When I first considered going to war-wracked Liberia to write post-war stories, I prayed that God would give me direction.
He sent confirmation in a unique way that I never remember noticing before when contemplating other big decisions in my life.
I started meeting Liberians. Many Liberians. They were everywhere I went, it seemed. This is one of my fondest memories of the beginning of my journey to Liberia. God communicated His will for me in a inimitable way that still makes me smile. He gave me a relationship with a broken country even before I stepped upon its sandy shore. He connected me with the hearts of Liberians who told me about the pain and suffering of a war I hadn’t experienced.
They all had gone before me.
Since that time, I’ve tried to pay closer attention to how God may be using circumstances and people in my life to get me through tough times, to help guide me in His steps, to tell me something I need to hear.
He’s done it with one of my close girlfriends, Theresa. Theresa and I met as reporters at a Florida newspaper about five years ago. We sat across from each other at a conference lunch and chatted away — just to each other. When her landlord heard that a church down the street had a drum set, we took off together to check it out and eventually found an encouraging Christian community of 20-somethings in a city filled with retirees.
I moved to D.C. about two years later, and then Theresa found herself there, too, when her new hubbie was transferred to the D.C. area. We joked about how God really wanted us to be friends. Throughout our friendship, God has shown me how much Theresa has “gone before me.” I went through my first real breakup about a year after she ended a long-term relationship. She was there to comfort me and to guide me through a painful rite of passage.
Since she’s been married, she’s taught me so much about what I have to look forward to in being a wife — to partner with someone and to help him and to build him up. She’s also tried to help me prepare for the future. For my birthday one year, she bought me a pink kitchen set and a super cute “Domestic Diva” apron to inspire me to get better at being in the kitchen. (I mean, not that all wives have to cook, but I understand that husbands like to be taken care of, and I’m willing to give cooking a try every now and then.)
She recently had a baby boy and has been an example to me of a sacrificial mother. She’s confessed that being a mom means she has less time for her writing pursuits, but she is committed to caring for and raising her son in a way that will always matter in his young life. I really admire that.
In each of these examples, I feel like Theresa has always been one step ahead of me — preparing me for what I hope will come next in my life.
I love when God gives us friends who have gone before us.
On my recent week-long trip to Washington, D.C., (See Part One of this series, “Did Jesus Get into an Emotional Funk?“, Part Two: “Beauty’s Healing Touch,” and Part Three: “It’s OK to Be Sad“), I came into contact with another friend who had gone before me.
I was in what I call one, big emotional funk. I had recently returned from Liberia, where I had experienced many difficult emotions related to all of the poverty and suffering I witnessed. I moved back to my parent’s house, turned 30, and started feeling very sad.
I suspected that I may be depressed. So I went to see a counselor. I wasn’t clinically depressed, but it was possible that I was dealing with some latent stress issues. I had lived in the midst of destruction and death for about a year. When I left Liberia in September, I didn’t know if I would be coming back anytime soon. I returned to a developed and thriving United States. I felt that so much had changed since I had left. Many of my friends were married or in the full throes of raising toddlers, and I increasingly felt like an outsider. I didn’t have a boyfriend, and no one was expressing interest in me. I wanted out, but I didn’t know how to do it.
I wanted a change of scenery, so I headed back to D.C., where I had lived before moving to Liberia. There, I spent time meeting up with friends and thinking through this series.
One day I was reunited with Beki.
Beki is a young woman who was part of a Bible study I led through a Christian youth organization many years ago. I met Beki when she was in high school and I was in college. We spent four years building a friendship, even though we are five long years apart in age.
I hadn’t seen Beki in years. She had been living in Chicago and then in Byron Bay, Australia. But just a few months ago, she moved to Washington, D.C. Our reunion was exactly what I needed as I struggled to understand my sadness.
It turns out, that Beki had just gone through a similar bout.
After returning home from Australia, she moved back into her childhood home with her mother. She spent days in bed just reading books. One day, she sat at her computer for seven hours straight. She went to friends’ weddings and kept a smile on her face. Inside, she felt miserable. Often she found herself crying.
One of Beki’s friends was headed to Washington, D.C., so Beki decided to ride along. She loved the city and decided to move there.
During my time with Beki, she said things that she probably didn’t even know spoke to me. They were words that could come only from someone who had been where I was.
“Don’t believe that you are worthless,” she told me at one point.
I hadn’t said anything about feeling worthless. But she already had felt it. She assumed correctly that I was feeling it, too. Those words were a great encouragement and motivation to fight my feelings of worthlessness.
An added gift to our reunion was that I also could be a blessing to Beki. About two years ago, I went through a difficult breakup. Beki is in the midst of one now, having split from her boyfriend of nearly three years. He still lives in Australia.
As we stayed up late, talking into the darkness, we encouraged each other in only ways that can come from friends who have gone before each other.
Later, I remembered how Jesus went before us. He experienced every emotion we have — to the most intense degree possible. He endured an excruciating death so that we may have life. He felt the most alone and rejected that anyone could ever feel when He hung on a tree and died.
In Romans 8, it says that we do not know what to pray, but that the Holy Spirit “himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” and that “he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”
What a relief it is to me that I don’t even have to tell God what I am feeling. I don’t have to express my feelings in the “right way.” I don’t have to say anything at all.
Because He has gone before us, we can trust that He knows how we feel.
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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.