The Father is Always Working

It is definitely awe-inspiring to reflect on one’s life and remember. Remember what you went through and Who got you through it. Being a Christian my whole life, I have heard too many stories to count of people being “delivered” from their sin or mental illness. One day they were in the darkness; the next day they were in the glorious light. Some people call it a “conversion” or “the day Jesus saved me.” I was always envious of these testimonies.

After a while I realized that my story is no less significant. Instead of having a mental illness one day and being a Christian “freed from darkness and despair” the next, I was a committed Christ-follower with unrelenting depression and anxiety. I was never “delivered” from my illness, yet I was dependent on the Lord through all the hills and valleys. As cliche as it might sound, I began to see the hills as little paths of light given by God to get me through the darker valleys.

Two thousand eight was the start of one such “hill” along my journey. I remember this year with such fondness and gratitude it is hard to even type this sentence. One day, in April 2008, I was sitting alone in my St. Paul apartment, totally incapacitated by grief and sorrow. As was the norm for me, the last few months had been a roller coaster ride. I had been hospitalized in December; got a new psychologist who I really liked in January; began DBT (Dialectic Behavior Therapy) which was proved to be highly effective for me; broke up with my boyfriend of one year just a few days earlier; and was finishing up my first highly stressful year of teaching (inner city Kindergarteners).

The main struggle was I was completely alone. I had been close with my brothers, but all three of them had moved out of the state or country in previous months or years. I was living alone and was out of touch with all my friends from college. I hadn’t really made any new friends because I had basically spent the last year with just my boyfriend. So that day, my parents called me up and realized I wasn’t doing well. “We’re coming,” they said. So they drove over and spent the weekend with me. They talked me into going with them to a church nearby, Woodland Hills, in Maplewood.

While I wasn’t too sure about the pastor and the worship, I really wanted to make friends. So after that day, I decided I would try and get involved with the Young Adults group at Woodland Hills. It was called “Immerse.” I will never forget the day in early May 2008 that I got up the nerve to attend on a Saturday evening. I now see this as a life-changing moment in my life, a gracious gift from God. He must have given this extremely self-conscious, introverted girl and extra dose of confidence that night. As I stood timidly near the entrance of the gathering, a young man approached me. He had a comforting smile on his face. I’ll never forget his kind words, “Hi! Are you new here?” After a couple minutes, Josh had introduced me to a bunch of his friends and I immediately felt calm and secure. I don’t remember the worship or speaking that night. I only remember the wonderful people I met who today, nine years later, are still some of my best friends.

I soon joined Josh’s small group at his house and made even more friends. I was utterly astounded at how God had so quickly answered my prayer for a “community.” Josh and his roommates soon kind of took the place my brothers had had in my life. Despite my insanely stressful couple years of teaching and continuous struggle with depression and anxiety, my small group (and later, the church-Woodland Hills-which I grew to love) kept me literally sane.

In fall of 2009, after I lost my job in St. Paul Public Schools, I moved out of my single apartment into a house with a girl from the small group who I’d become really close with. She had just bought the house in Vadnais Heights and had asked me to live with her several months earlier. I was also dating a godly man from the church. Even though the dating relationship didn’t work out, my relationship with my new roommate Theresa got stronger and stronger. She taught me so much, especially about unconditional love. Because with all my continuous mood changes, I was not an easy person to live with. She was not perfect either and we complimented each other well. Soon she became the best friend I ever had.

Thanks be to God, my depression seemed to stabilize over the course of a few years. By fall of 2010, I had a new teaching job that I liked; I was still committed to my church family and was growing in my faith exponentially; and, for the first time in my adult life, I had a stable living situation (still living with Theresa). The previous year I had also graduated from my DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy) program and felt this program was another incredible answer to prayer! I learned A LOT of skills for how to take better care of myself. In addition, with the help of a psychiatrist I liked, I had also gradually cut back on medication and was currently on the lowest prescribable dose of my antidepressant.

I had so much to praise God for! I felt He had really done some true miracles in my life. While I was extremely grateful, I wasn’t satisfied. I began really getting interested in health and taking care of the body God had given me better…


Beauty, perfectionism and Christian dating

“I am not worth anything until I am dating or, by a certain age, married.”

I was always told I was “pretty” and “cute.” My mom was good at doing that. She would make me cute sweaters, bows and even clothing that matched with my dolls’.  As a child I always felt so happy wearing all those beautiful things.

My mom would also do my hair very “pretty.”As I got older, she taught me how to “do” my hair (and later makeup) correctly. I later realized being able to do one’s hair without help was a sort of a coming-of-age event for the girls in my family.

