I sit down with fellow Black Catholic and Mental Health Advocate, Christian Bentley, to discuss a topic that is often neglected in both the Black Community and Catholic Community. Though we discuss faith, we also have a broader conversation around mental health issues, diagnosis, stigma, hope, and recovery.
This video examines the history of the Catholic Church and its members and asks, is the Catholic Church racist? Can you separate the Church from the scandals, oppression, and racism that it has participated in over the two thousand years since its founding?
Since it’s been just about been a year since my last blog post, this post is long overdue. (The blog post about my terrible quarantine haircut doesn’t count 🙂 )
So much has happened since the beginning of the Lenten season in 2020, and in some ways, the past year feels like one long and neverending Lent. I recently read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, and did I ever relate to the start of the biblical story. Naomi is a woman living in a foreign land due to famine in her home land of Judah. After experiencing the death of her husband, both of her two sons also die ten years later. Heartbroken and destitute, Naomi insists that her two daughters-in-law return to their parents while she makes the journey back to Bethlehem to find her way amidst tragedy. While one of the women relents and returns to her parents, the other woman, Ruth, refuses and accompanies Naomi back home.
When Naomi reaches Bethlehem, the town stirs and questions her return. However, Naomi tells them to call her “Mara”, which means “bitter” – not “Naomi”, which means “pleasant” – because the Lord has brought calamity upon her and her house.
Living through 2020, I can’t help but relate to Naomi’s sentiments when I think about what our country has experienced:
the racial reckoning that occurred as a result of the killing of African-Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor;
the hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to the global pandemic;
the financial fallout resulting in lost jobs, closed businesses, evictions, hunger, and people finding themselves in desperate situations;
the devastating impact of closed schools, isolation, loneliness, and separation;
the political turmoil that erupted into the January 6th insurrection.
So much has occurred that I can’t help but feel the Lord has brought calamity upon our collective house, our nation.
And though it’s felt like one long Lent, I believe that observing Lent 2021 is even more important this year. We started the season with having ashes sprinkled on our heads, which symbolize penance, mourning, and mortality. I’m going to use these forty-something days to really let that truth set in. To repent for my sins, to mourn all the death and destruction in our midst, and to acknowledge that my time on earth is finite, so I need to be about my Father’s business while I’m here.
I pray, on a national level, we do the same. In many ways, our country has been brought to its knees. So this Lent, I hope that Americans turn away from racism, xenophobia, and prejudice that has plagued our country since before its inception. That we acknowledge and mourn all those who have died from the pandemic due to a lack of health care infrastructure and the politicization of a deadly virus. And that we understand that our democracy is fragile, and we have to be committed to living out and protecting the principles that we claim our country is founded upon.
Though Lent is hard and long, it always ends the same: with Easter and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Likewise, Naomi’s story doesn’t end in despair. Through God’s providence, Ruth is redeemed by a man named Boaz. He marries Ruth, and takes both her and Naomi into his home. By God’s grace, Ruth has a child who becomes the generational line to King David and ultimately Jesus. Though Naomi went through trying times and hardship, God never left her or forsake her, just like He never leaves or forsakes any of His children.
Scripture and knowledge of God give me confidence that when I am obedient to Him, and when I persevere in faith, my story will be redeemed. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’” declares the Lord, “’plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Amidst the uncertainty and trials of the past year, I’ve seen God’s plans unfold in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with faithful people in the Black Catholic community, co-founded Black Catholic Messenger, grown my Youtube Channel, and signed a contract for my third novel, Last Place Seen, which is slated to be released in Winter 2021.
I know it will take time and patience to see our nation redeemed. However, I hope we don’t go “back” to the way things were before the pandemic. I hope we move forward and build a solid infrastructure for our country that includes equal rights, protection, and opportunities for every person regardless of skin color or economic status.
This Lent, I’m going to continue my prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, with the confidence that Easter’s coming.
[Transcript of Message]
From my heart to yours, I’m sending love, peace, and the promise of hope to everyone who is hurting right now. The trauma we are experiencing as a community is palpable. Our hearts are aching. We are exhausted. We’re beyond angry. It feels like there is no relief in sight.
