Beauty from ashes: My church’s response during postpartum depression

17 Apr

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Son #1, 7 years later. The Lord is good; His love endure forever. (Psalm 106:1)

Thanks for joining me this week as I share my experiences with postpartum depression. This is the third post of the series. If you missed the first one, you’ll find it here. Click here for the second post.

As I shared yesterday, I have first-hand experience with mental illness, specifically postpartum depression. The Lord has graciously used this heart-wrenching experience for His good in my life; I love how only God can make broken, ugly things beautiful. This has been my experience with God in the midst of and following postpartum depression.

I felt that one blog post about my experience was insufficient. I feel like yesterday’s post was the ‘Debbie Downer’ version, and I wanted to share some of the beautiful experiences that came a midst my journey through postpartum depression. I was inspired by this post from Ann Voskamp, author of New York Times bestseller, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are and blogger at A Holy Experience, where she encourages Christians to be aware of and embrace those battling mental illness. Her post led me to reflect on how Christians responded to me when I found myself in the midst of mental illness, postpartum depression. The responses that I received were not what I anticipated. There was love, support, encouragement, acceptance. There was no judging or shaming.

My husband and I were incredibly blessed to be a part of this gracious, loving congregation for 5 years prior to being sent out by them to plant a church. Jamie was on staff there during that time, which paralleled the 5 most difficult years of our personal lives. What a privilege to have a loving, body of followers of Jesus surrounding us during those dark days of our lives. In the midst of Jamie and me walking through postpartum depression, I can look back with thanksgiving and joy as to the way this congregation related to us during this time.

So, if you find yourself in the midst of a friend, family member or church member experiencing postpartum depression, here are some ways that our church lovingly encircled–and not shunned–us:

Permission granted: We are forever grateful to the pastor, Scott Patty and elders of Grace Community Church who shepherded us well during that period in our lives. As a church staff member, there could have been a mandate from the pastor and elders to keep quiet for the sake of protecting the “image” of the church. However, Jamie and I were actually encouraged to do the exact opposite. They encouraged us to be honest with our congregation about what we were experiencing. We were, in essence, given permission to struggle, to show our frailty, our weaknesses. They knew the dangers of the plastic facade of acting like we had it “all together.” They knew that the best thing we could do was to open ourselves to receive love and support from the congregation. We didn’t realize the benefit of their wise advice, but we trusted them and did as they encouraged. We were the better for it.

Unselfishly served: At the encouragement of our pastor and elders, Jamie and I decided from the beginning of my diagnosis that we would be open to any and every one about what we were going through. My entire life I have been an “open book,”  never wanting to hide where I have been or what I have experienced. We decided that this circumstance was no different. As those in our congregation learned what we were experiencing, there was an outpouring of tangible unselfish service towards us. There were meals brought to our house, restaurant gift cards appeared in our mailbox, free baby-sitting was offered, emails and phone calls indicating prayer and support were received (with no expectation of a response or phone call in return). Jamie and I never sent out an “email chain” asking for help; these things just appeared before us. These beautiful tangible acts of unselfish service were life-giving, and they made us feel so loved! There were no expectations from the congregation for us to respond to their service towards us in any particular way (the very definition of “unselfish!”). We were in a difficult time, and they were there to serve simply because we were their brother and sister in Christ. Humbling, to say the least.

Lovingly embraced: As I said in yesterday’s post, I had never met another woman with postpartum depression prior to experiencing it myself. However, after we shared what we were experiencing, it was as if women came out of the woodwork who had experienced PPD!

Shortly after my diagnosis, I attended a women’s retreat with our congregation. At the end of the event, they closed with a season of prayer for people walking through different situations–job loss, illness, a wayward child, family members who did not know Christ, etc.. The leader would call out the situation and then women would stand up who were in the midst of it. Women, who were sitting around those who stood, would encircle and pray over them. It was a beautiful experience for me until the leader said, “Those who struggle with depression.” Ugh! An internal battle began raging in my heart. I asked myself, “Should I stand or stay seated? After all, I only have postpartum depression. I’m not a life-long depression- struggler.” (Can you see the pride in my heart?)

The battle ended as I decided to stand up, publicly, fully exposed for everyone to see. My tears immediately flowed uncontrollably, and I began to regret this over exposure. However, the next few minutes were a foretaste of heaven for me. Woman after woman after woman surrounded me prayed over me, prayed Scripture over me, wept with me. There was solidarity amid my over exposure and pain; there was love and acceptance as I had never experienced previously. With the closing, “Amen” offered, I had several women come up to me and say, “We need to talk later.” Or, “we need to get together.”

