(A few years ago, I discovered that it’s more fun to help other people change their lives than it is to obsess about your own. Instead of putting these new ideas on Stuff Christians Like and breaking the format of the site, I started a new site called Acuff.me. If you ever want to be more awesome, read that site. As part of my new hope to help people, I’ve started several communities online. I’ve heard thousands of stories in the years but this one really caught my eye about the importance of encouragement. It’s not a traditional guest post, but sometimes you have to break with tradition. Here’s a new story from Shanna, I hope it encourages you like it encouraged me.)
Back in late 1999, after the birth of my eldest daughter and several deaths in my family, I hit rock bottom emotionally. Since I was normally such a peppy, upbeat person, doctors saw this new low and diagnosed me with bipolar disorder in a very short 15-minute appointment. I was given a stack of prescriptions and sent on my not-so-merry way. For three years I fully believed in this diagnosis, even though the medications never helped and were changed and increased frequently. I was told the medications were safe through the pregnancy and birth of my son, and again when I learned I was pregnant with my youngest daughter shortly after becoming a single mother.
Within a few short years I’d been through a messy divorce, been abandoned by my family and friends, and became an over-medicated zombie, barely able to get out of bed and certainly not coherent enough to care for my home and children. Unfortunately, my children were removed and placed into state care on December 12, 2002 until I could prove that I was mentally and emotionally capable of being a parent. I’d lost everything, including my children and home, and had almost completely given up. I was a single, pregnant mother with no car and no job and everything to prove if I ever wanted to get my life back. I was completely alone.
My only option was a local emergency shelter. Fortunately, Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley is one with many more programs and services than most have available. They have classes on accountable tenancy, resume workshops, and interviewing skills. Case managers work with clients to match them with local programs that help get them back on their feet. More than that, though, the people who work at the shelter are warm, and have compassionate hearts and open minds.
Nearly everyone, even social workers and doctors, told me that fighting was useless. It was better for me to give up. My new obstetrician told me there would be no way my baby would survive the pregnancy due to an entire first trimester bombarded by prescription drugs, each of which had the power to inflict deformities and cognitive issues in an unborn child. I was told I should look into special needs adoption or have an abortion, for the sake of the child who would have no real quality of life. Those voices became louder when I was placed on bedrest after going into preterm labor at 5 months pregnant. I wanted to give up.
However, the positive voices of the staff at the shelter told me a different story. The voices of the shelter staff urged me on and told me to fight. They told me not to give up. They helped me draft legal documents and taught me to be an advocate for my own health and to hold tight to my faith. When I had every right and reason to give up, those few, small voices helped me to keep moving. I fought for a full evaluation and was re-diagnosed with only situational depression (stemming for postpartum depression and mourning the loss of the family members who had passed) with stress-related anxiety. I’d never had a need for the high doses of psychotropic drugs I’d been prescribed.
Grace was born three weeks early during my stay at the shelter. She was healthy and strong, despite everything the doctors had feared. God had seen her through the impossible, and He was doing the same for me. My newborn daughter and I came back to the shelter from the hospital to a room filled with a new crib, a layette, and about a dozen gifts from shelter staff. I sat and cried at this generosity from people I had only met three months before. Additionally, the shelter had a fledgling program in the works to bring awareness to the plight of homeless children, and they asked to name it after my daughter. Project Saving Grace was born, and they used her image in the marketing.
I’d had a job from early on in the pregnancy, and they’d held the position for me through the last few months of pregnancy and Gracie’s first month. Armed with a newfound sense of self-respect and dignity, I went back to work and found a place to live by the time Grace was two months old. My other children were returned soon afterward. I’m not going to tell you our lives have been all sunshine and roses ever since, but I am definitely stronger for having gone through the experience.
Grace turned 10 this year, and we were interviewed for the shelter’s anniversary newsletter. We invited some of the shelter staff to her birthday party. At the party, they asked me if I would be willing to speak at upcoming shelter events. I was honored, but I also had dreams bigger than just speaking. I was very hesitant to do anything about them.
Thankfully, I had just joined a group created by Jon Acuff . It was a group of wonderful mentors and brilliant minds, who challenged me to do something about my dreams and to take a leap. I presented a proposal for a peer mentoring program to the shelter a couple of weeks later. I knew that mentoring the homeless is something that is needed. Who is better qualified to do that than someone who has been in their shoes? I’ve now been running the program since August, and it’s one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done.
The people of Jon’s group didn’t stop there. When I was in a car accident last month, the group helped keep me sane and some even helped with the mechanics’ bills. When my first speaking engagement, a huge benefit gala at a fancy hotel, came up a few weeks ago, my wonderful friends from the group sent ball gowns for me to try on, sprung for my hair, makeup, and manicure for the event, and one of them even drove three hours out of her way to be at my side for everything from the salon experience through the gala itself. She even brought treats for my kids, who were at home with the sitter!
In the end, a devastating experience that could have destroyed me and my family ended up being a catalyst. I can now be a blessing to others as a mentor and speaker for those who might not otherwise have a voice. That’s the great thing about accountability: Once you face it and forgive yourself, you make room for God to shower you with greater, more beautiful things from the dust.
The Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley and Project Saving Grace used with permission.
Author Bio: Shanna Delap is a single mom who enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and reading everything from Tolstoy to the backs of cereal boxes. She also loves to write, and is the author of the blogs Sweetpeas & Sour Apples and The Clueless Homesteader.