Several weeks ago when I posted a blog about depression, I learned that several readers were struggling with a very specific kind of depression – postpartum depression.
And as soon as I heard those words, I was taken back – back to the rocking chair in our nursery, back to the feeling of grey that hung over my heart for six months after the birth of our second child, back to the feelings of dread from having to do simple tasks like unloading the dish washer. It was just about all I could do to get food off of plates to go into the dishwasher, much less try to unload the whole darn thing.
If postpartum depression is something you are struggling with right now, or know someone who is struggling, I want to offer you hope and encouragement today – hang in there. One day, the fog will lift. One day, the veil of grey will turn into vivid colors. One day, you will feel like you can manage every day life again.
But until that day, just do one step at a time. Don’t look for energy or grace to do the whole day, or the whole afternoon, or all six feedings for the baby that stretch out before you. Just do the next thing.
I have two very vivid memories from my season of postpartum depression.
First, I remember standing in my kitchen with a toddler at my feet and a baby in my arms. I had gone to the grocery store that morning, and the kitchen island was strewn with grocery bags all waiting to be unpacked. The dishwasher was open, full of clean dishes waiting to be unloaded, and dirty dishes crowded the counter tops around the sink, crusted with the remains of scrambled eggs, waiting to go into the dishwasher once it was empty.
It seems simple, right? Unload the groceries, unload the dishwasher, and wash the breakfast dishes in the sink. But at that moment, climbing Mt. Everest seemed about as realistic as doing the tasks in front of me.
And I just stood by the kitchen sink…and cried…and called my mom.
And here is what she said: “Get help.”
And so I did what she said. I got help. I asked a precious young woman who loved me and loved my kids to come over and help me on Monday mornings and Wednesday mornings. Because I realized that while Mondays were hard in normal life, Mondays were especially hard when walking through postpartum depression. After the weekend of Jason being home to help with the girls, put food on the table and dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and simply reside as another adult, supportive presence in the house, once 7:30am on a Monday came, he was gone. And the whole emptiness of the week with a two-year-old and a newborn stretched out before me, and all of life seemed covered in a fog.
So on Monday mornings, my friend Sarah would come over. And here is what she did: she held the baby. She held the baby while I unloaded the groceries. She held the baby and colored with Lillian while I unloaded the dishwasher. She held the baby and talked to me – adult, normal, healthy conversation – while I put my kitchen and my Mondays in order. And her presence in my home was a lifeline that pulled me through the pit of postpartum depression.
Some people might need the reverse. Maybe help in the afternoons is what will pull you through. (That was what my neighbor Kendall was for – I would show up at her house at 4pm with a baby and a toddler in tow and sit in her kitchen while she was trying to do homework with her two older sons. I am sure she was thinking, “You showed up at the WORST time possible!” and was counting the minutes until I herded up my crew and headed home. But she never made me feel that way. She always welcomed me and my girls with hugs and a huge smile. She was another lifeline during that season.) Or maybe you need someone to come in and do the dishes and unload the groceries while you hold the baby and play with your toddler. Because I knew I was wired with a need to see a few completed tasks at the end of each and every day, I knew that cleaning my kitchen and getting my bills paid and week in order while someone else was loving on my children was a depression lifter for me. You just have to know yourself and know what is going to give you the help you need.
But if you or someone you love struggles with postpartum, please listen to the same advice my mom gave me: “Get help.” Talk through your needs and low points in your day and week with your husband, your mom, or a friend, and then trouble shoot those areas. Remember, postpartum isn’t forever. It is just for a season until the grey lifts.
Here’s the second memory I have from my season with postpartum: I was sitting in the rocking chair with my four-month-old daughter, and I could the greyness and depression descending as I fed the baby. As I fought back tears, I started to think through ways I could get the depression to lift. I could stop nursing and see if that helped. I could talk to my friends and see what kind of strategies or remedies they would offer. I could call my doctor and ask him to prescribe medication. But through my thoughts, I heard these quiet words spoken to my heart: “Susannah, you’ve never asked Me to help and heal you.”
The Holy Spirit’s gentle voice broke through the fog and reminded me of the invitation I always had from God Himself to ask Him to heal me.
I don’t know why it had never occurred to me to ask the Lord for His help in setting my body and hormones back to normal, but it hadn’t. I had only thought of asking for help from everyone else.