There are attempts by people to say that supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are anti-Christian. That’s completely false. Seventy-nine percent of Black Americans identify as Christian. We’ve always drawn upon our faith to give us strength – even when White Americans forbid Black people to practice Christianity or even read a bible. We all know the stories of our enslaved ancestors drawing solace and strength from the biblical story of the exodus. Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom with hopes of resting in the Promised Land. Today, I draw comparisons between how Black Americans are treated and the Hebrews during the Babylonian captivity. Taken from their home, living as exiles, uncertain if they’d ever return to a safe place for them. See, even though Black people have been in the United States for centuries and literally built this county, we are still hyphenated. We’re told if we don’t like the unequal and unjust way we’re treated, we should go back to Africa. Our citizenship is questioned because of our skin color.
The book of Lamentations is the exiled Hebrews calling out to their God in the midst of grief and suffering. Even in their pain, they hope in God. The writer said, “My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is. But this I call to mind, and therefore, I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:17, 21-23, 26). The prophets during this period pointed the exiles to the hope of a messiah.
Unlike them, we have seen the fulfillment of God’s promise realized in His son, Jesus Christ. Jesus who was a person of color.
Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost.
Jesus who said when you see the sick and visit the imprisoned, you see me.
Jesus who said the last will be first, and the first will be last.
Jesus came for us. He’s calling us. He’s waiting to heal us, love us, and give us his peace that passes all understanding.
Pope Benedict said being a Christian is not the result of an ethical or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Being a Christian is not about identifying with a political organization or a single issue. You don’t have to be perfect and without sin. In fact, Jesus said he came to call not the righteous but the sinner. (Luke 5:32). All we have to do is open our hearts and say, save me Lord.
We need God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit now more than ever. Scripture says, seek the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near. (Isaiah 55:6) He’s near to us now. He has promised to never leave or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6). Through a relationship with Jesus, we find a home. We are heirs to a Kingdom. Not just in the next life, but we work to build God’s Kingdom on earth and reap the benefits while we’re here.
But God isn’t a genie or jukebox that plays what we want to hear. He wants our hearts. He wants to heal our trauma and wounds, but we have to let Him. When we spend time reading his word and meditating on it, we know Him and grow to trust Him. Especially right now during a global pandemic and national unrest, we can call on Jehovah-Jireh our provider, Jehovah-Rapha our healer, and Jehovah-Nissi our banner in whom we are victorious.
Last Friday there was a March on Washington that marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his I Have A Dream speech. Dr. King said, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” And he cautioned us, “Not to seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
Dr. King didn’t say this out of fear or cowardice, he said this out of love for us. We’re living in the most armed nation in the world, and the current president has demonstrated he’s willing to roll out tanks and troops to silence our cries for justice. We need to call on God as our protector. We need to love each other, care for each other, and know God has a plan and purpose for each of our lives. What God spoke to Jeremiah we can apply to ourselves. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5). Our lives matter. Black lives matter. So, we pray, Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven. If you know someone who needs to hear this good news today, please share.
I’ve been Christian my whole life, but hands down this has been the most challenging Lent so far. Honestly, I thought it was going to be really hard to give up sugar and sweets for forty days. My morning cup of coffee and oatmeal were just not going to taste the same. But, I had no idea that I would be going without staples of everyday life like sending our kids to school, attending Mass, watching the NBA, or having a well-stocked grocery store while people around me began falling seriously ill and even dying. It looks like the pandemic and social distancing will last long past Easter. So, while Lent will officially end on Easter Sunday, I’m going to continue the three pillars of the Lenten journey found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6: 1-16 – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – until our nation and the world is restored to health.
