Suddenly, Irene found herself as if in the dark valley she had laboriously crossed years ago. The present was suddenly erased, as if it did not exist at all. Irene felt as if she were standing on a suspension bridge that was old and rotten and threatened to break at any second. Below it was a deep ravine. It was dark in her feelings and thoughts. She felt and heard the dark forces as barking dogs attacking her from left and right, wanting to tear her to pieces. Seized by panic, she held on to the ropes that could break at any moment. This soul feeling was not so easy to put into words …
“O Lord, help me!” she cried desperately. It seemed as if her insides were being torn to pieces.
“Please, Lord…” she continued crying, “help me to trust you! Give me strength, teach me to believe, to be patient and to persevere. Help me not to doubt you.”
Irene had always been quick on her feet and could run like the wind. Still, there were things in her life that she could not run from. This illness was one of them. It was clear to her, this is what she had to go through now. There was no turning back, but the Word of God says, “…I am with thee; my rod and my staff they comfort thee.”
This reads well, but to live through such a situation and hold on to this word was impossible! However, she had no other choice and so, like one who is sinking, she held on to this straw.
Are the depressions coming back? Are they already there? She turned within herself and repented, here and now. As all this played out inside her and as she remembered it all again, cold sweat ran down her back and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up in fear.
The next morning, after going to the bathroom, she went straight to the office where John was working on his sermon. He looked at her and asked, “What’s the matter, you’re looking at me so scared and questioning?”
In shock, Irene’s heart went to her throat and from one moment to the next she felt insecure and unable to cope with anything. She tried to concentrate on anything other than her fears and feelings, which were totally upsetting her.
With her throat tight with anxiety, she looked at John, because the anxiety that plagued her years ago was back in such a massive way. The panic that the depression would return had terrified her.
“Why do I feel the way I did then? How can this be possible?” she thought, but it was reality. She would have liked to crawl away and hide, but where on earth?
“If I flew to heaven, as the red veils of the dawn blow across the sky – and if I fled behind the last sea, as the dawn flees from the sun, yet your hand would find me and your right hand would grasp me,” came to her mind (Psalm 139 after Jörg Zink).
Only now did John notice how bad she looked. Her hair hung in thin strands in her face, her eyes were bloodshot and deeply sunken, her skin was gray.
“I wanted to be alone with you,” she said.
“To apologize to you,” she began to recite to him.
“I imagined my life with you very differently. I’m sorry for putting you in such a situation again. I didn’t expect the disease to come back, which I hope can’t put our relationship in trouble?”
Her voice became thoughtful, as if she were talking to herself.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, looking at her.
“Probably we’ve had too many arguments in our marriage, worked too much or something? I don’t know, but I feel very bad,” she added, crying.
“Stop it, please!” he replied, “don’t blame anything on our marriage, besides, in my opinion, our marriage is good!”
“I don’t know what to do! This is so bad that you can’t imagine it,” she answered, sobbing. She wanted to apologize and repent for everything, the main thing was that everything would be okay.
“We’ve been through so much already and we’ll get through this!” he encouraged her.
“Pray for me, I don’t know where to go with myself,” she whispered.
Over the next few weeks, all the doctors were visited and everyone seemed to agree it was depression. But Irene refused to believe it. So in the days that followed, she had been so busy arranging everything that needed to be done, giving the children as much time as possible, and keeping the house in order that there was hardly any time to think about what was coming. Lately, she had often felt a certain fatigue in phases, and when the work was done, she had to lie in bed for a few days afterwards. Still, it was hard for her to allow this thought, because she told herself that Christians don’t have depression …!
“Why is this happening to me of all people?” she asked herself.
She realized that if it really was depression, it didn’t come overnight. Just as it cannot disappear overnight, it is a process, although anything is possible to the Lord. It was her greatest desire, but He did not heal her, for whatever reason.
She felt sorry for herself and in this situation, where the anxiety was extremely bothering her, the secret of the Red Sea became great to her when she read it.
In Holland during the Second World War, a Jewish woman was herded with many other Volksgenossen onto a freight train that was to take them to Auschwitz. The woman was so frightened that it almost drove her insane. In the crowded wagon of people she discovered an old rabbi. In her distress, she rushed to him and cried out:
“Help me, I’m going crazy with fear!”
That’s exactly how Irene felt. She had terrible physical ailments, everything just hurt her. She didn’t want to live anymore, was plagued by suicidal thoughts and driven back and forth by inner turmoil. Concentration problems, insomnia, loss of appetite and indescribable anxiety overcame her. She lost weight and cried a lot.
Worn down by illness and alleged guilt, Irene could identify with the psalmist:
“Lord, you make me feel your wrath. I beseech you: Punish me no longer! (Psalm 6:2). Your arrows have bored into me; your hand presses me down. (Psalm 38:3). Because I suffer from your judgment, I no longer have a healed part of my body … Are all my limbs sick, everything hurts me. How heavy is this burden! I collapse under it.”
