I was a perfectionist, largely because of the above. God does not require perfection, he requires faithfulness. He expects us to fail. That’s why Jesus was in the plan. 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23 NIV

4) I was saved by works not by grace. Grace simply did not exist. I look back one generation from my parents and I understand why. It did not exist for them so they could not pass it down.

Nearing the end, in a nursing home, dad hopes he’s going to heaven, when he could rest assured. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9 NIV

5) I did not understand the nature of a child.  Being the youngest child, and having never babysat, I had never been around children. I expected them to be little adults, knowing not to spill the Cheerios. If they did it was a corporal offense. 

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. 1 Corinthians 13:11a NCV

Even though this entry may not apply to you at all, I hope it helps those of you with children, who may be worrying about what effect your illness is having on them and that it gives you permission to lower your standards. God probably isn't being as hard on you as you’re being on yourself. Accept yourself just as you are. Give yourself the grace God extends to you.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The First Lesson I Learned

I regret being the mom my children had to grow up with, teetering between anger and depression all the time, especially for David who took the brunt of it. I have asked his forgiveness many times when overcome with guilt looking back. He learned what not to do – one of the pluses of my insanity.

If not depressed and down I was a time-bomb on the verge of exploding. When I say that anger and depression go hand-in-hand, I lived it. On a dime one could turn into the other, without a moment's notice.

Like the night Phil had to pull me off of David in the hallway because I was so angry, when he was approximately three years old. i don't even remember now why.

Like the time I picked David up when he was two, throwing him into the couch and the time I had to call Phil to come home from work because I feared what I might do.

My only form of discipline, coupled with yelling, was spanking which my dad had passed down to me.  My hand extended from his belt.

With each offense, the more I spanked, the more I yelled, the angrier I got. I eventually had to forbid myself from yelling, to avoid the escalation.

Add to my anger and depression my obsession with vomiting and you get a woman struggling with mental illness, while appearing all together as she taught a Bible class.

The year David was born, Cindy Payne, our campus minister's wife at the time, suggested I teach the Tuesday morning ladies class. Having taught as a teenager and in Northern Kentucky when Phil was in law school I willingly agreed, choosing the book "Full of Joy" which God knew I needed. I taught until I had the surgery, for three years.
After awakening from the surgery a different Teresa, I awoke to the fact I might be worshiping a false god. I felt I didn’t know the real one. 
I intensified my search for God reading my Bible veraciously. Morning, noon and night I read everything I could get my hands about God and depression, like Max Lucado’s books God Came Near and No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, I read in one setting.
I started teaching again as soon as I could, regurgitating on Wednesday nights what I learned as I studied.
I wrote a series of lessons entitled He Has Made Me What I Am, words that resounded in my ears after hearing them sung on a Sunday morning in 1987 when Laura was three. 
“Glory be to him forever. Endless praises to Christ the lamb. He has filled my life with sunshine. He has made me what I am.” 
Having taught Full of Joy in 1984, singing these words now three years later, I felt like God was speaking directly to me, wanting to fill me with what I so desperately needed.
I've included the actual hand-out recommending to my class that they read at least one. The enormity and sincerity of my search is apparent.
I was becoming a true disciple of Jesus, a learner – one who sits at Jesus’ feet. In my going back and forth and back and forth to God feeling hopeless, he in reality was building my faith, exposing my soul to both him and me.

Time spent in the pit was God’s way of increasing my knowledge which inevitably would increase my faith.
My greatest desire when David and Laura were very young was to write. Because of my searching for God, I wanted to share what I was learning with others. 
I was offended when our minister quipped back to me, “What do you think you have to offer?” when I shared my excitement with him about writing a book. Apparently he and God knew the timing wasn't right and the wisdom I needed was beyond my years. What I am writing today is the book I wanted to write thirty years ago.
Instead of writing, God wanted me to speak.
My first speaking engagement was at the Green County Church of Christ on June 1, 1985 when Laura was just thirteen months old. The day's topic was She Has Done What She Could.

How ironic I was asked to speak on The Love of a Christian Mother when I viewed my children as intrusions more than gifts from God.
Rather than change a diaper, read The Little Engine That Could, throw the ball, hold and cuddle and pay attention to, I preferred to write.

Surely God agreed that telling others about him, sharing the lessons I was learning, putting them into print was superior to motherhood. Apparently not. I became frustrated because of doors shut that I wanted opened.
Doris Black, at the same ladies day in Alabama where she said the phrase wondering in the wilderness, which described what I was doing, used 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 as the springboard for her three lessons:

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I can still hear the sound of her voice when she explained, to Give thanks in all circumstances means that you thank God for your situation. Say, thank you God for my situation, whatever it is.”