Along with so many people of faith, I am heartbroken by having our houses of worship closed indefinitely. But I find solace in people around the globe uniting in prayer. Many priests, pastors, and religious organizations are livestreaming their services, prayers, and Bible studies. With most social activities cancelled, I’ve had time to read more spiritually fruitful books, pray with family and community, and grow closer to Jesus. When I say pray, I don’t mean sending “positive thoughts out into the universe.” I communicate with the God who created the universe and everything in it, through his Son, Jesus Christ. The God who made a covenant with his people and promises that he’ll protect, provide for, and love His children. So, I’m praying for protection from Covid-19, health and healing for everyone affected, strength for those essential workers both treating people in hospitals and also keeping our grocery stores open, packages delivered, and all those who have lost their jobs.
Don’t get me wrong – I will definitely start eating sweets again. But while our lives are disrupted, we’ll have to fast from things we enjoy. Someone on facebook had a great idea of a quarantine jar. Whenever you want to do something you can’t, like have a dinner date at your favorite restaurant, or a gym workout, or attend a concert, you write down that activity and put it in the quarantine jar. Then when this is all over, you’ll pull out one of those pieces of paper and relish doing what we once took for granted. While I’m “fasting” from many good things, I’ll make sure to offer it up as a sacrifice. In Colossians 1:24, St. Paul states, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” Just as Christ accepted the assistance of Simon of Cyrene as he carried the cross on the road to redeeming the world, I can offer up my suffering through this pandemic and unite it with Christ’s suffering. St. Rose of Lima said, “Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” So, whenever I’m reminded of something I cannot do during this quarantine, I will say a prayer as I fill my quarantine jar.
Now more than ever people are going to need generosity. With millions of people unemployed, it’s also good to mention there are countless ways to help others by offering our time, talent and treasure to those people and organizations in need. In March, I had finally taken the leap and began tithing 10% of my income to the church. Then when the shelter-in-place order happened, and with my job no longer guaranteed, I thought, now was the worst time to start tithing. Then I perceived the Holy Spirit saying, now is the perfect time to tithe and trust God will continue to provide for you and your family.
Lent always starts to feel too hard, too long, and like there’s no end in sight. But, Easter Sunday always comes. Similarly, with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as my guide through this pandemic, I know we’ll get through the other side and emerge refined and strengthened from the crisis.
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” – Isaiah 42:16
Have you seen or participated in all the end-of-the-decade talk? It seems like a lot of people on social media are recounting all their accomplishments over the past ten years and making huge goals for the next ten to come. I use social media to connect with people and try to avoid falling into the comparison trap, so I noticed myself avoiding a lot of it. But then I thought back to the beginning of 2010 and realized I had my breakdown three months into it. How could I possibly not praise God for everything he’s done in my life since then? At one time, I didn’t believe I would make it through 2010. To be flourishing going into 2020 is nothing short of a miracle. So, I started to write an epic end-of-the-decade blog post, but then it became exactly what I didn’t want to read from other people. So this will actually not be that. Instead, I’m going to discuss the biggest lesson I learned since 2010.
The word I’d use to describe the first decade of the millennium is family. I got married, had kids in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008, and was a stay-at-home mom (in addition to college student and part-time evening work). Though I absolutely adored my family, I started 2010 utterly burned out and frustrated. It seemed like all my friends and family were passing me by professionally. I had dreams and goals that felt completely out of reach. As I detailed in my post, Reaching a Milestone, after my breakdown, I was separated from my husband, no longer had custody of my kids, and didn’t have a career to support me. At one point my sister did a Google search for people who had a breakdown because she wanted me to know I wasn’t alone. Not much came up, and what did was bleak, further contributing to my despair and hopelessness. It felt like I had absolutely nothing left or to look forward to – like I had died.
