Heal the wound, Heal the heart

While I don’t claim to be an expert in medical wound care, I have seen enough nasty, smelly, screamingly painful open sores when I worked in healthcare to know that we can learn much from their process of healing. I submit to you that the stages of healing that occur when one’s body works to heal after an injury or surgery run parallel to other types of wounding that happens in life. Further, the risks for complications such as infection or swelling (aka edema) can be symbolic of the “secondary damage” that not only impedes the healing process in both but introduces entirely new problems that must be addressed as well. I have seen in my life that injury, damage, or wounding from various types of abusive behaviors have the same characteristics, the same impacts, the same risks for complications and the same potential for healing in due time as wound care management. These wounds can heal and the scar or scars fade if handled correctly. And while it all can take a little more time than we might like, the process can reveal wondrous truths and blessings as ordained by our Heavenly Father, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Heal the wound

Check this out from Wound Source:

The stages of wound healing are a complex and fragile process. Failure to progress in the stages of wound healing can lead to chronic wounds. Factors that lead up to chronic wounds are venous disease, infection, diabetes and metabolic deficiencies of the elderly. Careful wound care can speed up the stages of wound healing by keeping wounds moist, clean and protected from reinjury and infection.

Generally, remodeling begins about 21 days after an injury and can continue for a year or more. Even with cross-linking, healed wound areas continue to be weaker than uninjured skin, generally only having 80% of the tensile strength of unwounded skin.

This recovery assumes that the appropriate treatments and dressings are applied right away, any open wound is kept moist, naturally occurring inflammation is controlled, and

a new network of blood vessels must be constructed so that the granulation tissue can be healthy and receive sufficient oxygen and nutrients. 

Appropriate compression is applied with proper bandaging, elevation, and reduction of factors that can contribute to swelling. The presence of edema itself is a risk factor for new injuries and complicates the healing process tremendously when dealing with an open wound. According to the EO2 wound care technology company, whatever the reason for the edema, it WILL impair healing through several mechanisms. All of these factors need to be managed well for processes such as granulation and epithelialization to occur. These steps continue at various levels even when the surface wound has closed and things are looking better. The entire amazing physiological process is a testimony to us of the magnificence created by God in our human frame. We can overcome our injuries, our vulnerability to re-injury and complications, whilst moving towards recovery and leaving minimal scarring behind. And even the worst scars do fade in due time.

Heal the heart

Recently I was reflecting on the impact of abusive behavior at various times in my life. The impact was devastating and took on virtually ALL of the characteristics of the injury and damage of a medical wound. Both types of wounds require a careful healing process. In the distant past I defined the abusive behavior that I experienced as that which violated my rights as a human being and professionals labeled as sexual, physical, ritualistic, or verbal abuse. I don’t wish to get caught up in the semantics or seriousness of each type here; all are profoundly impactful.

An individual KNOWS when another person has crossed a line that should never have been crossed and profound damage has occurred even if it takes days, weeks, months, or years to fully realize it. The recipient feels traumatized and goes through a tender, complex grieving and recovery process to heal. For example, the difference between an expression of emotion and abusive behavior can be like a person who uses 1) mean verbiage versus 2) repeated verbal hammering in a tone that purposefully tears down the victim who is yelling “STOP! STOP!” A simple apology may not be enough for the beaten puppy of a person to get past the incident, particularly when the behavior has been repeated. The relationship between the two parties has changed. The recipient is injured, damaged, and wounded kind of like a 3rd degree burn to the soul. Special care and bandaging are needed for as long as it takes for the wound to heal.

Some of my own experiences of abusive behavior happened before I became a Christian: a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Some of them happened afterwards. Gratefully as unto the Lord, most have healed completely while a few have left their scars. There is nothing unusual about that. My purpose here not to belabor my own experiences but to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ what is and what is not abusive behavior then a model for how a person overcomes it. The Biblical Counseling Coalition provides some definitions as follows.

Abuse entails physical violence (Acts 16:19), threats of physical violence (Eph. 6:9), persecution (Matt. 5:44), sexual mistreatment (Judg. 19:25), reviling (Luke 6:28; 1 Pet. 2:23), speaking evil (James 4:11), or being under the misused power of another person or group of people (Gen. 16:6; 1 Sam. 2:16; Ezra 5:12).

Check the link that I provided above for a more detailed discussion on this topic. Focus on the Family describes emotional and verbal abuse specifically and at more length on their website HERE. They add that

Wounds that typically accompany emotional, physical and sexual abuse must not be ignored. Both men and women inflict verbal abuse, but women tend to be more often on the receiving end of this destructive behaviour. What may seem innocent and infrequent at first can escalate.

All forms of abuse follow a pattern that, left unchecked, will only increase over time. Injuries from verbal and emotional abuse can run deep and leave lasting scars. Many emotionally and verbally abused people reason that, because there are no bruises or broken bones, their abuse must not be serious. But it is. Fortunately, support and resources are readily available to guide individuals into safe, loving relationships. In their well-received book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend state that, “Our pain motivates us to act.” If pain motivates you to act against emotional and verbal abuse, then listen and act.

