Dark Days

Deuteronomy 31:8 – “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

The days that followed the birth of our baby boy were a challenge. He stopped feeding and cried constantly. After four weeks of struggling, we changed my diet to eliminate dairy. Maddox improved almost immediately. I started to feel alone and sad during those days. Brian was still gone a lot, the apartment was dark, and we were away from family. I never thought to call it depression, it was more of a baby blues. I thought it was normal, as Maddox was a difficult baby in the beginning. I assumed it was sleep deprivation or thyroid related. I was diagnosed with Hasshimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune hypothyroidism, during pregnancy.  I would later discover, it was likely my first brush with postpartum depression. As the months past, I got out of the apartment more. Maddox and I would go on a run or meet up with friends, whenever possible. The darkness began to lift. I started babysitting for a friend to make extra income and the seasons passed.

Soon, I was preparing to go back to school. After the first three months of the semester, we moved back to Brian’s family and moved in with them. Right before we arrived, I found out I was expecting another baby. Brian and I were excited and the baby would be born around the end of my schooling. However, just a few days after getting a positive pregnancy test, the tests began getting lighter. Then, I was crying out for Brian again, only this time in a different distress. I was loosing my baby. A baby I had already come to know as Issac. I knew in my heart from the day we found out that something was not right. I could feel it in my bones. The weeks that followed were hard. Luckily, the miscarriage wasn’t painful but I hung on the edge of lost hopes and dreams. I watched other mom’s conceive and felt an ache inside. A longing to be a mother again and the desire to meet the baby that had gone on to be with the Lord.

We decided from then on out, we would not prevent ourselves from getting pregnant again, until we were done having children. I continued to have irregular periods and it made any sort of planning difficult. Despite our family’s concerns, we were pregnant again within three months. This time, I was finishing school and enjoying learning to be a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. After going to the pediatrician with Maddox, I had learned  what a help and comfort they can be. I wanted to do that for other mothers, so I changed my major again. This pregnancy went rather smoothly until about seven months, when I started having precipitous labor. We thought I wouldn’t make it to my induction date, but that little nugget stayed snug. This labor was swift as the first. Once I was in active labor, it was about three hours until delivery. We held our breath as they pulled the baby out.

I was never expected to have a girl. My husband’s family hadn’t had a girl baby in over fifty years. We thought it was impossible but out she came. She was all hair. She had this beautiful head of thick black hair and beautiful tan skin. She was 7 lbs. 6 oz. of beautiful. We were so grateful, even if her older brother wasn’t sure at first. I stayed at home with her for the first few weeks. Caroline had the same problems as Maddox, but we caught them early, this time. So, we got her on medication, and I adjusted my diet. This time, we had just moved into our own home. I think I was so caught up in the joy, that I have no real memory of sadness with Caroline. Besides not being able to put her down, she was a happy baby.

Another twelve months passed. I went back to work and still no baby. One day, I felt a twinge and I knew. This time, I bled the entire five days before my positive pregnancy test. In hindsight, I am not even sure why I took one. But there we were, expecting again. The bleeding and spotting continued and we had regular appointments with the Ob/Gyn. The embryo developed into a fetus and the bleeding stopped. We were happy and hopefully in the clear. Until one afternoon at Walmart, I felt a huge gush and ran to the bathroom with toddlers in tow. It was what I feared, blood. I scooped the kids up and ran out the door. My husband picked me up and we drove to the Ob. The ultrasound looked good and baby’s heart was beating nicely. We headed home to wait the weekend. The bleeding never stopped and by Sunday I was passing large blood clots. Again, I had a name. This precious one would be named Micah and we would learn the baby was gone the following morning. This time was different. I had seen this baby growing twice a week for five weeks. I was ten weeks along now. I begged the doctor not to do a DNC. I couldn’t imagine my baby being ripped from my insides that way. I wanted to be in my own environment.

I tried to go to work the next day, to keep my mind distracted but it was no use. The contractions came, and I could barely stand up. I rushed home and laid there for the next  week. The pain and bleeding was greater than I anticipated. Each contraction and clot was a reminder what was happening. My heart was breaking a little more day by day. I was praying for the bleeding to stop in time to prevent me having a DNC. As well, I was searching the toilet for a glimpse of my baby, I couldn’t imagine flushing but in the end I had to. The weeks and months that followed were terrible. I was so broken hearted at the loss of a second pregnancy and the prayers I had prayed for Maddox haunted me. I knew the Lord wasn’t punishing me, but I felt so guilty.

