Bill’s Depression and Me, part 1

Over the last 17 years, my most FAQ has been, how did Bill’s severe depression affect me?
This week and next I’m sharing my experience as Bill’s wife walking with him.

The Downhill Slide

We were both blind-sided … or perhaps it is more accurate to say, we were unaware of our reality.

It was the summer of 1999 and our Navigator National Staff Conference in Florida just ended. Bill had directed it. He loves the challenge of pulling off big events; he was in his element. And not surprisingly he was (we were) tired, exhausted really.

With the conference in our rear-view mirror, we headed north with our pop-up camper to the Outer Banks of NC for a week on the beach. It was good.

Before we left the camp-ground I remember calling from the pay phone to set up a visit to the U of Tennessee to visit the Navigator ministry. Our son was staff there and we had a few extra days before needing to be back in Colorado.

Something else was beginning. Bill’s sleep was becoming disrupted; in many cases the first symptom of depression.

What about me?

I was going with the flow. I regret that I was not in tune enough with our reality to see the yellow flags. There were many. I wish I had listened to the questions floating through my mind, the first yellow flag. As much as I wanted to visit our son, I remember wondering if that was really a good idea. A week on the beach hadn’t cure our tiredness.

Something is Not Right

The next yellow flag was Bill’s lack of desire for his job.

Soon after returning to Colorado, he left for a staff meeting. He pushed through without considering why he really didn’t want to be there. In the middle of the night he experienced a panic attack, the first. Another yellow flag.

Was he just overly tired? Later in September we were gifted with a week in the Colorado mountains. The Aspens were at their height. Again, it was good … but not the solution to what we were experiencing.

Another meeting called for his participation. I accompanied him. Although he participated in the work portion, He (and I) opted out of all the social pieces; another yellow flag and a classic symptom of depression.

What about me?

Awareness was dawning. This was more than over-tiredness. I was beginning to realize we needed to question our normals. I was sticking close to Bill at his request. My schedule bowed to his.

My new role – Bill’s Advocate

Bill was still keeping his planned fall activities although each trip became a decision. And I started always traveling with him.

One of our favorite trips each year is to the Missions Conference of our home church in Peoria, IL. Not only are we honored to represent that church, but we have many friends from our years there. We went. But something broke, a line was crossed. Bill experienced a major panic attack.

This was the pivot point. We were scared. He called our doctor in Colorado. Concern was high.

What about me?

Ignorant flexibility. I didn’t encourage Bill to participate in the conference or meet our various friends for meals. I went by myself and didn’t try to hide our reality. I needed the support of our friends. My concern for my husband trumped my role as a missionary.


When we returned from Illinois, Bill was officially diagnosed with Clinical Depression, a genetic disposition that runs in him family. It was deep and dark. He lost all interest in his normal activities: his hobbies, reading, TV, travel, sex. As he says, he couldn’t even read his favorite Louis L’amour cowboy books.

He experienced a reduced appetite. He ignored the phone. If someone came to the door, he hid in our bedroom.

There was anxiety. Some days he felt like he was having a heart attack; other days he was sure he had a brain tumor.

And his refrain became, I can’t. Decisions were beyond him.

Medication was prescribed. It took several months to get the right meds and the right dosages.

He was officially on sick leave from The Navigators.

What about me?

I increasingly became the family decision maker. I asked our sons to not come home for Thanksgiving.
I became Bill’s protector, but not his fixer. I could never understand his reality. I stood on the fringe and prayed and did what he could not do.
I was so very thankful for our friend, Alan Andrews, the US President of The Navigators who called me every day to check on Bill. I needed a trusted confidant.

Then Came December

It was the first Sunday in Advent. We had not been to church in two months. Bill felt ready to return. Me too!

It was a wonderful Sunday — for me. Bill couldn’t wait to leave. Our well-meaning friends so glad to see him back made him feel claustrophobic. He had to get out.

What about me?

This was crushing. For the first time, I was discouraged. When would this end? Was this our new normal?

