This is a story about my journey through darkness and into light. I hope that in my sharing I can give a seed of hope and faith to others who are struggling and lost in darkness, confusion, or doubt.
As a child I was raised with no particular faith or religion. My mother tried putting my brother and I in Sunday school, but because my father was an atheist, we were pulled out. Even though my father would give long lectures about the “lack of proof” that God exists, I always felt more of an agnostic and once in a while would even pray “just in case” there was one.
All my life I had an intense love for art, which probably explained my extremely sensitive nature. I attended UCLA, and after four years of painting, art revealed to me a mystery; that as much as one tried to define art or pinpoint its origin or meaning, one always ended up in an endless cycle of thought within the mind. I discovered that art was always an attempt to depict, describe or portray the indescribable, the universal, the abstract, or love itself – perhaps even God.
It was during this time that I dabbled in eastern meditation practices and read some interesting books on Zen and eastern thought. In my practice of meditation I discovered a “silence” that revealed to me an infinite peace that I could never grasp and hold onto and make the experience last. This brief encounter with peace left me thirsting for more of that stillness and less of the enjoyments of the world.
After leaving college I was in a mild depression. I would not have called it depression at the time, but I felt a general lack of contentment, an underlying sadness and restlessness. During that time my family was torn apart by a divorce. The world at large into which I was entering after leaving the realms of “education” was far too chaotic and confusing for me to make sense or meaning of. All of a sudden my straight A’s record left me feeling extremely inadequate and unprepared for real life. My stature of “valedictorian” of my graduating class really meant very little in the grand scheme of things.
I earned a living teaching elementary school for a year. It was during this time I discovered yoga. I went on a week retreat to an ashram that practiced yoga, meditation and vegetarian diet. It was a beautiful serene place in nature. Here I experienced a vibrancy to life. Colors were richer and my mind was at peace. I felt alive. It was such a moving experience that I decided to go do a 4-week yoga training intensive. There I engaged in 4 hours of yoga, including 2 hours of silent meditation, 4 hours of lectures on spirituality, and one hour of selfless service daily. At the yoga camp I had an experience of what I would describe as and intense “fear of God.” All of a sudden I realized that I knew nothing concerning anything truly real, that my years of education really taught me very little, and that God was in charge of EVERYTHING. At that moment I felt so small and realized I truly had very little control over what happens in my life.
This fear, which literally made me physically tremble, overwhelmingly compelled me to want to serve for this yoga organization. I desperately wanted to be in alignment with God’s will and didn’t want in any way to be sucked into the illusions of the world. I so desperately did not want to be lost. I wanted to be enlightened.
I approached the swami and asked if I could volunteer. I was accepted and I served for this organization for 9 months. However soon after I began to serve, I became very ill. I had always had perfect health and so having this come up in my life was a bizarre mystery, plus I was only about 24 years old. I became anemic. My hair started to fall out in chunks. I lost my menstrual cycle. I was severely constipated. I also suffered from a nervous breakdown (although at the time I did not know it). I quickly found myself in the depth of a serious depression. I tried doctor after doctor, I tried counselors, and I tried healers. Nothing was helping.
The regimen of the ashram was very strict and demanding. I underwent daily silent meditation for one hour at 5am, one hour of yoga, 2-3 hours of teaching yoga, and then easily 10-12 hours of some kind of service – laundry, cleaning, office work, errands, etc. – all of which happened daily for 7 days a week with no break. I was suffering from sleep deprivation. I was physically and mentally exhausted. However, I was so desperate in wanting that taste of internal peace, of knowing and connecting with God that I stayed. I thought that this organization had the answers. Thought they had a sure–fire program to reaching God, as ridiculous as that sounds to me today. I lost all of my personal boundaries and became “selfless” in a very self-destructive way. My friendships outside the ashram deteriorated, as did my connection with family. I never left the ashram.
