The Shadow of Schizophrenia
I knew every Sunday school answer. If asked whom I could trust, I would have said, "God." But while I trusted him for my salvation, I didn't really trust him with me. I didn't doubt God was real and sovereign. I got that Jesus was my only hope for redemption. But I didn't see him as someone who loved me with personal affection, who would keep watch if I let my guard down, who would love me if I were bumbling or broken. After all, I had seen what happened to my parents, who claimed God loved them and who were better people than me. And if pressed to identify a villain in my family's story, I would have pointed to God. I wouldn't have known who else to blame, and I had enough faith to believe he could have prevented what happened to Mom.
One night, I lay in bed and watched the outside traffic send shadows across the walls. Something broke open, and a great grief erupted from my heart. I cried and sobbed and punched my pillow in rage. I told God I didn't know if he was real and wasn't sure he was good. I flung a challenge his way: "If you're there, show me."
It's impossible to describe the experience, but I received an immediate and unexpected response—a huge, nearly tangible presence and a nearly audible voice with a clear message: "Here I am." I was shocked into silence. I had encountered Someone much larger, more capable, and stronger than me, who had answered my challenge in a moment of great weakness, a moment I would not have shared with anyone else. He had left no doubt: He was real and was listening. I began to trust him, a little.
The encounter altered the angle of my life—a change in degrees, hard to see at first but with increasing impact as the years passed.
Emerging into Light
During my senior year of college, I married a good man who has a gift for granting safety to others. I trusted him enough to make him part of my family and to start a family with him despite my greatest fear: that I myself would become mentally ill. One of my sisters shared the same fear, so we granted some peace to one another by promising to intervene if we ever saw symptoms.
Adulthood gave the distance I needed to safely sort through my childhood experiences and loosen my grip on self-protection. I saw a counselor, the first person I ever told about the most painful realities of life in the shadow of schizophrenia. When I told her my mother slept with my old koala, she didn't retch in horror. She didn't belittle my pain or administer testing to gauge my own psychological disturbance. Instead, she said with tenderness, "You lost your mother." For some reason, I had never thought of it that way, and her words gave me a framework to understand the repeating cycle of loss and grief our family endured. They freed me from the sense that I hadn't done enough, that in my reluctance to repeatedly reattach myself to a mother who kept fading, I had somehow let her down.
Later, I saw another counselor, who helped me explore the idea that I had more to offer the world than competence. That part of my calling in this life is simply to be me, and that opening up does more than expose me to pain—it offers a gift God meant for me to share.