Hunched over and worn down by suffering, she dragged herself through the day in deep sadness. Her body tingled constantly, just as a person’s hand or leg falls asleep; it felt like mosquito bites. Just as battered, she lay in bed and watched as she had become a burden to her family. She was at the end of her rope. In despair, she could only weep and moan.
“Lord, you know my longing, you hear my groaning. Have mercy on me!”
“My heart is racing, I am utterly exhausted, and my eyes fail me.”
“You see, I am downcast; constantly I am tormented by pain” (Psalm 38:10, 11, 18).
One push prayer after another she sent to heaven, but felt they were hitting the ceiling of the room. She therefore had to endure the dark days with patience. Discouragement and fear had settled over her like a heavy blanket, and all her confidence that the Lord would spare her life was gone. Yet John and their six children together had cared for her very well. He had faith for them and strong hope that soon it would all be over. His daily encouragement seemed to have an effect only for a short time. He had read to her from the Bible and brought food to her bedside. In this affliction of soul and body, John had prayed with her every evening. Some evenings he had prayed all the way through to the seventh generation of ancestors, because some brothers and sisters from the church had poured oil on the fire by saying, “There must be something wrong with you, we are praying for you and nothing is happening. There must surely be some sin with you.”
Such a statement, of course, caused them both additional pain.
Irene believed there was only one meaningful way to live, only one way to come to rest, that the Lord would heal them. But it didn’t happen.
She stared up at the dark night sky. Had a heavenly angel spoken to her to add to her guilty conscience and guilt? Or was it a hellish demon trying to drive her mad? Or maybe the whole thing was just an incredible coincidence? She hung her head and lamented her fate.
At that moment, it seemed to her that a great black cloud was blocking her entire view of Heavenly Father. Her faith became less and less, so that she could no longer pray herself and instead had to collect prayers from her husband and brothers and sisters from the church like alms. If heaven was closed to her, at least she had hope that with others the sun would shine and her prayers would be answered.
Some Christians were placing an even greater burden on John than he was already carrying in terms of their belief in divine healing. They had been very hurtful to him, asking, “How is it that when you pray for other brothers and sisters, they get well and your own wife doesn’t?”
Question after question spun around in Irene’s head.
“Isn’t this problem big enough,” she thought, “why do the community brothers and sisters have to come with such questions now?”
In addition to the large family commitments, she now began her own odyssey from specialist to specialist. This eventually led her to the point where she raised the white flag, figuratively speaking. In the chair of an empathetic ear, nose and throat doctor, she realized she had to stop fighting.
“You’re destroying yourself,” she said, “do something …!”
“What do you want me to do?” asked Irene to herself. The doctors can’t help anyway, she had immediately checked that off, she didn’t even want to allow the thought. Clinic? No, out of the question. In her suffering, she didn’t want to meet the people there, whose faces showed the entire spectrum, from interested to jaded, from manic to depressively withdrawn. Where they slowly walk down the long corridor with a shuffling gait and have to constantly wipe with their handkerchiefs because saliva uncontrollably runs out of their mouths when they are adjusted to the medication and have to suffer through a whole series of side effects. No, she certainly didn’t want that.
Finally, she stumbled back to her car and leaned against the fender. Slowly she got into the car, wiped her dripping nose with the back of her hand, and stared sadly at her sunken face reflected in the windowpane. So she sat there, trying to regain control of herself.
She stayed behind the wheel longer, watching the water of the river, until she was sure she could think clearly enough to start driving again.
It began to drizzle. Gray clouds hung in the sky, fog filled the place.
Fatigue spread through her limbs, but she couldn’t pull herself together as many questions ran through her mind. For hours she pondered and racked her brains … Why? Why?
For her beloved children she would have sacrificed all her life, now it was all gone, she was like hardened. A sane person can’t imagine how feelings can die, how they change … Unbelievable!
The only man she had been married to, the only man she had ever really loved, how could that be? Johannes was now 41 years old. His mature charisma had always fascinated her. He seemed to have become even more attractive in recent years. How had she lost all feelings for him, the handsome man?
Her lips twitched, her skin tightened. Despair and longing became almost unbearable.
When she had to stop for a moment, she pressed her forehead against the cold window of the car. To see the seven people of her family again was a joy greater than any joy she had ever experienced. But at the same time, it almost drove her insane that she could no longer be there for them. The very idea sent a cold shiver down her spine.
Suicidal thoughts plagued her, urging her to drive into a tree as if it looked like a car accident. Quickly, she stopped.
“No!” she groaned breathlessly. “No! Then I don’t have eternal life! No!”
The words burst out of her. This must not happen under any circumstances …
“O Lord, help me!”
“No!” she cried out again and again. Still, it gave her no relief.
Her soul threatening to tear apart, she clawed her fingers into the steering wheel and held on.
She leaned back, her abdominal wall lifting to let air flow back into her lungs as images of her children and husband passed her closed eyes.
“I confess my guilt, O Lord! I don’t even want to think about it, let alone do it!” Inwardly, she was pestering Heaven.
