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Elijah, Why Are You Here?

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At some point in the last three years the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal became a focus of study for me. Talk about a mountaintop experience! But, what really grabbed my attention – what I’ve mulled over in my mind countless times since – is what happened after God demonstrated His power above and beyond any idol created in human hearts and by their hands. The story of Elijah and the prophets is found in 1 Kings 18. But look with me to the next chapter . . . 

1 Kings 19 New Century Version (NCV)*

1 “King Ahab told Jezebel every thing Elijah had done and how Elijah had killed all the prophets with a sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me terribly if by this time tomorrow I don’t kill you just as you killed those prophets.”

3 When Elijah heard this, he was afraid and ran for his life, taking his servant with him. When they came to Beersheba in Judah, Elijah left his servant there. 4 Then Elijah walked for a whole day into the desert. He sat down under a bush and asked to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he prayed. “Let me die. I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the tree and slept.”

Huh? Did a prophet of the Lord just ask to die? Did he then just lay down and sleep? In this modern day a certified counselor would recognize this behavior as indicative of depression. Maybe even PTSD. He did, after all, slaughter the numerous prophets of Baal with his sword. Doing the right thing doesn’t exempt us from the physical and mental fallout of our actions. But aside from that, we just don’t expect our biblical heroes to be human enough to wish for death, do we? And you know what, we are appalled when a modern day believer expresses the same desire.

Around March of 2014, about three months after Bethany and Katie died, I received a phone call from my father. In those intervening months between December and March David and I had been caring for Gracen in ways we had never done before. There were pain meds, belly shots, bed pans, sponge baths, and two person transfers since her right leg was encased in an imobilizer as she recovered from the injuries she received in the accident that killed her sisters. David was unemployed and the bills started rolling in. We were exhausted on about every level possible. 

My Dad, after catching up on what was happening three hours north, asked me, “How are you really doing?” To which I replied, “I’m tired. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m just wishing for the rapture.” My Dad, bless his heart, responded, “You can’t feel that way”, and went on to tell me why.

We act as if it’s unscriptural to wish for death unless someone is suffering severe physical agony. Then it’s deemed okay to pray that God will take them home and relieve them of their suffering. But that’s not the message in scripture. 

It’s not wrong to long for your eternal home. 

It’s wrong to take it upon yourself to end your life, but not wrong to wish for death.**

What I find really interesting here is the fact that neither God nor His angel rebuked Elijah for either his actions or his feelings. Instead, God sent an angel to minister to Elijah. See for yourself:

“5b Suddenly an angel came to him and touched him. “Get up and eat,” the angel said. 6 Elijah saw near his head a loaf baked over coals and a jar of water, so he ate and drank. Then he went back to sleep.”

Elijah went back to sleep! And the angel just let him. There were no recriminations. No get up!, Do something! messages from on high. No count your blessings rebuke. Neither God nor His Angel had one word to say to Elijah about his desire for death. 

Not one word.

And the story continues . . .

7 “Later the Lord’s angel came to him a second time. The angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat. If you don’t, the journey will be too hard for you.” 8 So Elijah got up and ate and drank. The food made him strong enough to walk for forty days and nights to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. 9a There Elijah went into a cave and stayed all night.”

Okay, so here’s what we know. God sent an angel twice to Elijah and each time the angel came with food and water. We also know that at the second visitation the angel told Elijah he needed the nourishment so he’d have the strength to make a journey. What we don’t know is if Elijah was planning the journey or if God instructed the angel to tell Elijah to get his butt to Mount Sinai. I’m leaning toward the idea that Elijah had rested and decided, if God won’t come to me, I’m going to Him. Maybe he wanted an answer to his request that badly. (And I wonder if he was such a mess that he would have ventured off without the provisions necessary to physically make the trip). 

Regardless, it bears mentioning that in all the time between Elijah’s run to escape Jezebel, his request to die, the angel’s first visit, the second visit, and the 40 day journey, God is silent. 

He’s silent.

And it seems Elijah was too. 

I suppose you could say that Elijah had said his piece in back in verse four, “I’ve had enough. Let me die.”. and he didn’t believe it bore repeating.

Finally, God speaks. 