We did some testing and found out I had low progesterone. As well,  I had an autoimmune clotting disorder called Antiphospholipid Syndrome. For all future pregnancies, I would have to be on heparin injections, but there was hope. Then, the sunshine came out and a rainbow formed.

Skittles and Bacon

Psalm 139:13 – “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”

We had moved to Nashville three months prior, and I had started school when we went to pick up my third month of birth control. The pharmacist refused to give me the medication. Apparently, my prescription had expired two weeks before. Had I pick up all three months of medication in August, we would have been covered. However, we couldn’t afford that on our tight budget and had waited. No big deal, we decided. Our insurance was to kick in the next month, and I would go to the Ob/Gyn then. I was told, at the age of sixteen, that I would have great difficulty conceiving a child. I didn’t go through puberty until almost college and I had horribly irregular cycles. So, what was a few weeks without birth control? A few weeks turned into months. School was busy, and I had put off going to the Ob/Gyn. I was in a maternity nursing course, after Christmas. I called it, “1,000 and 1 things that could go wrong with your baby.”

We were sitting in class discussing symptoms of pregnancy. Missing a period. That couldn’t happen to me, because I never got them. Ovulation pain. Was that what that tinge was the other day? Sore breasts. That sounded oddly familiar. Implantation pain. Does that feel like being stabbed in your lower abdomen? Surely, I was imagining things. I decided I was having a case of medical school hypochondriasis and swept it under the rug. A few days later, Brian was headed to the grocery store. I had a weird craving for bacon and sour skittles. As Brian walked out the door he joked, “I’ll be sure to pick up some pregnancy tests. Sounds like pregnancy cravings.” I laughed, but part of me knew.

He came home, we had an enjoyable evening together, and he reminded me to take one of the pregnancy tests before bed. Now, let me just clarify, from personal experience. Never, I repeat, never get the cheap pregnancy tests. Spring for the pregnant/not pregnant version. Leave no doubt. I went into the bathroom, peed on a stick. As quickly as the dye could spread there was a + sign. I screamed for Brian! He picked up the test and the package insert. “It’s a test error,” he said. “That first line is too dark and you can barely see the second line.” Some of you already realize what this meant. Super Duper PREGNANT! We were naive little kids. So, Brian made me drink about a gallon of water and we sat there twiddling our thumbs until I could urinate again. It was now midnight, and we were in a cold sweat. I went in alone the second time. Same result. When Brian found me the second time, I was rocking back and forth saying, “No, no, no, no.” Brian was remarkably calm. He kept reassuring me that we had this under control and we would be fine. I said, “Fine. I know how this baby comes out and it is most certainly not fine!” I called my parents in tears telling them that there worst nightmare had come true.

They reassured me that this was an unexpected blessing and would be fine. I was a 22 year old newly wed, in graduate school with two years left, and a husband who was the sole bread winner. This was most certainly not going to be okay. I don’t think I thought of God once during this time. I was scared and all I could think of was how I was going to handle it. The next day, I took a trusty pregnant/not pregnant test on the way to class. It took seconds, PREGNANT. So, the test was not in error. I went to Target and got the cutest little onesie, how scary could a human that could fit in this really be? I got a “We’re Expecting” card, the pregnancy test, the onesie, and put them in a cute little rubber ducky bag. I headed home to wait for Brian.

When he arrived, I gave him the bag and started recording. He, in a gruff voice, asked me to turn the camera off. Now was his turn to panic. He opened the bag and I thought he was going to have an anxiety attack. Where was the man who said we would be fine? I decided not to mention that I would have to drop out of school for a year and stay home. The school would only give me ten days off to have the baby.

I wish I could say, after that, our terror turned to joy. I wish I could say that I fully lay it in the Lord’s hands. That just wasn’t the case. I have so much shame admitting this, and I have never told anyone, but I prayed after that. I prayed for a miscarriage. I didn’t just pray for one once, but daily, for weeks. It is one of the greatest shames of my life. Over time, I grew to love the baby. I felt him growing and kicking inside of me. After maternity nursing was over, my fear that he wouldn’t be healthy vanished. We had a happy, healthy nine months.

