Walking Through Traumatic Stress With Faith
Only soldiers experience PTSD, right? Not necessarily. Licensed counselor Ron Deal talks about the physical and emotional effects of traumatic stress, and Tracy Lane shares her experience regarding her daughter's heart surgeries.
About the Guest
- Follow Tracy Lane on her blog at https://heartforannie.wordpress.com/.
- Counseling Ministries at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation: Walking Together in Grace and Truth
- 10 Ways to Help Parents With Grieving Hearts
- Grief: Finding Hope in the Darkness
- Staying Strong in the Midst of Suffering
- When Life Doesn't Seem Fair
- How God Uses Suffering for His Glory
- 'I'm Sorry ... It's Her Heart'
- 10 Ways to Help Parents of Children With Special Needs
- Anxiety: How Can I Cope?
Licensed counselor Ron Deal talks about the physical and emotional effects of traumatic stress, and Tracy Lane shares her experience regarding her daughter’s heart surgeries.
Walking Through Traumatic Stress With Faith
Michelle: We all have stress in our life. Sometimes stress can be good; but sometimes, stress can be destructive. Here’s my friend, Tracy Lane.
Tracy: Even when it seemed like a normal day at home—when we’re not in the hospital; we’re not going to a doctor’s appointment—the ongoing stress that’s in our lives—that is a burden that I carry.
Michelle: There are some surprising places that stress hides—like in the mind of a mom, whose three-year-old daughter was born with half a heart. We’re going to talk about PTSD—that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—in families on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, when we hear the four words, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” or PTSD, sometimes we think of a soldier, who has gone to war and has come face to face with battle. We think of firefighters, or we think of a plane crash. We think of those events that are bigger than life, and they trigger memories; and nightmares occur. Sometimes it’s the sounds or smells that can take us back in time; maybe we avoid certain people or places.
Today, we’re going to talk about, maybe, some of those smaller tragedies. I want to be very careful how we handle this conversation; because I don’t want to think less than of those big events, and those smaller events—they are just as painful. There’s still a lot of suffering that goes alongside, but it’s an unseen suffering.
I can’t handle this conversation by myself. I’ve invited two of my friends and co-workers, here, at FamilyLife® to join me. First of all is Ron Deal. Ron, you are the head/the Director of FamilyLife Blended®. You also have—what is it?—25 years of counseling?
Ron: Yes; yes.
Michelle: That’s why I called on you today to come in and help us shed some light on that.
I’ve also invited my friend and co-worker, Tracy Lane. She’s a writer, here at FamilyLife; and she’s a wife and a mom; and a mom of a special little girl, Annie. We’ll hear a little bit of Annie’s story a little bit later on. Tracy, thanks for being here.
Tracy: Thank you for having me on today.
Michelle: Ron, can you help us understand: “What is PTSD?”
Ron: You know, when it comes to traumatic events, we like to talk about the “little t” events and the “big T” events.
Ron: You did a good job in your opening comments. “Little t” events are when you have a fender bender; it’s when your pet dies; it’s when you’ve lost a job. That’s traumatic, in a sense.
Ron: How traumatic depends upon you—how you absorb that; the resources you have available to you: “Do you have any extra money in the bank after you lose that job?” or “Do you have nothing in the bank?” There are a number of things that impact just how significant any traumatic event is.
“Big T” traumatic events are things that, even from the outside, you say, “Oh, yes! That’s awful!”—you know, a natural disaster. It’s one thing to have your house burn down; it’s another thing to be in the house when it’s burning down; right?
Michelle: Oh, yes.
Ron: The impact of events varies from case to case. But at its heart, a stressful event is something that shakes you; it kind of stirs you. If you were standing on a large bridge—like, you know, a bridge that cars are on or something—and all of a sudden there was a huge wind or a flood, and the bridge began to move, that’s stress in our life. If the bridge collapses with you on it, that’s trauma; right?
