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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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Hunger Strike!

According to New Health Advisor, the primary purpose of nutrition is to fuel the brain and subsequently the body’s cells, muscles and organs.

Starvation is the process whereby the body generates fuel by progressively more destructive means until every fuel store has been depleted. Normally fuel is derived from the conversion of glycogen to glucose during digestion. When glucose is no longer available from nutritional input the body takes it from fat stores. When the body’s glucose has been expended it creates fuel from ketones stored in the liver. Once the body’s ketones have been consumed the body shifts to robbing protein stores starting with the muscles and moving to organ tissues. At this point death occurs as a result of illness due to the lack of vitamins and minerals that feed the immune system or the systematic shutdown of bodily functions known as a vegetative state. Muscle loss and a lack of energy along with a bloated belly are the hallmarks of starvation. The entire process takes approximately 70 days.

unknown-3This morning I realized that I’ve been on a hunger strike of sorts. It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part; well not entirely anyway. But I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to reconcile my circumstances, and my feelings about them, with what I know and believe to be true about the God who loves me. The thing I haven’t done is regularly sit down in His presence and let Him speak to me.

The truth is that I don’t really want to taste, chew and swallow what God wants to feed me. It’s a bitter, mushy, unpalatable meal that He has set before me, and so I’ve turned away from the nourishment I so desperately need. I’ve repeatedly refused to lift the fork to my mouth to taste, chew and swallow the bitter lessons of love, discipleship and suffering. And as a result, I’m wasting away much in the way a body dies of starvation.

In the absence of a steady diet of the Bread of Life (nutrition for the soul and spirit), I find myself weak and weary and more than likely my mind has become bloated with illogical thinking. (It’s hard to make a definitive statement on the state of my metal processing as it all makes sense to me)! Regardless, my spirit has been fueled by biblical nutrition from days gone by which leaves me vulnerable to the misinterpretation of scripture and misunderstandings about God—His character, will and purposes. It’s resulted in atrophied spiritual muscles and strength. Hence, I’m spiritually weak, weary, vulnerable and probably a bit delusional or at the very least misguided. Everything within me has shifted into self-protection mode.

I trust God with my eternal future. I trust Him to walk me through everything He will allow in my life; but I don’t trust Him with my heart. I don’t trust that He will protect me from further emotional pain—because life has taught me that He won’t. It doesn’t matter that He has a good purpose for my pain—the old the end justifies the means philosophy. It doesn’t really matter that He has provided comfort and consolation in my grief.

I think I have spiritual PTSD.

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But I know—I know I’m spiritually anorexic.

Renee Swope said,

“We can find the plans God has for us when we surrender our plans to him.”

Surrender—that’s the last thing I want to do! No, fear has left me grasping to hold on to the two people I hold most dear. I’m terrified to lose them too. I wish fear were as easy to conquer as simply reciting Bible verses. “Fear not for I am with you.” “When I am afraid I will trust in you.” “Be ye strong and courageous. . . ” I know these verses, and more. They are written upon the tablet of my heart. But it’s not enough for this wounded heart . . .

“Because God loves my kids more than I do, I must trust His plan for them.” ~ Lysa TerKeurst

unknownIf you search the Internet for articles about trusting God with your children you will find the majority of the articles revolve around things that, while not insignificant, are also not matters of life and death. A quote like Lysa’s can sound painfully trite, if not impossible, to parents of sick or special needs children; especially when death is dogging their every step, regardless of the truth of her words.

Spiritual maturity is a process that requires ever increasing trust in God. And trust is hard to come by when it’s been betrayed, or feels as if it’s been betrayed. Self-protection is the knee-jerk reaction. Resistance, cynicism and even rebellion often follow.

 

But there are things that can help overcome those common worldly responses.

 

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Romans 12:2 comes to mind:

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

And in this, I have failed.

Living on lessons learned in the past has limited ability to renew my mind let alone transform my heart.

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Psalm 34:4 “I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

And I haven’t sought the Lord for deliverance from my fears, or my circumstances either. . .

