Treasures in the Dark

Photo credit: Unsplash

Photo credit: Unsplash

“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness-secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”

— Isaiah 45:3

  

For many years, I lived in darkness. It was the darkness of uncertainty : Uncertain where my husband was, uncertain where my next dollar was coming from or when it was coming, not knowing how to navigate this perilous journey through a loved one’s serious mental illness…There are not too many words to describe how it feels to live under that kind of chronic stress. I had no one in my life who had “been there done that” to help me. I was in uncharted territory. I spent so many days, just groping my way through, barely holding on, with no bearings at all, not knowing where the next step would lead. 

Twice over the course of our marriage, because of complications from his bipolar disorder, Scott disappeared. The first time, he was gone for almost exactly one year.  The second time, he was gone for 4.5 years! 

During both seasons, life was quite challenging. The future was uncertain, the present was hard, and the past was confusing. I was solo parenting, juggling various jobs, graduate school, childcare and finances, not knowing if Scott was dead or alive, or safe, or ever coming back. We had virtually no communication. It wasn’t like he was dead, or deployed, or away on a trip, or in prison. It was like he didn’t even exist. There was no closure.

And yet somehow, I managed to make it through those seasons, with my own mental health and sanity intact. Somehow, I got my daughter through that time…and even managed to accomplish quite a bit along the way, like getting a Master’s Degree!

How??

Well, the simple answer to that is…one day at a time, one foot in front of the other. And tons of God’s grace!!

Something about being responsible for another human being motivated me. Taking care of her, making sure she had what she needed, making sure she was happy and thriving…that was therapeutic for me, and a happy distraction.

Being a musician saved me as well. Listening to music is a proven tool of healing, but playing music is on another level altogether. There is the amazing brain work of playing the instrument, the beauty of the music itself, the wonderful people that music brings into one’s life through collaboration, and the beauty brought to others through music…all of those things helped me immensely. I feel so blessed that making music is my profession! I think that if I were not a mother or a musician, I would not have been able to handle Scott’s absence and illness as well as I did.

But there is a deeper answer to the question of “how did you do it?” Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

When you are stumbling in the dark, sometimes the only thing you have is faith. That’s what gives us light for the next step. God has proven His faithfulness to me over and over again, and it is in Him I have placed my trust!! HE is the light, illuminating the darkness!

I spent many nights, many hours, pouring my heart out to the Lord. The best way for me to connect with God is through journaling. When I bare my soul onto the page, I know God hears the cries of my heart. I am much better able to articulate my thoughts through writing…one of the many special traits of an INFP…and writing my prayers is the way I pray. I may not pick up my violin for days, but I can rarely go a day without journaling. It’s a habit I formed back when I was 13 years old, inspired by Anne Frank. It’s a coping mechanism. It’s better than drink, drugs, or other destructive behaviors, that’s for sure!

Through those intimate times with my Heavenly Father, I learned how to keep my eyes on HIM. Like David and his Psalms, many times I might start out complaining or venting…but by the end, God has calmed my heart and brought my focus back to praising Him in the midst. I also found direction. Through God’s leading, and good counsel, I was able to hear His voice and discern my next steps, whether it be moving out of state (which I did), or whether or not to reach out to Scott.

“I will give you treasures in darkness…”

In those intimate times, I also found what I call “treasures in the darkness”. This is sort of like developing an “attitude of gratitude”, but that’s only part of it.

Photo credit: Jasmyne S.

Photo credit: Jasmyne S.

In the midst of the darkness, the Lord taught me how to “look for the treasures”. Think about it…some things are best enjoyed in the dark. Stargazing, for example. You can’t see the beauty of constellations and planets and stars, unless it’s dark out. When we go to the movie theater, or to a show, they always dim the houselights so that the light can best shine on the screen, or the stage. Fireworks are no fun in broad daylight.

Even though it was dark in a pretty major area of my life, my marriage, God had a way of illuminating other areas, and drawing my attention there.

Here are a few treasures God gave me in the midst of very trying circumstances:

1.      A healthy, active, vibrant daughter who exuded joy and zest for life…enjoying the world through her eyes lifted my spirits immensely

Graduation Day! Newly minted Master of Music!

Graduation Day! Newly minted Master of Music!

2.      Opportunities to grow…for example, academically and getting a higher degree. Musically, by preparing for that degree. A trip to Italy, to enhance my studies for that degree.

3.      An amazing support system…a mother who has bent over backwards to make sure we as a family have what we need, as much as she is able. Friends who spoke life over the 3 of us, and always supported all of us, even Scott, while he was gone.

4.      Not just any friends, either…but fellow believers who would pray for me and give me encouragement in the Lord, just when I needed it. Or were available to listen, whether it be via email, phone, or in person chats.