The eleventh chapter of the gospel of John tells the story of the death of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary, who had held a gathering for Jesus in their home when Mary anointed Jesus with perfume. Jesus loved the three siblings. When Lazarus fell ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus. When Jesus hears the news, he says, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” After two days, Jesus and his disciples travel to see Lazarus. When they arrive, Jesus learns that Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days. Martha meets Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life, and asks Mary if she believes that everyone who lives and believes in him will never die. Even in the middle of her hurt and disappointment, and before Jesus performs the miracle, Martha answers saying she believes Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus meets with Mary and is overcome with emotion and weeps. They go to the tomb where Lazarus is, and after praying to God, Jesus cries out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Upon his command, Lazarus rises from the dead and comes out of the tomb.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past decade is that I need Martha’s faith. She’d spent time with Jesus, heard his teachings, knew about his miracles, so she believed in him and his power. Even when Jesus didn’t show up “on time” and her dear brother had died, she still believed in him. When Jesus resurrects Lazarus, it’s not just for their family. John says, “Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.” Lazarus’s illness, death, the disappointment, resurrection: they were all part of Jesus’s plan to increase people’s faith in him.
Likewise, even though I had gone to church and prayed my whole life, attended Catholic school, and even earned a degree in Religious Studies, when my life fell apart at the beginning of the decade, I didn’t believe God could put it back together. Now I know my breakdown wasn’t to be the death of me, but to glorify God. To show people that regardless of the diagnosis, or how bad the situation looks, God can still work a miracle and bring forth new life even when it seems impossible. My word for this decade is renewal. I was given hope and a future, new appreciation for my family and friends, and new opportunities.
In the middle of the decade, after I signed my first book contract in 2015, my family had a celebratory get-together. I asked people’s opinions about sharing my experience of having a mental breakdown since I discussed mental illness in my book, Blaming the Wind. Reactions were mixed, but one person against the idea asked, “Do you want to be the poster child for mental illness?” Of course I didn’t, so I made the decision not to discuss it with anyone outside of my family. It wasn’t until my blog post, Reaching a Milestone, four years later that I openly wrote about it. I still didn’t – and don’t – want to be the poster child for mental illness. But, I am willing to be an example of God’s goodness and power. He rescued me from the pit of my despair. Not just to have an okay life. But so I could regain my health, resume my place as wife and mother, publish two books, hold down a job, earn another degree, and glorify God in the process. If someone googles a breakdown today, I want them to read about my journey and have hope.
Having Martha-like faith doesn’t mean you always get what you pray for. Over the past ten years, we’ve had health issues, a layoff, and other serious trials. But I spend a lot of time with Jesus, I know his teachings and miracles, and no matter what will come my way, I believe in him and his power. My mother-in-law passed away from cancer in 2013 followed by other family members, and we will never stop missing them. But even in death, I believe those who have faith in Jesus will have eternal life.
I don’t know what my word will be for the 2020s, but I know I will bring my Martha-like faith with me into it. Wishing you a new year and decade that brings you blessings, joy, and faith!
Living in a social media culture can be challenging. Post after post, we’re shown snapshots of people living their best lives. Vacation spots, bikini pics, graduation ceremonies, award celebrations. Not only do we feature our highlights, but we often filter them, causing them to look even better than they actually are.
I’m guilty of it, too. Well, definitely not the bikini pictures. But as a mom and author, I post the successes. You won’t see the messy house, pile of bills, and overwhelming fatigue. I don’t boast about one-star reviews, or feeling envious of others’ success, or the seasons of waiting.
But what if the lowlights are what grow our character most? What if our struggles and setbacks and the grind to overcome them are what God can use to not only help others but glorify Him? No one wants to go through hard times. But the reality is that life will have valleys as well as peaks, and something good can come from difficult times.
I think of Joseph – his story told in Genesis is one of the best known in the Bible, and some of his life’s events are also in the Torah and Qu’ran. Joseph was his father, Jacob’s, second to last child, and favorite. After Jacob gave Joseph a beautifully ornamented coat, his brothers became even more envious of him, and hated him. When Joseph told his brothers about his prophetic dreams, which depicted Joseph raised to a position higher than them, his brothers had had enough. They devised a plan to kill Joseph, but instead sold him into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt then sold him to one of Pharaoh’s officials, who was captain of the palace guard.
Though Joseph’s time in Egypt is filled with faith, success, and triumph, he also experienced betrayal and dark days. After being falsely accused of rape, Joseph was thrown into prison. But even there, the Lord was with Joseph. Using the gift God gave him, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two other inmates. All he asked in return was that the men remember Joseph and ask Pharaoh to release him. One of the men is subsequently killed, and the other man who is released forgets Joseph.
