I’m not sure where to begin. Especially when the end is still so far from view. From the outside looking in, I “had it all”… Husband, kids, big house, cool car, and a growing ministry. That’s the thing about the outside- it’s only a fragment of reality.
People who know me well know that I’m fairly upfront about my struggles; about what goes on on the inside. A lot of people know that I am a special needs parent and that the journey has been anything but easy. Some people know that I am a missionary to Haiti; that I travel there often to work with traumatized and special needs children. A few people know that I was abused for years before I had children and carry around the weight of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. What no one knew was that I was living a double life.
The me I thought I was- the one everyone else could see- was so strong. Independent, well-organized…filled with determination and drive. I managed a household where I did all the things moms with four kids under 12 do, plus homeschooling. I never sat down. Life was a joy but it was hard work. Having kids with Autism made it an extreme version. (If you need reference for the struggles we faced, there are several blogs I wrote before this one that give a pretty clear picture.) That person that I’d spent my life trying so hard to be, as it turns out, was never going to make it. Without knowing it, I was digging her a grave. Trying to do it all on my own, pulling my strength from a place of guilt-ridden stubbornness…I ignored the warning signs. No one ever taught me what self-care looked like and I chose to ignore the truth that you can’t pour from an empty cup. My cup was empty long before I became a mama. But I just kept giving, determined to find a way to pour from the desert place within me. My family was my calling and there was no time to “waste” on myself. That only added to my guilt. I was raised to believe I was never good enough. Mom guilt solidified it. I had to do more. Be more. Give more. It was the only way I knew how to survive.
I dissociated whenever and however I needed to in order to keep moving forward. I went from serving in a chaotic home to serving in a poverty-stricken country, and back again, for years without a real break. I watched my own children crash and burn under the weight of Autism, and the children I cared for in Haiti barely keep ahold of hope for a future. I’m too compassionate not to take it all in; to feel it alongside them. I can’t separate myself. The more the pain piled up, the more I felt myself slipping into denial. I was not ok and didn’t try to hide it, but I would never admit to just how bad it was getting. Not even to myself.
No one is invincible. No one but God himself. Unfortunately, when you serve God in a position of ministry, the world makes you feel like you need to be. Admiration can turn into an expectation of perfection. Not always, but so commonly so, that it can cause us to feel the need to strive for just that. You’re seen as an example. Struggles that are okay for other people, aren’t okay for you because you’re “different”. You represent The Kingdom, and the pressure can get on top of you if you’re not careful. I wasn’t.
I ended up in the ER. Suicidal thoughts and plans. The pain ripped through me, as though my heart was physically breaking inside of me. A dear friend sat in the hospital room with me, holding my hand. She was one of the only people who felt safe enough to share the truth with. Still, there was no one I knew personally who could truly understand my situation. No one in my position. The enemy loves to isolate us.
I ended up in a place dark enough that I couldn’t find my way out. Then, I lost a baby. I wanted to lose my life. I started drinking alone at night so that flashbacks from my past and fear about my future would fade away long enough for me to sleep. I ignored the need for counseling, spending all of my money on missions work. In the midst of it, my marriage fell apart after years of behind-the-scenes pain and struggle. I couldn’t breathe anymore, I’d been drowning in the thick waters of depression for far too long. I was in too deep. Life had been kicking me when I was down for as long as I could remember but I’d always find a way to get back up to my feet. Not this time. I fell…and I stayed down.
My circumstances and my sin began to reveal themselves to friends and family. The weight of who I’d allowed myself to become was like a boulder around my neck, and I’d listened to the devil when he whispered words of hopelessness into my despair. Feeling wholly unworthy of anyone who would still love me at my darkest, I wanted to die. I had lost sight of all the things I’d been fighting for; lost sight of my purpose.
Over the next few weeks, I moved out; slowly moved into the rhythm of sharing the time with my children with my now ex-husband. Divorce is not something any of us plan in the beginning. Not a single person it doesn’t hurt in the end. The choice was not an easy one, but it revealed the state of my friendships…or lack thereof. I received harshly written pages, telling me that all my past work as a missionary is now void because of my sinfulness- It meant nothing, now that I was getting divorced. And motherhood? Forget it. I’d failed. How would my children ever be able to respect someone like me? People that I never expected to judge me, were now doing nothing else. I felt abandoned for being honest and guilty for being human. I was involved in three different church communities. One shamed me, one disowned me, and one surprised me: I confessed my mess to a church member in the back of an empty sanctuary, expecting to lose another friend. Her response: “Nobody is perfect, but we’re loved by a perfect God. He sees your pain and your sin, all of it, and still will never turn his back on you. And neither will we.” (Thank You, Jesus, that there are churches out there who love like you do.)
I’m not writing this with a sudden turning point where I figured it all out and started living in the freedom of a new, squeaky-clean story. I went on to be laid off, lose my home, and to say goodbye to my pet who had been one of my only comforts through it all. I’m still very much in the middle of the mess. Healing has begun, but may take a long time to fully take hold. I’m not there yet, but God’s led me back in the right direction. Redemption is not just for those outside the church. We still need it, even after we’ve sworn our allegiance to Christ. Missionaries need it, pastors need it, every one of us needs His grace…Doesn’t matter your status or position. We all fall.
Through this experience, I’ve learned to accept that God loves me, scars and all. Even when I can’t bring myself to believe I’m lovable. I’ve learned not to be so quick to judge the situations of others, even based on what I think I know from the outside looking in- God loves them in their mess the same way He loves me in mine. I’ve learned the very hard lesson that anything done in my own strength will fail. I need Him. Every moment.
Do my weaknesses, sins and struggles disqualify me for ministry? No. They give me a story of hope to tell when I look into the eyes of the lost…because I’m fully aware we’re not that different. My painful reality gives me a depth of understanding and compassion when God sets me before a hurting soul. My mission has never been to “fix” anything or anyone; only to love those this world casts aside. It’s easier than you’d think to become one of the outcasts. My power lies in knowing The One who can redeem it all, no matter how dark and messy. The person I was died this year. Everything is changing. And I’m never looking back.