The debate over Syrian refugees is reaching a boiling point in the United States—at least judging by social media activity in recent hours.
With more than two dozen US governors now refusing to accept refugees within their borders over concerns of adequate background checking abilities and news that one of the Paris attackers may have entered France as a refugee, a bitter divide is beginning to emerge.
If social media is to be believed, there are two positions on the issue:
We must accept all Syrian refugees because it’s a humanitarian issue, and the only Christian thing to do; or
If we deny Syrian refugees, we’re denying the teachings of Christ and exposing ourselves as heartless, isolationists.
People of the Internet: can we all take a collective chill pill?
Are we really living in a society where you’re either on one side of an issue or you’re venomously dismissed? Are we really living in a time when opinions—and, more importantly, the people who hold them—are immediately categorized as good or evil? Are we really living in a country where free and open discussion is squashed by judgment in complete and quickly-leveled fashion?
Today, it feels like it.
Granted, I’m no theologian and I’m no national security expert, but I am this: human. A sinner. An American. Imperfect, and in constant need of grace.
There is room for Christian values, for love, and for humanitarianism, in conjunction with prudence, discernment, and due diligence. I’d argue that Christ calls us to do all of these things; they do not exist in a vacuum.
So, while the debate rages on across angry Facebook statuses and biting tweets, as friends un-friend friends and indignantly denounce dissidents as racist or radicals or worse, I’ll be over here trying to cling to grace.
I’ll be over here trying to be respectful of others, but unashamed of my own convictions.
I’ll be over here trying to reflect that while world events can pit our primal need for security against our desire to love as Christ loves—they should not pit us neighbor against neighbor in some bitter battle for righteousness.
They ought to drive us to our knees. It’s where the only hope, the only answer is to be found.
My heart was pounding somewhere in my throat, every muscle tense as I dialed the number. My paper thin resolve wavered as the first ring sounded in my ear. If I hung up now, no one would know. I could go on as if everything was fine, even though I knew it wasn’t.
I never imagined I would become this woman.
It happened to other people, people with problems, issues, insecurities. Not to me. Not now.
A voice on the other end of the line answered up and I took a deep breath. I was about to admit to a perfect stranger what I’d been trying for weeks to talk myself out of: I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression.
Never did I think the words “depression” and “anxiety” would be in my vocabulary after the birth of my first baby. I was the kind of child who adored playing with dolls; a girl who, at age six, thought my brand new baby brother belonged more to me than to the woman who’d given birth to him. I never doubted that one day, I would be a mother myself.
My daughter Meredith’s delivery was traumatic, the birthing room a flurry of activity, her first hours spent apart from me in the NICU. But when I finally cradled her in my arms for the first time several hours later, I knew for certain this was the singular purpose of my life. This tiny creature miraculously grew inside my body, had her daddy’s nose, and my mother’s eyes. Her entrance into the world had stopped my own and set it spinning on an entirely different axis—and I was so happy.
For ten months, happy was exactly what we were. Meredith was a dream baby; she slept well and often, nursed with no problems, and hit every milestone right on schedule. I transitioned into my role as a mother with relative ease, too, feeling capable, confident, and fulfilled.
But at ten months, Meredith decided she was done breastfeeding, and self-weaned in quick and decisive fashion. Logically, my previously absent monthly cycles returned, and soon after, I began to notice an uneasiness creeping over me. I wrote it off. What woman hasn’t felt off balance at some point in her life, especially with the added fuel of shifting postpartum hormones? I assured myself it was normal, it was nothing.
But it wasn’t long before that mild annoyance became something much more crippling. I remember with such clarity sitting in the living room of our tiny apartment, my husband kissing the baby and me goodbye as he left for work, and bursting into tears the moment the door closed behind him. I felt nauseous, panic rising in my chest, irrational fear washing over me.
I was alone with the baby I’d always dreamed of having, and suddenly, it terrified me.
I told myself that in a few days, or a week, maybe a month, I’d snap out of it, wake up one morning without the familiar heavy feeling of dread crushing my lungs. I avoided being alone with the baby to an almost obsessive degree—not because I feared I would harm her or myself, but because suddenly, I felt wholly and inexplicably incapable of being her mother. I stopped doing the things I used to love, like sewing and reading. When Meredith napped, I’d crawl into bed and turn on the TV, counting down the minutes until my husband would return home from work, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach instantly subsiding as he walked through the door. Often, I’d pack up the baby and drive us across town to the sanctuary of my mom and dad’s house, for no other reason than to fill the hours with company that didn’t flinch at my red-rimmed eyes and downcast spirit.
There was only one thing I was absolutely sure of: I was never going to feel like myself again. How often did I choke out those words through despondent tears in the arms of my tender but perplexed husband? It became my greatest fear, this idea that my formerly happy, confident, feeling good self had been jettisoned out of my reach, replaced by this pitiful creature strangled by the fear of inadequacy.
It was a horrifying prospect. But eventually, it and the support of my family is what led me to pick up the phone and place that call to my doctor.
