July 7, 1966, The Swing. When I was a child, my mom would take my sister Frances and me to the swings in the park. I loved being pushed on the swing by someone I trusted. I felt as if I were flying, airborne, without a care in the world. I would cry out, “Higher, Mommy, higher!”
I remember one day, though, when it was just my big sister and me at the park. Frances pushed me on my swing for a while and then got tired and sat down on the grass. A boy who was known as the neighborhood bully came up behind me and began to push my swing. I was terrified. He wasn’t pushing it any higher than my sister had, but I didn’t trust him. I cried and cried until my sister told him to stop.
The matter, you see, came down to a five-letter word: trust. Trust made flying high in the air an exhilarating experience, and when trust was absent, the swing turned into a nightmare. Who was pushing the swing made all the difference in the world. The heart behind the hands pushing the swing changed everything.
September 19, 1992, The Hospital. I sat in my car in the parking lot outside a drugstore in Washington, D.C. In my hand was a prescription for a medication treating clinical depression, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. Every morning in the hospital, I had lined up with the other patients to receive my meds in a little plastic cup. Now I was on my own and it was up to me whether I took the antidepressant or not.
When I was discharged that morning, I had to answer a few standard questions.
“Do you have suicidal thoughts?”
“Do you have an appointment with a doctor in your area when you return to Virginia Beach?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you familiar with the signs of an oncoming downward spiral?”
“Yes, I am.”
I signed a few papers and a girl at the discharge desk returned my car keys to me. That was it. The simplicity of that gesture seemed out of place with the enormity of what I felt. For the first two weeks of my monthlong stay, I had to sign a paper to get my hair dryer out of a locked cupboard; now I was being trusted with a car. The hospital was done with me, and new patients were being admitted. I felt a little put out by the whole affair. I thought of yelling, “I’m still nuts, you know. I see dead dogs walking!” but reconsidered.
A cold wind had caught me by surprise as I walked out of the hospital from the parking lot. It was October and very chilly. Just a month before, I had been terrified to walk through those doors. Now I felt very vulnerable having left out the safety and companionship I had found there.
I decided to spend the night in a hotel before driving the three hours to Virginia Beach the following day. My only task for the evening was to fill my prescription at a local drugstore. As I sat there I thought, What if someone recognizes me and asks what I’m doing? What if they ask an innocent question like, “Did you get strep throat, too?” What will I say?
The truth was I was still ashamed that I needed pills to live a “normal” life. I had resisted the psychiatrist’s therapeutic diagnosis in the hospital at first.
“I don’t want some ‘happy’ pill,” I said.
He was gentle with my ignorance and took time to explain that rather than this being a “happy” pill; it was medication to help my brain function normally. “Your brain is not producing enough serotonin, a necessary chemical for proper brain function, which is why you are having trouble thinking clearly and sleeping at night.”
Reluctantly, I began to take the medication, and within a few days I could tell a significant difference. The most obvious was that I stopped crying all the time! I began to feel the faintest touch of hope again. Perhaps somehow God would walk me through this labyrinth of despair after all.
It’s one thing, though, to line up with others who are waiting for their meds; it’s quite another when you are abruptly thrust back into the regular population. I was acutely aware of the stigma attached to any kind of mental illness, and I didn’t have the words, the strength, or the heart to explain to someone else why I needed this little blue pill.
“I don’t like this, Lord. This is not what I thought my life would look like,” I prayed in my car.
In my heart, I heard him answer: I know. Sheila, Just follow me.
August 4, 2008, The Waiting Room. The waiting room seemed carefully designed to send a message to young or old: You are okay; this is normal. In one corner were children’s books and toys, a table and four chairs designed for little legs. In the other corner: a sofa and a coffee table with magazines—from Sports Illustrated to women’s magazines showing the latest fashions draped on ridiculously skinny girls. But the fact remained: this was a psychiatrist’s office, and no potted plant or magazine could dress up that reality.
