Grace When a Mama Drives Her Van into the Sea

grace-when-a-mama

Yesterday a tragedy occurred. A pregnant mother drove her minivan, filled with her 3-year-old, 9-year-old, and 10-year-old, into the ocean, in what appeared to be an attempt to end life for them all.

But another tragedy took place as soon as this news went viral. We shook our heads, declared the woman a monster, and made self-righteous remarks about the amount of evil that must reside in this women to do such a thing. This, too, is a tragedy, and I think we’d all be wise to reconsider our hasty judgment:

We need to unpack our boxes.

When we put someone into a box and label them as a monster without a second thought, it’s easy to judge and move on. We don’t have to try to figure out what complex situations made up her life, or work on rationalizing actions that probably can’t be.

There are a lot of details missing, but there have also been enough similar situations of women wrestling with postpartum depression (and the similar antepartum depression that would be relevant in the case of a pregnant woman) to know that these types of actions are often associated with post/antenatal depression and that hormonally-induced post/antepartum depression is very real and can impact lives in very drastic ways.

It is not merely as simplistic as choosing right over wrong, just as someone slipping into diabetic shock can cause some diabetics to act extremely irrationally (this can also be an issue in pregnancy). Nor is it even likely that it is about making a series of wrong choices (such as might be the case for someone who became addicted to substances, and then made consequential poor choices).

So long as we live in a broken world with broken bodies, we can realize that  normative chemical pathways can malfunction to such a degree that it can cause irrational action, and that working to fix those imbalances and broken pathways is often the first course of action, rather than simply labeling it as “sin.” (This is not to excuse sinful action or even to state that pregnant, hormonal women are not capable of doing such actions that might be sinful, but we do much harm when we simplistically state that a sinful choice is the only answer to such a baffling predicament.)

We can say “what a monster!” or we can begin to ask, “what really happened here?” and “what could we have done to help before this family reached this point?”

We need to throw away our stones.

This post isn’t intended to merely put ourselves in the position of onlookers or rescuers. It’s easy to say we want to empathize while still elevating ourselves to position of superiority.

For those of us who have children and those of us who have experienced pregnancy and birth, let’s consider the role of hormones and stresses in hardships of birthing and raising children. Some of use have experienced varieties of trauma to add to the mix, as well.

My Facebook feed is filled with statuses and blog posts lamenting the difficulties of parenting. One child, three children, or more, it is hard. Yet, many of the authors of these posts have grandparents and relatives to step in, enough financial flexibility to splurge on a Starbucks treat, and at the very least, virtual friends to commiserate in the struggle.

Some of us know what it’s like to live through seasons without a support system, without a mother or mother-in-law to step in for the day to the rescue.

Some of us know know what it’s like to feel abandoned by the community that we thought would have been there for us.

Some of us know what it’s like to hear criticism and “tough-up-advice” instead of encouragement when we ask for help.

But even with the above support lacking in my life, I have what many others don’t: a husband who is willing to help when he can, and who would willing to cast everything aside to help if he senses an emergency need. I have financial stability even though it often feels unstable. I have a peaceful home life and don’t live in violent housing. I don’t have to do my laundry at the laundromat or work a second job to support my kids. And I have friends nearby, who, though most going through trials of their own, would drop everything to come help if I told them I wanted to drive my van into the ocean.

Those strengths give me every advantage in the world, but also make it very difficult to truly understand the type of desperation likely experienced by this woman and many others in similar situations.

We don’t know if this woman had any of those. Take away one or two of those support systems that most of us have, and utter desperation can rapidly set in.

Add in a difficult pregnancy, rejection by family, an absentee father, or a special-needs child? The story gets messy very quickly.

If we can complain about the struggles we face as a parent while we have a multiple support networks at our disposal, I think we can also readily throw away the stones we’ve collected to cast.

(And that’s not to mitigate our own struggles; just because someone else has it worse does not mean we aren’t having a difficult time.)

We need to see grace: for ourselves and for the mamas who are ready to drive into the sea.

