Life moved on, as it does, although I was essentially stuck – either treading water or sinking on any given day. Henry was now leading a small congregation with Restoration roots in a community about 30 minutes away. It was a full-time position, at last, and we didn’t have to uproot the family for his work to begin. I was thankful for both salary and stability. But these were dark days for me. My heart had shut down; I was merely going through the motions, aware that I was miserable, but not in touch with why. I blamed my dark moods on the weather (rainy and dismal), my health (crummy and dismal), and my hopes for a brighter future (nil). Like many depressives, I was in denial about being in full-blown depression. It was easier to blame outside factors: the weather, my health, and our bleak future prospects. Life had pitched me into a cesspool, headfirst. Who wouldn’t be miserable?
And then, a break in the clouds. A church in Nashville invited us to visit and interview for ministry positions. Languishing in my cesspool, I lacked the energy to consider, let alone act upon, such an offer. But Henry was excited at the prospect, and convinced me to pack a suitcase and go.
Several factors made this opportunity extremely appealing. First of all, Henry had a great friendship with the lead minister, and the staff and members we met were welcoming and relatable. His new position would be leading the small-groups ministry, as well as regular preaching, both areas he excels in. In addition, the church was open to creating a part-time position for me, separate from regular ministry-leading duties, as I was far from ready to re-enter the ministry. It would be a fresh start, after several discouraging years in Vancouver. Perhaps most appealing of all, there were about fifty members in the church who were former ICOC members. Meeting this group was like falling upon fresh water in the desert: here were people we instantly ‘knew’ and understood. They’d been through the HKL fallout and were intact – still faithful, still devoted, and looking for ways to heal and grow together. I felt more alive with this group than I had in years. Those of us with an ICOC background know exactly what I’m talking about; it’s that soul connection we share, wherever we meet, whether we’re still ‘in’ or not. With all this dancing before our eyes, it’s no surprise that our answer was yes.
We had six months of prep time, unheard of in our previous moves, and we dived into getting our house ready to sell. Most of the things I hated about the house were ripped out and replaced with something new. Tackling our six- page list of repairs and repaints, mostly DIY, energized me. (At least there were some things about my miserable life that could change! But I was sad I couldn’t stay and enjoy the updated house.) Having tangible goals gave me little bursts of hope. But in April, two months before our moving date, we attended a huge church-planters conference in Florida that rocked my world, though not in a good way. In fact, it blew my fragile little self to pieces.
We’d been flown to the conference by the Nashville church, as a way of getting to know some of the leaders, authors, and ministries in our future ministry network. Two incidents triggered major meltdowns for me, although small alarm bells rang throughout our visit. The first trigger tripped as soon as we walked into the massive venue and were shown the display booth where I was to sit throughout much of the conference, recruiting interested candidates for a ‘ministry immersion’ internship in Nashville, administrated by …..me! The booth had a stack of bios about my extensive missions/ministry background, alongside stacks of business cards with my name and new job title. I was expected to answer questions about a new program I knew nothing about. I didn’t even know if my ministry philosophy aligned with theirs – no one had consulted me. I think I kept my unflappable face on (a life skill I’m lucky to have), but inside I was flipping out. How had this happened? Apparently the lead evangelist had his own vision and had projected it onto me. He’d read my resume, which does look rather impressive on paper, and run with it – talk about runaway zeal!
After we sorted that out (the bios and cards were put away, and I wasn’t going to man the booth), we headed for various classes and workshops. They ranged from ‘different’ to ‘complicated theories about simple things’ to fantastic (Francis Chan preached.) It all felt surreal to me – like an ICOC seminar but not like an ICOC seminar. I was holding it together until the second night, when the second trigger undid me. The setting was a banquet-style dinner for church-planting couples in one particular network. It reminded me of so many similar dinners we’d been part of over the years, always with a room full of people I knew and loved. This time, I knew no one. Without warning, an ocean of pain filled me, and I fled the room, weeping. It wasn’t about being new to the group; I’m adept at socializing with strangers in practically any context. It was about grief: feeling the height and depth and breadth of all we’d lost and missed in the ICOC, as if for the first time – all of it. Sorrow and self-recrimination flooded my soul.
Picture this: I’m walking through an endless wasteland of Orlando resorts – swimming pools, playgrounds, families at play – weeping and weeping and weeping. I can’t stop. Hundreds of tourists splash, eat, and frolic around me, oblivious to the nervous breakdown walking and weeping through their midst. It’s a wide-angle, single-camera shot, forty-five minutes of anguish meeting apathy. Was I truly invisible? Perhaps. I felt invisible, even to God. I couldn’t think of a single thought to console myself or staunch the tears; this must be the true definition of “wretched”. If there’s such a thing as a lifetime of tears, I was crying them, and every thought only increased my despair and self-loathing. When I reached the intersection of two major highways, a dark compulsion took hold: to throw myself into the oncoming traffic. It felt like the only way out, the obvious conclusion to a pointless, wasted life. A life I didn’t want to live anymore.
I’d fallen through.
Even in the darkness, this much was clear: something was terribly wrong with me.
Categories: My Story: Turn, Turn, Turn