I overheard a statement by a young person recently: "Who…
Yup. She’s freakin’ awesome. And you won’t find my dead body. Because she won’t kill me. (Read the back of the T-shirt if you haven’t yet.)
She bought me that T-shirt. I’m safe.
You may think you know my wife, Helen. But she is amazing in ways that don’t meet the eye. It’s kind of hard (and not entirely comfortable) to describe.
What’s this post have to do with Jesus? A lot. He is our example of how to live wisely even when life is excruciatingly difficult.
I hope this post will warm my wife’s heart. Beyond that, those who know her will cheer silently, thinking, “That’s right! She’s already a hero of mine! Wow, what a woman.”
So, stick with me. This is much more than a public “thank you” to get hubby brownie points (although I do like brownies).
And if I meander, it’s because of the mist in my sentimental, blurry eyes.
A Huge Sacrifice
Helen willingly and amazingly sacrificed a full week of our precious and not-too-generous vacation time for me to head out on a trip—alone.
I’m sitting in the Pittsburgh airport awaiting my flight—delayed, thankfully, so I can write what I was thinking and feeling on the 2 ½ hour drive here.
I’m heading for a conference, plus various other activities to promote my new book. (There’s a LOT more to making a book successful than just writing it. The list never ends.)
Her sacrificing a week’s vacation without me is a very big deal. I think it’s huge. She has become a self-sacrificing believer in the importance of this project to bless lives. It has already blessed ours with light and peace.
It’s hard to describe how many times she has “given me up” to allow me time for writing, which didn’t come naturally to me and took 10 times longer than most.
What You May Not Know
Helen suffers from a combination of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. Each of those is serious and disruptive. But together they are co-morbid. “Comorbidity describes two or more disorders or illnesses occurring in the same person. Comorbidity also implies interactions between the illnesses that can worsen the course of both.” (See source.)
She is very open about these conditions with others. (In other words, you still won’t have to hunt for my dead body.) She hopes to help and lift others so they won’t feel alone if they suffer similar things.
What’s more visible about Helen is that she’s also physically disabled. From birth, Helen had one leg that was paralyzed from the knee down. Growing up, she was constantly in the hospital with various surgeries to try to improve her ability to walk.
By the time we met, she had a minimal leg brace and we were able to hike trails in the Allegheny National Forest near our home. She had a slight limp but she could walk for a mile or so at a time. It was the freedom that she and her family feared would never come. Unfortunately, her leg and back deteriorated severely in recent years.
When we met, I didn’t understand all that she had suffered. I simply saw her as a beautiful girl with gorgeous eyes, a fantastic smile, the radiance to light up a room, and a very slight disability that was a non-issue to me.
But I didn’t know anything about her tortured mind and emotions, even though she tried to warn me. I couldn’t comprehend it. I dismissed it and saw only a happy, loving soul—her essence. The real Helen.
Neither of us knew what was coming. It was a storm that was still gathering speed to its F5 tornadic intensity.
Borderline Personality Disorder
From PsychCentral: “The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors. . .
“They experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger, even when faced with a realistic time-limited separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans. For instance, a person with this condition may experience sudden despair in reaction to a clinician’s announcing the end of the hour; or panic and fury when someone important to them is just a few minutes late or must cancel an appointment. They may believe that this “abandonment” implies that they are a “bad person.” (See source.)
There’s much, much more to it than this. BPD was so hard for psychology professionals to understand that for years doctors used the BPD diagnosis as a catch-all for severely screwed up people whose behaviors seemed impossible to comprehend—on the border of neurotic and psychotic, hence the name borderline. Somewhere around the 1980s – 1990s, researchers cracked the code and figured out the patterns. And there are distinct patterns. (See source.)
About 6% of the population have BPD. Most people in long-term psychotherapy have BPD, and therapists are often “tortured” by their BPD patients because of the intensity of emotions directed at them (as one therapist confided in me).
Medications are not very effective for BPD. But therapy can be. (If you’re interested in more information, be sure to research Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which is by far the most effective treatment—and it made a life-changing difference for Helen.)
Bipolar Disorder (BD)
By far the most talked-about mood disorder out today is known as Bipolar Disorder I. The other variation is Bipolar Disorder II, also known as Bipolar Depression—a disorder that is often misdiagnosed as “regular old” clinical depression. (About 10 years ago we discovered that I have BD II. Yeah, we’re quite a pair.)
BP is very treatable with medications and both of our lives have been enormously improved through some super-effective medications.
