Tag Archive | grief

Why did Jesus not come? (part 3)

So how shall we react?

When Jesus decided to go to Bethany, his disciples tried to dissuade him because of the danger there, but Jesus said ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe’. He was going to demonstrate his glory – so that they would believe. He wanted his disciples to to grow in their faith in him. And when Jesus was standing at the tomb, he prayed these words to his father: ‘I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ That was his whole desire – that people would believe. And at the end of the story, we are told ‘Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him’. People witnessed his power over death. And many of them believed. He was glorified.

So Jesus is unpredictable. He doesn’t always do what we expect. But he does always love us. He is greatly troubled and deeply moved by our sorrow and grief. But he is up to something far greater than we can imagine. He wants us to believe. He wants us to trust him.

When Jesus asked the sisters and their friends where they had laid Lazarus, they said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. And when Jesus saw the tomb, He wept. This was not what He had intended. This was not His plan for His children. In my mind, I had laid my dad in the bed in the care home where he died – that was what I remembered when I thought of him. But Jesus reminds us that He is the resurrection and the life. He has conquered death forever. So our loved ones are not in the graves where we buried them. There is a far greater story. Jesus came to bring life. Jesus died to bring life. And so our loved ones – and we – have become part of his story. There is something far greater going on than the story that we are aware of. Can we believe that? Can we trust him?

Jesus does come – not always when we expect him to – but his delay does not mean that he doesn’t love us.

He may not answer all of our questions – but he weeps with us and is troubled when we are troubled.

He may not do what we ask him to do – but he is up to something far greater.

Can we trust him when we don’t understand what he is doing? Can we believe that he is good? A friend recently shared with me her story of perplexing loss and told me that she had come to believe in the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

I like that. I think I can believe in that – the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

(If you want to read part 2, click here; and if you want to read part 1, click here.)

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Why did Jesus not come? (part 2)

Mary and Martha are disappointed with Jesus

Jesus eventually does come – but he’s too late. Lazarus has died. And of course the sisters are disappointed. Martha goes to meet Jesus when she hears he is coming and she says to him, ˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.

Those words portray her faith in the power of Jesus – she knew that he could have saved Lazarus – but they also portray her disappointment that he didn’t come earlier.

Mary meets Jesus next and she says exactly the same words to Jesus: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Both sisters had wanted only one thing – one thing that they knew Jesus could give them – but he didn’t give it to them.

The fact that Jesus doesn’t do what we expect does not mean that He doesn’t care

We see the humanity of Jesus in this story in a way which we don’t see often in the New Testament. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. Jesus wept….Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.” There are just a few other places in the NT where we read of Jesus being troubled: in John 12 his soul was troubled as he contemplated the cross; and in John 13 he was troubled as he contemplated his betrayal. Here he is ‘greatly troubled’ and ‘deeply moved’ when he sees the sorrow and grief of his dear friends.

So it wasn’t that he didn’t care about what had happened to them. When Jesus saw them weeping, he was deeply moved and greatly troubled. When he went to the tomb, he wept. Death was not how it was meant to be. God never intended that we would have to stand by the graves of our loved ones. When we weep, he weeps with us. He is moved by our sorrow and he is troubled by our grief. Isaiah 53 tells us ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’. 

Somehow that helps a lot. To realise that Jesus does come and that He does care, even though He doesn’t do what we expect Him to, brings me comfort and reassurance. He weeps with us. The fact that He doesn’t do what we expect Him to is not because He doesn’t love us.

Jesus is up to something far greater than we can imagine

Jesus was up to something far greater than the sisters or anyone else could imagine that day. When he had heard that Lazarus was sick, this is what he said: ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ What did he mean – this illness does not lead to death? Of course it led to death – Lazarus was in the grave. But Jesus was going to raise him from the dead – and God was going to be glorified.

Then, as they stood at the tomb and Jesus asked them to take away the stone, Martha, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor’. But Jesus asked her: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ That was it – it was all about the glory of God that day.

Jesus could have gone right away, as soon as he heard that Lazarus was sick, and could have healed him. He healed many people when he was on earth and Lazarus could have been just one more. But because he loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he waited – and then did something far greater for them. He didn’t just heal Lazarus – he raised him from the dead. He allowed this family to witness an amazing demonstration of his power over death – for he is, as he said, ‘the resurrection and the life’. He wanted them to see his glory, to witness his power, to know for sure that he had conquered death – forever.

