Lamenting PPD, 2

July 15-17, Psalm 42/43/44
I feel like you’ve rejected me,
I can no longer come before You
I need Your presence but the enemy’s is surrounding me
Your waves overwhelm me
BUT my soul can still hope in You because despite my perception you are (note possessives):
– the living God
– lovingkindness all the day
– with us in the night
– life giver, the God of my life
– my rock
– the help of my countenance
– my savior
– God of my strength
– vindicator
– light
– truth
– dwells in holiness
– my exceeding joy

reflections on Psalm 44.
Trusting what you know of God (based on the past and His character) more than your current experience. Even when it seems He’s abandoned you despite being faithful
Appealing not to our deserving or faithfulness but to His lovingkindness
1-3 – the past they are remembering was not “He was faithful when times were good,” but “He was faithful when times were hard.”

Psalm 46.
Hush the voices that call you to fear and remember instead
He is
Refuge, strength, present help, powerful, protection, exalted, here among us.
Therefore we will not fear.
And not only will we not fear, we can be bold enough even to say “let it come!”

If my greatest desire is for Him, if my heart is steadfast, then even evil tidings will not shake me, because I can know He is true to His word and character even in trouble.

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Lamenting PPD, 1

Lament: a cry of confusion, not accusation. a protest that He has acted in a way that seems inconsistent with His lovingkindness.

April 2017.
I don’t really trust you right now.
You left me, you wounded me. I said I would go as long as you were there but in the pit it was only darkness. I can’t go back, I won’t go back, I’m terrified.
It seems like you broke your promise to never leave nor forsake. The abandonment was so great I didn’t even want heaven because I was so angry with you, and so there was no consolation even in the glorious gospel and the surety of my salvation.
But even when there was a barrier between you and I – barriers of my own making with sin and selfishness and wanting you to do what I wanted and being angry when you didn’t give relief, feeling you didn’t love me when circumstances were so difficult and only grew worse, and barriers of the devil attacking me so I could not lift my brow and drowning out the Truth with his whispers and the heaviness of his presence when yours was gone, and even a barrier of you hiding your face- and I felt like Job and David and Jeremiah but was powerless to recall their laments and how you always came through in the end.
Even then, when all I could see was that it looked like you were not acting in accordance with your promises – you kept on holding on – or rather, you would not let me go.
Though you bruised me, I was not broken.
Though I was smoldering, you did not blow me out.
Though my frame of dust was shaken, you knew its weakness.
You gave me Ezra, and made Ellie an easy baby, and gave S an easy transition, and answered prayers for Hannah being there, and gave me support in Renee and Katie, and offered help through Mrs. M and Mrs. C and in the times of no domestic burden at Christmas.

I’m sorry for my doubt and anger.
I’m sorry for demanding You do things my way and wanting your gifts and help more than you.

It still hurts. The wound is scarring but it is deep. I know for it to heal I have to trust You again, to say like Jesus in the garden and like Job that even if you slay me and your presence is gone again that I will trust and praise you and that your will be done.
I’m terrified to say that again because I need your presence and can’t bear to think of being plunged into darkness without it again, whether in PPD after a third or any other time.
I need You.

Never Forsaken

As I wrote before, in the throes of PPD, often the only thing I felt in relation to God was what seemed like His lack of response. One of the ways I knew I was coming out of PPD was that I began to see ways He was there and working – answering prayers for help in HIS way and not my own. I was so focused on the trials of Ellie’s bilirubin levels, PPD, moving, jet lag, stomach flu, chicken pox… that I couldn’t see all the ways He was there, all the ways He was holding on to me and offering help and hope in PPD.
He was there…
In the physical help from my mom, sister, and our community in Japan – many friends who were clueless about the darkness but helped lift it by bringing meals or babysitting S.
In my older sister’s words to not let it drag me down and to do the next thing
In friends like Anna and Hannah, that I could unburden my heart to via email
In Ezra reminding me of truth and letting me unload all the dirt and still love me and see Christ in me (and in my need of him making the transition to him home more easier on me)
In long-time mentors I could go to via Skype and email even while we were in between communities
In acquaintances helping me with the ring sling so I could stop struggling with a carrier I didn’t like.
In difficulty forcing me to put down temporary roots in a new community yet again
In R, who didn’t ask if it would help but just if it was ok, who was always ready to drop something by, who sat with me in the mother’s room at church and/or took S into the service with her, who the courage to ask if I was ok – little moments of care that kept me from sinking deeper.
In K, having been there too and being someone I could say how I felt about life to and have her understand without judgment, who was brave enough to ask specifically (while our kids terrorized the playground, wrecked the house, and were shockingly unJapanese at playgroup).
In an easy transition to big sister for S.
In never getting mastitis despite oversupply.
In songs giving me voice and books explaining how I felt with clarity and truth
In not acting like I felt (most of the time!)
In “channeling” my oversupply into donating hundreds of ounces of milk to an adoptive family.
In seeing and knowing how it could have been far, far worse
In His grace to patiently take me by the hand in my stubbornness and foolishness and guide me to where I should be (Psalm 73:21-24).

