Dr. Katie Brazelton is the president of Life Purpose Coaching Centers and research assistant for Pastor Rick Warren
"God specializes in taking the "weaklings" of the world and turning them into strong beautiful souls. In his eyes, brokenness is not a failure; it is the gateway to a deeper spirituality." --Judith Couchman
My story reveals my Scarlet Letter--a "D" for Depression. You may be comforted to know that God takes any and all Scarlet Letters of willing Christians and assigns those letters a significant purpose in His kingdombuilding plan. I think that's one of the things I love most about Him! In 1975, I was a newly-wed. My husband, Gary, (like me, a sidelines' Christian) was a young, dynamic police officer who was awarded the Medal of Valor for risking his life to save the life of a fellow officer. He loved the plaque he received. It read: "With total disregard for his own safety, for personal heroism above and beyond the call of duty, for extraordinary bravery in the face of imminent physical danger...."
I FLIPPED INTO SURVIVAL MODE
My reaction to the danger of my husband's job was one of denial. It mimicked Scarlet O'Hara's inability to deal with reality in Gone With the Wind. Remember what Scarlet said--as Rhett left her, "I'll think about that tomorrow." Those words sounded like a good idea to me. I buried the feelings of worry and fear deep within, and I began my survival trek.
I learned instinctively how to stay calm in my husband's world of cops and robbers, and later, undercover narcotics work. My coping strategy, a simple motto, seemed ingenious to me: I am Robot Wife of Super Cop. I can handle anything. That was not a sophisticated or scriptural approach to stress, but I was young and didn't know that I was setting myself up for a fall.
In 1981, I was tenacious, once again, when my 34-year-old husband had a heart attack while on duty. That shock was followed by his triple by-pass surgery and his forced retirement from the police department. In his mind, he had gone from hero to has-been in seven fast years on the force. Obviously, we faced more than unemployment and income issues. We were stunned by the abrupt loss of his life-long dream of serving as a peace officer. Everyone who knew Gary was acutely aware that he had a few specific passions in life--to be a great cop and a loving dad.
To make matters worse, one of his surgeons told him directly, "You will probably have to be cracked open again in about five years." On cue, over the next five years, I watched my husband become a classic textbook case of someone suffering from the fear of dying. My specialty became "cheerleading." I told myself that it was my job to hold it all together and pretend that everything was under control.
I vividly remember one of our numerous emergency trips to the hospital. I was forced to be brave again as the doctors used chest paddles on my husband to bring him back after his heart stopped. I stood there shaking. It was that same year that one of my best teacher friends and one of my favorite students died; that my father-in-law and mother were both in and out of the hospital with heart problems; that our brand new house flooded with two feet of water due to a washing machine accident; and, that we chose to get pregnant with our second child. This was the year I managed everything because that's what I was supposed to do.
TO HELL AND BACK
I didn't do well, though, in 1982 after the birth of our gorgeous, healthy baby girl. My hormones dragged me into a deep depression, six months beyond the normal postpartum blues. I know now that the stress from the year before had caught up with me, and that I was merely looking for an excuse to steal what my mind and body needed most: rest from responsibilities. For months, I did little but sit in my pink bathrobe in my recliner chair, sleeping and crying. I wrote in my journal that I was living in a nightmare, that I had slipped into the bottomless hole in the center of the earth, and that I couldn't get out of it. It is a place you never want to go back to--once you've been there. I asked my family and friends to pray for me, because I was so low I couldn't pray. I told them that I felt like a porcelain doll getting ready to crack into a thousand pieces.
At one point in my slow recovery, I wrote, Lord, I know positively that I could never survive another hell-on-earth, black-abyss experience. I will never again have the behemoth strength that it would take to come back from the dead a second time. If the depression recurs, I need You to know that I would rather stay dead emotionally or just die physically. This has been the saddest and hardest ordeal of my life.
My soul is downcast within me.... --Psalm 42:6 NIV
My next bout with severe depression was in 1986 when an unexpected divorce sent me crashing into hopelessness. My 39-year-old husband left our 12- year marriage (we had known each other for 17 years) in the flash of a conversation, which only lasted a few minutes start-to-finish. It was five years to the day of his first heart attack, and he felt that he didn't have long to live. He said that he couldn't waste any more of the little time he had left by being so unhappy. Others said that they had seen the moment coming, but I went into
Gary saw our two children daily after he moved out. He insisted on that arrangement, so the kids would sure of one thing: that their dad and mom loved them unconditionally. The separation was painful for all four of us. I, personally, felt as if a gigantic boulder was rolling over me in slow motion. I was out of my mind with grief. My weight spiraled dangerously downward as I lost hope for reconciliation and signed divorce papers.
ENTER: THE NEW WOMAN
Men should come with instructions. --Anonymous
Next came the days of sitting on the bleachers at my kids' baseball and soccer games, sharing popcorn with Gary and his new girlfriend. People commented that she and I looked a lot alike. I learned to smile in public and grieve in private. I'll never forget the sadness I felt at my daughter's kindergarten program called "Share Your Parents" when our adult trio sat on tiny chairs in the front of the classroom. One of the children asked my daughter, "Do you have twin mommies?" I felt like I had lost my place in the world. My identity was contorted as strangely as if I were looking in a funhouse mirror. I was no longer a wife, but wasn't I still The One and Only Mom to my kids? The pain was intolerable.
