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May 24, 2017

Are you ready to be Loved Back to Life?



Some memoirs are kick back, relax and drink in the story kind-of books. Others are sit up, take notice, grab a pack of Post-its and a highlighter, and prepare to have your soul rocked.

Loved Back to Life by Sheila Walsh was a soul-rocker for me.

In her mid-30s, Sheila was at the top of her career as co-host of The 700 Club when she hit her breaking point. She checked herself into a psychiatric hospital where she stayed for a month. 

In trying to balance a career and the chaos inside her head, Sheila writes, “If I’d had something that showed up on an X-ray, it would have been easier to rally support, but what do you say when you feel as if you are losing your mind?”

Boldly, Sheila lays out a kaleidoscope of emotions and experiences – owning each one as a work of art that ultimately provided an important lesson in the tapestry of her life. 

In addition to pointing out the specks in other people’s eyes, she reveals the logs in her own. And right there in the introduction she proclaims: “The truth that I thought would kill me actually saved my life.”

But Sheila’s journey was far from easy.

A “friend” tried to dissuade her from entering the psychiatric hospital, saying, ‘Please, Sheila, don’t do this. If you do, God won’t be able to use you again... Once the public finds out where you’ve been, well, your ministry will be over.”

But, you see, Sheila wasn’t trying to save her ministry. She was trying to save her life.

JUDGEMENT-FREE ZONE

It’s amazing how when we sink to our lowest levels, the comments of others can suffocate us like constrictive second skins. Some people told Sheila she was on the cusp of a breakdown because she wasn’t praying hard enough. Others suggested she’d done something in her past for which she was now being punished. Still others had the “Buck up little camper” attitude and reminded her how much she had (materialistically) to be thankful for, as well as how much she stood to lose if she went public with her mental illness.

I became angry when I read some of the comments from people involved in ministry. I received similar treatment in not one, but two churches, and there’s an especially painful sting when judgment comes from a purportedly Godly place.

Sheila points out, “Jesus never encouraged His friends to cover over the pain in their lives, but to bring it into the light, where healing is found ... Jesus never shamed anyone. He did, however, call out some of the church leaders on their hypocrisy.”

In fact, Jesus was repeatedly drawn to the least of these, such as the Samaritan woman at the well, who was “mistrusted by woman and joked about among men.” Jesus not only befriended her, but also told her, “I know it all, and I still love you.”

Same with Mary Magdalene, the tax collector, the thief dying beside Him on the cross and countless others.

Sadly, most people are so consumed in their own lives that they have no interest in traveling to the depths of despair if they can avoid such a trip: “Rather than people moving closer, pressing in to see what was wrong, they drifted farther away.”

As I read, I became slightly consumed in my own hurt, but then I witnessed Sheila’s grace. And the grace extended to her by God. I plunked down several Post-it note reminders to be kind, always, with myself and others: 

“If one of us stumbles – gets caught in a lie, falls off the sobriety wagon, has an affair – the rest of us will simply keep walking, praying that we will learn to be better judges of character next time. We allow our disappointment to become distance, confirming the worst fears of the person who is left lying in the dust: ‘I am a bad person; why did I even hope that God could love me?’”

And this reminder: “Hurting believers whose lives are in tatters need real help. If we were able to put aside our need for approval long enough to be authentic, then, surely, we would be living as the church.”

And one more: “It is not our job to try and shame the world, but to love them with the love of Christ.”

MENTAL ILLNESS

Sheila tackles the subject of depression and takes a hammer to the stigma that’s still surrounds mental illness.

She wrestles with why God gave her this burden, and imagines the Father, Son and Holy Spirit grappling with the best way to teach her valuable lessons about overcoming fears: “We will invite her greatest fears to visit her. They will take up residence, but only for a while. It is only in living with them that she will ever overcome them.”

One of her greatest fears was being viewed unfavorably by others. “I had spent so much of my life measuring who I was by how other people viewed me... How could I explain to people who called from all around the country what I was struggling to understand myself.”
A close friend told Sheila: “When the pain of remaining the same is greater than the pain of change, you’ll change.”