Why you might ask.

Why would you deny yourself the bread of life?

Why deny the power of God to change your circumstances and deliver you from your fears?

God’s Word is filled with triggers that incite my fight, flight or freeze reflex. Verses that torment—that feel untrue. Verses about protection—about healing. Verses that reflect promises for the here and now—or maybe for eternity alone—or could they apply to both? God’s Word hurts!

Praise and worship music lifts me up then slaps me back down as it cycles through praise and thanksgiving followed by trials and victorious overcoming. But I don’t feel like an overcomer and I certainly don’t feel victorious.

Prayer—prayer is just plain emotional. Faith and fear, anger and resentment, trust and bitterness assault me. Prayer is an exercise in trust. It’s begging God to do that which I cannot do myself; which generates expectation—hope—within my heart. Prayer requires reaching for His hand, grasping it when it comes within reach, and trying desperately to cling to it as things continue to get worse—when it feels as if my prayers have gone unheard or worse yet—that my feelings have been disregarded.

I’m resigned to Gracen’s prognosis. Every request for the removal of the thorn in her flesh has been repeatedly answered in the negative (lest I dare hope His answer is ‘wait‘ instead of ‘no‘). Begging for a change in circumstance in the face of continued negative responses just sets me up for further disappointment. I don’t need my glasses to read the writing on the wall. Encouraging me to continue in prayer and have hope for healing leaves me feeling guilty and ashamed as if I’ve failed in my Christian duty—as if I’ve failed my daughter. However, even the Apostle Paul quit asking for his thorn to be removed after three seasons of prayer.

romans12_3And deliverance from my fears is beyond the scope of my faith . . . at this time.

My fears are all bound up in Gracen’s future, her prognosis, and deep spiritual wounds that remind me that I have trusted God for things in the past that He never promised. That’s not to say that He failed me, no, not at all, but I was still hurt by misunderstanding the promises He did make.

Sometimes I think it’s a cop-out to say I don’t currently have enough faith. Maybe you do to. But I ask you to return with me to Romans chapter 12. After Paul’s admonition to avoid being conformed to this world—after his encouragement to be transformed by the renewing of our minds—he went on to say this in verse three,

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

In the majority of card games, cards are dealt by the dealer either upon request or as the rules dictate. If faith and trust are living and growing spiritual fruit, I think it’s highly likely that at times God deals me a bit more faith when I request it, and at other times He deals me more because His plan dictates that I will need it. The well of faith is always sufficient; but faith still needs drawn out of the well!

uninvitedI recognize that my unintended hunger strike needs to come to an end. I’ve devoured every last bit of spiritual knowledge stored up in my heart and mind. I need a regular diet of the meat of the word in order to renew my mind and transform my heart. I’m sure I’ll miss meals on occasion, but I’m making a conscious effort to be regularly fed.

Right now, my diet consists of a Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study by Lysa TerKeurst called Uninvited. It’s subtitled: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out And Lonely.

It’s a start and it’s hard.

It’s hard because the foundation of the lessons are the love of God, as it should be. Yet, Lysa TerKeurst, points out that, “What we see will violate what we know unless what we know dictates what we see.” Did you get that? What we see undermines truths we absolutely believe about a God, and will continue to do so, until our hearts and minds are transformed. Then the truths we know will alter our spiritual perspective, thereby overcoming sight by faith.

Every time I look upon my daughter, I see disease reigning victorious over her physical body. Fear of losing her, fear of unbearable grief have created a living, breathing terror within my heart—terror of God almighty—of His plans—terror over how much His plans will hurt. And that terror undermines what I know to be true. God loves me. He loves me and I have nothing to fear from Him. But what I know to be true is not dictating what I see when I look upon my daughter. I don’t see her one step closer to complete healing. I don’t see her drawing ever closer to no more pain. I don’t see her through the eyes of eternity. The hope of eternity is obscured by the dimmest of mirrors reflecting and distorting what will be with the reality of what is right now.

