It has been too long since I (Andrea) last blogged. There has been a reason for that which I will delve into more specifically as I write this post. I hope that as I share, you will in some way be encouraged or led to pray for someone you know who is facing a tough time, and maybe reach out to them. And if nothing else comes of this post but a reminder to myself down the road when needed, then I trust I was faithful to write as the Lord led.
Last year was a year of great change. We all go through seasons of change, many times throughout our lives. It’s just the nature of life. And while I know in my heart that the way things were then and the way things are now will not always be so again…change still can wreak havoc on this mere mortal that is but dust. If you are reading this blog, you know that last year, after much prayer and counsel, our family took a big leap of faith into what feels like a whole new world. My husband felt called into pastoral ministry (which countless people have encouraged for years, including me) and training necessary to equip him to faithfully handle the Word of God as shepherd of a future church plant in a city God calls us to…to preach the Gospel and share the hope we have in Christ as sons and daughters of the Living God. And so we began to prepare for this transition and became busy with so many logistical and practical elements of relocating to a new city and mission fundraising. We stepped away from our jobs, sold the first place we called our home, sold or gave away anything that didn’t fit in our moving containers, said goodbye to family and friends we hold dear and ventured into a new city in a state miles away from all we had known. We got here, in Louisville, Kentucky, and right away there were so many things to do that are just necessary, like unpacking, getting our cars legal, switching auto insurance, obtaining health insurance, switching banks, getting all new doctors and dentists for our whole household and largely these were things I personally needed to do, all with a high energy (still in heavy “training” mode for listening and obeying) two and four year old. We came right before Aaron’s classes started and so he was busy adjusting himself to something he had never experienced…. college. Aaron dropped out of school in tenth grade and I have a hunch he didn’t do much school work leading up to that grade – I imagine he was quite the class clown. A cute one of course. So having college level writing assignments, massive amounts of reading to do every week, various other ministry involvement to help equip him for future pastoral ministry while balancing that with fundraising responsibilities and his most important roles as husband and father…. he was in a time of much transition as well. Then you throw in there my chronic battle with pain (I have Fibromyalgia and prognosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis which greatly worsens with my pregnancies.) and months long sickness in three of four family members upon our arrival which quarantined us to the house many days and weeks, financial burdens and constraints that have never been there before like they are now……and there you have a “divinely, hand-crafted for me” equation for suffering (or growth when you come out on the other side). And when we lose sight of the designer and purpose of our suffering we can begin to fade into dark and lonely places. And so, I did.
Dark Clouds Descending
Looking back, it slowly began back in September. I would think that after being in this place of spiritual depression before that I would recognize it headed towards me again. Maybe I was in denial, maybe I was too busy to notice where I was headed… who knows?! Probably both. I began getting overwhelmed very easily. Just knowing I had to plan the upcoming weeks meals, make a shopping list and then go to the grocery with kids in tow would cause the air to collect in my chest and my shoulders to move closer and closer to my ears with tension. Simple decisions, like what to cook for my family that day, would create mild panic in my heart. Not because God has not provided food for us (because in His gracious kindness He has provided for us through some of our financial partners!!!) but because I had to make a decision and plan ahead and I just felt incapable of doing so. And I knew it would be a decision in which at least one child of mine will always choose to go to bed hungry rather than eat the food I put in front of her.
Besides difficulty making decisions, I noticed I was beginning to withdraw from people. My time here has not allowed much involvement with families outside the Pastors College and so the relationships I have gained began to fade before they were really even thriving. I think all the families have had a multitude of things going on in their lives as well, so as you can imagine it’s hard to get together and even harder to actually have a full conversation with so many babies, toddlers and preschoolers in our midst. At times I felt like the trouble to get out the door with the kids to be around others only to train, discipline and correct them the entire time and never really finishing (or starting) a single thought or conversation was just too overwhelming for me. I even pulled away from some friends back in North Carolina…towards the end of my hiatus of sorts a dear discerning friend pursued me time and time again and eventually called me out in love as she had concern because I had “gone dark” and she wasn’t really hearing much from me despite asking me a few times. It was about the time she said that that I was realizing that I was too weak to deal with this on my own. A few weeks before that I think I started recognizing the signs and shared with my husband on our trip to Ohio over Thanksgiving break. He had been encouraging me to also seek counsel from the wonderful women leaders God has put in our life here and open up to my friends about my battle but honestly I couldn’t really put into words yet what was happening. I just knew something was happening and it wasn’t good. The next week I shared with our Care Group and people began praying for me.
