I was driving down a picturesque stretch of scenic road, by myself, listening to music. The sun was shining, vast green pastureland stretched out to either side, and in the distance large mountains looked down upon me. The words from the car radio caught my attention.
“Please be my strength.”
I lifted my right hand into the air; a charismatic Christian, worship regular, signaling my agreement and reaching for my Jesus. Then it struck me. He wasn’t somewhere up above, beyond my extended hand. He was here. In my car. I looked over at the seemingly empty passenger seat, and I imagined my Savior riding shotgun (even though He always has the wheel). I stretched out my hand into the side seat, rather than the air, and I closed my hand around His, our fingers intertwining.
Please be my strength.
I can categorically and emphatically say that the past year of my life, basically 2022 in its entirety, has been the most difficult of my life. Harder than bootcamp, tougher than an unexpected divorce in my late twenties, and even more stressful than being an ICU nurse in the height of a pandemic.
I’ll stop here to warn you. If you don’t know me personally, understand and be aware that I’m going to share very personal things. If you think you will possibly read my outpouring with judgement, perhaps you should just stop right here. This post has been on my mind for a few weeks, but it’s been difficult for me to share my inner turmoil with not only trolls hiding behind anonymous computer screens, but also, and sadly for the most part, because of the people close to me who judge me the harshest. Maybe you should stop reading here.
You can always think you will know how to react to a situation, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I know little to nothing. As a young woman who only dreamed of children, I imagined how I would parent. Then I actually had children, and it all went out the window. Most of it, anyway. I got the epidural instead of a natural childbirth, and I co-slept rather than letting my baby cry it out in their crib. I never had the time for every night bedtime stories, and I’ve yet to start a single college fund. Sigh.
The enormity of what I don’t know about parenting, or life in general for that matter, crashed upon my head shortly after Christmas. My oldest, natural born child, my eleven year old started to change overnight. She gave her fidgets away, and she decided she hated the color pink. She started spending more time in her room, and stopped swimming in our pool, or even going outside to play with the neighborhood children. I had seen her height increase dramatically, her hips begin to take shape, while her waist thinned. Along came the budding breasts and hair in places they shouldn’t be for an eleven year old, in my humble, late-bloomer opinion. So, I blamed it all on hormones.
Sure enough, she started the dreaded red wave of womanhood shortly thereafter, and I thought, “maybe this will be a sweet release to the angst she has been feeling.” But that was only the beginning of the tsunami that was heading our way.
In the middle of pre-teen distress, our family, like most of yours, I’m sure, was experiencing a changing economy. It was getting harder to keep the pantry full for a family of five on a single income. I couldn’t help people like I had gotten used to doing, barely having enough extra to financially float my own family. I had taken a job away from bedside nursing to rest my Nightingale wings, but we decided as a family, I could get more bang for my buck by going back to the trenches. At the time, the best paying job was three hours away. No problem. It would only be for a short, three months, to get us back on our feet.
We all hated it! There is a big difference between coming home from your twelve hour shift to your family, and coming home to an empty, one bedroom tiny house. And while the quiet was blissful the first week, it quickly lost its shimmer. The driving back and forth on my off days was exhausting, and then there was the little issue of life upending hundreds of miles away.
We prayed and sought the Lord over the decision of that job, and despite the difficulty, I do believe it was God’s will for me to be alone in that little cabin. See, He was working on me too. I’m a fixer. That’s what I do. At work, and at home. But what do you do when you can’t fix it? I look back now understanding that the little rental house I stayed in three days a week, it was my green pasture. The place I had to lay in while I gave my lambs to the shepherd. If I would have been there, I know I’d have been trying to yield my rod and staff all over everything, forgetting where my strength came from.
Remember the pre-teen angst? Well, it was more than that. I knew it. There was new anxiety. I’m talking about hyperventilating, arms breaking out in hives, absolute panic in crowds, anxiety. Where did it come from?! Why was my formerly, social butterfly unable to walk in Aldi without having to stop and deep breathe?!
There was depression. Real depression. Sadness so deep that it was like a thick fog, and I could barely see my baby through the darkness of it. I recognized the mood. It was one I knew too well, on a personal level, but also a familial one.
This part of our journey was probably the most frustrating for me. When I reached out to trusted people I loved about my baby, I wasn’t met with the support I expected. I actually felt quite the opposite. It seems my child’s battle with anxiety and depression was simply a spiritual attack that I had the power to stop. All it took was some laying on hands. And don’t forget, the doorway to my daughter for Satan to harm her was my own doing. I was/must be allowing things into our home that opened the spiritual realm for my child to be attacked.
I love Jesus. I believe in forces of darkness and principalities of evil. I believe in prayer, I believe in deliverance, and I believe in healing. Truly. I also believe in science, a God-given knowledge of how our bodies work, sometimes against us, and how God gave mankind the tools both spiritually and physically to combat these issues. I was a suicide attempt survivor. I had a grandfather kill himself, and a mother who tried to end her life many times from my childhood up into my early thirties. That kind of family history will have you well versed on generational curses, but also heredity and chemical imbalances in the brain.