We can easily see the many parallels between the topics of wound care and recovery from abusive behavior. The pain of each motivates us to act, to fix the situation. What appears on the surface may not reveal all of the layers of injury, damage, wounding that must heal to withstand the testing of the tissues or trials that inevitably follow in life. Choosing to do the work of repairing any remaining wounds of my own experiences required 1) heeding the Lord’s unveiling of my eyes that what actually occurred was damaging and 2) following the leading of the Holy Spirit to move towards restoration. Part of heeding this ongoing process includes writing this blog today. In the past my care also included significant Christian counseling, support groups, Christian books, and the like. Forgiveness, seasoning in my walk with the Lord, restoration of relationships, compassion for others, and spiritual discernment are among the gifts, the fruit for doing the work of recovery.

So what are some specific parallels between healing a physical wound and recovering from abusive behavior?

  • Stop the source of injury. In wound care they call this hemostasis where the body begins to clot your blood to stop the bleeding. In personal relationships this may include setting some ground rules, some boundaries, or simply separating from the other person for a time. The thrombus or clot must hold lest it become dislodged and result in a more bleeding, a more serious injury. Similarly, the two parties in conflict must, in my humble opinion, work to stop attacking one another. Yes, the recipient has responsibility here too.
  • Inflammation in wound healing controls bleeding through swelling and helps prevent infection by bringing fluids/nutrients to the site. Inflammatory words are exceedingly difficult to control when emotions are running high in an abusive situation. There can be fallout and setbacks while the two parties seek to figure out the best way forward, if each are committed to actually go forward together. Bringing in a mutually agreed upon 3rd party is much-needed medicine at this time to help tone things down. The effect of inflammation may hurt for an unknown period of time and look as ugly as an open sore desperately trying to turn a corner towards healing. Proper “bandaging” and self care for emotional wounds must begin in a responsible manner.
  • Wounds are kept moist and hydrated as new cells called collagen and its matrix begin to form. In contrast, the two parties that are able to work together to address the woundedness can do simple things to care for the other parts of the relationship, their shared responsibilities. The darkness still needs to be addressed and treated correctly and what this looks like may change as the two go forward. The antagonist in the story must stop the abusive behavior and create safety in which the protagonist can flourish. New “medicines,” new habits, and new means of communication are needed. Figuring this out takes time. It may actually may be the party that was hurt the most who lovingly leads the two of them through the process of forgiveness and restoration to a better relationship.
  • An even longer phase of wound healing is that of maturation. Find your own parallels in this summary from Wound Source:

During the maturation phase, collagen is aligned along tension lines and water is reabsorbed so the collagen fibers can lie closer together and cross-link. Cross-linking of collagen reduces scar thickness and also makes the skin area of the wound stronger. 

Recognize that, in the words of Bay Care Health, the healing process will vary among individuals and will depend largely on the cause and severity of the wound. I submit to you that all types of wounds are the same in this regard. And as we noted above, the new collagen fibers are vulnerable to re-injury but their re-formation makes the area of the wound even stronger. This process in wound care may take up to a year. We know that while the body never really forgets an injury and neither does the mind, its power over us can change significantly. The things that happen in our past become our story, our testimony of the Lord’s amazing grace in our lives.

When I was working as an Occupational Therapist, we told our patients in rehabilitation all the time when they got discouraged that recovery is usually a jagged line with lots of ups and downs. They had to work through their fears of getting re-injured, having delays due to complications or a re-occurrence of a disease process, and grieve the losses associated with an extended hospitalization and rehabilitation process. Like my older friend Wanda used to remind me in a 12-step support group, “you gotta feel it to heal it.” Range of motion exercises after a shoulder surgery are excruciatingly painful and so are flashbacks of abusive behavior. It’s like the surgery or incident is happening all over again. But it’s not. Eventually the body and the heart starts to heal with ongoing and proper care. Lord willing, most folks do get better. We come to realize that setbacks, hurts or new injuries are just one part of living in a fallen world with fellow sinners just like us. We learn so much in the process. Thank goodness the Lord Jesus Christ helps us to overcome it all!

Interpersonal relationships seem to me to go through the same wound-healing process as restoration comes, as trust is earned: it “takes what it takes” to get there. The prevention of pressure wounds in particular includes daily skin checks. This entails looking for areas of redness over bony areas of the body and making immediate changes to reduce the pressure, nourish the tissues. Could we say that better care of our personal relationships with a better daily maintenance plan can help raise the threshold over which unwanted behavior spills over? I do believe so. Are we following our home exercise programs, our Spirit-led care plans? I could go on but you probably get my point by now.

Gentle Reader, there’s so much to say on these topics and I am not an expert on either one. I am a fellow sojourner to those who have experienced both and I have seen the power of the Lord in healing all kinds of devastation. Let our salty tears be the saline, the healing salve that washes us clean indeed. May the cross-linking of our entanglements in this life give way to the redeeming grace of our risen Lord Who restores us through and through. For His glory! Amen. JJ

1 Corinthians 2:9, No eye has seen nor ear has heard, healing wounds

Bouncing along a bumpy road

Home alone, the moment clarifies the mind

No distractions but the one in my tummy or bladder, alas step aside

The me that is Julie still wants for something more

Too much sorrow hath dimmed the light on this bumpy ride.

There is an up for every down, even ones ending in death

For to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

So how can I complain this side of heaven with so much goodness here

But have I weighted my health above all else, shrouding my view, my words?

Dragging along but making the hard choices needed to be made

Releases my beloved to pursue what makes him Steve one weekend —

Trusting that my Heavenly Husband will calm my fears, carry me through.

We shall have a truer assessment of my ability to live

When my Intended Beloved is not rushing to my crisis, again and again.