We moved to a new apartment across the parking lot with an extra bedroom and waited for this bundle to be born. I had finished up my first year of graduate school and waited home alone for the next two months, trying to get this little guy to make his appearance. It was lonely during that time. There wasn’t much to do, I had few friends. Our apartment was dark most of the day, and Brian was gone 13 hours a day.  I was a week overdue when I woke in the night  with cramping. I had lost my mucus plug the week before and thought it might be time. I got up and cleaned the apartment quietly, so Brian would keep sleeping. It was three a.m. By five a.m. Brian had woken up. I had taken a shower and gotten dressed. Our bags had been packed for weeks, we were ready to go.I told Brian to go on to work. By six a.m. I knew it was time. I was curling my hair when I fell down on my hands and knees. I was rocking back and forth to ease the pain. This was when I decided that a natural childbirth was not for me. Needless to say, I would be changing my specialty.

All of my contractions were in my back. We waddled to the car stopping twice on the way for contractions. I couldn’t sit down, so I was on my hands and knees holding the headrest of the car. We sped off through rush hour traffic. I swore that, if we got to the hospital and I was 2 cm dilated, I was going to kill someone. We made it. What relief. I had a contraction and then walked into admitting. I started yelling through my contraction. Once the desk receptionist found out it was my first baby, she told me to stop yelling because I was scaring the moms checking in for c-sections. I started crying, luckily a nurse walking by saw me and decided I needed to go straight to triage. She tried to get me to sit in a wheel chair but it was no use. By the time I go changed into a gown and examined, they were throwing the sides of the bed up and rushing me to labor and delivery. I was 8.5 cm with a bulging bag of waters. There was no time for pain meds, which I protested strongly. Brian and my birth photographer heard me screaming down the hallway and followed the bellows. By the time we got to the delivery room I was nine centimeters and by the grace of God my Ob let me have an epidural. I felt the need to push during my epidural, I now know I was ready to deliver, but first time mom’s. The epidural was amazing, and I was able to let my husband get breakfast. They came and checked me, asking me if I needed to push. I said I hadn’t felt anything. All of the sudden the room was scrambling. He was crowning. We called Brian to come back. After some rapid heart decals, me needing oxygen and an episiotomy, we had a healthy baby boy. The first time I saw him, I was in love. There was no greater gift, and I was so thankful to the Lord for not answering my prayers.

One Flesh

Mark 10:8 – “and the two will become one flesh. ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

August 9, 2008. We were hoping for 08/08/08. However, my mom assured me that no one appreciates going to a wedding on a Friday, so we gave away the perfect wedding date and settled for 08/09/08. It was a beautiful day. We decided to have a local destination wedding. It was at the Lodge at Blue Ridge Summit. There was a hotel on site. So, the whole bridal party and most out of town guests came throughout the day on Friday. There was a typical rehearsal dinner and a huge celebration. There were massages for the girls and skeet shooting for the boys. A cold front and storm came through that evening. So, the hot summer day we anticipated turned into a 75 degree day with a slight breeze. Our August wedding day could not have been more perfect, if we had hand picked it. We were married overlooking the mountains underneath a canopy of flowers. We were both over joyed and scared, to be honest.

Both of us knew the gravity of what was being asked of us. If we had known what those vows would have meant, maybe one of us would have bowed out. That is beauty of the celebration wedding day. It is full of joy, hope, and anticipation. But it is, also, a covenant with the Lord. I agreed to love, honor, and obey. He agreed to serve, protect, and love me as Christ loved his church. As we ran out under a blanket of sparks to our get away car, full of anticipation of our first night together, if we had only known. If we had only known that the day where my loving husband put me in a full headlock and smeared cake in my face would pave the way for miscarriage, pornography addiction, my fierce independence, loss of an adoption, death of my only sibling, and postpartum followed by lingering depression, would our vows have been different? Would we have said them so boldly? We lived them out, but it has been hard. We have walked through many storms. As we came back from our honeymoon, the journey had just begun.

We had moved into our apartment shortly before the honeymoon. It was a cute little apartment in a fairly safe complex in Nashville. We were four hours from Brian’s parents and eight from mine. We were out in the world on our own and excited by the prospects. I started in the Midwifery portion on the Nurse Practitioner program at Vanderbilt. It was a two year program, where I would take my undergraduate degree and transform from a BSN equivalent into a Master’s degree. Things were starting off smoothly. We didn’t have much money, Brian was our only source of income and he was working diligently as a landscaper. A few weeks in, I got pornography spam on my Mac. I didn’t know a lot about apple products, but I knew they weren’t prone to spam. So, I confronted Brian. He lied and told me he didn’t know how that had ended up in the history. I was heartbroken, but I so wanted it to be true that I ignored it. I called my tech savvy brother and asked how this could accidentally end up in my history. He assured me that Brian was lying, but I trusted Brian.

