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Monday, 21 September 2015 23:22

My faith journey

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the vine cvr150While struggling with depression, it was a friendship with two external Discalced Carmelite Nuns who became an inspiration in living a life for God, writes Lay Carmelite Russell Darby on his remarkable and inspiring faith journey.

Life remains a daily struggle in dealing with symptoms of an illness that was given to me in part by an abusive childhood with an alcoholic father and a mother with bi-polar disorder. Let me tell you my story, beginning in happier times.

I first met my wife Joy the day we both began our nursing career (8-2-1974). We graduated together 1977. After graduation, I began a career in nursing administration. It was a career that was to take me beyond even my expectations. At the age of 25, I became a Director of Nursing at an aged care facility. Joy and I married in 1979 and moved to Dubbo in 1988 to Lourdes Hospital for a wonderful nine years as Director of Nursing. It was also at this time that my career “took off ”. I became involved in the Research and Nursing Exchange for Clinical Practice at Charles Sturt University and the exchange of nursing students from Minokamo City in Japan. This entailed travelling to Japan several times to set up programs and conduct lectures. At this time, I was made a Senior Associate Professor of Charles Sturt University, and also completed a Bachelor in Nursing Degree. I became the first male Director of Nursing at St Vincents Hospital in Lismore. The collaborative approach in research and exchange of students continued, now with Southern Cross University and as a result of this development the Collaborative, Health, Education and Research Centre (CHERC) was established.

This involved education and research trips to both Japan and America. In developing Friendly Agreements with both countries, it was necessary to meet with Members of Parliament and with the then Prime Minister John Howard.

This also marked the early stages of an illness...as yet undiagnosed.

Late in 2000, during which our eldest daughter had graduated from year 12 and our youngest daughter year 10, I felt like a dark cloud was descending on  me. This dark cloud was to carry with it a major depression and going on to develop auditory and visual hallucination (now known to me as a Schizoaffective Disorder). It was also the beginning of many long periods, sometimes up to 5 months at a time in a Mental Health Facility in Brisbane.

I was isolated from contact with my family as Joy continued to work, our eldest daughter commenced studies at University of Wollongong and our youngest studied for senior. I remember the pain of separation from them and how sad I felt for putting them through such an ordeal. At  the height of my illness, voices and visions were disturbing. I felt so alone and desperate for peace. This illness robbed me of a career that I loved. My family relates to me aspects of a frantic time during the height of my illness when the desire to go to work was the core but something I was incapable of doing due to the unrelenting symptoms. Due to multiple treatments of ECT over a period of years and multiple medications, this is not a memory to me.

Faith was always the foundation of our being. During the early years of my illness we became very aware that we were being carried by God’s Grace and Love, through the support of family and friends, and a doctor with whom my respect and thanks just continues to grow even after 15years.

It was in Lismore that Joy and myself began to “Climb the Mountain”. We became friendly with two external Discalced Carmelite Nuns whilst becoming a part of the community  at Goonelabah. These were two women who became an inspiration to us in living their lives for God. 

We relocated to Brisbane in 2003 and as divine intervention  would have it, my wife would pass Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church at Coorparoo, enroute to visiting me in the mental health facility. Over the Easter Holiday period, I was allowed a weekend pass to catch up with Joy and my daughters, both home from University for their break to see their Dad. We attended The Passion of Our Lord and I was asked to carry  the cross into the church by a lady who was to become a treasured friend...little did she know of my own cross that I was carrying that day. This same lady invited us to attend a Lay Carmelite Community Meeting, as by now we continued to attend Mass at OLMC Coorparoo after I had been discharged and thus began our Journey in Carmel.

Joy and I were Finally Professed as Lay Carmelites in 2013 and so we continue to Climb the Mountain. Saint Teresa’s Prayer has become my daily prayer - “May there be today, peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of Faith. May you use those Gifts that you have received and pass on the Love that has been given to you. May you be confident knowing you are a Child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

(Featured image is taken from the cover of the September 2015 issue of The Vine, a digital collage created by A. Moraova using an original watercolour/mixed media painting by Di Rech from Jamberoo community. The verse reads, "Flower of Carmel, Tall vine, Blossom laden, Splendour of Heaven, Child-bearing yet maiden. None equals thee.")

This article was first published in September 2015 issue of The Vine, the Lay Carmelite newsletter for Australia and New Zealand.

Find out more about the life and ministry of the Carmelites of Australia and East Timor.