And right now I feel less than—less important, less valuable, less loved than the believers who surround me with joyfully intact and healthy families. Right now I feel left out—left out of the blessings everyone around me takes for granted. Watching their children grow up, embark on careers, marry, have babies, and watching those babies grow. Right now I feel lonely—lonely for missing family members, lonely for friendship, lonely for the Lord because it’s so very hard to draw close to someone you know will hurt you, or allow you to be hurt, again—maybe even soon. Lonely because grieving is very much a solitary activity.

So I am trying with this online Bible study. My self-imposed hunger strike is over! And I’m hoping to find a way to live loved. To live in the full assurance of the height, width, and depth of God’s love for me so that I can be renewed and transformed—so that the image in my mind of the mastery of disease over Gracen’s body will be concealed—will be completely replaced—with a clear image of Gracen the way Christ will see her when she steps into His presence. That’s a pretty tall order; but I know that God is able. It won’t happen overnight; or quickly for that matter. But given time, it’s a possibility.

It’s a possibility.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in Faith

 

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Easter, Co-Wounded with Jesus

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Jesus of Nazareth was humiliated, tortured, and ostracized.  For some of us, the passion (suffering) inflicted upon Jesus is not so unlike what many of us have experienced in terms of our own traum…

(Clink on the link highlighted in red below to read the article.)  

Source: PTSD Spirituality: Easter, Co-Wounded with Jesus

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Links, Uncategorized

 

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Jesus on the Cross and PTSD Soul Wounds

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Jesus helps us to heal from PTSD soul wounds.  Understanding how Jesus is the Christ can help us better engage Jesus as a healer.  The fact that Jesus is fully human and fully divine enables us to …

Source: PTSD Spirituality: Jesus on the Cross and PTSD Soul Wounds

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Links

 

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Risky Business

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A few months ago, my husband and I met with our insurance agent.  We reviewed all our current policies including our life insurance and, in light of the collision that killed two of our children, updated our beneficiaries.

We also purchased additional life insurance and during the course of the “insurability interview” (at least that’s what I call it) we were asked if we participate in any “risky” activities.  Imagine my raised eyebrows! “Such as . . . “, I responded. “Oh, you know, car racing, extreme skiing”, or something like that was the response. “Uh, no” was the answer of course.

Our insurance agent unknowingly planted a seed that day.  A few weeks later I looked over at David as we sat at a red light and reminded him of that conversation then told him, “Ever since Matt mentioned car racing I’ve had this desire to get behind the wheel and drive really fast.”  David just laughed at me and I laughed too.  Wouldn’t it be ironic to have your insurance agent inadvertently encourage his customer to participate in behavior he was, in effect, insuring against?

You’d think, being involved in a double-fatality car accident would put a bit of a damper on the desire to drive really fast, but you’d be wrong.  For one thing, I really didn’t see the accident happening.  I was reading and completely unaware of what would befall us until happened.  Now, an actual wreck, that would probably toss me into a full-blown PTSD attack, not the driving itself.

hawk1Every time I buckle up and point my car down Highway 102 toward JBU, I anticipate flying down the twisting, turning two lane stretch between Centerton and Gentry with the radio cranked up – loud!

I virtually itch with the desire to push my foot to the floorboard of my souped-up Toyota Camary (sarcasm alert) and fly down that twisting, turning highway.

But shoot, I’ve always been a practical kind of girl.  In fact I think I was born with a forty year-old brain, and practicality constrains every latent, adrenaline-fueled, fantasy that flashes through my mid-life crisis driven soul, leaving me regretting the fact that I missed out on my opportunity to experience and enjoy a misspent youth! Oh to rewind the clock! What different choices might I have made if I had known this day was coming?

I wish I had the opportunity to participate in martial arts, to spend copious amounts of time on the gun range, to be trained to race cars, drive defensively, to zip line and hang glide and even jump from a parachute packed plane – No Adult Diapers Required!

