Six Deer and a Skunk

We were heading south along a remote section of a newly created road when six deer, one by one, carefully stepped across the road in front of my truck.  My husband was driving and proclaimed that he was glad that he saw them just in time to slow down!  My proclamation was the awe of the gentle animals crossing our path on a night when the witness of God’s creation in the dark was the last thing from my mind . . .

Yes, we were on the way to the Emergency Room again.  After the third night in a row where convulsive episodes escalated with the setting of the sun coupled with unusual right, lower abdominal pain, we decided that our threshold had been reached.  The decision to drive off to the ER is never and easy one.  Am I really that bad?  If I am not dying should I just wait and see a little longer?  Now that our sixth trip in four years has come and gone we both agree that having an evaluation in the middle of the night is no worse than the alternative.  This trip was unusually unpleasant, however.

We waited almost 2 hours before being escorted back to exam room 22.  During that time we witnessed the collapse of a young woman in a wheelchair whose urine bag tube dangled over the edge of the leg rest and two family members looked on with worry.  We prayed for them.  Moments later one of the several children in the expansive waiting area spontaneously vomited all over her mother and the floor (about 15 feet away from us).  The mother and a nurse-type staff person whipped into action including spraying everything with a sure-to-be-aromatic cleaner.  In my heart I prayed and in the moment we moved to another section of the ER as I donned my mask so as to avoid the fumes and vomitus aerosols from further exacerbating the convulsive episodes.  In the distant section in which we landed was a double-wide chair that made a makeshift bed for my own weakened frame.  We later discovered that by the end of our tenure at the hospital there would be EIGHTEEN car accident victims that would filter through the emergency department that night.  Lord have mercy!

My own challenge was significant yet still I was filled with gratitude that it was not as bad as those around me.  Much later and somewhere after the halfway mark of the IV infusion of sodium chloride, the convulsive episodes subsided.  Yeah God!  Then came the abdominal CT scan and pelvic ultrasounds.  Each were laden with their own versions of torture just for me.  I guess I’m just “sensitive,” right?  (If I hear that phrase one more time I’m going to scream!)  No matter, the noxious symptoms accompanying these tests mixed with tears and additional pain were bonuses upon which I had not planned that night.  For example, I had planned ahead and brought my warmest fleece jacket for covering up in between procedures.  It just wasn’t enough to counter the cold life-size tongue depressor gurney of the refrigerated CT scanner!  Another episode added to the collection.  And for me, pelvic ultrasounds are very painful.  I was there for abdominal pain, right?  Oh yeah.  “Just breathe deeply honey.  You’re doing great . . . ”

Sometime later the nurse assigned to me returned.  She had already navigated through the comfort and pain medication options that I could tolerate then brought the latter in the wrong form for a person whose stomach was empty.  I declined.  Pain management Plan B never arrived.  Later I was sobbing after the ultrasound (US).  The US technician activated my call light requiring me to ask for my own pain medication to which a nursing assistant responded.  Someone beyond the closed glass doors and pulled curtain decided that a relaxant for the gut would be a good choice for me.  Perhaps that was indicated?  But the nurse appeared with an 8-inch long syringe including a 4-inch needle that was bigger than those I had become acquainted in my lifetime!  I thought surely she would administer it into the IV line.  Nope.  She started to pull up the sleeve of my hospital gown.  With horror I wondered how so many cc’s of fluid from that big of a needle would ever penetrate my deconditioned arms.  “It has to be given intramuscularly,” she instructed.  “How about my hip?” I replied.  And as I turned to reveal the warmth of my skin buried beneath 2 blankets and a flimsy gown I began to freak out.

“No.”  “I don’t think the pain is bad enough to endure the pain of an injection like this,” was all I could blurt out.  She said “fine” and some trained nursing replies as she discarded the second drug that I wondered if or not would be added to our massive bill that night.  She left the room.  And then I began to cry and cry and cry.  I just couldn’t take the whole ordeal anymore.  I wept some more.

Within the hour we were making our way to the all-night cafeteria in that large Regional Medical Center.  My beloved, Steve, and I scarfed down more food than we had in a long time!  French fries are a great comfort food at 2:30 in the morning!  The salads were reasonable too.  At last my brain and personhood began to revive.