I’ve had many a mommy fail, and many of those fails have been big enough to draw my parenting skills into question.

If we’re honest with ourselves, I think most of us who are parents can say the same.

What’s kept us from the desperation that eventually leads to doing something this drastic?

For some of us, it might simply be that we didn’t have a van accessible or that we had a support network ready to drop of Starbucks or a casserole. Maybe a grandma or friend offered to take the kids for an afternoon.

Maybe some of us have been there–white-knuckling the steering wheel as the tears of frustration and exhaustion poured out; pulling off the side of the road, wishing oncoming traffic would hit, or simply imagining in our heads what our anger and frustration could accomplish if we let it go.

grace-for-all

But grace…is there. For all of us.

For the mama who reads this news in horror, to the mama who reads this and knows exactly how this woman feels, to the woman herself, Ebony Wilkerson: the mama who drove her van full of kids into the sea.

But God’s grace is this: if Ebony has Christ’s righteousness, when God looks at her, He looks on her as if she’d never driven her children into the sea, as if she’d been the perfect and ideal mother every day since her first child existed. That’s Christ’s righteousness. That’s God’s grace.

And it’s the same for us: if we have Christ’s righteousness as our own, He looks at us as if our “mama fails” have never existed.

Through Christ’s righteousness, when God  looks upon us: He doesn’t see a mama who yelled at her kids; He sees a mama in “whose tongue is the law of kindness.

He doesn’t see a mama whose children repeatedly disobeyed in public followed by a public angry mama fail. He sees (assuming all are believers in this situation) our children just as if they’d obeyed perfectly, and a mama who responded with humility and graciousness.

He doesn’t see a judgmental mama who has already cast a few stones; He sees a mama who was the first to show love to Ebony.

That’s grace: God sees Christ’s righteousness instead of our own unrighteousness.

While there may be consequences for our actions and repercussions in our relationships, these are the fails, the faults, and the sins for which Christ died. We are accepted in Him because of Christ’s righteousness. We aren’t favored for our children’s exceptional performances or for our own; and Ebony, if in Christ, isn’t demoted to the bottom of the spiritual totem pole for driving her children into the ocean. In Christ, we are all cleansed by His blood and covered in His righteousness. By His wounds we are healed!

We need to see and listen.

The desperation you see here isn’t an isolated case; it’s just an extreme one.

Many a “good mama” has told me they’ve been “this close” to throwing in the towel, close to despairing enough to think about ending life or to consider running away. These are mamas who I see as women to look up to. I’d trust these women with my children, and they’d trust theirs with me. But the reality is that many, many mothers are often closer to giving in than they may appear.  They don’t feel this way all the time, but when the moment arrives, it’s easy to be quickly overwhelmed to the point of needing help to resurface.

More than criticism, mamas need compassion.  There is a place for criticism and confrontation, but most of us would do well to start by lifting up the arms or our weary friends, to ask for help ourselves, to be gentle with one another, and to stop seeing others as projects, but friends and people

We need to be pro-all-of-life.

Many who claim the name of “pro-life” are in reality nothing more than anti-abortion.

There is a difference.

News article after news article, I read the comments that state, “she should be banned from having any more children,” “people like this need to be sterilized,” to “she should’ve never gotten pregnant, what an idiot.” But those only serve to further the sentiment that a woman who isn’t “responsibly” avoiding pregnancy (which would exclude me, too, according to most standards) should do away with the life growing within her. Sadly, these sentiments taken to their extremes are little different from the beliefs which perpetuated many of the human rights atrocities of recent centuries.

Yet, for many of us who do know that there is a difference between pro-life and anti-abortion, we wonder what we can do to live out our pro-life beliefs. Here’s what we need to know, and live:

Being pro-life doesn’t have to happen by protesting with signs and shouts at a woman’s clinic.

It doesn’t have to happen by organizing a political movement or  founding non-profit organization.

Where it does have to begin is at the grocery store, in the comment section of news like this, and in befriending the woman who feels like driving her van full of kids into the sea. A kind word, smile, or action may very well save a life, be it in utero or after having experienced a lifetime of hardship.

