It’s been seven years now since the tragic days when I had to enter the mental ward and later the ICU of a Budapest hospital. It is nearly six years since my second hospitalization. Both were for manic episodes related to bipolar disorder.
Although the tragedy I experienced led to a necessary surrender of our lives as overseas missionaries, I came to understand that my story was far from over. God wove new callings into my life, new ways to touch immigrants and refugees while maintaining the stability of a life in my passport country.
And I want you to know that my story of tragedy to triumph can be yours too. Whether your tragedy is from mental illness, like me, or the debilitating effects of chronic illness, or broken relationships, or any other thing, you can live as an overcomer. Whether your tragedy has led you to leave your overseas dream, as I had to, or you are fighting the battle while still overseas, or your dream of a missionary life has never gotten off of the ground because of your struggle, you can know real, holistic, victory.
I know this can be true for you because God has healed and renewed my strength, giving me a resilience I never knew possible.
In sharing my story, each chapter of my new book makes a perspective shift from something defeating towards something that leads to triumph. I move from weakness to strength, despair to hope, endings to beginnings, exile to homecoming, isolation to intimacy, shame to freedom, fear to love, sorrow to joy, war to peace, suffering to redemption, closed to open and finally, defeat to triumph. While there remains a tension within each of these movements, I have seen real victory in my mind, heart, spirit and soul through shifting my perspective — my skies — toward the truth and love of God.
The following is an excerpt from my book which releases today: A Million Skies: Secure in God’s Strength When Your Mind Can’t Rest. This passage is from the Second Chapter entitled Learning to See: From Despair to Hope.
Songs of Promise
As I pondered the meaning of the light of that Sunday morning, I was abruptly moved out of ICU and back to the mental ward. I breathed a sigh of relief as we moved past the eight-bed room where I had been before the ICU. I was wheeled to a smaller room with two beds, and I was the only inhabitant. The old, dusty linoleum and white walls began to blunt the hope of that morning. I was beginning to sense a heaviness around me and in me.
Questions haunted me. What next? How will I get through this? How much damage did I cause my family?
The clock ticked and tocked as I tried to endure the day, eagerly anticipating the gift of my husband’s daily visit. Jared brought my favorite cookies, Csoki Zab Falatok, oatmeal cookies with one side covered in chocolate. He brought my favorite meal, too, a pita filled with the fresh goodness of cabbage, cucumbers, a good sign that I wanted to eat again. I had lost my appetite in the sleepless nights of my episode.
Even more welcome than the food was the hope my husband ushered in to my mental wardroom in a heavenly way. After I ate, I lay on my bed and listened to the calm cadence of Jared’s voice as he read from the Psalms. His voice reached my ears as a rich, poetic lyric with a profound melody I could feel in my bones.
As he read, the promises lifted from the page and anchored me in a faith I had cherished for nearly all my forty years of life. Each word felt weighty, beautiful. His voice stilled me as he read from Psalm 84, a passage beloved by my grandparents:
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
(Ps. 84:1–7 ESV)
When he read of the “highways to Zion” and traveling from “strength to strength,” I felt the tiniest hint of courage to trust for more. Then, I closed my eyes and I rested. As Jared continued to read, I felt sweet repose wrapping around me, and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. I slept for only a few minutes, but oh, when I awoke! There was something solid in me. It filled me with emotion—substantive and real. It also gave me its name, sweetly, yet stronger than gold. It said, “I am hope.”
And I knew. I just knew everything would be okay. There was yet a grand plan and purpose for my life. For Jared and me together. The knowledge called to me, told me to cling to this gorgeous, full-bodied thing: hope. It came to me so beautifully in that anything-but-beautiful Hungarian hospital. It came with its defiant nature, a resolute champion of my story. It came in my size and shape, a reminder that the God of hope could be trusted as he had made me and knew me intimately, fully. It stood tall, telling me I could stand tall in the face of the tattered pieces that my life had become.
Before my manic episode, I had so many dreams that I believed I was ready to achieve. In the consuming despair, those dreams had looked like a tiny pile of ash. But here in a Hungarian mental ward, through his beloved Word, God spoke resilience and purifying fire and a victory in hope.
Later in this same chapter, I show the continued movement from despair to hope:
When we struggle with mental illness, or any hardship, we struggle to keep hope alive in our thoughts, and the battle is often close. In ordinary moments of life, my insecurity bubbles up as I worry about the possibility of imminent attack. Then I hear a lie: “You are not enough to live your life.” Or “You don’t deserve love.” Or a thousand other wretched calls that threaten to darken my thinking.
What do we do?
We must cling to our hope. Let it be that warm ember within our heart. Let it meet the promises of God calling it forth. Let the melody of song raise it to new heights. We don’t combat the darkness with our mental fists, punching out the would-be attackers of lying thoughts. No. We fill ourselves with the substance of our hope—Jesus. He is the all-sufficient one, the light in all the darkness, and he cannot be overcome.