My battle was still raging. I would at times be overwhelmed with great sadness out of nowhere. Sometimes I just wanted to cry. I felt alone. Insignificant. Unqualified to be a stay at home mom and better qualified to be in the workplace. Angry. Discontent. Indifferent. And just plain cold inside. Occasionally I think I caught myself in a catatonic state just feeling sad. I was grieving an identity I felt I had lost. I was unable to see so many of the blessings around me because the clouds had descended and the walls were closing in on me. I crave healthy alone time and it has been hard to come by these days. One morning I went to a local Market Place event on my own just to get out of the house. I felt lonely going by myself but yet didn’t want anyone to go with me. It makes no sense, I know. I remember so clearly leaving the market and looking for a quick place to eat (not fast food, somewhere I could go in and eat slowly, be still and relax) before going home to all that awaited me … one thing about Louisville – it has a wealth of awesome and unique restaurants…but where we live it can be challenging to find a place that doesn’t require parallel parking and I was driving a Chevy Suburban. I probably couldn’t parallel park a Honda Civic let alone that beast. I drove around aimlessly for like an hour….3pm was approaching and this pregnant, hormonal, anxious and depressed human just pulled over and cried out to God in tears, “I just want something to eat, Lord, help me!” Sweet Aaron was home texting me places nearby I could go to, sensing my distress. My phone went on the blink again, mapquest kept messing up, I was lost again and it was about all I could do to drive home. In that moment I ached for Charlotte. I ached for familiar. I ached for relief. I was on the brink of hopelessness. And this may sound ridiculous to many of you who are suffering far far far greater but in the midst of this darkness something spiritually was dying in me. I was grieving and honestly the physiological stuff, physical pain and confusion….it was seriously taking a toll on me. And I kept it to myself. I knew if I shared with Aaron he would sacrifice even more of his responsibilities with school to serve and help me in whatever ways he could and I want him to do well in school. I didn’t want my pain and suffering to make his life difficult. I would shut down despite his attempts to draw some of this stuff out of me. I try to process stuff alone and honestly, God gave us a gift in our spouses, friends, family, the church….so that we don’t have to go at it alone but with clouded vision it’s hard to see them as such. I went inward and downward. I was drowning in deep waters. (Those are just a couple examples of how the depression and anxiety was consuming me.)
Slowly my bible reading and prayer became scarce…many times I would get up to have my normal quiet time in the morning but would aimlessly flip through the pages, uncertain were to go….not understanding anything I read and really unable to focus. I would get up and wonder what the point of getting up early was….and so I started hitting the snooze button more. One snooze, two snooze, three snooze…..more. Oops, the kids are up, no time to sit here. I went three weeks without cracking open the very thing that would breath life back into me. That is when my “discerning” friend texted me about “going dark” and so I shared with her what was going on with me. Another friend texted me and asked me about my depression. Slowly I began sharing what I could express with words in the means I was able to connect with these people. I began looking for a bible study to join because I know me and I needed structure and accountability in this place I was lingering too long. I only heard back about one local study and so I began to pray about that and talked to Aaron about what he thought. The bible study was going through the Gospel of John. I didn’t know if I should do an individual study on something like spiritual depression (something specific that would speak to my current circumstances) instead since I have fellowship groups and care groups that I am a part of already (these groups are not necessarily doing a day by day bible study together but are in place for biblical fellowship, accountability and prayer). But I really felt I needed an ongoing study to help refocus and realign my heart. But we prayed. Then came the first Sunday of the new year. And God was hearing the prayers of my heart, my husband’s faithful prayers and those of dear friends.