We had talked about his struggles with pornography before marriage. It had started at a friends house when he was a preteen. He, then, looked it up on the family computer. His parents put blockers in place but it just became a game to get around them. Soon, it was an unstoppable force. It transferred into him sleeping with girls in college. This confession left me hurt but sure I would marry him. I had been the Pharisee my whole life and tried to follow God’s rules to earn my salvation and prove to God that I was worthy. So, I deemed that I was worthy of an abstinent partner. However, when Brian confessed his past and his pain, I felt compassion and love. I knew I wanted to be with him anyway. People had warned me to not marry him. They said they had seen pornography wreck too many marriages. We would end up seeing this too. Not only the toll it took on our early marriage but as we counseled other couples walking similar paths.

So, here I was. Newly married and naive. I truly believed that once we were married and sleeping together, it would be enough for Brian. I think he even bought that lie, as well. The enemy, however, is so crafty. He lurks in the bushes, waiting to attack at a moments weakness. We started spiraling for awhile. I lost my trust of Brian. I was humiliated. I felt like it was my fault, that I wasn’t enough for him. He was kind and compassionate, but it left a painful void. This void would linger. This trust, broken, hurt our intimacy, which only made things worse. It would take time, and the holy spirit to heal my husband and these wounds. But that is our story. The Lord redeemed. The Lord healed. My husband was humble and got help, God pulled him out of the pit and restored him to a place of righteousness. This is not because of Brian earning it, it is because our Savior died for him and reconciled him. This work is ongoing, Brian can’t let his guard down for a minute. But we are united to fight for our marriage and purity. When I stopped standing against Brian and waiting for him to fix his own broken places, deliverance began. It has been a long painful process but I want to assure you that healing can come. Your marriage can be restored. You can survive this. There is beauty in the ashes.

Then I asked Brian to go to the grocery store and get bacon and skittles.

All Because Two People Fell in Love

Song of Solomon 1:2 – “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;”

So, we sat in that airport and Brian gave me a card. The card was from my mother and read, “If you are reading this, you are engaged and in Paris!” I closed the card casually. Brian asked what it said, and I didn’t lie. However, I already suspected we were going to get engaged. A weekend trip to Paris didn’t sound like something you do for fun. I decided to suspend reality and pretend I still was oblivious. We hopped on a plane that night and flew across the ocean. We arrived the next afternoon.

We went straight to our hotel and confused the gentlemen checking us in. We had arranged to stay in separate rooms, something that gave me anxiety the whole trip. Brian was such a gentleman. However, this was not very European and the concierge almost refused to give us the separate rooms. We got ready in the room and headed out to Notre Dame.  It was absolutely spectacular, until I had to rush to the restroom and got sick as a dog. Suspecting what was coming, I pushed through and we continued to the Eiffel Tower. When the gentlemen looked in Brian’s bag, he winked at Brian. I assumed that this meant he had seen a ring. Engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

Perfection! It took forever to get to the top and it was night, when we arrived. The City of Lights earned its name. It was gorgeous. It was packed inside, so we went outside. As soon as the door opened the wind grabbed it and slammed it open. It was so windy we would have nearly blown off. So, we went back inside. All of the sudden Brian says, “Are you ready to go?” I was flipping out inside. A million things flashed through my mind. Most of all returning home with everyone ready to see my ring and I am empty handed. Luckily, someone right behind us was getting engaged at that moment. I said, “Babe, look at that cute couple getting engaged, hoping that it would remind him to propose.” “He replied, “That is so cool,” and began his descent.

It was late, and because I was sick, I didn’t think about eating all day. Brian, probably nervous, hadn’t either. We headed to get a crepe and some hot chocolate from a small cart. Then, we walked over to the palace across the street from the tower. Every hour the Tower lights up, on the hour. We waited patiently and got to see the spectacular display. Afterward, Brian walked me down the stairs and explained that he didn’t want to propose at the tower, with all of those people present. He wanted something more private. He read me a passage from his Bible, told me how much he loved me, and lots of other things I can not remember at this point. He pulled out his grandmother’s diamond in the setting we had chosen together. It was an absolute treasure, and I was and am so honored to have it.