When she arrived home, Irene went to the phone and called a sister in faith from the parish to lament her sorrow and get support. Crying, she told her what had happened.
“What doesn’t kill us only makes us harder! Keep fighting, we can handle the enemy!” said the woman on the other line and hung up the phone.
Sadly, Irene continued to walk through dark valleys of resignation and hopelessness. Often she had the feeling that she was only functioning like a robot and hardly anyone understood her.
Suddenly, after a few days, a sister in faith from the Verden congregation stood at Irene’s door. Her name was Anni Potratz, she had understanding and empathy. For a while she came every day to encourage Irene and to help her with the children and with the housework. She cooked the meals and just supported her where she could. A wave of gratitude washed over Irene. She felt loved and appreciated, so that tears came to her eyes. It was not something to be taken for granted.
“Thank you,” Irene whispered each time she said goodbye to Anni in the evening, as she reached for a handkerchief with relief and blew her nose.
It was already late when she prepared supper for the children and for herself. After several nearly sleepless nights, the tension was noticeably subsiding, giving way to a great exhaustion. Irene was terribly tired and felt quite alone with the plethora of tasks that came with a household of six children. A throbbing in her forehead and the back of her head was the first sign of a migraine. Good thing her husband was there to support her. Good thing Anni came every day.
“These people are God’s hands reaching out to help me,” she thanked with a sigh. Without these few kind people, she would not have endured the present hardship. She took a headache pill and had sat down to eat with the children, but she couldn’t get a bite down. After a short time, the phone rang. A sister in faith from the parish was on the line and wanted to inquire about Irene’s condition. When she found that there was no change, she said, “You should do worship, or you’ll have depression for I don’t know how long!”
To Irene, such advice was more like advice-blowing. Sadly, Irene hung up, because she had to admit that she didn’t want to do worship. She didn’t feel like it.
How often had she heard the sermons that things could go haywire in the life of a Christian, but nevertheless God was always pulling all the strings and was always Lord over everything in His love and omnipotence. In the past few days, Irene had had to think more and more often about whether this teaching was really biblical. Perhaps this was just positive wishful thinking common in her denomination? A terrible thought …
“Lord, forgive me!” it burst out of her and she began to cry again.
“I’m losing my faith! I don’t understand anything anymore. Jesus, please help me! Have mercy on me!”
Irene wanted to pray, to pour out her heart before God, to seek His comfort and closeness, but despair blocked her. Further, the days passed as agonizingly as before. An unbearable waiting, without hope, a cruel game with her soul, body and spirit.
In the meantime, months had passed and she was still mainly in bed. Almost every day John found her crying, but he still had an encouraging and a comforting word for her. However, she was getting weaker and weaker, so he had to carry her to the bathroom. He had bathed her and put her back to bed.
In the midst of this catastrophic phase, the church brothers and sisters stretched their heads, as it were, into their private sanctuary and repeated the same questions …
… whether sin was with them, for after all, they were being prayed for. Some questions shocked them occasionally when the brothers and sisters from the church said, “Why aren’t things getting better with Irene? After all, we are praying for you. Could there be a sin in your family?”
John said, “I have prayed all the way through to the seventh generation, forwards and backwards. Our family is blessed beyond measure. By God’s grace, it may consistently inherit His peace no matter what we are going through at the moment. The Lord fills us as we abide in Him day by day.”
In between all the suffering, Natalie Peter, John’s mother, became ill. She had never taken the name Justus, although everyone knew her by that name.
After a severe cold, she got pneumonia, so she had to go to the hospital. That evening, almost all of Johannes’ siblings were at the hospital to visit their mother. Did they suspect it? John also went on his way. When John arrived, his mother looked at him anxiously.
“I’m going to die today,” she informed her son as she sat up in bed.
“How do you know that?” wondered John.
“Do you remember when you were still living at home and I said to you that if I no longer have an appetite and cannot take in food, I will die. Because I have gone through so much suffering, hardship and hunger, despite all the hardships my body has functioned well and overcome everything, but now I feel that this is it. My body doesn’t want to go on, I know that in my mind, that death is very near.”
“Mom, what else can I do for you?” asked John, moved.
“Pray for me, my son,” she replied as she wiped her eyes with her fist.
“Will the Lord accept me?” she continued to ask with her head bowed.
“Mom, let’s pray together, I’ll pray first and you repeat the words after me, okay?” suggested John as he knelt down in front of the bed. After praying together, he spoke the Bible passage Isaiah 49:15 to her as a comfort:
“Can a mother forget her infant? Does she have the heart to abandon the newborn to its fate? And even if she would forget it – I will never forget you!” They embraced and kissed, she laid her head on his shoulder as she wept and begged his forgiveness. John stroked her gray hair and kissed her on the forehead. Her eyes were full of sadness, yet relieved. When John said goodbye afterwards, it was the last time he had seen her alive. At 3:30 in the morning, the phone rang. Johannes answered it. It was the doctor who delivered the death news. To this day, Johannes thinks about that moment of goodbye. It is one thing to stand by a person, but quite another when a person leaves the earth. He has to go this way all alone to appear before the face of God. How good it is when a person has certainty that he is expected in heaven. None of her children had expected that it would end with her so soon. Deeply affected by the loss, John sat very sad that evening. For Irene, it was as if nothing had happened. She could not perceive any feelings, let alone show them. During the time of her illness, they had a wedding in the family and the funeral of her mother-in-law. On both occasions she was as if dead, completely apathetic. Deeply immersed in her melancholy, she sought inner peace, but regrettably found only inner turmoil and anxiety.