I did talk with them, and I did get together with them. The result was what I call an engulfing embrace by our congregation. There were play dates with other moms where I heard stories of postpartum depression and clinical depression. There were stories shared and tears released as other women and couples identified with our struggles. There were no “tisk, tisk” or “shame, shame” fingers pointed our way. There was love, hope, and a nudge to cling to Christ a midst the struggle.

Not that I’m glad that I experienced PPD (well, maybe I am!), the outpouring of love that we received from our church, fellow followers of Jesus was truly glorifying to God. They demonstrated Christ’s love to us; it was beautiful and pure. If you, yourself, are in the midst of PPD, I pray that your church is reaching out to you in the same manner. If you’re in a congregation and know of a family experiencing PPD, I pray that you will courageously pursue them with the same vigor as our dear friends from Grace and and that God will use you as an ambassador or his love, grace and mercy.

SIDE NOTE–Also, this is the audio from a recent sermon by Scott Patty, our pastor during my postpartum depression days. He shares his experience with a recent period of anxiety and how the Lord sustained him (and can sustain you). It is wonderfully honest, real, and filled with hope. (You won’t regret the time it took you to listen to it!) The sermon was a source of great encouragement to me this week as I listened to it before posting this postpartum depressions series.

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11 Responses to “Beauty from ashes: My church’s response during postpartum depression”

  1. Kelly Mikhailiuk April 17, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Suzanne, thank you so much for being open and vulnerable and sharing your struggles. These posts are so very encouraging! Although I haven’t experienced PPD, I have a family history of anxiety and depression, and I struggle with mild anxiety myself. Scott’s sermon that you referenced was providentially timed and profoundly encouraging for me—I cried through most of it and was very aware of how blessed I am to sit under such a pastor. I know you and Jamie are blessing those in your congregation through your openness as well! Your posts are so helpful, not only for someone who experiences mental illness or is close to someone who does, but for anyone in the body of Christ, since (as you’ve said) we are all called to graciously pursue and embrace one another with the love of Christ. I love you and miss you and all your boys!

    • Suzanne Shares April 18, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Kelly! Thank you for your kind words. 🙂 I, too, loved the sermon. I actually listened to it as I was writing some of the posts for this series. It reminded me, again, of how grateful I was to him and to the elders for encouraging us to share our struggles. I love that he models that to the congregation, so it made it much easier for us to do likewise. We are so thankful that God in His sovereignty had us at Grace for 5 years, which paralleled the 5 hardest years of our lives. Only God in His wisdom could perfectly time that. 🙂 Coincidental, I think not. 🙂

  2. Elaine Atchison April 17, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    This was a hard but important series to post . . . I’m so proud of you for opening the door to healing for many other women. I miss you and hope we can have some happy reminiscence together soon!

    • Suzanne Shares April 18, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      Thank you, sweet friend! 🙂 You were such an important person through my healing process. I’m so thankful for your constant love, support and encouragement–then and now. And YES…we need to get together!!!

  3. Mary Moore April 17, 2013 at 10:16 am #

    Thanks for sharing the link to Scott’s sermon, Suzanne. I was there for it and it was so great. It’s refreshing to hear a pastor be humble, admit his humanity, and show how God is helping him through it. As you mentioned above, Scott is not one to put on a facade, which I think is rare in churches, especially with the pastor and staff. Ironically, I think the part I liked most is that he didn’t “tie it up in a bow” and say that everything is all better now. It’s still an ongoing thing and it may not go away, but that’s where we rely on God and his strength in our weakness.

    I think it’s easy in our world (whether we’re Christians or not) to want “fast food” service for our lives – instant fame, success, pain relief, love, money, etc. We get so impatient with our lives and with others because waiting makes us uncomfortable and weary. It’s human nature. Sadly, the church can be as bad as the world sometimes in shunning those who are struggling because we think trials mean God is showing his disapproval or punishing and those people just need to pray harder, try harder, or get their life together, especially if the trial lasts longer than we think it should (as if we are good judges of that). Many times people in the church who struggle are left to think that they have to pretend they have it all together, hurry up and get fixed, or leave in shame.

    The testimony of Paul and Pastor Scott show us that God is there with us all along the way with our “thorns in the flesh” – patiently loving us all along the way, no matter how long the trial lasts. It’s beautiful when God chooses to work through those who are willing in the body of Christ, by allowing us to be the hands and feet of that patient love. Sometimes that can get ugly, inconvenient, and tiring, but we can’t be afraid to get dirty – helping with practical things, weeping together, continually praying, serving unselfishly, etc. I love that I am part of a church that loves and serves in these ways.

    • Suzanne Shares April 21, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

      I agree, Mary! 🙂 I love what you wrote…we can’t be afraid to get dirty! 🙂 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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