Come back next week for Our Continuing Saga
as we come to the tipping point.
I’ve titled it, The Up-hill Journey

A Reminder: Everyone who comments will be receiving a gift via snail-mail and be placed in a drawing for one of my favorite books.






The Everlasting Arms

Thank you Candy for pointing me to this truth in the days after Mom died, underneath everything are God’s everlasting arms holding me tight.

The everlasting arms guided me to three scriptures that became my anchors. Three scriptures I knew well, but became new all over again in the midst of my current reality.

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1, NLT

Mom’s maiden name was Fraser. Many ‘Frasers’ are buried in one cemetery in New York. On the main headstone Psalm 46:1 is inscribed. I don’t know the history of why this particular scripture was chosen, but I am experiencing the reality of its truth. On April 4, six months ago, I noted in the margin of my Bible Mom fractured her hip last night. Although that morning I had no idea what the next six months held, God reminded me that He was my refuge; He was my strength; and He would be there for me. Oh how I needed that!

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

While in NJ I often found myself quoting these words of invitation, come to me; take my easy yoke. When life felt stifling, overbearing, and heavy – not easy and light, Jesus’ invitation confronted me with a choice. Will I believe his yoke is easy and his burden is light? Making the decision to trust, I prayed. Father, right now this feels heavy, too heavy for me. Will you take the heavy and leave me with the easy yoke and the light burden you promised. I prayed these words often and experienced the grace of a light burden.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …”
from Psalm 23;1, 4

Recently Mom told me that the 23rd Psalm was her favorite scripture. Like many of you I can quote it from memory. But as I walked through my own valley of the reality of death, David’s words pushed me to a new level of trust.

Verse 1 is the thesis of the Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Or as the NLT says, “… I have all that I need.” When relationships got thorny or when the doctors and nurses couldn’t answer my questions, would I believe I had all I needed?

The month before Mom broke her hip our pastor preached on Psalm 23 preparing me for what was ahead.  He concluded with these thoughts:
When I feel like faking it and wearing a mask, am I really believing that the Lord is my shepherd?
Steward your emotions and tell yourself the truth.
Oh how I needed these words this past month.

In the midst of many emotions, the truths spoken to me in Psalm 46, Matthew 11, and Psalm 23 became my personal everlasting arms.

Olive wood carving, “The Hands of God”

After the Black Forest fire four years ago, my friend Carolyn brought me this piece from Israel. Once again it has special meaning.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
Psalm 46:10




My Mom

My Mom, Jane Fraser Holmes, Jan 9, 1920 – Sept 16, 2017

This picture was taken at my niece’s wedding 8 years ago. Yes, Mom had aged in the past 8 years, but you still would not have guessed she was 97.

I’ve been in New Jersey with my sisters for over two weeks now. My husband Bill has been here for a week.

Mom was in the hospital when I arrived. She could squeeze my hand and sometimes whisper desires, like she was thirsty. I’m pretty sure she knew I was there. As the days went by, she responded less and less.

Until she fell and broke her hip in early April, Mom still lived in her home of 52 years. She loved her home and several times throughout the late spring and summer voiced her desire to return.

We brought her home September 12th. Hospice was arranged for, the hospital bed set up in her living room, and my three sisters and I were trained on how to care for her. One or more of us stayed by her side 24/7. She was comatose the entire time; each day a bit weaker.

She took her last breath early evening September 16. It was a very peaceful passing. I’m thankful.

Her Memorial Service is Friday. If you like, you can read her obituary here.

These weeks have been hard; and God has been faithful. There is much I want to write about ~ later. For now I covet your prayers for me and my family as we walk through this valley of the reality of death.

A Different Story

Mom, April 2017

I’m in NJ. I so don’t want to say this but the promised posts are on hold for a couple of weeks. God is writing a different story.

