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Beautiful Things Happen WHEN A WOMAN TRUSTS GOD
By SHEILA WALSH
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Sheila Walsh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Are You So Afraid? The Beauty of Courage Relying on god has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done. -C. S. Lewis This is the way god works. Over and over again he pulls our souls back from certain destruction so we'll see the light-and live in the light! -Job 33:29-30 MSG
Back home in Virginia Beach after being released from the psychiatric hospital, I began to see a therapist, initially three times a week: Dr. Frank Gripka. This kind, gentle, gray-haired gentleman had a profound impact on my life, an impact that continues to this day. One of the most powerful things he said to me was, "Sheila, Jesus didn't come to get you out of the pain of life; he has come to live in you through it."
That one statement alone was worth months of therapy.
I began to realize that my prayers had been focused on getting through this difficult time and returning to whatever kind of normal I could find. I wanted this disruption to be over. I wanted to feel better, to be happy again. I had prayed that Jesus would "fix me" so that no one else would know what was true about my story. I didn't want to be the girl with the kind of issues that madepeople whisper.
Only that "normal," shiny, controlled, pre-disrupted life would be shallow, Dr. Gripka was showing me.
Slowly I began to embrace the truth that my life was no longer mine to control. I belonged to Christ, and he wanted to live his life through me-through the good days and the difficult ones too. This fresh understanding gave me the courage to do the thing I feared most: to listen to what other key people in my life had to say to me. I didn't want that. I didn't want people seeing all my doubts, fears, and uncontrollable imperfections. I wanted to run away and start a new life somewhere else where no one knew me, where I could be just the girl with the funny accent, a cat, and no past.
How Long Are You Going to Run?
That was when one of my closest friends, Steve Lorenz, challenged me. I still remember that day. I was very upset by a phone call I had received. The caller, someone I knew, said that they heard from a reliable source that I had quit my job and was running away from anyone having any input into my life. I was hurt because this person didn't ask me what was going on and simply believed what someone else supposed. I wanted the caller's and my history together to mean something-enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. Never mind that there was some truth to what the caller had said. I just shut down. I felt physically too weak to deal with any criticism. I called Steve, in a panic, hardly able to breathe.
"Sheila," he asked, "how long are you going to run? When will you stand still and see that god is with you? Why are you so afraid of what other people think?"
Why indeed? It was true that I had built my security on what other people thought. I couldn't deny to Steve what my actions told both of us, that I believed if the person on the phone thought I was flaky, that had to be true.
Steve reinforced what Dr. Gripka had said: I was being called to stand still, confident that Jesus was with me. I had nothing to be afraid of, especially the truth. Steve also reminded me that walking away from what I am afraid of doesn't make it go away. I had to feel and face the fear. I had to know I was not alone.
I read the truth of this that night in the book of Isaiah-another of the awesome promises about the coming King: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (42:3 NIV).
Either Way I'm in Trouble
Certainly I was feeling very bruised and close to broken. It seemed to me that there were those around me who would gladly snuff me out. In fact, the days leading up to my time in the hospital, I had tried to find out how a diagnosis of clinical depression would be viewed, and discovered that mental illness is very controversial in many areas of the church. Not everyone acknowledges the validity of clinical depression as an illness, seeing it instead as a lack of faith, a surrender to weakness, or an indication of some secret sin. I had worked with some people during those five years whom I considered friends only to discover that when I needed them most, they were not only distant but also dismissive. One staff member went as far as to tell my boss, Dr. Pat Robertson, that he considered me to be a pathological liar who was making up everything for sympathy and attention.
I cannot describe how betrayed and wounded I felt. I was already low, not sleeping or eating well, and overwhelmingly sad. I found myself wondering if they were right. What if I was imagining this illness to excuse myself from being a responsible adult? That agony was the final straw that caused me to seek help.
I sat in Dr. Robertson's office one day and said, "I don't know what's true anymore. If those who are standing against me are right, then I need help. If what I am experiencing is legitimate, then I also need help. Either way, I'm in trouble."
When I returned to Virginia Beach after the monthlong hospitalization, Dr. Robertson was kind enough to offer to find me a job at CBN until I felt well enough to be back on-air, but I knew that wasn't the best option for me then. I had a lot of things I needed to work through. I wanted to understand why I was so afraid of what other people thought of me. I needed to resolve the anger and hurt I felt toward those whom I felt betrayed me.
I also wanted to find out why, for as long as I can remember, I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Perhaps you know that feeling. It's an insidious intruder that whispers to us whenever we begin to feel hope again. For me, I was afraid to be happy, because I assumed at that very moment I finally found happiness, there would be a thud.
Facing My Fear
I spent a lot of time meeting with those who felt I had let them down and those I felt had dismissed me. The fresh realization that god knew my story and loved me gave me the ability to open up to the input of others. My heart at every meeting was to listen so I didn't defend myself. I simply listened to what the person in front of me was saying and tried to put myself in their shoes.
I was fascinated by the power of listening; it became a very revealing exercise that I continue to this day. I discovered that when I am defensive, I am deaf; but when I have an open heart, I can hear clearly.
Still, not every meeting ended as I hoped. There were many tears shed. At the end of some meetings, I was sad but not destroyed. It may seem strange to you to think that a grown woman would feel so helpless against the opinions of others. The truth is, there was a wounded child inside me who at times still liked to take center stage. I was learning to bring that part of me to the feet of Jesus to be healed and loved out of shame.
Though I did give opportunities to everyone who felt they needed to say something to me, I did not let every Tom, Dick, or Harriet dump his or her personal preferences or beliefs on me. The people I sat with were those I had a real relationship with; integrity called for accountability. It was a very cleansing pursuit. It felt good to be responsible for my choices and take ownership of my own life. After several weeks of counseling and conversations, I knew that it was time to take a next step. I knew that I didn't want to return to the spotlight, so I began to ask god what that next step should be.