I don’t know about you but God didn’t say anything I might have expected Him to say. He simply asked Elijah a question. 

9b “. . . “Elijah! Why are you here?”

And when you consider that God knows all, isn’t it interesting that He extends an invitation to Elijah to explain himself? 

And you know what? That wasn’t the first time in recorded history that God interacted with His children that way. Way back in the garden of Eden, God questioned Adam. “Where are you?”, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The angel of the Lord questioned Hagar on two separate occasions. “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” “What ails you, Hagar?” God questioned Jonah too (who, by the way, also wished for death), “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” 

Sometimes we don’t really know what we think and feel until the right question is asked. We are filled with angst but incapable of expressing our thoughts and feelings with words. 

A year and a half after Bethany and Katie died, I was visiting with my brother-in-law and he asked me, “Why do you like to read?” I responded that reading enabled me to escape the constantly churning thoughts in my mind. It wasn’t until later that I realized I hadn’t answered the question before me in the spirit it was intended. The majority of bereaved individuals contemplate every thought through the filter of grief. Grief brain some call it. And that’s exactly what I had done. 

Following the collision, reading was an effective distraction for me. It filled my mind with thoughts unrelated to death and the minutiae of health, legal, financial and insurance issues. I needed that, but I’ve had a lifelong enjoyment of the written word. It takes me places I will never visit in this lifetime. It increases knowledge. It has generated empathy for people in circumstances with which I lack experience. It makes me laugh and cry and question and it promotes understanding and compassion. That’s why I like to read. That’s the answer my brother-in-law was expecting. That’s what he wanted to know.

Likewise, Elijah didn’t answer the question God asked either. He filtered God’s question through fatigue, fear and discouragement. 

10 He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I have always served you as well as I could. But the people of Israel have broken their agreement with you, destroyed your altars, and killed your prophets with swords. I am the only prophet left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

11 The Lord said to Elijah, “Go, stand in front of me on the mountain, and I will pass by you.” Then a very strong wind blew until it caused the mountains to fall apart and large rocks to break in front of the Lord . But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a quiet, gentle sound. 13a When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his coat and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.”

What on earth was all that about? A tornado followed by an earthquake and then fire. Could it be God wanted Elijah to realize that not only was He near, but He wasn’t angry with him? Every one of those natural disasters are frequently equated with the wrath of God. But God wasn’t in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. No, God showed up in a quiet, gentle sound. 

13b Then a voice said to him, “Elijah! Why are you here?”

14 He answered, “Lord God All-Powerful, I have always served you as well as I could. But the people of Israel have broken their agreement with you, destroyed your altars, and killed your prophets with swords. I am the only prophet left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

I wonder if “why are you here?”, really translates to, “Elijah, talk to me! Tell me what you’re thinking. Are there questions you want to ask me?”

Back in verse four, Elijah was pretty clear about what he was asking for. He told the Lord he’d had enough and asked to die. But face-to-face, so to speak, Elijah didn’t ask to die. Instead he just reiterated his discouragement and fear. He also didn’t change his response following a show of God’s power either (maybe the purpose of the wind, earthquake and fire was to demonstrate God’s power in order to encourage Elijah by showing him that He had the ability to protect him from all those who sought his life). 

I wonder, did God repeat His question to give Elijah an opportunity to decide if he had it in him to continue serving as a prophet? It’s like asking, “Is that what you really want, Elijah, to quit? Make sure that’s really what you want. Say it out loud so there are no misunderstandings.” And Elijah’s response put in motion the ordination of Elisha to take Elijah’s place.

Wow, that speaks to me!

I also think the fact that Elijah replies to God exactly the same way he did the first time the question was asked is telling. The wind, the earthquake, the fire and the quiet gentle voice did nothing to change Elijah’s perspective regarding ministry and life. Is not God’s passing by Elijah synonymous with God showing Moses His glory? 

This was no minor event in Elijah’s relationship with God. It was a big fat deal when God passed by. It’s not something He routinely did. And yet Elijah is . . . underwhelmed. I don’t get the impression that Elijah was at all impressed with this Devine visitation. 

I do, however, get the distinct impression that Elijah was completely world weary. 

He was done. 

And God knew it.