So as I rocked, I prayed, “Lord, You say in Your Word to ask You for healing. I know the invitation is not a promise that healing will always happen the way we want it to in the time we want it to, but I ask You – please heal my body. Please align my body with the hope of healing and the promise of Your presence You hold out in Your Word. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”
And as I prayed, I felt peace descend from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. It was as if God’s healing began to flow through every cell of my body and hope began to flood my heart.
My healing was not immediate. I still struggled with greyness and feelings of depression for several more months, but every time I sat in the rocking chair with my baby, I asked God for healing, and He would give it, little by little, step by step, day by day. A season that had been a burden now had the blessing of daily dependence on and expectancy of God’s healing presence. And while I wouldn’t want to go back to relive all parts of that season, I wouldn’t trade the nearness of God’s presence during that season for anything. I just wished I had asked for it sooner.
And sure enough, one day, one step at a time, the depression lifted and my season of postpartum depression ended. I woke up one morning when Lizzie was about six months old and felt like the “real me” was back. The grey had lifted and life felt manageable once again.
But it had taken help, it had taken prayer, and it had taken asking to get me through. So if you or someone you love is in a season of postpartum depression, encourage them to ask – ask for help from others and ask for help from the Lord. And the grace of God and the peace of God will flood their hearts and circumstances and give them what they need to take one more step.
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine shared a song with me that has been on repeat play on my phone ever since. The song is called One Day by Christa Wells.
The words and imagery present in the song gave me the reminder that I am not alone – others have seasons of struggle as well, and what gives encouragement and hope isn’t the thought of having to finish a 26.2 mile marathon, it’s the promise of God’s grace and sufficiency for one step more.
For those of you I know are struggling with postpartum depression, I am praying for you. Rest in the help God brings and the invitation He extends to lean on His presence. His grace is sufficient for you…and your baby…and your toddler…and your home…and your heart…one day more.
For the past week, my daughter Caroline has been conducting an experiment in science involving seeds. She planted two seeds in a cup and placed them in the dark, and she planted two more seeds in another cup and placed them in the light. And over the course of a week, she tracked their growth through drawing pictures and making written observations.
So, before we talk any further about the seeds, let’s be honest here: as a part-time homeschool mom, some of the disadvantages to having your children at home include more than normal greasy mom hair days (because, let’s face it – who has time to wash their hair when math is calling your name?), the ability of your children to invade your personal space and ask for your help all of the time, finding the drain in your bathroom sink clogged because it’s filled with orbies:
And, my personal favorite, finding papers like this behind the spelling tab in their binder:
This is the real world, people. Don’t have any false homeschool ideas in your head like children are fuzzy angels on a cloud smiling and saying, “Yes, ma’am” and perpetually blessing your name as you drill them on math facts. Picture kids crying, pencils breaking, moms yelling, everyone stinking. Both literally and figuratively.
But there are advantages to being a homeschool mom as well. Advantages like finishing up spelling while sitting outside together on a beautiful day, taking nature walks, reading good books, and watching seeds grow.
And as I’ve watched Caroline’s seed grow, I’ve been reminded of how much our life in Christ is like this planted seed.
Nothing has happened above the surface. All of the activity has gone on down below. And what looked like one ordinary, solitary, shriveled seed contained the material to produce an entire root structure in just one week.
And here’s what I’ve been challenged with – I spend most of my time looking on the surface.
I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and deciding what kind of woman I am by the appearance of the reflection staring back at me. Greasy mom hair that hasn’t been washed in four days, tired bags under my eyes, and melasma spots on my face from pregnancy and too much time out in the sun equals a woman not significant enough to be noticed, much less thought beautiful.
I spend a lot of time looking at my past and deciding the trajectory of my future by the poor decisions I made. A missed opportunity of going to graduate school, a passed up opportunity to go on the mission field, a late start as a writer, and not enough discipline or go-get-’em attitude equals a woman with a future ahead of her as dim as her past.
I spend a lot of time looking at my present and deciding what kind of harvest I’m going to yield by the size of the tasks I am accomplishing. Homeschooling four kids around one scratched up kitchen table, remodeling a house that has taken (thank you, Hurricane Harvey), almost a year and a half to complete, and spending more hours than I can count organizing other people’s schedules, play dates, and piano lessons, equals a woman whose harvest is small, not large, ordinary, not radical, and mundane, not risky, daring, unique, bold, or exciting.
That’s what I see when I look on the surface.
But God is teaching me to look at the roots. To trust that underneath the layers of the soil in my life, there is growth going on under the surface, growth that would amaze even me if only I had the eyes to see.