Two years later, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is remembered by the cup-bearer who had been in prison, and Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Joseph says, “It is beyond my power to to do this. But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” (Genesis 41:16) After Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream, Joseph says that God is telling Pharaoh there will be seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. He explains Pharoah should appoint an intelligent and wise man to take charge of the land of Egypt to ensure enough crops are collected during the seven good years, stored, then disbursed when the famine befalls the land. Pharaoh appoints Joseph to that position, and he becomes the second only to Pharaoh in rank.
Through using the ability God gave him, Joseph is instantaneously lifted from prison to the palace. He’s given a wife, who bears him two sons. Joseph names the first Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” And his second son he names Ephraim, saying, “God has made me fruitful in this land of grief.” He acknowledges the hardship that befell him, put praises God for helping him overcome it.
Just as predicted, there are seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine, which is felt throughout Egypt and the surrounding lands, as well. The famine also reached Canaan, and Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt to buy grain. Though Joseph instantly recognizes his brothers, they don’t recognize him. Joseph puts his brothers through various tests, and when they prove they regret what they had done to Joseph and want to protect their younger brother and father from any further grief, Joseph reveals himself to them. He sends for his father, and Pharaoh allows Joseph to assign his family to the best land of Egypt to survive through the remaining years of famine. After their father’s death, the brothers fear Joseph will retaliate against them for the past. But Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)
I love this story because often the initial reaction to facing hardship is wavering faith. We wonder, why did God allow this? What have I done to deserve this? After my breakdown, I struggled to make sense of life. I felt like Joseph – betrayed, sold out, imprisoned. But, I remember coming across a quote that resonated with me.
There is no situation so chaotic that God from that situation cannot create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.” (Bishop Handley Carr Glyn Moule 1841-1920)
I had no idea how anything good could come from the mess my life had become, but I clung to the hope that my suffering would not be in vain. That belief helped me persevere and look for purpose when life felt bleak.
God did, in fact, use my suffering to deepen my faith and help me learn more about mental health issues. Having two books published with characters that are dealt complicated hands, and forced to navigate ups and down, is concrete proof that God used my worst days for something good. But not only that, but I have a testimony of God’s faithfulness that I hope can help others going through a trial.
Whether we’ve caused the mess or someone else has wronged us, no situation is too tough for God to rectify. He doesn’t forget or forsake us. He’s there with us every step of the way, no matter how dark the night or steep the climb.
Our insta-memories are fun and beautiful. We should celebrate and cherish the good times. But let’s not be afraid to show both sides of life. Whether we’re in imprisoned or elevated to power, something good can come out of our situation that can be used to help others.
In the first blog post I wrote five years ago, Cheers to New Beginnings, I celebrated the step I took to build my author website. At the time, I didn’t have a publishing contract, but I was excited about taking a leap and claiming a space for me as a writer. I talked about how I had to overcome doubt and fear in order to create something meaningful to me.
So, there’s no other place than here that I’m excited to share a huge milestone: I’ve sold over 10,000 copies of my two novels (Blaming the Wind and Everything She Lost). I’m not a math person, and I honestly never had a sales goal I wanted to reach. But, I did have a goal in mind when I wrote my novels. And I decided it was time to overcome my doubt and fear and talk about that goal and the journey of writing my books.
After freelance writing for a few years, I took my first creative writing class at a local Adult Ed program in January 2010. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom of 4 kids (ages 7, 5, 3, and 1). I was so excited to have a few hours in the evening with other adults devoted to learning the the craft of fiction writing.
It was a tough time in my young family’s life. My grandfather and father-in-law had both passed away the previous month. The financial, physical, and emotional toll of having four kids in Silicon Valley was weighing very heavy on my husband and I. After reaching a breaking point, we separated.
What followed was bad. Without realizing what was happening, my mental health deteriorated rapidly. The best way I can describe it is I became the equivalent of Thanos in the Avengers movies – a monster. I did and said things completely out of character that caused a lot of hurt, confusion, and chaos. When family intervened a few weeks later, I was hospitalized against my will for a week.