I can also remember thinking, “Doris, you have to be kidding? You have no idea what my situation is -- what I’m going through right now.”
So I decided to put hers and Paul’s admonition to the test. I came home and started thanking God for my situation.
Thank-you God for David, such a precious little boy.
Thank-you God for Laura, such a precious little girl.
Thank-you God for Phil, the best husband in the world.
Thank-you God for Dot. How could I have survived without her?
Thank-you God for home, a refuge in the time of storm.
Thank-you God for everything.
Thank-you God for my situation.
Previously I thought in no way could my situation be God’s will. But then my thoughts turned to Job. God, himself, suggested to Satan he tempt Job.

Max Lucado opened my eyes to the fact that God and Satan work together, hand-in-hand. I read his words in disbelief. Now I know they do. God cannot tempt but he can test. Satan can only tempt. They work simultaneously. But God always wins.
Nothing has ever happened to you that hasn’t first gone through God’s sieve of approval.

The storm you think is hindering your faith is actually building it. If he brings you to it, he will see you through it. His shoulders are big enough to carry you out. He will not let you go through more than you can bear. He knows exactly how much that is.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” James tells us, “because you know that the testing of your faith” ultimately ends in maturity.

The insanity you may be going through right now is not in vain. Through adversity, God really does build your faith.

I had to keep going back to God and going back to God to get through the day. I had no idea that this was his stepping stone to ultimately plant my feet on the rock.

This was the first lesson I learned: to thank God for my situation. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Not in Control

Not only did three types of depression converge, three things happened beyond my control: a doctor had performed two episiotomies that would cause untold problems in the future, an inexperienced nurse had pulled an organ out of my body, thinking I was passing a clot, and a second surgery had to be performed because I was hemorrhaging from behind the bladder, for some unknown reason.

When I woke up from surgery was I going to be a different Teresa? The answer was a resounding, "Yes!"

For the first time in my life I was not in control. I could not lift my children, cook, get out of bed, shower, shave my legs, make love to my husband, even urinate, without someone or some thing assisting me.

I came home wearing a supra-pubic catheter to let the bladder heal until it could work on its own; I wore it twelve days.

Still having stretch marks from having a baby, I could no longer conceive.  Not being able to lift ten pounds I had a five month old little girl who needed to be carried.

Being the care-giver, I was now the one being cared-for. God had removed the props that defined me. Being forced to come face to face with myself, I became aware of  the smallness of my greatness.
When I was less than two years old, the story goes that when momma told me not to go out in the rain that I said, "Al-bite" and went out anyway. I was the strong willed child James Dobson wrote about in his book I entitled, it just hadn't been written yet. Now that strong-willed child became the helpless adult.

At the time of my surgery I thought I had had faith. I thought I had walked by it for twenty years.

I had been a Christian since the age of twelve, attending three services faithfully every week, marrying a Christian whose dad was an elder, and teaching or attending Bible classes all my life.

I had lived for twenty-nine years thinking I had had faith, when in reality I had never had a problem so large I couldn't handle it. I learned if you can see the solution, then it's not by faith. "When we come to the end of ourselves we come to the beginning of a vital relationship with Jesus Christ."* Remember?

Control had never been an issue for twenty-nine years. God had always agreed with my decisions. (That is absolutely laughable now that I'm fifty-eight years old looking back to a young woman half my age.)

I did not have a clue what real faith was or looked like. But, now that God had my total, undivided attention he could teach me. The pit would be deep. I had a lot to learn.

My best friend from 1985-1990 was Belinda Curtis when her husband, Tim, was our campus minister. Belinda died on November 5, 2013, just twenty days ago.

How ironic that on the day Belinda died, I created UP DOWN DISTRACTED. How proud I know she would have been, had she have had the opportunity to read about me now, so different from the me then.

I consider Psalm 40:1-4, the passage she told me to read, to be the one passage I've held onto, and shared, more than any other, especially when it comes to giving advice to the mentally ill.

Psalm 40:1-4
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.

Slimy pit, and mud and mire, perfectly describe where I was. It would take ten years for my feet to be planted on the rock. I wanted to stand on the firm place then. God's timing is perfect and I was, and am, a slow learner.

All I could do was cry and wait, cry and wait -- all the person in Psalm 40 did -- two requirements necessary when being put through the fire.

The perfectionist I was, God would humble. I had been so full of myself he could not work through me. He would make a person so full of herself come falling at his feet.

I believe God placed Dr. Pfohl in my life in 1992, to teach me this lesson -- eight years after my surgery. When the student is ready, the teacher comes. He would be the one to verbalize, "Perfection is not a goal, it is a disorder."

"Where are you, God?" I asked over and over again. "Why am I here? Have you forgotten me?" He would answer years down the road, "You are never closer to me than when you're being carried -- where you are right now." I know today he spoke the truth. But I felt, then, he had never been farther away.

I was getting ready to learn my first lesson.

* Approaching God  by Steve Brown