(If you want to read part 1, click here)

 

 

Why did Jesus not come? (part 1)

Why did it have to be this way? Why did Jesus not come?

My dad died last year after suffering from a particularly distressing form of dementia. He had loved and served God all of his life. The end of his life was hard. There was confusion, there were hallucinations, there was loss of mobility, added to loss of eyesight and loss of hearing. At the end, he didn’t know us any more. Somehow this was not how I expected it to be. How could a man who loved God end his days like this? How could God leave him to die like this? Why didn’t God answer my prayers for him? Why did Jesus not come? As my dad was dying, I just couldn’t deal with my questions. So I put them in a box and put the lid on. I told myself that it was OK to have questions which I had no answers to – because God was God and I wasn’t.

But in the year after his death, I began to realise that, while I had put my questions in a box and closed the lid on them, they had impacted by relationship with God. Yes I still trusted Him – but I wasn’t sure what He would do next. Maybe I wasn’t really sure that I could trust Him. Or at least I couldn’t trust the God I thought I knew.

For several months, I was drawn back again and again to the story of Lazarus in John 11.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus

At the very beginning of this story, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus saying ‘He whom you love is ill’. That puts the story in the context of a relationship. This was a man whom Jesus knew and loved. And he was ill.

Furthermore, the story goes on to say ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’. So this was a whole family whom Jesus loved. In fact, we have more than one instance in the New Testament when we read of Jesus staying in their home in Bethany. He was a friend of this family, He was welcome in their home, He often ate there and it could have been that he stayed in their home from time to time, after being in the busy city of Jerusalem, for Bethany was just 2 miles outside Jerusalem.

But Jesus is unpredictable

So there was a strong relationship between Jesus and this family. How startling therefore it is for us to read these words: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’ Now that doesn’t make any sense at all to us. If we were writing the story we would say something like this: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he rushed to his bedside to heal him’.

These words are perplexing for us. It’s not what love looks like to us. Jesus isn’t behaving the way we expect him to. We are left wondering what he will do next. He is unpredictable. As Mrs Beaver said about Aslan in CS Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’: ‘he’s not safe but he is good’. Is He safe? Is He good?

‘When Jesus didn’t answer the pleas of Mary and Martha, they probably realised they didn’t know Him as well as they thought they did. Because as the hours of waiting turned into days, Jesus did not meet their expectations. And He may not meet ours. In the story of Lazarus Jesus redefines normal for us. The lingering Jesus does not offer a guarantee that things will work out as we think they should.’ The Lazarus Life by Stephen W. Smith.

(to be continued…)

A life lived with terminal illness – and with hope

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending an extraordinary thanksgiving service for the life of an extraordinary man – although he would never have allowed anyone to call him that.

douglas-and-alison

Douglas Mark’s desire was that his thanksgiving service (which he planned himself) would be ‘a time infused with joy and thanksgiving’ and that is exactly what it was – just as his life had been.

Douglas had lived with cancer for 10 years and had been through more than 40 chemotherapy treatments, but he refused to say that he was ‘battling with cancer’ or ‘coping with cancer’. He ‘lived with cancer’, fully accepting that this was part of the journey which God had chosen for him. He demonstrated joy as he trusted God with every detail of his cancer.  One of his favourite sayings was this:

 Life is not waiting for the storm to pass – it is learning to dance in the rain.

 

Douglas trusted God and that was clear right till the end of his life. He believed that it is more important to trust God than to understand Him. I am sure that it was that unshakeable trust in God which gave him the joy which characterised his life as he lived with cancer.

At the seminar which he and his wife Alison gave at New Horizon this year – which they called ‘Living with terminal illness, and with Hope’ – he said this about joy:

Joy is a self-assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, a quiet confidence that ultimately everything will be alright and a determined choice to praise God in all things.

Douglas had chosen to praise God in all things. When asked how he was, he used to reply, ‘I’m thankful to be as well as I am’. His prayer was that he look for signs of God’s faithfulness every day.

Douglas and Alison were passionate about encouraging Christians to model to the world what it’s like to live with the hope of heaven in the face of death. They spoke in many churches and other places, encouraging Christians to live out their faith in this way.

