LeAnn Gardner: The Gift of Suffering

About three years ago, I found myself in a place I never imagined: in the throes of Post-Partum Depression. The one thing I had wanted my entire life—a child—had been given to me. A healthy, red-headed, perfect little specimen of a boy rested upon my chest as I lay on an operating table, exhausted and out of my mind.

We marveled at him and I thought, “He is the cutest baby I have ever seen.” But did I feel an instant bond? No.

Suffice it to say, PPD invaded my life and rested its pinions there for a while.

In the days of suffering from PPD, the last thing I was thinking of was serving. I just wanted to get through the hell I was feeling and hoped that at the other end, I would be a good mother. The fears and anxieties were crippling.

In those early days, I had one paralyzing vision: that at my son’s first birthday party, I would be in the shadows of the crowd, being an observer, not an active participant in my son’s day (read: life) because I had not gotten better. I would not have the energy, or even worse, the affection for him, to plan his birthday party.

This may not seem like a big deal, but if you knew me, you would know that I love (L-O-V-E) to throw parties. Not being an integral part, the integral part, of my son’s first birthday party would be a sign that something was really wrong with me….and even worse, that I was not mothering him in the ways that were most authentic to who I was as a person.

That vision still makes me cry because it reminds me how bad things were for me after he was born.

But as the days passed (and it took a lot of days, strung together) I got better. It was not instant. It took a long time, but the light crept in and I was able to finally find my rhythm as a parent, as his parent. I gained confidence in meeting his needs, accepted that my life had indeed changed, and that suddenly my calling had shifted to being his mama.

And I embraced it….and him.

As the days turned to months, my secret leaked out, partly because I “verbally vomit” to process my issues, and word was getting out that things weren’t so rosy for me. Because PPD is a sore thumb amidst baby showers and pools of pink and blue, new mamas feel isolated and alone.

I imagine there were whispers of “LeAnn had a hard time; talk to her.” Connecting with other people in the throes of this darkness was key for my healing. Being a resource to those facing similar demons was healing for me, too.

Jesus is given many titles, but the Suffering Servant is one that seems to be the most reflected during Holy Week. Does this mean that Christ could not adequately serve without first suffering? We Jesus people preach the Incarnation- that Christ put on skin and walked among us, that he experienced our spectrum of emotions, including pain, grief and realities that did not meet expectations.

What does this mean to all of us (humans) who experience struggle? The essence of my faith rests in this notion: that my suffering not only mattered, but had also been experienced in and by Christ. There was a knowing in my soul that a Presence greater than me and my pain and anxiety was with me, minute by minute, day by day, until that string of days equaled a month and then months and then three years!

My second son was born 7 months ago. I found myself, again, lying on an operating table, in a cold sterile room, but something was different. My very being had been changed since the redhead was born. I was already a mother. I had been through hell and back with all of my insecurities and angst, and although I was not perfect, nor he, we together have forged a path of mama and son. That sweet little rosy headed boy has taught me so much (even to this day).

Christ is present in struggle. We know this. We preach it all the time. But it is different to walk it. To feel the pain in the fibers my being and know that Emmanuel has walked the ground where I have stood and suffered is life altering. May we be reminded of this miracle during this Holiest of weeks.

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LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 3 and 7 months.

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