PTSD is when you wake up two weeks later—two months later; six months later—and you still feel like you’re falling and the bridge is falling, and you don’t know what you’re going to land on.
Michelle: Oh, that’s tough!
Michelle: Now, Tracy, you’re nodding your head. This is something that you, obviously, know or you, at least, agree with Ron on. I know, from just walking past your cube every so often, that you and your family have gone through some traumatic events over the last three years with your daughter, Annie. Can you explain a little bit about that with us?
Tracy: Yes, we’ve experienced that in our family. When we were pregnant with our second child, we were so excited to go and have the gender-reveal ultrasound.
Tracy: And that’s really what I was expecting from the ultrasound—was to find out if we were having another girl; it’s what I was hoping for.
We did find out we were having another girl that day; but our doctor also told us that there’s something wrong with her heart. There was something so wrong with her heart, that the next day, at 8:00 am, we needed to go to a specialist and have it checked out. That’s where we say there’s a “before” and “after” in our lives.
Tracy: Before that day, we were just a regular, typical family, stressed over what time my husband was going to be home, what I was fixing for dinner, what my year-and-a-half old was going to wear to church on Sunday. That day changed everything for us.
The following day at the specialist’s, he did confirm that something was wrong with Annie’s heart; and he encouraged us to terminate the pregnancy. We were just under 20 weeks. He told us that he didn’t know her diagnosis, but that she likely wouldn’t live to be born; and whatever she had would certainly be incompatible with life after her birth, if she lived to be born.
We chose not to terminate the pregnancy that day; but we needed to find out more about what her diagnosis was, so we agreed to some tests. He called me six days later to tell me: “It does look like she may be able to live until she’s born. There are no chromosomal abnormalities, but there’s definitely something wrong with her heart.”
We went on to get a heart echo at our local children’s hospital. That day, they confirmed she has only half of a heart. The left side of her heart never formed; she only has half of her heart. Again, that day, they encouraged us to terminate Annie’s life.
I think both of those days stand out, too; because when you hear something is wrong with your child’s heart, you think, “Well, there’s something they can do about it,”—you know?
Michelle: They’re doctors!
Tracy: Right! “We’re in the modern medicine age. They know what to do!” But when two different specialists, who should know what to do, suggest aborting your child, you realize how significant the defect is.
Michelle: Yes. Now, Annie has had two open-heart surgeries so far?
Tracy: Yes; Annie has undergone two open-heart surgeries: one when she was five days old and one when she was three months old. Actually, next week, she’ll be undergoing her third open-heart surgery; and she’s three years old right now.
Michelle: Wow! How hard was that?—to give your newborn off to the doctors and know that they’re going to crack open her chest and work on that heart that’s not working?
Tracy: The interesting part that helped prepare me for that was, during my pregnancy, I considered not loving her—I tried to not in the beginning. I didn’t want anyone to have showers for us, because I didn’t know if she would live. We weren’t going to put the crib together.
And then it was like, “How could you do that?!” I mean, she was growing! Every time we would go and have an ultrasound, I would see her moving; and we were praying for her. It was like, “No, that choice [to not love her] wasn’t going to work.”
Tracy: So I kind of went the other way and decided, if she was worth loving, she was worth loving all the way. Those first moments were hard, but it was like I had committed that I could do what I needed to do.
Tracy: The most I could love her was let someone else have her, who could take better care of her than I could, at that time.
Michelle: Wow, Tracy! I’ve sort of lived through this story with you; but even hearing you retell it, my healthy heart is just heavy for your family right now.
Ron, I heard a dozen PTSD-inducing memories in that story.
Ron: Yes, it’s not just one event for them. It is one event after another, after another, after another; they’re all tied together.