That night we went back to the hotel and slept. We woke up the next morning and decided to spend the day at Versailles. We ate a quick breakfast at a cafe and then took the train to the palace. It was so gigantic and elegant. An architectural feat.  We toured the buildings, ate lunch at a cafe, toured the gardens, and I got so sick again. We were asking where the bathroom was to an orange juice vendor. We were lost in translation. Other people were around and could understand what I was saying, despite also speaking different languages. We were all yelling, “Bathroom!” at the gentleman. He finally got the message, and we were on our way. I finally felt better, and that ended up being the end of my illness.

We traveled back to the center of the city. We quickly toured an open area of the Louvre until it was closing time. Then, we saw the Arc de Triomphe. It didn’t look to far away and who wouldn’t love to see the entire Champs Elysees? Oh what a mistake we made. I think we walked for hours. We stopped at a restaurant and at some shops. We finally arrived at the Arc and it was as spectacular as I had imagined. We hoped on the train and went back to the hotel. The next day, we traveled back home and slept the whole way. It was just the beginning of our adventures.

Today’s the Day

Psalm 23:4 – “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

Today is the day I pause from the story line. Today is the day this gets real. Today is the day I try to let you in. Today is the day I reveal and expose myself. Today is the day I am real. Today is the day I struggle with my depression.

It has been building for weeks. There were triggers, there always are. For me it is usual conversations revolving around finances. Finances are my security. Finances were tight in my house, as a child. As I grew, my dad became more successful, and I wanted for nothing. I grew up and went on to college. I, then, went to graduate school to become a Nurse Practitioner. I was set. My husband and I would both work, and we would be financially stable. Therefore, myself and my kids would want for nothing. That was until I lost my job. There it was, me reliant on my husband and those around me for financial security. This is something that I am terrible at, relying on others for help. I am a fiercely independent on contrasting individual. I am self-reliant and don’t even fully depend on the Lord in a sold out kind of way. Enter, financial insecurity.

Loosing my job put a financial strain on our family, add in needing round the clock babysitters, psychiatry appointments, and psychologist appointments, and things were a challenge. My parents were and are super helpful about relieving most of this strain, but I still need to rely on the Lord and my husband. As this is such a trigger, I prayed for the Lord to take it away. That way, I never had to experience the difficulty of surrender and self-sacrifice but could continue as I was, holding on to self-sufficiency. As I got better, I didn’t need as much help. I saw hope on the horizon, hope that we would be back to a place where we could save and prepare for the future. Then, my world began to come unraveled again.

Two or three weeks ago my family came to town, I had already been struggling with some depressive type symptoms. I  can feel episodes starting to come on. I become fatigued, I don’t want to exercise, I want to lay down all day, little things that wouldn’t normally stress me do, I stop wanting to eat foods that are good for me if I want to eat at all. The last one is always a sure sign. Fast forward to Easter, throwing in a larger Easter party than I expected and some financial conversations and I was blowing my top off. I yelled at my parents like a teenager, I went back to bed. However, I had to come back out, because I was having suicidal thoughts. This is such an easy statement to hear and to read, but the reality is much more severe. Imagine if the smallest trigger made you want to pick up a razor blade and start slicing your body to pieces, and not just think it but fantasize about it. That’s still considered non-suicidal. Then, throw in visions of seeing yourself laying in a bathtub with your wrists cut open and slowly closing your eyes as you bleed out, or picking up a hand gun and blowing your brains out. It is terrifying to think you could do something like this to yourself, but you know in there is a part of you that wants to. Please don’t think this is anyway selfish. People have told me this more times than I can count.

Imagine that you are trapped in your own mind. Your own mind is trying to kill you. It isn’t just a perceived threat, you have flirted with it enough to know you could actually do it. I call it suicide practice, testing the waters. Knowing that, if you really needed it, there is a way out. Then, the practice isn’t enough. You start to think of it as a way to not just give you an out, but give everyone else you love a way out. That is when I really tip over the edge. That is the thought that can lead you to carry out your suicide. You see the pain in the faces of your parents, your kids, your husband, you aunt, your uncle, and friends every time you relapse. Sometimes they start saying things and behaving in ways that show you they are tired. Their resolve is wearing off. They are ready for you to be healed, and you know you are not. They want a break, you know you can not give it to them. You are the source of pain everyone’s pain. Not just yours, everyone’s pain. If you died, you would be with the Lord. That is the thought that leads to suicide completion. The world would be better off without you. Those you love would be free of you, you would be free, and it happens in an instant. It wouldn’t happen tomorrow, or next week, but this thought for a few seconds is all it takes.

