My name is Shanda (it rhymes with panda), and this is my story. I love Jesus Christ with all my heart on both the good and bad days. And on the bad days, I struggle with insecurity, depression, anxiety, and a profound sense that I just don’t measure up.
When the opportunity first arose to share my story, my first thought was, “Heck NO!”. As an extreme introvert, my life has been characterized by trying to become invisible. Fading into the crowd and going unnoticed have been the calling cards of my existence here on this earth.
But in spite of myself and to my great surprise, God has made clear that He intends to use me and the events of my life to make Himself, His power, and His greatness known.
In Daniel 4:2, Nebuchadnezzar states, “It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.”
That’s what my life has become about. Taking pleasure in telling others about the wonders God has done in my own life. I have done nothing good apart from Christ in me.
In fact, a huge part of my healing process has been to expose my foolishness and failure, compulsions and addictions, so that God’s greatness and power can be made known.
My sweet mama carried me to church at least three times a week in utero. And I can assure you that nothing changed after I made my grand entrance into this world. I was up in the church every time the doors were open watching my mama play piano, teach Sunday school, and do the “stuff of Jesus”. I continued the church-going well into adulthood. Even through the divorce of my parents and their subsequent remarriages (to other people), I went to church. At the age of twelve, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior, and I was eternally saved from hell. There was no huge dramatic change in my life. I had always been the “good girl” of the family.
From as early on as I can remember, I believed that if I did the right thing, agreed with everyone, and followed the rules, I would be accepted and loved by others. Therefore, I always did what I was told and followed all the rules. I never did drugs or drank. I never went to parties. I never even dated until I was in college.
I was a people pleaser to my very core, but a big problem arose. All these different people I wanted to please all required different things to be pleased. As a result, I learned to keep my bag packed full of masks. When I was with my mom, I would put on one mask. When I was with my friends, I put on another. You’re getting the picture, I hope. Even as my older stepbrother began manipulating me to do things that I knew were wrong, I felt that there was nothing I could do about it. I worried about his feelings more than my own. I was so desperate to have someone care about and want me, to feel desired, accepted and loved.
I have lived so much of my life under the assumption that I must please God and others in order to be loved, and I can tell you that I have been miserable most of my life as a result. In spite of or maybe because of all this, I threw myself into ministry at an early age. I started teaching sunday school and vbs at the age of 14. I was involved in everything my little church had to offer. After graduation, I spent a summer working in a mission church and from there went on to the christian college my church supported. I had the “good christian girl” act down to a science.
It was during my first year as a college student that I met my future husband. Even as a little girl, I had always dreamed of marrying a good Christian man. Preferably someone in ministry, because, to my eyes, they seemed to have it all together. But I know now that ministers and church workers are often struggling with their own issues behind closed doors.
Chris was (on the surface) everything I was looking for. He was a Christian man who desired more than anything to be pleasing to God. Deep within Chris, though, a war was raging. He was quietly battling epilepsy, depression, legalism, and so much more.
Hindsight is 20/20. As I look back on events, I have a deeper understanding and clarity. I can see how much pain he was experiencing. We were both wearing our own masks, and we were in such denial that we both truly believed that our masks were who we really were. Because of the lies I was living out in my life, I believed that noone would ever love me. If by some favorable act of mercy from God, someone did come into my life who was willing to have me; I had better hang on to them for dear life. And, after all, my dream had always been to marry a Godly man, settle down, and be a wife and mother. My entire worth was wrapped up in that dream.
Chris and I were married in September of 1996. We struggled both individually and as a newly married couple to live the “good Christian life”…living our lives like a big list of dos and don’ts. In my denial though, I would have told you that my life was good. After all, I was living my dream. In many ways, my life was indeed good. But I was still not satisfied. Something was missing.
