I want to write a blog that isn’t exactly on the topic I chose. However, I feel that God is impressing me to write about this so-to-speak white elephant in the closet of our denomination.
In February, my husband and I chose to embark on a very challenging ministry. In fact, it’s so complicated most people won’t touch it or address the subject in our denomination. And to be quite honest, I think it’s a huge cause in a lot of the issues in our churches. It seems to be there and yet not, be felt yet not seen, be ever present and yet silent. It makes people uncomfortable, and yet in spite of it all we owe so much to the people who have given their lives for the cause. I think it’s a little sad that our stand as a Church is non-combatant, and there is a huge hole in our ministry for combatant veterans.
Although we also hold the before-mentioned views, we have a lot of people in our circles who have served — either drafted while Adventists; willingly enlisted; or, like my husband, converted after service. So, why is it that we don’t talk about PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) when there are so many likely sufferers in our circles? Why is it that life goes quietly on while our own fellow brethren suffer with a silent destroyer of families, a beast that seems to lurk around every corner? It’s one of the most challenging and painful area’s of today’s world, and it’s not even being addressed. Christ in His ministry healed the aches and pains before sharing with others the spiritual gifts He had to offer. We need to heal the aches and pains of many in our families before we can offer spiritual healing to those outside the Church.
Let me give you a few statistics. It is estimated that one in 18 men will develop PTSD. One in every nine women develop PTSD, making them twice as likely to develop it as men. PTSD is just as common if not more common in emergency personnel (police, fire fighters, EMTs, etc.) as it is in the service. About 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have been exposed to one situation that could trigger PTSD. Out of those 70 percent, 20 percent go on to develop PTSD. Eight percent of the current American population has PTSD at any given time; that’s 24.4 million people in the USA — equivalent to the population of Texas! The story of Desmond Doss has been very well circulated and now that it is known he was an Adventist, we should take the lead in the treatment for PTSD. I personally was touched by the impact Desmond Doss made on our family.
An insider’s look at living with PTSD
Let me tell you my story. Growing up I remember going to spend nights at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandpa would sit us all down, tallest to smallest, on the couch. He had a very special drill-sergeant type attitude that we all loved and admired in him, and although I was young and don’t remember well, I like to think we all sat up straight like good little soldiers. (Although, I don’t think he ever ranked above an E2. Haha…) Grandpa had served in the Okanawan island chain during WWII. He wasn’t on the same island as Doss, however, and he wasn’t supposed to see active combat. He was a Seabee; Seabees were supposed to follow the Marines in and build the landing strips for the aircraft and bridges for the rigs after the Marines take the beach. He was even an actor in the fighting Seabees with John Wayne. (He only ran down a hill in one scene, but he could show you who he was if you watched it with him.) Grandpa, however, was washed into shore before the Marines, and ended up having to take the beach. My point in all of this is that he saw combat, and not nice combat at that.
Back to sitting on the couch… Grandpa would take his long slender finger and point at each one of us for emphasis. “If you want to come and get into bed with us tonight, you stomp down those stairs, you slam our door and you jump onto the bed. I want to hear you coming.” My dad told me once that he only made the mistake of sneaking into bed with his parents once. It ended with him picking himself up off the floor on the other side of the room. Grandpa cried the rest of the night.
Grandpa seemed to be a short tempered man, always barking orders at Grandma, yet everyone could see how much he loved and adored her. He enjoyed way too much salt on his little bowl of popcorn, and he cross-stitched all day long (and made so many incredible pieces) while watching old TV game shows and munching his way-too-salty popcorn. Occasionally he would make a batch of cookies. Although he would often show me how he did it, mine never turn out like his did. There was something that drew me to this cranky old man, an inner strength that I couldn’t help but see, brokenness, loneliness, struggling all made way for a tender, loving and compassionate person.
(Here’s a little side story: Grandpa was so scared of the dark that, once when the Sergeant insisted he stand on guard duty in the middle of the night during the war, he blew up one whole end of the pallet of runway because of a little tag that was flapping in the wind which refused to identify itself. Haha! It’s amazing he wasn’t court-martialed for that offense.)
Now, years later and being married to a veteran suffering from PTSD, I see the similarities and have a little more light on what was going on and why he was the way that he was. Desmond Doss came to Grandpa’s church one evening to tell his testimony. Grandpa and Grandma decided to go, and I wish I had been there, but Doss sat down for an hour with Grandpa — just the two of them — and I don’t know what he told Grandpa. That went with him to the grave. But, I know from then on, he was a changed man. The nervousness, crankiness, and irritation was gone. He seemed happier and more content.