When I left the hospital, the world I had known no longer existed. I lost custody of my kids and could not go home. My best friends would not speak to me, and I wasn’t speaking to most of my family. Without money or support, I ended up crashing at a cheap motel, trying to figure out my next move. After a few weeks, a good friend who heard about my predicament let me stay with her for a couple of months. Then I moved in with my dad and his significant other.
With the reality of everything that had happened hitting home, I sunk into the deepest, darkest realm of rock bottom. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how my life had collapsed. I’d never in my life imagined I would have a breakdown, and it was impossible to understand how it had resulted in the loss of everything I loved. Going from spending every second with my kids to only seeing them a few hours a week hurt in a way I can’t describe. And the friends I thought would have my back through thick and thin wouldn’t return my calls.
I saw a lot of doctors that said different, scary things: PTSD, major depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia. All I heard was a death sentence. I figured I’d spend the rest of my life going in and out of hospitals, penniless, and unable to take care of myself or my kids.
I wish I could say I was like Job in the Old Testament, who’d lost his health, family, and livelihood as a test of his faith and proved his dedication to God. But, I didn’t. I completely lost my faith. I couldn’t fathom that the God I’d believed in could let my life crumble so quickly and unexpectedly. The only thing that made sense to me was that God didn’t exist.
With no home, no kids, no husband, no job, no money, I had absolutely no hope. I spiraled into a depression that completely consumed me. I thought suicide was the only answer. I could not fathom that life could ever get better. But my family and closest friends wouldn’t give up on me, and they wouldn’t let me give up on myself.
At the time, I was hypersensitive to other people’s suffering. Stories I used to easily tune out like a person having family members killed, or being kidnapped and held captive, or losing everything in a natural disaster, now held a special place in my heart. I could deeply empathize with others going through hard times. And hearing how other people lived through something awful helped me think somehow, someway I could survive what I was going through, also.
After everything that had happened in the weeks leading up to my hospitalization, I honestly doubted my husband would ever speak to me again. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t imagine my life without him and raising our kids together. Then, out of the blue, something miraculous happened. My husband contacted me. He’d heard I was doing everything in my power to follow doctors’ advice and become healthy again, and he wanted to support me.
I won’t bore you with the details, but miracle by miracle, God stitched my life back together. I was able to regain my health, reconcile with my husband, move back home with my children, get a job (which I still hold), and eventually finish writing my novels.
I remember growing up and seeing framed pictures of the poem “Footprints in the Sand.”
One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”
When I look back, I realize it was God who carried me through the fire. Never once did He leave me or forsake me. I will eternally be grateful and in awe of how God restored my health, restored my marriage, and restored my family.
So, to conclude and return to the original point of this post, I had a goal when I wrote my novels. I wanted to tell stories of everyday people facing serious problems and overcoming them. I wanted to write about mental health issues in a raw and real way that dispels stereotypes and lets people know that a diagnosis is not the end. But most importantly, I wanted to give people hope in the possibility of new beginnings. It’s been nine years since my breakdown, and everyday I’m thankful that I’m still here. I hope by sharing my story, anyone doubting if they can come through the other end of whatever struggle they’re facing knows they can too.
10,000 copies sold, and I’m just getting started.
I once felt like I had died. In what seemed like a flash of the eye, everything I had known to be my life had been taken away. It was dark, scary, hopeless. I couldn’t see a way out.
Today on Holy Saturday, we reflect on Jesus in the grave. I can only imagine what the day must have felt like for his mother, the disciples, and those who loved and followed Jesus. All their hopes and expectations of Jesus as the Messiah must have felt buried along with him. In fear and devastated, they must have faced a completely uncertain future.
In an imperfect world, there are always hardships that threaten to end us. Events like the loss of a relationship or job, death of a loved one, illness, or tragedy can happen and threaten to swallow us whole.
But as we know, Jesus didn’t stay buried. What seemed like the end of his ministry, turned out to be the greatest triumph over death ever. Those who trust in God have confidence to believe that He has a divine purpose and plan for every person.