Steve drove us home into the dark and near-drizzly night.  Perhaps he was a bit cautious as we went, knowing the numerous auto accident victims that were our unseen neighbors in their own suites at the hospital.  “How bad were they injured?”  I wondered.  Oh my Lord, please comfort them too.  My mind drifted to the half-dozen deer that welcomed us before the bright red lights of the “EMERGENCY” entrance had illuminated our path 4 1/2 hours earlier.  I felt so much peace when I had seen them.  It was like the Lord was showing me that things were going to be alright.  Then again, their crossing was followed by the stench of a skunk!  What on earth could that mean?  Who knows?

Maybe the deer were “skunked” before they crossed the road.  Hunting season has begun dontcha know?  Maybe Steve and I we were somehow skunked too.  We made our best decision and ventured out to the hospital instead of what most couples do on a Saturday night.  And through it all, my beloved Steve was a champ the entire time.  He always is, dontcha know?

Some of you know that in about a month the number of years that I have been sick will exceed the number of years that I have been well during my marriage to Steve.  When presented with this observation Steve never flinches and repeats his vow of promise to love me forever on either side of the road of life.  Sigh.

headstone, marriage vows, til death do us part, cemetary, his and hers, cemetary plots, funeral, graveside service, Christian marriage

Til death do us part . . .

Oh my Stevers.  YOU my love are such a precious dear!  JJ

I was made for you

You looked at me with the bluest of eyes and said that we were going.

The ugliness of illness that had proceeded that moment held the rest of the day in the balance —

Obligations awaited us yet all the precautions, procedures, special preparations, and planning getting to this moment made no difference.

I could not move until you moved closer towards me and spoke into my moment of sickness.

And in a scene borne out of love that many will never find,

You gently lifted me to the edge of the bed so that I may dress, may push the mangled hair from my own eyes.

As if time itself breathed slowly from one moment to the next, I became able to sit up on my own again.

We chose the adornments to fit the occasion; we got me standing then walking forward.

I drank some water from a bottle nearby.  My brain moved more quickly and the next tasks came alive.

And as if what would be horror to a fly on the wall just minutes beforehand,

You tenderly called to me our next steps as we prepared to go meet the rest of our day.

We both had a bite to eat, groomed ourselves, and moved closer to the door:

The events of getting ready now no different than what has become the routine of trials endured many times before.

But this time it was your love that called me forth, moved me on; yes your tender words alone helped move me on.

And when we were along down the road a ways ready to meet the others,

I sat in awe of the life the Lord had crafted for me, for you.

Never would we have asked for heartache and sorrow that looked like this

Yet in a dreamy place would we have designed a magnificent love made just for me, just for you.

It doesn’t matter how we “getter done” when the Lord sits with us at His table

When His grace transcends the stuff of life, when I am carried by redeeming grace from both of you.

So when the happy couple says their vows at their own marriage supper in a day,

May they somehow come to know what true love lives like:  He looks like you dear one:  the Father of the Bride.

I love you Steve.

Just Julie

My Testimony: Salvation in a Laundrymat

Salvation in a Laundrymat The Testimony of Julie November 27, 2005

Originally published on http://www.fellowshipchurchonline.com/

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table in a laundrymat

When the trials of life got me down

And my angst led to seeking and a new church

It was the outstretched arms of the laundrymat attendant

That led to a decision washing me clean, indeed.

 

That was 1988: I was single and a Christian man had just entered my life. My life was stuffed at the time with full time work in healthcare and graduate school. Dabbling in church attendance and regular Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings were fueling a desire to learn more about God and the person of Jesus Christ. I had so many questions, so many unresolved hurts from my childhood. Sitting in the audience of a very large, non-denominational church brought tears and stirred something deep inside me. Something I hadn’t felt in years . . .

I grew up attending a local church, complete with first communions, baptisms, lighting candles, going to the confessional, and the like. As a teenager and in college, I attended other churches of the same denomination and the routine, the rituals, were pretty much the same. But where was God? I could sense Him sometimes on Sunday mornings and in one particular baptismal service for my Godchild, Tommy. Why wasn’t He helping our family on the other days of the week?

My family life was in shambles. My father developed a mental illness and left our home when I was 9 years old. I would later understand that his struggle to overcome his mental illness exposed me and my brothers to sorrows beyond belief. There were inappropriate experiences with other adults as well.

We struggled to survive. My mom went back to work to support us and a few people tried to help where they could. The weekly allowances, ice cream from the Good Humor truck, books from the South Elementary School Book Club, and chocolate milk for lunch ended. My mom struggled in her identity as a single mom. The church fell short in meeting her needs, our needs and we were shamed by others. Some of the neighborhood boys weren’t allowed to play with my brothers. I felt rejected too. We kids fought a lot. And God bless the babysitters who risked losing their sanity by coming to our house!