The next day, when Irene stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom in the morning, shame, guilt and self-accusation had come over her so massively that she could hardly bear the sight of them.
“Those seven people living under this roof can never forgive me,” she thought. A cold shiver ran down her spine again. She quickly left the bathroom and went to the bedroom where her husband was getting ready.
“Tell me, am I acting normal? Do I look normal? Or am I crazy?” she asked John.
“What makes you think that?” he asked her.
“I want to know,” she replied, “please tell me the truth!”
“Yes you do, you look normal and you act like a normal person,” he replied.
She was glad that she appeared normal on the outside, because on the inside she looked awful, gloomy and dreary. This is how she dragged herself into each day, and this is how seven months had passed, most of which Irene had spent in her bed. It did not get better, only worse. Once, when she was getting the meat out of the freezer, she went to see Johannes in the office he had set up at home.
“You know what to do with the meat? What should I cook today?” she asked him. “Why are you asking me,” he replied, “you’re a cook by trade!”
She took the meat and went to the kitchen while she prayed. “Lord, he doesn’t understand me, you alone can understand me. What should I do?” she sighed in despair.
All ideas were gone, creativity was gone, it was all gone. She really didn’t know what to do with the meat. Saddened by her condition, she realized she had to jump over her own shadow and seek help. John had suggested a few times that she seek a cure and recuperate, because she had never done anything like that before. Not only John, but her family doctor had also suggested she do this a few times. But she refused. Irene felt that she could not leave her husband and children alone. Her response was:
“You can’t get along without me! No, I won’t do that to you!” This time, however, she knew she had to do it, even if she didn’t want to.
The following day, Irene had made an appointment of her own accord with a psychotherapist and asked him to apply for a cure in Altensteig at the de’ignis clinic (Latin: the fire).
She then drove to the health insurance company accompanied by Anni. She received approval for three weeks. The health insurance company had taken care of everything quickly, so that she was already admitted to the de’ignis clinic in one week. Johannes took her there by car.
When Irene arrived in Altensteig, she had a talk with the doctor, who prescribed a nine-week cure. There she was treated with medication and noticed a difference after only two weeks. That loathsome and horrible feeling that she was alive was gone. After five weeks, she noticed that she could concentrate again. Things were looking up. She could pray again and she knew he heard her.
Irene was now filled with only one desire: It was the ardent desire to get well again that burned indelibly in her subconscious, dominating her thoughts and actions. She lay in the Lord’s ears, praying a prayer umpteen times a day. It was always the same words that she addressed to the Heavenly Father:
“Heal me! Heal me! Heal me! You know, Lord, I have a big family and my children need me! My husband needs me and the church, they need me too! You have suffered yourself and you can help those who suffer. Please help me!”
That was the prayer she brought before the Lord several times each day. Some would think that this was not creative at all. It wasn’t for her either. It was important to her that the Lord hear her prayer and give her restoration.
During her walks she had a lot of time to think and could review her life. Suddenly she remembered how Mikhail Gorbachev once said:
“There are no simple solutions to very complicated problems. You have to patiently untangle the thread so that it doesn’t break.”
Now she was in the middle of a complicated problem. “How am I going to reach for the thread?” she asked herself.
She realized that she had made many mistakes in her life and that wisdom is an advantage of age. But when you’re young, you chop a lot of wood and don’t patiently unravel the thread. By the time you figure it out, you’re old. She regretted many things.
Deep in thought, she ended up in the past with her mom. Their relationship was marked by a raised finger: “You must … and you shall not …”
For example, because of her, she had burned her high heels or worn a head covering. She had not dared to ask any questions. She felt alone because she never extended her helping hand to her – an affection she so lacked at such times. Even though she already had six children, that feeling kept coming up, like before the conversion, “You no-good girl!”
That’s exactly what she never wanted to be. She could identify with the people of Israel and how they must have felt when Moses came down from the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to them. Where they felt so dirty and burdened anyway and had so much dirt on them, then comes the stern deep voice saying, “You must … and you shall not …”
Today, Irene doesn’t have the slightest problem with the Ten Commandments; on the contrary, she sees the Word as edification and finds it beyond amazing, downright incredible, how relevant and alive they have remained. It is just that they must not be understood in such a bureaucratic and mechanized way, as they have unfortunately been or are still being presented, especially by the Pharisees and scribes of Christianity.