Intrinsic to this belief is the understanding that, both abroad and ashore, children best belong in familiesWhat can we do to support and build up families who lack the support systems we do? For many close to home, simply having a friend who is an empathizer and a voice will be a powerful impetus to keep on going.

Yesterday a tragedy happened. But today, in this season of Lent, let’s give up our stones and embrace our fellow mothers, regardless of how few or how many other things we have in common. Let’s cast a smile or word of encouragement to the mama whose kids are having a rough day in the grocery store. Let’s embrace the grace that is offered in Christ’s righteousness, and let it spill over. And let’s pray for Ebony and her family. 

And I know not everyone reading this shook heads, cast stones, or put Ebony in boxes. In fact, it’s quite like that if you’re reading this, you’re the choir. Many, many saw this woman and recognized her actions as a cry for help, a need for intervention. Thank you. Let’s keep on loving and keep on talking. 

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve seen a few of the angry, judgmental comments already online, and I can’t help but feel that those people are angrily judging ME, because I don’t see much difference between me and Ebony. I’ve been exactly where she is, and without my support system, I’d have done exactly what she did. I wish someone had been there for her.

    • 2

      says

      Thanks for sharing, Hannah. I agree, and I read the articles and comment trying to be in the place of Ebony, and that’s when it hurt, both that it could have been me and that she had no support system.

      I haven’t had long-term PPD, but I have definitely have had bursts of irrational feelings that I’ve been aware enough to realize were hormonal surges, especially after my last birth. I can’t imagine facing those feelings without a support network (or facing such thoughts not knowing what they were). This could have been so many of us, and hopefully her story will help us all think a little more about PPD and related issues and move from beyond the stigma to building community and talking about this.

  2. 3

    says

    Keren, Thank you for writing this. I had actually not seen that news but have heard other similar situations. And I’ve been ready to “snap” many times though by God’s grace never to this point because He has given me grace and a husband (and other support systems) to help me through.

    But your words were such an encouragement and need to be voiced. Somehow it seems ok to say we are tired, etc, as mothers but when we go any further I think many are afraid to share how really low and depleted they are.

    {p.s. the pictures are really large and I have to scroll to see them)

    • 4

      says

      Thanks, Johanna. Like you and others have said, there is a stigma that often prevents women from asking from help, and that’s a dangerous problem, when what is needed is the very opposite.

      (Sorry about the pictures, but thanks for the heads up; I’ve checked it on my phone and on Chrome, and it’s fine here. But I’ll try to see if I can change anything else.)

  3. 6

    Jamie says

    Oh, Keren. I’m in tears for mother, those children, and all of us. We all need grace for the dark spots in our souls that we try to hide away. Sometimes, our dark spots become more obvious (like Ebony’s) and we still get more grace. Thank you, thank you.

  4. 7

    Marianne says

    This was me. I am Ebony. Not really, but I had a very similar situation happen with my second child.

    He was three weeks old, and my husband was working out of town for weeks on end. My parents lived nearby, but weren’t really into helping. My church groups would only help if I came into church for their Bible studies. (Not easy when you’re in a lot of pain postpartum.) I did everything they wanted–I was back in church less than a week after giving birth, I volunteered in the nursery every other week, I continued to take meals to Seniors.

    I was in a mother’s study group, and PPD was talked aobut. But not in a good way. They talked about how it was a sinful choice and how any mother with such issues would do well to reconsider her salvation if she ever thought about going to the medical community for help before going for “Biblical counseling.” (Ironically, they were big on medical intervention with birth, no breastfeeding, and getting medicine for just about everything else.)

    But I was struggling, and no body, NOBODY cared or asked how I was doing. They would take my baby from my arms at church, but give him back as soon as he started crying or had a diaper. They would shake their heads and say “be consistent” or “discipline more” when my older son started whining at church. (We were often there for long hours.)