Most things I learned about girls and women I learned from my family. My mom, her sisters and my grandma, always presented themselves well. Always beautiful, hair styled, makeup on, impeccable outfits and matching accessories. The message I received from the women in my life is that a woman was expected to do everything possible to make herself beautiful (externally) to the world.

I began comparing myself to my family members especially as a teen. I wanted to be dating but we were not allowed to date until age sixteen. I knew most women in my family married very young (by age 20) so I had to make sure I got a “good start.”

Puberty struck me late in life; as a perfectionist, I constantly felt less than. I was obsessed with being on the “in crowd.” While my girlfriends talked about boys and periods at the junior high lunch table, I sat there pretending like I could relate. I had a lot of contempt for my slow-developing body; I longed to be taller and less flat-chested. I was also self conscious of wearing glasses. One of my brothers and I would often talk about our relationship woes. We both probably struggled with self-esteem and the need to look perfect for the opposite sex. One day, my brother made a matter-of-fact comment, that once I got contacts, the guys would “be all over me.” Through comments like these and the influence of my friends, I began lying to myself about the way I needed to look and the experiences with guys I needed to have.

Finally, everything started falling into place by my tenth grade year when I reached full puberty. At 16, I was finally “of eligible age” to date. I finally got a little bit more self-esteem; some days I even felt as “cute” and “beautiful” as when I was a child. Soon, I  did receive attention from guys, but they were not “quality” guys; my term for the guys that typically liked me was “messed up.” I would go back and forth between feeling flattered by their comments and disgusted. Then I would always question, what is wrong with me that no decent or popular guy would like me. I would find myself in a war when it came to relationships with guys. If a guy liked me I would initially act interested to comfort my wounded inner self, but later I would come to my senses and realize I didn’t want to spend time with these particular guys. I ended up having quite a bit of guilt for “crushing” guys, though my family and friends told me to forget about it.

During the later part of my junior year, I fell in love hard. I was head over heals for a guy in my youth group at church. I initially had no interest in him until he began giving me quite a bit of flirtatious attention. During a period of about six months, his actions toward me fueled my passion for and fascination with him. It’s so interesting because my feelings of that time come back so quickly. They were so intense yet I now realize they were all about me. I really had no love and care for the guy. I only cared about how I was perceived. My self-esteem finally sky-rocketed because I felt I was finally “worth something.” Any day now, this guy would ask me out and everything in my little life would be perfect. The world would finally love me. This never happened. The guy barely even talked to me much less asked me out and later denied even liking me. Even though my interest in him had died down, I was still crushed and found myself believing I was not good enough for good, popular guys.

These thoughts continued throughout high school and hit their peak my freshman year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College), a Christian liberal arts school where the common ditty was “ring by spring.” The theory is that, since most Christians are virgins, they just have to get married young; a marriage proposal would come by the spring of the girl’s senior year of college. There was a lot of pressure to find “the One,” that perfect Bethel boy, especially for someone like me whose only dream in life since the age of eight was to be married. Not only married, but preferably by age 21 and to have all my children before age 30 like my mom. (I used to pretend to pop babies out of my stomach with my dolls growing up! I just couldn’t wait for the real thing!)

I continued to believe the lie I believed my whole life: “If I only work hard enough to look beautiful, people—especially guys—will notice me. If can just be perfect, I will be worthy of love.”  I would often daydream about certain guys I met who I considered perfect. Sometimes I had proof that they found me attractive but wondered why they never asked me out. The conclusion I came to was always the same: “I am not good enough.”

I continued to swing from feeling like the most sexy thing ever to feeling like the scum of the earth, not even worthy to be an ant under a guy’s shoe. The summer after my freshman year, I was working full time and living with my parents at my Wisconsin home. One day, I had to bring my younger brother Tim his lunch at his work—a car dealership. I knew that Tim worked with all men and, for that reason (though I didn’t admit it to myself), I made sure I looked extra attractive. Sure enough, when I pulled around to the back of the dealership where Tim worked I noticed his co-workers staring at me. My desires to be noticed were met and I felt really good about myself. A few weeks later my brother revealed to me the conversation that came about after I left that day. His coworkers told him I was hot and asked him if I had a boyfriend. Tim said no and they responded: “Why not?! Is she gay?” Tim, of course, was disgusted with them and stood up for me, but I couldn’t help feeling overwhelming grief and self-pity at that moment. There is something wrong with me, I continued to lie to myself.