Yes, God assigned Elijah new tasks, but they were passing the baton tasks not carry on tasks.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back on the road that leads to the desert around Damascus. Enter that city, and pour olive oil on Hazael to make him king over Aram. 16 Then pour oil on Jehu son of Nimshi to make him king over Israel. Next, pour oil on Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to make him a prophet in your place. 

Notice how Elijah responds to Elisha’s request to return to his parents to tell them good-bye after anointing Elisha his successor in 1 Kings 19:20:

“Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” 

“What have I done to you?”, is the most common way various versions of the Bible translate Elijah’s response, but here are a few others:

“Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” ~ NLT

“Go back,” Elijah answered him. “I’m not stopping you.” ~ GOD’S WORLD Translation

“And he said to him: Go, and return back: for that which was my part, I have done to thee.” ~ Douay-Rheims Translation

The first time I read Elijah’s response it was in a translation that read, “Go back. What have I done to you?” I came away with the impression that Elijah didn’t really care what Elisha did following his anointing. It reinforced my impression that Elijah’s tank was empty. 

I am no Bible scholar, but how God handled Elijah’s request for death, both in what He said and did, and what He didn’t say and do, made an impression on me. 

And then comes 2 Kings chapter 2 . . . but before we get to that let’s backtrack a little.

I know many pastors, preachers and theologians believe the events described in 1 Kings 19 indicate that Elijah lacked faith, but that’s not what I see at all. Nowhere does it indicate that Elijah thought that God was incapable of caring for him, in fact, his response indicates the exact opposite. Twice in Elijah’s reply to God’s question he refers to God as the “Lord God All-Powerful”. 

Elijah didn’t lack faith in what God could do. He feared what God would allow. 

And why wouldn’t he? He certainly wasn’t a fool. He knew how all the prophets that came before him died. They were killed by the sword – by God’s own people. They killed the messenger because they didn’t like the message. 

Elijah didn’t think too highly of himself. He didn’t expect a better end because of his service for the Lord. In verse four he plainly states, “I am no better than my ancestors”. 

In Elijah’s despair, God was patient and kind. He provided for Elijah’s needs and protected his life. He pursued Elijah. He didn’t minimize or rebuke him for his fear. What I see is God’s great love for His weary servant. Elijah feared a prophets common end and in God’s great and merciful love He spared Elijah not only a prophet’s demise but death altogether.

Back to 2 Kings 2 . . . I love this part!

“And it came to pass, as they [Elijah and Elisha] still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” ~ 2 Kings 2:11 KJV 

A flaming chariot is one seriously awesome ride! Don’t you agree? 

I love this glimpse into the heart of God for His world weary servant. It tells me that God will treat me with the same tender care – that I can trust that He knows when enough is enough. That I am not just a pawn for kingdom purposes. That my feelings are of great concern to the Father. And on difficult days when my heart longs for death, when the cares of this world are too much for me, I need the assurance that God responds with compassion, love and faithfulness. I need to know that in my head and my heart

I need to be able to experience Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians every single day of my life.

“16 I pray that out of the riches of His glory, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of His love, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” ~ Ephesians 3:16-19

How I need this! 

My inner being strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

To be rooted and grounded in love. 

To comprehend the full measure of Christ’s love for me – far beyond the realms of intellectual understanding. . . 

Far beyond what the human heart and mind can grasp. 

I need a supernatural understanding of God’s love. 

That is not something I can manufacture by determination and tenacity. My individual efforts can only take me so far.

I can never be filled with the fullness of God outside of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.
 

When a believer expresses the desire for death, there are two things you should be concerned about,

1) Is this individual at risk of harming themselves?, and
2) How can I validate their feelings, while affirming their ability to continue on? 

Then you should act accordingly.

If you believe the individual is suicidal, or you are unsure, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Just do it. They can point you to local resources.

It’s better to call and have your fears allayed than it is to assume an individual will not act upon those feelings. A phone call can save a life. I can tell you horror stories of families who have suffered unspeakable pain and trauma because someone who was concerned didn’t make that call. 

Err on the side of caution!

In the majority of cases, when a desire for death is voiced by a believer, that individual has experienced great loss and/or trauma or repeated hardships and losses. That person needs a friend who listens without judgment, without rebuke, and they might need a trip to their physician. They most definitely need to know that their desire is not uncommon among deeply wounded believers and that they are in good Biblical company. 