Alison gave a very courageous tribute to Douglas yesterday, in which she said this:

Don’t allow what you don’t understand about God to destroy what you already know about Him.

As Douglas’s health declined in recent weeks, Alison refused to talk in despairing tones, choosing rather to say that Douglas was ‘edging gently home to heaven’. What a beautiful picture. And that is exactly what he did. There’s no doubt that he has heard his Lord and Saviour say ‘Well done’ as He welcomed him home.

He leaves a legacy: not just a life well-lived, but the challenge to us to live our lives well. For Douglas and Alison, that meant living their lives in the light of eternity and through the lens of eternity. It was that perspective which gave them the courage and faith to live with cancer and hope, at one and the same time.

To download a copy of the seminar which Douglas and Alison gave at New Horizon, go to http://newhorizon.org.uk/resources/mp3-downloads/

The Pain of Losing a Baby

Following my blog about miscarriage, I have heard from several friends who have very courageously shared their stories with me. I’m sharing parts of them here, to help us all learn more about this whole topic. It’s clear that the loss of a baby – at whatever stage – is a profound experience which these mums recall today as if it were yesterday.

What helped you through your experience?

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A 12-week old fetus

At first, what helped me was encouragement and care from my friends, most of whom were church friends.

The thing that was most helpful was the encouragement I received from other moms who had experienced miscarriages. Most of them had lost the babies early in the pregnancy and not as late as I did. But their empathy was precious.

One nurse helped just by rubbing my back as my body shook from shock.

It was helpful to have friends around.

My sister’s words “I just wish I was there to give you a hug” brought comfort and validated my experience.  That was the key…. I just wanted someone to say it was ok to feel sad.  I wanted my pain to be recognised and validated.

The knowledge that many people were praying for me gave me great comfort.

The experience of feeling that God was in control. Theologically I had always believed this, but this time I also experienced it in my feelings. I knew I was dying (they later confirmed this, saying that it was a miracle I was still alive) and yet I began to look forward very much to being with the Lord.

Previous to (this experience) I had been very ill and had had to lie in bed a lot. During that time I filled my mind with the Word of God and listened to quite a few sermons. I recommend filling your mind with the Word of God …. In crises like this He will bring it back to your thoughts. It helped me in bearing the pain.

Visits from dear Christian friends who came and prayed. Some just sat quietly by my side. Helped to make me comfortable, plumped up pillows, adjusted the blinds, asked me where they would like me to sit so that I would not have to turn my head uncomfortably to see them. Didn’t talk too much…. just came and sat quietly, a comforting presence. Not asking too many questions.

I was in a lot of pain and after the major abdominal surgery I wasn’t allowed painkillers because my liver couldn’t take them. Every cough, every movement, every visit to the bathroom was agony. Some of these friends were a great help with all of that, especially the trained nurses, and other sensitive people.

It was a great help that (my husband) kept so calm throughout the ordeal.

The…surgeon was quite a compassionate man. He visited me briefly every day to check on progress, and had just the right kind of reassuring touch, which helped to heal me further. The staff around you can heal you or hinder you. There is no doubt about it.

What helped me was eventually sharing what I had gone through with someone I trusted as I had kept it a secret initially. She encouraged me to grieve for my baby. I found this helped me to release all the pent up feelings I had kept hidden.

 

What was not a help to you?

A …nurse took it upon herself to pronounce that I must have sinned greatly for God to put me through such an ordeal. I responded that while I certainly wasn’t without sin, I wasn’t aware of any great deliberate disobedience. Needless to say I didn’t find her contribution to my recovery in any way helpful.

What did not help was when I told someone about losing my baby who had also had a miscarriage they said my loss was not the same as theirs as I had lost my baby at an earlier stage. This made me feel that my loss was not as significant.

Were there things that the medical professionals could have done differently?

Been more sympathetic, they were very matter of fact and clinical. They actually told me it was a good thing as it showed I could get pregnant as we had been trying to have a baby for three years. Even though I miscarried they said I should be pleased I had been pregnant.

When I lost the baby, I felt betrayed by the medical staff who couldn’t anticipate what was happening and didn’t prevent my miscarriage. Also, they had no answers….ever for WHY I lost the baby, and what I could do to prevent it happening again.