So, that is where I go. I sink into that place, full of shame. Knowing that others don’t see me as a burden, that they are enduring this with me. That is what will save me. The love and acceptance of my family, friends, etc. For me, this will only ever come from God. He is the only one who signed up with me for this journey. He is the one who sees and understands my pain. He is the one who walks with me through it every day and never gets tired. He is the only one who wants me to stay on Earth and struggle with him. He alone is my solace. He alone is my Savior. He alone never fails. Anything and anyone else is weak and fleeting. This is what he wants to teach me. To rely on him and him alone. To go through this pain to reach a place of peace and healing that can only come from him. In all my suffering Jesus is better, make my heart believe.

So, that is where I am. I am falling apart, my husband and family are struggling to go through another relapse with me, we are preparing for another long stretch to healing. The only one that can sustain us and heal us is Jesus. If we look to ourselves or other humans to fill in the pit of despair, it will never happen. Eventually, we will give up. I encourage you, if you are the one struggling today, or the loved one of someone struggling, reach out to the Lord. Be honest with those around you, about what this struggle looks like. No one wants to talk about it. No one wants to share about this. So, this community and their loved ones remain in the dark and on the sidelines. If you know these people, grab their hand and pull them towards the light today. You may just save their lives.

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A love Song

 

 

Song of Solomon 8:2 – “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.”

I followed my grandmother’s casket out of the chapel and to the hurst. It was a terrible moment and my heart ached. At the same time, I couldn’t shake Brian. He had caught my attention. I assumed he had left the building. Saddened, I walked forward to the chapel doors. I glanced around the corner and BAM! There he was, making eye contact with me. I jumped back like a two year old hiding from it’s mother. I retreated back to family, knowing he was still around. I stopped to talk to his mother. She was delightful and midway through paused to invite Brian into the conversation, just as I mentioned Campus Crusade for Christ. He was kind-eyed and attentive. My strategy was to ignore him completely. I, later, found out this really worked because most girls gave him their undivided attention.

Lisa directed the conversation back to Brian, mentioning that he was involved with Cru and was planning to travel overseas with them. Now, my heart melted. Missions was my passion and he was involved with the same organization! I had decided it was fate. We went downstairs to eat and agreed to sit with one another. As I got my plate, he had wandered off and was talking to someone else. I was now sure that connection was imagined, until he turned and smiled at me. I knew in that moment, he was something special. He smile made me feel safe and connected.

We met up in the parking lot to say goodbye. My dad tried to back over him with the car. We exchanged phone numbers. I decided to stay for the week and get to know him better. My dad assured me that our lives being so far apart, the relationship was doomed from the get go. I didn’t listen. In fact, it probably made me more interested in him. We went on some dates that week and spent some time together. As I headed back to college, I assured my mother it was okay, if he decided to date other girls, but I knew in my heart it was not.

We communicated via Skype for the next few months and he planned to come visit. He took me on a date to a spring formal, and I was smitten. I went overseas to North Africa on missions. We continued to communicate via phone. He wrote me letters. They were organized so I would open one every few days until I got home. Then, the last one said he was at my debriefing to pick me up! I was so excited. I went to Tennessee to visit him again. Then, it was time for him to head to Argentina. He spent fourteen long months over there. It wasn’t too hard for him, he was doing something new everyday. It was, however, extremely difficult for me. I was a senior in college and simply waiting. We had hour long phone calls on Skype that would drift in and out. He would get on at times for just a moment, or even miss “date nights” altogether. I could tell he wasn’t certain I was the one. As well, I found out he had sworn off women weeks before he met me to focus on his relationship with the Lord. I, however, knew he was the one and was getting tired of fighting for our relationship. I made a final plea, when he told me he wanted to stay another year. I told him that Io would support him, but not be there when he got back.

He panicked and came home. He, later, found out I didn’t mean I would never date him again but I would have moved forward for a season. This led to resentment in our early years. Brian looked at me and was reminded of what could have been, if he had stayed in Argentina. He felt I had robbed him of that. With the passage of time, he has changed this opinion, but it was a real sticking point for awhile.