We’re going to hear more about Tracy’s story and more about PTSD and how we can love others in our community, who are walking through that. We need to take a break, but we’ll come back in two minutes. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. I’m joined in the studio today by Ron Deal and also Tracy Lane. We are talking about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Just before the break, Tracy was telling us about her three-year-old, who will be going in for heart surgery in just a week. I’ve got to say that this little toddler is just so full of life! She’s a chunky little girl; she is a happy little girl. She’s got beautiful, beautiful blonde curls.
When I look at the Lane family, I do not see tragedy; I do not see suffering; I do not see any part—it’s hidden. Help me understand what it is you deal with every day.
Tracy: Yes; it was actually in February of this year. It was a tough day, and we were seeking some other opinions on Annie’s care. We had been receiving some emails back from the doctors who we had reached out to.
It was time for me—I was going to take the kids out to dinner at Panera. We were buckling up in the car, and it was like I heard myself and saw myself just yelling at my children about getting their car seats buckled. When I turned around to look at Annie and Audrey, their eyes are just huge!—like, “What have I done?!” They were buckling the car seats—not, clearly, as fast as I thought it should happen—but nothing had really gone wrong.
It was like hearing myself and seeing myself—I thought: “It’s not about the car seats,” and “I know what it’s about.” It was the first time where I really stopped and was able to recognize the ongoing stress that is in our lives, even when it seemed like a normal day at home—when we’re not in the hospital; we’re not going to the doctor’s appointment—that is a burden that I carry.
Just being able to recognize it that day started where I was able to make changes, too—where I was able to begin the healing from it that I’m still working through right now.
Ron: You know, that’s the moment, where you recognize: “Okay, I’m irritable. I’m easily set off. All the stuff that’s going on deep in my heart is just below the surface. It doesn’t take much to tap into that, and then it just explodes.”
In recognizing that, you began to understand: “Yes, this is hard! This is stressful. I need to pay attention to this part of me that’s under duress.” That’s so important!—right? People who won’t allow themselves that sort of pain—
Ron: —Michelle, that just locks them up even more. It cuts them off from outsiders and resource: people in the church community, who can help; pastoral support. I’ve got to recognize it in me, and then I can ask for help.
Michelle: Tracy, what have you been doing? I mean, now that you noticed that, what have you been doing for that?
Tracy: A lot less yelling. [Laughter] Thankfully! My husband and kids are very glad about that.
Michelle: Have you sought help in that?
Michelle: Or is it more of the fact that you just said, “I’ve got to stop”?
Tracy: No; that day, I said, “I have to get help.” It’s exactly what you said, Ron; so I sought help. I went and saw a counselor, who I had seen just different times over the years. It was funny because he said: “I’m surprised it took you three years to come sit in this chair. [Laughter] I expected to see you a lot sooner!”
That very first session, he said, “It is so hard—what you’re going through.” I just sat there and cried. He said, “You can admit that it’s hard,”—exactly what you’re saying. I started going every couple of weeks—just having honest conversations and having someone else give me encouragement. I mean, my friends do that; my husband does that; but it’s different having an official person say, “You can admit this is hard.”
Ron: You know, if I could jump in there, because—for the people, who are listening right now—what I would want to say is: “You can do what Tracy’s counselor did. First, he recognized how hard it was. He validated that it’s difficult in an ongoing crisis; and at the same time, he shared hope.”
Ron: You know what? It doesn’t take a therapist; I is one of those. [Laughter]
Ron: But it doesn’t take one of us to do that!
Ron: Friends can do this; people at church can—you know, just reach out! It’s loving your neighbor; that’s what it is.
But I think there’s great importance in the balance. Sometimes, at church, we err on one side or the other. You know, we just dive into all the pain, and we commiserate with someone; but then we don’t share hope. Or in faith communities, oftentimes, we turn toward hope: “Yes, but God is good; right, Tracy? So it’s not that bad.” No! We don’t want to do that either; right?
Ron: There need to be both sides of this, because both are true.