They need to know that God understands and treats broken believers with tender care. 

The question God asked, “Elijah, Why are you here?”, could very well have been asked of me. How would I have replied had that quiet gentle voice asked me, “Janet, why are you here?” My answer probably would have sounded something like this: “I’ve done my best. I’m tired. My eyes have seen things that are impossible to scrub from my mind. Too many losses. Too much sorrow and sadness. Too much pain and too much fear. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’ve had enough!”

Since God treated world weary Elijah with such gentleness, I can expect He will do the same for me. . . 

Well, maybe not the flashy flaming chariot ride home . . .  but I could be among the generation of people who get snatched up in the rapture. 

That’s every bit as cool as a flaming chariot, in my opinion. 

Flaming horse drawn chariots are so passé!

No, feel free to beam me up Lord. I’m all over that!


*All scripture references from 1 Kings 19 are from the New Century Version translation unless otherwise noted.

**It should be noted that in 1 Kings 19:4, Elijah was not planning his demise. He wasn’t asking for permission to end it all. He was making a request of the Lord. He’d had enough. He wanted to go home. And he expressed that desire to the Lord God All-Powerful.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Too Tired . . .

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind. 

 

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Too Tired . . .

I do not know how to do this life I’ve been left with and I really don’t want to figure it out.

I’m tired – not, let’s just end it all tired, but physically, emotionally and spiritually tired.

Tired from staying up later night after night.  3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 4:48, tired.

Tired of trying to figure out what to do with myself, for myself, about myself.

teen-depression-linked-to-online-use-250x190Tired of wondering why God didn’t simply take us all home December 26, 2013, the day of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Tired of wishing He had. Tired of thinking of what the future holds, tired of trying to brainwash myself into believing there just might be something good to get up for every day.

Bone weary, heart achingly tired.

Too tired.  Just too, too tired.

 



 

Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Offer to take young children for a play date once a week.

2.  Don’t push the bereaved into activities – taking on new hobbies, jobs, etc.

3.  Invite them to do things you know they enjoyed in the past.  If they decline, ask again another day.

IMG_2959 (1)4.  Don’t expect the bereaved to behave as they did before the death of their loved one. They simply aren’t the same people any more.  They have been irrevocably changed in many ways. Don’t encourage them to “get back to normal,” or question when they will.  Don’t quash their attempts to talk about their feelings or their loved one.  They are not wallowing in self-pity, they are experiencing and coping with the normal response to loss.  Grief and self-pity are very different things! The message you are sending with comments such as these is that the bereaved are responsible for ensuring that others are not uncomfortable in their presence and that their loved one no longer matters.  Telling them to choose joy is tantamount to telling them that positive thinking or gaining a new perspective will take their pain away.

images (44)Ultimately, the bereaved feel both defiant and rebuked for loving deeply. Well-intentioned friends and family members inadvertently become unsafe for honest sharing. A failure to validate feelings elevates the turmoil the bereaved are already dealing with. They become angry because they have to  justify their feelings and their right to mourn while simultaneously questioning if they are indulging in self-pity. Invalidation leads to isolation as the grief-stricken find they cannot vent their feelings and wrestle with their faith without rebuke or correction.  Invalidation causes the bereaved to suppress their grief, wear a mask in public, hide their vulnerability and finally, it lengthens the time it takes to work through the process because the bereaved will search and search for safe people to be real with all in an effort to receive validation of both their feelings and the value of their loved one.

5.  Realize that for the bereaved, feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. The psyche is telling the bereaved that feeling better, laughing, having fun and moving forward means that their loved one was not critically important in their life.  Of course, that’s completely untrue, but it’s also a very common and normal way to feel.

6.   Keep an eye open for signs of depression.  Encourage a visit with their doctor for an antidepressant or antianxiety medications.  Encourage grief counseling.  Many churches provide Christian counseling services for their members, the uninsured or IMG_2952underinsured.  Reinforce the truth that depression is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

7.  Keep an ear open for language that might indicate they might be at risk of harming themselves.  If concerned about suicide, ask them outright.  Share your concerns with their spouse, parent or their pastor.  Don’t brush it off – take those words seriously.