Brian returned home, and I couldn’t wait to see him. I was leaving an AA meeting I was attending for a college course, when he met me outside. I was over joyed, but I also felt a disconnect I didn’t expect. He seemed a lot like a stranger. We were used to talking on Skype but talking in person was strange, and his adjustment back to the US was difficult. I had missed him for so long, I expected everything to pick up where it left off, but it didn’t. With time we got used to each other again, and he got used to having more than one shampoo to choose from at Walmart.

We spent all of our time together, and Brian moved to State College to be near me. In February I was sure he was going to never marry me and my heart broke. That same day he surprised me and picked me up from work. I was sick as a dog and not wanting to do anything. He, however, had different plans. He had my roommates pack my bags, had my passport (I was still unaware of this), and was taking me on an adventure. We drove the night to Philly, while I passed out in the car. Sick, sick, sick. We pulled into the airport and I was befuddled. What was this man doing? I assumed we were taking an airplane ride or going to pick up a friend from Argentina, who was coming to visit. He got out the video camera and videotaped me as he revealed that we were going to Paris! I had taken a semester long course in Parisian culture and architecture that was so hard. He wanted to let me see these things for real in the City of Lights. We were just going for the weekend, and I couldn’t wait!

In the Desert

 

 

Deuteronomy 32:10 – “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.”

After the break up, I finished my semester with a 1.3 GPA. I went home ragged and discouraged. I continued to eat too much and sulk. I started a job at a local nursing home, which was not a positive place to be. I woke up at 5 am and worked until 2 pm in a hot, dark, basement. It was working in food service, and I had a new respect for people who work so hard. These women had really rough lives and they complained a lot, with good reason. This actually ended up being a blessing. I was drawn to people I could encourage.  I loved reaching out of my pain and trying to spur others on. It was so cathartic.

I joined Weight Watchers with my mom, after reaching a new low in my self-esteem. It involved me trying to eat an entire 9×13 pan of dirt dessert in the middle of the night. There were tears and shame. Those tears and pain were, however, leading me to a place of taking care of myself again. I was able to turn around me eating and lost twenty pounds that summer. I returned to campus with a renewed joy in exercising. Exercise for me, was then, and is now a great way to combat my depression. When you exercise you have a release of endorphins that are “feel good hormones.” They work on the brain like medication does, at the chemical level. It, also, offers distraction. Your brain will reset itself, while you exercise, and can help break the cycle of negative thinking. Of course, I knew none of this at the time. I didn’t even know I was depressed. I just thought I was taking care of myself. It wasn’t until I was into hospital for post part depression that I put a label on what I had experienced. Faith was another huge component of my healing.

I began picking up books and reading again. The Lord led me to books by Elizabeth Elliot.   Passion and Purity was a book that really changed my life. Elizabeth’s story is one of longing but trusting. Doubt and faith, all at the same time. Despite the struggles Elizabeth had, she always trusted the Lord. She was a woman that had to wait so very patiently for marriage. Then, she and her husband finally married. They had a precious child, and her husband was murdered by the tribe her family was there to share the gospel with. Not only her but multiple other families. She waited so long to be married and it was ripped away.  The part that was so transforming was what she did after. She didn’t fall into a pit and never get out. She and other women went back to the tribe. They lived among them and shared the gospel. I knew that, if she could survive her pain, then mine paled in comparison. I could come out of the pit. By the grace of God, it worked. My life and out looked changed. I went back to college and made dean’s list. I would actually change my major from pre-med to Biobehavioral Health and never come off Dean’s List again. I had a few months of healing under my belt, when my grandmother passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

I was horribly sad, but we had known and been preparing for awhile. As I arranged to go to the funeral, I had the weirdest thought. For the first time, since childhood, I reminisced about a boy I had known since birth. He lived in the asme town as my grandmother. I remembered seeing a picture of him at his great aunt’s house a few years prior. He was handsome. Maybe he would be at the funeral, I thought. However, I had more pressing issues and dismissed the thought.

The day of the funeral, I opened the program and looked desperately for the name Lisa Leeper. It was this gentleman, Brian’s, mother. My grandmother loved her singing, and I couldn’t imagine her not singing at her funeral. However, no Lisa Leeper. Again, I dismissed this distraction. During the service, I finally saw her. His mother, on the stage. I looked at the program, again. Williams. Leeper was her maiden name. After all of this time, I had forgotten Brian’s last name. Williams. Maybe he was there. Suddenly, a phone rings loudly. Surely, it would be quickly silenced. No, someone was answering this call and making their way out of the service. I turned around, and there he was. Dashingly handsome in bright blue and orange, answering his phone. He was clearly pompous, and I turned around disgusted. But he was cute.

