Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Best Worst Year of My Life

My life was never so fragile as it was during the Spring and Summer of 2013. I struggled to process the loss in my life: the loss of a child, the loss of my femininity (in a physical sense), the loss of good health, the loss of my mother's health, and the list goes on. Matt and others sought to help me navigate this season of life in many ways, but I continued to spiral downwards personally and physically. At the same time, I had more prescription medications in my body and in my medicine cabinet than at any other time in my life. Whether they were recently prescribed or remaining from previous prescriptions, I had a variety of narcotics, sleep aids, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications. It was a recipe for disaster.

During those months, I began turning to these prescription medications to relieve not only my physical pain, but my emotional pain. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was abusing my medications; I had obtained them in the right way, but I was using them in the wrong way. Before long, my abuse of medications became an addiction to medications; my body and mind wanted them more regularly and in greater amounts. I was blind to my addiction, but the evidence was becoming clear to others: I spent a lot of time in bed, I combined medications with alcohol, and I hid medications from my husband.

Friends, doctors, and my husband all noticed changes in me and tried to help. In certain ways, their efforts were fruitful, but overall my personal and physical life continued to spiral out of control. In early September of 2013, my husband came to see my life was so out of control that we needed to seek out professional help and he admitted me to an inpatient drug / alcohol treatment center in Statesboro, Georgia, called Willingway Hospital.

I was told that I would be at Willingway for four to six weeks for a detox and rehabilitation program. While I agreed to this plan outwardly, I told myself I would only really need to be there for a week at most. In my opinion, all I needed was help detoxing from all my medications. After a few days, I realized that I was going to have to stay for the entire four to six weeks. I didn’t know how I could be away from my kids for that long. I ended up walking out of the treatment center on two separate occasions, but I couldn't go home because my husband said I had to finish the program. I went back to Willingway after a few hours, and reluctantly resumed the program.

Eventually, my counselor at Willingway determined that the inpatient program was not the right fit for me. I needed a more intensive, long-term approach to my addiction recovery. And so while on a conference call with my husband, my counselor told me that I needed to go to residential treatment for twelve months. I resisted, saying that I could not be away from my husband and children for that long. To make matters worse, I was told that my husband had been asked to resign his job as a pastor because of the issue related to my addiction. Now we were all in the midst of "the night."

I won't go into too much detail about my time in residential treatment, but I will say it was "the best worst year of my life." It was good for me in many ways, but it was so hard physically, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.

The hardest part was being away from my children. At first, I couldn't even think of them without feeling physically ill. I made the decision to put away all my pictures of them, and had to ask my sister to pray for them because I could not. In time, God helped me feel better knowing I would see them again. My husband kept me updated on them, and I was able to talk to them on the phone for a few minutes each week. When I had the chance, I wrote to them, drew them pictures, and knitted them things.

During my time in treatment I was broken down to nothing and then built back up. God used the girls I lived with and my counselor to guide me through this time. He placed me so perfectly in the exactly right place with exactly the right people. God used them to show me things about myself that I had not been aware of before because of my addiction, pride, and selfishness:
  • God showed me my sin in a way I had never seen it before. 
  • God taught me what pure dependence on Him looks like. 
  • God taught me to trust in Him. For so long I depended on myself and I always thought I knew best. In some very dramatic ways, I learned that that is not true. When I gave my will up to God completely, He faithfully used other people in my life to point me in the right direction and help me make better choices. 
  • God gave me peace. 
  • God showed me His faithfulness over and over by providing for me and for my family: new employment for my husband in Dallas, in-laws to help care for the children, etc. 
  • God showed me mercy over and over through people at Willingway when I kept fighting against them. 
  • God showed me love in giving me some wonderful lifelong friends from my time in treatment. 
  • God showed me grace in giving me a second chance at life. 
Looking back, God had His sovereign hand controlling every event of the past two years. Our "night" was painful and long in certain ways, but true joy came in the “morning.” I know other "nights" may come, but I have no reason to doubt that He will continue to be faithful.

While I was in treatment I would play the piano whenever a could. Every time I would play, I would play the hymn, "It is Well with My Soul," and the words give me such peace. I've been sharing the story behind the hymn with our kids this week. The author, Horatio Spafford, suffered incredible loss; everything was taken away from him except his faith and people to support him. First, he lost his son to illness, then he lost his business, and then he lost his wife and four daughters at sea during a voyage from America to Europe. Following their death, Horatio made the same voyage and wrote these words at the location where the ship carrying his wife and daughters had sank:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul. 
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.  
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

In May of 2013, I remember laying on the operating table before my hysterectomy, thinking about my cancer, my physical pain, my miscarriage, and my mom's brain disease. To say I was overwhelmed by it all would be an understatement. I remember thinking about David in the Psalms crying out to God when he was overwhelmed. As my thoughts alternated between fear and prayer, tears started running down my cheeks, and then I was out.