And my sisters and I are in the eye of a different storm. We are all here with Mom. Sara lives here; Barbara came from Virginia, Penny from Ohio.
Her hospital bed sits in her living room.  You often can find the 4 of us leaning in close trying to discern what Mom is trying to communicate to us. Right after Labor Day she had a pace maker implanted. It did not go well. Her 97 year old body has said enough.
She wanted so badly to come home. Hospice is one of our anchors right now. Eating and drinking are history, 2 days now but still she breathes.
My husband flew in yesterday. Our kids will come from KS and CA. We’re just waiting.
Actually my post for tomorrow is written … but not part 2 for next week. My energy needs to be in a  different place. Thank you for allowing me this time.
Mt 11:28-30 has been my anchor, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Each day I ask the Lord to take the heavy and leave me with the light I can trust Him with. I’m experiencing His faithfulness.
I would appreciate your prayers. Even easy is hard.


“Hope is a person. Hope is Jesus. Hope takes my eyes off what I can see and fixes them on what is ahead. 

  • Hope is sure.
  • Hope is steadfast, like an anchor for our souls.
  • Hope goes before.
  • Hope secures the promise.
  • Hope gives us a purpose.
  • Hope is forever.”

“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,”
Hebrews 6:19a

My Hows for Small Groups

You’ve probably heard it said, Your presence is my present. YES! I’m so thankful for your presence here. And I have a present for you too! …  make sure you read to the bottom, but for now back to my hows for small groups.

It’s the one year celebration of moving to its new platform and the seven year anniversary of its inception. So this week’s post is part three of a thread that started in 2010. Living INside the Box was the beginning. You might want to refresh your memory with those two posts.

One way I live inside my God-created box is by facilitating small groups. One year ago I shared some principles I follow when leading groups. As I continue to grow in this area I’m realizing that it’s not so much what I do as how I do it that contributes to the success of the group. So here are my three big hows

1. Relate to your friends as God relates to them. Paul penned 13 letters to his friends that are shared in the New Testament. In nine of the thirteen in his opening words he calls his friends holy. If you know Jesus as your savior, that describes you as well. You are holy!

This challenges me. I am not the facilitator because I am more holy. I am the facilitator because of gifting. Others have gifts of research, hospitality, communication, technology and more. We are grouped together with purpose, for the whole body to be built up. We are all holy.
Bonnie Gray in her recent book, Whispers of Rest, says, “The more you are able to rest in who God made you to be (holy), the more others will experience God’s presence through you.” P. 338.

2. Lead with questions that lead to understanding. Yes, do get the facts out, but let those facts be the springboard for 2017 applications.

For example …
If you were busy serving dinner, how might you have responded to others who seemed totally unaware of your chores?
When you read this narrative, which piece stood out to you? Why?
If you had an unexpected encounter with Jesus, what emotions would surface?

3. Respond with affirmations to everyone’s contributions.

Wow, great insight. I’d not thought of that.

Your illustration is so helpful. Thank you for sharing that piece of your story. I’m amazed at how often “me too” surfaces when people share vulnerably.

Or when you’re not sure the text has been understood correctly you might say, Have you ever thought about it this way? This allows them to reconsider without saying, you didn’t get it.

I hope these are helpful. Now back to the anniversary celebration.

Yes, I have a present for ALL who post a comment on any of
the blogs during September.

You will receive it via snail mail in October.
Everyone (who comments) will receive a small gift with a special message.
A few will receive a book as well!
Each time you post (either on the blog, on Facebook, or in response to my personal note), your name will go in a drawing. The more you comment, the better your chances of having your name drawn for one of the books.

So, check in each week, let me know you were there, and your chances for one of the books increases.

Do you not know about my personal note??? Send me your email address and I’m glad to add you to my friends who receive it.

My next two posts will answer my FAQ about what it was like for me when Bill went through his severe depression.


Echoes of Grace is taking it’s annual vacation for the month of August. Echoes (and Sue) will miss you.

But do come back Thursday, September 7. Echoes has a very special treat waiting for you.

Till then,




Chocolate for My Soul

Rest, resiliency, vacation, solitude, quiet … chocolate for my soul.

Being the chocoholic that I am, time at our Sanctuary is a gift to us each August. Bill snapped the above picture on a cool morning last August. It’s how I start my time with God, sitting, staring (usually at God’s creation … that morning the wood stove had me mesmerized), solitude, silence, and coffee (almost as good as chocolate).