Amazing how pain can energize us with an intensity we otherwise might not possess.
Like Sheila, I’ve struggled with clinical depression for as far back as I can remember, I’ve probably got a leg up on some of the MDs out there when it comes to knowing both sides of the story. I’ve done all the research and I know how depression feels. In fact, when I struggled with postpartum depression in 2007 and touched the edges of my own breaking point with death lapping at my ankles, a new low registered in my mind.

There are many days, still now, that I’m keenly aware of just how far down my mind is capable of going.

On this topic, Sheila writes, “You can try for years to deny the things that are tearing at your soul, but they will not go away. They thrive in the shadowlands, and if you don’t deal with them, they will one day deal with you.” 

WOMAN OF FAITH

I heard Sheila speak at a women’s conference in September 2016, a tumultuous time when I almost didn’t attend the conference because of the mess of my own life. I was living at my dad’s house as we journeyed through his last days of in-home hospice care. My life was at a crossroads in many areas, not just with losing my dad, and I was afraid of what was ahead.

In both her talk and in this book, I appreciated that Sheila doesn’t dance around difficult subjects. There’s a freshness in her directness, and a wisdom that comes from being in hell’s basement and clawing your way out.

I once had a pastor read my memoir and tell me he appreciated that I told my story with “gut-level honesty”. Since that day, I have strived for nothing less and I like that Sheila has done the same.

While Loved Back to Life is indeed a love story, the affection is less about the man who later becomes Sheila's husband and more about how she learns to fully love herself – battle wounds and all – through the never-ending love of Christ.

As for the “friend” who said her ministry would be over if she went into the psychiatric hospital, the opposite turned out to be true. Sheila signed on with Women of Faith for several years, and now has a ministry called “Life Today,” plus a handful of books in print. Learn more at www.sheilawalsh.com



Amy Lyon is the author of the memoir, “Only God Knows Why: A Mother’s Memoir of Death and Rebirth,” and the inspirational romance, “Divine Interruption.” You can connect with her at www.amylyon.com


November 1, 2015

Volunteering: I didn't think I was making a difference

This was considered a "nicer" shelter, because guests had space between mats.
When I volunteered at the homeless shelter in Minneapolis, I often became overwhelmed. There was so much need and so much pain, and I was only one person. I’m sure I sounded like a broken record, telling my friend Jen that it was too draining on me and I didn’t think I could do it anymore. Every night we saw the same people and it seemed like very few of them wanted to escape homelessness.

She was the voice of reason, reminding me that I was focused on me when I should be focused on them. At times the feeling that I couldn’t make a real difference was so debilitating that I wanted to turn away from volunteering all together. Maybe focus instead on something I could control. 

I see now that it was a defining moment for me. I didn’t turn away because I couldn’t. The pull was too strong and it was in those moments - trying to coordinate how we would find volunteers to feed 50 men and women every night – that I saw the hand of God most clearly. There was not one night in that shelter’s first year that those men and women went without dinner.


I can’t even tell you how many times Jen and I marveled at the miracles: We had no one scheduled for dinner and received a call that D’Amico and Sons had leftovers from a catering party that afternoon and the leftovers just so happened to be enough to feed 50 people; the church group that was looking for a place to volunteer and just so happened to have a group of 8 ready to go the night we needed them; the delivery of Subway sandwiches “just because” on a night that our dinner group had canceled.

It has taken me years to learn that my role as a volunteer is not to save the world or even to save one person. My role is simply to do what I am called to do and leave the divine intervention – the miracles – to God. I just need to show up and trust that he’s got it covered.

The homeless shelter at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis – now in its FIFTH year – opens again for the season Nov. 1. It’s an “overflow” shelter of a larger Salvation Army operation, open November-April, specifically to shelter guests from the cold. This morning I prayed for their opening, and specifically for a flood of volunteers this season. Then I got curious and visited their volunteer page to see how many dinner crews were signed up already for November. Here’s what I found: November is booked solid. Beyond that, nearly every night of the week has a volunteer group scheduled to serve meals through April 2016. THROUGH April!

That first year was a challenge, to say the least, but every single thing done by every single volunteer during that first year helped lay the foundation on which the shelter has been built and continues to thrive. I got word recently that they are even in talks about becoming a year-round shelter! Only God...

We don’t always see the fruits of our labors, but it has to be enough to trust that we’re where God needs us to be. But first we have to be there, show up, even when it seems like our presence couldn’t possibly make a meaningful impact in the world.