I’d choose to embrace adrenaline and eschew safety. I’d choose to live wide open, if I could do it all again.  And I’d also choose David and Cole, Bethany, Gracen and Katie all over again – heartbreak be dammed!  For there is not one thing I’d choose to undo about my family in order to avoid the assault of death and disease in my life, because all the adventure and excitement risky business promises in no way compares to the riches of human relationships.  I may regret missed adventures but the only regret of any consequence I have in regards to my family is a lack of health and a lack of time – neither of which I ever had any personal control over.

54e17e2b4343e-image1So, as much as I might itch to fly down highway 102, leaning into the curves and blasting down the straightaways, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever actually cut loose and do it.  (Well, not the way I’d really like to anyway).  I still have important relationships here to enjoy – and no amount of adventure and adrenaline is worth the price some other unsuspecting family might have to pay should I selfishly choose to ignore the risk to other drivers on the road one day and open that throttle up and fly.

Nope – that kind of excitement and adventure is what fiction is all about.  So I’ll just have to charge up the ereader or raid the Redbox and live vicariously through the characters within and hope that, as Randy Alcorn seems to believe, the new Heaven is a redeemed earth, and I’ll have all of eternity to bring glory to my Savior by fully enjoying His unblemished creation.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2016 in Faith, Good Fun

 

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Hard Times, Satan’s Devices & Faith

Hard Times, Satan’s Devices & Faith

The last quarter of 2015 was particularly hard for me.  Gracen had settled in well at JBU, David had changed responsibilities at work, which he was really excited about.  I on the other hand, encountered, a big gaping void.

Preparing to send Gracen to college and living independently after I had spent the last year and a half helping with her personal care needs, left me anxious on a level I’d never experienced before.  Her physical safety was my primary concern and following the deaths of three children, let’s just say I had little confidence that I would not lose Gracen too.

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In addition, in April or May of last year I began fielding a new and distinctly different set of questions.  With graduation on the horizon people began asking me what I intended to do with my time – with the upcoming “empty nest”.   Not one person acknowledged that I was not supposed to have an empty nest.  No one seemed to realize that fear for Gracen’s safety, a premature empty nest and an utter lack of purpose might be frightening and emotionally overwhelming.  Then again, maybe people did understand but felt ill-equipped to address it so avoidance was deemed the most comfortable solution for everyone; myself included.  Unfortunately, avoidance left me feeling alone, stranded in my grief, disappointment and fear.  It also left me feeling as if Katie was unimportant in the eyes of the world and as if my fears for Gracen’s safety were unreasonable in spite of the fact that I knew Gracen was at high risk for injury on campus.

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So, by the time graduation passed, I was a bit of a mess.  I began taking an anti-depressant early in 2015 and by June I was unquestioningly aware that I needed more help.  So an anti-anxiety medication was added to the mix and it made a significant difference.  I had not realized just how much anxiety I’d been living with until the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals provided some much needed chemical relief.

Still, I was weary, frightened and at loose ends so once Gracen settled into school and dorm life, I settled into my bed.  I found myself alone, overcome with the grief I had suppressed in Gracen’s presence, fighting to process it or push down to avoid the excruciating pain and rudderless. I also began sleeping later in the day which affected my medication schedule.  One day I realized that I couldn’t recall when I’d last taken my prescriptions.  Knowing I had an upcoming appointment with my PCP I decided to wait to see him so he could help me restart them safely.  Looking back, that was not a good decision.  A downward spiral took hold.

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A typical day looked . . . okay, looks (present tense), because this is still a typical day in my world . . . something like this.  I wake up, get a cappuccino or chai latte, return to bed to read.  I read, write, browse Facebook and email and nap on and off throughout the day. David comes home, FOX news comes on and more often than not he makes dinner.  After dinner, I read, he watches Fox and plays on the computer and finally, lights out.  I toss and turn, mind whirling and when I can’t stand my thoughts and the inability to fall asleep any longer, I start reading again.