If you’re listening today, and this is somebody you know, it’s really that simple. If you can, just kind of meet them where they are in their pain; and at the same time, just pray with them and turn toward God; and know that, somehow, God provides strength. That’s really a lot.
Michelle: Yes, that is a lot.
You’re nodding your head and agreeing with that, Tracy. What are you thinking?
Tracy: Well, I think the most important part is—if you see someone going through that, you know how to help them. Before someone admits they’re going through that, they’re not very help-able.
I think, if you’re someone going through that, I would want you to hear: “It’s hard, and it’s okay to say that it’s hard. The moment you can is when it can start getting easier.” That’s what I experienced.
Ron: You know, Michelle, Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.” Sometimes it’s the broken-hearted who need to recognize that the Lord is close, see?
Ron: So every time she walks into a room, and she says that, she’s reminded, “God is here, and He cares.”
Ron: Sometimes we just disconnect ourselves from the truth that God does deeply care about our hurt and our pain. You know, John 11—Jesus weeping with Mary and Martha over Lazarus—that’s so profound; you know? He knew what was coming next: He knew He was going to raise him back to life; and yet, this is a moment of sadness and sorrow.
Ron: So God is with us in these hard things/in these traumatic events in our lives. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that He’s there.
Michelle: Right; right. Sometimes He uses friends to help us out, just like you said.
Michelle: It doesn’t always take a therapist; sometimes it’s a friend.
Michelle: And so, I’m wondering, Tracy, what are like two or three things that friends or family have said that have helped you through this?
Tracy: Well, I think of my sister; she’s been so great! Anytime I need to talk to someone, she’s available. Even this morning, I called her on the way to work. I said, “I’m stressed about this next week, and this thing feels like it’s going to be complicated. And this…” “You’re right! That sounds like it’s going to be really hard,”—she said—“Now, can I pray with you?” So both of those—just the listening and not saying: “Oh, you must not be trusting God enough,” or “You must be too focused on other people,” or “You want this to be convenient,”—
Tracy: —none of that!
Listening, and then praying, and leading me back to truth.
There’s another friend, who I remember texting during a time we were in the hospital for a long time. We were continuing to get bad news day after day. Annie was eight weeks old; we were really scared that we were going to lose her. We had gotten a test back again, and it was bad news again! Everyone had been praying, and everyone was trusting God for a miracle; we were all believing enough!—you know, all the formulas that you put together.
The test came back poorly. I texted this friend and said, “This was the news, and I don’t get it. We’ve all been praying. I don’t know why it’s not working.” I actually had copied and pasted that to several other friends, who were asking for updates. This one friend responded and said, “I don’t get it either, but I’m going to keep praying.” I mean, that was huge!
Everyone else who I had texted that to—it was three or four people; not a whole lot—the others texted back Bible verses: “Be joyful; patient in affliction.” [Laughter] I’m like, “YOU try to be patient right here, right now! I haven’t slept in my own bed in a month!”—you know?
I mean, it’s okay for friends to admit it’s hard, listen, and still lead to the truth.
Michelle: Ron, I’m also thinking about me, as a friend to Tracy, and all that she is going through. How can I enter that hard place with her? I mean, it’s awkward.
Ron: Yes; yes.
Michelle: It’s awkward as I look and I’m like: “This is so hard! This is beyond anything I have ever experienced; I wouldn’t know what to say”; how do I help my friend?
Ron: You know, I always think it’s okay to ask. You know, you can say things like, “Hey, I want to bring up Annie.” You know, I like to do it this way: “There’s part of me that wants to bring up and ask you about Annie, and how that’s going. There’s another part of me that thinks, ‘I don’t want to—
Michelle: “I don’t want to make you cry today.”
Ron: “’I don’t want to make you cry today,’ and I don’t know if the timing is good for you or not. I’m just not sure.”
Ron: See, what you’ve done is you’ve talked around it, but you’ve empowered Tracy to tell you what she needs. Sometimes, people going through trauma do want to talk, right now/right here. And sometimes, they do need a break. You can’t always know. It’s okay not to know; ask! Let them tell you what they need.
