The Lord hath taken away

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 1:20-21

*

My life hasn’t been that hard. I have always had enough to eat and a roof over my head. I live in a free country. I have it better than most people in the world, and certainly better than most people who have lived in this world throughout history. I like to think that I am grateful for these things, and yet, like most people who have lived privileged lives, I’ve come to expect a certain level of ease and comfort. I take difficulty and discomfort like a slap in the face from the universe. What did you do that for, universe?

I have what my sister refers to as my Reverse Bucket List: stuff I’d rather not do before I die but end up doing anyway. Some items are the result of completely random events, i.e. not my fault. Others are the result of my own doing. Still others are technically the result of my own doing, but bad luck played a pivotal role. It’s this last category that drives me crazy. If only I had done this or that seemingly unrelated thing–tarried a couple minutes longer here, taken a different route there–me and this particular fate might never have crossed paths. I might never have had the opportunity to choose between door number one and door number two, and thus never had the opportunity to choose poorly. I might have lived the rest of my life with one fewer lesson learned the hard way.

During times of trouble I sometimes think back to that old poem that everyone’s grandmother has hanging on the wall somewhere, the one about the footprints in the sand. I’ve never been a walking-on-the-beach barefoot kind of person, but let’s assume for the moment that this poem is metaphorical and not meant to be taken literally. In my version of the poem, there is one set of footprints. By way of explanation, God says to me, “That is where you ran off by yourself and for some reason I couldn’t catch you, even though I’m God.” Or, “That is where you ran away from me and I decided not to run after you because I figured you would come back eventually.” Or, “That is where you ran away from me and I didn’t chase you down because parents need to let children make their own mistakes. You would never learn anything otherwise.”

*

It’s a dark time in my household, but darkest within me. Sometimes I am inconsolably sad for no reason. That’s clinical depression. By now I know what a depression jag looks like. I can get through it with patience, distractions and a reasonable amount of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I know enough not to lose hope. This is different. I can’t eat, and I won’t be distracted. I can’t write. I can’t make jokes, and that is serious. I tell everyone I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about it. But I can’t do the things I normally do because nothing is normal right now, not anymore. I am inconsolable, but sometimes there is a good reason. There’s a very good reason. And no amount of Prozac or positive self-talk will change that.

What’s done cannot be undone. There is no going back. There is no over, under or around. There is only through. I hate through.

For years my prayers have been acts of obligation. I say them because I’m supposed to say them, but I stick with being thankful for all the things I have to be thankful for, and I don’t have any sincere petitions beyond perfunctory requests–say, that we might travel somewhere in safety. I don’t expect to be protected as a result; it’s my way of saying, “By the way, if I make it through in one piece and I forget to thank you later (since it was a statistically likely outcome), thanks in advance.” Expectations are obstacles to happiness; when you have no expectations, you can’t be disappointed, and I am proud to say that it’s been a long time since God has disappointed me. Why ask when you can’t get, and why ask when you won’t be answered? Sometimes I can’t help myself, though. Sometimes I get desperate and think I have to try even though I know it’s a lost cause.

This is how my prayer went last night: “Heavenly Father, all I want is for this to be over with quickly. I just want it to be resolved. I don’t even care what happens as long as it happens fast. But I know I can’t ask for that. That’s not how life works. Why am I talking to you now, then? I suppose I want confirmation that you love me and you care what happens. But I’m not ready to ask for that yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. So never mind. Never mind again.”

*

I am thinking about the marathon of grief. You never know how long grief is going to last, but you know it will probably be a while, so you really need to pace yourself. I don’t know a lot about running a marathon, not being a runner, so this is all theoretical. I have birthed four children without anesthesia, not because I’m strong but because…well, I still don’t know why. What I tell a woman who is anxious about delivering her first baby is that the important thing to know and remember about labor is that it ends. It would be nice to know when, but the most important thing is that it does end, one way or the other. That’s the only way you can get through it.

I’m doing the emotional equivalent of Lamaze breathing. I want it to be over, but I know it’s not going to be over for a long time. And there is no epidural in Gilead. That’s a good one, I think. The gallows humor has momentarily returned. And then, just as quickly, it’s gone again.

What might a normal Mormon woman do at this juncture? She might ask for a priesthood blessing, but there is no way I am going to do that. I don’t even want it. I don’t want to know what God has to say to me. I might not like it. Experience has taught me that I won’t like it. The only thing I fear more than going back into the world and facing daily life is asking God what he really thinks of me. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know.

I imagine a hypothetical conversation with my bishop, who is made wise by experience and necessity. I imagine him asking me, “Do you think Heavenly Father loves his children less than you love yours?” And I say, “Yes. Yes, I think he does.”

*

The temptation to crawl into bed and stay there indefinitely is almost too great to bear. I should go downstairs, I think. Downstairs are the dishes. Downstairs is my four-year-old. Downstairs are big picture windows where I can look out and see the world, but more significantly, the world can look in and see me. I don’t want to face any of those things.

