Friday, March 21, 2014

14 - My Story, God's Story - Back to Cleveland, TN

We are still in St. Louis, MO with our son.  We have wrapped up most of our projects here, and we still await our next assignment...our next phase in life.  God knows we are anxious to move on, but we don't want to get ahead of Him, nor get out of His will.  Waiting is not easy.  It plays with the emotions.  But to us there is no other option.  We belong to God, and He can do with us as He pleases.

Now, on with the story.  We were excited to be moving back to TN after 4+ years in Joliet, IL.  I have not mentioned before that back before we moved to Joliet we had purchased a couple of acres in a new subdivision in Cleveland.  We had hoped to build our own home.  After four years in Joliet, we decided perhaps it would be best to sell our lot as we didn't know if we would ever be moving back to TN.  The very week we gave the developer notice to go ahead and sell the land, Paul got notice we would be going back "home" (that's how much we loved TN).  So we quickly told the developer our plans had changed.

After moving back to Cleveland, we rented for a year while having our house built.  We built the home with the idea that perhaps our elderly parents (either Paul's or mine) would maybe someday need to move in with us.  We had a bedroom, a bathroom, and a family room built off the kitchen at one end of the house, with French doors to the back screen porch.  That would give anyone living there privacy, and use of the kitchen.  Turns out neither of our parents joined us, but we did eventually have a seminary student spend two years with us, so it served its purpose. I am way ahead of my story.

Paul still had to travel for the company, but he had more time at home than before.  He liked coaching, so he got involved with coaching basketball at the Boys Club in town, and then after we moved into our new neighborhood, he became a Little League baseball coach in our school district.  Both of our sons were on his teams.  He eventually became the president of the Little League.  It was a great outlet for him.

My time was spent planning and overseeing the Sunday School program at our church.  Didn't make sense to me, but I was elected the SS Superintendent  (me being both a woman and a Yankee...not your typical church leader in the south).  I loved it...I felt like I was finally doing what I was gifted to do.  The SS grew in size, even though it was still a small church, and we started a women's ministry.  I was on the church board representing SS.  It didn't take long to see I didn't belong there, and before too long I realized I didn't belong in that church.  Rather, I should say I was not accepted.  

It was a crazy time in my life, and hard to recall everything.  I know that I was climbing the mountain tops, loving God and loving others and fulfilling my "calling".  I have since discovered that when you are being blessed, that is one of the most vulnerable times when satan likes to enter in the back door like an angel of light.  When I thought God was honoring me, satan was setting me up.  What happened during that year of my life was a turning point for me.  I will not give details, as it involved other people, and it would be unfair to only tell my side of the story.  I will talk about my walk with God, however.

I had chosen to be a stay at home Mom after we moved back to TN.  I wanted to enjoy my children and be available when they needed me.  Only thing, it seems they didn't need me as much.  They had school and baseball and friends.  They were no longer toddlers, they were growing up.  Both excelled in school, and both were good ball players.  I was restless,  needing something to keep me busy.  When I was elected Sunday School Superintendent, that was exactly what I needed to occupy my time.  

At first things were great, and I felt so fulfilled.  There were two very important people in my life, however, from which I could not seem to gain approval, and eventually that need for approval robbed me of my peace and joy.  I let my guard down, and I failed God and myself miserably.  

I didn't understand what all was going on in my life, but I knew something was seriously wrong.  I started listening to talk shows on the radio that dealt with women's disorders and decided I must be having early menopause.  Things I used to enjoy I had no desire for.  I didn't feel adequate as a mom, nor a wife.  I became very withdrawn and started avoiding friends and outings.  I was full of anxiety, could hardly go to the grocery store without panic attacks.  Eventually I understood I was clincally depressed.  I needed help, but I felt that as a Christian I should be able to work things out with God, and I didn't need outside help.

During this time I was suicidal, and believed the boys and Paul would be better off without me.  You can see the devil was attacking my mind and spirit.  The way I spent time with my sons was to teach them how to do their own laundry and clean their bathroom.  Today they will both say they were grateful for that time in their lives when they learned how to do things for themselves, but I will always regret stepping out as a mom.

We ended up leaving the church and going to a large one in town where I could just sit on the pew and heal.  For the boys, it was a good switch, for they learned the books of the Bible, and learned more about the God's Word than ever before.  Paul was directing a young adult choir and using his talents.  We made good friends, and enjoyed visiting and playing games with them.

I had a friend convince me to go see a Christian psychologist that had helped her, so after a year of struggling with depression on my own, I first of all went to see a medical doctor and then a psychologist.  I got on medication for helping the chemical imbalance my body was going through, and my self-esteem was being renewed through counseling.  I was sitting at the organ playing songs and singing along one day when I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, "It will all be over by Christmas".  I didn't know what that was late summer at the time.  Did it mean someone I loved, or myself, was going to die?  What was going to be over?

I spent a lot of time in prayer at the foot of my bed, and I journaled while reading through the Bible.  Every time a scripture spoke to me, I wrote it in my journal.  In the mornings I would listen to Dr. Charles Stanley on the radio, and it was like God talking directly to me.  He answered so many of my questions, He explained His Word to me, He gave me directives.  