Even when... “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” – Mother Teresa

VIDEO

October 23, 2015

A visit from grief on an ordinary day

It’s an ordinary day—don’t most days start out that way? I browse the jeans rack wondering how it’s possible that my little boy has grown so quickly—4T, maybe even boys’ size 4 or size 5.
It’s Toddler Thursday—that blessed day when all kids’ clothes are half price. I intend to load up the cart and my son will be set for the long winter ahead.
I hear the bells above the door jingle. Someone has entered. My spine tingles.
I pluck a pair of jeans off the rack. Oooh, perfect. This pair has those stretchy little elastic tabs for sizing. My son’s pants are always too big around his little waist. I drape them over the cart handle. 
I move along and my fingers linger briefly on a pair of jeans with pink fringe decorating the bottoms. Girls’ clothes are always so much cuter than boys. And in that instant, I feel him come up behind me. 
Not today. I have so many things to do. Please go away.
 
I continue on to the next rack, my body feeling too heavy to hold up.
Remember Toddler Thursday?
I press my eyes closed. He’s here. Of course I remember. I’ll always remember.
I busy myself with my search. My fingertips graze an embroidered flower on the back pocket of a pair of girls’ jeans. I never did understand why they mixed the boys and girls clothes together in this store. 
He laughs at my frustration—a throaty chortle—then moves in so close that I can feel him breathing on my neck. But there’s no fear. I know him too well to be afraid of him anymore. We spent endless days, sometimes weeks, together in the beginning without so much as a break. He even infiltrated my dreams.
I turn around to face him. What are you doing here, Grief? It’s just an ordinary day.
He smirks, knowing I know better than that. Ordinary days are my favorite days. You know I like to arrive when I’m least expected.
It’s true. He rarely shows up on the days when I’m prepared for him—birthdays, heaven days and holidays. I move on to the rack of long-sleeve shirts, and he moves along with me like a pesky shadow. He’s practically touching my arm as he peers over my shoulder. 
I like that one. He points to a hot pink shirt with a peace sign and daisies decorating the front.
Me too. I would have gotten that for her.
And you probably would have had a matching shirt of your own. Maybe you’d call yourself twins and she’d giggle, hug you and say, ‘I love you mommy’.
I exhale sharply and shake my head. He knows me so well. 
Can you believe she would have been five this year?
Tears prick my eyelids, but they don’t fall. Instead I think about the school clothes I would have bought for her—most likely in this store on a Toddler Thursday. An ordinary day. During her four months with us she wore many of the clothes I bought for her; others remain in a pink bin with the tags still attached.
You look sad. Does it bother you that I’m here? He cranes his neck so he can see my face.
I shake my head. No, it was harder in the beginning, but now I’m sort of used to you … of course, I could do without these random visits.
He laughs and I move along the rack, selecting an orange and brown striped shirt. I don’t attempt to ignore Grief anymore. That makes him feisty and he sticks around even longer, poking and prodding until he gets my attention. 
I stop and turn to face him. Actually, sometimes I like it when you come. The pain feels raw again and it feels like proof that she was really here. That she lived.
He looks away. 
I turn back to the rack and I can feel his eyes on me. I think I’ve learned how to deal with you. My friends have helped me. And the support group. And God. 
He huffs. Disbelief. Maybe he thought we’d spend every day together. Not too long ago, that’s the way it was. Just his presence had me reeling and I’d cry each snap of his fingers.
But over time, that changed. 
Nothing has changed. Your baby still died. His tone was sharp. A last ditch effort to break me. 
But the weight of loss, and the way I’d come to bend to Grief’s unexpected visits, gave me a strength I never could have found otherwise.
This is a lifelong journey and you’ll be with me forever … It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can learn how to live with each other.
I wait for a smart remark, but he’s quiet. I pick up a tan shirt with a dinosaur on the front. Oh, he’ll love this!
I head for the checkout and Grief follows, a few steps behind me now.
“Hi there,” I say to the clerk behind the counter. “How are you today?”
Grief gives a little grunt then walks toward the door. He gets ornery when he’s not at the center of my attention. Out of the corner of my eye I see him raise his hand and give a little wave. 
See ya soon kiddo. Take care.
I turn quickly to look at him—was that compassion in his voice? But it’s too late, he’s already outside on the sidewalk, strolling away—at least for today.