I’ve mentioned Abby Brown Burle in Under the Magnolia Tree before. I have known Abby and her family since she was a young teen and they are some of my favorite people. Abby is bright, funny, irreverent, and deeply committed to Christ. She and her husband Ryan are the parents of three year old triplets, who were born prematurely and have developmental issues. Abby chronicles the ups and downs of raising three special needs children on her Instagram page and her blog, Life’s a Trip. Her most recent blog affected me deeply with her gut-wrenching honesty.
Her posts and blogs are usually hilarious (“We’re in the middle of a poop storm!” she shares as she cleans up after accidents from her not quite potty trained kiddos), often informative, and always truthful. She is a regular poster, so when she dropped out of the Instagram world for several months last spring, I was concerned.
In her most recent blog post, she revealed that she had been in the depths of a major depression episode and that she has struggled with these since she was a young girl. Fortunately, Abby has phenomenal family and friend support, and she was able to get the help she needed to get back on track.
Abby says that a turning point for her came when a close friend asked her if she believed God loved her as much when she was crying in the bed, not taking care of her children, as He did when she was standing up in church praising Him. Realizing that God loved her even in her darkest depths helped her overcome her feelings of shame and embarrassment.
I have never been through the type of episodes that Abby and others I know deal with, but since I was a teen a low-grade sadness seems to always be on the edge of my consciousness. Every day I have to push back the demons that threaten to take over. Twenty years ago I had a similar “Eureka” moment as Abby that has helped me push through.
For years I had carried around guilt over the fact that in 1987, I pulled out of a job possibility as a chaplain with Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton. After years of seminary, part time youth ministry and chaplaincy training, I was suddenly in line for a “real” ministry job.
Keith and I had just moved to Calhoun and I was away from any support. I know that I did pray earnestly about my decision and to this day I don’t know if I was led by God or if I just got scared. But as the years went by, I felt in my core that I had let God down. Surely He was disappointed in me for not pursuing the chaplaincy job and apparently turning my back on my calling.
I will never forget the Sunday morning years later when Brian Clark, then pastor at First United Methodist in Calhoun, walked in carrying a heavy backpack. He put it down in front of the altar and began taking out bricks. He explained that we all carry around loads that God wants us to give over to Him. As he took out each brick, he related it to an emotion such as guilt, shame, unforgiveness or fear.
I don’t know if it was the object lesson of the bricks laid on the altar or if I was just ripe for the Holy Spirit to speak to me, but suddenly, after a lifetime in church, the words “God loves me” exploded into my heart. I realized that God loved me even if I didn’t have a full-time ministry job. He loved me if I never taught another Sunday School class, never gave another penny to the church, or never even attended. I didn’t have to do anything to make Him love me. He loved me just as I was.
A weight lifted off me that day. I would like to say that it never came back, but I’ve learned that the demons of guilt and shame are wily and love to wiggle back into our lives. I’ve also learned that those voices telling me that I’m not good enough or that I let down God, are not from the God who loves me, but from the Devil, who would love nothing more than to see me defeated.
“Jesus Loves Me” is probably one of the first songs most of us learned as toddlers. Unfortunately, soon after most of us were taught that God expected us to be good little girls and boys. We learned, either consciously or unconsciously, that His love was dependent on how we acted. As an adult, I have to continually relearn the astounding fact that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. (Romans 8:1)
Thank you, Abby, for reminding me of this life altering fact, that God knows all the dark places in me and loves me just the same. Thank you for encouraging me to be honest about my times of struggle and for knowing that God is always there at the end of my rope. God loves even me.