Training for Life

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I wish I could say that this played out in my life the way the verse describes. For me, it held true but with a few bumps in the road. I arrived at college and was super excited to get the full college experience. However, I was determined to do so without following my dad’s plan. He had brought me to campus a few weeks earlier to scout out what faith based organizations I could join. He highly encouraged me to join Navigators or Campus Crusade for Christ. This, however, just made me want to buck against the system even more. I had no plans to attend any such organization, when I arrived. I had one driving force, and it was cute guys. So, it was the Lord’s hand moving, when I walked out of the cafeteria that fateful afternoon. There was a group of some of the cutest guys I had ever seen. They were handing out fliers, naturally, I took one.

Campus Crusade for Christ. I literally laughed out loud. If these guys were a representation of what could be found  in the campus Spiritual Center, I was in. I went with a group to the first meeting. When I walked in, all of the guys I had seen were standing at the front. They were all staff and interns! It was too late, though. I loved my first night of Cru and never left. It would be my center for the next four years. The Lord would use this organization to make my faith, my own. He would even use it to lead me to my husband, but more on that later.

As I started my first few weeks on campus, I started gaining weight. It was abnormal for me, because being a competitive gymnast, I could eat whatever I wanted. Another side effect was that I never went through puberty. I was 18 years old and starting birth control, I was told I would likely never have children but this would help me regulate my cycles. This just wasn’t helping me to not gain weight. I called my mom in tears two months into school. I needed new clothes and new bras, and I couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving. She arrived at my door, skeptical, but lovingly. Her jaw hit the floor, when the door opened. I needed clothes two sizes bigger, I went from a negative A cup to a D in eight weeks. This took a huge toll on my self-image. I was always self-conscious because I didn’t look like the other girls I knew. I looked like a prepubescent 16 year old until this point. The transition was devastating. My years of longing to get boobs smacked me right upside the head. It wasn’t the dream I had hoped for. This coupled with me living in dorms that were far away from the other freshman (my dad had made sure I was in the music dorm for upperclassman so I wouldn’t be distracted from my studies) was a disaster. I was feeling lonely and vulnerable, save for a great friend that lived in the dorm upstairs.

At Christmas,  I was failing Calculus, something that I never dreamed possible. I begged my parents to let me drop the course to save my GPA, they did. At least my grades weren’t failing but in all other aspects, college life was not looking like I dreamed. I had already decided to attend a winter conference with Cru over winter break. I hoped to make more friends and have a great time. Little did I know, I would meet a great guy.

He was not on my radar at all. I actually kind of ignored most guys, due to my insecurities over how I looked, but I couldn’t seem to get away from him. He was very persistent and part of me liked that. It felt nice to be desired. We hung out at the conference, and went on our first date when we got back to campus. We went swing dancing and then out to the famous Ye Olde College diner. It was great. I was skeptical but open. I wanted that affirmation that I was still desirable and the joy of knowing someone was interested in me. It just seemed to all fall into place. The longer we were together, the more attached I became. I wasn’t aware yet that I struggle to find my identity in Christ. I had found it in other things, mostly, other people’s opinions and approval. So, this relationship became toxic.

We ended breaking up because we were at his house and his mom was telling us how she and his dad had prayed for his future relationships and purity everyday. This hit hard for two reasons. One, we weren’t being pure. I gave into all of my desires and drive. I wouldn’t sleep with him, but that was my only boundary. The shame the two of us together felt was unbearable. Two, his dad had passed away years before. Knowing how important purity was to his dad, it crushed him.  He broke up with me. My world came crashing down. He was the glue that was holding my life together. He was my friend. He was the barometer for how I felt about myself. In an instant, he was gone. All I could see was my broken life. I was shamed because we had given so much of ourselves physically and emotionally to not end up married brought deep shame. I felt extreme rejection, I assumed it was based on how I looked to some degree. Finally, I was failing two classes. My parents refused to let me drop them this time, not wanting this to become a pattern.

Everything that I used to gauge my worth was gone. I didn’t understand that God was there. He cared, he loved me. He didn’t feel ashamed of me. He was my proud Papa. If only I could have learned these lessons then. Maybe the next months of depression would have never happened. However, that is not my story.