8.  Be aware that men, women, siblings and children grieve differently.  Families struggle to do what’s best to allow each individual to grieve in the way that is best for them but those ways are often conflicting.  One needs to talk, to be heard.  Another can’t talk and can’t listen.  If you are close to a bereaved couple, be sure they are understand that everyone grieves differently.  Recommend meeting with a grief counselor if mismatched grieving styles are creating conflict.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Trauma Momma?

IMG_4279I haven’t wanted to talk about trauma and how it impacts an individual – those who grieve in particular.  I haven’t wanted to go there primarily because of the reaction one receives if they try to talk about it – skepticism.  I’m not sure if people think they can simply look at a person and tell they are dealing with the after effects of trauma, or if they simply don’t believe it happens to people outside of the military and first responder communities.  Who knows?  The truth is we all experience trauma – usually in small, manageable measures.  Generally we ride it out, push through it, brush it off and move forward and beyond it.  We remain standing and to the outside world appear largely unscathed.  But sometimes we experience trauma of a far greater magnitude.  Below are the sobering statistics of how people are affected by trauma:

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Traumatic experiences may or may not result in PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The general public understands little about this disorder. I understood little about PTSD and am slowly learning how it might impact an individual.  What little people do know about the disorder has come from TV and movies and is usually – justifiably so – attributed to military personnel who have seen and experienced frightful & life-threatening situations.  Combat related PTSD generally results in the most severe effects and can dramatically alter an individual’s every day existence.

PTSD, like many other conditions, can be experienced in mild, moderate, severe or extreme forms.  What most people don’t understand is that it can develop in an individual who lives in a continual state of heightened anxiety (soldiers on patrol who’ve never seen combat, individuals – especially children – and family members who cope with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, parents of special needs children, individuals who live in high crime neighborhoods or who have become refugees due to war or natural disasters all qualify) or PTSD can result from a single traumatic event.

If you asked a random group of people to describe the symptoms of PTSD, I imagine the single most common response would be flashbacks.  A heightened sense of situational awareness is another common symptom of PTSD and I believe, the general public is vaguely aware that sounds, smells, and images can trigger disproportionate responses in those who suffer with PTSD.  Less understood are the more subtle ways in which people who have experienced trauma internally process their experiences and the ways in which previous trauma changes an individual and therefore how they cope with subsequent traumas.

Shock is an additional component closely related to trauma.  One thing I didn’t understand about shock was the duration of time an individual might live and walk through life under the influence of shock.  I didn’t understand that disassociation – a means of separating oneself from the events until one is capable of dealing with them is what long-term shock looks like.

There was and continues to be a lot I don’t understand about shock and trauma.  For one thing, people are amazingly resilient and for another, every individual is unique and can respond and react to the same trauma in unique ways.

So what kind of symptoms are commonly seen in individuals who suffer from PTSD?

*Extreme reactions (emotional and physical) to sights, smells or sounds (triggers) that remind the individual of traumatic events

*Avoiding people, places, and conversations related to the trauma

*Avoidance behavior designed to escape thoughts, memories and heightened levels of anxiety – abuse of alcohol over-the-counter or prescription drugs, watching TV, spending time on the computer or reading excessively – anything that numbs pain or distracts the mind

*Experiencing feelings of emotional numbness or detachment, lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, guilt and blaming of self and others, depression

*Inability to concentrate, irritability and/or angry outbursts, difficulty sleeping

*Panic attacks involving intense fear, heart attack symptoms including chest pain, numbness, tingling, dizziness, shortness of breath, shaking, sweating and hot flashes

*Nightmares about an event

*Flashbacks – visions of a traumatic event where the individual feels as if they are reliving the experience while awake

 

Aside from combat exposure, what kinds of trauma can precipitate PTSD? Surviving or witnessing situations involving extreme stress such as physical or sexual assault,  natural disasters, torture, imprisonment, accidents and the sudden or unexpected loss of a loved one.  Law enforcement officials, firefighters, paramedics, and medical professionals frequently deal with traumatic situations that make them vulnerable to PTSD.