Last week, someone passed on a podcast to me that was eye-opening. The podcast is about forests, trees, and a tree’s system of roots. And it’s about what’s going on beneath the surface of things that we simply cannot see. (Click here to listen.)
But here are a few take aways that God has been using to encourage me ever since I listened:
- In a forest of trees, the tallest, strongest, oldest trees are the most connected. Their root system connects with many other trees in the forest, giving life, receiving life, sharing information, strengthening the weak, and receiving strength when they themselves need it. (And if you think this sounds too much like sci-fi, just listen to the podcast. It’s amazing.)
- Underneath the ground in the root system of trees are two things: fungus and tubes. The fungus lives and thrives because the trees give the fungus sugar, and the fungus gives the trees minerals they need to survive. How does this exchange process of sugars and minerals take place, you might ask? So glad you did…it’s through a tree’s roots and a highway of hundreds of miles of hollow tubes, tubes so tiny that they measure 1/10th the width of a single human hair. And through the tubes, the great exchange happens: sugar for minerals, minerals for sugar, and the forest grows, thrives, and is happy.
- Through these tubes, when one tree is sick or damaged, struck by lightening or being eaten from the inside out from a fungus or mold, it shares information, warning others trees of what’s ahead. Strong trees share sugar with weak trees, and weak trees passing along whatever sugar they have before death.
- And if that isn’t strange enough, scientists say that there seems to be one “intelligence” that controls it all. Yes, I promise. Just listen to the podcast. Like a brain, in the soil, under the earth, directing who gets what, knowing what lies ahead, warning, encouraging, strengthening, sharing nourishment and information.
What I just described can only mean this:
In his book The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien was closer to the truth than we ever dared imagine, and his walking, talking, intelligent trees are closer to reality than what we’ve ever dared to believe. There is intelligence underneath the soil; and that brain is either a freaky, white and green glowing mass that should make us never want to tread in the forest again…or…it is the wisdom of God Himself directing and speaking to His creation in places we cannot see.
I’m going for the second option.
And I’ve thought a lot about how that applies to life.
When I shared last week about my depression and the ways I am learning to hand God the map of my life, trust His leading, and feed on His faithfulness, your responses were overwhelming. You took cups of courage and poured them into me, helped me see I wasn’t alone, and held out the hope that this is many of your struggle too. I don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed because I am not alone. So thank you, thank you for that encouragement – it meant more than you’ll ever know.
And what I’ve realized this week is that in the midst of seasons of depression, or anxiety, or struggle, or hardship, we are not to walk this journey alone. The strongest trees are the most connected. We are given what we need for each and every struggle, each and every day, through God, His Word, His voice that speaks and creates and nurtures and gives life, and through one another.
How beautiful is that.
And life is not found or measured by what we can see on the surface of our lives. We are to peel back the layers and look underneath the soil of our lives, trusting God is doing more than we could ever ask or imagine through our roots.
So today, stop looking at the surface of things. Stop fearing the scrawny harvest that can only come from the solitary, shriveled seed of your life. Every seed was made with the capacity to grow tremendous roots. To connect with an entire forest of trees. To give nourishment and receive nourishment. To hear the voice of the Master Creator who does far more underneath the surface than we could ever imagine up here on the wrong side of the door, the wrong side of the soil, the wrong side of here and now. One day, the soil will be split open, the door will be flung open, and we will be able to see. Not what we falsely imagined but all that is radically, really true because of the Man who hung on a tree to pay the price for all of our sin.
Hang all of your hopes on that tree, on the seed of that death and resurrection, and I promise you, you and I both will not be disappointed.
“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” I Peter 2:24
Sometimes I struggle.
Well, let’s be honest. A lot of times I struggle.
And my struggle doesn’t always make sense. Meaning, there’s nothing in my life I can look at and say, “This is a really hard situation or circumstance.”
But sometimes I wake up feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and a hundred pounds on my chest. I look ahead at the events of the day and think, “All of those things are up to me. If I don’t do them, who will? If I don’t stay on top of it, turning and churning out tasks, how will I keep everyone and everything from falling through the cracks?”
And if I’m honest, the struggle behind the struggle is that I feel like it’s all up to me to make God pleased with me – to blog a certain number of times, to wake up at a certain hour, to use my time in effective, wise ways, to run my household in a God-honoring way.
