Stories

THE TRUTH ABOUT WINTER

By Kim Lawrence with Dave Franco, courtesy linkbooklegacies.com

AS THE EMTS REMOVED ME FROM THE AMBULANCE, I slowly shook my head as I cried tears of disbelief. They would soon be wheeling me into Scripps Mercy, and I would be admitted as a mentally ill patient.  

           I couldn’t believe it had come to this.

           It began when I felt a wave of depression come over me. My dad had died months earlier and I experienced a deep sadness, but finally, it went away, and I seemed to be doing much better. But then it returned, only this time all of the sadness was heavier, darker, and more severe. I wondered if the loss of my dad was somehow circling back. Ultimately, I was diagnosed as clinically depressed. Whether my dad had died or not, it appeared that depression was going to find me one way or another.

           Over the years, and with the help of medication, I was able to bounce back from bouts of depression, but as they returned, it seemed they were getting worse, until the depression draped over me like I had pulled six feet of earth upon my body. It was smothering. I was weak. I could barely stand to take a shower. I was almost helpless to pull myself out of bed, and I would lay face first, and just cry out to God to take it away from me, or at the very least, let me feel that he wasn’t so far away from my reach.

           What else could explain the acute desperation I felt? I would call out for anything from God to indicate that He was with me—even the slightest sound of His voice. But anything I asked of Him was not granted. I couldn’t understand it. I was His child and I knew well His power and never-ending love. What could I have possibly done to bring this upon me?

           The isolation that comes with depression is awful. You can hardly bear the thought of being in the presence of others where you have to keep up a false demeanor that you aren’t dying inside. The only thing worse is if your friends might figure out how sick you are and show you pity. No, being with others is too much to bear, and yet, being alone is its own hell. There is no winning.

           Church proved to be a very lonely place. I would walk in with so much hope that God could meet me there but, of course, nobody knows you’re suffering and you really don’t trust that if you reveal your problem, that you won’t be looked upon a little differently. So you stay quiet and suffer alone.

           Finally, however, I allowed myself to be in the presence of some girlfriends from church. I was deep in the abyss of another bout, and my hangdog demeanor dragged me to an all time low. It disturbed them terribly to see me that way.

           They gathered around me, saying they had never seen anything like it. I was like a woman melting away. They touched me, and hugged me, and prayed mighty prayers for me while I sat there and wept uncontrollably. Later that day, after seeing a few medical professionals, a doctor told me that I needed to get to Scripps Mercy, to begin the process of getting better under the watchful eye of professionals who deal with the mentally ill.

         Me? Mentally ill?

         The shame of being in a mental ward was agonizing. But I was just desperate enough to do it—so I allowed the EMTs to wheel me in there, despondent face, red eyes and all. What embarrassment I felt. But I had had enough. It had been 14 years since the battle with depression began, and so I said yes to the shame in exchange for any relief they could offer. If I had to be thought of as a freak to get some treatment, I was ready.

           The next morning, when I woke up in Mercy, I found that my nightmare was a reality. The people I feared I was most like were out on the floor; the shock treatment patients, people talking to themselves. I couldn’t believe that this is where I found myself.

           Later that morning, my husband came to be with me, and so did my friends. It was so wonderful to see them and, in a way, sit exposed and known, and then loved even so. There is freedom in that.

           But when my pastor and his wife showed up, it was particularly moving. He prayed with me, and all of us, and as he was leaving he leaned over me and spoke these words: Don’t forget in the dark what God has shown you in the light.

           It gave me hope. I had been given God’s word in the light. Now, in the dark, it was time to submerge into it.

          I began to pour over the Psalms of David and that is when a picture began to emerge. King David, Israel’s greatest King, the anointed of God, suffered from depression. What else can make sense of the constant crying out for God to save him from his deep emotional pain. “I am worn out from my groaning,” David wrote. “All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (Psalm 6:6)

          Suddenly, God had come to me in a way that I had been hoping for. He gave me Himself by giving me someone to commiserate with; someone who had walked a mile in my shoes. King David was my brother in arms. I wasn’t alone.