In 2000, Chris became depressed- more than the norm. His epileptic seizures became severe. Fear encompassed my life. Fear of the unknown; fear that I was going to be left all alone. During that time, Chris also made a job change. In September of 2000, he met a new friend at work. This friend “enlightened” him to a whole new way of living. “Enlightened” is what the friend called it. I would use the term “brainwashed”. He shared with Chris how America, the organized church, and anyone involved in such things were out to get him and were the tools of Satan. He convinced Chris that he should, among many other things, quit taking his seizure medication. The friend believed that all prescribed medication was a device used by the government for mind control. Chris began following the teachings of this cult and as the spiritual leader of the home expected his family to do likewise.
Fear, panic, anxiety became my constant companions in the days and months to follow. Chris had become a completely different person. Because of my legalistic background, I struggled so much during those days wondering, “Do I submit to my husband even when he is completely off the mark? Or do I submit to God first and foremost?” I was terrified of this cult’s teachings and the dramatic change it was making on my husband and my family. For me, it ultimately became about my children and their safety.
When Chris became threatening or forceful in this newfound belief system, I somehow mustered up the courage to leave temporarily. I would stay gone for a few days, he would call saying that he had come to his senses, and I would go back. We went through this at least six times throughout that year. Chris became very delusional. I would later find out this was the onset stages of schizophrenia.
Everything reached its pinnacle on September 11, 2001. That day has such significance for so many. For me, it will be the day my life changed forever. It would mark the end of my marriage and my life as I had known up until then. We woke up later than usual that morning. We turned on the television and saw the second plane go into the tower. Chris had what I can only assume was a mental breakdown. He was screaming that his friend had predicted this would happen. He was falling to pieces,and I felt helpless to do anything that might have been of any value. In retrospect I can see that I had emotionally shut down at that point. I didn’t say it out loud, but in my mind, I was thinking, “This is it. I can’t handle this anymore. I am going to die if this continues. I cannot love him anymore. It’s not safe.”
That week was one of the worst weeks of my life. I never imagined I would ever have to live through the things I lived through that week. So many things happened that week that if I went into detail, we would be here for hours. It all culminated with the FBI escorting Chris to the behavioral health center in Tyler and from there he was temporarily committed to Rusk State Hospital. He was there for about a month.
I did the only thing I felt capable of doing during that time. I started making plans for separation. I found a job and another place to live. When Chris got out, he went to live with his father. Things really didn’t seem to be better. Sometimes he believed the lies stronger than ever, other times he was so confused he seemed to be in agony. I didn’t know what to do or think.
At the time my kids were in daycare. On several occasions, Chris would say that he might “come get them and take them out of this God-forsaken place”. I didn’t know what he meant by that, but the fear that he might “take the kids and run” became very real. Nothing had been done legally. If he wanted to get them; as their father, the daycare could do nothing about it. When I heard this, I immediately sought legal counsel. As a result of that meeting, I filed for a divorce and had temporary orders put in place.
I have struggled many years with this decision, but I can honestly say that in the moment that the divorce was final, all I felt was relief. This gave way to intense shame. I kept hearing the words God hates divorce echoing in my head, but in my heart, I believed “God hates me because I’m divorced”. I was so full of lies that I was believing, just as sick as Chris was in his lies, that I couldn’t see which way was up.
I now see that God was beginning a new season for me where I could learn to fully rely on Him as my provider and source of everything. In my codependency, though, I stubbornly clung to my friends and family for dear life. One by one, God got rid of everyone. He moved all my close friends away from me literally, until it was just me and Him. I began to wonder if God’s plan was for me to be all alone for the rest of my life. Ironically, as time went on, I became comfortable with my life. Not satisfied but comfortable.
Sometime in late 2002, Chris started on his own road to recovery. He got involved in some intense God-driven counseling in Dallas. God was bringing truth in Chris’s life and getting rid of the lies he had believed for so long. But I absolutely did not want to see it. I had grown accustomed to my life the way it was, and there was absolutely no way we were going to get back together.
I eventually came to a point in February of 2003 where I prayed and confessed to God that I had no desire to be with Chris, he had lied to me for so long, and that there was no way that I could trust that this transformation was real. I told both God and Chris that if it were His will for us to get back together, then HE (God) would need to work a HUGE miracle in my heart. HE would need to make it crystal clear that is what He wanted for us.