She might come back and say: “You know, sometimes, I definitely want to talk; but right now, I just need a break. Ask me tomorrow.” “Okay, I’ll ask you tomorrow.” And then you change the subject and go on to something else. Or she just spills out, and it comes out. You listen and you go: “I’m just so sorry. I’m here; I’m with you. I can’t imagine what that’s like.”
You just kind of enter the pain, you know? That doesn’t feel like much, but it’s really a lot; because then she knows she’s not alone.
Ron: That’s the value of that.
Michelle: Now, Tracy, as you’re preparing for next week, what are the feelings going on inside you right now?
Tracy: Yes; we have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us. We’ve had a lot of bad news in the past year-and-a-half about Annie. I think that both Matt and I are afraid. I think that we would be dishonest to say there’s not fear. There’s a lot of anxiety and even, in the past couple of days at our house, we’ve seen each other go back into our stress operating modes. That’s difficult; you know?
I think that we have concerns about our marriage as we head into this next week, because that’s when it’s hard—
Tracy: —is when everything else is hard. We have family that will be joining us for the trip, and that adds complexity. Then, we actually have concerns over whether or not Annie will live through this surgery. We have seen this trauma affect our older daughter; she’ll be there with us. We have concerns about how all of that will play out. I think, right now, it would be fair to say we feel overwhelmed with what’s ahead.
Tracy: But, even just this morning, as I was talking with a friend, I was reminded that I can choose to focus on the fear of what we’ve been through; or I can choose to hope in a God, who’s already there ahead of us. When He shows us things like—you know, the little rainbows or just the kindness of the timing of a trip that our family just got to take—those are reminders of: “He’s a safe God; we can lean into Him.” We don’t know how it ends, but we know there is hope and not just trauma up ahead for us.
Well, one thing I have seen, as I have witnessed your story—and if I can say this—because it has been a story of suffering, but it has been a story of beauty; because just as you have shared with me, several times, of how God has intervened in so many different ways, I’ve watched how you have relied so hard on Him.
As we’re wrapping things up, Ron, would you be able to pray for Tracy and Matt and Annie?
Ron: Yes, absolutely! And, you know, I’m going to close with your very words, because clearly you’re anxious—and you should be—about what’s coming.
Ron: At the same time, you’re casting your anxieties on God; that’s where our stability, in the midst of shaky ground, comes from. So let’s do that.
God, You are the God of comfort. You comfort us as only You know how. You also recognize that there are things that overwhelm us in life that we don’t have answers for—that we’re confused by/that we don’t like—that are painful for us. We so need to rely on You to see us through those things—to be with us, to comfort, to guide.
I pray that for Tracy and Matt—as they take their daughter for this surgery, that You would be with them/that You would be a constant reminder—a rainbow in the sky—that tells them that You’re there, and that You care deeply.
We pray for Annie—we pray for her well-being and that the surgery would go well and that You would be with the doctors and everyone who attends to her—that the surgery would go as well as it could.
God, that is our prayer for her; but if it doesn’t go well, I pray that You would deepen the faith of Tracy and Matt and their family, and that You would be with them in whatever happens—that they would constantly look to You and fall on You to be their source. In the name of Jesus we pray; amen.
[Laura Story singing Whisper]
Michelle: I sure hope that, as you’ve been listening to Tracy’s story today, and Ron leading us through understanding PTSD and suffering, that you’ve been encouraged. We have more resources on our website. Go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com. Also, there, we will keep you updated on Annie. Again, you can go to FamilyLifeThisWeek.com. Also there, we will have a link to Tracy’s blog, where she updates us on what is happening with Annie.
I want to thank the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. Thanks to our team who produced the show today. FamilyLife This Week is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Artist: Laura Story
Album: Open Hands ©March 3, 2017
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