Unless I have an appointment with my grief counselor, my trauma counselor (for PTSD), or my PCP everyday is much like the day before.  I’m comfortable with that.  The silence and being alone is easier than being around people. People make me anxious – incredibly anxious.  How does one answer all the oh so simple questions without making others uncomfortable?  How do I answer them without feeling pitiful myself?  “What have you been up to?”, “Will you get a job?”, “Any new hobbies?” A simple, “I’ve missed you” leaves me paralyzed and frantically searching for an appropriate response.  “Me too” is what longs to escape but “Um, thank you” is generally what spills forth.  And as to the what have you been up to question, not much is my reply. No new hobbies, no plans for a part-time job.  The reasons for those brief responses go unspoken as the listener will either feel uncomfortable with my answer or will try to explain to me why a job or hobby would benefit me.  Regardless, a simple “no” is awkward enough as it doesn’t open the door for further conversation.

Is my current daily activity healthy?  Surprisingly, the answer is yes. . . and no.

All those churning thoughts and my writing are a means of working through my grief. The reading is also good for me.  I read suspense, mysteries, thrillers, and romance. They engage the mind.  If I was simply laying in bed, not working through my sorrow and not engaging my mind, that would be cause for concern.

Facebook and email allow me safe access to the outside world.

And the sleep; it’s good too.  I’m trying to take my PCPs advice and get some much needed rest.  He pointed out that should I fail to recharge spiritually, physically and emotionally, I will be running on empty when Gracen inevitably needs additional support. To say Gracen’s shift from walking to using a wheelchair was an enormous change is an understatement of vast proportions.  Wheelchair use involves a mirad of complications I had never considered.  Transfers into and out of the wheelchair, bathroom use with and without handicapped facilities, transporting the chair, finding safe and viable entrance and exit doors, dealing with weather – oh my, dealing with weather!, and a multitude of unforeseen considerations became the new norm.  No one can estimate the demands the next transition in her health will require.  Therefore, I need to be prepared, or be able to get up to speed quickly, in spite of the emotional impact those changes bring.

So I find myself withdrawing from the world around me, to rest, to grieve, to avoid assuming responsibility for making others comfortable with the realities of my life.  I don’t have the motivation or the energy to continue to push myself. Gracen was my motivation.  For her, I would, and still do, force myself forward, but in her absence . . . I lack the impetus to do much of anything.  I’ve struggled with the blues in the past, but never before have I found myself fitting the defined parameters of the clinically depressed.  Just hearing those words uttered by my grief counselor left me deeply ashamed and utterly humiliated.

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Why?  Why would a diagnosis of clinical depression leave me ashamed and humiliated?  I mean really, my counselors keep reiterating that I have suffered loss on a scale uncommon to the average individual, so depression is certainly not an uncommon or even an unexpected response.  I think I felt ashamed because depression is a mental illness and in our society a stigma is still attached to mental illness. Secondly, I had higher, albeit, unrealistic expectations for myself and for my faith.  Clinical depression represented, in my mind, both a personal failure to overcome and, far more painfully, a failure to avail myself of the power of God.  It stank of insufficient faith; not an insufficient God.

At some point along the way I drank the kool-aid and ascribed to the cultural expectation that I was capable of conquering every obstacle by sheer force of will and tenacity.  I should have realized, and in fact, from an intellectual perspective alone, I knew that was lie of epic proportions straight from the slithering serpent in garden of Eden.  That far too prevalent belief system is nothing more than the heart and mind’s rebellious desire to proclaim the soul god.  It’s the cunning and insidious whisper of the snake luring us into believing that with enough knowledge, with enough determination, with enough effort, we are in control.

347cd084-1316-4a6b-ae11-7351050ea284In truth, that idea is nothing but a craftily designed hologram. An idea without formative substance. It’s equivalent to the land of Oz and the impotent wizard hiding behind the castle doors and green drape.

