I am a Christian, but struggle with depression…

Mental illness is a hard subject to discuss. There is just such a stigma about it. I struggle with depression and anxiety. Both of which, stem from my congenital heart defect. Depression is tricky, because one minute you can be happy and laughing and then, you have a trigger. Thanks to therapy, my therapist and I have been able to identify my depression trigger. My trigger is my inability to have children due to my CHD and the littlest things can trigger my depression. It can be a song, seeing something on social media, an email, or Target’s baby section. Those are just some of them. It has been hard, but I have accepted that it is not in my best interest to have biological children. Adoption is my dream now and waiting for this dream…is hard.

For the past week I have been really struggling with my depression. It was triggered by something someone posted on Instagram. There was absolutely nothing wrong with their post, they were sharing their joy of adopting again. But, it was that “again” that triggered me. They joyfully announced that they were adopting another baby, they would have two children under a year old. They are excited and nervous, understandably so. I would be too. Like I said, it was that “again” that got me. 

That’s when the negative thoughts started coming. “How did THEY getting matched again?” “What’s wrong with us/me?” ‘Why haven’t we been match yet?” “What are we doing wrong?” When these negative thoughts start it is hard for me to ignore them or change them into a positive though, which is what my therapist encourages me to do. Sometimes I can snap out of a depression cycle before it really starts. Then, there are times like this past week where it feels like I am spinning out of control. 

When i’m starting to spin or feel like I am, I take a bath with lavender essential oils and my bath salts. Normally it lifts my spirits or helps me to relax a little bit more, but on Sunday it did the opposite. I was laying in the tub, listening to my christian playlist, when I felt this enormous cloud of darkness just sit on top of me. I heard a voice say ‘Why don’t you just give up? Come on, throw in the towel. Why keep fighting?”

It freaked me out! At that point I knew my relaxing bath was over, and nothing would be able to calm me down after that! For the next couple days, I just felt like that cloud of darkness was following me around everywhere. Sleep was difficult for a few days and I kept waking up. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. 

I finally broke down and told my husband how I had been feeling. He knew I was struggling, but he didn’t know how bad it was. I was scared to tell him. I told him about my bath and how scared I felt. He gently rubbed my leg and said “Baby, I am so sorry, but you know what? I am so proud of you for acknowledging that situation wasn’t good and getting out of it. Don’t listen to Satan. You have such a great life and we will be parents. I don’t know why it’s taking so long, it frustrates me too, but I know it will happen. Just have faith, I love you so much.”

Our talk made me feel better…but I still felt the cloud of depression around me. Our church was having a special worship service and I felt like I just needed a night worshiping Jesus and praying. So I went. By myself. I cannot tell you how much I needed this night. 

With my arms raised, worshiping to Jesus I kept feeling that this big weight was building in me; then our worship leader said, “Is there something that you are waiting for a job, financial security, a baby….if you never get the things you pray for….will God be enough for you?” Not gonna lie… at that moment the tears started coming. I stood there thinking, is God enough for me? Is my life without a child enough for me? 

With tears streaming down my face I whispered to Jesus “ If I never become a momma to Ava or Eli(Yes, I have already named my hypothetical kids), you are enough for me. You have brought me through so much, Lord. How could you not be enough for me? Forgive me when I lose sight of you.”

At that moment the overwhelming weight and cloud of darkness lifted. 

I am a Christian, saved by Jesus. Yet, I still struggle with depression, and that’s okay. Jesus doesn’t love me any less. Growing up, I felt like if you were a Christian and struggled, then you weren’t truly saved or you weren’t living your life right. Or your faith wasn’t strong enough. Because, as Christians we aren’t supposed to struggle with depression, right? Wrong! We can struggle just as much! Life is hard, but having hope in Jesus makes it easier. 

Jesus tells us this in John 16:33, he says 

“I have told you these things, so in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

How comforting is that? To know that no matter what we are struggling with, Jesus has already overcome it! Its okay to struggle, Jesus will always be there to pick us up. Jesus loves us with an everlasting love. He wants us to come to him with our wants, our hopes and dreams, our failures, our struggles, all of it. He wants to be enough for us. 