Had I not prayed countless hours every day for my child?! Had my husband and I not laid hands on our child, sought healing, but also wisdom for what (if anything) in our environment and home was causing a problem?! Of course we had. I had not stopped praying and crying daily in the shower for months. I thought of my own battle with anxiety and depression, and how I spent years trying to pray harder, read my Bible more, and call out the forces of darkness bringing me down. It was not until I sat in the bathtub on Christmas Eve, wishing I could go to sleep and never wake up, that I sought the help of a doctor. It shook me that a blessed woman, with an amazing husband and adored children would want to die on the happiest day of the year. It shook me to think that I had waited so long, and I vowed to do everything I could for my baby.
Against the advice of well-meaning guidance, I took my child to a therapist. Every week, out of pocket, since most insurances don’t consider mental health a needed health benefit, but that’s a topic for a whole other blog.
I’ll stop here to apologize, as this is getting longer than I anticipated, but I did tell you I haven’t shared in a while. So, let’s get to the message.
I get a message, at work, just before it was time to give report to the oncoming shift, and it was a message that rocked my world. I have been blessed with a relationship with my child where she tells me everything. So, it was killing her to keep her pain a secret, and that day she told me she had been hurting herself. She sent photos of cuts she had made into her arm. She asked me not to be mad! Mad?! I just wanted to hold her!
I drove 40 minutes to my little house, after my 3rd twelve hour shift, packed a quick bag and drove the three hours home. I cried to my sister on the phone (hands-free), while driving through a tropical storm, and later thanked God I didn’t mess up my car when I hit that median. The downpour had been so torrential, and the night so dark, but I had to get home.
I cried incredulous tears to my sister. Why was this happening to my baby?! Didn’t this sort of thing only happen to foster kids in a bad situation, or abused kids, or kids with bad relationships with their parents?! My child had not experienced any kind of trauma. I knew this to be true. Why was this happening?
As a side-note, I’ll add here, that I have since learned how common self harm is in teens. My child has even shared with me other girls, from good, “Christian,” happy homes, who have admitted to her they cut also. They had not told their mother, so I guess I had that going for me. Hey, you hang on to any little thing you can in these situations.
This wasn’t the end. More conversations revealed more issues. Suicidal ideation. We hid sharp objects, called doctors, had emergency sessions with the therapist. It had been spiraling to this out of control moment, but it wouldn’t stop spinning. It kept going.
There were bright moments. Her neurologist believing her puberty had changed how her seizure medicine affected her, causing the suicidal ideation and self harm. Us getting off the medicine, her brain scan being free of seizure activity (making a new medicine unnecessary), and the emergence out of that darkness that tried to take her. But still, there was more. I could see it.
When you are raised in an Evangelical Christian environment, you’re taught how to handle certain situations. You’re taught about sin, but there is also major focus on particular sins that are especially heinous. The ones that we stand on a firm foundation to fight for. Other sins can be pushed to the side. I mean, they’re still “bad,” but not worth making a social media post about. My husband and I are both divorced previously, but I cannot recall anyone telling me how disappointed God was in my actions not to reconcile with my ex. You think you know how to handle certain situations, that you have it all figured out, but then it gets personal, and that puts a wrench in everything.
One of my daughter’s disappointments in herself was that she didn’t feel like she belonged. She didn’t feel normal. All her friends and cousins spoke about dating and boys, but she wasn’t interested. “This is normal,” we said. “You’re just a kid.”
But to her it was more. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t interested at the present; the thought of ever being a woman romantically or sexually attracted to a man seemed inconceivable to her. It seemed off. It seemed “not her.” We had entered a period of her trying to understand why she felt so different, and honestly, this place of questioning and sharing is what brought my baby out of her dark place. I’d like to think my loving counsel was a help, and I’m sure the therapy and psychiatrist were a benefit, but I believe in my heart that her honest questions and seeking of her true self brought about the emergence.
In Christian circles you are taught how to approach the subject of LGBTQ. You “love the sinner but hate the sin!” But there’s a problem that surfaces when this happens to someone you love more than yourself.
You start to wonder, “how can I love them best? How can I say I love you in one breath, but tell them what they feel in their heart, mind, and soul is wrong, in the next breath? How can I show the love of Jesus best? How can I respond to this situation without crushing the spirit of this child I would literally die for?”
Tough questions. A tough year. In the end, you love the only way you know how. All in. In the middle, you question everything you’ve ever been told. You read scripture, study, pray, have long talks with your spouse, and come to a place of acceptance, of unconditional love for your child, no matter their gender identity or sexual preference.
I remember a conversation with my husband where we agreed we did not have all the answers. We didn’t know what was right or wrong. I’m gonna tell you… you can imagine you know how to handle issues, but after you’ve discovered your child is so confused and hurting that they would rather die, you start to rethink things. Everything turns upside down, inside out, and pouring from the seams. You question what’s of eternal significance. Is it being right about what is a sin and what is not? Or is it leaving some things to God and admitting your own failings instead? Is it focusing on the spirit nature of us all, regardless of slave, free, man, or woman, and understanding we are all one in Him? Yeah, we didn’t want to mess things up, but we knew our Father held it all in His hands. We knew our job was to love our child, to show them the heart of Jesus, and to leave what we didn’t understand to Him. I was back in that green pasture. And I am there still.
He is my strength. He is love. His love strengthens me, and His love pours out of me. That is good enough for me. To see your child on the edge of a cliff, and then watch them emerge bright, confident, and happy being themselves, is priceless. How could I not support that? I am so proud of my baby. Now and forever.