          Between David, Paul and even the sadness that Jesus felt in the Garden of Gesthemane, I began to see that where I was trying to call God into my sadness, He was there all the while.

          I took my own depleted state, and I searched for something that expressed the exact opposite. I found and memorized David’s words in Psalm 34:1-6:

          I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 2 My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. 3 O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked unto him, and were lightened: and their faces were not ashamed. 6 This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.

           Finally, I was starting to feel stronger, more connected to our Savior in a way I hadn’t before. God was with me all along. He is with us even in the silence.

          That was 10 years ago. I still battle with depression today. But instead of feeling lost and at my wit’s end, I feel certain that God allows the pain and adversity to bring us closer to Him. Winter may bring a desolate barren land, but just below the surface, a world of growth and activity proves that God is busy preparing for spring.

          He is near in the suffering.

POSTSCRIPT:

On the day that I allowed myself to expose my depression to my friends, three life-saving things happened in the next 24-hour period that are essential for every depression sufferer. First, like I finally did by letting myself be admitted to Scripps Mercy, I admitted that I had a problem. Second, the body of Christ came around me, loved and didn’t judge me. And third, I adhered to the Word of God in a way that I hadn’t before. If spoken and prayed, the Word pokes through the dark clouds to leave holes where the sun can be seen. On some days it’s enough to get you through the night. With persistence, it is enough to give you hope for a lifetime.

Glenna's Story

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By Glenna Skelley as told to Dave Franco, linkbooklegacies.com

At 90, Glenna Skelley is the oldest member of Redeemer. She offers this account of her life and what she has come to learn is most important.

I STOOD ON THE STEPS OF MY SCHOOL IN 1931 AND CRIED MY HEART OUT.  I had been told that morning that mom and dad would not be living together any more — a divorce, mom called it, and I was heartbroken.

            And so, on that sunny, windy day in Oklahoma, I cried until my face hurt, but it was about to get worse. My mother took me to a large building in our town where I sat before a man dressed in a long black robe who asked me, with a stern look on his face, who I wanted to live with, mom or dad. To me, I wasn’t choosing a parent. I was rejecting one. No one should ever be asked that question, especially a five-year-old. It was the worst day ever.

            Soon thereafter, my mother was looking to start her life over again. She had family in California, so during the Great Depression, she loaded all our stuff in the car and we set off thousands of miles to the West Coast, just she and I.  Mom was happier and called La Jolla, California, her “paradise on earth.” The disaster of divorce brought me the blessing of a new life in San Diego and the beginnings of a new faith.

            When we arrived, we set up our home in a rented room in an old hotel. Mother found a school where I would continue kindergarten, and nearby was a Baptist church where she would send me on Sundays. She didn’t go with me, but I’m thankful that she chose the right direction.

            It was all part of God’s plan. One Sunday morning, as I heard the pastor tell us that our creator, God, sent His only son, Jesus, to die for us, I responded and my heart opened like a flower to the sun.  I simply had to have the protection and love that God was offering me.  I walked down the aisle and said “yes” to God’s invitation.

            That day, I felt truly protected by the hand of God, and that feeling never went away. There was a covering over me everywhere I went and in all situations. I can remember many dangerous circumstances in my life, but in each I felt God watching over me. What a luxury to feel safe, always.

            I attended the University of California at Berkeley for one year in 1946 and while there I attended Bob Munger’s church, a rather renowned pastor at the time. He talked about the gravity of sin, and while I believed God had sealed me for himself all those many years ago, I knew I didn’t really know Him intimately. And so, for the second time in my life, I went forward and said “yes” to Jesus. This time however, was different. I finally had a relationship with God. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer.