The medical staff were not attentive duing 12 hours of labor and delivery….Finally, after 12 hours, the baby was born … into a bedpan. And that is how she was presented to me a few minutes later….in a bedpan. When I returned to my room, the nurse aid walked in to give me a bath. She cheerfully asked me “Is this your first baby”? I told her I had lost my baby. She apologised. I was on the Obstetric ward with all the new mothers and babies…in a room with another woman who had miscarried. It would have been helpful to put us in private rooms isolated from the crying babies and happy mothers and guests.

The medical staff …. were really good. They kept me living in hope. Which in a sense was good but really not good. I think being real in love and truth would have been better for me. You see I knew by my loss of blood that it was really not going to be. It broke my heart lying in there for six days and then the following day I was taken to theatre for a D&C.

I was put into a side room – a kind gesture, but unfortunately it was in the maternity suite.  The nurses were more used to dealing with happy outcomes and, sadly I felt, ill-equipped when things did not go well.  Comments such as: “Sure you’re young, you have plenty of time to try again” , while maybe true, did not help. I couldn’t wait to get home.

Were there things that your friends and family could have done differently?

One thing that was NOT helpful was a comment from (someone who warned) me that ‘others would be watching’ me and how I handled grief…. that I should take care to keep it in check! Or that I should consider the effect my behavior might have on others.

I only had one visitor who wasn’t helpful. She immediately launched into all the medical problems of lots of other people she knew, her own medical problems, on and on she gabbled, couldn’t enter into my situation at all, and I wasn’t sorry to see her leave. But she was the one and only visitor in all that time who affected me like that, thankfully. Most were brilliant.

I kept it a secret which I now regret. Only my husband knew but I think he found it hard to really identify with how I felt. Perhaps I should have been more open so people understood why I was acting differently. It was my way of coping but I don’t feel it was the right way.

A church member, on my return to church after the miscarriage, quoted a verse to me: ‘Be thankful in all circumstances’. That was clearly not the time to quote a verse like that!

I hesitate to say this but some of the deepest hurts came from family.  I know my mum struggled to see me distressed but her comment “well I’ve had (x) miscarriages; you just have to get over it” didn’t help, in fact it made me feel that my feelings of deep anguish were abnormal.  This, together with a comment from another family member, “I’ll come and see you when you pull yourself together”, only made me withdraw and feel ashamed that I felt so bad.

What was the hardest part for you personally?

At the time I lost the baby I was one of 11 ladies in my circle of family and friends who were expecting babies. I was reminded, with each of their births, of my grief.

My hopes, expectations and plans I had already formed were all shattered. I had longed for this baby for three years and was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant and subsequently devastated when my pregnancy ended.

Probably the hardest comment I heard/hear is that it was a miscarriage. It wasn’t. It was a baby at 36 weeks who should have lived. I think having a miscarriage must be way more painful than many people think, but carrying a chlid 8 months is a different experience (in the same way, losing a child after he is born must be still more excruciating.) Time is the healer, although I suspect the pain of loss is always there…

I feel the worst thing about losing my wee baby was the fact that I love children and she was mine. Emptiness. No grave to remember her by.  The worst thing was my sister who had a baby around the same time.

It was hard that my husband experienced grief much differently than me. Because he didn’t go to the funeral, he didn’t have any relationship with this baby and his own grieving was much quicker. Even today, it doesn’t affect him a lot, whereas I think of (the baby) when I see (a child of the same age)….. I felt quite alone through it all.

How did you deal with the loss from a spiritual point of view?

I felt that God had let me down.    I remember cooking supper in the kitchen and suddenly weeping. I put my head down on the counter top and was crying. My husband walked in and asked me what was wrong. I said, ‘I just lost a baby’!?! He said, ..’but that was 2 weeks ago’! I really was surprised how quickly he had moved on and how I was alone with this grief.

I did not know why the Lord had allowed this to happen. I knew that these things happen all the time. But 5 months into the pregnancy, the baby had personality for me. We named her. I am happy when my children, now, remember that they have a sister waiting to greet us in heaven.

I know my baby was a girl only cause I was so emotional one night and I prayed to God to show me what I’d lost  – a boy or girl. And in the dream that evening was a baby girl in a pink blanket on my knee.