Romans 8:38-39 says, 

38, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is more than enough to sustain us. We just have to be willing to give it all to him. To lay it down at his feet, which when you are in that cloud of depression, that is easier said than done. Trust me, I know! But, when I am in that dark place, I just remind myself of how God has been so faithful to me. Remind yourself of all the great, wonderful things he has blessed you with. So when my depression feel like it is too much, I cry out to Jesus, literally. Crying helps, listening to my Christian playlist on Spotify helps, reading my bible helps, going to church helps, talking with my husband helps, therapy helps, and blogging help.

Don’t let the fear of what others will think about you or the fear that Jesus won’t love you, deter you from seeking help. Find what helps you! If talking to someone helps, do it! If taking medication helps, do it! You deserve to be happy.   

Remember no matter what, Jesus loves you and will always be there to handle whatever life throws at us. He is enough for me. And, I pray he is enough for you.

Verses to remember:

Jeremiah 31:3

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Matthew 17: 20
20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”


Waiting for you…

For as long as I can remember it has been my dream to be a wife and mother. God has blessed me with half of my dream. I am married to my best friend, life with my husband is always fun. The rest of my dream hasn’t come to fruition, yet. My life living with a congenital heart defect is all I’ve ever known. While I had always wanted to be “normal”, I always knew this was my life. I accepted it. I accepted the struggles, the hospital visits, the surgeries, my daily meds, all of it. Everything that comes with this life. It is MY life and it has made me who I am. I am proud of this life.

I never felt like my CHD took anything from me. That was until I found out that I wouldn’t be able to have biological children. It was my one dream in life, to be a mother. To carry my baby in my womb.

I still remember how I felt that day. My fiance( now husband) and I went to my cardiologist appointment ready to discuss our options, for when the time came to grow our family. I always knew in the back to my mind that pregnancy might not be an option, but I was hopeful. I remember hearing my cardiologist tell my mom once that I’d never have children and in the 6th grade, I noticed that my medicine bottle said in big, bold letters “DON’T TAKE IF PREGNANT.” I was so mad! I marched into my momma’s room and said “Did you see this? It says I can’t get pregnant!” My mom looked at me with loving eyes and said “Well, sweetheart, you are 12 and that is something we will discuss when the time comes. No need to worry about it.” So I didn’t, but it was always in the back of my mind growing up. With medical advancements, I was hopeful that I would be able to have children. It is my dream, after all. How could God take that away from me?

So there we were, sitting in a room, talking to my doctor about our dreams. She kindly looked at me and said “Amber, I will always be honest with you. I don’t think you should have biological children. I don’t think your heart will be strong enough.” She then told us, she could give us three possible outcomes, but there would be no way to know which I would fall into. Scenario 1, I’d have a great, successful pregnancy and the baby and I would be healthy the whole time. Scenario 2, I’d have a very rough pregnancy, resulting on being on bed rest for the majority of the pregnancy. My heart would be severely weakened and I could pass on my CHD to my baby. Scenario 3, I would not survive labor. The baby could have my CHD or be born stillborn. She also told us that miscarriages are very common with CHD mothers. That would be another complication and would take a toll on my body.

I sat in a chair holding back tears. How could this be possible? Why is God taking this from me? I wanted to scream! My cardiologist asked me how I was. I smiled and said I was fine, then thanked her for being open and honest with me. My fiance and I walked slowly to the car. When we got in the car, I looked straight ahead and said “I understand if this changes things between us. You have ever right to want to be a father. If this is what you want, then we don’t have to get married.” He took my hand, then said,”Look at me.” I did. He continued “I want to be a father and you will be a mother. We are doing this together. I want you. That is all I care about. I know you are willing to risk your life to carry a baby, but I will not put you through that. I am not going to risk losing both of you. If we are going to be parents, God will find a way to make that happen. I love you and you will be my wife.” I smiled, through the tears and told him I loved him, trying to believe him.

