At the beginning of 1997, I purchased an “Anne Geddes 1997 Datebook.” I filled each day’s blank with five things I was thankful for. Little did I know when I bought it, how much I would need to focus on thanks. The year was a series of eruptions. There were days I strained to write something down, but always found one nugget or two that would grow to five.
Along with Sarah, both of our daughter-in-laws also got pregnant that year. Their due dates were in January 1998. Sarah’s little one was set to arrive in November 1997. We were going to have one busy season of celebration over the holidays and stepping into the new year. In spite of the struggles, we were happy for the promise of these new little lives.
In July, Sarah and I flew to the Grand Canyon. We went to help my brother and sisters throw a surprise party for my mom’s 80th birthday. Mom was going to visit my brother and his wife but had no idea that the rest of us were going to be there.
We surprised Mom with all of us coming. We had a great few days laughing, sharing stories, taking walks and pictures. They all loved Sarah and me, and we came home blessed to have gone.
We had highlights and good times that summer. But, the depression of the past couple of years remained an undercurrent to my days. I had worries about Sarah and her future. Was Nick ready to be a father at seventeen? How about Mike and me? What was it going to take to stabilize our marriage? I found it difficult to set these aside.
On July 29th, I wrote in my journal, “Lord, don’t You ever tire of my depression and self-pity? Don’t You ever get wearied of my worry? I feel like such a disappointment to You. I just can’t seem to get it together.
Lord, I feel as if I’m running from You. I am fearful of seeing Your disappointment. I am unwilling to believe again or still. When I do, it always seems to lead to disappointment and further delay. Now doesn’t that sound uplifting and full of faith? No, it doesn’t.
Lord, I feel helpless to turn this tide around. Please help. There are days when I’m not sure I want to turn the tide because I’m not sure if doing so would improve anything. God, please help me. I hate this stinkin’ thinkin’. Help. I need Your word but feel unmotivated to pick it up my Bible or read it. I’m afraid to stop and listen. Afraid of what You may say. Help. You are my life. Is it self-discipline I need or God discipline, or both?
“Lord,” I cried, “may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be full of praise. May my words be evidence of Your rule and reign in my life. Help me wield the sword of the Spirit, which is Your Word.”
As we eased out of summer and into autumn, the temperatures dropped. The little one Sarah carried grew. It was hard to watch her go through pregnancy without the companionship of a husband and a home of her own. Another part of me was so proud of her strength.
She read many books and articles about childbirth. On her own she decided she wanted a natural childbirth, without medication. “Mom, I want to have a healthy baby,” she said. “I can do this.”
At the end of the summer, I decided to plant my secret garden. I needed a place to process life away from the family. Of course, it wasn’t a secret to my family, and they could see it. But it was far enough away from the house that I could pray out loud and sing or cry if I wanted, and no one would question me.
It was a small half-moon shape piece of land on the north side of the pond. The ground was rocky, but Mike said we could add some compost. This little plot became my sanctuary.
There was partial shade from the cottonwood trees along the bank of the pond. Fields of corn, soybeans, and pasture land greeted me on three sides with the barn and house to the west. I could watch the turtles with their noses poking above the surface of the water. They looked like submarines spying out the landscape. The bullfrogs practiced their jumping and croaking. Cranes and egrets swooped in and out of the pond for tasty morsels. And Killdeer danced along the bank, piping their cries. It was a great place to unwind.
I especially loved being here when the sun rose over the tree line down by the creek. The sky stroked with bold color. A breeze stirred the cottonwood leaves making them dance like hooked teacups. After tending and weeks of work, flowers and bushes replaced the grass. The garden became warm and inviting.
Before dawn, I would make my way down the hill from the house with my journal and Bible in hand. I’d take my seat in the plastic patio chair and meet with the Lover of my soul. We’d sing and talk and watch the sunrise together.
On October 5th, I was in my garden trying to sort out my feelings and my reality. “Lord, I feel as if I’m in limbo. I feel purposeless right now except to be a support to Sarah and Mike and plant and tend my garden. Well, I guess that is a lot, but it doesn’t seem like enough. It’s never ‘enough?’”
As October days continued, my stress level grew. I finally went to see my doctor hoping he could give me some meds. Then I called a family counselor and set up an appointment. I needed some help if I was going to be of any help to Sarah and her baby.
The family counselor talked with me at length, and asked many questions. “When did you notice the depression taking over?” I told him about the confrontation I’d had with the pastor in 1995. The counselor wanted for more details.
I told him all that took place. The counselor looked up from the chart he was writing. “Mary Ellen,” he said, ” you had a classic nervous breakdown. Did you go and get any medication or counseling then?” He asked.
“No,” I said. “I just thought it was depression and I’d get over it.”
“Well, you didn’t get over it. You are still dealing with it, and I am going to put you on some meds and refer you to a therapist.” He started writing out a prescription as I sat there in shock.
“A nervous breakdown?” My mind continued to try to reason this out. “If I’d known sooner, I may not have gone through the past two and a half years with all the misery. I may not have put my family through all they went through.” Tears began gathering in the corners of my eyes.