My mental and spiritual disturbances were profound. My meditations were a torrent of unwanted thoughts and violent images. Lost spirits would try to pull me out of my body in the middle of the night. I would have panic attacks which felt like my body was overrun with an electrical current frying all of my nerves, making my body shake violently. At rare times, I would even hallucinate, or find myself “in between worlds” which were confusing and frightening.
Even though these strange experiences were happening to me, I told no one as I thought it was all part of “purification” and that the reason I couldn’t find peace was that I was “impure”. I thought it was all part of the spiritual path, and I had to keep treading on no matter what. I thought it was all part of “tapas” which basically meant asceticism.
Toward the end of my 9 months there, my mental and physical state had deteriorated so badly that I only weighed 115 pounds (originally I was a slender 135 pounds and mind you that I am 5’8”). I was so severely depressed and anxiety ridden that I constantly had panic attacks and feelings of such anguish and pain that I had not a moment ever of relief. I was convinced that I was slowly dying. Not only that, but that I no longer even had a soul. I felt that I was falling and anything I tried to get out of it, only made me fall deeper into it.
The feeling of not having a soul was far more frightening than the thought of physically dying. I was alive, yet dead inside. I became so confused and incapable of taking care of myself that my mother literally rescued me from the ashram. I left without saying a word to anyone, for fear of their judgment and having to face my own shame. I felt I was leaving the spiritual path. The nightmare of the dark night was far from over.
My terror of leaving the confines of the ashram caused me more shock than I had expected. Suddenly I felt exposed and vulnerable in a world with no clarity and absence of God. I had no idea my depression could get worse. I could no longer stand being alone and yet I couldn’t stand being with others because the severity of the disconnection I felt was so painful. I felt less than a human being. My panic attacks increased. I began to gorge myself with food as my only means of escape. I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but my mind and body were in such a state of confusion that I simply continued to lose weight.
I began to contemplate suicide. It was then that I decided I needed to check myself into a psychiatric hospital. I was there for 3 nights during which I saw a total lack of genuine concern for the patients (most who were worse off than I since most of them had actually attempted suicide); and the only answer the hospital had was to take a pill.
I was frightened at the idea of medication. I already “knew” too much. I knew that taking a pill was not going to get me out of the depression – it was only going to cover up the symptoms while the disease continued to manifest. As they held the pill before me I felt it was the devil asking me to sell my soul. But I was so desperate that I took the pill. I cried and cried after taking that first pill. I felt I had given up on God and on myself.
Luckily I did gain my weight back – due to the medication, but my depression simply worsened. I decided to move in with my godmother and try to start anew. I began regularly seeing a psychiatrist. She simply gave me more drugs. She had me try this one and that and combinations of them. At one point I was on 5 different pills at once – lithium, Effexor, Remeron, Lorazepam, and others I can’t recall the names of. I could literally feel my brain becoming stickier and more clouded. I felt like an automaton.
I began working at a bakery in hopes that being around people would shift things. Still no relief, but at least I was still moving and with my mother’s help I began living on my own in a studio apartment. However I thought of suicide daily and kept a bottle of sleeping pills in my kitchen cabinet in case I could muster up the strength to actually commit the act.
And then hope began to glimmer. My aunt and uncle of Texas were vacationing in Pagosa Springs and came across “Crafts for Christ.” They stopped to go and check it out and there they met Peter and Rebekah Laue. Peter shared with them his story of his own journey through depression and how Jesus Christ not only saved him, but also transformed his life. So my aunt and uncle shared with him my own situation. It was at that moment when Peter gave them an anointed sand blasted wooden sign that read “Love Heals” on it and said, “This is for Tania.”
They mailed the sign to me along with Peter’s newsletters. It wasn’t until after I had read Peter’s “The Dark Night of My Soul” that some form of hope began to glimmer within me. I held onto his story like a light that I could not yet see or even understand. But I thought, “If this man made it through, maybe I have a chance.”
