September 21, 2020

Life Lessons from Shadows and Shadow Mentors by Sharon Espeseth


Oh, the lessons I have learned through my reading over the years--lessons I still need to absorb and apply more generously, prayerfully, and thankfully to my life. When I don’t carve out time to read, pray, meditate, study, and write, I fall back into old habits like doing too much, wearing myself down, and relying too heavily on myself. Then I become anxious, fearful, doubtful, and even depressed. 

God knew we would need mentors. 

Who are my mentors?

God the Father speaks to us through his word and he has sent us many mentors, be they priest, prophets, psalmists, kings or ordinary folk. One of God’s strongest and most repeated messages, presented by messengers throughout the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus our Teacher, Lord, and Saviour came to earth to save us from our sins. But he also came to show us how to live. He knows life will bring us burdens and cares, Here is Christ's loving invitation.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV).”

Before ascending to heaven, Jesus told his disciples about the Holy Spirit who would comfort them, advocate for them, and remind them of everything He had told them. Jesus also promised each of us a peace that the world cannot give. He tells us, "Do not let  your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27 NIV).

St. Paul Mentors Me

Paul in his many writings in the New Testament speaks the truth, as he is God-inspired to do. He describes the word of God as, “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12 NKJV)." 

Later, when I will tell you of some of my anxieties, please understand that God can speak to me through His word and by other means, in spite of a bout of depression or anxiety. Whether he is writing to the Philippians, the Ephesians, or the Hebrews, he is sending a message to me that could be addressed, “My Dear Sharon.” And what does he tell me? 

“Rejoice in the Lord always. . . Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)."

Isaiah Speaks of God’s Mentorship

“How gracious (God) will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it ((Isaiah 30:19 NIV).’”

Who then, besides the biblical writers are my “shadow mentors?”

I went to my bookshelves and had a look. Because of downsizing, some of the books that came to mind are no longer there. Here are a few writers who have shadow mentored me in the past decade.

Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts 

Joanna Weaver in Living Like Mary in a Martha World  

Julia Cameron in The Artist Way and The Right to Write 

Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird and also in her TED Talk

    Online: “12 truths I learned from life and writing

Ron Rolheiser in his column “In Exile” in The Catholic Register,

    but can also be found online under “Ron Rolheiser’s Column Archives

Luci Shaw in Water My Soul: Cultivating the Interior Life  

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers


* * *

Dealing with Life’s Shadows: Our Covid Experience (Optional Reading) 

Getting up in years, Hank’s health had been declining for several years. In mid-March, his doctor recommended Hank to go into the longterm facility for two weeks. The doctor hoped to extend the progress Hank had made while in the hospital--eating more, walking more and socializing. 

The respite room was in a dementia unit--something we didn’t realize and something Hank didn’t need. He was given the door code so he could walk in the hallways and eat in the regular dining room. Covid-19 was hot on our heels and the day after he moved in, the units were locked down as a precaution for the virus. Three days later, with the doctor’s approval, I brought Hank home.

I've been conscientious about caring for Hank, but this close call with Covid weighed heavily on our shoulders. We talked more between ourselves, and with the doctor, about what Hank needed to do to make a come-back of sorts. We prayed and others prayed for us. The doctor made himself available to us.

Although Hank is still not strong, we see improvements in Hank’s effort and his health. He is up and about more, eating more, phoning a few people, walking to get the mail. We’ve been managing at home these past six months and we are thankful to be here together. We work as a team, but I am a fixer and I take the situation personally, which causes me stress. Hank was self-isolating because he felt so poorly, but I could still come and go for short periods.

When Covid became a health concern for all of us, I cut back my limited social life to almost zero. I’d mask up and go for groceries, then hurry home. I had a few distanced visits on our porch or at a nearby park. One friend and I would even write a little--like old times. 

Our church was closed for about two months. Even now that church is open, we observe Covid protocol, so it isn’t a chance to be in touch with people. It’s wonderful to be at church, but I miss the music and chance to see fellow parishioners.

Family visits have been restricted, so we miss the kids and grandkids. Our daughter, Jenny, comes to cut our hair and trim Hank’s beard. Our son, Michael, who has been laid off work has come home a few times for longer visits. We enjoy his company, support, and help.