I know my grief was compounded by the belief that it was not acceptable to feel so bad.  I had to hide my tears and pretend that I was ok.  I felt shame, for my tears but also for the thought that maybe I had inadvertently caused the miscarriage.  I found it difficult to pray.  I didn’t feel angry at God but I felt ashamed that I felt so bad.  I would have liked to to talk to someone who understood the mix of emotions and who could gently and sensitively direct me to God’s truth, love and acceptance.  I have learned so much from this experience and I hope it has made me more empathic.

I am grateful that all of that happened. I have understood better what others go through, I have understood what people suffer with anxiety and panic attacks as well as chronic pain. The whole experience has certainly not, in the goodness of God, been a wasted experience, and I have never regretted it. 

The only thing that helped me finally resolve the question ‘why’ was that I would be specially qualified to encourage others who would experience the loss of a baby through miscarriage.

A grave or burial?

I have one regret. It was not proposed to me that I could have had a private memorial service and arrange for a dignified way to bring this life episode to a close. I am sure my baby was incinerated without ceremony. But in my defense, I had never done this before. I wasn’t prepared for the decisions I should have been making. And the medical staff never offered me an option.

The fact back then there was no burial services left me with no grave. They just D&C you. Family went silent on me, except for my mum who said it wasn’t meant to be. My husband felt it but it is different for a man; we women carry everything and never forget dates and times; men think differently.

The surgeon came with a little jar holding the foetus. I was sleeping at the time, and I wish I had taken a better look when he woke me up. I especially wish I had asked if it was a boy or a girl. Even so, it helped it to sink in that we had just lost a wee baby, and I often thought back to that afterwards. He told me there had been ‘a lot of infection’ which they had now removed. That is quite a clear memory which has remained with me afterwards, even though I was dozy at the time. I think that is a helpful thing to do.

Memories

Going through it 20 years ago seems like yesterday.

I remember my experience of my miscarriage as if it were yesterday.  In reality it was 25 years ago.

Memories of this time of my life don’t preoccupy me unduly or define me. But it certainly was an extremely difficult time for me. It is difficult to revisit it, but I am quite happy to share my experience. I am fairly certain my experience is being repeated many times. If what I share of how I lived my experience can be helpful, that pleases me.

You can see how 25 years later it is still all so vivid in my mind. I still cry when I hear of miscarriages, and i still cry when I hear of abortions. Though I think I am over the grief of losing this little one.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this Pauline.  The tears are close to the surface as I write this but as I read your experience it has helped me to know that that is ok.

We need to be there for one another, to let each other know that our grief is OK.

I would just like to thank all of these friends who have shared their stories so courageously. This is holy ground. And it demonstrates what a profound experience the loss of a baby is, as well as how personal a thing it is to each mum. Just as there is no ‘right’ way to grieve any loss, there is no right way to grieve the loss of a baby. And one thing is sure: the passing of time does not erase the memory of the loss. 

Jacque Watkins, a nurse who works with newborns and their parents, has written very sensitively about the experience of sitting with a woman who is losing her child through miscarriage. Jacque says this:

To grieve with another in the silence of their presence, THIS is holy work.

 

 

Counselling course at BBC

Anyone who reads my blog or who knows me will be aware of my interest in counselling. I have benefitted enormously from courses I have taken with Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, whose aim is to ‘restore Christ to counselling and counselling to the church’.
Not everyone can go to Philadelphia to study on the CCEF campus, but most of their courses are available online and you will find information about them on their website. I have had the privilege of taking many of their courses and would thoroughly recommend them.
For all of you who live in N.Ireland, you have the opportunity of taking a course in real life in real time with real people – at Belfast Bible College.
Andrew Collins and Stephen McAuley, two psychiatrists and Christian counsellors, are taking this 6-week course as an Introduction to Biblical Counselling.  We all struggle with knowing how best to support and encourage those around us when hard times come. This course will take some of the common struggles of life and see how we can help one another by wisely applying Scripture. Each evening, Andrew and Stephen will take a particular area of suffering and first try to understand its nature, then how the Bible addresses it. In the second part of the evening, they will walk through an example in order to see how such help might look and sound practically. Topics covered will include depression, stress, grief, addiction and suicide. This course will serve as a ‘taster’ for those interested in giving Bible–based care and encouragement to others.
From 5 November – 10 December, it would be a  great way to spend your Tuesday nights if you were able to come along!
For more details, go to the college’s website or come along to the Open Evening on Tuesday 3 September to hear about all of the courses on offer on Tuesday evenings as well as other part-time courses at Belfast Bible College.