    My son’s third week, I was exhausted. I drove to my parents house, put the carseats (one with my 2yo) on the their front porch, rang the doorbell, and started driving to the nearest large city (about 3 hours away).

    My parents suddenly realized I needed their help, and they started to come over once a week. That helped a lot, but I needed more. Eventually, I saw a doctor (a Christian), who started me on a month of medicine that was just enough to get me out of that horrible time.

    No one at my church ever found out, and we eventually left over their demands that we be more involved in their weekly ministry, a difficult thing at that time in our lives. We needed the ministry and the love. I shudder to think what other women their go through. I wish I would have known more.

    But, if I had a van and was near an ocean, I would have driven in. Or worse. As it was, I did do something very desperate.

    It’s so hard. No one thinks to help. They expect us to jump back into everything right away, and then roll their eyes when we might struggle.

    Thank you for writing this. Teh older women at my church had to have had difficulties? But none of them cared. I hope some of those women will read this and be moved to compassion.

    from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

    • 8

      says

      Oh, Marianne! My heart aches for you, and I’m sorry you were in such a difficult situation. And given the situation, it’s no wonder you came to cry out for help in that way. Our postpartum practices here in the US are very challenging for allowing women to bond with their babies and recover at the rate needed.

      I’m very glad you were able to eventually get the help you needed. Praying God continues to give healing and growth from that season of your life!

  5. 9

    Faith says

    These were my thoughts exactly as I watched the news. As a first time mom-to-be (due today!), I watched the news last night terrified that that woman could be me. Given hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, and an abusive husband (as she has), that WOULD be me. And I would be sent to jail and labeled as a terrible person with no love or compassion for her own children. My heart truly did go out to that woman and I hope she gets the help and love she needs.

    • 10

      says

      Oh, Faith! I’m praying for you, and your tiny baby, and your family. Praying God gives you peace, support, and help during this exciting, yet scary time for you. (I’ll send you an e-mail in a few minutes, too.)

  6. 11

    JeSsica thomas says

    Thanks. I’ve never had hormonal issues, and count myself very lucky. But I have had mommy fails, and this grace was very much needed in my life today.

    Bringing Ebony before the throne today.

  7. 12

    Esther says

    I am not a mother, but just as desperate for this grace. In fact, I have hormonal issues that make it hard to deal with my emotions, yet also keep me infertile. It is a daily battle.

    At the same time, it’s hard to me to envision that emotions could lead to a mother actually wishing harm in her kids. But it’s clear this mother loved her kids, but was desperate.

    I want to do a better job using my “freeness” to serve mamas like this and like those in my church who are silently hurting. In turn, I hope they will love and serve me, too. We need each other. This is a good conversation to get things started.

    Ebony, if you ever stumble here, you are loved and today we are praying on your behalf. May Uou see God’s grace to you.

    • 13

      says

      Thank you, Esther!

      (And this post was not intended to marginalize childless or single women who suffer from chemical imbalances or mental illness, but thank you for bringing attention to the need that is there, too!)

      Yes, this is a needed conversation. I’m sure you will be a blessing to many, as you have been here! Thanks for sharing here!

  8. 14

    Concerned says

    Oh, you are at it again. You think you know about grace, but what you write about is so mixed up and confusing and you are basically giving anyone license to sin.

    I have had four kids and it was hard. But you want to know what? I never thougy about killing any of then once! That’s because I am pro life. I had to be tough and work through it. Any woman worth her salt will do the same. There should be no compassion for a woman who tries to kill her kids. I would think that the death penalty would be appropriate here. (But let me guess…you probably don’t believe in that, either.) Insanity pleas and mental illness are just excuses used by people who refuse to call sin what it is. You cheapen what God gave up by doing so.

    I am sad that this lady had a tough life, but it’s no excuse.

    And there’s also no excuse for you saying we should embrace one another no matter the differences. God calls us to live a holy, separated life. I hardly think a word of what you wrote here emphasizes that.

    You cannot have grace without law, you seem to forget that. I have worked hard to grow my faith to where it is now, and as an older women of the faith I am very concerned for you and the way you’ve stated things here. Beyond the obvious, all this talk if grace doesn’t sit well. At all.