Simply surviving traumatic experiences puts a person at risk for developing PTSD. However, most people will not develop the condition. Experiencing extreme fear or helplessness during the traumatic event, seeing others injured or killed, isolation after the event and dealing with additional stress such as pain & injuries, loss of a loved one, home or job, and a history of mental health issues all increase the risk of developing PTSD.  Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition.

There are several ways to lower the risk of developing PTSD.  Support from family, friends, support groups and developing a coping strategy are chief among them. Surprisingly, how well an individual personally believes they responded during and immediately following a traumatic event or through the course of a series of lesser traumas plays a role in the development of PTSD.

If an individual is able to act in a manner they perceive as effective during the traumatic event, if they feel good about their response in the face of danger, they are less likely to develop PTSD.

More than a year after the collision I received a CD from the McDonald County Dispatch Center of the 911 calls and the coordinated emergency response efforts related to the car wreck we were involved in.  It was disconcerting, to say the least, to hear my shrill voice in the background of two of the 911 calls reporting the accident.  There was a definite tone of hysteria in my voice.  However, the first emergency service provider who arrived on the scene, the Pineville Fire Chief, Gregg Sweeten, told me that when he approached me at the side of our minivan, where I was kneeling and supporting Gracen’s head and shoulders, he thought I was a bystander who had stopped to help and had no idea that I was a passenger in the vehicle, let alone Gracen’s mother.

The grief counselor I see asked me how I felt about hearing that I was not initially identified as a victim.  I hadn’t really thought about it from that perspective but I’m glad she asked because it led me to analyze my feelings.  It helped me to realize that overall, I feel good about my response in the aftermath of the motor vehicle accident.  There are things I wish I had the wherewithal to do, such as checking for a pulse or deciding if CPR should be started.  But, I am thankful that I didn’t become hysterical to the point of inactivity or worse by far, to the place where my behavior prevented Gracen, David and O’rane from receiving needed medical care.

I’m glad I was able to help a bystander locate O’rane’s bag so the hospital would be aware of the medications he was taking.  I’m glad I was coherent enough to explain to David’s mother the scope of our accident quickly over the phone.  I’m glad I was able to tell the paramedics that Gracen is allergic to penicillin, to verbalize the medications she takes and the name and nature of her disease so the medical team might know about potential drug interactions, etc.  Had I fallen to my knees screaming out my agony and despair, emergency workers would have been distracted from caring for Gracen, and frankly, her life hung in the balance at that point in time.

I am beyond grateful that I was able to hold it together so that she got much needed medical attention and that I am not left with the suffocating knowledge and guilt that would have surely destroyed me had my reaction in the moments following the collision resulted in a failure for Gracen to receive prompt medical care resulting in her death.

I can’t say I’ve handled every traumatic experience in the way most beneficial to my daughter.  There were moments when pain was not managed well, when I escaped Gracen’s hospital room, in effect abandoning her to the care of the medical staff and leaving David or my sister-in-law, Sandy, alone in that room to cope with this new trauma.  How does a mother, or a father for that matter, determine if staying with their child when they are personally falling apart is more harmful to their child’s psyche than leaving the room so that the child doesn’t carry the burden of their parent’s despair along with their own?  All I know for sure is that had another family member not been present, the staff would have had to drag me out before I would have left Gracen alone regardless of my state of mind.

Several years ago, I was driving home from dropping Gracen & Katie off at school when I heard a news report on the radio.  The report stated that research had shown that long-term care givers were among those who suffered from PTSD due to the constant anxiety.  I remembered thinking at the time, “I wonder if I have that?”

Looking back, and having become aware of lesser known symptoms of PTSD, I can see that not only was I actively practicing classic avoidance behaviors but that both Gracen and I were exhibiting emotional responses common to those who suffer from PTSD long before the collision that so impacted our lives.  Observing the physical changes related to Gracen’s disease, coping with chronic daily migraines as well as complicated migraines, coupled with painful medical tests, fears related to safety and an uncertain future took a toll.  The most painful of which is the realization that the avoidance behaviors that allowed me to continue to perform day to day tasks while enduring the unrelenting anxiety also resulted in distancing myself from greater intimacy with my daughters.