The long dark tunnel of depression

As we waved good-bye to our friend who had come to visit for a few days, I felt a wave of nausea sweep over me – and as my husband closed the door behind our friend, I was vomiting in the bathroom.

Something was not right. I felt awful – physically my stomach was churning and emotionally I was filled with panic. A visit to my doctor confirmed my worst fears: I was clinically depressed and what I had just experienced was a panic attack.

This would become the pattern for more mornings than I care to remember – awakening with anxiety which turned to panic at the thought of the day ahead; getting up, trying to get myself and my two little girls ready for the day; often losing the battle with panic and throwing up in the bathroom.

What had led to this emotional and mental state? The year was 1992 and I had left our home in N.Ireland 2 years previously to come, with my husband and 2-year old daughter, to live in Switzerland – with great joy and anticipation at what lay ahead for us.

On arriving and filling out the papers for health insurance, I had to say whether I was pregnant. There was a remote chance, since we had been trying for a second child before we left N.Ireland, but we had almost forgotten about it (as much as one can) in the move. Still, I did a pregnancy test and, to our great joy, discovered it was positive! Our much-longed for second child was on her way!

But soon morning sickness turned into all-day sickness and that lasted for about 4 months. I vomited virtually all I ate. As I lay on my bed between bouts of sickness, I had a lot of time to think – and worry about our financial situation. We had discovered that my pregnancy was viewed by the health insurance companies as a ‘pre-existing illness’ and was therefore not covered by them – not the pregnancy, nor the birth – which of course would run into thousands of Swiss francs. We had come to Switzerland to work with an international church and therefore did not have a lot of spare cash – how were we going to cover these costs?

One option was to go back to N.Ireland for the birth – but we soon discovered that there I would be treated as an overseas private patient, since we were no longer resident in the UK.The costs of that, on top of flights etc., not to mention the hassle of flying back and my husband having to take time off work, soon made that possibility redundant. So it was that we decided that I would stay in Switzerland and trust that God, who had called us there, would somehow look after the details.

But my faith was small and I had lost all my support network of family and friends at home. So, while my husband poured himself into the demands and excitement of a new job, I stayed at home, caring for our two-year old daughter and trying to get us all settled into this foreign culture. For although Switzerland is part of Europe and a wonderful, beautiful country, it was not home. There were all kinds of papers to be filled out (in French – and although I had university French, it was a bit rusty); our daughter to be settled in a kindergarten where she understood nothing and had to be peeled off my arms every time I left her there (she still remembers that!); and all the usual things like shopping and banking to be done in a very new culture.

On top of this, I had had dreams of working alongside my husband in what we believed God had called both of us to in Switzerland – and here I was languishing at home in pregnancy sickness which drained all my energy and left me barely able to look after my home and my family – what else could I do? what use was I to my husband or to the church? I had had my own picture of what a pastor’s wife looked like – and this certainly wasn’t it.

After 4 months, the ‘morning’ sickness finally passed and I enjoyed the rest of my pregnancy and then had a beautiful baby girl. As for the finances, God did hear those cries to Him from a mustard seed of faith and provided all we needed. First he sent a midwife to our church, who said she would look after me if she could find a gynaecologist to supervise her – so God sent a gynaecologist to our church. Just for added measure, he threw in a physiotherapist, who brushed me up on my breathing exercises in preparation for the delivery. So there were very few medical expenses accrued throughout my pregnancy and when the time came for the delivery, one person picked up the bill for that. God certainly demonstrated his faithfulness to us.

However, this beautiful baby girl was not happy – she cried a lot. In fact, she seemed to cry day and night. Having had a first baby who settled into a happy rhythm at 8 weeks, sleeping through the night etc., I just didn’t know what to do with this second baby who cried so much and slept so little. Of course that meant I didn’t sleep much either and, although I had dreamed of finally settling down to life in Switzerland, that was not to be.