My dating experiences in college and afterward became predictable. My obsessions with perfection clouded my judgement and my own sense of identity. The judgments I put on myself were extended to the guys I dated. I was often petrified that we weren’t “good enough” together. I was terrified of how others would perceive us as a couple. I often made decisions based on what everyone else thought. I never really figured out my own identity or, if I thought I knew what I wanted, I would constantly doubt myself. If my family and friends liked a guy, I would feel pressure to like him too. I would constantly berate myself for not feeling love for the guy I was dating, when in everyone else’s mind, he was “perfect.” This came with the territory of people-pleasing and performance addiction.

I had such a profound hatred for myself during those times. I intellectually understood I was beautiful “inside and out” as everyone always told me and that I was dating material. I believed I was worthless, like I, the “bad” girl, was hurting and scarring this “good” guy for life. I was a failure in my mind. I couldn’t live up to all those women in my family who had great men and had married young. I would scream and cry out to God, “Please help me like him the way he likes me, Lord!” My low self-esteem spurred on my depression which in turn negatively affected every relationship I had.

One minute, I would come to the conclusion that he was the wrong guy for me and I had nothing to do with it. The next minute I would think, it’s all me. I am too unlovable and I’m ruining his life. Either way, I would break up with him and look for the next “perfect” guy, a dream relationship that existed in my mind. I was searching for love and truly believed I couldn’t be happy until I found it.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized that it was probably best to heal before I dated, that I was able to separate my worth from my dating status. That I discovered this truth: I didn’t need to search for love because I no doubt already had it. Instead, I was searching for the ability in myself to accept this love. My profound inability to accept love from myself, others and God is what kept propelling my depression onward.


A Year of Bliss (mostly)

The bliss I anticipated my freshmen year at Bethel University (formerly Bethel College) was even more intense than I had imagined. After my first campus visit in eleventh grade, I knew Bethel was the school for me. Maybe a lot of it had to do with being near my beloved older brother Nate, a senior at Bethel.

My brother was someone I greatly admired because of his fun-loving personality, go-with-the-flow attitude and loving acceptance of everyone, including his sister. Through phone calls and letters, he and I had gotten closer since he left for college three years earlier and his happiness was contagious. He would tell me about his crazy roommates, the “suite” where he lived, the classes he was taking and how he was growing in his relationship with God.

Most of all, he loved talking about the dining center where he worked. I imagined him chatting with his friends that walked through the food line, or playfully spraying his coworkers in the dish room. I felt like I knew some of the mentally handicapped men he worked with because Nate was so great at impersonating them. Soon, Nate began telling me how great it would be if I attended Bethel too. I felt so flattered that my big brother wanted me to go to school with him. His excitement was so intoxicating and his love for Bethel became my love. I started to dream about the day I would be free of the bondage of high school and could experience the kind of bliss my brother was experiencing.

Coming out of a severe depression, spurred on by a devastating social anxiety disorder, I began my first year away from my parents’ home at age eighteen.

My freshmen year of college was one of the happiest I can ever remember. There were probably many reasons for this, one being I finally felt “free.” Attending a conservative Christian liberal arts school like Bethel, that is really saying something. I could finally eat what I wanted, stay up as late as I wanted, and do what I considered “crazy” things with my friends, such as videotaping ourselves parading down the “runway” (one of the hallways on campus that had floor-to-ceiling windows on either side) with foil in our hair or dressing up in 50s clothing and playing croquet in the arena across the street from Nate’s “red house.” I didn’t have to worry as much about my parents and their judgments of me (whether real or perceived). I was simply having fun.

Relationships really soothed and straightened out the chemicals in my brain. I felt super connected the girls on my dorm floor, my RA and my RIOT leaders (sophomore girls who came and led a Bible study on our floor each week). For once I was surrounded by amazing Christian women and I craved their love and attention. I also had my brother. True to his word, Nate made Bethel an exquisite place for me. He and I hung out constantly;  I craved his love and acceptance too. He introduced me to his friends/housemates and soon they were my friends too. Together with our friends, we’d go to the jazz club in downtown St. Paul, have a movie night on Sem Hill, or a dance party at the “Red House.” We would also hang out just the two of us: walks around Lake Valentine, trips to the Tea Source and most often, study sessions at Caribou Coffee. My brother Greg also attended college at the University of Minnesota, so he and I would get together and have spiritual talks. Greg was always an encouragement to me; I always left our talks feeling strengthened and empowered in my faith. I finally felt I had a place to belong; a place to rest my head.

The spiritual aspect of Bethel really helped ease my depression too. I felt like a fish coming back to the water. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to have professors pray at the beginning of each class and for us before we took a test. I loved the care and concern my professors had for each of us. I attended almost every Chapel, began attending a local church (with Nate of course), met weekly with my dorm Bible study and went to Vespers every Sunday night; that year, I grew deeply in my faith. I even fell into a regular Bible-reading routine, reflecting in my journal constantly; all the while taking eighteen credits as a freshman!