She remembered with discomfort how she had to learn them by heart as a child and thus also had the Ten Commandments first “driven out”.
“Thou shalt not …” was written there with a raised forefinger, and then came the chapter with the “deadly sins”.
This raised forefinger may never have been in the biblical text, but it accompanied her all the time up to this point.
Suddenly she noticed that the translations from ancient Hebrew indicate that the tense of the verbs can be understood not only in the sense of “Thou shalt not …!” but that they can also be understood as a future tense, namely, “Thou shalt not …!” And already these commandments appeared in another light. In plain text it says: If you understand me as your God and creator, man, then you will honor me. Then you will not lie. Then you will not kill. Then you will not break the marriage!
Irene felt the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounding her. She was grateful from the bottom of her heart that she was a child of God, as she continued to indulge her thoughts.
It was absolutely understandable: a person who bows before his Creator and knows himself to be lovingly regarded by Him does not indeed need any commandments, but recognizes the consequences of this relationship as if by itself.
Ever since Irene had experienced how hurt she was, she sought out the place of pain that God had created for that purpose. This place became her center of life, the cross where Christ bore the greatest pain. There she went with her pain, surrendered everything and experienced what redemption means. To live redeemed from the works of her own hurts and the guilt towards others that she had brought upon herself, meant for her to live in view of Christ. Similar to Peter, who ran toward Jesus on the stormy sea. As long as he kept his eyes fixed on him, he did not sink – despite his fears. As soon as he looked at the high waves around him and lost sight of Jesus, he sank.
Irene thought, “I don’t want to sink, but I want to live and walk toward Christ.”
If it was difficult for her to understand her mother, it is certain for her that she wanted to do her best, whether in education or on the faith level. She had given her best, according to her knowledge and conscience, because she did not know otherwise. She had been brought up so legally herself and could not help it.
There is a truth that is sometimes ridiculed. A young woman told me that when she was four years old, she had said:
“My mommy is the best. She knows everything and she can do anything.”
But when she turned thirteen, she said, “My mother has no idea, she acts as she pleases!”
Later, at twenty-five, she said, “I wish I had listened to my mother.”
There’s some truth to that.
Sometimes Irene caught herself, because that was exactly how she felt. She doesn’t want to badmouth her mother, but she didn’t always understand her mother. Today she knows, even though 25 years have passed since her death: Her mother was right in her own way. She had done her best and left a good legacy. That’s why she can always fall back on the treasure she received along the way and profit from it. And indeed, all these years Irene dreamed of her mother almost every night, so that she cannot forget her yet.
In the evenings she would talk to John on the phone and could talk about everything, in the end they prayed together. Whenever the suicidal thoughts attacked her, she called him and he commanded the thoughts to go in Jesus’ name. Thank God he heard her. Although she still had that tingling sensation throughout her body, the intervals became longer. The suicidal thoughts and other physical ailments also diminished. They came at longer intervals and lasted less time. Irene wrote down the progression in her diary and was able to compare it. Meanwhile, at home, John kept himself busy with the children. He got up early every morning, got the lunch boxes ready for each child, and accompanied them to school. Lunch was ready when they got back. He did everything for them so that they would not miss their mother. Despite all his efforts, however, the children missed their mother. One day, Irene received a letter from the oldest son:
“Dear Mom, Dad is doing very well, he is trying very hard, but he can’t replace you.”
Crying, Irene read this letter and suffered terribly from homesickness. Immediately after, she had written him a reply in which she could express her feelings and at the same time deal with the pain of the absence of the children. She had written a lot and received a lot of mail, so that her fellow patients were amazed, because Irene received the most letters. Another very good distraction during her stay in the hospital was to go for a walk, get some fresh air, and read in the evenings when she was lying in bed. An interesting story had fallen into her hands, for which she thanked God from the bottom of her heart … also for keeping it.
If you work at a dizzy height on a scaffold, you can’t afford a misstep. Nevertheless, it happened: During renovation work on the roof of the church, a worker lost his balance and fell in free fall. There were many large gravestones on the lawn. No one could survive the impact, but a lamb was grazing between the tombstones. It was precisely on this lamb that the man fell. Under the enormous force of the impact, the animal was completely crushed. The worker, however, survived the fall largely unharmed. Although this incident took place many years ago, a lamb carved in stone can still be seen today at the Catholic church in Werden an der Ruhr. It is meant to commemorate the roofer’s miraculous rescue.
The man was lucky that the lamb happened to be grazing right where he had fallen. And Irene was also lucky. The lamb also plays an important role in the Bible, because we humans allow ourselves to make missteps again and again. We transgress the good rules God has given us to live by. Such transgressions upset us often enough in this life. Most of all, they block our access to heaven and cause us to be lost forever. But God does not want to let us fall. Because he loves us, he offers us salvation through the Lamb. Already in the Old Testament, God introduced the principle of the substitutionary sacrificial lamb. Instead of the guilty sinner, an innocent lamb dies. Then Jesus Christ came into the world as the Lamb of God to pay vicariously for our transgressions once and for all on the cross.