My brothers, in time, would turn to alcohol or drugs to endure life. Both would eventually spend time in jail and never quite make it in the work world. Neither one married. One died of alcoholism and the other is devoting himself to care for our mom. Amazing! By the grace of God, I was given different responsibilities and opportunities.

A neighbor introduced me to the Warren Jayteens, the teen group of the Warren Jaycees (in our city just outside of Detroit, Michigan). That was the first of many new interests, part time jobs, and classical guitar lessons, and the list goes on. I became a “human doing” instead of a “human being.” My worth came from my activities, my accomplishments. And on the outside, I excelled.

Inside, I was hurting. I sought comfort in dating relationships and dabbled in alcohol and marijuana. My tolerance to alcohol increased. The partying continued when I moved to Illinois after college to start my first job in healthcare. I would later see that my profession was a gift from God. He gave me the insight to pursue a profession in which I would teach others the skill of adapting to any circumstance. I personally benefited from this as I entered graduate school, found Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics, changed jobs, moved a few times, and met a Christian man.

That dear man helped me with my many questions about God and the Bible. The witness of his upbringing in a Christian home spoke volumes of what it really looked like to grow up in a stable environment. His father was a leader in his childhood church. The witness of Craig’s life and of his family, showed me more of what it was like to have good clean fun and led to a decision for Christ.

On our third date, he brought me to a very large, non-denominational church. There were 4,000 people at each service! I thought it was a cult! I was wrong. My soul got fed for the first time. Some months later, a laundry mat attendant sensed my needs, my readiness, and witnessed to me. I will never forget that day. I can still see her face. She had so much love in her eyes. That night, alone in my apartment, I prayed to have Jesus come into my life. I repented of the mistakes of my past. I was truly washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Two years later in 1991, Craig and I were married in that large, non-denominational church. We worshipped there five years. I grew in my understanding of the Christian life. I tried to be a “good Christian” wife and fell short a bit. My walk with the Lord would really begin several years later when Craig led us to a smaller Bible church. It was there that I began to unravel the part of the pain of my childhood that had created a barrier to developing an intimate relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. More tears. More healing. And a faithful man to walk with me. Very cool.

Things changed March 4, 2003. Our marriage had endured several trials and disappointments by then. Craig’s father had died, I was injured in an auto accident with lingering effects, Craig was laid off twice, we lost the court case related to the accident, and my work-related injuries created financial and emotional hardships for both of us. I always returned to work after a setback. I adapted. Craig pursued a new career direction as well in aviation and we felt the Lord’s blessing and provision. Then he had to stop suddenly and was never quite the same after that. He began to withdraw from me. At the same time, he threw himself into church service and became a Deacon. I tried to start a second business and return to work in healthcare. God had other plans.

On the morning of March 4, 2003, I prayed a desperate prayer for the Lord to intervene in my life. Intervene he did! That night I received a phone call and learned that my husband had been in an affair for about a year. I asked Craig to leave for awhile that night and he did. He never came back.

Standing in my living room, very late at night, very alone, I was in shock. I knew my life was about to change but had no idea how it would. A verse came to me from Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

That verse would come back to me again and again at key times over the next three years – at times when no other words could possibly sustain me or give me hope. Like the night of the fire . . .

Let’s just say that major changes occurred in rapid-fire succession from that day forward. (Riddle: What day of the year is a command? Answer: March “fourth.” Geez!)

My grandmother died. I refinanced our home. My brother died. The divorce process became eminent. I sold my home. I moved. I lost my job due to an injury. I was promoted in my home business. I moved again. I got a temporary job then a permanent position. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. The divorce was final at Christmastime. Geez! I was in a fire. I moved twice to temporary housing. I moved to a beautiful condo where I now reside. The healing work has begun, from the inside out!

Whew! I thank the Lord for walking with me and for bringing the Army of Believers who have been there, led me, and carried me on this journey to today. It takes an Army and an unshakable faith in Christ to rise from the trials of life victorious. I pray daily for Craig’s repentance and return to the Lord. And I do know this: the choices we make each day determine where we ultimately land in our walk with the Lord, our walk through the days of our lives. Since my prayer has always been for my own sorrows not to be wasted, I remember to seek the face of Jesus each day, especially when the mud flies. I pray that Craig will too. He has incredible gifts of teaching, of reasoning, of physical health, and of loving. May these be used for God’s glory soon.