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Avoidance behaviors serve to insulate your heart from further pain and are a form of psychological protection.  For example, consider the mother of a child who is undergoing cancer treatment.  You may find her consistently present in her child’s hospital room.  She brings a book or her tablet to occupy her time while her child sleeps or during times when her child is undergoing tests she can’t be present for, such as an MRI.  As her child’s condition worsens you may notice that during times when her child is awake the mother may still be consistently present, may meet every physical need but personally engages less frequently.  She may play with her smart phone while her child watches a movie instead of watching with them.  She may read while her child colors a picture instead of coloring with them.  She slowly and without conscious awareness, disengages from personal contact.  The behavior that grants her a distraction from her worst fears and lack of control, also creates an emotional disconnect that is nothing short of emotionally  devastating when she becomes aware of them.

This is the face of PTSD.

IMG_4280Rarely can you identify an individual who is coping with PTSD by simply observing their behavior.  Unless you are present when they encounter a trigger, have a flashback or wake up screaming in the middle of the night, PTSD can silently hide beneath a veneer of socially acceptable behavior.

Even when someone suffering from PTSD encounters a trigger or experiences a flashback you may not recognize the trembling hands, the internal panic, the flinch as gruesome images assault their minds.  When they drop out of normal activities you may simply think they are grieving instead of recovering from a night without sleep or filled with nightmares.  And how many people are privy to the methods of distraction utilized or the inability for those affected to perform simple tasks like returning phone calls, making appointments or paying bills?

Then shame takes stage causing the individual to castigate themselves for all they can’t seem to control or accomplish without understanding why the lesser know symptoms of PTSD are plaguing them.  Unless they’ve seen a counselor, they may not even know they have PTSD.

And of course, depression plays an active role as well.  There’s also a difference between a mild or moderate case of depression and full-scale clinical depression.  While the symptoms of mild and clinical depression are the same, the intensity of the feelings, the degree to which everyday life are impacted differ greatly.  Change in sleep patterns – sleeping too much or too little.  Change in eating habits as evidenced by weight gain or weight loss.  Sadness on steroids.  Lack of motivation.  On and on it goes.

Outsiders look in and can’t understand why this person declines invitations.  Why they don’t return to normal activities or get a job or do any number of other things in order to help themselves never realizing the extreme melancholy, fatigue and shame often prevent them for taking the initiative for anything.  It takes too much energy or exposes their vulnerability to the outside world.

Who wants to admit they are clinically depressed?  Aren’t those people in institutions? Who wants to confess to struggling with PTSD?  Isn’t that just a bid for attention?  Who wants to personally accept that simple things are much too difficult – that they can’t quite cope – that they aren’t enough – that the awareness of their utter lack of control is terrifying?

Where is your faith, one might ask?  Right where it always was, solidly grounded in my Savior, Jesus Christ.  Then why can’t you trust in His loving care?

Consider Isaiah 43:2 with me.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

 

We like this verse because we concentrate on God’s promised care.  But it seems to me that we only meditate on the “good” parts of the verse.  We focus on the fact that the waters won’t overflow is, the fire won’t burn us or kindle a flame on us and that God will be with us, but we overlook or ignore the less desirable truth this verse reveals.

We will be in deep water fighting to keep our heads above the surface.  We will walk through the fire.  And God will be with us – but we will still feel the water rise, we will still feel the heat of the flames.  Experiencing PTSD or depression are not evidence of a failure to trust God, they are simply normal responses to trauma.  They represent the deep waters and the firery flames of life’s tribulations.  So we’d do well to recognize that it won’t be easy in spite of God’s presence.  And it will likely take a great deal of effort to try to respond in a Biblical way, and there is love and grace and mercy when we stumble or outright fail to behave as we believe or expect we should.

There is hope of healing.  Hope in making peace with an unknown future when experience has taught us that it will be painful.  There is hope that we will exit the firery furnace without the stench of bitterness clinging to our hair and garments. There is hope that shock, depression and PTSD will not define us but instead refine us, but oh, it’s a slow and painful process and we need to show ourselves grace along the way.

My personal prayer is that I will lower my self-imposed expectations, that I will be oblivious to the expectations and perceptions of others and that I will find overwhelming comfort in the unfailing presence and love of God because the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is oh so weak.

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2015 in Adversity, Faith

 

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