Are you willing to trust Him and let Him save you? “Isn’t it strange that I of all people should get hold of this story at this time?”, Irene asked herself. The story gave her new strength to trust and she was very grateful that the Lord had protected and saved her from these massive suicidal thoughts.
Surely a white lamb would have grazed in front of the tree she had chosen to drive against. “Thank you Lord!” she whispered as she slammed the book shut.
After five long weeks, John set out to visit Irene. She had booked a hotel where they would both spend the night, as there was nothing free at the clinic and he had traveled over seven hundred miles. Quietly he walked up the stairs when suddenly he was standing in front of her room. Irene was sitting by the window reading a book. When she heard the knock on the door, she got up to answer it.
Meanwhile, interestingly, associations from the past came to her mind, when she was an eleven-year-old girl. It was autumn and cold. All the leaves from the trees had long since fallen and there was already ground frost at night. There was a knock at the front door, she got up and opened it. In front of her was a small and petite woman from Japan. She was on the run and apparently wanted to settle down somewhere in the area.
Quickly Irene called her mother. When Alwina saw the starving woman, she immediately invited her into her home while showing her the chair in the kitchen where she could sit. They got into conversation, but the small, petite woman did not know Russian. She lifted up her skirt and showed a ten centimeter wide, thick brown crust on her thigh that looked like brown bread. Alwina knew immediately that it had been the aftermath of the atomic bomb the Americans had dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese woman waved her small hands, trying to make them understand that she was hungry and needed money.
“Quick, bring water!” ordered Alwina.
Irene grabbed the bucket and went to the well. When she returned, her mother had already put the trough down and filled it with hot water, which was on the stove in a large pot and used for washing dishes or washing hands. The Japanese girl was standing next to it in her undershirt. When she took off her undershirt, her whole body was infested with such huge sores that formed brown crusts. Alwina had helped the woman to bathe herself. She gave her a clean undershirt from her closet as well as warm long stockings, which she had knitted herself, and a cardigan, which of course turned out much too big, although Alwina herself was very thin. Alwina then filled a plate with hot soup and placed plenty of bread on the table. While the woman was eating, Alwina had thrown her old ragged clothes into the oven, where they quickly caught fire and burned in no time. Irene watched this scenario unfold. She was frightened, but tried not to show it, because she felt very sorry for the poor woman.
Now she stood in front of the door again and opened it. When she saw John in front of her after such a paradigm shift, she cried out in joy. The two embraced each other with longing. Irene could not control herself, tears ran down her cheeks as she snuggled up to her husband.
For a long time, the two stood in silence until John interrupted the silence.
“You look good! Let me look at you,” he said as he gently pushed her away from him.
“Come, take a seat,” she invited him at last.
For a long time they looked at each other in silence.
“She is almost more beautiful,” he thought, “than I remember her.”
He looked at her face, her eyes. She had become more feminine, a woman, gentle and with feeling for others, such as comes only from her own severe suffering.
“You really do look better than you did five weeks ago when I last saw you!” he said.
“Thank you!” she replied. Irene had groomed herself again, put on makeup and made herself pretty. At this time she was in the mood for the beautiful things again. This was proof that she was on the road to recovery.
“How are the children?” she asked, although all this time she had been writing letters separately to each of her children, which she has kept to this day. So she kept in touch with them. Still, she wanted to know from John. She wanted to know everything; her interest in life had been rekindled.
“She is coming back to life,” John rejoiced, reassuring her that everything was fine.
Before he was about to leave for her, the two of them talked on the phone. Irene had asked him, “Please don’t bring any children, or I won’t be able to stand the rest of the time here without them!” That’s why he came alone.
“How are you? You’d better tell me about yourself!” said John. She looked at the floor and kept silent, after some time she lifted her gaze and looked him straight in the eyes.
“It was very bad, I can’t describe it to you,” she said.
“I don’t want to remember it either, when you are in a thick fog day and night and can’t get out – terrible!” she added with trembling lips.
Her voice suddenly became calm and firm. She tried to control herself …
Her inner door had burst open and the silent agony found its way out into the open. She held her hands in front of her face and tried not to remember the past. After a while she dried her eyes and said:
“Well, I notice that it is getting better step by step. Unfortunately, it’s all taking far too long for me, but I’m glad to be almost out of the dark valley.”
The short time together flew by far too quickly, but it had done them both good.
After John’s visit, Irene counted the days and wanted to go home as soon as possible. After eight weeks, she had talked to her doctor and he had approved it. Johannes came to pick her up. When they arrived home, it seemed to her that she did not recognize her children. They had changed and grown. Longingly she pressed each child to her. There was great joy on both sides. Irene was happy to be back home with her children and the children were happy to have their mother back. After the warm welcome, Irene slowly opened the bedroom door to put down her suitcase when she was amazed. The children had decorated the room with balloons and flowers. She was delighted, whereas John’s many flowers reminded him of his mother’s funeral, which he had not yet digested.