I was crushed. All I did was cry. I regretfully, went to work the next day. Phew, big mistake! At that time I was a one year old teacher and being in a room with babies, day in and out was torture. I cried every time ” You’ll be in my heart” by Phil Collins came on during nap-time. For months, when nobody was looking, all I did was cry. I couldn’t walk in the baby section of Target without crying, I avoided it like the plague for years. I slowly started to heal. But, it has been hard.

On our honeymoon I broke down, again and told my new husband that I was so sorry. I couldn’t give him the one thing that a wife is suppose to give her husband, a child. He held me as I cried and gently reminded, again that we would be parents and God had our baby out there. But, again, I didn’t believe him.

They say there are Five stages of Grief. I have gone through them all. Denial, slowly became anger. I was angry! I was angry at God. I was angry at myself, my cardiologist, at my husband. I was just angry! I stopped praying. I wouldn’t open my bible and if we went to church, I wouldn’t sing. How could I sing the praises of Jesus, when he took this from me? Even though I was angry, Jesus would keep whispering a verse to me.  

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

Anger, slowly went into Bargaining. I would say to myself “If only I had been born normal, then I’d be able to have a baby” I became very guilty. It was my fault. I was the reason we couldn’t have kids. I carried that guilt around for years. Satan loved reminding me that I was a failure. After we had been married for 3 years, we began to look into surrogacy, we quickly learned that would be a no go! We didn’t have $50,000 to $100,000 to spend. We quickly put that idea to bed. Again, I felt like a failure.

Adoption slowly started coming into our thoughts after that. We started researching and planning to take the next step. Then the bottom feel out from under us. I started being harassed and bullied by my employers over my CHD. I was placed on forced FMLA leave because, they felt that I was a liability to myself and others. I had a huge Goliath in my path. I had no way to get around this. I did not know how to fight this. This was the start of my depression.

I don’t like being told that I am weak, having limitations put on me. I know my body, I know how much I can and cannot take. Being told that I was a liability to myself and others, hurt me deep. I felt like something was wrong with me. I started having panic attacks all the time and not sleeping. I felt like everything was crashing around me. My employers informed me, that they would let me return to work, but only if my doctor gave me full clearance. To be clear, my doctor never put limitations on me. She trusted me to be smart enough to know how much I could take. Before I was put on leave, my bosses would ask me little things about my heart, i.e. what was my full condition, why did I always carry water with me, and other questions that I thought were harmless at the time. Honesty is the best policy, that was what I was taught. So I was open and honest. They in turn used that against me.

That was a hard lesson and time in my life. But, I learned to stand up and fight for myself. Something I was never good at. And, that was hard to do, trust me! But, Jesus was with me the whole time. Standing alongside of me fighting.

6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

Jesus never left me. He was right there. That year taught me a lot. My husband and I learned to lean on each other more. I was able to care for my mam-maw before her dementia became worse. As I am sitting here typing this I am reminded that Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. Nothing takes him by surprise. He knew that I needed to get out of a terrible situation, he knew that my mam-maw needed me. In fact, my mam-maw went into the hospital one day, and my family had to make the difficult decision to put her in assisted living so she could have 24 hr care. The day after she went into the hospital, I had an interview for my dream job to be a pre-k assistant at the same elementary school that I attended as a child. And, a week later I was hired. I see now how God’s hand was in the details that year. I was were I was suppose to be, even though I couldn’t see it.

The stage of depression was/has been my longest struggle. It took me a while, but I have slowly begun to accept my journey to motherhood. I have accepted that it is not in my best interest to have my own biological children. I want to be around for a long, long time! I want my husband and I to go through this journey together. Just like everything in life, we do it together. Adoption is the best option for our family. I have been on this roller coaster of emotions for 8 years and my husband and I have been pursing our dream for 5 years. While we are not yet parents, I have faith that God is working on our little miracle. Even on my days where I struggle with the wait, I still have faith, the faith of a mustard seed. It may be small, but it’s there. My dream is what keeps me going. God isn’t taking away my dream. He is making it better, better than I could ever imagine. He just wants me to wait and be patient, because when it happens, it’s going to blow my our minds! It’s like he is giving me a present and I am slowly unwrapping it. I just need to savor this moment in life.