    • 15

      Marija says

      Dear Concerned, I am sad for you. You have lived a long life, and have not learned about compassion towards others. This comment is COLD and HEARTLESS. You have no idea what this woman has gone through in her life. You cannot compare others to your own experiences. You see, there IS a point in some people’s lives, where they cross a certain mental line of hopelessness, that they do not have the capacity to recover from, no matter what they do. They cannot feel concern towards others and other’s well-being, even their own children! I understand how somebody that has never felt this time of hell, (you) can not understand how one can do such things. I have! I have had unbelievable thoughts and feelings that I never imagined I would ever experience. I am a born-again believer and I have been in ministry for 30 years, so despair and agony is not only in the lives of the unbeliever, but in the lives of those who live for and love Jesus. I have traveled the road of unbearable incredible despair, beyond measure. All I can say, after my own 10-year struggle, is God is the only reason I am still here. I would not be here today, without Him holding my life together, when I thought the end was near. It is the extreme pressures in life, with the post-pardum depression (that many discount or deny having), add rejection, add hormones, add the thoughts of pending troubles or doom or even past “demons, add insecurity and fear. You need to repent of your Pharisee mindset, because Jesus would have shown compassion, were he pulling out the woman from the sinking van…just like the woman at the well, just like the woman caught in adultery. You should not impose your one-sided judgements on others. I was once like you. Judgemental. He has showed me my errors. Now my heart is full of compassion for those who cannot help themselves and I see them differently, because I have been there.

    • 16

      says

      Concerned,

      The others who have commented have answered well, and I don’t need to add to what they’ve written.

      I am thankful for the wisdom that both age and experience often lend to the older women in my life; but at the same time, they do not equal correctness for every issue in life. Like others have said, I’m grateful you had strength to work through those difficult times in life. Yet that is no substitute for empathy. Life looks very different for many people, and we need to work hard to place ourselves into their shoes, rather than trying to force them into ours.

      I can really do little more than refer you to read through John 8 again. This woman is said to have been caught in adultery. (The woman in our article was caught driving into the ocean, yet even then we don’t know what led to that action.) And yet, at the end of the passage, it says this:

      10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 10Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 10When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”"
      11″No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” 11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

      Grace doesn’t really sit well with any of us. That’s why we often resist it. Our natural reaction to grace is shown in Romans 6:1, in a question of shock and exclamation, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” As we read on, we know that the answer is the emphatic “God forbid,” but this is nonetheless the response that an encounter with shocking grace elicits.

      Regardless of your opinions of me, I hope you will pray for Ebony and her family. They are all in need of God’s comfort in their lives right now.

  9. 17

    Mercy says

    Dear Concerned,
    In John 8 Jesus acknowledges the Law, which in that case required the adulterous woman to be stoned. Instead of joining in the stoning, He said “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
    All I have read on this post points out that we as Christian mothers should stop picking up stones and instead have a response based on Christ’s own example. No one here is condoning or excusing Ebony’s actions, but we are all responsible for our own reactions. Lord Jesus, I pray that my reaction will be like Yours.

  10. 20

    REbekah says

    Thank you so much for your insight, encouragement, and transparency.
    I too have struggled with PPD. I have seriously considered checking myself into the hospital before, as I felt completely out of control, and frightened. I am thankful for the support and love I have had and for the grace of God.
    I am thankful that his love never lets us go.
    I have had seven pregnancies in the past 8 years. I have had 3 miscarriages. I know what it is to be on a hormonal roller coaster.
    I believe that we as women need to know that it is ok to struggle, ok to admit that we are weak and desperately in need of help.
    I believed that PPD was a sin problem for my first 3 births and miscarriages. I believed that there must be something wrong with me, that my struggles must stem from not trusting God enough.
    I finally came to the realization that I needed to actively seek help.
    I began seeing a Christian counselor and taking anti-depressants. At first I felt guilty, like I should be able to get through the depression.
    I thank God that my husband, family and friends helped to reassure and support me through the process.
    2Corinthians 1:3-4

    • 21

      says

      Rebekah,

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I have been touched and moved by the many, many similar stories that I’ve heard as a result of Ebony’s story and what has been written here.