The Truth Shall Set You Free
It was Sunday morning and I really wasn’t too much expecting for God to move in my heart that day, although I hoped He would. The pastors in our church are always faithful to the Word of God and the worship always prepares us for the message we are about to receive. That particular morning the pastor preaching taught from Psalm 27. It was the first part of two messages for the new year. You can hear it here. To sum it up….what spoke most deeply to my soul….was the encouragement to make it my ambition this year to DEEPEN MY ADMIRATION OF GOD AND AFFECTIONS FOR GOD BY BEHOLDING THE BEAUTY OF THE LORD. TO SEEK HIM, TO GAZE UPON HIM. TO BEHOLD THE BEAUTY OF THE LORD IN THE FACE OF JESUS. That was it! That is what I needed. Yes! Yes! Yes! So simple. So profound. So true. Words aptly spoken to my soul. Something happened in my heart as I said, yes Lord….that is what I want!!! “Hear my voice when I call, O Lord; be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord I will seek” (Psalm 27:7-8). Our pastor quoted JI Packer, “Our aim to study the God-head must be to know God better…we must ask, in studying God, to be led to God…” and Tim Keller saying of God… “let me love you for yourself alone.” So not only was my heart stirred but I felt like it affirmed my decision to try the new bible study which was going through the Gospel of John…a beautiful look into the life and ministry of Jesus. After all, John stated his main purpose for even writing the gospel was so “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). And so I began reading John again in preparation for the start of this study. His Word was breathing life back into my soul again. The Gospel isn’t just for salvation….it is for the entire life of the Christian. My husband has told me this countless times over the years as he faces his own periods of spiritual depression and battles with darkness. Even thinking about our blog “Light After Darkness”…We aren’t just talking about our eternal redemption, we are talking about the Light in the Darkness and the Hope and the Truth that keeps the Christian from despair in some of their darkest hours. This morning I spent time in Psalm 18…King David’s song recounting how the Lord delivered him from some of his darkest hours…and then giving God the praise that was due Him because King David recognized, as I do, it is only the grace of God that I sit here on the other side of it.
“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (verse 1-3).
“In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears” (verse 6).
“He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet” (verse 9).
“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters” (verse 16).
“He brought me out into a spacious place, he rescued me because he delighted in me” (verse 28).
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (verse 32).
“Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord, I will sing praises to your name” (verse 49).
Hear this as my heart song to you, O Lord, as I recount your faithfulness to me and as I remember that no matter what seasons of change, suffering and heartache I experience….Lord, you never change. You are the same God to me as you were to King David and countless others over time and distance.
Steward It All
This past Saturday we had our monthly ladies meeting with two of the most precious women of God I have ever met. Each month the Pastors College wives meet with them and they seek to care for our souls and help prepare us for all the various ways we will serve the church in our future churches. This Saturday we discussed the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines. Oh what a timely reminder to me, coming off the heels of the last couple months. It was a grace filled teaching of course…not heaping rules upon us but leading us to the One who will supply us with our needs…the One upon whom we should feast upon. Before getting into the teaching we were reminded of this very unique time in our lives here at the Pastors College and encouraged to steward the second half of the school year well….for ourselves, our families and for the women God is calling us to serve. If my heart fire hadn’t already been lit, this would have sparked a flame inside. I want to serve Christ well, my family well and the Church well! I want to be faithful. I don’t want to waste any of my time. And for a second I thought, “Oh how I have wasted this first semester” but I was quickly reminded that isn’t true. Randy Alcorn summed it up good, “God uses suffering to break us of self-dependence and bring us to rely on him” and later in the same book (If God Is Good) he says, “One of God’s purposes in our suffering is to prepare us to serve others, especially those who suffer as we have…” and that’s not all. “God uses suffering to purge sin from our lives, strengthen our commitment to him, force us to depend on his grace, bind is together with other believers, produce discernment, foster sensitivity, discipline our minds, impart wisdom, stretch our hope, cause us to know Christ better, make us long for truth lead us to repentance of sin, teach us to give thanks in times of sorrow, increase our faith, and strengthen our character. And once he accomplishes such great things, often we can see that our suffering has been worth it” (Randy Alcorn).
“God won’t always change our circumstances, but if we ask Him, He will often step in to change our perspective! He will help us catch a glimpse of life through the eyes of faith” (Joni Eareckson Tada).
Lord, may it be that we cast our gaze upon You in the year to come. That we fix our eyes on things that are eternal. That we think about what is true, noble, right and trustworthy. We ask that as we seek you to KNOW you and not GET FROM You that you would increase our affection for you and our admiration of you and that from that we would serve you well!
- That I would endure under trial and suffering and bring God glory in whatever circumstances he designs for me.
- That I would find contentment in simple gratitude for what God has already provided for me in Christ and have eyes to see his faithful, loving care in my day to day life.
- That I would grow in my affection for and adoration of the Lord.
- That I would steward the means of grace in my life well, including people!
- That I would look up and out and not in and down.