The house is going to hell around me. It’s my intention to let it go there, to leave the dishes, leave the laundry, leave the everything for someone else to deal with, later. I am in survival mode, I say. I will only do what’s absolutely necessary to keep myself and the children alive. My husband is out of town; when he gets back, he can pick up the slack, whether it’s fair or not.

Then I go downstairs and see that ants have invaded my kitchen again. They’re crawling all over what’s left of our last meal’s preparation. Well, this is just what I need, isn’t it? I realize that my plan to lie down and let the world end is just not that practical after all. My inability to tolerate swarming insects in my living space is greater than my inability to do housework. So the kitchen, at least, will not be going to hell for now. I suppose it’s for the best, I think, as I clean off the counters. So thank you, God. Thank you for the ants.

*

When I think about who I can call, who I can confide in, who I can unburden myself on, no name is satisfactory. This is a time when a person most needs her friends. But I don’t have any friends. There are people who know me and like me well enough, but no friends. It’s partly my own doing—the whole unapproachable, don’t-trust-anyone thing that I do, it has consequences, and this is one of them.

But people are so good. They are so good. The handful of people who know about my situation reach out to me without me reaching first. They don’t judge me. They give and give and they do it partly because they know me and like me, but mostly because they are good. Whether they were born good or they were taught to be that way, their goodness is genuine because I feel it. It is intensely moving to me.

*

I am lying in bed, in the dark. I’m finally in the place where I’ve been longing to be—no obligations, no reason to get up, free to sleep as long as I want. I’m thinking about how alike people are, that none of us is really better than the other. Some of us do better than others, but deep down, what makes us what we are? I don’t know. There are so many variables in life, things that push us in one direction or the other. Our choices matter, but where do they come from? That’s the eternal mystery. What makes us the same is that we all have weaknesses, we all have limitations and we are all at the mercy of fate’s whim at one time or another.

It’s while I’m thinking this thing that I thought I already knew, about how I really know it now—now that I’ve not only been humbled but thoroughly humiliated—that I finally know the condescension of God. We are all sinners and none of us deserves saving, but He saves us anyway. I am overwhelmed by grief and regret, and then I am stunned by a sudden onslaught of peace. I have the answer to the question that for years and years I have been too afraid to ask. Someone has reached out to me without me reaching first; I don’t deserve saving, but He will save me anyway. Remember this, I will myself. Remember this. I’m going to need it later.

*

In the midst of this disaster I think that what I really need from God is a huge favor, but absent that, I will settle for several small ones. Just as I’m thinking I have no right to ask, the favors come piling in. Fate has punched me in the gut this time, for sure. Then, in a hundred different ways, fate spares me. I’ve already had the Miracle of the Ants. Now there is the Miracle of the Library Card, followed by the Miracle of the Garbage Truck and the Miracle of Back to School Night. And in the midst of these tiny miracles I realize the big miracle has already begun.

Comments

  1. God bless you, Rebecca. This is painful and soothing at once.

  2. MikeInWeHo says:

    So sorry you are suffering, Rebecca. Thanks for opening up like this.

  3. And some of us have The Miracle of This Post. Thank you.

  4. StillConfused says:

    When I start to feel a little funky, I find that exercise really helps. It sucks and I complain, but it does really help to get the funkies out.

    The other totally dorky thing that I do is create and listen to my own positive affirmations — short positive sentences that I repeat three times. “I am happy.” and the like. I have had great success with the financial positive affirmations that I have done; the emotional ones seem to take a little longer to kick in.

  5. I just wanted to say, in case it helps at all, that I think you’re completely awesome and amazing. I’ve been missing your online voice lately, so thanks for this.

  6. This is beautiful, Rebecca.

  7. Latter-day Guy says:

    Painful. Beautiful. Thank you.

  8. I’ve said some of those same prayers, and I hate through, too. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Much love, RJ. You’re a person of many gifts, so thanks for sharing this with us.

  10. Thanks for the honesty, Rebecca. I hope putting down has done you some good. I find that writing does that for me, somethings. God bless.

  11. I wish I knew how to help. But since I don’t, I’ll just say God bless you.

  12. I loved this. If we knew each other in real life we’d be friends. Not “friendly,” but I’d come by and make you tea- friends. You’re awesome.

  13. Julie M. Smith says:

    I wish I could help you.

  14. StillConfused–those suggestions work for “a little funky,” (i.e., mild to moderate depression) but not so much for major depression. Suggesting exercise to someone in a full-blown depressive episode is like telling someone in a diabetic coma to get themselves something to eat.

  15. God bless. Desperate straits and depression are a terrible burden to bear. Flimsy posters of footprints on beaches do little to soothe such pain.

  16. Mark Brown says:

    To the extent it matters, I want you to know that I’d eat PB&J sandwiches with you anyday.

