There was a season in my life when everything seemed hopeless and grey.
My exteriors would have belied the hurricane of emotional turmoil swirling in my heart and mind.
I had a loving husband, three young children, a solid roof over my head, a ministry calling and worthwhile work in which I was engaged, and many people around the world who loved and cared for me.
And yet, the demands of life seemed overwhelming, pulling me down into a vortex of hopelessness.
I felt the first hints of this impending storm around the time when our children were 5, 3 and just under a year old. During this season our ministry colleagues retired, and we took on the full responsibility for carrying a local outreach to international college and university students.My husband and I had always been partners in this service, but he also held a full-time job as a high school teacher. In the practical day-to-day, the bulk of the demands of both kids and ministry fell squarely upon my shoulders.
My husband and I had always been partners in this service, but he also held a full-time job as a high school teacher. In the practical day-to-day, the bulk of the demands of both kids and ministry fell squarely upon my shoulders.
It all felt like too much. The little ones vied for my time and attention. I wanted so badly to do a good job being their mommy.
But email requests kept pouring in from students, some local, some soon-to-arrive. Relationships with volunteers, donors, and local churches required constant attention, too. I felt overwhelmed by expectations to carry on the ministry at the level we had experienced so far.
Too many people needed me. I had lost my sense of self.
As this sense of desperation grew, I began to feel dead to life. Dark and dangerous thoughts often popped up in my mind. “Just turn off that cliff…No one else understands…No one cares if you disappear; they will not even notice.”
I remember one particular day I was standing in front of my washing machine, transferring what seemed to be endless loads of clothes into the dryer. Inside I knew I should be thanking God for the gift of those little lives.
But what screamed in my head? Sinister messages: “Life is so useless. Everything is the same. Nothing changes.”And yet, even then, as a follower of Jesus. I knew, intellectually, the Hope of the World should dwell in me. Why was I so dark?
And yet, even then, as a follower of Jesus. I knew, intellectually, the Hope of the World should dwell in me. Why was I so dark?
In my mind, I understood that an intense, spiritual battle for my heart was being waged. But in the midst of it all, I felt so helpless to change.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this too. Your exteriors tell the world, “I am happy. Life is good.” But inside there is a raging storm.
How could I escape this downward spiral?
All I can say is God, in His mercy, rescued me from this morass. I cannot claim I followed a 12-step program or even offer some quick-and-easy solution here.
But still, I did learn a few major life lessons as I traveled through this time and moved into a new and lasting season of wholeness, purpose and vision.
1) The first step was recognizing the battle.
And admitting I needed God’s help to overcome.
Although, I had become dull to the spiritual work of our loving God during this time, my husband and I soldiered on in daily prayer. We enlisted prayer from a few others with whom we were close as well. I knew we were fighting a spiritual battle.
As the school year wound down, my school teacher husband was around more, and this seemed to lighten the load and my spirits. I felt the darkness lifting. Some.
I had been training for a triathlon in early September. It would be my third. I felt this might help break through the cycle of darkness.
But the morning before the triathlon, I woke up with the most intense neck pain I’ve ever experienced. Immobile. Healing from that took almost four months of working with a chiropractor and physical therapist.
A friend who noticed I was hurting (and not just physically) suggested I consider attending a “women’s silent retreat” his wife, much older than I, attended regularly. She found it to be a profound experience. Maybe so would I.
2) The next step was allowing myself time to be still and listen.
To listen to the right voice. To listen for what God – and He alone – was saying to me.
The retreat came at just the right time, in the heart of fall, as the days shortened and the temperatures began to dip. Although my recovery from the neck injury was not complete, I was feeling much better and decided to go.
Being still and listening was not something I had been good at. I’m usually an energetic Type A. My season of despondency only seemed to heighten a frantic worry over the checklists of my life.
The design of this retreat was brilliant. An overall framework with brief (15-20 minute) sessions, followed by one–two hours of open, “free” time, to hear how God is speaking to you. Although the leader had prepared an extensive set of materials, she advised us to use them only if God directed. She wanted us to be open to His leading.
And then, on a drizzly early November day, God spoke to my heart.
I was gazing out the window at a deciduous tree with just a few leaves hanging on.
“You are that tree. My life is still in you, but you have lost your joy.”
Whoa! It was clear and simple as day. Over ten years later, I can still remember the exact words. And they were so true.
I pondered them for a while. God was, of course, right. But what was I to do with that?
I prayed. I journaled. I searched Scripture. I called out to God from the depths of my being. I cried. Oh boy, did I cry!
The next day, He answered my question. Again, in an unmistakable way.
I was walking out in the woods on a clear “after-the-rains” morning. The crisp air filled my lungs while the sunshine filled my heart.
God directed my eyes to a particular redwood tree. Rising in front of me, this redwood tree commanded reverence.
Then, the Voice. “I am making you into that tree. Let me.”
That was it! Although I’ve experienced many “God moments” before and since, His message to me has never been clearer. I had my answer.
3) The final step is trusting God’s promises and clinging to them.
Since that time, I have been letting God turn me into that evergreen redwood tree.
I cannot say the path has always been easy. Nor can I deny moments when self-doubt has entered my mind.
But really, self-doubt should be there. It is God we must trust after all.
I claim the promise He made to me to make me into the redwood if I would just let Him. This is backed by so many promises in Scripture: He is with me “even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4), He has a plan and purpose for my life (Jer. 29:11), He is working “all things together for [my] good” (Rom. 8:28), “He who began a good work in [me] will be faithful to complete it” (Phil. 1:6), “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” (Eph. 2:10), and so many others.
I’m not yet the complete evergreen redwood tree He intends. But since that time I’ve learned to stay my mind on my Master, and He has granted me perfect peace (Is. 26:3) even in the toughest times.
I hope this will encourage you as well. He wants to make you, too, an evergreen redwood tree, healthy for others, to live out your calling and be effective as a builder of the Kingdom of God.
Just let Him!
Caroline DePalatis is Founder and Interculturalist at Culture Weave, a new venture offering tools, training & community to help those with a heart for the world better connect across cultures. A graduate of Stanford University and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (CA), Caroline has walked with Jesus since college, is a wife of 30 years and a mom to three awesome high school & college-aged emerging adults. She loves sharing from her life experience and over 20 years of intercultural service and work with International Students, Inc. to inspire and equip others. She also finds herself on a perpetual quest to discover the finest dark chocolate opportunities on the planet. Website URL: http://cultureweave.com/
First Image Credit: Splitshire on Pexels, Creative Commons, no attribution required. https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-fashion-person-woman-1002/