Jesus has been so faithful to me. I know Jesus won’t abandon me. He never has. He will never abandon you. Even on your worst days, the days where you are angry at him, he is still there. Just waiting, patiently for you. Loving you.

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20

Back From the Dead

I shouldn’t be here. Thirty years ago I was dying, but God breathed life back into me. Why? Well, I’m not sure. That’s a question I’ll ask Him one day. But what I do know is that from the beginning of my life, God has shown Himself faithful.

As you’ll soon see, my life hasn’t been easy. There’s been a lot of uncertainty and many disappointments, but God has never forsaken me, or my family. Every scar on my body is a reminder of that truth.

Trials entered my life the moment I entered this world in August 1988. What started as a celebration over a healthy baby girl quickly turned to concern as my parents learned that I had a heart disease called Tricuspid Atresia and a heart defect called Ventricular Septal.  

My parents were able to take me home but were told I’d need to undergo surgery in 6-8 months. I can’t imagine how scared they must have been in those early days.

We were only home six weeks, however, when a high fever sent us back to the hospital. For days the doctors performed many tests and finally discovered that my pulmonary valve was closing. My condition was critical and I needed immediate surgery, but my oxygen saturation levels were so low they couldn’t safely operate.

Momma will tell you that that was one of the worst days of her life. She watched helplessly as the doctors tried to stabilize me. I held on to her pinky and never took my eyes off of her.

My dad was at work when he got the news and he rushed to the hospital. There was little hope medically speaking. Momma and Daddy started praying over me, asking God to save me. Momma said when they ended their prayer there was a bright light over me and my oxygen levels began to soar. God had breathed life back into me!

The doctors rushed me to the operating room where they inserted a shunt into an artery in my arm, and my condition improved. I went home and did fairly well, although Momma says I struggled to do simple things, like crawling and walking. But I’m told I always kept trying.

At three years old I had my first open heart surgery. A year and a half later I had my second. This procedure greatly increased blood flow to my heart and I grew stronger. My doctors estimated I could live into my teen years. At that time there weren’t many children that had lived to adulthood.

I lived a fairly active lifestyle up until my junior year, all things considered. I cheered and even took dance. But on July 4, 2004, the summer before my junior year, things changed. I started feeling very strange and my parents took me to the local fire station where it was discovered that my heart rate was dangerously high. I was taken by ambulance to the hospital and cardioverted. (This means my heart was electrically shocked to return it to its normal rhythm). My heart rate stabilized and I was sent home.

But on Labor Day, the same thing happened and I was cardioverted again. I was then told I needed to have a revision of the surgery I had as a toddler. I should have had the surgery right then, but I was a junior in high school and I didn’t want to miss school and not graduate on time. I especially didn’t want to miss being in the school’s pageant. Since I was a little girl I had attended the pageant with my momma and dreamed of being in it myself. I was finally of age.

My doctors respected my wishes but told me I’d need to change medications if I wanted to postpone the surgery. I’d also need to be educated from home my junior year by a teacher who would come to my house. We developed a plan and moved forward.

A few days into the process, however, an incredible thing happened. My heart rate soared and I had to be admitted to the hospital—again. My poor momma and grandma were in the room with me when all of a sudden, my heart stopped.

They said it was quite a scene when the nurse yelled, “Code blue!” and medical personnel frantically ran around me. But before anyone could do anything, I came back to life, as if nothing had happened, and my heart was beating normally. There was no explanation. Interestingly, my youth pastor and his wife were praying for me at that exact moment.

I was released from the hospital and a few months later, I was in our school pageant. It was a dream come true. It was so nice to feel like a normal teenager again. Three days after the pageant I had the revision surgery, my third open heart surgery. The recovery was challenging. I experienced a seizure and was paralyzed on my left side. Fortunately, it only lasted a few days and there was no permanent damage; I’ve never had another one.