About two months later I decided to actually call Peter. I still remember the feeling when I called him. I was very nervous and didn’t know exactly what I was going to say. We had been in contact through e-mails and Peter had instructed me to write the name of Jesus over and over on a notepad. I did this as much as I could. At times I would get discouraged when I didn’t see the results. But when I called to talk to Peter, I actually said very little about my depression but he knew exactly what to say and exactly what I was going through. I felt as though he could see my soul and knew what all it had been through. I remember the most significant thing that Peter said was that he could tell that I had been led astray and didn’t want to be led astray any longer. While on the phone, Peter explained the presence of the Holy Spirit and declared that life was beginning to pour back through me. I could feel this “life” somewhat, but still, it was not enough. The battle was far from over.
Before I actually met Peter, I felt God kept dropping me hints and signs. My neighbor at the time turned out was a 55 year old schizophrenic, diagnosed when he was twenty-five. Although he was heavily medicated, he had a passionate devotion to God. I actually felt he was a very holy man. Unfortunately he had been medicated so long, that his condition was “permanent”. I felt God was telling me that if I didn’t get off the medications that I would stay the way I was forever. I also received a blessing from a holy woman named Karunamayi. I asked her to help me get beyond the depression and that I longed for an open heart. She quietly said to me “You have a golden heart.” Those words encouraged me, but still I had not reached the land of the living yet.
I then had a profound dream. I dreamed of Jesus. He was gigantic. I could not see His face, only His tremendous hands. I dreamed I was clinging for dear life to the hem of His white robe. A force of what felt like a thousand jet engines was trying to blow me off. He then reached down and began to pull me into His body. When I woke up, I knew this dream was prophetic. I had never dreamt of Jesus before in my life.
I decided to make reservations at the Upper Room in Peter and Rebekah’s home. I was counting down the days. I took a job at the local Waldorf school here in Tucson as after care teacher which frightened me because of the fact that I was still on medication. But I arranged with the school to take a couple of days off to head out to Peter’s.
The night before leaving for Pagosa, my brother called. He had been very supportive of me throughout the depression and (bless his heart) would struggle to get through to me so that I would wake up from this sleep. I was feeling very distraught when he called and he said very plainly and clearly to me in his tough loving manner, "You have a choice.” On the surface I continued to retort that I didn’t know what he meant. Why would I choose to go through such a terrible experience? But deep down it was painful to acknowledge that I did know what he meant. It was true – that on some level I had decided to have such a terrible experience because I kept giving myself away to the world, rather than to God who dwells within me. I cried for hours that night. I mustered up some courage and decided to walk along the dry riverbed near my house. During that walk, for the first time, I directly talked to God and I made a pact. I said to God, “God, I promise that Peter is the last person from whom I will seek help from. If this trip to Pagosa doesn’t help me, I promise to seek no more. I give my life to you.” The next morning I flushed all my medications down the toilet (against the advice of my psychiatrist) and got ready to leave Tucson.
I arrived by plane in Albuquerque and rented a car. Once I was on the road all I could do was stare straight ahead and I kept repeating a Sanskrit mantra over and over again non-stop for four hours until I reached the safe abode of Peter’s driveway. The moment I arrived and stepped out of the car, Peter wrapped his arms around me in a long and sincere embrace. I was so moved that this man would hug a complete stranger, yet it was exactly what my soul had been yearning for so long. I walked through the entrance of Peter’s home and sat on the couch of his living room. Words could not come to my mouth, but somewhere in my distant soul I felt a peace – silence that was enveloping me.
I slept through the night, although I had symptoms of withdrawal from the medications. The next morning God began to do His work. That day a couple of men from Texas arrived at Peter’s doorway, carrying stakes to “claim Jesus’ territory “. Something in me was curious so I went to see what was going on. I stepped outside and Peter was simply praising Jesus. The Holy Spirit was pouring down over us and I could feel it. There was a smile on my face. I couldn’t believe it, nor could I understand it.