I still hate this illness. Oh Lord I know that You see

There’s so much more I want to do, to really be.

Feelings have led the train of my thoughts instead of faith

I must kick them to the caboose, the facts must reign.

How many blogs, how many lines of text

Must I spend before my heart

Rests not on my sleeve?

Sickness be damned.

I surrender to my Lord.

There is no other way forward.

In all things, Gentle Reader.

He must reign!

Yes, in all things.

This road near Palisades, Idaho yielded incredible views beyond

Whatever it takes?

Ten years ago I was Divinely selected to endure an often horrific chronic illness. I trust that the Lord ordains this plan for my life for my highest good and perhaps something good for the people around me. Certainly there was much bad for me and for the people around me, especially my husband of 3 years at the time, Steve. A decade later I am not exactly sure where Steve is on things at the moment but for me my mindset remains: WHATEVER IT TAKES!!! But maybe not in the way that you might think it does.

We have endured much, Steve and I. The stress level was so high during the remediation of our home for mold in 2013 that one night we nearly breached the fatal blow of divorce. I stated that “I would not hurt me to love you.” We just stared at each other. I had been living in a hotel at the time which was during the 76 days I was away from home. We were hemorrhaging money trying to figure out what to do and each of us had different ideas that barely overlapped. My Doctor had prescribed both traditional and alternative medicine treatments, one of the latter of which had made my condition much worse only we didn’t know that at the time. Steve was travelling between the house and the hotel while his adult daughter chose to stay in the house. With full time work and other obligations ongoing for Steve, his stress level was visible, tangible. And then the work on our house was done and I was able to come home. But unfortunately, the daily violent convulsive episodes quickly ramped up again. We were exasperated. The hardwood floors in our home are still nice though.

Ten years of researching, doctoring, extensive medical testing and treatments, genetic coaching, physical rehabilitation, trips to major medical centers, supportive counseling, pharmaceutical grade supplements, science-based modalities, specialized and traditional dental interventions, and finally pain management have improved my quality of life. My worst symptom, the convulsive episodes, have diminished; there’s about one bad episode every 5 days now; tic attacks most days with at least one day per week without one at all. Score! Yay God! I still have to avoid most strong noxious sensory stimuli such as sustained loud noises of a certain pitch and some types of mold that grow inside buildings, homes. We practice a version of extreme avoidance to make our home (and travel trailer when on the road) as safe for me as possible. The ongoing re-testing and treatments are still very expensive, limiting our budget for other projects and interests. The ongoing whacks of illness are still very costly in terms of social engagements and recreation. I still sit home alone a lot more than before I got sick with a serious illness and yet the isolation is breaking somewhat as I learn to navigate some improvements in functioning. It’s a natural process. I feel better and do more. I feel sick and do less. Such is the life I have come to understand.

Then one Friday night came with a major setback. I had recently pursued pain management services and was prescribed a few interventions largely for neck and headache pain that have reduced my symptoms up to 50%. After experiencing headaches so bad for the past year (and earlier in this illness) that I couldn’t get out of bed, THIS IS HUGE!!! The progress is tenuous however. Just like any chiropractic care or physical therapy: the next seizure attack episode wrenches my neck so badly that the gains can diminish or even disappear. This happened again with the surgical nerve blocks about 6 weeks prior. Dang. The violent convulsive episode 2 nights after writing this blog was so bad that it erased all gains from the Pain Management clinic completely! Not only was I horrified by the violence and scope of the episode, I have a new whiplash, a new back injury with which to contend. I AM CRUSHED!!! It’s spring for crying out loud. I’m an Extension Master Gardener who uses her better days to get outside in the dirt or serve as Editor of our county Extension’s newsletter. It’s a real struggle at times but it’s my “job” right now. I still rarely get out for anything social or worship-oriented, however. The challenge has always been to figure out how I was going to do anything in the post-ictal/recovery phase of the daily episodes when I can’t even figure out how to get out of bed? I had a setback like this on Friday; it was that bad all day yesterday.

For some reason yet to be determined, Steve was 42 minutes late picking me up at the local grocery store. I had a minor tic episode about 3 hours earlier and was fatigued from the recently diagnosed dehydration and other abnormal labs, troubling symptoms. IV fluids and more labs were scheduled the next week. We really needed groceries so I talked with Steve about how I could get the shopping done and best manage my depleted energy levels. The plan was for him to drive me to the store and pick me up later. But for some reason our timing got way off. I was left standing in an exceedingly moldy entryway of the store, not realizing what was going on, exhausted plus trying to stay calm and manage the thirst and need to go to the bathroom that were increasing. I had forgotten my phone. He knew that. I felt vulnerable standing there as I was getting sicker, worried that I would have an episode in public. People came and went and I just stood there, checking for Steve in our truck about 18 times. Maybe he forgot me? I was panicking. Somehow I exchanged eye contact with a very friendly-looking woman leaving the store with her own full grocery cart and figured out how to say the words needed to ask her to use her cell phone. (Forgetting my phone should have been another clue that I should not have gone to the store for and hour and a half of shopping. Maybe I should have done the remote shopping service we had used in the past? I just didn’t want to use up my Saturday dealing with 2 weeks worth of a grocery order while my husband was away at a sporting event. I wanted a day-off too. But you don’t get a day off when battling a serious illness, even when in the slow-mo phase of what appears to be recovery.) I made the call on her phone. Steve arrived 24 minutes later. I raced back into the store to use the bathroom while he loaded the groceries into the truck.

