And then came the first Fantasy Fiction Tour in the summer of 2007. Donita K. Paul (whom you'll meet in a few weeks) was originally slated to be one of the the Fantasy 4, as we called ourselves. But Donita couldn't make the event due to health issues. Donita suggested adding Sharon to our ranks. Christopher Hopper, Bryan Davis, and I agreed right away. I think we all got to know Sharon in one capacity or another over the previous year or two.
During the tour, I came to realize that Sharon was exactly the kind of person I thought she was. She was kind, had an easy laugh, and literally found conversations wherever we went and ministered powerfully with the love of Jesus. That tour was a great success and led to the 2008 West Coast tour.
You know, it's kind of funny in an ironic sort of way how God works things sometimes. When I just knew Sharon from our online correspondence, I sort of felt like she was someone I ought to protect. Maybe it was that she had shown me much kindness with promoting my books. Or maybe it was she was the lone "damsel" among three rogues on the first tour. Or maybe it was just because I'm a fellow author who wrestles with doubts about my ability to succeed in this profession. Not sure. All I know is that when someone flamed her book The Restorer with a very negative review, I just about went ballistic. I'd read The Restorer and loved it. So had my wife. This review was way WAY out of line, and I made it my mission to make sure the reviewer and Sharon knew that. Funny, I had no idea how the roles would reverse a year later.
In between those two tours, July of this past summer to be exact, I suffered an attack of some kind. Six years earlier, I'd had several similar attacks. They manifested like heart attacks: chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, tingling and or pain radiating down the left arm, strange pressures, even vision graying out as if I might faint. Six years ago, I went through a battery of cardiac test--I mean we checked everything short of opening me up and letting the docs poke around. Everything came back normal--thankfully, it didn't seem to be my heart. Paramedics suggested stress. I wondered about that. How could stress manifest itself in such physical symptoms? I had no idea.
Fast forward to this past summer. I had the worst episode yet. My wife took me to the ER and I was absolutely pannicky. I had horrible, scary thoughts running through my head. Thank God my pastor was available to come see me. He helped a lot. I stayed overnight, came home, felt sluggish for a day or two, but figured everything would go back to normal like it had six years ago. Well, two nights later, I suffered through the most overwhelming sense of dread, anxiety, and fear I'd ever felt in my life. It was like an unpleasant low-level electric current passing through my body continuously. At the same time, emotionally I felt an absolutely devastating mixture. It felt like I'd just been yelled at, scolded, blasted by someone I cared about. It felt like I'd done something terribly wrong but didn't know what. It felt like I'd just awakened in the middle of the night having heard the sound of a prowler downstairs. And it felt like some harm was coming to my kids but I could do nothing to prevent it. Imagine all those feelings combined. Well, that's what I felt that night. I'd heard about other Christians experiencing "The Dark Night of the Soul," but I'd really had no idea what it was like.
The next several days, I was a wreck. I felt like I was watching life through a thick glass but I could not touch it. Nothing felt right to me. The only emotion I could touch was fear. And here's where the irony comes in. I knew I needed help. I know a lot of guys (and gals) hesitate to share their troubles or to seek help. Not me. I'd never been through anything like this and was desperate to see if anyone knew anything about my situation.
My wife and kids were huge blessings, loving me even though they had no way to understand why I was so down and acting strangely. I had so many wonderful friends to talk to or visit with, and that was HUGE. But Sharon Hinck made a special difference, because she absolutely knew what I was going through. Over the next week or so, Sharon and I talked on the phone, and she really understood. She offered the truth of God's words, as opposed to my haywire feelings. She offered prayers, not quick fixes. And more than `anything, she just listened. Since then, I'm a lot better. Thank you, Jesus.
When I learned that Sharon Hinck was about to release a book called Stepping into Sunlight that in some ways dealt with anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder, I was thrilled. And now that I've read it, I feel this was a book that Christians (and others) all over the world need to read. If you've never gone through something like I described…it is terribly difficult to understand. It's so easy to just blow it off or throw out advice. If you read Stepping into Sunlight, not only will you get intermittent humor, engaging characters, and a captivating story, but you will get a window into the lives of people who need to be better understood.
To that end, I've invited Sharon to visit here at Enter the Door Within, in the hopes that she'd share about her books and offer a bit of hope and wisdom for others who are either experiencing anxiety or depression or living with someone who does.
WB: Hi, Sharon, thanks so much for taking the time to be here.
SH: It’s always a joy stopping by your ultra-cool blog! And thanks for your kind words about Stepping Into Sunlight! That means a lot.
