The year 1998 started with the discovery that my dear Dad was struggling through an intense season of despair and depression. Summer arrived, we joyfully celebrated at my youngest brother’s wedding, and Dad seemed to be pulling out of the worst of it. Then one day he fainted and hurt his head in the fall. After a trip to the emergency room, the doctors delivered the bad news that his liver was failing. They were uncertain of the cause, but suspected it was some sort of reaction to one of his medications. Immediately, they took him off not only his cholesterol medication, but his antidepressant as well. We learned that he needed a liver transplant, and he was sent home to wait. It was very traumatic for him, and the depression returned with a vengeance. He struggled with coming to terms with this huge medical battle he was facing. Fears about being a financial burden and no longer being productive overwhelmed him. It seemed to threaten his identity of being the provider, the one who took care of everyone else. He hid most of these thoughts from us. We were unaware of the depths of this struggle for him.
I will never forget the panicky phone call from my brother that Sunday afternoon, a few weeks later, telling us of Dad’s suicide attempt. We quickly drove back home to be with him, trying to sort through feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion. When we arrived, the mood was grim and doctors held out very little hope. We felt as if we had stepped into a dark, surreal, nightmarish world. Ultimately, there was little the doctors could do and on a Wednesday in late July, he died.
Thus began my journey through darkness and confusion, trying to understand that which is not understandable. I experienced the range of sad, scared, and angry emotions shared by the survivors of a loved one’s suicide—with conflicting feelings of guilt & anxiety thrown in as well. Questions loomed large. Why didn’t we see this coming? Why didn’t the doctors warn us about this possibility? Would my mom and my brothers be ok? Would my three young children who lost their beloved granddaddy be ok? Would I be ok? How come he couldn’t see how much this would hurt us, the ones who loved him? And, I questioned where God was in it all…how come He didn’t stop him?
I don’t have answers to these questions. And this side of heaven, I don’t think I ever will. But I’ve come to believe that perhaps God gives something more valuable than answers. Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” The pain and suffering surrounding Dad’s death led me to a deeper, more intimate place with the Lord. He offered Himself and His presence to me in ways I had not experienced before.
One of these ‘treasures of darkness’ was opening the door to creativity. I had always loved art but in the busyness of my life, I didn’t do much with it. It was during this desperate season of grief that I signed up for an art class through a city program. Once a week I would drive across town to my painting class and pour myself into the project for the day. Time, which seemed to move so slowly in my grieving, would pass without any awareness. I could lose myself in making something. Over time, I realized that this act of creating was actually bringing healing to my broken heart. I have come to believe that creativity is one of God’s most powerful gifts to us.
Creativity offers a less threatening way to access our hurting souls. Our thoughts and feelings become clearer to us as we do something creative, which leads to healing and wholeness. It brings hope to our broken places and reminds us that life is indeed good and will continue. And although I will never be the same person I once was, I’ve experienced that healing and new life comes in time. God has graciously provided “treasures of darkness,” riches rising from a very dark season, to usher in hope and joy and to remind me that I am deeply loved.