And I recognize about myself that I have a lot of expectations in life. I expect and demand great things from myself as well as from those around me. I really have to work hard at resting…taking a deep breath…believing God is pleased with me not because of my efforts, which are never enough, but because of His grace, which is more than enough.
But I have also come to realize that some of my struggle is due to the depression that is a very real factor in my life. I have struggled off and on with depression for almost as long as I can remember. And while for many years of my life, I have seen depression as a tool of the enemy, something dysfunctional, faulty, something inherently wrong and broken in me, something to wrestle into submission and beat into obedience through changing habits or mindsets, I am coming to see it as a gift from God.
Because it just hasn’t gone away. Yes, there are moments, or days, where it is better, but for the most part, depression stays with me, and I wake up every day with the burden of keeping it at bay.
But no matter how many Bible verses I memorize, or how many times I change my routine, or how long I spend in prayer, God has allowed seasons of depression to remain. So lately, rather than despise it, and beat myself up about it, I’ve been trying to embrace it. Meaning, I’ve been trying to see it through a different lens.
Because I am a wandering soul, a soul bent on pride and independent goals and living when left to my own demise. I despise dependency and weakness. I want to hold the map of my life in my own hands and navigate the course my own way. And the prospect of handing the map over to anyone else, choosing to follow their lead, is a terrifying thing.
But what if depression is God’s grace-disguised tool in my life to force me to hand Him the map? What if it’s His way of saying, “Baby, I know you want to walk your own steps and tell me where you’d like to go, but I can see far ahead, and that is a path of certain destruction. I’d like to take you a different way that will lead to certain blessing, love, and life, but it’s a way where you are going to have to learn to follow. To be dependent. To trust. To pry your hands off the map and take hold of my hand instead.” What if?
So this season, I am using my time to learn to pry my hands off of the map. That might mean going to see a doctor. That might mean going to see a counselor. That might mean sleeping and resting more and checking fewer things off of my list. That might mean handing over my map. (Scary. Very scary).
But one thing I do know – it means feeding on His faithfulness.
Because check this out – I’ve read Psalm 37 hundreds of times in my life. It’s been one of my favorite Psalms to pray for years. But I’ve never noticed until a few weeks ago that while verse 3 says, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness,” the literal translation of the verse is, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness” (emphasis mine).
In other words, it’s not up to me to cultivate or produce anything – a happy heart, a joyful attitude, a bounce in my step, productivity in my day, or success in my plans. My job is just to feed on His faithfulness. Faithfulness that has gone before me and stretched out in front of me like nourishing, green pastures ready to fulfill the deepest of needs and longings in my heart.
What about you? Are you like me? Carrying around the weight of a thousand pounds on your shoulders? Trying to pull it together enough every day just so you or someone you love doesn’t fall through the cracks? Trying to put on a brave enough face so that someone, mainly God, will be proud of you?
Sister, put your load down. Take a seat right next to me here on my bench in a green pasture. And feed on His faithfulness. On what He has accomplished for you, done on your behalf, every step of your path through life. Your job isn’t to chart out your way; it’s to hand over the map and follow the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
I don’t know what your particular struggle is – it can be a tough marriage, a tough friendship, a tough child, a fresh wound or an old one that’s been a thorn in your side for years. But whatever it is, stop fighting it, and surrender by handing over the map and seeing the circumstances and struggles of your life as pastures in which to feed on God’s faithfulness.
It’s not up to you to have to beat back the thorn or wrestle it into submission; it’s up to you to surrender to the sufficiency of His grace that comes precisely because of the thorn He’s allowed.
This morning I got up early (thanks, babe, for leaving the bathroom light on and door open at 5:00am), and spent some time in God’s Word before listening to one of my favorite songs of all time.
I’m warning you – the song is old school. It comes right out of a 1950’s Billy Graham crusade. But I cannot listen to it without crying. Because the words are all just so true. More than I want my depression lifted, more than I want fame, more than I want wealth, or a life that looks or acts exactly like I want it to, more than a map that gives me the path I want to take, I want Jesus. Because He is the fullest expression of God’s faithfulness that this heart has ever known, and without Him, I am lost. And you are too.
So take a moment and listen to an old song with a timeless message. Tell Him more than you want the thorn out, you want His grace pressed in to help you feed on His faithfulness no matter the circumstances.
Then take His hand, follow Him along the path, and feed in His pasture. A journey with Jesus that surpasses your greatest expectations is waiting. You’ve just got to hand Him the map you’re holding and trade it for His hand in yours.
“Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.”