Two weeks later, after driving 10 hours to stay with a friend in Corpus Christi over spring break, I received the phone call that Chris had died in his sleep at the age of 29. Immediately, I began to realize how much I had suppressed my true feelings in order to be safe and not risk being hurt once again. My grief and my shame were so intense that if it had not been for my kids I probably would have been need it. Many nights were spent face down in the caret fibers asking God to put me out of my misery. I was not functioning well to say the least. And so I began to see a counselor to work on my grief issues (still very much in denial about all my other issues). We worked through the grief process together, but I soon realized we were only fixing symptoms of a much bigger problem.
The definition for insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So living my life of insanity, I did the one thing I had always done. I pray that God would send someone to rescue me. A good Godly man to meet our needs and fill this hole in our family where a husband and a father should be. It was only by God’s protection that I can tell you that no other men came into our lives during this season. It was certainly what I was wishing for. After all, my dream had always been to be a wife and a mother; to live a picture perfect life.
I finally came to the place where I was so miserable in my life that I knew something had to change. I knew there had to be something better, and if there wasn’t then why go on? I was at a crossroad spiritually, and I had a choice to make.
1. Stay the way I was and live my life as a lukewarm Christian (more on this later).
2. I could step out of my denial, confess my inability in all my self-effort to make things better, and choose to seek God’s healing power.
For a while I let myself believe the lie that my life wan’t really all that bad. I believed that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances. I was going to church every time the doors were open, serving in children’s ministry, trying my best to have a consistent quiet time, and dying slowly inside. Doing everything I could to change things… it was all about self-effort. If I just did a little more at church and volunteered for room mom, then I would get the relief and validation I so desperately desired. This was my insanity.
But one afternoon, a friend shared a scripture that was on her heart. A scripture that both offended and convicted me… Revelation 3:15-16 which says this: “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
My half-hearted, self-sufficient brand of Christianity made God sick. Whoa. This was my wake-up call.
I finally began the process of doing what I knew God wanted from me.
I gave up.
I admitted that I couldn’t do it,
that God could do it.
I began to allow God to speak in the midst of my pain.
Pain that was the result of deeply embedded lies that I had been accepting as truth all my life.
Lies that said I could never be loved or accepted.
Then I did something that was totally foreign to me. I listened and believed not just with my head but in my heart what He had to say.
I allowed God’s truth to replace the lies.
God showed me that I don’t have to please others or even Him. I can be free of the bondage of trying so hard, because there is absolutely nothing I can do that will cause God to love me more or less. He loves me in spite of who I am enough to send His own son to die for me. I can honestly say I am not the same person today that I was.
No part of my life has been left unchanged. I look to Christ to sustain me and provide for every need. He is always faithful. The holes in my life are filled by Him.
He’s my children’s daddy, Psalm 68:5 says:
“He’s a father to the fatherless.”
He’s my husband. In Isaiah 54 God says:
“Fear not, you will no longer live in shame. The shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood will be remembered no more, for your Creator will be your husband, The Lord Almighty is his name!”
Today my life is finally not about rules but about my relationship with my Lord and Savior. This doesn’t mean that I have it all together, or that I don’t get stuck. But I do know that when I do get stuck, it is not because I am not doing something, but because I’m not letting Christ do something in me.
Christ in me affords the chance to be bold, take risks, do things that are way beyond my imaginings and comfort level.
I want to share two of the verses that have been especially meaningful in my life.
Luke 14:53 from The Message says this: “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it goodbye, you can’t be my disciple.”
This is a daily issue for surrendering for me.
Philippians 3:7-10 in the Message says
“All things I once thought were important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by Him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ- God’s righteousness….I’m not saying That I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong. By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward- to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back.”
Notice the line in bold in the last paragraph. This has become so important to me. For so long I felt that all my dreams had been taken from me, but today I want to daily willingly dump my desires in the trash so that I can pursue His desires for me.
The crazy part is that the more I learn this art of embracing Christ and being embraced by Him, the more I realize that His desires are becoming my desires! That just thrills my heart.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. May God somehow use it to speak to your heart today.