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.
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 families. What 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.