Fast forward several years past my grandpa’s death to July 2009. I married the man of my dreams. Also, quite interestingly, he is a veteran. (My Grandma told me later Grandpa would have been very proud I married a Navy man.) I didn’t think at that time that Jeremy had PTSD because there were no signs or symptoms. However, before he was converted, he was highly suicidal, and at one point was even held at gunpoint by a SWAT team. Going through some challenges and looking back now, I believe he developed PTSD symptoms about a year and a half after we got married. All of the symptoms he was having in our marriage came to a head in 2015 when he had a flashback and didn’t know who I was. I had playfully woken him up by running my finger up his foot while he was sleeping on the couch. He instantly was on his feet and coming at me like he was going to hurt me. I couldn’t snap him out of it. He didn’t recognize me. Praise the Lord he responded to my gentle touch, though. It took him all night to come out of it, and I actually asked him to sleep in the garage because I wasn’t comfortable sleeping next to him in bed that night. (My grandma would tell me about times when she would wake up being punched or slapped in the face, and would hold my grandpa the rest of the night while he cried.)
Jeremy has struggled with just about every PTSD symptom that is possible during the last three years in particular. Our once happy home is often shadowed by past experiences that we weren’t even a part of. We walk on egg shells as we try not to make him mad and stay away from any trigger that would make him cranky. Often times we dread him coming home because we don’t know what mood he will be in. I don’t worry about him hurting us physically, but I struggle with the mental stress that all of us suffer under the stress of dealing with PTSD. Knowing my husband’s symptoms are only his PTSD can still be very draining. The kids often don’t understand why Daddy gets upset with them. However, and I want to make it clear, we have had several down time and many, many struggles, but Jeremy is still the man of my dreams. You see, within hurting people there are amazing things —jewels that are buried under charcoal that just need to be dug up, cleaned up, and polished. Each one shining in a beauty all it’s own.
In March Jeremy and I founded Survivinghome.org. It originally started as a ministry for veterans with PTSD, and now has transitioned to include emergency response personnel with PTSD. We attended an Oregon Conference event with our ministry’s booth, and while we were there we had several teens request classes on how to help their friends with suicide prevention and domestic violence requests as well. We see how God is guiding Surviving Home into being a ministry that addresses all aspects of home issues. As you can imagine, with all of these requests, it’s a little bit overwhelming as we want to help as many people as possible and show Christ as their one true source of strength through the good times and the bad.
As I have been working through a manual for spouses dealing with PTSD in their other half, this week a burden has been laid upon my heart. I never really realized how much I have changed and how much PTSD has affected my life, thinking, and functioning. Does that mean there is no hope? Does that mean that our lives will always be this way? Does it mean that we will never be able to see the loving, sensitive side of my husband again? No, I am a veteran of living with veterans with PTSD. There is a better side, and there is hope. My husband doesn’t intend or even realize how he comes across often times. So, if any of you are struggling with an environment beyond your control in your home, please know there is hope. There is a life. You may not be able to control the circumstances that come into your home or life, but you can control how you react to them.
“Abraham gladly returned to his tents and his flocks, but his mind was disturbed by harassing thoughts. He had been a man of peace, so far as possible shunning enmity and strife; and with horror he recalled the scene of carnage he had witnessed. But the nations whose forces he had defeated would doubtless renew the invasion of Cannan, and make him the special object of their vengeance. Becoming thus involved in national quarrels, the peaceful quiet of his life would be broken. Furthermore, he had not entered upon the possession of Cannan, nor could he now hope for an heir, to whom the promise might be fulfilled.
“In a vision of the night the divine Voice was again heard. ‘Fear not, Abram,’ were the words of the Prince of princes; ‘I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.’ But his mind was so oppressed by foreboadings that he could not now grasp the promise with unquestioning confidence as heretofore,” Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 136.
In Matthew 11:28-30 it says, “Come unto me all who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me. For I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.” When they are training a team of oxen, they take a younger animal with less experience and they put the yolk on their shoulders. The older animal is put onto the other side of the yolk and leads the younger animal in the right way. At first in this process the older, more experienced animal does all of the work, but as the younger animal learns each lesson and practices the lessons, the more burden it starts to carry. Eventually, it is carrying half of the burden and “towing their weight.” In a way, that is how it is with Christ. He takes our burdens, and places them on His shoulders to carry our load. He guides us gently through the trials and struggles, and shows us how to navigate the way to success.
Are you the one who needs to be strong in your family, helping take the burden of the suffering spouse? Are you tired of having to always be the strong one and having to hold everything together without getting much help? If so, take your burdens to Jesus. He hears and sees, and He carries them for you. He will guide you through perilous times and through learning how to be strong through everything being thrown at you. If there is concern about abuse potential, please seek help. There are a lot of resources available, and if you need to, please feel free to contact us. We will do everything we can to help.
God is into restoring families, and He has certainly brought ours a long way. I am starting to see occasional glimpses of the man I married shining through. They are not as frequent as I would like, but they are certainly there and becoming more distinct as time goes on. Let’s be strong — be strong for our spouse, be strong for our family, be strong for our friends, be strong for our Lord.