Reclusiveness isn’t my fort√©. Instead of spending time with others, I remained focussed, maybe over-focussed on Hank’s health. I had to remind myself that it was my job to assist him, but the rest was up to him, and God. 

I like to have some quiet time in the morning for journalling, reading, devotions, but that didn’t seem to fit in either, as I was often tired. I procrastinated, felt disorganized, overwhelmed, and sometimes disgruntled. 

Before Covid, we had help me with housework and outside jobs, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that during Covid. I couldn’t seem to keep up. We did get Vicky back to help us and we now go downstairs while she cleans the main floor.

I do know, however, where my main help comes from. My help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121). But I don’t think I was sharing the yoke with the Lord to the degree he had offered. 

I’ve been on a maintenance dose of antidepressant for a long time. About two years ago, my doctor found a newer medication that worked better for me. During the earlier stages of Covid, this medication became unavailable, apparently because of transportation problems. 

God’s Timing and My Listening

After one particularly tearful day, I admitted to Hank what he had suspected for a while. I was going through another bout of depression. I knew I had to take action. As Hank’s caregiver, I knew I needed to take care of myself, as we both needed me to be well. I felt a nudge to do the following three things.

1. That same day I booked an appointment to see my doctor. He knows I am a caregiver and he knows I have limitations. The doctor reminded me that I was on a maintenance dose, rather than a therapeutic dose of antidepressant. He increased the dosage, and made sure I got the medication that works better for me. As my physician, he mentors to me.

2. I phoned Alberta Mental Health and booked to see a therapist. I had an intake telephone conversation and the group chose a therapist who is encouraging and supportive--a good mentor for me. I told her upfront of my Christian faith. She said I was fortunate for that and she is respectful of my faith. 

3. Just a few days before I “hit the (proverbial) wall,” I received a newsletter from Grace Fox. (Longtime InScribers may remember her as one of our keynote speaker for Fall Conference several years ago.) 

At that FC, I bought her book, workbook and tape called, Moving from Fear to Freedom. In her newsletter, she announced a seven week online (Zoom) course with this book and workbook as her material. I knew it would take time, which Hank mentioned, because I always seem to be short of time. But I looked at the book again and realized this would be good for me.

I believe this was God’s timing. Now, about 12 weeks after admitting I was depressed, I am feeling better but I still need to limit my commitments. Looking after my husband is my main job. I am, however, looking after myself better and appreciating life more, or should I say accepting the way things are during the restraints of the pandemic.

And Hank? Although he isn’t feeling exactly spry is feeling somewhat better too. God does hear and answer prayers and he knows what is best for us.

PS. I found out about Grace’s course, Moving from Fear to Freedom, from her newsletter. This course is now finished, but she is planning more seven-week courses for women. Grace is a good mentor for women. If you are interested in seeing what she has for future courses, you may sign up for her newsletters at the following site: www.gracefoxcom/blog 


  1. You continue to amaze me, Sharon. Despite your so called "weaknesses' and your very upfront and transparent struggle with depression, your words always uplift and encourage. This post is no exception! There are so many wonderful nuggets of truth and wisdom. I love your list of books, the scriptures you references, and even your story of the last few months is one of hope. Thank you for being such a faithful writer on this blog. Your words truly are a blessing.

  2. I agree with Tracy's comments. In spite of everything, Sharon, your words continue to encourage and invite hope. I love your book list and those spots where you mention how St. Paul mentors you in your personal walk. You've got a great cloud of mentors. I ask for continued grace for you and your husband, day by day, one moment at a time.

    1. Thank you, Tracy and Brenda, for your kind and supportive comments. I am humbled to tears, seriously. . . I prayed about my writing, but I struggled as I wrote and I feared I had gone on too long and maybe even missed the mark. I am hopeful that, and thankful if, God can use my story to help someone else.

  3. I am with Tracy on this one! I also liked your list of books. My brother is the managing editor of the Catholic Register Canada, yet I still have not read an issue! You've reminded me to look into it again.