My physical discomfort came down a notch as I walked from the store back out into the cool spring air to the truck. I hoped it was reviving me some for the chores to follow at home of dealing with the groceries and making something for us to eat. That’s not what was to be, however. My mind was clearing enough for it to register that I had been in a moldy foyer of the grocery store too long and that the continuous opening-and-closing of the automatic doors did not protect me from a major mold hit. I quickly became aware that I was in the pre-ictal phase: the ramp-up to a major convulsive event. My gait got stiffer as I honed in on the door of the truck just wanting to avoid tripping and falling in the darkness. Steve was holding the door open for me. I could not speak. I believe I thanked him. Maybe I didn’t.

What followed can only be described as a waking hell-on-earth. I don’t know why I have to be awake for these violent convulsive episodes but that is what happens for me. I would rather pass out and deal with a bump on my head than know the horror of the wretchedness of my limbs shaking in various combinations that ramps up to spontaneous vocalizations of terror, writhing like a child with severe cerebral palsy, then hanging like a limp doll until the next wave hits. Whiplash, repetitive motion injury, flare of painful peripheral neuropathy in my fingers and toes, back pain, gasps for air, inability to speak, loss of motor control (aka hemiparesis), and increased sensitivity to all 5 senses that can intensify the episode, filled the next hour or so. My body extended so stongly, it pushed me between the front seats and into the back passenger area. Finally I could sit in the front passenger area and Steve fastened my seat belt for me. I couldn’t use my hands that were involuntarily drawn up to my chest in a flexion posture. He drove us home as I continued to seize. I remember Steve opening the car door once we were in our driveway and asking me what he could do, what did I need? Somehow I blurted out that the frozen food, now thawed, needed to go in the freezer. My eyes were open, my eyes pulled closed then they were open again. My left arm was already useless then my right arm fell lifeless off my lap and into the space near the seat belt and out the open door of the truck. The cool spring air blew over me and I was simultaneously chilled, re-awakened, and glad for my choice to wear flannel-lined jeans. The jeans kept me warm. Steve left my door open as he unpacked the groceries. The tears flowed and my face became a mess with snot and tears. It all burned on the skin of my face: another hypersensitivity anomaly. My mind moved in slow-motion, desperately trying to assess the situation, this medical crisis, from every possible angle. Most importantly I begged the question in my mind: how the hell do I make this nightmare stop! I prayed.

Many minutes passed. I couldn’t hold up my head any longer. It fell forward creating even more of a neck strain and worry about how I was going to continue to breathe let alone deal with the increased pain that would surely follow. I now have pain medications to take for specific symptoms but my liver enzymes are elevated. I have been cautious to only take a drug when absolutely necessary. The only “alternative” method that works is icing so I do that every night. But in that moment I couldn’t do anything but try to keep breathing and hope Steve didn’t accidentally close the door on my ankle dangling off the side of the floor board, out the door. I prayed some more. I always do in these moments, pleading for the Lord’s mercy. As during many times before, I asked for wisdom even on how to wipe my nose to stop the burning feeling on my upper lip. Maybe I could twist my torso in an attempt to reach my arm to wipe my face with my sleeve? I thought it was the last bastion of function left in my battered frame. Big mistake. The episode ramped up to a whole new level of hell as my torso extended, twisted and writhed to the left, sliding me off the backrest of the passenger’s seat AGAIN and into the space between the front seats. My head hung overstretched into the backside of the driver’s seat. I couldn’t stop it. Any of it. This new neck injury further crushed my spirits. And all I could do was hold on and try to breathe some more . . .

For those of you trying to do an armchair diagnostic workup at this point in my story, please stop. Thank you for your care and concern. I’ve seen the best medical providers in the country and completed all of their recommendations. And here I am. My own research led by the Lord and all I have learned from these professionals has brought me the most effective improvements overall. Please just pray for me and Steve. The Lord knows.

Eventually my beaten frame settled back into the front passenger’s seat and I was able to open my eyes, to breathe somewhat freely again albeit labored. I searched my frame and shifted my torso for signs of life in my limbs. Could I move my arms and legs yet? At this point probably 45 minutes had passed since the episode had begun. Steve had asked twice if I wanted him to carry me into the house. I couldn’t reply. My thoughts went elsewhere. I was aware of what was happening and the circumstances leading up to them yet not sure enough of the reason why Steve was late; I didn’t want him touching me just yet. I needed him but didn’t want his help. I was upset at so many levels and my remaining shred of personal dignity required me to find my own way to get into the house. I reviewed the steps over and over in my mind of how to ambulate into the garage, what I could use for support, how to disrobe for a shower, then how to wash off any mold residue on me into the cleansing comfort of a long, warm shower. By the grace of God I was able to advance my left leg by dragging it as I pulled myself out of the truck, limped into the garage then house, drag my dead leg down the hall, and get into the shower. I was so very weak. The pain was excruciating throughout my beaten frame. What is going on? I thought I was getting better? I had endured several mold hits in April in Florida and yes, had some minor episodes but NOTHING LIKE THIS ONE!!! Perhaps my seizure threshold had gone way down with the repeated exposures during that trip. WTF? This far down? I don’t get it. Eventually I lost it and could not hold back my angst any longer. No matter how many incidents like this we endure, each one is difficult for both of us and traumatizing for me. Please pray for us. This serious illness is really, really hard for both of us to live with, to try to live around.

