One of the most difficult times of my life was after the birth of my fourth child, when I suffered from severe post-partum depression. Like many kinds of hardship that leave us broken open, healing involved a process of deep reflection, reevaluation, and recommitment. It was a slow and painful process but I worked through my perception of self, my choices in life and my relations with others. While struggling forward amidst heavy responsibilities and a weak support network, I eventually reached a state of peace and contentment.
My friend Janet, unknowingly, helped me through this painful period of my life when she gifted me with a set of 30 cassette tapes – the entire Quran, audible, one verse at time, first in Arabic then in English. During my drive time, which amounted then to almost three hours a day, I played the tapes. Knowing absolutely no classical Arabic when I started, I concentrated on the words to match the meanings between languages. After two years of daily lessons, I understood enough to switch to the only-Arabic recitation of the Quran, and continued learning for another year as I drove and then researched at home the new vocabulary. Eventually, I could understand fairly well the eloquent expressions of God’s speech to man, and I was able to listen to the entire Quran at least once a month. This process transformed me.
When I listen to the Quran, God talks to me. He tells me how to live well, He describes Paradise, He teaches me little prayers, He tells me that He hears and knows everything in my heart. He tells me that He is merciful and kind to all creation, and that He helps and supports particularly those who believe in Him and treat others well. He teaches me, through stories of prophets, how I should approach life and how He chooses the very best for us, even if it meant prison for Joseph, exile for Abraham, and false accusations for Mary.
I came to the realization that He chose everything for me because it was best for me. I often used to think that if only I had been given more opportunities as a child, I could have been such a better person. But then I realized how my childhood made me strong, so it was good. Now I accept that everything I go through is carefully measured so that I can be my best self. When I am suffering, I ask, “What am I supposed to learn?” hoping that enlightenment will lessen the pain. Sometimes it means I have to change. Sometimes it means I have to forgive. Sometimes it means I have to stand up with confidence and self-worth and be counted. Some things I may never know. But I stopped questioning God.
I stopped doubting God’s love and now I am sure of it. I feel it, and I can tap into it when I need to. Often I can stop the confusion to feel the embrace of my Creator, and experience His mercy and His limitless gifts. I know that if I don’t feel God’s love, it is because I have turned away from it, and I can just as easily turn again towards it, and recharge my soul with His love. It is so overwhelming sometimes, and it makes every created thing pale in comparison – they are shadows compared to the True Reality of God.
When I feel that warm embrace, and the security and confidence that I am being cared for in the best of ways, I can enjoy the smallest of things. I find more joy in my desert surroundings now than I ever did living on the shores of Lake Michigan, because now I feel God’s love in it all. For example, when I saw a tiny flower growing out of a thin crack in desert rock, I felt it was created just for me to enjoy – what other purpose did it have? In that moment, I felt God was smiling at me, and I could not help smiling back.
When I remember the dark days of my depression, I feel sad for a moment. But then I realize how much I grew from that experience, how much more I empathize with others’ struggles, and how I much more appreciate the smallest of miracles in everyday life. In many ways, depression was the beginning of the best days of my life. Having been at my lowest point, rising up was the only path available. Having been broken open, turning to my heart’s Creator was the only way to mend. I learned, with certainty, that with hardship is ease. And I finally found peace.