  4. Hi Sharon, my friend I've never met in person. You are a tremendous inspiration to me each time you post on our blog. I have a soft spot in my heart for family caregivers. I enjoyed and love your post, but I love you more. Your love and dedication to Hank is moving and beautiful. I can relate to the tug of depression but so far I've been able to escape its clutches. Please, as you can, keep writing your wonderful heart. Blessings to you and your beloved, Hank.

    1. Thank you, Alan, for your encouragement for me to keep writing. This post was very personal and a challenge to write I had other good quotes for this blog, but I realized I was getting carried away. I will add one quote here that I believe would suit you and your dear wife, Terri. From The Love Chapter, Paul’s 1 Corinthians 13:13, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

  5. Thanks for you comment. I enjoy reading Catholic Register Canada. They have some good articles and updates on news and issues. Good articles by Fr. Ron Rolheiser and others.

  6. Sharon thank you for your reminders of the great Biblical writing mentors that influence our ideas and thoughts. Your poignant account of the daily mentors that influence you reminds all of us that we walk in concert with life situations that may pull us over that fine line at any moment. You have set a wonderful example that caring with a loving heart also means caring for yourself as needed.

  7. You are welcome, Denise, and I am grateful to know that my writing resonated with you. For this month’s blog, I felt compelled to write on this topic. To God be the glory. Thank you for your supportive comment. May God bless you in your daily walk.

  8. Pat Krushen8:18 am GMT-7

    You are an inspiration Sharon.... a true example of love and also personal struggle. It is not easy to be so transparent and perhaps our lack of transparency is one reason we all suffer in silence through our troubles. May God bless you and Hank on your continued journey.

  9. Thank you for your understanding and encouragement, Pat. I write with the hope and prayer that others may see they are not alone in their struggles. We can first of all reaffirm our faith through God’s word and other reading that goes beyond self-help to self-understanding and personal growth. We can accept Christ’s invitation to come to him when we’re weary and heavy burdened, so we can learn from him. We can also reach out to friends, family and services that are available for people with mental health issues. Yes, people need to know that we don’t have to "suffer in silence through our troubles,” as many have done for so many generations. Blessings to you and yours, my dear cousin.

  10. Dear Sharon, thank you for sharing from your heart and for the lovely list of writing mentors. I have several of the books you mentioned. You've inspired me to take a second look at them.
    Blessings as you continue to take care of Hank and yourself. He has a treasure of a partner in you.
    Hugs & prayers ~ Wendy Mac

    1. Perhaps you, like me, Wendy, sometimes have a book sitting around being unread or under appreciated. Then after reading a particular book I have on hand, it has an big impact on me. And I wonder why I didn’t read it sooner. One thing I've discovered is that there is a right time to read certain books.

  11. Sharon--your wisdom, gentleness, and perseverance inspire me. I'm so glad you joined the "Moving From Fear to Freedom" study, and I hope you join the next one as well. Your presence in the group is a gift to all. Know you are loved!

  12. Thank you, Grace, for sharing your warm Christian spirit and faith with the bunch of us. I really enjoyed the study, your leadership, and meeting such a wonderful group of women. Hope you got home safely to your marina. May God continue to bless your work for Him.

  13. Thank you for sharing and being vulnerable, Sharon. May God continue to keep you, His Word encourage you, as you care for yourself and your husband.

  14. Thank you, Susan, for your encouraging comment and your lovely prayer for Hank and me.

    1. I'm trying to catch up on my comments today. Thanks for sharing your heart and your recent journey with depression. I noticed you hadn't posted here every month, and I wondered if you were doing OK. Grace Fox was the guest speaker at my first Fall Conference, and I really appreciated her presentations. "From Fear to Freedom" is a timely topic for many women, especially now with Covid issues still plaguing us. God bless you and Hank. I continue to pray for you.

  15. Thank you, Sandi, for your comments and continued prayer. That Fall Conference when Grace was keynote speaker would then be when I met you, my friend. I haven’t looked back in my day book to see what year that was. I was happy to finally dig into the books I’d bought back then and to do the Bible study with Grace and a wonderful group of women. I hope you are doing well during the challenges of 2020. May God continue to bless and lead you, Sandi.


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