Regardless of the depth of the struggle, we remember that God is with us every step of the way. Isaiah 43:2 reminds us, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Though it took time and patience, I emerged from what felt like the end of me to a new and better phase of life. When we need to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” we know he descended to the darkness of hell before ascending to the heights of heaven. Wherever we are in between, so, too, is Jesus. If we’re ever faced with despair, remember Easter will always come.
I had really high hopes for 2018. My second novel, Everything She Lost, had a release date of January 2, my kids were getting older and (I thought) wiser, and I really wanted a year without drama. To give away the ending, 2018 was far from drama-free. Among my family (including extended), we faced hospitalizations, surgery, teen angst, bullying, and a hurricane (Bud of all names). 2018 felt like a bumpy roller coaster ride that wouldn’t end, and I have new gray hair to prove it.
I got through last year with lots of prayer, grumbling, and exasperation. But one thing that hasn’t helped, and has actually made the situation worse are three words that, while well-intentioned, annoy me to no end: “think positive thoughts.”
I’m sure “positive thinking” has been around for a really long time. But in my lifetime, I can trace the explosion of the concept to the 2006 self-help book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. Don’t get me wrong – I was enamored with the concept initially. If I only think positive thoughts, only positive things will happen, the wisdom went. I thought, I can literally think my way to a life of prosperity, good health, ideal relationships, an awesome job, etc. I remember after reading the book, I felt so positive. And apparently, a lot of other people did too. The concept spread and spread, and before long, everyone was just brimming with positivity. Which is good! Of course, it’s good to be positive. But then life still happens.
In 2010, I had what could only be called a perfect storm of bad things happen. Really, really bad. As I struggled through that year, people kept telling me to “think positive thoughts.” Like, I know your world fell apart, but don’t think about it. I know you’re in a hard spot, but you must have brought in on yourself by negative thinking. I know you feel bad, but you shouldn’t, so don’t think about it. It felt like I was getting the message that if I was really going through something bad, I either brought it on myself by not thinking positively enough or I wasn’t thinking positively enough in order to get out of it. The “think positive mantra” insisted, if one can just see the bright side, everything will miraculously be better and fixed.
As anyone who has really suffered, or suffers, knows, that’s not how it works. Thinking positive thoughts isn’t a panacea to life’s problems. The fact is, bad things happen to people who’ve done absolutely nothing to warrant it – they didn’t think it into existence. People who live with chronic pain or illness can’t simply think their way to health. Those suffering loss and grief can’t just magically make their sorrow go away. Pain and hardship are a normal, and at times painstaking, part of life no matter how hard we try to safeguard ourselves from them.
I’m not saying being positive isn’t a good thing. Studies show that positive attitudes can often lead to positive health outcomes and help speed recovery. But wanting to have a positive outlook for yourself (which is good) and telling someone else they should be positive are two different things. When I’ve faced hardship, what I’ve wanted most from other people was simply to be there and empathize – not to tell me what to do or how I should do it.
The book of Genesis tells the account of Hagar, the slave of Sarai. After Sarai and Abram were unable to conceive a baby, Sarai told her husband to sleep with Hagar. After Hagar conceived, Sarai grew jealous and treated her slave harshly and with contempt. Unable to endure Sarai’s abuse any longer, Hagar ran away to the desert.
An angel of God found Hagar there. The angel told Hagar to go back home and submit to Sarai, and promised Hagar that her descendants will be “too numerous to count.” Humbled and moved that God had seen her in her pain and anguish, Hagar praises God saying, “‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me,’” (Genesis 16:13b), and Hagar calls God by His name, El Roi, “the God who sees me.”
God sees every single person living with pain, suffering, illness, anxiety, and other hardships. I love revisiting the short by Brene Brown on Empathy. I’ve started 2019 knowing that whatever this year brings, God sees me and will always help me through whatever I’m going through; and I will strive to see others in their pain and respond with empathy.
*If you enjoyed this post, check out Buried.