How many times have you heard or used the analogy that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck?  Therefore, a Christian can easily conclude in the deeply buried regions of their heart and mind, that if they fail to conquer the human emotions grief generates, from guilt to fear, sadness to anger, and so forth, they are failing to walk by faith.  They are failing to apply the principles of their faith.  They are not the Christian they believed themselves to be and often worse, they have failed to live up to the perceptions and expectation of fellow Christians to inspire saints and sinners alike, to give God glory and praise in the midst of their despair and to minister to others.  In other words, God is not insufficient, their faith is insufficient.  They have failed God’s test of their faith.

But is that really true?  This duck analogy sounds good, but is it universally applicable? The truth is that in a paradoxical fashion, faith demands doubt.  The very essence of faith is to fall short of fact.  Jesus has always been the bridge that spans the gap between what we know to be fact and what we trust to be true.  When my faith, when your faith, falls short of expectation are we then dismal Christian failures?  I don’t think so.  We have simply lived up to the limits of our personal faith at that point of time – and lived up to the very essence of faith in general.

The longer I live the more aware I am of exactly how dependent I am upon the Lord God Almighty.  I am the instrument He forms at the potters wheel for His use.   I am made in His image but I was not, nor was any human, created with His perfect power and holiness. As a result, I am vulnerable to temptation and a failure to differentiate between truth and lies and good and evil on occasion.  And yes, I have fallen victim to Satan’s devices.  I’ve both allowed Satan to cunningly communicate a stark untruth about a simple diagnosis and to lead me to question God’s love and kindness by contemplating the idea that He may have withheld the desires of my heart in spite of the fact that I did my best to delight myself in Him.

What exactly does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord you might ask?   Gotquestions.org addressed that very question and their answer follows:

Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Taking delight in the Lord means that our hearts truly find peace and fulfillment in Him. If we truly find satisfaction and worth in Christ, Scripture says He will give us the longings of our hearts. Does that mean, if we go to church every Sunday, God will give us a new Rolls Royce? No. The idea behind this verse and others like it is that, when we truly rejoice or “delight” in the eternal things of God, our desires will begin to parallel His and we will never go unfulfilled. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [the necessities of life] will be given to you as well.”

Did God withhold the desires of my heart?  No.  Children were my heart’s desire and I’ve been blessed with four.  I got to love and nurture each one for a finite amount of time.

Did God steal the desire of my heart from me?  The answer to that is no as well.  My children were on loan to me.  They were always His creation and David and I the chosen stewards.

Were they taken from us because we proved to be unworthy stewards?  I don’t believe that at all, in light of scripture.  God predetermined the number of my childrens’ days and in the case of my daughters he allowed man’s free will to intersect with Bethany and Katie’s number of days.  The Bible tells us that sin impacts all of creation and the cost of sin is death.  So be it accident or illness, intent or natural event, all death can ultimately be traced back to sin.

IMG_4284 (1)My grief recovery is complicated by the anticipation of more loss and the very real and reasonable fear of the destruction another loss will wreck within my heart.  Even grieving families that aren’t dealing with progressive disease often struggle with the anticipation and fear of more loss.  They’ve lost their naiveté – they know bad things can and will happen to them – not someone else – down the road.  But for most it is a vague Spector on the periphery of their minds.  For me it is a far more tangible presence and I must find a way to make peace with that and what it teaches me about the Lord.

Our family was living with progressive disease long before the collision that took Bethany and Katie’s lives. The difference between then and now is the loss of worldly hope.  There is a popular saying, “Where there is hope, there is life.”  I have lost the majority of my worldly hopes.  I know just saying that out loud will cause a great many people to reflexively remind me of all the worldly hopes that still lie before me.  What they don’t understand is that I no longer wish to have any worldly hope.  Worldly hope leads to expectations.  Expectations often lead to deferred hope and as we are told in Proverbs 13:12,  “Hope that is deferred afflicteth the soul: desire when it cometh is a tree of life.” – Douay-Rheims Bible.

I prefer to invest my expectation in eternal hope alone; that of eternal life with my savior and fellow saints, because that hope is the only one guaranteed to come to fruition.  I’m confident my hope of eternity will be fulfilled and not deferred.