      I am SO glad you were able to access help and are now on this side of things; at the same time, I continue to grieve the difficult time that you and many others have endured as a result of teaching that often prevents women from getting help.

      Thanks for sharing, and I prayed for your family just now. I hope you will continue to share with young and new moms so that they’ll be in a position to more readily access the help they need.

  11. 22

    Ann Summer says

    @Concerned, You need to educate yourself on the subject of depression and post partum depression before you make uneducated commentary. You are very blessed to not have struggled with a chemical imbalance. Not everyone is so fortunate and not everyone has the same circumstances. You make statements that suggest a mentally unstable person should be able to make mentally sound decisions, if they are worth their grain in salt… I’m a health care provider and assure you that you could not be more incorrect. Ten years in the maternal-newborn setting, I’ve spent trying to help women who struggle with such diagnoses.

    There might have been a point in my life, years ago, that my youth and inexperience of the world easily painted this scenario in black and white terms. I thank God for my personal struggles and tragedies, which have allowed me to grow to understand matters are often very complex. In fact, I often shudder upon reflection of my self-righteous, judgmental commentary, which I made once upon a time, due to my lack of education and experience. I’m embarrassed by it, but I move on and try to be a better person.

    My posting is not to offend you. I don’t wish you anything more than the best, but trust me when I say… Should you or the ones you hold dear ever be in a complex situation where there simply seems no hope, I pray God surrounds you with the grace of others who try to understand what happened.

    I don’t condone sin or poor choices, but I also have to realize I’m not a perfect human being and it’s part of my duty to recognize another’s struggles. Medical conditions are an entirely different matter, as well. There is an organic problem, not just a lack of morals. This woman needs help. She needs confinement in a psychiatric facility with intense therapy and treatment. The death penalty is not a solution. It’s an option that resolves us, as a society, from having to take the more difficult road of rehabilitating this individual.

    I’m a woman of faith. When has God condoned the death penalty?

    • 23

      says

      Ann, thanks so much for taking time to share and lend your experience, and also for actively helping women find help in these types of situations.

  12. 26

    Joanna Yoder says

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU….and God bless you. I was appalled when I read some of the comments on news articles about this story. As a mom of 4 who has battled postpartum depression and the depths of darkness, I saw the headline and immediately thought, “Oh, that dear woman…I know just how she was feeling.”

  13. 27

    Hurting says

    Such a well-written article! I have never done anything as intentionally as drive my van into the ocean, but I have prayed–while on the road with my 2 children in the van–for God to just take us all home. I was living with a violent, abusive husband and could never have taken my own life and left the children with him . . . . I know what that desperation feels like, and I know what it’s like to experience the ‘stones’ of others who don’t understand . . . . .

  14. 28

    Jessie says

    Thanks for this–perfect timing!

    I have really been struggling with what I’m now realizing is ppd. Just last week, a friend told me about her own struggle and that led me to do more research. I think I’ve taken too much on as a mommy of 2, but I also called to make an appointment with my naturopath after reading this.

    My guess is that there are also a lot if natural alternatives to fighting ppd, along with straight out chemicals. I’m hoping to find the balance that is right for me and get out of this funk. I do have an amazing support sky stem with parents, good small group, and a spouse who helps. But it has still been a struggle.

    If you are like me and wondering if you might be facing hormonal issues, I hi

    • 30

      Hurting says

      To anyone out there who is struggling with PPD and you don’t want drugs b/c you are breastfeeding: I discovered a couple of herbs that are EXTREMELY helpful–and my midwife approved them for both during pregnancy and breastfeeding! The 2 that were most helpful for me were Lemon Balm and Catnip. I am sure that others are good as well, but I can’t speak for them from experience and I also don’t know about their safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding . . . .

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>