“Most of the things we need in order to be most fully alive
never come from busyness. They grow out of rest.”
Mark Buchanan

During August, I’m practicing being fully alive, dwelling, resting, abiding, and listening for the voice of God. Echoes of Grace is enjoying its yearly vacation and will return on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Looking forward to seeing you then and sharing with you a special surprise. Mark your calendar for September 7.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High”
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD,
“My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1, 2


My Ark, An Update

If you didn’t get a chance to read my first post about building my ark, click here. Today’s words  flow from last March.

Notice the scaffolding. As I continue to learn about rest and resiliency, scaffolding is in place. Below are four more lessons that are supporting me on my rest journey.

This was our cabin, our sanctuary, five years ago. The house wrap that prevents infiltration of air and water while letting the water vapors escape preventing rot and mold inside the walls is securely adhered to the wood behind it. The longevity and the beauty of our cabin depend on it.

Learning about rest and resiliency has been a journey of paying attention to my house wrap so to prevent rot and mold. Because how I am on the inside reflects on my outside.

“Rather train yourself for godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness in of value in every way,”
I Timothy 4:7b-8a, italics mine.

Psalm 139 speaks of God’s creating me and only speaks of my inside. You formed my inward parts; you knitted my together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you. Your eyes saw my unformed substance (embryo); verses 13 and 14.

Noah’s ark was an amazing piece of architecture. I am too.

The inside trumps the outside.

In the midst of a full ministry schedule this summer, Mom who lives across the United States is recovering from her broken hip. Two nieces, a nephew, and our pup were all in serious accidents. What does rest and resiliency look like now?

The familiar message of Psalm 46:10 led me. Be still and know that I am God! With those words, God whispered, Sue trust me with the process. Don’t hop on a plane. Keep your words silent. Trust. Oh, so, hard for extrovert me.

Rest does not equal control. Rest flows from trust.

Writer Shelly Miller says, “As I ponder the reasons why I might be waking up feeling clear headed, full of energy and hopefulness about the day ahead, I realize Sabbath-keeping is like a river with tributaries. Rest is the life-giving stream that flows into all areas of life.”

Early on I learned the spiritual discipline of a quiet time, a daily few moments set aside to read my Bible and pray. It was good.

Over the last several years quiet time has morphed into a time to build my friendship with Jesus, to communicate with a person. It is better! It is a “life-giving stream that flows into all areas of life.” I often start asking this question, What would it look like to trust you today? As I live out the answer, I experience Continue reading

My Two Most Influential Books

At least among those I’ve read this summer. Waking Up White by Debbie Irving was a June read.

I heard of this book through colleagues earlier in the spring and was intrigued. And when I saw it on the bookshelf in the condo we lived in for a week, I quickly picked it up … and hardly put it down until I finished.

Saying it was one of the most influential books I’ve read recently might be an understatement.

Author Debbie Irving and I both grew up in the northeast, she in Massachusetts, me in New Jersey. We were both baby boomers. And that is just the beginning of all we had in common.

As I read her words story after story came to mind. Like the one when my friend Shira (not her real name) and I sat in the coffee shop across from each other. As ministry moms and moms with pre-school children, there was oodles to talk about. Then this stray thought almost stopped our conversation. Sue, you and Shira are sitting here like friends and Shira is African American! I’m ashamed that this surprised me. But until that point I never had a friend who did not share my race. Ouch!

In Waking Up White, Debbie candidly shares her journey. The short chapters ending with a few think about questions ministered deeply to me as I identified with so much.

One chapter, Intent versus Impact, both encouraged and left me feeling insecure. Debbie wrote about an event she was planning that she specifically invited some of her African American friends to participate in. Her intent was pure. However, at the evaluation she learned how the event impacted her friends … in a very negative way. She was shocked. I would have been too.

A few days later I sat on a plane next to an African American lady. I was scared! Not of her, but of how my intent to be friendly might be perceived by her. It took till the end of the flight for  conversation to happen.

My heart is to love well everyone God brings across my path. Waking Up White is helping me understand how important and how hard that journey is.

Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray is a 40 day devotional book.

I don’t do 40 day things.
I rarely use devotional books.

God broke through both barriers and I’m so glad he did.

Each short chapter is loosely patterned after the practice of Lectio Divina. Lectio is a practice birthed in the 1500’s to foster listening to God. It was designed to help God’s voice come alive in very personal ways. Bonnie’s desire is to “create space for your soul to breathe and revitalize you soul with God’s love.” p.xviii.

Bonnie also writes very vulnerably. Unlike Waking Up White her story is very different from mine. Yet her reflections and the offering of 2 or 3 questions in each short chapter guarantees the content has been personalized.

The scripture Bonnie highlights on day 3 is Mark 6:31, “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” That particular week, Bill and I were living in a dorm with 150 college students for a week. It was not quiet! But I found a delightful pond just down the street and I enjoyed the swing while sitting and reflecting. After a while, I penned these words …

I’m here with you God.
I’m here for you God.
I’m here to experience you God.
I’m here to be loved in a new way by you God.
I’m here to know you in a new way God.
I’m here for others God.
I’m here to be here God.

They became my prayer for the week.

“Come away with me by yourselves
to a quiet place and rest awhile.”
Mark 6:31

I love the reflections.

(I started this book on June 2. Today on July 12, I was up to day 21. LOL)



Owning Your Influence

You must visit the Peak when in Colorado Springs.

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Shirley this week. Shirley and Paul, Bill and I all attended college together. And we had a mini reunion last month at the end of their vacation. We talked, we remembered, we laughed, we cried. It was a great time.

Shirley owned her influence and my life was altered for eternity during our college days. Thank you, my friend.

Shirley and I met at Hope College as freshmen. Or did we meet because we attended the same local church? Perhaps our friendship bonded because of Hope AND Trinity Reformed. I don’t remember. Not important.

But the friendship glue dried that Sunday evening in early November at the college-aged youth group my sophomore year.

Church was part of our family culture. Dad taught Sunday school for a while. I was baptized and confirmed. We fit in with the culture of the times in the ’50’s and ’60’s. It was what we did on Sundays. And it was important to me.

During my junior and senior high years, Old Paramus Reformed Church was our church home.

I love this church. I see it every time I visit Mom in New Jersey. Bill and I were married there. It is a very special place to me. (A historical tidbit ~ George Washington quartered his horses there during the Revolutionary War.) It also is the reason I attended Hope. Hope College located in Holland, Michigan is a college of the Reformed Church. Even typing this memories flood back.

When Mom and Dad, my baby sister Penny, and I hopped in the car and headed for Hope, it was the first time I had ever been west of Philadelphia.

While attending Trinity Reformed every Sunday (probably sitting with Shirley), God was doing something in my heart. My religion was morphing into a relationship, a friendship with Jesus. The seeds that were planted by my family and at Old Paramus Reformed were being watered by my friends and at Trinity Reformed and new growth was happening.

Back to the college-aged youth group and the friendship glue that bonded Shirley and me. It was early November, 1966. The youth group was sponsoring a singing group that evening from a neighboring city. They sang and shared their stories of how Jesus became real to them. God was at work; I was intrigued.

During the refreshment time, I initiated a conversation with one of the singers. She invited me to pray and ask Jesus for that kind of relationship. I looked to Shirley to join us.

Owning your influence is about your maturity.
Your maturity is about your life focus;
a focus from being all about me to living for the benefit of others.
Bill Thrall, HTLC

Shirley owned her influence in my life that night. Not only did she pray with the other young lady and me, but when we returned to our dorm she introduced me to a Bible study she was participating in. That Bible study was published by The Navigators.

Then …
I recruited a group of friends and we started a new Navigator Bible study.
Because of the Bible study, I attended a Navigator conference the next spring.
At that conference I met Bill, my future husband.
Bill and I have served on Navigator staff since 1972.

I am so thankful that Shirley owned her influence that night.

“My influence is not about pursuing significance.
My influence is about stewardship.”
Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God
so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
I Peter 5:6