You Are Not Disqualified

It was the thing I feared most.

Over the year-long process of applying with our sending agency, we filled out forms, questionnaires, biblical exams and testimonies. A thick brown envelope appeared on our doorstep, the latest of many mailed communications from the agency. All signs up till now confirmed our calling, and the final step before we were invited to candidate orientation had finally arrived: a psychological evaluation.

I’ll have to tell them, I thought, anxiety building. I’ll tell them, and that’ll be the end.

So I set the weighty packet on our kitchen table.

I looked at it.

Paced around it.

Washed the dishes.

Moved it around a little bit.

I let Matt complete his evaluation first.

“It’s not so bad,” he said, soothingly. “It will be ok.”

But will it? How do I tell them about the mental breakdown five years earlier, when at age 20 I found myself on a daily cocktail of antidepressants? How do I tell them about the year of post partum depression I was just now recovering from, the still-lingering battle with anxiety?

How will our marriage survive when they reject us, disqualify my husband for ministry overseas, because of my illness?

I did not foresee Margene’s tender voice at the end of the telephone, assigned as our member care worker during the application process. I didn’t realize there existed a common thread in cross-cultural ministry: single women, wives and mothers who fought the same battles with sanity. I didn’t expect open arms and understanding words of encouragement when we arrived at orientation. And I was flabbergasted when they accepted us, appointed us, told us that God would use my story for his glory overseas.

You are not disqualified, they said. You are more than qualified.

As we prepared for departure, Margene and I formulated a series of preempting steps. Life on the field will trigger your stressors, she told me, encouraging me to work with a counselor and specify coping mechanisms. Member care was our advocate for sanity and health. When times of crisis hit – which, of course, they did! They do! – our already established relationship motivated us to reach out and seek help.

I found safe people on the field, one within our organization and one on the outside. These were women who I could be normal with, and abnormal with! Sanity was not an everyday struggle, but on some days it hovered as a threatening storm cloud. When thunder rumbled in the distance, I had people who would pray and meet me for coffee, who had walked similar paths and knew which direction to go.

Matt and I came up with an emotional health plan, deciding what we each need to maintain emotional and spiritual health. When he has reached his stress limit, he needs a day praying in the mountains or a weekend spent on woodworking projects. When I reach mine, I head to the sea or hide under the covers with my trusty box set of the series Alias (Sydney Bristow has never let me down). I’ll spend a day in the city at art museums or bookshops, breathing in the bits of life and culture that feed my spirit.

We also devised a “mad map.” Similar to a health directive, we have made decisions on what will happen if the worst happens. This includes tough answers to tough questions: What meds are necessary and when do I start them? When do we need to return to our passport country? How are our children doing mentally and emotionally, and can we find the resources they need here?

And we have given ourselves permission. We have permission to go to counseling, to get on meds, to go home if we need to and – the most difficult thing of all – to share our story. As I sat down to write this essay, I filled Matt in on what it would entail. My story is his story, after all. “Does that sound OK?” I asked him.

“You always have permission to share our story,” he tells me, over and over again.

The more we share it, the more I find we are not alone in it. For some reason, God calls the crazies overseas (in more ways than one!). And what they tell me, I gladly pass on to you:

You are not disqualified.

Whether it’s mental illness, emotional stress, spiritual dryness, loneliness or heartache, you are not disqualified. The Spirit of God is alive and at work in you. Be intentional, make a plan and find a safe place so that on the days or in the months He feels far away, you know what to do and you know the truth to believe in:

Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 

1 John 3:19-20: This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 

Don’t ignore your issues, but don’t disqualify yourself, either. He knows our hearts and minds better than we do, better than any psych eval ever could.

And if He does not condemn us, neither should anyone else… including, ourselves.

Have you felt disqualified from serving overseas because of your “issues?” How do you intentionally focus on mental and spiritual health?

17 Comments

  1. Laura June 2, 2015

    Karen,

    Thank you for sharing your story! I could relate to having a plan about how to deal with struggles on the field; I’ve been there too. And I still wish we could have met before I left Ireland!

  2. Rhonda June 2, 2015

    Thank you for sharing Karen!

  3. Jennifer June 3, 2015

    Karen,

    Thank you for this. One thing that stands out to me is that regardless of the label we may or may not give it, there is a sense in which we all have “issues” at one time or other, especially with the different challenges and stresses we face living cross-culturally, and all need strategies of one kind or another to use when our “issues” overwhelm us for a time, whether it is for an hour or a longer time. There is tremendous wisdom inherent in getting to know ourselves and planning ahead or just thinking proactively, about what we know works for us. As you said so clearly, different things work for your husband and you. I have learnt I need to give myself permission to do the things that work for me, whatever they are, and where possible not do the things which make it worse, even when other people may not understand. I think the starting point in this lies in accepting ourselves as we are, with our strengths and with our weaknesses, and not being afraid to be open in appropriate contexts with our weaknesses or challenges. Often it seems to be that which breaks down more barriers than anything else I have ever seen.

    1. Karen Huber June 3, 2015

      You’re so right, and my issues seem to change constantly. Ha! 🙂 I really appreciate your comment and your reminder to accept ourselves and live with proactive intention. I still need to practice this!