He may not have been there in the ways I wanted Him to be there (the stomach flu not happening would have been great, just as not having PPD or being able to pray and scripture having an effect would have been) – but He never let me go.
If you are suffering and wondering where He is – look for Him in the unexpected. Don’t demand He fit in your box. Behind the curtain, He is faithful, even if in the moment you can’t imagine how.
The Psalms are full of asking God where He is and asking Him to act in accordance with His character. In a Psalm we can keep reading and get to the end in a few minutes, but we forget that the time in between for the Psalmist, Job, Jeremiah, Elijah, etc. may have been months or years. Sometimes they may not have seen on earth any of what God was doing behind the curtain. But He always shows up in the end and what matters then is not the answers to our questions but simply who He is. It always sounded so trite to me in the midst of the darkness, but on the other side of things I see the truth in it.

“God careth for you with such special care that he has even numbered the very hairs on your head and put your tears in His bottle. You may therefore rest assured that even those experiences which are causing you so much sorrow are all in accordance with His eternal counsel and decree.”
–Spurgeon

… we will not conceal them from our children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.”
Psalm 78:4

I’ll never forsake you, this pain will not break you,
For I will remake you for unending joy;
My promise is faithful though now it is painful;
No power can trample my covenant love.”

Backyard: Winter

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They think it’s spring.

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The girls are fascinated by the sap, but thankfully have learned to stay away from it.

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Kale still growing strong! And cauliflower leaves.

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The only actual cauliflower we got.

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And we finally got around to pulling up all the vines.

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We had snow twice in February, but never more than 2 inches.

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The Silence of God: The Spiritual Battle of my PPD (2)

read part 1 here.

The PPD didn’t go away as we recovered from jet lag at my grandparents’: it only got worse. Then one night as I rocked Ellie back and forth in my grandmother’s recliner the song “Lord, I Need You,” crept in. I sang it through tears. He still felt far away, but something changed.

It was like the passage about Elijah I love so much, when Elijah is depressed and complaining to God, but instead of God fixing all of Elijah’s problems, He just comes.
Michael Card writes in the booklet for his CD, The Hidden Face of God,
“Though the question [of “Why won’t You show up?] echoes again and again in the Psalms, not once does God show up and give an answer. Though the book of Job seems to ask this question a thousand times over, when God finally appears He does not offer a single answer… Could it be that His appearance is the real answer? Could it be that His movement from the throne in chapter 1 to His final scene with Job in chapter 42 is a better response, a more complete answer than Job (or we) could have hoped for?”

There were still two long months ahead of us when I was wading through the darkness, a physically-caused depression with a spiritual manifestation. But now, in some odd way, even though I was often angry at God, I clung to Jesus. I was no longer alone: I was finding voice and comfort in the Psalms, Job, and Lamentations, seeing a mix of “innocent” suffering (with hormones being “enemies”) and discipline (1 Peter 5:8). I started being able to think and process and not respond sinfully, but identify the lies and find truth to replace them with instead of just sinking deeper into them. (Although I didn’t feel “myself” until Ellie was closer to a year old).

In the end, I really don’t know what changed. Life settled down, I got bloodwork done and changed a few things, and I could think more clearly, but there were other turning points, too. Michael Card talks about the vav, the “but,” the turning point in laments – this terrible thing has happened, BUT God is or has done xyz. As it is in lots of Psalms, I guess it just kind of happens. Not an immediate change, but slowly over time the barrier wearing away, starting to see more clearly who He is and His hand at work – and a big factor for me, starting to see ways He was merciful and gracious and there with me even when I was angry with Him – He just wasn’t working in the ways I wanted Him to. Which just confirms God’s responses to Job and Elijah: God is God – how can we question what He does? If we saw Him, we would trust Him and not need to understand.
In addition to my desperateness for it just to be gone, part of what kept me from seeing Him at work was an unwillingness to be teachable. It felt like admitting any ways God used it meant denying the darkness or calling the darkness “good” – but now I realize it just means the light is so much brighter now, and that hard things being used for good just shows how powerful God is.
Once I came out on the other side, I often thought of Jacob, limping but clinging to God, saying “I will not let you go until you bless me!” I was so aware of my need of Him and His presence was so sweet to me – something that is not true of all day every day right now but it’s still something that I crave more than I ever did before.

The Silence of God: The Spiritual Battle of My PPD (1)

PPD for me was often a very spiritual battle with a physical cause. All this was happening while we were also seeking to address the physical side of things.

The first weeks of Ellie’s life were not perfect, but I felt fairly stable. My body was healing quickly, and I had to keep myself from doing too much. Even so, something felt off, and I felt like PPD was right around the corner. That feeling went away at about a month postpartum, only to have it come crashing when she was six weeks old. My initial reaction was to cry out to God, and at first I knew without a doubt that He was there, listening, helping, caring. But somewhere along the way, it suddenly seemed I was alone, and instead of sensing the comfort, hope, and reassurance of my Heavenly Father, there was only silence.