When the receptionist picked up the phone and cheerfully asked what I needed to be seen for, I faltered. I told her I’d had a baby a year ago, that she was great but I was feeling…
“…you’re just not feeling like yourself,” she finished for me gently. I breathed again as she assured me it was nothing to be ashamed of, how she took at least one of these calls every day from mothers just like me. “You’ll feel better,” she reassured me.
For the first time, I started to believe it.
It took a visit to my doctor, a good cry in her exam room, and a prescription for an antidepressant, but slowly, I did start to feel better and find my footing as a mother again. I started feeling like myself again, and stopped feeling panicked when I was alone with my daughter.
I wonder now why I waited as long as I did to seek help. I felt awful for at least two months before I made that call. In my case, the delayed onset of symptoms probably contributed to my reluctance to call it what it was (although much less publicized, postpartum depression and anxiety can present months after delivery, or as a result of weaning and the accompanying hormone shift), but the larger, more concerning reason, was that I thought I might be judged as weak or a bad mother if I did.
But that notion couldn’t be more wrong. CDC statistics show one in seven mothers will be affected by postpartum depression within the first year of giving birth—with the caveat that those numbers are based on women who self-report symptoms; presumably there are thousands more affected to some degree who are suffering in silence.
It also all but guarantees you know a woman who has or will have a perinatal mood disorder—you just might not recognize it. She’s leaning on the cart behind you at Target, wearily going through the motions of buying cereal and shoes. She’s the friend you meet for coffee who spent the morning dreading this public outing for fear of being paralyzed by anxiety over what to order. She could be part of your family, quietly struggling to convince herself there’s nothing wrong as she cries alone in the bathroom while the baby sleeps peacefully.
She might even be you.
Often, these are women you would never suspect are dealing with depression or anxiety. They’re successful. Happily married. Outwardly confident. But many are expert concealers of their inner struggle, too ashamed to admit what they worry would label them as “bad” mothers. What those women need to hear—what I, gratefully, received—is acceptance and support, from others and, almost more vitally, from themselves.
There’s no shame in seeking help. Admitting you have a problem doesn’t make you a terrible mother—it makes you normal, human. You love your baby, but recognize you can’t do it alone. There’s no shame in it. Seeking help in the form of therapy, connecting with other mothers who’ve been there, taking medication, or some combination of them all is OK. You are OK. You will get better. You will feel like yourself again. You may not believe that’s possible now; cling to it anyway.
Note: That’s my house in the photo above, still underwater about a week after the crest of the Mouse River in Minot in 2011. Our home saw 5’5″ on the main level (water that sat about 10 days), and many homes in the city saw up to double that. At the time, we had two young kids–ages 2 and 3mos. old–and the following is my recollection of the evacuation that preceded Minot’s historic flooding, which displaced some 12,000 residents.
June 22, 2011—12:57pm
I’m sitting on my mother-in-law’s couch, gazing out the window at the lush green of North Dakota’s countryside in full bloom. It’s the kind of day we relish in Minot; hot summer sun is fleeting in the northern plains, tightly bookended by the slide into and out of long winter months. But this day is textbook perfection by all accounts.
Except for one thing: life as we knew it is about to be swallowed up by the raging Mouse River.
Typically the Mouse (or Souris River, as its known in Canada) winds through this town of about 40,000 people, gently halving it into “North Hill” and “South Hill” with the tree-lined valley at its heart. It’s a quiet river, rarely gaining attention or drawing concern. I grew up a stone’s throw from the water, never worrying it might spill over its banks.
It’s a complicated system, the way this river is managed; four upstream dams—Alameda, Rafferty, Boundary, Lake Darling—are controlled by the US and Canada via international treaty. In years when snowpack and runoff are high, additional government agencies get involved, adhering to a manual agreed upon by the two nations. Target flows, water levels, cubic feet per second—there’s little room for flexibility, by design, in hopes that a scientific approach will usher water through the region without incident.
But 2011 set up like a perfect storm. The bathtub, if you will, filled up faster than the drain was being allowed to run. Dams neared capacity. Downpours oversaturated the ground. Spring runoff reached record levels. The drain was opened incrementally, but it was too little, too late. Soon, the bathtub would overflow, even when the drain was pulled completely.
By June 19th, local news video of water crashing out of the gates at Lake Darling Dam was shocking, sobering. Minot was going to flood—and it was going to be bad. I’ll never forget the moment that day—Father’s Day—standing in my living room watching Minot’s mayor confirm the news with a drawn, grim face: water will destroy the valley. Evacuate now. Take all you can. Hurry.
And so, the exodus began. Flatbed trailers, moving vans, anything with wheels flooded the valley first, as we scrambled to salvage what we could. Looming catastrophe was thick in the air. It was, quite literally, as if all your neighbors decided to move away on the same day. Despite the circumstances, it was eerily still—almost as if a nuclear bomb had fallen. The quiet was deafening.
By that Wednesday afternoon on June 22nd, our house had been stripped of every item of worth or sentiment, an empty shell waiting for impending disaster, perfectly mirroring my own feelings. There would be a time for hope, for grit and gratitude, self-reliance and hard work, but this was a time for sorrow. As the sirens began their somber wail 57 minutes and 20 seconds after noon, signaling the first of the water overtopping the dikes, we all felt the incredible pain it signified.
