It's possible my emotional low was a mix of post-traumatic stress and reverse culture shock, if we're going to put a name on it.
PART 4: The Friends Who Have Gone Before »
I had spent a week in Washington, D.C., visiting with friends and sitting at my favorite coffee shop writing, writing and writing. I did a lot of thinking, too.
Previously I had been living for about five weeks in my parent's house in North Carolina following a year's worth of work in Africa. My mood was miserable, and I desperately wanted a change.
Being in D.C. was uplifting for me.
I had contemplated moving back to the capital following my return from Africa. But unemployment and preparing for my next step — which decidedly was to apply to seminary — was holding me back from packing a U-haul and unpacking my life in a new city right away.
As I defied my quick-acting personality and tried to um, be patient, I fought through sadness. (If you haven't read this entire series, catch up by starting with the first article.)
There were all kinds of circumstances leading to my bout with sadness. It's possible my emotional low was a mix of post-traumatic stress and reverse culture shock, if we're going to put a name on it. But the bottom line is that I was in one, big emotional funk — and I felt ashamed about it.
Packing up my car and heading to D.C. for a week was a needed and unexpected blessing. I returned feeling more hopeful and refreshed and confident of God's care for my life.
He spoke to me through His beauty on the drive up through a Virginian countryside bursting with bold colors. He encouraged me through the wisdom of a counselor and a special friend who had gone before me. He didn't spare me from the "locust groves" and "wildernesses" that we all will trek through in a fallen world. But He reminded me that He won't leave me alone, and that I will walk out of those dark places with a purpose and a mission that can only come from having been beautifully broken.
By Friday, it was time to head back. I am unemployed but volunteering as a "bedside visitor" at a hospital in my hometown, and I was scheduled to work.
I got an early start, not realizing that my good traveling time would allow me to make a quick stop on the campus of the seminary I hoped to go to this fall.
While I was in war-torn Liberia, I believe that God confirmed to me my ability to reach out to some of His most broken people, to empathize with them, and to live among them. I worked in a remote hospital, where I spent hours visiting the bedsides of sick Liberians and grieving mothers who lost their babies to complications of childbirth. I often felt inadequate and poorly trained, relying instead on the guidance of the hospital chaplain and the grace of God to use me as He would see fit.
When I came back, I knew seminary was the next step. I had launched a seminary tour the year before (and continued it on a stateside break this year). There was one school where I instantly felt like I belonged. I was drawn to one of the programs, which formed partnerships with post-conflict countries and worked to foster true reconciliation by way of the church.
On campus is a gorgeous, awe-inspiring neo-Gothic cathedral. It towers over the campus, its intricate stone piers poking above clots of tall campus trees. I didn't know exactly where the cathedral was on campus, but I hoped the chapel spires would lead the way.
I curved through campus, drove down pesky dead-end roads, looked out for spiky stone spires. They came into my view at different moments down those dead-end streets. I turned around over and over again, looking to the sky for direction, but I still couldn't find the chapel.
After many minutes of hunting, I finally got my view.
It was a hold-your-breath view.
Gothic and awesome. Holding flying buttresses and magnificent stained glass and big, beautiful bells. A tower embroidered with chiseled curves and crosses. It was a worship space so beautiful that it reminded me of God's beauty and His treasured sanctuary.
Theologian Paul Tillich writes that "our language has widely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone, and it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."
I had left for Washington, D.C., the week before feeling lonely. But I was returning as someone different.
Yes, I still was sad. I didn't know when that was going to go away. But I felt renewed and confident in what was now my solitude. I was single. I was unemployed. I didn't have a man or even a potential man. I didn't know where God was going to send me next.
But I had something like hope. I felt that I had seen God's beauty, been encouraged by the words of people who knew His heart, reminded of how He stands strong — alone — despite all that comes His way.
There was no better symbol to encourage me of a glorious God who could stand alone despite all the obstacles than that towering stone cathedral.
As I struggle through a deep sadness, my hope is rising through my understanding of a God who doesn't change. He accepts me when I seek Him. He responds to my prodding. He never stops loving me. He is there when I look for Him — and when I don't.
In Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope is the thing with feathers," Dickinson writes that hope is like a bird that perches in your soul and "sings the tune — without the words, And never stops at all." She goes on to write that she has heard that song in the "chilliest land And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me."
Hope. God's hope. It is there for my taking. It doesn't ask anything of me. I am only left to ask myself whether I will take it.
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"Digressing into Depression? A Journey Through Common Sadness" is a five-part series based on author Christina Holder's bout with intense sadness following several upheavals in her life. It is a glimpse into one woman's struggle with sadness and is not meant to be a resource for those facing clinical depression or to replace counseling from licensed mental health professionals.
Focus on the Family has counselors and care specialists who are available weekdays to talk with you, provide information and encouragement, suggest resources, give referrals and pray with you. If you are struggling with depression or mood disorders and would like to talk with one of them, you can find more information here.
Copyright 2010 Christina Holder. All rights reserved.