            Soon after WWII, I married a wonderful man, Robert Skelley, who joined his family’s automotive repair business. He later owned and ran the business with the highest integrity.  He was a devoted, loving husband who worked hard to give me the things I wanted most—security, and in later years, travel abroad. We had two beautiful children.

              But somehow, in the business of my daily life, I began to push God to the margins. It happened slowly and without fanfare, but little by little, God was an element of my life, but not the core. Over the next 40 years, my husband and I were extremely involved church members and I still looked like someone who had my life together. My faith had become more of a religious activity than a relationship with the living God. And, like most marriages, ours struggled. 

                I should have loved my husband better and appreciated him more. But, in the last ten years of my marriage something profoundly changed my walk with God and my relationship with my husband. Bob and I started praying daily together for our family and closest friends. Our prayer time became the best part of our day. These years were the most loving and meaningful of our marriage. Sometimes we’d pray for hours.  During this time, Bob had three cancer surgeries and we made the most of the rest our life together.  We traveled as much as we could, especially to Europe. Switzerland was our favorite country to visit. And, even when we traveled, we always took time to pray.

            When my husband passed away in 1998 at the young age of 75, I was the only one at the funeral who didn’t cry. I was in such shock that he was really gone from my life, I couldn’t feel anything. When the floodgates did open however, I cried like that little girl in Oklahoma on the school steps, as if I might never stop.

            People at the funeral had said they would be praying for me, but I didn’t feel I was getting any lighter about life. I still felt like God was protecting me and would never leave me, but my life was turned upside down. My husband had taken wonderful care of me during our 55 years together. Without him my future was now a blank canvas. What was I to do? This major tragedy seemed like it was the end for me. And, it was an end to my old life and the old me. It was also the beginning of a new life and becoming a better me.

               One thing I had determined to do after Bob died was to make it my ministry to continue to pray daily – specifically and intentionally for my family and friends. I kept this commitment, but I knew that I needed more of God. 

            I was lying in bed one night and before I went to sleep I started to say the books of the Bible in my mind. Doing so gave me a strange sense of happiness. I think now, as I was reaching out to the Lord, our blessed Holy Spirit reached out to me and set my feet on a new path. I picked up the Bible the next day and have read it every day since. It was that night when God changed my life for the better yet again. The Bible began to speak to me in a way that it hadn’t before. The more I read, the more excited I became. And it didn’t stop there. The more I read, the more I changed. I was becoming kinder, more patient, and lighter. I was gaining in joy and love and peace. All my relationships were getting better.  I was a woman being transformed into a new person each and every day. “Behold I make all things new,” Jesus says in the book of Revelation. My spirit was regenerating right before my eyes.  My son-in-law even commented that he had never seen anybody change so dramatically.

              In 2001, I began attending NCPC with my daughter and her husband, who has become a son to me. I was astounded at the love that was extended to me by many women who remain my beloved friends. I was blessed by the ministries of Don and Janie Seltzer, Joni Wallman, Doug and Lois Swagerty, and now by Paul and Linda Kim, who are special gifts to me from Jesus. 

The Lord knew how I would love having a Korean-American pastor, as our family had a long term ministry to Christian Korean sailors who were based in San Diego. Every Sunday, for many years, Korean sailors and officers would join our family for Sunday lunch. 

               I thank God for all the Bible studies I have attended at Redeemer, especially for learning more about God’s abundant grace. His grace truly is amazing! God’s love is vast beyond my wildest imaginings. My failures are no match for His love, mercy and grace.  His grace is my spiritual address.

            People may, at different points in their lives, believe that they cannot change and there is nothing to look forward to, but I am living proof that is not true. If you are in submission to the Holy Spirit, and if you are in God’s Word daily, diligently seeking Him, the best time of your life is always ahead of you. Always. Always.

POSTSCRIPT

Glenna arrives early to service each Sunday to carry out her prayer ministry for the people and vision of Redeemer.

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