It was a rough year after her birth and during the Christmas period we were sent away for a few days’ holiday by some kind friends who could see we were at the end of our rope. One night, as I tried to rock my crying baby to sleep, my tears bouncing off her, I cried out to God and asked him either to change her or to change me by giving me extra strength – because I couldn’t go on like this. Miraculously, our little girl started to settle from that night on and life grew much more calm.

I was even able to start helping my husband more in the church and found great fulfilment in coming alongside people who were struggling in various ways, comforting them and helping them through their difficulties. We were a young church, growing rapidly, and so the demands were great. We had a core of wonderfully committed people who were helping as much as they could – but there never seemed to be enough people to meet the needs, as more and more people came, with greater and greater needs.

Or was it me? Could I not say ‘no’ to anyone? Why did I have to say ‘yes’ to every need that came my way? Finally, we had one week when we were dealing with several major needs: one lady was diagnosed with cancer, two marriages were in jeopardy, and then one lady came to see me who was suicidal. When she left, I collapsed in tears and thought: ‘I feel just like she does!’

That was the turning point: my husband took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with depression and advised a complete break from everything. My husband and I took a few days away and thus began a long, slow, painful process of recovery.

I had to pull out of all commitments, other than my home and my family. On my doctor’s advice, I put my second daughter (then 3) in kindergarten two mornings a week and tried to take that time for myself – reading, cross-stitching, walking.

At the same time, I had a wonderful doctor who not only prescribed anti-depressants and saw me (often along with my husband) for one hour each time I went to see him but who also insisted that I see a counsellor. He said that the anti-depressants would just keep my head above water while counselling would help me work out what had caused the depression. The doctor was a Christian and I remember him saying to me that this was one time in my life when it was harder to be a Christian than not – because on top of being depressed, I felt guilty that I was depressed. Certainly I did hear of one member of our church who was aghast when she heard that the pastor’s wife was suffering from depression. (It is also a time in your life when no amount of being told to ‘cheer up’ or ‘count your blessings’ will do anything for you other than make you feel more miserable.)

I had a very gifted counsellor who helped me sift through all the layers of my depression and the factors that had let up to it:

  • I had 2 small pre-school kids and was far away from home, family and old friends
  • I was in a foreign country with a foreign language and different ways of doing things
  • My husband was busy getting himself established in his new job, eager to give his all and do his best
  • I had no clear rôle to fulfil – it was up to me to work it out
  • I didn’t recognise my limits – I said ‘yes’ to everything and to everyone until finally I couldn’t any more
  • I was a perfectionist, demanding perfection of each and every task I embarked on
  • I had repressed a lot of anger which I had to learn to deal with

Slowly but surely I began to crawl out of that dark hole of depression.  I began to understand what had got me there and learn to relinquish some of these expectations and demands I had placed on myself. With the constant support of a wonderful husband who cheered me through every victory and supported me through each defeat, I worked with my doctor and counsellor until I could come off my anti-depressants and eventually stop therapy.