The house was spotlessly clean and tidy. It was received with a great appreciation. The children noticed that their mother had changed and that she looked well again. Irene had put on makeup and looked well-groomed like she used to. Being a “wreck” was over.
The children wanted different dishes for dinner, because Johannes had learned to cook during this time, but only very one-sided. Irene laid out a menu list and the children were allowed to write in their food wishes. One by one she had fulfilled their wishes. Johannes had taken a vacation and stayed home for two weeks to give her a hand until she had settled in again. He had gone shopping with Irene, helped her with the big mountain of laundry, vacuumed every day, and when the children were in school, he helped her in the kitchen. So slowly Irene could see the horizon after her depression of exhaustion.
Throughout the years, the two learned how to treat each other when things were going well, just as they learned to appreciate, love and respect each other in times of hardship and suffering. Talking to each other about everything, this promise they made to each other for the second time, they tried to keep every day. They didn’t want to keep secrets from each other, no matter how big or small the problem might seem.
Irene began to tell him what had happened and the unresolved knot that had been hidden inside her all these years was untied. Because back when she had the first depression, she had suffered greatly from not being allowed to tell him anything. Because of the difference in faith, there was often disharmony. Where actually many questions were there and where one had to discuss very much, however, they could not.
Well, now she felt a bit better, because she could talk about everything.
Wherever it is possible to express something of one’s feelings, one should do so. Feelings that cannot be expressed on the spot remain as “unfinished business” in the soul gate, waiting to be released and dealt with in a follow-up conversation. Otherwise they “clump together” and lie as soul knots in the “belly” and take up a lot of strength there. It is good that we as Christians have a Father in heaven. With God, no untied knot remains before He can lead one on.
God unties everything, Satan has no right and one can feel free in the spirit. For a moment Irene paused and had to think of a saying by Rainer Maria Rilke:
“Never want to exclude from your life any worry, any sorrow, any gloom, since you do not know what these conditions are working on you!”
In this world, we Christians are not spared from sorrow and grief. However, we know that we are supported by our Lord and God, who allows all this, but also gives us the strength to bear it. We have to accept this, “for all things must be for the good of those who love God.
Through these experiences we come into contact with people who have experienced similar things.
Very soon Irene realized that such people need more merciful attention than know-it-all hurtful criticism.
One thing became very important to her after all, which she had asked herself again and again: “Why? Why do people have to endure suffering? Why, O Lord?” Emotionally, she stood again on the suspension bridge that hung over the deep gorge.
“O Lord, why?” she asked quietly, until a small booklet from a missionary work fell into her hands. She could so really relate to it.
“Do you know why you have to go through many a desert stretch? Why your physical temptations are sometimes allowed to press you so hard that they can dispute the peace of God?
Why the Lord allows inner and outer difficulties to threaten to overwhelm you? Why your joy yesterday and today is like the smoldering wick of which Isaiah spoke? Why you are often so tired, weary? Do you know why all this is so? The Lord Jesus loves you so much that He wants you to become an example of the power of His grace. You should experience the glory of this grace, which is “powerful in the weak”, by enjoying his grace. We are to be ‘the glory of his grace’. He Himself wants to shine forth from you.”
On the one hand, Irene felt that she was getting an answer to all her questions. On the other hand, she thought, must it be, Lord, so dreadful and painful?
It was spring, the warm south wind made everything move, the sun came out and the snow melted away. The streams rose above their banks, rushed foaming through the valley and half submerged the meadows. Irene was glad to be back in her garden. Sowing, watching it grow and harvesting – she loved it all. As long as the earth stands, sowing and reaping shall not cease, and she became aware of the word: “What a man sows, he will reap.”
She could see it again and marveled at how beautiful it is when nature awakens. The trees were slowly turning green. The tulips, crocuses and daffodils, also known as daffodils, were sprouting from the ground in her front yard. If spring was in the offing, soon the plowing and sowing would begin again and the storks would return from southern lands. Being an introvert, Irene especially enjoys nature in spring and is amazed to see how wonderful our God has created everything. She is doing well on this earth and is grateful to Him for it with all her heart.
She was standing there enjoying the fresh air when the thought came to her: Sowing and harvesting connects her with her youth. She thought of youthful recklessness, of everything that could have been done better. This included blaming parents for their own misbehavior in early youth. How quickly one says that the environment is so cold, so unloving, and people are so inconsiderate, selfish and indifferent. In doing so, she forgot to ask herself what she was like in her own youth.
For this reason, she sometimes felt sorry for herself today because she had to remember what she will reap later from her children.
The natural law of sowing and reaping should be remembered by everyone:
As a younger woman, she was not aware of it. Every word, every deed is seed! This is good or bad. Her behavior towards her parents is a seed. She will get the corresponding harvest from her children one day.
Wickedness and injustice are the seeds that multiply in the earth. Compared to the good seed, tares multiply much more. Those who do not want hatred, adultery, fornication, violence and murder must not love, cultivate, let alone allow these things even in their own imaginations.