I wouldn’t want to go back to my junior year for anything. It was a difficult. All I wanted was to be like other kids, to be normal. But the scars on my body were constant reminders that my life was anything but normal.

I hated those scars for a big part of my life. It’s amazing how cruel people can be. Even some of my church peers poked fun, calling my scars ugly and making fun of the extra water weight I retained due to the medication. I was even told no one would ever love me because of my scars. That was a lie that Satan often reminded me of.

Their words and laughter pierced my heart in ways a doctor’s scalpel ever could, for decades. In fact, it’s just been in the last few years that I’ve been able to work through those painful memories and start seeing myself in a healthy way. The way God intends.

On several occasions during this time I wanted to die. I remember saying to my brother, Dustin, right before my third open heart surgery that things would be so much better for everyone if I just died on the operating table. I felt like such a burden and an outcast.

Boy did he get upset with me. “Don’t you ever say that again!” he yelled. “Things would not be better if you weren’t here.” I can’t say I believed him and even after that, thoughts of suicide entered my mind. Thankfully, I never acted on them. But I did harm myself in another way—through my eating habits.

Maybe I figured if I couldn’t control what happened inside my body then I could at least control what went in and out of it. Thankfully my brother, Dustin, recognized my eating disorder and told my parents about my struggle. They wrapped their arms around me, kept me accountable, and helped me through it.

One beautiful thing that did come out of my junior year was my relationship with my now-husband, Kevin. God sent me a friend in him during one of the darkest times of my life. Unlike many, he saw past my scars to see the real me.

We started dating in junior college and 8 months later, we were engaged. Like any soon-to-be-bride, I went into full wedding planning mode. But my plans were soon interrupted when my heart rate dropped to dangerously low levels. This new problem required a pacemaker.

I have to say I was growing weary of these painful, inconvenient medical interruptions. Being a wife had always seemed so far out of reach as a heart patient with an uncertain future. And the possibility of it being postponed was crushing. I decided to go ahead and have the surgery sooner than later especially since I was told it would be a simple procedure. It was not! I contracted a nasty infection that slowed my recovery. Fortunately, by the time our wedding date came, I was beginning to feel normal again and on September 24th, 2011, Kevin and I were married. It was the happiest day of my life.

Life continued and a couple of years later we bought our first home and started pursuing our dream to be parents through adoption. But a diagnosis of cardiac cirrhosis of the liver and possible liver cancer quickly sidelined that dream.

I have to admit, this really stretched my faith. It was hard not to doubt God and ask Him why I’ve had to go through so much. But amidst the tears God gently reminded me of His faithfulness in the past. He has never failed to reveal His miracle working power in my life and to help me. Kevin and I have clung to this truth as we wait for our dream to be parents to come to fruition. It’s been 4 years now. But you know what? It is this dream of being a mommy that keeps me strong.

Every day Kevin and I pray for our baby and his or her birth mom, whoever she is. Just like my parents prayed for me. We are already so thankful for her, and we don’t even know her yet! We trust that God, in His faithfulness and perfect timing, will bring us together. And it will be an answer to both of our prayers.

As you’ve seen, this life of mine has often been marked with pain, disappointment, and uncertainty. And I’ve only shared a portion of my story. But every step of the way, my life has been marked with one supernatural intervention after another. God continues to breathe His life into me, and I am so thankful…even amidst the trials and uncertainties.

Perhaps right now you are in a trial. Maybe your future is uncertain. I just want to encourage you: don’t give up! God is able to bring dead things back to life, and create new things out of nothing (Romans 4:17). It’s not over!

So keep living. Keep pressing forward. Keep dreaming. And keep surrounding yourself with faith-filled people who will spur you on and remind you of the beautiful possibilities within you. And finally, refuse to listen to the voices of the world and the voices within your own thoughts.

God has not left you to fight your battles alone. Give Him your situation and trust His heart for you, and His timing. He’s a God of miracles. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Isaiah 41:13