The counselor looked up and handed me the prescription. “It’s going to be okay.” He said with reassurance, reaching out with a tissue. “These meds will help you feel better and the therapy will too. You may feel a little strange for the first week. It does take a month or so for them to be working at full capacity, so be patient.” He gave me a hug, and I left his office.
Sarah’s baby was due in two weeks. I just hoped the meds he was giving me would help.
November 6th came and went. No baby. The new meds did make me a bit dizzy and unsettled at first, but the symptoms were wearing off. I found myself laughing about the darnedest things. Mike and Sarah weren’t sure what to make of me. I wasn’t sure what to make of me either, but it felt great to be laughing again. Sleeping was another issue. My body didn’t want to relax and go to sleep when it was time.
Energy filled my days, cleaning and getting the house ready for our new grandchild. It felt great to be gaining some control again. Then November 10th came.
Sarah went to her regular doctor’s appointment that morning. They informed her they were going to induce her that afternoon. Her blood pressure was high, and she was a week and a half overdue.
We went home and got ready to go to the hospital. Sarah couldn’t get a hold of Nick and was starting to worry. She did get a hold of Big Dan, Nick’s best friend, to tell him she what was happening and to find Nick.
Sarah and I went to the hospital around three o’clock, and they got her ready for the procedure. She was only dilated 1 or 1.5 centimeters, but her blood pressure concerned them.
After they had given her the Pitocin shot, she stayed at the hospital and waited for Nick. I headed home. I knew it would likely be hours before things started happening and my own blood pressure needed a break.
Early that evening Sarah called. She was mad and upset. The doctors wanted to run more blood work, and she wasn’t in favor. I called Mike and asked him to stop by and see her on his way home from work.
After Mike’s shift, at midnight, he drove to the hospital. Nick showed up at 1 AM, after being in jail and trying to find a ride. (This ‘little’ fact I didn’t know until I asked her for details as I wrote this chapter.)
Sarah didn’t sleep the whole night as they kept coming in to check on her. She was scared, alone, and in a hospital for the first time.
That morning, after I got back to the hospital, they started her on magnesium. Her blood pressure was getting worse and not better. By mid-morning they had a team of doctors come to discuss their plan of action. They went over her stats and said that her amniotic fluid was at point three.
Sarah was so tired, she couldn’t even open her eyes. But she heard every word. “How is that possible? My amniotic fluid was at thirteen yesterday,” she said. The nurse looked again at Sarah’s chart and realized that she was looking at the wrong test.
They were saying I was going to have an emergency C-section or she or the baby could die. She had heard enough bad news. “I want my daddy,” she said. She didn’t have her eyes open and didn’t know he was there the whole time. Mike reached down and grabbed my hand and said, “I’m here.” Sarah started crying and asked the doctors and nurses to leave.
The bit of news about a C-section sent me into the hall as well. I wanted to scream, “No!” Sarah had done everything possible to have a healthy pregnancy. She wanted a natural childbirth. I lost it.
When Mike came out of her room, I took him down the hallway so she couldn’t hear. “Honey, they can’t do this. I won’t let them. She can’t have a C-section.” By now I was in tears and Mike didn’t know what to do with me. The meds for depression couldn’t overshadow the anger and fear that was rising in me. Someone needed to be her advocate.
“They know what is best for her,” he said. “You can’t tell them what to do. Calm down, she doesn’t need an upset mother right now.” He was tired too. I did my best to keep quiet and pray.
The doctors held off. But after long hours of nothing happening and only getting dilated to three, they broke her water. Her contractions started without further delay.
At 9:42 PM, on November 11th, our first grandson, Ashton, was born. Sarah gave birth to him without medication. She got her desire and proved to be a fighter and great mom. We were so proud of her and loved this newest member of our family.
What the future looked like, we didn’t know. But what we did know, is that God saw us through another incredible test. He continued to show us His love and faithfulness, beyond all we imagined.
~~ How About You? ~~
When the storm keeps hitting from all sides it is difficult to think straight or respond properly. Fear and panic rule. Survival rules.
Sometimes a little thing like a song will help center you back on the truth. A chorus from a recent song I hear over and over on my radio is from “Eye of the Storm,” by Ryan Stevenson. It would be a great one for stormy times:
In the eye of the storm, You remain in control
In the middle of the war, You guard my soul
You alone are the anchor, when my sails are torn
Your love surrounds me, in the eye of the storm
(Publishing: © 2015 Songs Of Emack (ASCAP)/Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing (ASCAP), Capitol CMG Genesis/Christopher Stevens designee (ASCAP) (Admin. at CapitolCMGPublishing.com).
God’s word to see me through the fire and the flood was my anchor in the storm. God doesn’t lie. What He said He was going to do, He would do.
We often look to other means for help. But, God promised every believer in Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” His help is the only lasting secure help.
In Hebrew 6:13-20 it says:
13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
If you are in the eye of the storm, run to Him. Yeshua, our High Priest, knows what it feels like and He is ready to meet our need. Hebrews 4:15-16 is the only direction we need. “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”