Some of it was the whispering of the Devil – Does God really not crush a bruised reed? If that were true, why is He piling on more difficulty and stress instead of relieving it?
Some of it was my desperateness – C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed, “Was it my own frantic need that slammed [the door] in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”
Some of it was a feeling of betrayal – I said “though He slay me, yet I will trust Him” – but He sent trouble and then left me alone.
Some of it was the echoes of Job’s friends. This is all because of your sin; it’s all discipline from God.
Some of it was my own idolatry, trying to make God do what I wanted Him to do, judging His love by His gifts. If you aren’t helping me in the way I want to be helped, You must not be there and must not love me.
And so in the midst of raging hormones there was also a spiritual battle being waged to reconcile what I had read and been told of God with what I was experiencing.

The words of Sing Team’s “Satisfied in You” rolled around over and over, embodying how I felt. “So when I’m drowning out at sea/and Your breakers and Your waves crash down on me…” There were days when that and other songs I sang to keep S occupied while putting Ellie down for naps were what gave me hope, but there were days when I sang them with tears running down my cheeks because I couldn’t believe it, and there were days when I couldn’t sing at all. I couldn’t pray at all. I didn’t want heaven; I didn’t want Him; I doubted He really heard or cared or could do anything to help.
But I almost never admitted this to myself, much less anyone else, until months later I read this quote in Spurgeon’s Sorrows: “Depression can so vandalize our joy and sense of God that no promise of His can comfort us in the moment, no matter how true or kindly spoken.” This unwilligness to be honest with God only continued the cycle of depression and prevented me from truly lamenting.

At the same time, I knew I needed Him, but I couldn’t trust Him when it felt like He didn’t hear my cries for relief or bring His presence. I knew I needed to be in the Word, but often there was a barrier beyond me that kept me from connecting with what I read – the Psalms that now bring me so much comfort meant nothing then. I wanted relief, but the more waves came, the more I knew relief would be great but all I wanted was for Him to be there again. I wanted Him more than I wanted deliverance.

One of the other songs I often sang to the girls was “Before the Throne.” And one day as I sat there rocking Ellie in the dark, singing more to S than anyone else, wondering where God was, there was a glimmer of hope.
Jesus knows the silence of God. He knows what it’s like to be told “no,” by God – He who the Father loves the most, to have all the “feelings” of His love taken away and have to trust in truth when life does not line up. He intercedes for me even when it seems God isn’t right there for me. He knows what it’s like to look at the future and not want to go through it. That became my lifeline over the next months as PPD continued to cycle in and out, some days very good, others very bad. No matter how I felt about God, Jesus understood.

Even with the PPD, we had many good times our last months in Japan, times I really enjoyed as a family or with friends or even just me and the girls at home. But there was always a shadow. The last few weeks in Japan were as good as I could expect, with all the stress of the move, saying farewells, and selling our car with two hours to spare.
We got on a plane and I had high hopes that with the closing of our time in Japan, the PPD would go away, too, as life quieted down.

If There is a Next Time

The what-I-would-do-differently if PPD comes again based on what I’ve learned, knowing that, as before, truth may not help in the moment, but I still need to be putting it in front of me (not any sort of announcement; I’m not pregnant). Some of this is easily doable, other parts are things that I can strive for but are ultimately out of my control.

• I will talk openly with my midwife and anyone else on my support team about what has happened before and make a plan with them ahead of time.
• I won’t give it time to clear up on its own or for difficult circumstances to pass before I get help.

• likewise, I will process emotions instead of ignoring them.

• I will get baby a bedtime ASAP if I need that time and space back (we had tried and tried with Ellie and she wasn’t ready and then we couldn’t try while all in one room and it was awful).
• I will read a Psalm every day, even if I can’t connect with anything in it.
• I will allow myself to mourn any changes that make me sad instead of just pushing through them or resenting them.
• I won’t try to stave off PPD by pushing it away, but by really dealing with the thoughts and bringing them to Him.
• I will try to find things I love about the newborn stage, things that are unique this baby’s personality.
• I will guard my time and healing beyond the first six weeks, and nap with baby as long as I am able.
• I will assume the first 6 months will just be difficult and crazy.
• I will eat nutrient dense foods as much as possible.
• I will remind myself of the purpose of suffering, the sovereignty and goodness of God.
• I will strive to submit myself to His way instead of clamoring for my own.
• I will see PPD as a gift, not as punishment, but as God’s redemptive work in my life to free me from my sin.
• I will log out of social media so I can focus on what matters.
• I will find (small) ways to serve (like prayer, pumping to donate), and use my PPD for good (sharing my story has brought so much healing, closure, and clarity). Isaiah 58:9-11.
• I will look beyond the here and now to eternity secure in His presence. “An endless day of joy is coming and nothing can avert its dawning.” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, page 91, Because He Loves Me)
• I will not neglect the spiritual disciplines of prayer, memorization, being in the Word, gathering with the church, etc. “We look for the Spirit in the extra-ordinary when God has promised to be with us in the ordinary.” “Spiritual disciplines are conduits of the Spirit’s transforming grace.” (quoted from James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love)

My greatest prayer is that if it comes again, He will give me the faith and trust in Him to surrender to Him and what He is doing instead of trying to fight my way out, that by His grace I will accept the cross as a gift, and see how He is transforming it.