Another thing is as clear for me that Friday as it was in 2013: I will endure whatever it takes to fulfill the purpose the Lord has for my life, no matter the level of suffering or loss, no matter what it takes. Each major “hit” like the one shared above challenges everything I know about life and death, love and hate, Divine Providence vs self-determination, the Lord’s provision, the economy of time in our finite lifetimes, and the question about where the heck did my serenity go if it can leave so quickly? At times of crisis I am ready to run away. Then wonder where would I go? We take ourselves with us when we run away, which includes virtually all of our problems with us wherever we land. It’s like the yellow felt banner painted in purple letters in the office of a counselor I knew in 1983 that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” Funny to recall this now. That was long before I would ever get into gardening. But even back then it was decades into living through the tragic hardships of my childhood and young adulthood. I did try to run away from my problems at home after I finished college. Turns out about a year and one-half later after I moved out of State I realized that I had taken most of them with me! The dysfunctional dynamics of my biological family were reflected in the relationships that filled my “new life” 300 miles away. How is that even possible? So much seemingly had changed. I took the geographical cure, right? Wrong. That’s just the way it works when you “do what it takes” to try to improve your life without first surrendering those dreams to the Lord, Jesus Christ. He knows the desires of your heart and has a Diving plan for our lives. Flash forward about 4 decades and He has fulfilled more of those dreams for me than I could have ever imagined. My life is better overall than I ever dreamed could be. I didn’t know Jesus back then. I know Jesus now. And life is still really hard at times.

To do whatever it takes to stop wretched convulsive episodes is not the most important task in the overall view of my life. Friday night I was in survival mode. I/we did whatever we had to do to get through it and will do the same to deal with the aftermath. Perhaps you get what survival mode is like? Sometimes we must focus on the task directly in front of us and simply HOLD ON. We have to make the hard decisions to cut the cancer out, end the abusive relationship, quit the job that puts our professional license in jeopardy, sacrifice resources usually spent on pleasures for medication or emergency food supplies instead, and move out of state to find yourself, to find Jesus. When those decisions are rendered unto the Lord, He will bless them and ultimately use them for His glory. We will be fulfilled beyond our wildest dreams. The pain of the suffering will diminish while the lasting joy of walking everyday with the Lord magnifies. And when we need to grieve, crash on our bed of sickness, the Lord Himself will meet us there in a tender embrace. He did that for me today at 3:30 in the morning on the day I described above. I had almost built that wall between Steve and I in my heart that we faced in 2013. I was ready to run away again or worse. The pain of the incident that Friday, the trauma of what had happened AGAIN, the loss of nearly 2 days afterwards trying to recover/manage the physical and emotional hurt, the burden of tasks not completed, and the lack of clarity of what to do from there are all just too much to bear alone. But I do know from past experience that I can separate my feelings from my faith. My faith is stronger. My trust in the Lord has been built over many tragedies that I have been entrusted to endure. Yes, it’s a kind of stewardship. What will I do with what has been ordained for my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly? Perhaps I will know someday.

With weakness I shall go forth. With a once baby faith that now roars like a lion I will trust that the Lord will lead me, give me what I need to live. It’s only in His strength that I have gotten through thousands of episodes just like the one described many times at Hope Beyond; any one of them could have killed me but didn’t. I survived. And having said that Gentle Reader, I will thrive from this day forward as unto the Lord. It just looks and feels a little different than it may look and feel for someone else, perhaps for you. Keep looking to the face of Jesus, little Julie. Keep looking at Him. You too Gentle Reader. We can do this if we but follow Him. It will all make sense one day. He promised. JJ

P.S. Steve and I worked things out. It was hard. We did it. Some better days followed and for that we are grateful. We are grateful for so very much . . .

St. George's Island, Florida, travelling, sick, chronic illness, better days, convulsion disorder
Getting out of the truck a few weeks later on my own. A better day indeed at St. George’s Island, Florida!

If only I knew

If only I knew back then what my new life would be like, would I have chosen it? Probably not.

The summer of 2007 was a very exciting one for me. I had just met an amazing man of God and had established myself in a beautifully decorated condo in one of the nicest suburbs west of Chicago. I had a great job that paid my bills along with some extra resources that I inherited when my Mother passed away. The grief associated with her death was complicated by navigating the affairs of her estate. Regardless, a new love makes everything nicer, lighter, and bearable even exciting. In due time I would come to understand my Pastor’s advice not to marry in the same year that I lost my Mother to her complicated health issues. Steve and I married at the end of the year anyways and I was off and running in Indiana with my Intended Beloved. God was so good!

Before long I was completely overwhelmed by all of the changes in my life. When I worked in mental health, we used to give our patients a Stress Management Scale to check off how many changes they had experienced in the year prior to hospitalization. Life events were given weighted scores, tabulated, then matched to a scale predicting susceptibility to illness. Yeah, my score was over 300 which is ripe for a stress-related illness. But thankfully, it didn’t happen. The adjustment to a new family life, State, house, church, job, pet, grocery store, bank, yada, yada, and husband was still completely overwhelming. Then I had to leave my new job in Indiana to find another because of ethical issues. Holy cow. It was a lot of changes in a very short period of time!