I was on a journey of emotional healing, including learning to forgive myself.  I knew God had forgiven me, but I was so angry at myself for some stupid behaviors that caused my downfall.  What I learned was that God's grace covers our sins and shortcomings.  I had taken that for granted before this private journey of mine, but during this time I truly began to understand grace for the first time.  I needed it, and God lovingly granted it to me.  

This journey was horrible at first, but the strength I found in reading God's Word, listening to Him, and journaling my thoughts was so profound that after my healing was complete, and I went on in life on a "normal" basis, there were times when I almost wanted to be back on that journey.  God was so close to me then.  He knew how much I needed Him, and He was there for me in a very real, very intimate way.  He loved me, He approved of me, He accepted me.  If He was all I had, then I could go on and face the world about me, for He was all I needed.

It took about a year and a half for me to come out of the dark tunnel I had been in during my depression.  Guess was around Christmas time when I felt totally healed and ready to join life again.  Remember what the Holy Spirit had said to me?  It would be over at Christmas, and it was.  Now I want to back up and insert another time God spoke to me.

It was in the springtime, prior to my depression, and I was cleaning the house with Christian music playing through the intercom.  Every now and then I would just stop and lean against the wall and cry tears of joy.  God was so real to me, blessing me with His presence.  I sat down to journal, asking Him what was going on, and as I looked out my bedroom window down toward the trees in the backyard, I saw a hand beckoning me.  I asked God what He wanted from me.  He spoke to me:

"Carol, you've been enjoying this season in your life, haven't you?"  I responded, "Yes, Lord, you have blessed me so much, I am so full of joy."  He continued, "Carol, you've been walking across mountain tops with a friend.  Would you be just as willing to walk down through the valley with a friend?"

That stopped me.  What friend? What valley?  But as I gave it deep contemplation, I said, "Yes, Lord.  I don't know where I am going, and I don't know who the friend is, but I will walk through the valley because I know you are already there, beckoning me.  I want to be close to wherever you are, so here I am...lead me and I will follow."

I had journaled all of that back when I was going through it, that's why I can recall this "vision" so clearly.  That happened just a few weeks before things went haywire in my life, and I stumbled head long into depression.  I was so angry with myself for being so stupid and allowing the devil to trip me up.  Depression, by the way, is anger turned inward.  I learned a lot about depression by reading books and listening to the radio speakers who were professionally trained.  

Prior to this I had never understood depression.  Now I know what my grandmother was going through in the final years of her life.  I wish I had known back then so I could have come along side of her and been her companion...someone who would just sit and cry with her, if need be.  But I avoided her, just like others did, and it only made it worse for her.  She died when I was in my early 20's.  How I wish I could have made this up to her.  I loved her so much, but didn't understand how depression affected one's life.  

I talked to my mom about it while I was going through it, and she said she had never struggled with depression.  She struggled so much with cancer and physical ailments, but not mental and emotional anguish.  She was always there to listen to me, which was what I needed, but she felt so badly she couldn't help me.  She didn't realize how much being my listener and supporter during that time meant to me.  She is also in heaven now.  She was my best friend as an adult, and I still miss her after 17 years of her being gone.  No one has ever replaced one I could talk to as openly as I could talk to her.  She truly loved me, in spite of my short comings and faults and failures.  One of God's greatest gifts to me was my Godly parents.  Dad is gone now too...nine years since he went home.  I'm glad they are both safe at home, and I wouldn't call them back to this world for anything.  Many times I wish I could join them!!

When I started writing this blog entry, I really didn't know what I would say, or where it would lead.  I thought I would be focusing on my delight to be back in Cleveland, but there was this black hole in my life that I knew I would need to cross again.  It was part of my journey in which I grew in wisdom and strength, and helped shape who I am today.

During my depression, I did experience panic attacks and withdrawal.  I didn't want to see or hear anything evil, so I quit watching TV, quit reading the newspaper, and quit reading any secular magazines.  I was totally focused on the Bible and inspirational books written by Christian authors.

When I started gaining some strength I knew I needed to get out of the house and start facing life again.  Since I regretted not finishing college, I decided to go back to school.  I signed up for classes at the local community college, focusing on English and psychology.  I was given several writing assignments in my English class, and even those were therapeutic for me.  I wrote about what I life, what I was going through, what I was learning.  By the end of that semester, I decided I needed to get into a Christian college environment if I wanted to study psychology.  I didn't care for the secular slant.  God meant too much to me to not be included in studying about human behavior.

In the fall of 1987 I registered for classes at Lee (College) University...a Church of God institution.  I thought I would be the oldest one there, but even in the registration line I met several others who were making mid-life career changes and wanted to train for God's service.  It wasn't long before I realized that I had just entered into an oasis.  I was still taking medication for depression, but somehow I knew that getting a degree was going to be the best therapy I could have.  And that's where I will leave my story for this entry into my blog.  It's long enough...but it was part of the journey that had to be shared all together.  Oh...the friend I went through the valley with was none other than Jesus Christ.  He was there with me every moment of the way.

I would just like to end this encouraging anyone, any woman, who is experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, to please get some professional Christian counseling.  It may be what you need to turn your life around also.  I'm sorry I fought it so long, thinking I could heal myself, with God's help.  If you have cancer, you get a medical specialist to help treat you.  If you have mental or emotional anguish, get a psychological specialist to help you get back on the path again.  You won't regret it.  Just be sure and take God with you!!  He's the Source of truth, and He loves you more than anyone!