I learned the art of operating in manic mode: If you spend enough, travel enough, work enough and become enough of a perfectionist, it numbs the pain. I bought a new red convertible, put a swimming pool in my backyard and hired a personal shopper. (Not all in one day, but almost!) Before you raise your eyebrow at my illness of choice, though, let me tell you that operating as a manic has its benefits. A single-mother, who is in manic mode, moves; she gets the laundry and dishes done; whereas, a depressed mom doesn't. I inherently knew that depression was not an option for me. As I said, I felt that I would not have survived it another time.
A CRUSHING BLOW
In 1990 my ex-husband had quadruple by-pass surgery and died suddenly several days later. I was stunned. He had been an angel of a father and a gentleman of an "ex-," which may seem to be an oxymoron, but it was true. **Nothing in my life had ever compared to the heavy responsibility of telling my children that their daddy was dead.** I sat in the school principal's office, disoriented, waiting for my daughter and son to be called out of their third and fifth grade classrooms. I wondered what words I would use to tell them how sorry I was for them. Who can fully understand the heartache of the fatherless, unless you've been there? I hadn't.
I made a conscious decision to wait three months before I let myself grieve deeply, so I could be more emotionally available to my kids. One day, without my permission, a mild depression began hanging around me like a dark storm cloud. In due time, I demanded that it move on.
"I still have bad days, but that's okay. I used to have bad years." --Anonymous
LAID OFF UNEXPECTEDLY
Depression struck again in 1992 when I was laid off from my job due to a corporate reorganization. Although company managers were sympathetic and ever-so-careful with my feelings when they gave me the awful news, my disoriented mind translated their gentle statements into harsh language along these lines: Faithful and loyal employee--you're fired; go home now. Here is your severance paycheck and package, along with the telephone number of your new best friend, your outplacement counselor.
I felt like somebody had slapped me, and I wanted to scream, "I'll go home when I'm good and ready." The ensuing depression was not debilitating, but it shook my world because I was the sole support of my children by then. In addition, I had foolishly purchased a new home four months prior without having sold my other residence. Obviously, I had not anticipated the infamous call from Human Resources. And you know what? You can't just take a house back to a customer service counter and say, "I'd like to return this. I already have one of these."
It was tough on my ego, as well, because my job had been a cushy, executive Public Relations job. Basically, I had been schmoozing for a living. And, I was good at it! A few months prior, for example, I had flown in a helicopter with the Chairman of the Board to attend a luncheon and, later that evening, entertained constituents at a ballet. To make matters worse, my job was eliminated 18 days before Christmas, which happens to be the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I felt like my little paradise island had just been bombed, while I was supposed to be saying, "Merry Christmas, kids!"
"Be true to the grief and feelings until they're all played out. There is no formula." --Stanlee Phelps, my new best friend
After those bouts with debilitating depression and expensive mania, I settled into a fairly stable time of my life, better understanding God's faithfulness through difficult situations. My life purpose was still no clearer than an unframed jigsaw puzzle, but the picture on the box assured me that somebody had a plan--even though it definitely wasn't me. Believing that gave me hope. When I stopped long enough to analyze what had turned my life around, I realized that it had everything to do with God directing my steps into that belief and down a pathway of spiritual growth. These are the stages of Christian maturity that I describe in this book: Hope, Inner Peace, Relationships, Surrender, Service, Character and God's Dream.
Just one quick example here that is not mentioned elsewhere: I will be forever grateful for a young pastor who emphasized Bible reading during regularly scheduled quiet times. He said to start with three-minute sessions and see where God would lead after that. As I practiced that spiritual discipline, I could feel myself being drawn into the arms of Jesus, which allowed me to give up trying to be God. I discovered that nothing compared to those few minutes per day with Jesus, the miracle worker. In time spent with Him and His Word, I came to realize that depression, fear and pride run in packs, feeding off the same decaying carcass. Once I was aware of the deadly triune, I asked God to turn my powerlessness into strength. He was gracious enough to do that for me.
To this day, I am still prone to sadness, but I'm just much more careful with applying the brakes (physically, mentally and spiritually) on what could be a runaway train. You know the drill--watching what you eat, how often you exercise, how you talk to yourself and taking time to pray. (For those suffering from a chemical depression, medicine is also a must.) It all matters in the balancing act called "health."
YEARS LATER, THE PUZZLE PIECES ALL FIT TOGETHER
In hindsight, I understand that God had given me a variety of important assignments for the entire 18-year period that I've sketched out for you. My first and foremost purpose was to get to know God and to understand that I had value because He created me, not because of what I could do for Him. My secondary purpose was to be a good wife and mother, helping to raise our son and daughter as godly people. At different times, I was called upon to be a good daughter, sister, relative, friend, employee, church volunteer, neighbor or student.