Then my Dad, who had been estranged from our family for 27 years, contacted my brother in Michigan. Mike was still living in our Mom’s house so my Dad was able to use our old phone number to reach him. Soon I was in touch with my Dad as well, catching up and trying to figure out how to deal with the sordid memories and circumstances of his leave-taking from our lives so long ago. Overall it was a good process. He was kind and generous. He shared stories, many of which I hadn’t remembered. After a few years of slowly getting re-acquainted, it was time to meet in person at his home in Florida. Mike was invited to go separately but never accepted the offer. I did. Steve and I went under an extremely stressful set of circumstances with my job at the time that would later magnify how important that visit to see him would be to my future. It was really good to see my father again.

Less than 2 months later, my Dad passed away. Mike never got to see him. My own visit and especially having shared it with Steve, were instrumental in figuring out how to manage my Dad’s affairs from where we lived in Indiana. We had a dinner with my Dad’s “tribe” of friends along the Forgotten Coast (so telling, eh?) of Eastpoint, Florida instead of a funeral per se. And over the next year, it would take dragging my brother through endless legal procedures to settle our Dad’s estate especially the selling of his truck. Later on with the inheritance that I received, I bought a newer truck like my Dad’s and became a woman who drove a truck — NOT a compact SUV or car like every other woman I knew drove! After all, I now lived in Indiana. Seems like every 3rd person here has a truck for work or various projects where ya gotta haul something from here to there! I liked gardening so it worked better for me than my Hyundai Tuscon. Over the next 4 years I finally had an opportunity to take the class to become a Master Gardener. Perhaps the truck was part of the overall uniform? It sure hauled a lot of soil and mulch, paddling gear and other stuff. How did I ever live without a truck in the suburbs of Chicago? Well gee, back then I lived most of my years in a townhouse then a condo!

My life drastically changed at the end of the same year of 2011. I was barely past the grief and memories stirred with the ordeal of my Dad dying when I contracted a serious illness kayaking in a local reservoir. Perhaps this stressor finally broke me down. Viral hepatitis became the first domino in a cascade of serious health issues that challenged even our brilliant family practice physician. Sure I had some hormonal and orthopedic issues in the past, even chronic pain, but nothing compared to the daily convulsive episodes and myriad of severe symptoms that beat up my body as I practically crawled through 2012. By February, I could no longer work. I felt that I was putting both my occupational therapy patients and myself at risk should I continue. I struggled to concentrate, to function, to sleep, to complete basic activities of daily living. When my Doctor thought I had underlying chronic Lyme disease, the treatments he prescribed felt like they nearly killed me. Then came the first of a series of alternative medicine treatments. It was the Beam Ray Rife machine that triggered the daily tics, the seizure attacks that escalated into the worst hell I could ever imagine. The episodes wouldn’t be diagnosed as epilepsy but they were equally as devastating. It felt like my life as I knew it was over. Actually, it was.

If only I knew that I would become seriously ill just 4 years into my marriage with Steve, would I do it all over again? To me that is a rhetorical question. Who would choose the extreme stress of almost complete social isolation? This included separation from Steve’s wonderful adult children and family who hadn’t had enough time to get to know me from their homes out-of-state or out-of-country, let alone my own friends and family. Who would choose re-injury of chronic pain issues every day and every night when the involuntary, violent convulsive episodes would start about 10:00 pm every night and return upon wakening every morning? At one point I noted over 30 symptoms to my complicated, serious illness that baffled specialists in-state and out-of-state. Over the course of the next decade, over $100,000 of savings and income would be spent trying to find answers. Treatments would diminish the worst symptom but not remove it or the episodes would increase again after a few months of a reduction. It would take almost 9 years to find cranial nerve, especially trigeminal and vagus nerve roles related to a condition diagnosed as Autonomic Dysfunction. We found tools more recently to stop them after a period of time but not prevent them. The grief and frustration were crushing to both of us. Steve had support from his family and friends, work and church. My support circle caved in with each passing year. I made a few new friends online dealing with similar issues. I knew I wasn’t alone because of their friendship and prayers from them and believers who became distanced; the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit kept me alive and going most of all. He alone re-started my breathing hundreds of times . . . I now longer feared death but saw it as a type of relief should it come.

We simply cannot know what lies ahead of us in our little lives. The Bible tells us that man makes his plans but it is the Lord who orders his steps (Proverbs 16:9). The Bible tells us that He has plans for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). The Bible tells us to trust in the Lord and not in our own understanding, that He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible tells us a story where He restored the years that the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25). And so much more. When the months rolled into year after year after year of serious illness for me, when the convulsive episodes and tic attacks racked up into the thousands, when people close to me started to doubt their medical origin even when confirmed by tests and experts, when the money ran out for aggressive treatments, when the illness alluded three large research medical centers in the country and several specialists out-of-state . . . I hit terrible periods of despair. Then I planned my suicide in October of 2019. When I realized to follow-through on my plan would be to believe the lies of Satan himself as he smiled in my mind’s eye, I realized that I was being deceived. Death, like divorce, is not an answer but a new problem. Believe God’s word and promises instead. I chose to accept that I am simply too finite as a human being to fully grasp these Bible verses, God’s real plan for my life, what I cannot see, what my life is really about. I chose to follow Jesus.

All I have is here and now with you Gentle Reader. It’s not up to me to end the timeline. It’s not up to me to write the next chapter of the story of Just Julie Writes at Hope Beyond. My hope and future are in the hands of the Lord. I pray that my hands type as unto His grace, His redeeming power to overcome.