  4. Casey June 3, 2015

    Wow. I’m so thankful you chose to share your story. It filled my heart with joy, and your words were so comforting! The first church we tried to move overseas with told us we had to have ALL of our problems worked out completely before the field. They gave us a list of character qualities we need to have before they would send us. It was two pages front and back. We didn’t go with that church, needless to say. Our next church started supporting us after we were on the field. When we said we were struggling, they told us not tell be so negative in our reports to them! We are currently talking with a church about overseeing our work. I’m so gun-shy! Our first email to one of the elders spoke about my depressions. The elder wrote back about his own wife’s depression while they were overseas, how they handled it, and how they would pray earnestly for us and support us in any way we needed. For the first time, I was deemed “qualified” WHILE depressed. Truly, when we are weak He is strong. I’m so glad you have given us all permission with your post to be qualified with God’s criteria.

    I also love the practical aspect of this post. It is so important to learn triggers and to make plans. In addition to that, I am finding that even those change over time. I must be willing to re-evaluate trigger and plans as I move through life. I need to also be in regular dialogue with my husband as he, too, changes and matures. Thankfully, I am a planning addict, so I enjoy this part of per-emptively attacking depression and struggles. Thanks, again, for sharin gyour story!

     

    1. Karen Huber June 3, 2015

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Casey. The struggle with churches is real, is it not? It’s hard to reach out in a place of trust and safety when you’ve been hurt or burned, or worse, rejected. I’m so glad the elder/church you’re communicating with now has responded in love, understanding and empowerment. And you ARE qualified. 🙂

      And thank you for the reminder on reevaluating triggers. That is so important! One of my triggers used to be moving (or anticipating an impending move). Every two years, nearly on the dot, the anxiety would hit. Then, when we were coming up on two years with no impending move in sight, a different sort of anxiety set in as I hadn’t yet learnt to cope with staying. It’s so good to take stock of where we’re at, how we respond, and the actions we are in control of, so that when the uncontrollable happens (which it will), we have a plan in place. Thanks for touching on that! And praying for you as you reach out. x

  5. ErinMP June 3, 2015

    Thank you!

  6. laura r June 4, 2015

    My first response was, “What? Wait a minute.  You had member care during your application process?”  Bravo to your organization or to whomever saw fit to make that happen.

    Thank you for living your life in the light and for bringing it to the light by sharing it.

    1. Karen Huber June 5, 2015

      Laura, I didn’t even realise some orgs DON’T have member care. Why???? I can’t imagine not having that as an option to go to, admittedly sometimes as a last resort. And I do wonder if they were more hands-on with me during application/appointment because of my past circumstances. Thanks for the comment and encouragement. 🙂

      1. laura r June 5, 2015

        I don’t know why…

        The importance of member care really hit home for us during a year of one crisis after another (serious, urgent health issues for more than one family member, visa issues, housing issues, death of loved ones ‘back home,’ etc)  The organization we were with at the time promoted self-care, which has its merits and is, really, very important.  That said, I learned that year that there may be situations that require external support and that not having plans in place can be very detrimental.

        Gosh, this is so hard to talk about.  Still… more than a year later.  I don’t think casting blame is healthy or helpful and I fear that my words will be understood as doing that.  Yet, I cannot help but wonder how things could have been different if there had been consistent member care when we were serving.  Then I flip over to- well, you can’t really ask ‘what if’ because it’s all said and done… I think I end up somewhere along the lines of, “I can’t change my past experience but I can work today for my present and I can advocate for what I believe to be important for others who are earlier in the journey than I am.”

        All this to say, once again, I am very thankful that you have brought your story to light and I am so glad that you were told you were more than qualified.

      2. laura r June 5, 2015

        “these rhythms of release and grief”

        This past May was the first May since 2008 that we did not move (or get packed up to move only to have the move fall through).  May 2015 will be known as the May that we had to walk through not moving when our hearts and minds somehow seemed hardwired for a move.  What an experience that was!

  7. Ellie June 5, 2015

    Thanks so much for sharing Karen. Well done you and well done your sending agency for having care in place and permission. Permission seems to be such a powerful thing 🙂

    I can identify about the triggers of moving.. recently I was getting antsy and stressed and I said to my husband after a few days of not knowing what was up with me “we’ve been here (in this house) two years and I’m scared we’re gonna have to move again..” I didn’t realise that I had that sort of “deadline” in the back of my head. He reassured me that he didn’t think we would need to move anytime really soon unless something changed dramatically. I feel quite comfortable in this house and it’s the most “mine” of any we’ve lived in I think so it was a huge attachment thing for me.

    1. Karen Huber June 5, 2015

      Hey Ellie, I’m so glad to see your comment because I felt the EXACT SAME WAY when we were coming up on two years here. Our mind and heart get into these rhythms of release and grief (I think) which can be good at times, and then a complete kick in the butt at other times. It’s a nice (strange? hard?) feeling to be settled and rooted and stretches a whole other set of muscles (triggers and coping mechanisms)!

  8. MaDonna June 7, 2015

    Thanks Karen for sharing your story. It was really encouraging. I, too, have found that moving is a trigger for me. As we are packing once again, I feel the anxiety welling up, the pulse racing…I’m in need of a few hours away by myself. Will be talking with my husband tonight about making that happen soon. 😉

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