Depression still lingered under the surface fueled by perfectionism. I was still addicted to performing well and went out of my way to get good grades. Unfortunately, I had an intense realization that college was not at all like high school. The classes were really hard. While I could always manipulate my way into getting an A in high school, it sometimes was simply not possible in college. I slowly started to accept that grades did not determine my worth.

I also lived by the demands in my head to perform well morally. I began to be known as “virgin eyes” and “virgin ears” by my floormates because I had been quite sheltered growing up compared to most of them. Not only this, but I felt it was my moral duty to share when I thought what they were doing was wrong, such as watching a certain show or swearing. I really felt like I couldn’t not say anything. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I discovered more “sins” that had taken place right under my nose that year.

Despite feeling close with a few girls on my floor, I soon began to feel alienated and began to believe the lies that I was a “goody two shoes” and too sheltered, too much of a freak to be anyone’s friend. Luckily, my roommate at the time, still liked me and we decided to live together the following year.

Despite being one of the most joyful years of my life, my freshman year of college was when I solidly began to believe another lie. A lie that had slipped into my mind around the time of puberty. A lie that would again spur me into another slippery, dark and deep rut of depression.




June 10, 2005

can’t explain the way I feel

it’s like everything inside of me is squishing together

I feel it as physical nausea

everything’s about to explode

though I don’t know what everything is

I just have the feeling

I don’t know where the feeling comes from

I am not sure of anything

I am sitting here

getting more and more confused about my existence

thinking about it does not help

but I have nothing else to do

that is no excuse

writing this probably doesn’t help either

but I have to get it out

not I need to write about something else

something that matters

I don’t know what to do to get out of this whirlwind

Lord help me get out of this trap of confusion

I need to break out of this glass

I need to get back within the world

the world I know you want me in

I am trying to label myself but it isn’t helping

everywhere I go I try to make my mark

I want to earn acceptance

I want to receive rapport

to no avail

I never get what I want

because I don’t even know what I want

I keep falling falling falling

And I fear I will never get up

I can never see past my failures

Because I fear seeing my successes is a failure

I don’t even know if I have any successes

Satan keeps bringing me down

I keep forgetting your truth

Your light keeps diminishing

But please don’t let it burn out

I know you won’t, Lord

I feel like it’s all about me

my failure to keep searching for you

though I so desperately wish I could

I so desperately long for freedom from myself

I never thought I would ever be this trapped

This isolated and confused in a world inside myself

A terrifying world away from reality

From the people I love

From the things you’ve given to me

Lord, how do I stop analyzing everything

How do I wake up

How do I know who to believe and what to believe

How do I know what to do and what not to do

What will help and what won’t???????

Most of all, how do I know what it means to trust you?

And how do I make that work.

It sounds so simple but it is the biggest challenge of my life

It is what I breathe every minute every second

I don’t know how I survive each day

I don’t really even want to survive some days

Lord I sometimes wish you would call it quits on my life

But I know I am being selfish

Because I know you’ll carry the good work on to completion

in my life

I just wish I knew why it was so hard for me to cooperate

What is with me that I can’t simply change

That I can’t simply make a right choice

That I can’t simply have the right attitude

That I can’t simply know who to believe?

That I can’t simply know the truth?

I mean I don’t even know if I’m sick or if, by saying that,

I am lying to myself

Am I weak by saying that, because, in some regards I feel as though I am

But I do have some disposition towards my condition too

And that’s what I have trouble with

I am always feeling pressure from others that I should change

That it’s all about me and my choices

That’s why I feel like SO much of a failure every day every hour every second

I hate living like a failure I hate myself when I am failure

I feel like everyone hates me when I am a failure

Please Jesus change me

Let me embrace the truth

Open the floodgates let me know your unfailing undying unending amazing love for me that knows no bounds

Please oh please Savior Abba!!!!

I am so so so so so overwhelmed and weary

from trying to live for others

I just JUST want to live for you and YOU alone

JESUS I need you! I live and breathe for you alone!

At least that is my desire!!!!!

Please Jesus!
That is why I struggle

Because I fail to think of you above others

I fail to remember what YOU think of me before what others think of me

You know my every thought my every move everything about me

And you love me like no other

I don’t understand it

I am so confused inside myself

But I will continue to trust in you as my life depends on it

Thank you Jesus for saving me

You take delight in me

I will try to remember this

I will draw my breath from your power made perfect in my weakness

Give me peace amidst the storm in my mind

Grant me serenity and help me know you are right here

Even when I cannot feel your presence

Thank you Lord

Help to continue praising you even when I don’t even know why.