She Trusted God to Guide Her Daughter Through Disappointment and Depression

Her daughter was devastated after a knee injury ended her college athletic scholarship plans. But then God opened another door.

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Posted in , Nov 25, 2021

Julie O’Neill and daughter, Bekah; photo by Cory O’Neill

My daughter, Bekah, called me from soccer practice. “Mom, I think I did it again!” she said, sobbing. “My knee snapped just like last time, and I collapsed on the field. This can’t be happening!”

Bekah was a senior in high school. Her dream was to play in college. She had suffered a severe knee injury—a complete tear of her right anterior cruciate ligament—one year earlier and battled back from surgery.

Her doctors had called her a model patient and declared her ready to play. Getting back on the field had been a gift from God in the midst of the pandemic, as teens everywhere struggled with isolation and the loss of routines.

Bekah was right. How could this be happening?

“I’m coming as fast as I can,” I said. “Don’t fear the worst.”

My words were as much for me as they were for my daughter. Bekah’s injury had been a huge parenting challenge for my husband, Cory, and me. It wasn’t just the soccer; it was the emotional effect.

Bekah’s depression took us by surprise. She holed up in her room and became listless and withdrawn. She even stopped singing, something she’d always done when absorbed in something she loved.

Nothing I said seemed to make a difference. She walled me out.

Bekah’s healing had been the answer to a lot of prayers. She had recovered faster and stronger than doctors predicted. Looking forward to the possibility of playing in the fall had kept her going through the early months of Covid lockdown.

It felt like a God story. But God stories aren’t supposed to end with another injury just weeks after the start of soccer season. What would this do to her emotionally?

Bekah was distraught when I got to the field. “I just know I reinjured it,” she said. “It hurts so bad! I’ll be out the whole season. I won’t make a college team. Mom, it’s over!”

I fumbled for reassuring words, but Bekah just stared straight ahead with the same desolate expression I’d learned to fear a year earlier.

An MRI confirmed the worst. Bekah had torn not only her ACL again but also her meniscus, a layer of cartilage in the knee.

The doctor didn’t sound encouraging about a return to soccer. Or tennis, another sport Bekah loved. Or cross-country skiing, something we liked to do as a family with her older brother, Cade. “You might not be built for anything with strenuous side-to-side movement,” the doctor said.

“I wasn’t even playing hard,” Bekah said bitterly. “Just running down the field. I stepped to the side, and the next thing I know, I’m on the ground. All that work for nothing!”

She disappeared into her bedroom as soon as we returned home.

“How are you doing in there, sweetheart?” I asked through the door.

“Fine.”

“I know this is hard for you.” Silence. “We’re praying for you. You’re going to get through this.” More silence.

She was often more open with Cory, but even he didn’t have much of a window on her feelings this time.

“I’m worried she’s going to go back into that bad place,” I said.

“Seems like she’s already there,” Cory replied.

He and I made two big decisions. Because surgery had not prevented a reinjury, we did not want to put Bekah through such an ordeal again. We did some research and learned about a less invasive procedure, one that uses stem cells to encourage healing of the damaged tissue. We made an appointment.

And we signed up our daughter for counseling with a Christian therapist. There are some mental health issues that only a professional can resolve. I feared Bekah was heading toward a faith crisis too.

The stem cell procedure was straightforward, but recovery was awful at first. Bekah’s knee swelled horribly for about a week, and she was in excruciating pain.

I sat by her bed and tried to comfort her. “Everyone is praying for you. We’re going to get through this.”

“What’s the point of praying if God doesn’t listen?” she said, adding, “Don’t cry like that, Mom. It just makes me feel worse.”

“What would help you? How about counseling? How’s that going?”

“Fine.”

“Is it helping?”

“I said it’s fine. Look, can you just leave me alone?”

I kept waiting for the milestone that would bring back our healthy, happy daughter. Bekah started walking with crutches, then gradually transitioned to walking on her own. She did physical therapy to rebuild muscles. I often caught her staring at her right leg, which had atrophied since the injury.