As for me, I’m called to do what I can with what I have, where I am. (At the time of this writing in 2005, I’d) just had a “Thanksgiving” party to thank all the people that helped me; the evening was wonderful! I pray that the Lord continues to restore me. Through this process, my purpose has become clear: to build something of significance that blesses other people. Gee, that’s what I’ve always wanted in my heart before I could put the words together! To know this purpose is the intervention I prayed for March 4, 2003. I am closer to this dream now more than ever before. And it came this way. This way? Yes, it came this way.

And since this has proven to be true in my life I must say that I really wouldn’t want it any other way!

Thanks.  Just Julie

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ADDENDUM:  It is now 9 years later when I have come across my testimony in an old computer file.  I am amazed at all the Lord has walked with me through!  My mother passed away in March of 2007 and I married my intended beloved, Steve, in November later that year.  I moved to Indiana to marry Steve, to slow things down, to rediscover so many rich outdoor activities, and to enjoy a loving relationship with Steve like none I had ever experienced before.  Even a serious personal illness, my brother’s stroke, and a medical leave from a lifelong profession that I love could not deter the love I experience from my Jesus and my Stevers.  After all:  life goes on.  I am exceedingly grateful that the Lord never changes.  I am exceedingly grateful for so much!

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The most important element in all of this, in all of my life, is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Thank you Jesus.

That is all.  JJ

When you find your voice again

Perhaps it is a silent presence, a type of mindfulness that can speak as loud as a mountaintop yodel in a life-changing moment.  Or maybe you must shout it out, screeching through a resistant case of laryngitis just what is on your mind.  Then there are those measured words spoken through gritted teeth; oooooh, I hated when my mother uttered those when I was a child!  A crazy person makes sense only to his or herself when the disemboweled utterance emerges from the trouble soul within.  And the most agregious is the spine-tingling barbs of an angry person that can cut to the heart every time.  Sure wish I had more of the first one and less of the others in my history!

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

Yes indeed.

The seizure attacks came quickly this evening as soon as my face hit the head of the bed, elevated with folded blankets to promote sinus drainage and ease the chest compression of a recent infection.  My left arm was tucked along my left side with my head turned to the right as I lain partially face-down.  This position causes less neck and shoulder pain so it is often my go-to position when I sense the episode ramping up.  The head-banging and shoulder trauma are minimized but the wrenching of my neck is nasty.  Oh well, that’s what the chiropractor is for, right?  Sigh.

Eventually I screeched out some “help me Lord” utterances with what was left of my voice box today.  That came whilst straining to cry out to my Jesus with an acute illness on top of the mysterious seizure-like tics that plague me every morning, evening, and after exposure to noxious stimuli.  I can’t even cry right!  Then things got incredibly darker.  In defense of my sanity I won’t go into details here so let’s just say that frightful images passed through my mind.  Then in my mind’s eye I could see the images on my arms.  Just then I noticed that Steve was stooping over the side of the bed beside me in the dark.  Holy crap!  His sudden appearance in the dark scared me further.  My body writhed with seizures, now lying on my right side with Steve behind me.  My arms flailed in the air, my legs flapped together then apart, and the screeching sound of my hoarse voice screaming holy terror would exceed any scene I’ve viewed from a psycho thriller for sure.  But this was not a movie.  This was ME!

A few decades ago some really bad things happened to me when I was a kid.  I spent about 12 years as a young adult in many kinds of therapy, therapy groups, 12-step recovery groups (Al Anon Adult Children of Alcoholics), faith-based and 12-step weekend retreats, and reading tons of self-help books.  True healing came when I got saved and the person of Jesus Christ showed me his love, care for me, and plan for my life if I would follow His lead.  He was restoring the years the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25) when I met my intended beloved and married Steve.  I felt happy and free at last.  Four years later I got very sick with viral hepatitis, Lyme disease, and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (related to mold).  I haven’t been able to work in two years largely due to the seizure attack episodes multiple times per day.  They are heartbreaking for both of us in addition to many other folks who have witnessed them too.

Over and over again I have searched for meaning, a purpose for this extended illness.  The incredible expenses of remediating our home for mold in early 2013 surely tested our marriage for sure.  We were living in a hotel while navigating a myriad of details and tough decisions as Steve travelled between work, home, and the hotel; his daughter chose to continue living in the house and help us out during the entire process.  Eventually our dog joined us in the hotel.  Eventually we completed the remediation, opted not to sell our house, and moved back home.  However, the seizure attacks never stopped!  By summer of 2013 they increased to up to 4 hours per day!  No medical professional or online research has found an answer yet.  Somehow Steve and I grew closer through it all as our hearts were breaking; the pain and suffering has been great.