Here are some lessons I learned through it all:-

  • I began to understand and accept that, although I was not able to feel God’s presence during my depression (I felt nothing – I was numb), he was there all the time. He has promised: ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you’. For me that was a momentous discovery – the reality of God and the reality of his presence is not dictated by how we feel at any given moment. He is there all the time and he never changes. He is always faithful and he is always loving. It is us who change but he never changes. My faith does not depend on feelings – it depends on the Word of God. My feelings change – God doesn’t change.
  • I had to learn the importance of my thought patterns – because how I think affects how I feel, and I can control how I think. During my worst period, I particularly struggled upon wakening in the morning, thinking I couldn’t face the day. Then I would just recite over and over the verse ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ Philippians 4:13. I had to learn the importance of taking every thought captive to Christ. Thoughts which do not come from the Lord need to be taken captive and replaced with the Word of God. When tempted to worry, I would recall: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ Phil.4:6-7. We need to replace the negative thought or attitude with a biblical verse or a biblical principle – and meditate on that, feed on that, until it begins to sink into our souls.
  • I had to learn that I had limits. I could say ‘no’! I didn’t have to say ‘yes’ to every person with every request! In fact, I had to learn to say ‘no’. ‘To escape the tyranny of the urgent and handle the busyness of life, (a) we must take time to evaluate our activities and organise our time and (b) we must develop a new style of living which involves constant re-assessment of our priorities. As your children grow up, you need to keep this in mind – you need to constantly re-assess your priorities because each stage brings its own challenges.’
  • I had to learn that each period of parenthood is only for a season. The stage of nappies and bottles and sleepless nights soon passes, even though you think it never will and you’ll never feel human again. God understands which particular season we’re in and the stresses and strains of that stage. It’s alright to be tired. It’s alright to be exhausted. It’s alright to go to bed instead of doing a Bible study at midnight.
  • I had to realise that I had unrealistic expectations and so was frustrated and disappointed because I could never meet them. I needed to ask, ‘Does God expect me to do this or is it only me?’ We often need to reduce our expectations of ourselves. We need to let ourselves off the hook sometimes. Some things won’t get done today and that’s OK.
  • I had to accept that emotional exhaustion is as much an illness as a broken leg and is not something to feel guilty about – who feels guilty about a broken leg?
  • I needed to learn to spend some time on myself. I need it for myself, I need it in order to be a better wife and a better mother. I have to find some way to regularly spend some time doing whatever builds me up, recharges me and replenishes me – reading a book quietly, having a coffee with a friend, going for a walk, whatever.
  • I needed to spend regular quality time with my husband. It was too easy to let the pressure of his job and the stresses and strains of parenthood to squeeze out any available time together – but in every stage of parenthood it is vital to find and to guard that time. Don’t wait until you’re depressed and your husband has to take time off to be with you just to keep you sane! Join a baby-sitting circle, find an au pair, make a reciprocal arrangement with another couple which allows you to regularly have time together.
  • I had to face my anger. I had always thought I was a calm, patient person – until I had children. I never knew I could get so angry. (Of course, the anger was always there. I believe that God uses circumstances in my life to allow ‘the real me’ to surface. What emerges may not be pretty – but it is stuff that God wants to deal with – and it is often during the difficult seasons of life that God is pruning us and shaping us into the people he wants us to be.) If you have found the same thing, here are some suggestions:                                    (1) Ask why it is you are so angry. What is happening inside? Some anger is ‘righteous’ (Eph. 4:26) and justifiable and we need to discuss the issues raised with the offending parties – usually our husbands or our kids. Don’t bury it or it will reappear in another form – probably depression!

(2)  Some anger is unrighteous and we need to repent before the Lord and say         sorry to the other person and deal with it. A lot of the anger that appears in our marriages is the result of living in close quarters with another person and facing our own sinfulness, particularly our self-centredness. But don’t let it fester. Don’t let it grow because it will destroy you and your relationships.

(3) According to Scripture, anger is unacceptable when it is hasty (Prov.14:17; 16:32; Titus 1:7; Jas.1:19); without real cause (Matt.5:22); or long-lasting (Ecc.7:9). Whether righteous or unrighteous, we are not to let the sun go down on our anger and we are not to give the devil a foothold (Eph.4:26,27,31).

  • I began to learn about the God-dependent life – not just having a regular QT each day, but learning how my whole life needs to be God-dependent. I found a lot of help in the book ‘The God-dependent life’ (Joanie Yoder) which in itself is a story of how the author faced depression while living in Switzerland. I think there is some truth to the fact that we spend all of our lives learning how to really depend on God.
  • I learned that God had good things in store for me, even out of this long, dark journey called depression. I was challenged on reading this question in Scripture: ‘What do you want Me to do for you’? II Sam.21:4; Luke 18:41. Did I just want to be healed or did I want to learn more of God through my depression? I believe that every circumstance, good or bad, can be used by God to bring us nearer to Him – if we allow Him. God is shaping us into the men and women he wants us to be – and he loves us too much to waste an opportunity to do that. Often what we settle for is so much less than what God has for us. We would settle for a quiet life here on earth with the promise of heaven at the end of it. God has so much more in mind. His plan is that through all the vicissitudes of life – the ups and downs of the roller coaster (and even the tunnel of depression) – we learn who he is and we learn who we are. In doing so, we become part of the adventure he has planned in order to shape us and refine us and prepare us for that day when we will go home to be with him forever – his home, where there are no long dark tunnels, but only light, glorious light.