In February, her doctor pronounced her healed and said she could run, hike and ride a bike. But no soccer.

I wanted to celebrate at dinner. Bekah ate glumly, then disappeared into her room.

My instinct as a mom was to fix my kids’ problems. For the first time, my daughter faced a problem I simply couldn’t fix. I felt helpless.

A few days later, I took one of my favorite hikes, up a butte outside town. I needed to clear my head and pray.

The sun rose in a clear blue sky. The air was crisp and fresh. My prayers turned into an argument with God.

I’m losing my daughter, and you’re not helping. Tell me what to do to make her better. I feel like a failure as a mom.

I reached the top of the butte. I gazed around, the only person there. In one direction, the city spread out below. In the other, snowcovered mountains rose toward the Three Sisters, the Cascades’ high volcanic peaks.

A deep peace came over me, something I hadn’t felt since the day of Bekah’s injury. My mind was clear. Stop trying to fix things, God seemed to say. Trust me. Trust your daughter. Let her deal with this in her own way. I am with her.

Her own way? Bekah was only 17! Too young to handle something so big.

Yet maybe God was stating the obvious. Cory and I had done all we could think of. My meddling and probing clearly were backfiring. What would happen if I let God take the lead?

Just thinking that deepened the peace in my heart. A sense of hope welled up. Bekah is going to get through this. She is going to thrive. She will hang on to God, and he will put her on a good path.

Over the following weeks, I did my best to treat Bekah as if she knew what she was doing.

Instead of obsessing over her latest curt reply, I remembered the spark I’d seen in her when Cade had come home from college for the holidays with a very Cade suggestion: “Since Bekah can’t ski, let’s try snowmobiling.”

Cade found a couple cheap used snowmobiles, and he and Cory got them working. I’m not a big fan of taking loud machines into the backcountry, but Bekah came alive out there in a way I hadn’t seen in ages. The mood lift wasn’t permanent, but maybe it was a sign of things to come.

One day, I noticed her bedroom door was open. I peeked in and saw her bent over her desk, writing. I heard a soft sound. She was singing a praise song to herself! Soon I was hearing that sound all over the house.

Bekah took up running in the afternoons and sometimes met up with friends from the soccer team. She spent a lot of time on her college applications, plus additional applications for scholarships. Most of the stress she complained about now related to school, not her knee.

“Guess what?” she said as the end of her senior year approached. “I was named salutatorian for my class.”

College acceptances rolled in. One of her top choices, Oregon State, awarded her scholarship money for all her first year’s expenses.

It was summer when Bekah casually said one day, “Hey, Mom, I wrote down some things about my injury experience. Want to read?” She handed me a journal.

I did my best to keep my cool. I took a deep breath and looked inside:

It’s a strange kind of grief to have to let go of something you’d planned on in the future, grieving the experiences you’ll never have. I’d like to say that I immediately turned to God and felt his strength flood me. But the truth is, I was too angry. I oscillated between mustering up my own strength to prove to the world I wasn’t weak and feeling frustrated at my failure to be strong.

I also tried therapy, and now I realize that healing my mind is just as important as healing my body. That was when I began to see the blessings that didn’t take the shape of a soccer ball. I was forced to rely on God, for only he could take care of the things out of my control.

This time, when the doctor said I was healed, it didn’t feel like a milestone, because God already had me right where I was supposed to be. What I learned was to be so incredibly grateful for the things God has given me right now, not what I think he’s going to give me in the future.

I closed the journal and, despite my vow to back off, grabbed Bekah for a huge hug. There was so much I wanted to say to her. There would be time for that later.

For now, all I could do was thank God for staying true to his word, as he always does. He had helped me set aside my fears and see—and trust—Bekah through his eyes. I loved what I saw more than ever.

My daughter truly was healed. And so was I.

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