What Makes My Wife Amazing
We all have our challenges in life to be sure. But imagine dealing with the combination of an increasingly severe physical disability, violent and rapid emotional swings that you don’t understand, frequent guilt and regret after acting crazy and hurtful, and experiencing racing thoughts that can’t be controlled.
Oh, and did I mention that she had six miscarriages? This woman who is exceptionally gifted with children? This woman who craved having children as long as she could remember, and to whom children flock because of her magnetic love for them? This woman who inspires children with faith in themselves? And always fills them with laughter. The constant laughter and joy.
Remember the prophet Jacob’s wife, Rachel? As you read this verse below, can you hear the anguish in her crying voice, preserved for us in scripture?
When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1, NIV)
Now add the frustration of learning that every medication that’s really effective for your condition has a weight gain side effect. That you’re torn between getting off the meds to lose weight or to stay on the meds so you don’t lose your mind?
And then there are the looks you get at Walmart while riding one of their electric scooters to get around. I know it happens. She tells me. “There goes another fat, lazy person,” they say with their eyes. “She oughtta walk some of that weight off.” If only she could. (Contrast that with the ultra-kindness and helpfulness she experiences when she uses her wheelchair in a store.)
And what about the unreasonable, hurtful pressures on women today to look like the ultra-slender, model-perfect photos we see on every magazine cover?
If you consider Helen’s life circumstances altogether, it’s a towering, exhausting challenge. A spiritual Mount Everest.
But how do you bear it when your mind and emotions aren’t working properly? What happens when your main tools for facing adversity are short-circuiting? When your efforts to find God seem cut off?
One of the most insidious effects of mental illness is the perception that God is not close to you, that he doesn’t love you, or that he’s upset with you (I know this from my own experience, but it is well-documented also.) The smothering cloak of depression that surrounds you nearly blocks the light and comfort of God’s spirit to the point where you mistakenly feel you are evil or unlovable or hopeless.
The God of Love – Really?
I suppose each of you has had moments where you felt tortured by life, pinched deep into the very points where you already hurt the most.
It’s hard not to turn an angry face toward heaven and keep your shaking, clenched fist down to your side. How do you do it?
How did Helen overcome and find peace? (And she has found peace.)
How Jesus Showed the Way
Rick Warren once shared this pivotal insight:
“Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ-likeness.”
I believe Pastor Warren’s reference to being “reasonably happy” refers to the pleasant, fun, jovial kind of happiness we all enjoy. But all Bible-reading Christians know that there is a different kind of deep, unspeakably valuable joy that comes from the gospel: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, NIV).
If there’s a message from this entire story it is that our spiritual fingers can reach through any penetrating darkness and find the hope to keep going by believing in life’s glorious purpose and trusting the example of that God who set it all in motion.
I testify that even through the darkness of mental illness, the “fingers” of our souls can reach God and cling to the truth of his teachings and trust him. We can grasp just the hem of his garment. (See Mark 5:27.)
The example of Jesus Christ, literally God among us, shows us the way. None of us do it perfectly, but we strive to do as he did:
Jesus taught and lived by the saying, “Be of good cheer.” (John 16:33, KJV)
Jesus taught and lived by this saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27, NIV)
Jesus endured private burdens that even his closest friends could not understand. He squared his shoulders and walked forward knowing that he was pleasing his Father in heaven.
Jesus never shook his fist at heaven. He trusted his Father’s wisdom and purposes, who knows how to give good gifts to them that ask him. (See Matthew 7:11.)
Jesus taught us what matters most so we can look past what matters least.
Jesus bore misunderstandings about him that were unfair and inaccurate. He walked forward anyway.
Most of all, he loved and lifted people even when life was really, really hard (and was criticized in the process). He looked outward when the natural tendency for any of us would be to curl up and look inward.
I love Jesus. I really do. I am amazed by him.
A Story that Needed to be Told
All’s well that ends well, and so it is with my sweet wife who is climbing her Mount Everest with the help of the loving tugs and lifting power of Christ. How can I not admire such a soul, my forever best friend?
My wife’s faith in me has been transformative. Her laughter and love saved our marriage. Her love for others and desire to bring simple delights and joys to everyday living—even to complete strangers—changed the way I feel and think.
What price can I put on that kind of influence?
I praise the wisdom of God for sending me to Bordentown, New Jersey to find this “helper ideally suited” to a man like me. (See Genesis 2:18.)
So, now you know about my freakin’ awesome wife. And why I really am the man lucky enough to be married to her. She is my queen. Perhaps she had no idea how inspired the saying on that T-shirt was!
May she be an inspiration as one who has climbed and keeps climbing—the Savior’s way.
Estimated Reading Time:
6 – 7 minutes