When I woke up from the surgery, my anxiety and depression quickly returned. I was on lots of pain medicine because of the surgery, and I mostly slept for the next couple days. I just wanted to isolate in my room and sleep in order to escape from or at least quiet all of the thoughts and feelings that were swirling inside me. I didn't give into those things completely though; I kept trying to get "out of" myself and to focus my heart on God. I was continually praying, singing and listening to music, and reading the Psalms. But rather than feeling strengthened to face life here on earth, all I could think of was going to heaven. I wanted my new, glorified body, to see my dad and my miscarried child, and to rest at Jesus' feet. Though I longed for it, I simply could not feel His presence in my pain. I was in the midst of the “night," and it was very, very dark.

It's astonishing that looking back, I can now see that God was with me. In fact, He had me in the palm of his hand and never let me go. He did allow me to wrestle with some deep emotional and spiritual pain, but over time He used that renew my hope in Him. He didn't renew my heart when or how I wanted Him to, but he did indeed take hold of my heart once again and drew me to Himself.

In the midst of suffering, it is so hard to hear someone say, "It is okay - God will take care of you." While this is a true statement, it is rarely a comforting statement to one who is suffering because it seems like an attempt to discount or silence the deep emotional turmoil they are experiencing. While they aren't always reliable, God gave us real emotions that should not be discounted or silenced. Rather, those thoughts and emotions should be verbalized to God Himself in prayer.

We sometimes think of prayer as a peaceful, quiet, happy thing. But in the Bible, especially in Psalms and in Jesus' life, prayer is regularly marked by the raw emotions of lives disrupted by sin and brokenness. There is nothing wrong with crying out to God and asking him our "why" questions, telling him our complaints and frustrations, and "groaning" to Him in pain and sorrow.  Just think about Jesus' words on the cross on Good Friday: "He cried out to God saying, 'Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt. 27:46).'" And in Psalm 102, David is in such distress and sorrow for the majority of the psalm. He is honest with God in his emotion. But by the end of the psalm, he has reminded himself of who God is (or, more likely, the Holy Spirit has interrupted his complaints with a fresh reminder of truth). I love seeing this pattern in the psalms. The honesty and raw emotion and honesty of cries to God, followed by simple reminders of who God is and what He has promised. 

Even in the midst of my struggles with anxiety and depression three years ago, God had a hold on me. As Romans 8:38-39 famously says, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." I didn't always feel that reality, but I knew deep down that it was true. In fact, it was during that season of my life that I wrote a new tune to the hymn, "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go." Like the text, this tune seems to blend the somberness of my heart and joy of my faith in a unique way. I hope it offers some perspective and encouragement for you and your heart today.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mom

Three years ago, around the time of my hysterectomy, I found out that my mom has a brain disease called Corticobasel Degeneration. It is a rare disease that is basically a combination of MS, Parkinson's, and Dementia.

I had just been to St. Louis to see my mom a few months earlier. Me and my sisters had given her a big surprise party for her 60th Birthday. Friends and family came in from all over. It was such a sweet time.





Currently, my mom is not doing well. Her balance, memory, speech, and overall health have declined very rapidly. She cannot walk any more, and she can barely speak. It seems that she is fairly aware of her physical limitations, which makes me her frustrated. As you can imagine, it makes me sad to see her in the this condition.

People have asked me questions along the lines of, "Why would God have them go through something like this?" When I was going through cancer I know I asked a lot of those questions. I think the reasons for why God allows suffering can sometimes be seen in this life, but are not easily seen or understood. Our "why" questions are important, and we should not be afraid to bring them to others and to God. But what matters more than the answer to our "why" questions are these three truths: God is in control, God is working for good, and God is present with us in our suffering.

I am so grateful for my sister, Katie, who lives in St. Louis and is helping care for my mom alongside Ned, my step-father. While Ned suffers from Parkinson's, but he still cares for my mom with grace, love, and humility. I am so grateful for him. It is hard to be away from my mom during this hard time, but she is in such good hands.

My dad passed away in 2003 from cancer and my mom will be with him soon. It will be hard to be without both of them in this life, but I know that I will see them again in heaven. And one day, because of Christ's resurrection, each of us will have glorified bodies that are free from the disease, pain, and decay that we had to endure on earth. In this season where we celebrate Christ's death and resurrection I can't help but have so much joy and gratitude in my heart for the salvation he has given to me. One day my whole family will have the privilege of not only being together, but of being together worshiping God our Father in Heaven singing with the angels.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,

I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.