Recently the Lord did show me a few tasks that needed to be completed in our marriage.  The love between Steve and I over these past 2 1/2 years has become strengthened, deepened because of this difficult journey.  We have now turned our residence into a “safe home” which restricts visitors or the conditions under which others may enter our home.  This helps prevent exposures for me that could cause a negative reaction (aka seizures!).  I love that my beloved is helping to protect me in this way so that I can get well.  I love that he has been faithful to the Lord and to me through this entire journey.  Others are watching us and I understand that we are doing some things right!  My own restoration and healing from the past may have provided a foundation for the important growth in me that has happened of late.  I am grateful to be able to recognize the good that is here along with the challenges.  There is always good along with the challenges if we look closely enough . . .

Back to the scene in the bedroom.  I asked Steve to move from where he was stooped behind me to the other side of the bed where he would be in front of me.  The uncontrollable hell that was ravaging my weakened frame was frightening enough not to have a sense that someone, even someone I dearly loved, was lingering over me from behind.  Steve knows all too well that if he touches me during an episode it can magnify the symptoms significantly.  I just couldn’t risk a casual brush of a hand; my distress was already unbearable.  Then the breakthrough began to happen.  Speaking up despite the hoarseness of my voice rose up some inner strength I had never sensed before.  I had to ride out the frightening images and thrashing about, my estimation of what weeping and gnashing of teeth might be like in a Biblical description of hell.  Tears came.  Silence followed.  I was able to ask for what I really needed when scared.

Soon my gracious and godly husband was gently sitting beside me.  I’m not sure if he was more horrified or moved to compassion!  We processed the scene.  His eyes held mind for a long time in the darkness before I was able to reach out and touch his arm.  Soon he was able to reach out with comforting touch for me as well.  Somehow we knew that my intolerance to intimate touch for the past 6 weeks was finally broken.  I was able to lie in the arms of my beloved once again.

My writing this story includes a great deal of literary and intellectual license.  I mean that I think I might know what is going on, the purpose and meaning in some of this suffering, but there is only one person who actually knows the truth:  my Heavenly Father.  I am glad that I found my voice in the darkness this evening.  I am glad that I survived a wretched scene without too much damage or lingering baggage.  I am grateful to have reconnected with Steve and that he could look beyond the ugliness to the beauty imbedded in this crazy journey together.  I trust that the Lord will go before us in the next scene and lead us in His way everlasting for His purpose and glory.  Lord willing it won’t be so bad next time.

Thank you, Jesus, for your redeeming grace.  You make all the difference in the world for me, tonight and always.  Thank you for your enduring mercy, giving me have the strength to do that to which you have called me (Philippians 4:13).  Be my voice in the darkness and in the light.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Easter Then and Now

Psalm 130

A song of ascents.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

Indeed He did redeem the nation of Israel as well as those of us adopted as sons, daughters into the nation of Israel.  When we stress about the sufferings of our days we can remember that the Lord is with us, redeems us, and will come again in glory for us all because of what happened one Easter morning long ago . . . .

These words encourage me during the most wretched of nights, which come every night.  These words encourage me as I witness the life that has drained out of my brother’s body since his stroke this past weekend.  These words encourage me as I ponder all of the loss and heartache during my half-century on this earth.  These words encourage me as I see His grace and mercy in the loving eyes, the comforting touch of my intended beloved who loves me so.  These Words are the Living God made real in my heart;  transcending this life and drawing me to my life everlasting with my Savior.  Because of Him I can see the blessings around me which hint at the life, the hope beyond.

No matter where you are or what life is handing you, Gentle Reader, be assured that His love extends to you too.  Easter Sunday is a celebration of the Lord’s perfect love.  He came from the utopia that is heaven to live as a pauper, suffer a tortuous death, and returned in glory when no one was expecting it.  We would not and can not do what He did for us.  And as we believe in the living sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are redeemed.  Sorrow is replaced with joy from deep within our hearts.  All things are made new.  While my “outer man” is wasting away, my spirit is renewed day by day and will continue forevermore.

I look forward to the part of this journey beyond this life.  In the meantime it is my honor to say to you:  Happy Easter Gentle Reader.  With love, Just Julie