Obviously, I handled some roles better than others. (My kids had easygoing personalities, by the way, which was a godsend.) One of my biggest problems--when there was no depressing crisis looming--was trying to understand the sacred monotony of some of my basic chores, like house cleaning and cooking. As comedian Phyllis Diller has said, "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." And, humorist Peg Bracken summed up one of my other issues with, "You don't get over hating to cook, any more than you get over having big feet."
The challenge of difficult life stages (the crises, as well as the grueling tedium of day-to-day living) is that they can feel like they'll never end. You know intuitively that circumstances do eventually shift, but it's hard to see the end of the trial when you are going through it. I needed to memorize and hold onto the Scripture that says "The LORD is close to those whose hearts are breaking and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Little did I suspect, all those years, that I had been assigned a distinct purpose in each of my roles and each of my life events. Neither did I realize that both types of experiences were giving me the substance I would need later to minister to others. I didn't understand that my maturing purpose was preparing me to offer hope to women, the same hope that God kept giving me by pulling me through each day. Sometimes He attended to me one moment at a time, as **I watched the slow second-hand on the clock and begged, "God, if you have any compassion left for me, get me through the next second."** I didn't know that part of my message as an encourager to women would be, "The only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one minute to the next."
Appraising the spiritual value and merit of my daily, unapplauded purposes in life (regarding both the tiny and the monstrous things) had been confusing to me. Sometimes, I wondered, "Does how hard I work today or how well I cope today matter, anyway, in the greater scheme of things?" Other times, I only equated self-worth with heroic effort. I couldn't see the total picture. My frustration turned into a grueling process of personal scrutiny for answers regarding significance. I would not wish my method of discovering my life purposes on anyone.
Does it sound like I was ready to hear from God on a far-reaching, high-impact assignment back then? Of course not. If only someone had told me years earlier that God is, indeed, in the details of our "day in and day out" problems. If someone had told me that the most important stuff that happens in life is that which is usually challenging, rarely exhilarating and frequently impossible. The hope I needed to keep trudging through the hopeless situations was a simple comprehension that God, who is an amazingly kind God, never wastes a hurt. He uses it all to prepare our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to receive Him and to serve Him. I needed someone to guide me to this incredible Bible passage:
But blessed is the [wo]man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his [her] hope and confidence. [S]he is like a tree planted along a riverbank, with its roots reaching deep into the water--a tree not bothered by the heat nor worried by long months of drought. Its leaves stay green, and it goes right on producing all its luscious fruit.
Now I better understand that my God is a wise God. He is using my battle with depression to allow me to empathize with women in whom discouragement and despair are running rampant, with women who have been through everyday craziness or unspeakable crises. What a privilege it is for me to comfort women while they discern, prioritize, appreciate and balance the work God has scheduled for them to do both now and later (a special emphasis on the word now.) How blessed and useful I feel when I help a woman save time and tears. Only God could have orchestrated goodness out of my pain. Thank you, God, for having such a sweet plan for my life.
RECOMMENDED ACTION STEP FOR READER: Type up your testimony!
Dr. Katie Brazelton, Ph.D., M.Div., M.A., is a Life Coach and the bestselling author of the popular Pathway to Purpose for Women book series (Zondervan). She is also the founder of Life Purpose Coaching Centers, International®, which trains Christian men and women internationally to become Life Purpose Coaches and two-day-intensive Life Plan Facilitators.
Prior to the book series launch in 2005, Katie Brazelton worked at Saddleback Church (where Rick Warren is pastor) in various roles over # years: Director of Women's Bible Studies, Director of Golden Gate Theological Seminary, Director of Research for Dr. Rick Warren, and as a Licensed Minister. Before coming to work at Saddleback Church, Katie held positions as Director of Public Relations for a multi-million-dollar medical laboratory and as Vice President of Curriculum Development for an ethics education company. Katie also taught English classes at local colleges for five years. Today Katie is focused on fulfilling her God-given dream of opening 200 Life Purpose Coaching Centers worldwide. Visit www.LifePurposeCoachingCenters.com for details.
Katie spends a great many of her days talking with women about their God-given dreams, passions, and purposes. Her calling to help women discover their life purposes led her to Calcutta to talk to Mother Teresa about joy; to Belfast as a guest of Ireland's Nobel Peace Laureate to discuss inner peace; and to the tiny island of Malta to study St. Paul's time of shipwreck.
Katie has been a featured guest on national television and radio shows such as "100 Huntley Street," "HomeWord," "Midday Connection," and her print interviews include Today's Christian Woman (TCW) and www.pastors.com. Katie has been a columnist for www.purposedriven.com and TCW, and she is currently a regular columnist for Extraordinary Women magazine, published by the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). She has spoken at such venues as AACC's World Conference and Focus on the Family. She is a Rockbridge Seminary professor.
Katie has two adult children and a daughter-in-law who enjoy each other's company in Southern California. Katie was thrilled to become a first-time grandma in 2006.