WB: First, I wonder if you could tell a little bit about what depression is. I mean how is it different from someone who's feeling a little down because of a run of bad luck?
SH: Depression can be a complex web of factors, spiritual, emotional, physical, situational - which is why sometimes those struggling with it can feel a bit belittled or scolded or dismissed by folks who don’t understand it. Sometimes prayer, (that’s the first, best approach to every struggle!) “taking every thought captive,” and chatting with a counselor may provide speedy improvement. But just as with other health battles, sometimes God’s answer isn’t that simple or quick. I know it can be frustrating for family and friends who want their loved one to “snap out of it” and “just stop feeling that way.” But it’s even more frustrating for the person battling depression or anxiety who has TRIED to make the bad thoughts go away, who has prayed earnestly for a change of heart and mind, who is making responsible choices to foster healing—yet is still hurting. And while everyone understands having a blue day from time to time, depression can range into searing emotional pain and/or debilitating bleakness.
WB: With my anxiety, there were definite physical AND mental symptoms. Is that true also of depression?
SH: Absolutely. I’ve explained to friends that if they had a freshly broken leg, and someone told them, “you just need to try harder to walk on it and ignore the pain” we’d think they were cruel. Yet often people with serious depression or other emotional health issues are asked to rely on sheer will power to overcome physiological issues they can’t control – just as they can’t make their bone knit together instantly or stop throbbing. I’m not saying that when we battle depression or anxiety we no longer have personal responsibility. We still are called by God, I believe, to make the choices we are able to in His power and with His grace – which might mean lifestyle changes to promote healing, accepting the wisdom of counselors and doctors, identifying things that make it worse and avoiding that. But honestly, I know some saintly folks who do ALL the right things and still battle severe depression because things go wrong in their little brain neurons.
WB: I remember what you told me when I was going through the worst of it. Tell our readers.
SH: I probably said a whole bunch of silly things – but I ached for you, because I understood. I’ve had some serious bouts of depression in the past. I remember telling you that although the dark thoughts FELT very real and frightening, it was the anxiety talking . . . and there was a bigger, better truth, and after a little while, your mind and emotions would get past the tidal wave and you’d be able to grasp that truth again. And in the meantime, to let God carry you . . . to ride it out . . . and that even though it was incredibly difficult to believe, it WOULD be better one day soon.
WB: I just remembered clinging to the idea that it won't always be this bad...that I'd get through. That meant a lot because you'd been there and come through. We've discussed the physical and mental elements of these issues. Sharon, do believe there is a spiritual component to anxiety/depression?
SH: I think there is a spiritual component to everything! I think God made us to be amazing, complex creatures. When I say there is a spiritual component, though, that doesn’t mean every time someone battles anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD, or whatever, that it’s because there is a direct sin choice in their lives…and if the sin could be just ferreted out, all the problems would leave. Of course, if someone is intentionally choosing a sinful course, then that should be addressed, because mental health doesn’t exist happily in a life of deliberate rebellion against God. BUT as I’ve said, some of the dearest saintly folks I know (who’ve repented of everything they can possibly think of) still battle these issues. In my book, Penny developed PTSD as a result of a violent experience she had, and some unusual life circumstances – not through any sinful choice.
WB: I agree. When I was in the thick of it, I felt like I couldn't even pray. It was worse than prayers bouncing off the walls. It was a feeling of negativity projecting back at me. I'd get a verse of Scripture half way out of my mouth, and BAM, it was cut off by some terrible thought. So when it's bad like that, what should a person do?
SH: Your experience highlights another element of anxiety and depression. Along with physical causes and effects, emotional and cognitive elements, and situational elements, we’re in a spiritual battle on this planet. I think that the enemy is quick to pounce any time we are down—to make an already tough experience even worse by slipping right in with his lies and trying to KEEP us from turning to God. Spiritual doubts and fears are one of the most vicious kinds of attacks. That’s where the Body of Christ is so vital. When I’ve had bouts of depression, friends have prayed for me and with me. They’ve gently continued to affirm the truth, even when my mind was confused or weary and my prayers felt hollow. I think it’s also vital to continue in the Word – even if we feel disconnected from it. I love the Psalms, because the various psalmists are so honest about their struggles, but still turn it around into proclaiming praise and trust for God. You get the sense the words are sometimes rung out of the deepest parts of them, against all that their circumstances, emotions, and thoughts are telling them. Yet they still whisper the words, “In Him will I put my trust.” Talk about a heroic and courageous battle!
WB: What promises of God do you find helpful in the down times?