For too long I have tried to dance one beat ahead of time, yet deep inside an ancient song sings to this soul of mine and told me not to be afraid of things that shadow me. In facing them at last, I will be free. London and Paris.
I also had a cat named Abigail. Every time I watched Abigail wash her paws and clean her fur, I saw a picture of myself. Having come through such a dark time, my small sanctuary in Laguna Niguel seemed to be a place to lick my wounds and recover. I quickly settled into my apartment and life as a seminary student, and weeks turned to months.
All seemed quiet on my new western front. I would have been quite happy for it to stay that way, but there was a change in the air. I didn't feel it until it was right upon me.
Chapter TwoAn Open Door The Beauty of Brokenness I suppose when we wake on January 1 the world will look the same. But there is a reminder of the resurrection at the start of each New Year, each new decade. That's why I also like sunrises, Mondays, and new seasons. God seems to be saying, "With me you can always start afresh." -Ada Lum Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? -Isaiah 43:18-19
One sunny morning, I was sitting out on my balcony with a cup of coffee in front of me, Abigail on my lap, and my Bible open to the book of the prophet Isaiah. I found such comfort in a particular passage that I underlined the verses:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (43:1-3)
As I read on, I came to a couple of verses I just couldn't get past. I read them over and over, each time arrested by something in the text that felt deeper than my immediate understanding:
Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? (vv. 43:18-19)
At first, I looked at the obvious new things in my life. I was living in a new place. I was a new student in seminary. I had just met and was dating a great guy, Barry. But none of these realities felt as if they fit the weight of what god was speaking to me. So I underlined the verses, marked the date-March 5, 1993-and let it rest.
The following year was full of discovery. I was surprised and happy that I could still learn new things. Since one of the side effects of clinical depression can be short-term memory loss, I worried that I wouldn't be able to retain what I was learning in my first class at Fuller Seminary.
Then I discovered a great friend in Barry. As our friendship began to grow into something deeper, I found myself wondering if I was too fragile to form a serious relationship. I had never allowed myself before to feel fragile-I wanted to see myself as a strong person, someone others could lean upon. Now I was learning things about myself that belied that myth. I was finding out that my only true strength was in following Jesus, trusting him, and leaning on him. So after a series of on-again, off-again moments in my relationship with Barry, it became clear to me that he was a good man and my love for him began to grow. What really mattered to me was that he and I were on the same path and we were following the same Shepherd. We both knew brokenness and healing. That seemed to be the hallmark of every new relationship I was making.
Part of learning to trust god was learning to trust that he would lead me and keep me on not necessarily an easy path but a safe one. I had spent the previous thirty-six years charging ahead, confident that I knew what I was doing. Now I was very much in the shoes of a child, learning to take one step at a time; as a child looks into the eyes of her mother to see if she's doing it right, I set my gaze on my heavenly Father. I knew that he would catch me if I fell.
It was clear to me that many of the friendships and relationships I had formed in the past were based on what I believed I could offer someone. Now my heart was tuned to find others who were following after the Shepherd in simple trust.
One of my fondest moments of that time is the gift of my friendship with Frank and Marlene Rice. Marlene got my telephone number from a mutual friend and called me to suggest we meet for lunch. From that first meeting I knew we'd be friends for life. Marlene is funny and kind and a little eccentric. She has a passion to share the love of Christ at every opportunity. At that time, Marlene worked with open Doors with Brother Andrew, an organization supporting the persecuted church around the world. I liked the fact that she was deeply spiritual but not in the least judgmental. I had no way of knowing that god was about to use her to open a door to a new resurrected life.
Bottom of the Barrel
The phone rang one morning as I was rushing out the door to get to class. I almost let the machine take it, but as all my family live in Scotland and England, I never want to miss a chance to hear their voices. It was Marlene.
"Sheila, I need you to do me a favor," she said.
"Sure. Just name it; what do you need?"
"I need you to speak at a women's luncheon at a country club in Palm Springs on Saturday."
I laughed. "I would rather stick my hand in a blender than do that!"
Marlene persisted, "Sheila, I really need you to do this."
"Marlene, you know I don't do things like that," I reasoned.
"I know that," she said, "but I'm stuck."
"Ask someone else," I said. "You know lots of women who are talented speakers. I've been a singer and a talk-show host, but I'm not a speaker-never have been, never will be. Thank you, and amen!"
"Okay," Marlene finally admitted, "here's the deal. I've already asked everybody else. You are the bottom of the barrel."
Honestly, that was the only reason I said I would do it. I mean, how high could the expectations be from the bottom of the barrel?
Then Saturday morning rolled around, and I was so mad at myself for agreeing to speak. Have you ever done that? You say yes to something, not really thinking it through, then suddenly it's upon you and you start praying for the imminent return of Christ.
I took a look at my sparse wardrobe and sighed. I'd left my five years' worth of on-air clothes behind me in Virginia Beach for the next cohost, and I had nothing suitable for a country club lunch in Palm Springs.
Finally settling on a pair of dress slacks and a silk blouse, I dressed and dragged my sorry self out to my car. It was about an hour's drive from my apartment to Palm Springs, and I complained to the Lord the entire trip: "I don't have anything to say! What do I have in common with these women? Why didn't you stop me? This is not going to make you look good, you know!"
Lord, This Is Not Funny!
As I pulled into the palm tree-lined driveway, I saw exquisitely dressed women relinquishing their car keys to young valets in red blazers.
Excerpted from Beautiful Things Happen WHEN A WOMAN TRUSTS GOD by SHEILA WALSH Copyright © 2009 by Sheila Walsh. Excerpted by permission.
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