I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
At night I stretched out untiring hands
And my soul refused to be comforted (Psalm 77:1)
I don’t believe any woman is fully prepared to become a mother.
Yes, we have parenting books, and mommy blogs, and insight from the special women in our lives; but until that child is placed in our arms, motherhood remains in the realm of musings and imaginings. No one told me this when I became pregnant with my first child, so I left that hospital with all the confidence in the world. I had read all the books, I was an educator of small children, and I had years of babysitting experience under my belt. I was good to go! Nothing, however, could have prepared me for what transpired in the months and years to come.
Three days after giving birth I realized that something was very wrong. My mind was swimming in a very dark place, and I couldn’t come up for air. My mom walked through the front door as I sat nursing my baby, tears streaming down my face. “Something isn’t right,” I told her. She immediately called a psychiatrist.
Let me back up just a bit.
I am no stranger to anxiety and depression.
I had my first panic attack when I was around ten years old. I still remember the moment like it was yesterday. I was in the shower and could hear the cars driving up and down the road in front of our house. Out of nowhere I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to run out of the house and into the traffic. Fear gripped my body and my mind began to swirl with confusion. Suddenly I didn’t know where I was, or even who I was. I looked down at my hands and they didn’t seem attached to my body. There was no rational thought left in my mind, just raw terror. So, I screamed. I screamed until every last ounce of fear left my body. Then the tears came. And I wept. I wept on my father’s shoulders as he struggled to figure out what was happening. This was the first episode, but it wouldn’t be the last. From that moment forward, anxiety and depression came to define my existence. For many years I would go months without an episode, but as I got older, the burden grew heavier and heavier. Because I lived this reality for so long, postpartum depression was already on my radar before I gave birth.
Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. I will spare you the details, other than to say that what transpired in the next year and a half can be best described as mental torture. It was truly unbearable at times, and on more than one occasion I looked to death as a welcome escape. I pleaded with God for relief. I begged Him for the peace He promised in His word. But I was met with soul crushing silence. When I was finally able to crawl out of the darkness, bitterness and anger kept me imprisoned even longer. “Where were you God?” “How could you abandon me in my hour of need?”
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion? (Psalm 77:7-9)
I soon discovered that though the storm had passed, the work of picking up the pieces had just begun.
I was angry with God.
I didn’t understand Him anymore. All that I knew and believed came into question. My faith had shattered into a million pieces. And yet, I couldn’t let go of Him. I knew the problem was in my own mind, wrapped up in my misconceptions about suffering. So, I picked up my fighting gear and went to battle again. I fought on my knees, I fought through the pages of my Bible, and I fought through fasting. This final step, fasting, is what finally led me to the healing waters for which I had been searching.
“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal;
The years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
Yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
And meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:10-12)
At one point in my struggle, I decided to go on a media fast for one month. This was extremely difficult as television is my preferred method of self -medication. Watching television, or movies, or YouTube videos has always been the easiest way to calm my brain during a panic attack, but I was determined to give it up for the sake of healing.
Near the end of my fasting period, I was driving with my family to our favorite restaurant in the Napa Valley. It’s a long drive from our house, so my mind had plenty of space to roam around some familiar territory. My thoughts turned immediately to the pain, to the losses, to the feelings of abandonment.
Then something miraculous happened.
As I focused my gaze on the starry sky, an image danced into my mind. I could see my infant daughter, chubby cheeks and toothless grin. I could feel her fuzzy pink pajamas wrapped around her plump body, and could feel her soft cheeks pressed against mine. Hot tears flooded my eyes. Hot, salty, cleansing tears of gratitude and thankfulness.
You see, one of my biggest hurts was an inability to remember those first two years with my daughter. Depression does funny things to the memory and, try as I might, I couldn’t remember the sound of her laugh, or the feel of her sleeping body in my arms. The bad memories had a strangle hold on my mind, but I longed so much to look back and see His light shining on both her and I during that time. And in that moment, on that dark mountain road, God showed me that light. He flooded my mind with memories, good memories that had been lost.
And I saw Him.
I saw Him in the prayers of my loved ones, I saw Him in the unfaltering support of my husband, I saw Him in my daughter’s laughter, I saw Him in the love I had for this precious life. I saw that He had been there all the time, His light shining on us both. Yes, it was painful. Yes, I had suffered. But He saw my hurt, he saw my suffering, and He guided me out of the darkness.
I still have dark days. I still have ups and downs when it comes to my walk of faith. But I know He is there, He has proven that over and over again. Where once my suffering caused me to question God’s compassion and love towards me, I now see that the hurts of this life do not define God, nor are they a reflection of His character. For no matter what transpires on this sinful earth, God is and will remain compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). And it is in this truth that I found the healing waters.
About The Author
Jennifer Lalas is married to her best friend with whom she enjoys doing life and raising kids. A former public school teacher, she left the classroom to teach at her own kitchen table. When she’s not wrapped up in homeschooling, she enjoys baking, reading, sewing, drinking chai lattes, traveling, and binge watching Korean dramas (yes, they are that good!). At her core she is both student and teacher. She loves to learn new things, and she finds her joy in sharing what she’s learned with others.
This post is part of Survivor Songs, a 31-Day series. A full list of posts is found here.