As I sat on that couch on the high ground of Minot’s South Hill that afternoon, the TV news anchor’s voice (a voice, incidentally, belonging to my father) filled the airwaves on televisions glued to his station’s 24/7 coverage: “Water is inundating the city and is moving over the top of the dike system…It’s a dike system that has done its job over the past few weeks to give citizens safety and comfort but unfortunately, it’s just too much for it to handle. The question now is can we all pull together and make sure that we are able to handle what comes in the coming days and weeks?”
From the comfortable distance four years affords, sitting inside my rebuilt home, I know now the answer was, “Yes.” Because while the Mouse roared, unleashing its far-reaching, catastrophic physical damage, something else was rising in us: strength. We grieved that day for what we’d lost, we got mad, we felt despair. But quietly, steadily, we grew determined to come out the other side of it stronger, better, more weathered but wiser.
It’s why four years later, recalling that sound, that sinking feeling, that day—there’s room in my heart for more than pain. There’s pride for being part of a community that rose to the challenge of rebuilding our lives—and becoming the better for it.
(Originally published 6/22/15 at https://www.bisonbooties.com/blog/a-flood-of-memories/)
Recently, a local young mother lost her life just six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t know her personally, but our community is small enough that we have a handful of mutual friends. She was in her mid 30s, married with three young children, and so much life yet to live.
Her story left many of us shaken.
Strong, young, healthy people aren’t supposed to get sick. They aren’t supposed to be given devastating diagnoses in sterile doctor’s offices.
They’re not supposed to be robbed of the fullest, sweetest years of their lives.
Mothers should be grumbling about their lack of sleep over cups of coffee with sympathetic friends. They should be nuzzling newborns in sunlit nurseries, breathing in the downy scent of tiny heads, memorizing the feel of warm little bodies snuggled at their breast.
Mothers should be bundled up on the sidelines of soccer games on brisk fall evenings, cheering on lanky, still uncoordinated children and passing out sports drinks and granola bars after the final goal. They should be packing school lunches. Escaping with their husbands for overdue date nights. Lunching with old girlfriends.
Mothers aren’t supposed to be stolen away by cancer.
It’s unfair. It’s infuriating. It’s unfathomable. And as a young mother with three kids of my own, it stirs a raw fear hiding deep in my heart. If it happened to one just like me, it could just as easily happen to me.
That, self-centered as it sounds, is terrifying.
It’s chilling to imagine your little world, the lives who depend on you, the partner who sustains you, the daily tasks that require you, going on without you. It’s a thought that flits across most of our minds at one point or another as we’re busy raising our families, but we’re quick to push it aside. Those thoughts are uncomfortable and unnerving.
And, after all, that sort of thing would never happen to us.
But then, a young mother is healthy one month and gone the next. Another starts a course of rigorous treatment. Maybe you have a slight scare yourself. It brings it all back into sharp focus, the precarious, precious nature of this life.
I found myself awake with my toddler overnight, rubbing gentle, absentminded circles on her back as we sat together on the couch in the predawn stillness. As I reveled in the solid weight of my youngest child sprawled across my chest, her deep, even breaths warming my cheek, my thoughts drifted to the mother who isn’t there in the middle of the night. Why her? Why now? Why is there so much suffering, such deep, heartbreaking scars for those left behind?
A few hours later, I slipped into my first-grader’s bedroom to wake her for school. As I reached down to brush her hair from her pink cheek, she opened her eyes and grinned up at me, already awake.
“Mom,” she said. “Guess what I was thinking about?”
“What?” I asked her, warming at her early-morning exuberance.
Her face grew solemn. “’Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.’” She beamed up at me, searching for my approval. It was two verses in Psalm 23 she’d been working to memorize the past week for her Wednesday night church program, and she’d recited them flawlessly.
I closed my eyes, my throat tightening. The valley of the shadow of death. Lately it seems like death is lurking around every corner, nipping at our toes and threatening our comfortable, predictable lives.
And yet, there is hope.
I smiled at my daughter, hugged her tight, and let the words still hanging in the air fill the space around us.
It’s one of the great mysteries of human existence, I suppose—the way we grapple with our own mortality. We struggle to come to terms with it and live with it at a comfortable enough distance to go about our daily lives. But lurking just below the surface is the knowledge that our days are numbered. Most days, that thought is mercifully far from our conscience. Sometimes, it bubbles over.
Grieving the tragedy of lives lost is necessary. Anxious thoughts of our own mortality are normal. Looking into the eyes of our children and feeling limitless love and simultaneous terror is what it is to be a mother, what it is to be human. We know sadness. Sorrow. Heartache. Loss.
But we also know joy. Happiness. Love. Fulfillment.
It would be easy to let what we cannot control consume our lives. To slip from feeling into fearing, drowning out the whispers of hope and truth.
Don’t let fear win.
Joy comes with pain. Happiness is coupled with sadness. Living means dying. But each day we have air in our lungs—each morning we’re greeted by the shining eyes of our children—is an opportunity to live. To love. To hope.
Despite sorrow, beautiful truth remains: life is a precious gift.