I pressed a button on the wall next to the doctor’s name, and a little red light flashed. I assumed the same indicator went on inside his office to let him know that his next patient had arrived. As I waited, all I could think was, What am I doing here? I’d done my time. I’d taken my pills. Why was I back in one more soothingly decorated room preparing for yet another psychiatrist’s appointment?
A door opened and a man I took to be in his early forties looked at me. “Sheila?” he asked.
I followed him through the door, past other closed doors, and into his office. He asked if I’d like something to drink, but I told him I was fine.
“So what brought you here today?” he asked kindly.
I almost laughed. I wanted to say, “How long have you got?” but I knew the answer. Fifty minutes would be the most he could spare. Instead I cut to the chase. “It’s kind of a long story,” I said. “Just think of me as a kid who used to love being pushed on a swing until she discovered that swings are not safe.”
“Swings?” he inquired.
“Well, that’s just a starting point, I guess. What I mean is that I went on to discover that life is not safe.”
Do You Trust Me?
I see these moments now as little movies in my head. I can still picture my childhood park and old, rusty swings, and I can remember the fear I felt that day. That fear was a prelude to some of the bigger moments in life when it felt as if fear might literally consume me.
The truth is that these moments and feelings have always been about the same thing, and I can reduce them to one question, not from a doctor but from God, my Father: Sheila, do you trust me?
I have answered yes many times, only to discover that the question is so much bigger than I ever imagined.
So my book, Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God, is a book about trust: how hard it is to trust, how we learn to trust, how we live with trust, and how our lives are transformed by trust. It is a book about how trust turns nightmares into exhilarating moments when we are fully convinced of the trustworthiness of the one who is moving our lives along. It is about how trust is the greatest gift that we can give our Father—a gift of immeasurable beauty.
The Rest of My Story
Fifteen years ago I wrote the book Honestly to tell the story of my journey from television talk-show host and singer to the locked ward of a psychiatric hospital where I struggled with a crippling depression. To someone who had lived her life desperately trying to do the right thing, to be the right thing, it was terrifying to find myself in a psychiatric hospital. At the worst moment of my life when everything that made sense to me was gone, Jesus called me to stand beside him.
Learning to start again is not easy. I had to relearn how to be a daughter and sister, a wife and mother, and a friend. Just as a child learns to walk by falling down and getting back up again, I had to learn that every fall was a gift and every bruise a sign that I was alive and moving. Honestly told the beginnings of this journey.
Now, fifteen years later, I’d like to tell the rest of my story.
What has surprised me along the way is that I thought that this was my story alone.
It’s not. I am only one among thousands of others whom Jesus has called and continues to call back from fear to faith, from being crippled by doubt to being liberated by trust.
I have a feeling that… you are not sure you want to know how this journey looks. You may fear the pain will overwhelm you. To that fear, with which I am so familiar, I can say that learning to trust changes everything; no matter how painful the transformation, you will not regret a moment lived, tear shed, or fear faced along the way.
That’s because when you are called out of crippling fear, you are not returned to business as usual. You will be amazed at what God has planned for you. There is a world of breathtaking wonder wrapped up in trusting God with everything you have and everything you are. You will discover that you are free!
Never in a million years could I have anticipated what this journey would look like for me. Take a look.
That fall 1992, Jesus called me to walk a path out of the wreckage of my former life, going from talk-show host to patient in a psychiatric ward. That was decidedly a shock, but only the beginning. I’ve since learned that Jesus wants me to trust him so completely that I no longer question anything he puts into my hands or the path he chooses for my life.
Ten people have shown me that in significant, powerful ways, and you will meet them throughout my book. Each time I came to a roadblock or unfamiliar territory in my life, one of these men or women waited to teach me what I needed to learn before I could move on. You may recognize some of these people’s names, but their stories are sure to surprise you. They have taught me that not only is it safe to swing in the arms of God, but beautiful things happen when we trust him.
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Do you ever struggle with trusting God? How has trust changed your life? Join the conversation and leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you!