We entered the house to visit with these two men Jeffrey and James. I began to tell my story, and the Spirit moved these two men to pray over me. Now, you must understand that I personally for years have felt uncomfortable around men, so I was a little beside myself. They raised their hands over my head and began to speak in tongues. At that moment, Peter stood on top of his coffee table in excitement and exclaimed to me, “You are free! You are free! From this moment on you will be called Lady Liberty.” And for the first time I laughed out loud. I don’t know what was so funny, but this laughter simply unraveled within me. After that, Jeffrey asked if I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. I said sure: and he instructed me to just let the words come, but that I didn’t have to “say” anything. I assumed he meant speaking in tongues. I was scared and nervous as I wasn’t sure I really felt moved, but I took the plunge and simply started to speak. Part of me felt like I was “making it up”, but soon the pain came pouring out. With each sounded word, it was as if the depression was being extracted from me. After I was baptized, Peter exclaimed that some “major surgery” had taken place.
The next day I felt different and I wasn’t sure what had happened. Part of me felt concerned that I was simply following another “path” that was only going to lead me astray. Peter simply said, “Talk to Jesus. He’ll listen and He’ll give you answers.” This was the first pure and simple and true advice I had heard in years. It was almost the most difficult advice to actually apply.
My visit was short, but I knew I had to get back to my life and was grateful for the new bond that God had created between Peter and Rebekah and I. On my drive back I had neither anxiety nor any need to recite mantras over and over again.
I arrived back in Tucson and I distinctly remember the night I returned. In the middle of the night during my sleep, I suddenly felt as if I fell deep within myself. I would have to say now it was probably my soul coming back. A female voice spoke to me, which I am convinced was an angel, and asked me, “Tania, are you all right?” Although I felt I had suffered a severe “beating”, I was still alive and said back, “Yes, I’m all right.”
That morning the depression attempted to come back. But I could see it coming and I said, “NO”. I got out of bed and started to dance and sing. When I stepped outside I could feel the sky, the trees, the earth. I could feel beauty around me. I felt alive again. I cried tears of joy and gratitude for weeks after that. I could smile again, I could laugh, I could cry. I was back to the living more than I ever had been before. I profoundly understood the gift of life. I also understood that one does not need to earn God’s love. He just loves us not matter what.
From that moment on, life kept getting better. I had to work hard at it, but I had declared to everyone – my family, friends and psychiatrist, that I was well. And I was.
I came to a point when I was ready to meet my beloved – a male partner with whom I could share and spend my life with. I prayed to God to bring him to me as he saw fit. I prayed so hard that the first man that asked me out I said yes to, thinking this was the answer to my prayers. He was my acupuncturist (who I will call for now John to keep his anonymity), from whom I actually sought help during my depression and knew for almost a year. I hadn’t seen him in six months, but now that I was well, I wanted to personally thank him and get a “tune up”. Well, he asked me out. I was so excited. I felt so happy that someone would actually want to know me. I thought that now I was about to live the life I had always wanted – happily married.
Unfortunately, there was still a great weakness in me. That first night I was to go on a date with John, he asked me to go into his bedroom. I knew he was seducing me, and I also knew that I wasn’t ready at all. Deep down I wanted him to know me as a person, and I wanted to know him. Deep down I also wanted to be married before having sex. But because I was too afraid to say no, and had never asserted myself ever, I ended up sleeping with him that night. I had terrible dreams and when I came home the next morning, I found my cat torn apart by a wild animal. Somehow I felt things were not right and I had succumbed to spirits that were not of the Most High. I had given myself away once again, and this time I was conscious of it.
However, because I was afraid to admit error and because I wanted so much to have a partner, I continued my relationship with John and continued our sexual relations. Although many red flags were flying in my face, I ignored them because I so wanted to be in love. But the price for that, although I didn’t know it at the time, was losing my relationship with Jesus.
