God’s presence has not always been apparent to me and I’d often wonder why He was allowing illness to happen to me. I truly believed if He really loved me, He would take it all away. When people told me to look around at everything I had to be thankful for, I would see it all and wonder why I couldn’t be grateful. Why would those wonderful things make me cry? But reflecting on those times, I now see His presence had been working through those around me, putting in place just what I needed at just the right time.

During moments of despair I would close my eyes and despite my lack of faith ask God to just let me sleep, be calm, or stop the damaging thoughts from overtaking. Every time I prayed that, I felt His presence and somehow relief would come. I can see God was with me when I drove to work after sleepless nights with a pit in my stomach and heart in my throat wondering how I was going to concentrate, put on a smiling face and become enthusiastic for a room full of 9 year olds. I would tell God I could not do it. Not a chance. I even begged Him to crash my car because every fiber of my being hurt and I couldn’t stand the thought of having to interact with anyone, especially 25 kids who would have their eyes on me and demand all of my attention for the next 7 hours. Yet somehow I would get to work safely and when those kids walked through my door I was given the strength and energy to support them.

God worked endlessly through my family. This experience was very difficult for my husband, but he supported me unconditionally and took over whenever I wasn’t strong enough to take care of anyone, especially myself. He endured many days of, in a sense, being a single parent to two very active little boys. It was a tremendous undertaking but he kept life as normal as possible for the kids and never stopped trying to help me.

I can see He was always there working through my church. People were very accepting and real. The pastors were always available to listen and pray for me and my family. At one point I literally yelled at my pastor to stop praying for me because I felt he was wasting his time. Fortunately he just smiled and said he would not stop praying and that he would continue to support me and my family. People were willing to talk to me when I was not the most cooperative or easy to be around. And even though hearing about God and how He was there for me pissed me off most of the time, on some level it made me want to know Him more and I started trying to find Him.

I can see He was present in music which became an important outlet for me. I had never listened to Christian music — honestly it annoyed me — but the church’s band leader introduced my family to Christian metal and rock which we didn’t even know existed. Hearing bands sing and scream their lungs out about their personal experiences and resulting hope helped me see that God was actually real to broken and hurting people. They were using their stories in a raw and impactful way which I now see was God working to plant a seed in my heart so that one day I would share my story. Looking back I see that so clearly and it gives me confidence that alleviates the fear when I sit down to write or face the world after sharing my experiences.

In the hospital when no one was available I would write incessantly to God. I was able to express all my thoughts on paper, even the ones where I would doubt or blame Him, and I know He heard me. A woman at church who also suffered from depression would always check up on me. One day she approached me and asked if I had felt any relief over the past few days. I considered her question and realized I had felt a little better and had been able to function better. She said she had been praying fervently for me and had asked God to please take my depression away and give it to her. She said she had been struggling ever since then but she was so happy that He had answered her prayers. After many heartfelt prayers, she finally felt the cloud lift.

The moment that stands out most vividly and still gives me goosebumps when I think about it, occurred one day when I was home alone and hadn’t slept in quite a while. My mind would not shut off. I honestly felt as if I was going mad and I kept obsessing about how to make it stop. I remember starting to feel desperate when all of the sudden the phone rang. I had no intentions of answering it, but it happened to be in front of me so I could see the caller ID. It was someone I would never expect in a million years to call and I found myself picking up the phone and saying hello. He had encouraging news about a project at work. Somehow I ended up talking and laughing with him for a few minutes and hung up in a completely different frame of mind. It wasn’t until a day or two later that the significance of that phone call really hit me. It literally took my breath away, chills ran down my spine and I KNEW it was God at work. For some reason it became clear that the call had been perfectly timed and I truly believe it was God’s hand guiding that call. It turned out a few weeks later that what we spoke about completely fell through and my co worker had prematurely called me, which just makes the timing all the more powerful. It opened my eyes and motivated me to be on the lookout for more moments that were obviously orchestrated by God.

So often I would hear a tiny voice, a whisper, in my head that kept nagging at me to just listen. Most of the time I would shut it out and refuse to listen. I just wanted everything and everyone to go away. But the moments when I opened my heart, even just a tiny bit, acknowledging that whisper made all the difference. I have learned that I have to look back with an open mind and heart to identify when His presence was all around me, which helps me to recognize it more often in the present. When we’re in the midst of depression, or when illness has a hold on our mind, it’s okay to start simple. All I did was close my eyes and ask for help. I know that is what saved me and protected my family. I didn’t always see it then, but I felt it and I KNOW it was Him. He’s really right there — all you have to do is reach out.

Psalm 116:1-2 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.