SH: There are two post-it notes on my office wall right now, that have carried me through some discouraging physical illness this past year, and also help me on the days that depression tries to creep back in. Psalm 138:8 “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.” And I Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself RESTORE you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”
WB: For those who know someone who might be going through clinical anxiety or depression, what should they do to help? What should they try to avoid doing?
SH: Be gentle with what you say, and think about how it might feel to someone whose emotions are already raw. For example, when I had a bad spell of serious depression about five years ago, a friend said, “well, you’ve been working too hard.” I heard that as a blaming or accusing sort of comment. I heard, “it’s your own fault. You deserve this,” even though that wasn’t what they intended. Be a compassionate listener. Don’t give your friend a “to do” list – no matter how tempting it is. (“Are you getting enough exercise? Why don’t you go do something fun with friends? Are you in the Word enough? Are you praying? Have you tried Omega-3 pills? Did you get your thyroid checked?”) It’s likely your friend is exhausted and overwhelmed just by getting out of bed and is doing the best they can. It’s also likely they’ve explored a variety of great ideas, but some may not have worked for them. They probably don’t need more information. They need someone willing to stand alongside, cry with them, care, pray, accept, and reassure.
WB: What about those well-meaning Christians and other folk (Tom Cruise) who denounce the use of medication to help with anxiety or depression?
SH: I’ve got a bit of leftover flower-child in me from my teen years. I love natural and simple, so I understand concerns that our culture is sometimes too quick to throw pills at any problem. HOWEVER, I also believe that God has given us the gift of a variety of tools to tackle the variety of elements that can be part of anxiety and depression. People with high-blood pressure can benefit from medications that reduce it. People with ulcers can benefit from a course of antibiotics. People with diabetes may need insulin. Are there life-style choices that can also contribute to health for these folks? Sure! Does that mean they are wrong to ALSO use medication? NO!
WB: Anything else on this topic you feel like readers would want to know?
SH: Wayne, you and I both know that a deep dark struggle with depression or anxiety can make a person feel unable, unworthy, or unwanted in serving God’s kingdom. But the opposite is true. God uses the weak to confound the strong. His grace is made perfect in our weakness. When we have nothing left in ourselves to lean on—we lean into Him in new ways. Sometimes as we call out to Him, He chooses to bring gracious and complete healing and then allow us to serve others who are hurting. Sometimes he gently says the total healing won’t come until heaven –but then He also promises His grace is sufficient. And it is. Both are miracles of His grace: immediate healing, or the strength to live with a chronic illness (physical and/or emotional). Both kinds of miracles give us opportunities to give glory to HIS name, and recognize our deep need for Him.
WB: Okay, cool. Let's switch gears a little. Stepping into Sunlight--Great Book! And I'm a guy who doesn't usually read "chick lit." lol. But your new book is not just "Chick-Lit" and it's not an "Issue" book. How would you describe it?
SH: It’s a contemporary women’s fiction novel, (although, of course, men read my books, too) J Like all my books, it’s a “story for the hero in all of us” – about a woman’s faith journey through some tough experiences. I write about ordinary characters who have to find depths of courage in the midst of difficult circumstances.
WB: The main character, Penny, is someone readers will really connect with, but your supporting cast was absolutely incredible. Did any of these fictional characters come to life because of real people you know?
SH: Not really. Honestly, I find that most of my characters are ninety per cent imagination and ten per cent tiny facets of myself magnified and distorted into some creative shapes. J At least that’s what I tell all my friends who think they see a little of themselves in a character. ;-)
WB: Why should readers get a copy of Stepping into Sunlight?
SH: It’s an entertaining story that is uplifting and, I hope, inspiring. There are real relationships, humor, drama, and heart. Readers can even join the character, Penny, in her project to do a kind act for a new person each day. But it’s also a book to read if you know anyone who has battled depression or anxiety and you want to understand the experience a little better. C.S. Lewis said “We read to know we aren’t alone.” For those of us who have battled emotional illness, reading about a character who walks through that valley can help us feel like someone understands. One woman wrote to me after reading the book. She read scenes of it to her husband and said, “This is what I’ve tried to explain about my experience, but couldn’t put into words. This is what it’s like.” I hope Penny Sullivan will give a little bit of a voice to the millions who are facing this battle as she steps into sunlight.
WB: Where can folks purchase Stepping into Sunlight?
SH: All major bookstores (if you don’t see it on the shelf, just ask – they can order it in for you if they’ve run out), or at my website:
OR if you want a signed and personalized copy for yourself or to give as a gift, you can order it at:
WB: Sharon, thanks so much for visiting with us and for being real.
SH: Just call me the Velveteen Rabbit. ;-) Thanks for initiating this rather brave chat, and being open about your experience.