After three or four months of dating, I discovered I was pregnant. I was in shock. I knew I didn’t want an abortion, yet it felt my relationship with John was definitely insecure. John and I talked about getting married, moving in together, etc. We decided that we would try to move forward in a positive light. We flew to Hawaii to tell my father. I was excited to tell him. I thought he would be happy to be a grandfather. He was anything but. He was furious, and actually wanted to physically hurt John for getting his daughter pregnant. The trip was a nightmare and I felt myself falling into a quagmire once again, all because I didn’t listen to the small still voice within myself.
I finally had to confront my true feelings – I was not in love with John. As time went on, my father’s side of the family disowned me and I discovered facts about John that were not the most savory. I felt I had fallen for a complete illusion, but the hard reality was that I was pregnant. Relations with John and I worsened. He withdrew and we hardly spoke a sincere or genuine word to each other. I was now facing that I was going to be a single mother. I had to face it alone, and I felt far from ready.
The nine months were very difficult. Everything within me wanted to take revenge against John. Everything within me wanted to expose him. Friends were telling me to take him to court. John even asked me to have an abortion. My mother even advised me to have an abortion. I had thoughts of wanting to move in with my mother, or simply just moving out of state. I did not have a substantial means of income. I had to listen hard. Despite what everyone was advising me, Jesus was telling me to sit still. He was telling me not to take action, but to give it entirely to Him. This was so difficult as I had so much anger. I was tired of manipulation and I was tired of weakness in others or myself. But in faith, I waited and simply stayed as silent as I could.
There was a period when I was considering adoption, and during this time God had manifested a sign that I could not ignore. I was driving home one day and in the middle of the road found an abandoned baby bird. I stopped and took it home. I went on the Internet to look up what it was that I could feed him. He had to be fed every two hours, so I even took him to work. But I knew I could not keep the bird as I did not know really how to raise it. So I looked in the phone book for wild life rescue and made an appointment to meet them in a parking lot near the edge of town. I drove out there and waited and waited. I asked God to make the person show up, and if that person did I would give my baby up for adoption, and if they didn’t then I would keep the baby. This was a great step for me to take as I knew I would have to follow God’s word. No one ever showed, and I felt so happy that I was blessed and deemed deserving and capable of raising a baby. (Eventually I was able to find someone to take care of the bird, and it grew healthy and strong and was returned to the wild. The woman said I had done a good job!)
In my “sitting still” I also discovered parts of myself that were still raw and unhealed. Although I had made it through the depression, I still had work to do. I had fears which were coming from my own infancy and childhood. I was re-experiencing abandonment. As an infant my father was not around, and my mother was a new mother without support, full of anxiety and not knowing how to love me. I discovered neediness within me so very deep. I cried myself to sleep many nights.
The time came when Lucaas Robert was to be born. A couple of weeks before he was born, John apologized for the first time for not being there for me emotionally or financially during the pregnancy. I gave birth at home after 24 hours of excruciating labor. Once Lucaas was here though, everything changed. John appeared with roses and a smile. Friends were applauding me. Lucaas was healthy and strong. The house was filled with so much love. People were over every night. My mother would cook dinner, and John was welcomed in. And once John was here, I realized how much I actually wanted and needed him to be present as a father. My mother embraced John and thanked him for bringing her a grandson. I sat at the dinner table and felt the hands of Jesus ease my shoulders, letting me know that everything had been set right.
There are times now that I cry with joy at the beauty God creates, especially as I hold Lucaas in my arms. He makes promises to us, even while we are in the darkness. He holds our hands and promises that He will bring us out of the valleys. God through the miracle of a child healed a breach that was very deeply imbedded between John and I. He brought together two clans and has made them into one. Even though things are not “perfect” (John and I are not married) and I still have my weaknesses and fears of the unknown (especially with being a new mother), my faith is continually strengthened and renewed. As I care for Lucaas, my own childhood traumas are being healed and God is teaching me how to love and be loved. I am continually in awe with God’s hand in my life and how He sculpts and shapes it. When we really listen, and give our life over to Him, He brings to us much more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.
Praise our precious Lord, Jesus.