I knew that there would be no response if I knocked, so I simply opened the door and entered the bedroom.
The closed curtains kept most of the midday sunshine at bay, but some light penetrated the floral pattern curtains and painted surreal patterns throughout the room’s already depressive atmosphere. I had seen more lively funerals.
When my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I spotted Natalie. Not on the bed as expected, but huddled into a ball in the far corner, knees drawn to chest and arms wrapped about them. Resting her head on her knee sent black hair spilling over her arms like a runaway waterfall.
I sat on the floor in front of her and waited. She knew I was there.
“Who are you?” she asked from a great distance--a distance I had come to bridge.
“My name is Ann Smith. I’m the minister’s wife from your mother’s church,” I replied.
“What do you want?” she said with an effort.
“Your mother said you’re going through a rough patch.”
“That what you call this, Ann?” she mumbled.
“What do you call it, Natalie,” I pressed gently.
She hesitated, and then admitted hopelessly: “Hell.”
“Sweetie,” I began, “I understand what you’re going through…”
Her head shot up. “No you don’t! I can’t sleep, I retch when I eat, sometimes my chest is so tight I can barely breathe. My shoulders ache incessantly, my heart palpitates insanely, I get these horrid sensations crawling all over my skin, and I no longer care about anyone or anything. No one understands what I’m going through--not even me.”
I slowly pulled back one curtain. Invading sunlight revealed dirty clothes heaped against walls, a bed that had not been made for days, and a desk covered with crumpled papers.
I took a note from my pocket and held it out.
“Not interested in another ‘Pull yourself together’ article,” she snapped.
“It’s from my diary,” I explained. “Please read it aloud.”
Natalie sighed and snatched the note. She was about to hand it back after a fleeting glance, but something hooked her attention, so she began to read in a whisper. “February 20th, 1990. Oh Lord, when will this end? Day after day, I remain trapped in this personal hell of never ending pain and confusion. I want to get out of myself! I want to be someone else, anyone but me. Although the me I know is gone, somehow I am still me. I must escape from myself, but I’m trapped in a suffocatingly dark, small room. I know there is sunlight outside. I run, push, and strive to reach that light, but the room comes with me--I cannot get out! Because I am the room. Jesus, why have you allowed this? Where are you? How long will you remain silent? They say that others who have been down this route have left signposts along the way to help those like me find the way out. But where are these signposts?”
“Still think I don’t understand?” I queried gently.
“You wrote this?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, when I was twenty-two. It was a case of doing far too many things at once. I worked myself into the ground until my nervous system simply broke down.”
She studied me intently. “You’ve just described the past six months of my life, Ann.”
“I went though the same agony you are experiencing at the moment, Natalie. But now I can look back on that time and thank God for it.”
“That's impossible!” She disagreed vehemently.
“No, Natalie, it is not. As Jesus led me gently step by step out of that miry pit, I learnt to cling to and rely on Him like never before.”
“You mentioned looking for signposts to show you the way out. Where can I find one?” she asked.
“I am one, Natalie. By overcoming this nightmare I have been able to guide others to the path that leads back to normal life.”
“Okay, Mrs. Signpost, what do I do?” she said with the faintest glimmer of hope.
“Let me introduce you to a couple of my friends: Time and Acceptance. Time to allow yourself to heal--which you can do now with the assurance of hope rather than fearing it will never end; and acceptance that this is where Jesus has placed you today, and that this is how He has placed you in it. And then, before you know it, you’ll be a signpost too.”
Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for.
Philippians 4:12 (NIV) I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.
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