It is up to me to choose to enact a faith in an infinite God Who is beyond what I can see. He knows I have seen and endured a lot of horrible things in my life before I ever met Steve. What I could not even imagine before this past decade was what it would be like to go through it all with a man who loved me more deeply than I knew existed in life. He was often my Jesus with skin on. He is loyal and yet human, strong and tender, God-honoring and God-fearing, loving and still driven to pursue his own dreams too; Steve is my provider of all I would need in my earthly husband. I am truly blessed. We did reach a crisis point in our marriage twice during this nearly 10-year journey within our over 13 years together. We got through them and healed the pain of potentially losing each other. More intimacy grew between us as a result, along with trust. The spiritual battle that came along with each test melted away as unto the Lord. Only the Lord knows what those moments were really all about.

Only the Lord knows what all of the changes, the stress, the spiritual battles, the strife in our lives are really about. I’m sure that each of us would freak out if we really knew what the trials in our lives were really about. One day all will be revealed. For now tis better to lay down our swords and pick up His along with His shield of faith. Put on the entire armor of God while we’re at it. This life is not for wimps, I tell you. JJ

The Young Lad Down the Street

When I first met the 12 year old boy down the street, I found him to be quiet, pensive, and sweet. He was so tender towards his younger sister whom he often had the responsibility of supervising when both were hanging out in the cul-de-sac where Mr. Steve and I, Miss Julie, live. His 6 (now 7) year old sister was respectful of his authority. They got along quite well.

Then I saw another side to their relationship and perhaps his character. Nearly a year after that first meeting, my husband and I know more about each other’s families, living routines, schedules, activities, and personalities. We’ve had some fun activities together outside of the neighborhood as well as the opportunity to bless them with gifts, treats, etc. Kinda fun for us two older neighbors of grand parent age! (If our own grand kids only lived closer, eh? We rarely get to see them as they live several states away . . .)

One recent weekend afternoon, both H and E were staying on our side of town while visiting E’s Dad with their biological Mom. In other words, both boy H and girl E have the same Mom but two different Dads. H spent alternate weekends with his biological Father; E was virtually always down the street on Saturday and Sunday as her biological Mom and Dad often spent weekends together. So the two kids have the same Mom, 2 different Dads between them plus H has several half-brothers and sisters as well. The 2 kids seem to have adapted as well as can be expected with additional visits to some combination of biological grandparents sprinkled in over their weekends too. Somehow even with all of these adults in their lives, E then H came to develop a relationship with my husband, Mr. Steve. He taught H how to ride a big skateboard called a land paddle and raced E up and down the street on said land paddle as E provided the some pretty good competition on her pink 2-wheeler! “Want to race?” was all she said and off they went down the street and sidewalk, respectively.

Last weekend, the two children had spent the day with Mr. Steve in an EAA Young Eagles Introductory Flight experience while taking plane rides in a 4-seater Piper Archer. This was their second time riding in this airplane with Mr. Steve as the pilot. They each got to experience 3 flights on Saturday, a special lunch, and a mini ground school instruction. What a treat for each one of them! Well the extra banks and turns were a bit much for E’s tummy but overall they had a great time. I received them sitting on our patio at our home afterwards as they shared their stories of the day’s events. The kids had dozed off in the car on the 30-minute ride home from the airport; H was still tired and E was acting a bit “wired-tired.” But their “parents” weren’t home yet so hanging out with us would extend a little longer. That’s when I noticed some other dynamics of the relationship between this brother and sister that I had not seen before. Natural dynamics, of course. And yet perhaps a window into some of the stress they might feel when tired from more than this type of day’s events.

H was usually tender with his younger sister. This particular Saturday afternoon, H was relentless in his questioning of his younger sister on a trivial matter. I tried to change the subject and he returned to his chiding her shortly thereafter. Was there more to the stress of the moment than meets the eye? Surely he must get frustrated from time to time with the antics of a sister 5 years younger than him. I wondered, does he ever tire of his supervisory role and have enough time to just be a kid, be himself? Probably yes and possibly no. H is a very serious, thoughtful young lad who largely hides most emotions and speaks in somewhat measured speech at times. He is sure to correct himself to give the right response to a question. He’s the kind of kid a trusted adult male would do well to engage in playful wrestling or other physical stuff yet I get the idea it would be more horrifying than fun for him. Maybe he gets some of it with the land paddling with Mr. Steve? I hope so. I just wonder if there’s an outlet for what the heck he might be thinking or feeling inside. Does he feel loved? Does he have a place to let go or speak his mind freely like his little sister does (kind of all the time!)? He speaks of his babysitting responsibilities in the vernacular of that of a parent. It’s possible that the parental figures in his life expect this of him, to pseudo-parent her not just be a babysitter. That’s a lot of responsibility for a 12 year old boy from a broken home, at the beginning of so many other changes to come in his life as he matures into a teenager and young man. He takes this responsibility seriously. This particular day it was kinda wonky.

