A couple years ago, a bottlefed calf was roaming our neighborhood and spending a lot of time in my unfenced front yard. My son shot this photo of her sucking my finger. It was really funny, but I was not overly pleased with what I saw. I didn’t recognize myself. I knew that only a year had passed since birthing my sixth child and only a little further from an accident which shredded the ligaments in my right ankle. Depression had been a factor since before that. But I hadn’t realized until the calf moment what I truly looked like – or how long it’d been since I had laughed.
When we moved to Texas in 2004, my life changed dramatically. I went from living in upscale Las Vegas, in the midst of a thriving homeschool group, to a lonely dirt road in a forgotten farming area. The humidity accentuated the heat, and I missed my pool. There were no friends to be had here, and my husband’s longer commute kept him away from home more. My attempts at gardening and smallholder farming failed quickly with my complete lack of experience in this latitude. Loneliness and frustration began bordering on clinical depression. I propped myself up with the only thing in which I could still succeed: cooking, mostly with chocolate. When I sprained my ankle, the doctor pronounced it a ‘disuse injury’. I had been so active swimming and hiking in Vegas; how could I fall so far, so fast? But I also saw that I couldn’t do anything right since coming here. The more I failed, the more useless, unloved and unlovable I felt. I began exercising to at least do something proactive about my health.
At first I could hardly walk to the mailbox, but was determined to push myself further. It was months before I could do a mile and be able to stand on my feet the next morning. I worked up to three miles daily. I was getting stronger, but still had not lost any weight. I felt like a cow. I began running and added strength exercises every other day. I revisited vegetarianism and limited myself to 5 homemade cookies daily (I could only abuse myself so much). The weight finally began coming off slowly, but I despised the dust and monotony of that road, especially once my dog died and I had to walk it alone. I felt completely abandoned by the world. What had I done wrong?
Then we had a near-drowning incident which threatened four of my children and me while hiking on my son’s birthday. It destroyed any remaining self-confidence. My strength had failed me; only God could be credited with our coming home that day. But it seemed that He was frustrating my every move; why would He care to pick me up? I was overwhelmed, confused, and incredibly tired. The 30 pounds I’d lost now started coming back on. It was time to rest, even from worry. Allowing myself to have nothing to do but pet my animals would do me good.
About six months after that incident, a tiny spider fell from the barn rafters past my face. I shook out everything in case it went down my shirt, but didn’t see or feel anything, so dismissed it as a non-event. A day or so later, an ugly, fast-growing lump developed on the center of my sternum. It didn’t occur to me the two might be related. The uncertainty of what it might be, coupled with excruciating pain, scared the daylights out of me. I really wasn’t ready to orphan my children, but death didn’t sound bad. I needed help. A lady from church recommended a naturopath who’d cured her friend with advanced-stage breast cancer. Within minutes of my arrival in his office, I was diagnosed with a brown recluse spider bite – potentially lethal, but the doctor was confident we’d be past it in no time. For the next three months, I was in his office weekly or more while he monitored my progress, brought all the myriad complications under control, and restored my health.
Still, there were no answers as to why I was going through all this. Life didn’t stop just because I got sick. I thought I was a good Christian; I followed everything I saw in the Bible to the best of my ability and tested everything else against Jesus’ words. And yet my life was a shambles. I was tempted to throw in the towel on faith in anything. But I couldn’t. Ringing through my head constantly was Peter’s response to Jesus in John 6:68 when He explained communion: the disciples had grossed out at the analogy to sacrifice and left. Jesus asked Peter, “So will you leave, too?” Peter answered him straight: “Lord, to whom else will I go? Only you hold the keys to life.” (This is the Brenda’s Paraphrased Version.) I, too, didn’t understand any of what was going on, but nobody else had anything better. It just seemed we’d lost the box labeled “God” when the moving truck crossed over Hoover Dam.
As my health came back, my weight stabilized and the depression faded, but I still wanted – something. The emptiness inside was deafening. Old friends appeared online and let me know they still cared even though we were separated by several states. I was encouraged to try making new friends. Maybe I was worthwhile after all. My various readings were dovetailing in one basic thought: it’s not about what I’ve done wrong, or where I’m supposed to be. I’m where I should be for this time and I am safe. I need to let go of my distrust of everyone and everything around me and trust that these trials are merely a purifying force to clear my mind of debris that clouds the truth. That knowledge allowed me to focus on tending my family and accept whatever came my way as good. Somewhere in doing just that, I found that I am loved and needed and successful. I wasn’t meant to be Farmer Brown or Martha Stewart. I have my own niche somewhere in the middle.
So I am once again astounded at the photos taken of me, how my children see me now. A new face looks back at me. It is mine, but the eyes are clearer and calmer. A confident smile has replaced worry lines. All these essays flooding out of my fingertips are part of this new me. I am still unsure if we’ll ever escape Hillbilly Hell, but I have realized that I am not alone and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. I have been given a gift of seeing the dark side intimately and God did not give up on me. Even though most of those around me never saw what I was going through, people were placed in my life who were willing to be used and to invest heavily in me. That doctor was gifted by God with patience and skill to put me back together. My husband provided everything I needed to enable my healing, including making sure that I had the freedom to rest. The elders of my church wore callouses on their knees praying for my restoration. These are probably the only ones who saw even a glimpse of what I went through, what it took – to open my soul to live. I have been made new and now must pass that gift on.
Give me your eyes for just one second,
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give me your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the brokenhearted,
The ones that are far beyond my reach,
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten,
Give me your eyes so I can see.
– Brandon Heath, “Give Me Your Eyes”