From June 26- July 2, 2015 my wife, son and I took what we hope to be the first of many pilgrimages to serve at Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage. “Under Rosarito Skies” is my humble attempt to journal my experience, which I can only describe as transformative. I ask forgiveness ahead of time for the portions that focus on my own issues and struggles, which will be covered quite a bit in these essays. The point is not to be about me, but hopefully by telling my story to bring attention to how stepping outside of oneself can open up healing. Christ taught to go to those who were poor, that He would be found there. I wanted to explore the paradox of how we are often healed when we reach out to serve others. I also want to bring attention to a truly wonderful ministry, Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage, and to encourage support of it and places like it, and to stir hearts towards missions and service of others within and outside their community.
Part One: The Fog
About three months (can’t say for sure really) before I boarded a plane in Indianapolis to begin a week of serving in Mexico, I began to experience what I can only describe as a “Fog”. A thick “Fog”. An unexpected, not easily explained or clearly defined or attributable, but very very real Fog. Depression? Perhaps. I’ve struggled before with non-clinical depression. My dad would occasionally let slip that he often had “melancholic” periods in his life. I don’t know what his were like, but, for me, it manifests itself in an acute sense of not being able to “shut down” the inputs. It becomes impossible to not take things, everything, to heart and to dwell upon it. Its like the capacity to feel deeply is at once increased, but the feeling or energy to do anything about it is decreased, creating an awful sense of dissonance of soul.
When I get depressed I don’t want to end my life – that has not been my struggle. What I want to do is shut down, at worst maybe disappear – but not die. This feeling, this fog got really bad two weeks out from the trip. I did look forward to going, and was glad our family had planned to go. My wife and I have done mission trips before. I hadn’t gone on one for three years, when we served at an orphanage/school in Guatemala. I did that for a week for two summers. Before that there were three summers of one week of work in New Orleans building houses post-Katrina with IOCC and Habitat. The trips were always good, always worth it, always energizing. But something happened. Sometime near the end of seminary, and then maybe even more pronounced was the memory of those very very intense years that made me gun-shy of leaving for trips, of planning too much. Some of that realization for limits was very healthy, but, I started having serious anxiety about even talking about trips I really wanted to go on. I was afraid of burning out again. I could not bear to go back to that. The cost was too much, spiritually, emotionally, even financially. The thing was, it was never the mission trips that put me over the top, it was other stuff. But slowly, in my order of priorities the mission trips slid farther down the list – the thing that actually did energize me of all the busy things I did was the first to go. So, when faced with the planning, fundraising, and all the things involved with going on a trip like this, I was anxious. And on top of that was, of course, the fog.
Two weeks before our trip I stopped being able to sleep. I would shut my eyes and the input noise just wouldn’t stop. Irrational fears, anxieties, just flooding in with no way to stop or slow it. I was tired. Really tired. The worst part about the fog is that the desire to do something about all that one sees wrong or sick around oneself is still there – in fact it is amplified – it goes to “eleven” if you will. But the ability to focus in and do one thing – just one thing is muted. To act on one’s conviction or compassion is confused, or requires an immense amount of energy to take one step. To act seems like an insurmountable obstacle in the mind. It is irrational, but it is real. But it is an anxiety that increasingly is about a fear of something not real at all, and certainly not within one’s control. It is a solitary fight against shadows, against “what ifs”. Its a tape loop, an echo chamber that quickly devolves into self accusation, self doubt, and isolation.
This round, this fog was particularly bad, particularly non-stop. I prayed. I prayed hard. I knew it would take something radical to come out of it. It would take something that would utterly turns things upside down, or, rather, right side up again. I needed a reset button to hit. The fog makes it hard to distinguish where the reset button is. I have dreams sometimes where I have to complete some task, usually involving peril, but my vision is blurry and my movements are slow, dull. This is what trying to make it out of the fog feels like. There are plenty of things I know I “should” do, plenty of good directions out there. But in the fog its just not that simple.
The good news is, the reset came, at least for now. And that’s what I want to tell you about. In the next few entries I’ll talk about that reset, that came in the form of one good word, a busted knee, unexpected beauty, and a little girl named Kati.
To be continued…
More info about Project Mexico/St. Innocent Orphanage: http://projectmexico.org/