Of course, we also sow good seeds. Positive conversations with children, acquaintances or colleagues who develop the right view in the process are good seeds.
Jesus came and harvested from our field “cabbage and turnips,” the seeds of hatred, envy, pain, contempt and death. He took upon himself the harvest of our human sowing. He, on the other hand, invites us to reap the harvest of his life – peace, forgiveness, healing and eternal life.
Let Jesus harvest your field, live out his word, so that we can gather treasures in heaven!
Even after the cure, when Irene was back home, the anxiety attacks came on and off, but at greater intervals. Several times a day she was in the Lord’s ears that it might happen:
“Lord, do not leave me, my God, do not stay away from me! Come and help me quickly! You are my Lord and my Savior!”
And suddenly Irene noticed that the black clouds moved away and the sun slowly became visible. It was like the Jewish woman when the rabbi put his hand on her head and asked:
“Child, do you not know the secret of our people? The secret of Israel is the secret of the Red Sea. There is no way around the sea, no way to get here, either over it or under it. The way of God is through the middle of the Red Sea. And now put your hand in God’s hand, my daughter, and then go into the water. You will be amazed to see that it recedes! And the miracle happened! The woman became still and the mad fear fell away from her.”
It was much the same for Irene. After two long years of darkness, day broke into Irene’s life and the suspension bridge she was still on was illuminated by the daylight. Suddenly the bridge didn’t look so scary, and with the bright light she could see where she was allowed to step.
Jesus also had to go the way through the Red Sea. God did not save him from suffering, but in suffering! And finally he redeemed him. So also Irene had to go through the Red Sea, but God had gone with her and brought her through. He has given us the “key to the hearts of men” to accept one another in love and humility.
What Irene bitterly regrets today and makes her sad about herself is having to prove something to each other. No, she didn’t want that anymore. She was glad and grateful that Jesus had brought her through this ordeal. She was willing to live one day at a time, knowing that the future was in His hands.
Today she can say that over her recovery was the miracle-working power of the Lord. She can express and testify to what she received from God’s promises, because the Bible is full of promises. The peace of God again reigned unchallenged in her life. She had emerged from her personal furnace with renewed faith in the power and love of God, and she did not take it for granted that she had been healed of this disease. Their marriage became deeper and more intense. They felt that deeper appreciation, love and tenderness for each other and for their children, which only one who has faced death can experience.
It was important for her to reflect on all that had happened in the past time. She saw how God had changed and developed her character through this depression. The crowning glory of her marriage was a sense of contentment and well-being that only those couples experience whose relationship has matured and who have survived the vicissitudes of life together. She rejoiced over and over again in the goodness of God and the blessings upon her entire family.
Some people fear depression and think they cannot cope with it, because life is like a vast field, not always easy to cross. This is true, but Irene can testify that Jesus is there every step of the way, walking with you when you feel you are alone. It’s terrifying just to think about, but she is aware that some Christians can’t shake their depression. But Irene can say from her own experience that Jesus has restored many – to wonderful, perfect health. To Him alone be the glory! Of course, Satan tries to win the battle before we have begun it. Today, she can very well understand the people who are going through the dark valley and help them with a good advice. She sees such people with different eyes. Irene has a heart for them and can intercede for them in prayer in a completely different way.
After two long years of darkness, day broke into her life and the suspension bridge became a solid path lit by daylight. Despite the bright days inside her, she was still not as resilient as before.
So she prayed, “Every day has its sorrows and burden enough.”
She trusted the Lord and her strength was enough for each day. The next morning she prayed the same.
She had managed to live and trust in the Lord yesterday. She had managed to do her work yesterday, so she managed to do it today. So she lived each day expecting the good and the best and that tomorrow a new and promising day was waiting for her. Even when life gently closed one door on dark days, she could open another door with hope.
Irene had been down many a road, but she knows with certainty: this one was the worst. We all need to be purified at some point, each in our own way. The Lord wants to purify us, for whatever reason. He never promised us the stoneless path. He only said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”
She felt the Lord speaking to her, realized she was getting an answer to her questions. Suddenly her heart warmed, she felt accepted.
She could read between the lines: Signed! Sincerely, Your Jesus.
She could never have imagined the strength she could draw from her faith. Her faith had grown and become much stronger during the difficult time.
“God carries through” – this statement of faith was really put to the test when “the time had come.” She had experienced that she really never had to endure anything that was beyond her strength. What was she afraid of in such a situation? No one can imagine. But after this two-year period of suffering, she realized that she needed fellowship with God more and more. She read the Bible much more intensely and sought for more.
“Do not be anxious!” Jesus’ messages like this took on a whole new meaning. Her heart beat excitedly, her breath quickened for a short time. She knew what she had to do. When she calmed down inside, she took a deep breath, feeling carried by God again, even on days when she knew no way out and had no hope. It seemed to her as if someone was whispering in her ear:
“You don’t even have to press the handle: God’s doors are only ajar.”