However, I have yet to make peace with the role progressive disease will play in our lives, precisely because of all my prior losses.  It feels unfair.  It feels too much to ask of any one believer.  If this is what God’s love looks like, my more cynical perspective leads me to beg Him to share the love (with someone else)!  And yes, God can carry me through anything He allows to happen in my life, but before anyone reminds me of that truth (because I am well aware it’s true) put yourself in my shoes.  Google ARSACS (a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy) and read about what it does to an individual and then imagine walking that path with your child.  Imagine helping your child as their health declines.  Imagine standing by helpless to change it or improve their quality of life.  Imagine the things I’ve eluded to and left unspoken.  Making peace with God’s plans, with His will, with His sufficient grace is far harder when it’s personal, when you find yourself “feeling” as if His grace might not be quite be sufficient for you after all you have endured already.

PTSD-battle-PINI have reached the point of acknowledging that the best I may be able to hope for in regards to ARSACS, may consist of a cycle of repeated but temporary interludes of peace.

We live in a continuous grief cycle.  Gracen loses a previously mastered skill and we mourn and despair it’s loss and the daily ramifications that ripple out in waves from that loss. Eventually, we adapt to her new normal and settle into a wary peace until the cycle restarts with a new loss.  It’s just the way life works in our home.  Every time the cycle begins anew, we hurt.  Fear arises as does disappointment and sometimes even despair. I’m not sure if the Holy Spirit is actually doing a new work of trust and peace with each cycle or if each cycle simply forces me to acknowledge an as yet unconquered weakness (or doubt) in my faith.  Maybe I just keep spinning my wheels without making any forward progress.  Yet a person who is maturing rarely notices the subtle changes until enough growth has occurred and their pants are inch too short.  I imagine spiritual maturity is as subtle a process as manifest in physical maturity.  It’s only looking back far down the road that real progress is recognized.

Food-antidepressantToday, I am doing well to say without shame, my name is Janet Boxx.  I am clinically depressed.  I have anxiety issues.  I have PTSD.  I self medicate my anxiety with food.  (Ok, that I’m ashamed of – although I’m happy to report that while I may be a glutton, at least for now I’m not a suicidal, drug or alcohol addicted, glutton).  I lack the motivation to return phone calls, emails  and text messages; to clean my house, pay bills, shop for groceries, do laundry and sometimes even to shower.  It is what it is and my response to my life’s circumstances is not abnormal in the bereaved parents community, even two years down the road.

Having said all that; do not drop by unannounced!  I still have the capacity to feel great embarrassment and utter mortification.  Just because I’m comfortable in my current state of sloth doesn’t mean I’m equally comfortable having friends and family witness it.

Before speculation germinates, let me just say that David has demonstrated the utmost patience and support. He has taken on the tasks I normally do without complaint, anger or resentment.  He has a servants heart and demonstrates his love for Gracen and I in actions more than words.  He guards my privacy. David is better at compartmentalizing his grief than I am.  He has not, nor has ever, abandoned me to my grief and more importantly has never criticized or judged the way in which I am coping with the very same losses he, himself, is dealing with.  Our experiences with trauma are different because we were exposed to different things and took on different roles at the scene of the accident, at various hospitals, at home caring for Gracen during her recovery, with the medical community and the legal system and we simply deal with trauma differently.

This is what my life looks like when the Potter decides the pot He previously formed has served its intended purpose.  This is what my life looks like once I was fractured into minuscule pieces, returned to softened clay, and set to  spinning on the Potter’s wheel while He molds me into a new shape with a new or more complicated purpose in mind (after all, I am still a wife and mother).

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And you know what?  As ugly as this lump of clay currently is, as uncomfortable as it is for me to find myself in this state, it’s okay to be a lump of clay in the Creator’s hands. There is no safer place to be and while others, myself included, may worry about who and what I’m becoming, I’m confident God is not.  He sees beyond the here and now – past the dark tunnel I’m traveling through – clear to an eternal future where He will literally light my world.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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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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