  17. One hardly knows what to say… I’m praying for you Sister Rebecca. I really am.

  18. Rebecca, I want to say something to help. But all I can do is say thank you. Thank you for sharing this in the midst of your pain.

  19. This was lovely. I do believe in miracles.

  20. Oh Rebecca, I am walking beside my husband walking this road. And we know all about only way out is through and the miracle of the library card.

    I hesitate to add this. I’m sure you know it already–meds are tricky, meds are hard, but it might be worth checking in for alternatives. Finding-the-right-med-merry-go-round is frustrating for me as a partner, let alone the person suffering with depression, so I appreciate that this suggestion may sound like a a pep talk you don’t want to hear. But–as an outside person–the merry go round can sometimes be worth riding. Bodies change, things seems to work and not different time? Maybe time to check in?

    At least let it roll around in your head. Well wishes your way.

  21. Call your sister already. The one in the midwest.

    And tell SD to fix you some broccoli.

  22. I read your post with great appreciation. For what it’s worth, I function at a high level most of the time, but only with the right meds, a good therapist and lots of help from Heavenly Father. Some days, however, it’s best to curl up in bed for a few hours and let everything rest. Do what you need to do and take care of yourself.

  23. “I am inconsolable, but sometimes there is a good reason. There’s a very good reason. And no amount of Prozac or positive self-talk will change that.”

    Yep. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not give up. Your post sounds like you’re better than a lot of us at not giving up and appreciating any tiny miracle that Heavenly Father sends your way. Best of luck to you. Hopefully, one day, the struggles will seem worthwhile.

  24. philomytha says:

    Oh, it sounds terrible. I’m so sorry. I’ll be thinking about you.

  25. Me too.

  26. Concerned Father says:

    I don’t know if reading this will help the family member who struggles with “through”, but it helped me. Much love and PB&J to you.

  27. Depression kills. Hie thyself to an MD and get yourself on some meds. right now. They suck (as someone who has been there) but they are better than the alternative. Much better.

  28. Bless you from afar.

  29. Matthew Chapman says:

    I have been exceptionally lucky when it comes to depression. Both my brother and sister were driven to suicide by chronic depression which eventually morphed into full-blown schizophrenia.

    All the rest of my immediate family have been, at one time or another, on Prozac or Xanax or Zoloft or something similar. Except my father, and me.

    I have, however, occasionally experienced both situational and clinical depressive episodes since high school, lasting up to a couple of weeks.

    It almost got so bad once that I went to my doctor, but I got better.

    So I know the feeling.

    I express sympathy for you, but I have no helpful advice. The way I deal is basically to ignore a lot of my feelings, if I deem them unhelpful.

    No offense to anyone here, but I have also observed that staying off the Internet when I am depressed helps. I go for more face-to-face contact, although that is sometimes inconvenient, and even painful.

  30. I hear you.
    It is 1:44am and I am up with the blackness. I think you should stay in bed all day tomorrow under the covers and call me. 435.790.1110
    please.
    (but not too early.)

  31. to me depression is like a desert..the normal water that would rejuvenate you in a slight downturn instead has flash flood capabilities. hugs…call for help, pb&js, notice the little miracles..

    I so undertand not asking for things in prayer

  32. I could have written your paragraph about prayer being an obligation (although I wouldn’t have said it so well). I wish we could be friends – I think we’d be kindred spirits.

  33. The task of letting time pass whilst in the throes of my 40+ years of experience with depression and anxiety can be almost overwhelming. Because sometimes it’s not a matter of just getting through the day, or through the next couple of hours, but literally through the next moment, through the next breath, without wanting to jump out of my everloving skin. Letting time pass (as if we have any choice) can be a gateway to relief, though. Abraham Lincoln said, “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all, and it often comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now believe that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now. I have had enough experiences to make this statement.” I have re-read these words many times in my life. Somehow it helps me to know that Honest Abe, himself a sufferer, is in our corner somewhere in the universe. I believe his words. You will be happy again. You are sure to be happy again. But the passage of time between now and then can be, indeed, so bitter. Sending many, many prayers your way.

  34. So much love for you… wish I could do more. You bless others without even trying. Miracles.

  35. I’m sorry you’re suffering through this. Many people here are sending you their prayers and love.

  36. From the title, I thought somebody died. Glad to see that wasn’t the case. In fact now that I read the title again, it seems you meant it as a positive, ie the lord took away the depression via the miracle of the ants and proceeding miracles. Very thought provoking. Thank You.

  37. God bless you, Rebecca. I’ve been there too and I feel for you. Thank you for writing this.

  38. I hope things will get better for you, I appreciate your honest sharing of your feelings in writing this piece.

  39. gallows humor has momentarily returned

    I found that no matter how bad things got, gallows humor would always return.

  40. Bob Sheedy says:

    I’m thankful that I have never had to go through what you have. I want to wish you the best even though I’m not sure how to express it properly to you. You have given me some insight that I did not have before. I’m going to use part of your post for a lesson that I’m teaching this Sunday on gratitude.

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