5.      Plenty of happy distractions so that I was not constantly consumed with my husband’s absence, or obsessing over if he would ever come back. God gave me a supernatural ability to release Scott into His hands…even if I had to do that several times in one day, I can say that I did not wallow in in the self-pity his absence could have brought about. I was too busy!

Jesus promised us in His Word, that in this world, we absolutely would have tribulation. It’s inevitable. In a sense, this entire existence on this planet is like stumbling around in the dark. You never know what life will bring. Blessing, sorrow, joy, pain. We don’t know everything. We can’t predict the future, we can’t figure out the past, we can’t control another person’s actions…life is uncertain. But Jesus also exhorted us to be of good cheer, for He has overcome the world. He gives us beauty for ashes, and Light for our darkness! 

If you are in a dark season of life today, look for the treasures!!

Rest

In December, I received my Master’s Degree in Violin Performance. It was 2 years of hard work. I juggled practicing, performances, papers, teaching, and parenting. Plus, I still did some freelancing on the side. I loved every minute of it, but I’m not going to lie, it was tiring.

In the years prior to returning to school, life was extremely challenging. Anyone who has a loved one who deals with serious mental health issues will understand how difficult it can be to stand back helplessly and watching your loved one suffer. Mental illness is NOT a character flaw or a judgment against the person who has it, (or against those of us who love someone with a mental illness), and there is way more to it than the person merely being “crazy”.  If my husband had cancer, if he had received a brain injury in some kind of accident, if he had any other kind of “respectable” illness, then things might be different. Instead, there is a lot of stigma, ignorance, and judgment towards mental illness. There can be very little in the way of help and support, even from the programs designed to help. To further complicate things, one of the biggest challenges is that the person doesn’t always realize how ill they actually are. To get them to cooperate in their own care can be a battle. Legally, as long as they are not hurting themselves or others, if they don’t want to get help, they are within their rights to remain ill.

Navigating the stormy waters of mental illness is, in a word, exhausting.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you REST: a period of inactivity, tranquility: mental or spiritual calm.

Since I graduated in December, I've not been able to answer the number one question I’ve been asked: “so what are you going to do now?"

It bothered me at first, because after all, I have a child to feed and clothe. I have to keep her healthy and keep a roof over her head. I have to keep gas in the car, I need to keep the lights on…I have responsibilities. And to be honest, a musician’s unstable schedule (and income) does not go well with solo parenting. I confess I’ve been in a slight panic trying to figure out what I’m going to do with my life. It’s one thing to be in that position when you’re 20-something…but at 40-something with a minor child in your care, it can produce major anxiety!

Then, I realized that I have been given a gift, a “treasure in darkness”. Even though I may not have a “real job” right now, what I do have is something better:

For one thing, I have provision. Our needs are being met. Between my freelancing and teaching income, and a wonderful supportive family, my daughter and I have been taken care of. Just at the right moment, I get a call about a gig or some opportunity to earn money. Or a family member calls and asks me “hey, what do you need right now?” My daughter lacks for nothing in her life, and has never gone hungry. I’ve seen what real poverty looks like, and trust me…we’re anything BUT “poor.”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is this: money does NOT equal provision. I’ve never had an overflowing bank account, but I have always been well provided for.  Especially in these years when my husband has been unable to provide for us, God has blown me away time and time again with blessing me and my daughter abundantly. I’d take that over money any day.

Secondly, I’ve been given the gift of TIME. These days, I have some extra time on my hands. Time to rest, time to think and get my head together, time to figure out who I am and who I want to be. I’ve been able to write a little more. I don’t have to rush around to be here or there, and most of all, I’ve been able to be there for my daughter. I can be more present in her life emotionally and spiritually.

As far as my future is concerned, I am about to dive into a new book by a gentleman named Jeff Goins. It’s called The Art of Work and I’d say that it looks promising for me at this juncture of my life:

Abandon the status quo and live a life that matters.

The path to your life's work is both difficult and mysterious, which is why few finish the journey. The Art of Work is about discovering your true calling—that thing you were born to do.

I’ve never been one to follow the status quo. In my life, I’ve been a missionary, a teacher, a musician, done some ministry, and I have aspirations to write. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not about pursuing money or “career”. I’m looking to be useful, to inspire, to touch people’s lives in some way. My personality type is INFP through and through! I’m hoping this book will inspire me to find that thing I was born to do.

Meanwhile, I have time to rest my mind, my body, and my spirit…I didn’t even know I needed this rest, but I’ve finally given myself permission to receive it.

When you find yourself in an awkward season of life, what is the first thing you do? Do you feel anxious or on the verge of panic? Or are you able to find the “treasure” in the opportunity presented to you?