My Mom tried to put this type of responsibility on me for my 2 younger brothers but it didn’t work. They wouldn’t listen to me! They wouldn’t listen to our babysitters either when my Mom (a single parent of three children along with a serial dating and drinking problem) had to leave us alone to go to work or couldn’t find a babysitter. I do believe she did the best she could to manage our difficult situation with the tools and life skills she had. The when she left us alone, however, all hell broke loose at home. We were probably out of control. Such is the way children under stress behave when the consistent routines that they need erode, when there’s no one in which to confide, when there’s no outlet for the hurt burning inside a tender heart living inside a broken home. I wish I could have been more like how H is to his sister than I was to Mike and Rob. I yelled a lot. My Mom yelled a lot. There’s more. Surely us kids were struggling with the changes in our lives that were decided by the most-trusted adults in our lives: our parents. We hardly ever saw our Dad and then he moved out of state when we were teenagers; we never heard from him again for a couple of decades. Probably our best aspect of consistency/security was living in the same house all of those years. But inside those doors was a lot of hurt and anger that made it harder for me and my brothers to relate to one another as a family let alone find our way after entering adulthood. I wish I had known the love of my Heavenly Father back then. It would have made such a difference!

H occasionally talks about the Bible with Mr. Steve. I love that. My husband had the insight to give H a student Bible as part of his Christmas presents this past year; we gave E a children’s Bible too. Steve and I both try to weave spiritual topics into our conversations with H and E as we play in our yard, sip endless bottles of water, and chase our old pup Elle. But is it enough? Are we being intentional in our teaching as my beloved use to instruct young families at church to do with their children? All four of Steve’s adult children are walking with the Lord today. What an incredible testimony and tribute this is to the parenting, the love, the Biblical teaching, the mentoring that Steve and his ex-wife poured into their lives. All four are also successful in their respective occupations, one is married with two children of his own. As we get to know H and E, as they continue to come around and knock on our door on a Saturday afternoon, please join us in praying how to best love on them in a Christ-centered way. We desire to encourage and support their parents as well and be a special kind of older friend to all of them that the Lord has ordained for this season of their lives.

As I think about H in particular, some scripture references have come to mind that I hope I get to share with him sometime soon.

Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

If H is required to act as a pseudo parent/babysitter at times, these verses and passages speak to the authority and loving relationship of a Father to his children. They provide instruction which is tempered and guided in the manner described by the verses that surround each passage. (Hotlinks are provided to each chapter by clicking on the verse.) If unrealistic expectations have been placed on H to regularly care for his younger sibling then perhaps he still can learn to temper his tone with her as supernaturally guided by these verses and the Holy Spirit. Does H know Jesus as Lord and Savior, know the guidance that can come from the Holy Spirit? We are not sure. This is an area we need to explore further. With the possibility that the relationship of his Mom with E’s Dad is a tenuous one (as they have been apart for extended periods of time in the past), we cannot assume that we will always see H or E several times per month indefinitely. Each day is an opportunity to build our friendship with them and introduce them to Jesus Christ.

Romans 12:10 (ESV)

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

This verse speaks to the relationship of brothers and sisters in Christ, our eternal family. I love the idea of showing honor, deference to the other party. The older brother, just like the child’s Father or Mr. Steve as an older male Father-figure, have an opportunity to help build the worth of a young girl as Christ sees her, as her husband one day will see her someday in marriage. An important part of her identity comes from interaction with the older males in her life. Her older brother’s joking, teasing, and correcting behavior all have their place in good fun along with complimenting, encouraging, and supporting the younger, female as she grows up. We know from God’s design for the roles of men and women in marriage that the woman is to respect her husband; the woman must also receive respect in addition to being loved and cherished. To show honor is to show love.

Matthew 6:33 (Amplified)

But first and most importantly seek (aim at, strive after) His kingdom and His righteousness [His way of doing and being right—the attitude and character of God], and all these things will be given to you also.

Our Heavenly Father knows what we need even before we ask anything of Him. He is ready, willing, and able to give us the best help possible! This is important to keep in mind when we are trying to figure out what to do, what to say, what decisions to make, how to think, which way to go. Then what about an unruly little sister or brother? Oh vey! I offer this verse as a reminder to pray, to seek the Lord for His wisdom as we interact with all of the other people in our lives. (How I wish I knew this and could take back all of those mean words I screeched at my brothers so many years ago!) Figuring out relationships is soooooo hard on our own sometimes! Our Lord will comfort our angst, guide us, and bring forth the best outcome for both how we want to come across and how we hope our brother, our sister in Christ will respond. We must stop ourselves, pause or take a deep breath for a moment, and ask for our Lord’s help. He will do so. This type of prayer also honors the Lord as well!

Hebrews 10:24 (NLT)

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

The Lord is faithful to see us through everything including the ups and downs of our relationships with others. He cares deeply about our relationships with the members of our immediate family (as well as the body of Christ). What a privilege it is to be in a position to mentor a loved one who seeks and respects our authority or influence in his or her life. H has managed this big responsibly well despite the challenges of his own young life. This process of mentoring happens naturally with younger siblings who look up to their oldest sibling, to older cousins with younger cousins and so on, when handled well. The love between brother and sister in particular is a special kind of fellowship unmatched by any other in our lives. Our brothers and sisters are the first friends we make in life, the longest friendships we may ever have in our lives. We can find mutual hobbies, games, sports, ministries, and other activities to share together despite differences in age. We can encourage our siblings in following their dreams, the unique ways that the Lord has crafted their giftedness, and even in his or her silliness if younger than we are! When it is safe to do so, let them be! We want the happiest, most fulfilling life for our friends, right? Such is the desire of our Heavenly Father for each of us on each day and each hour we shall live, until the day comes when He will return in the ultimate fellowship with all of us.

After all Jesus was once a brother too you know . . .

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