Being a hard worker, I did not mind working in the ministry and feeling like we were making it all happen. This was the case until summer missions season was upon us. 1998 was a big year for mission trips, and since Teen Mania had only been at the campus in Garden Valley for a short while, there was a problem of housing the missionaries during their training before leaving the country. The solution created to address the problem was a series of Quonset huts filled with 3-level high bunk beds from end to end as a kind of a temporary barracks for the missionaries. With only a couple of months before the missionaries arrived, how would these structures be built? Interns were already busily making phone calls, ordering visas, booking plane tickets, and arranging every last detail of the trips from breakfast to supper, when would we do this extra work? It was decided that since our workload would not be decreasing before the missionaries arrived, we would be expected to go after our full workdays into the “back forty” (the woods behind the developed part of the complex) to construct Quonset huts and carry and construct hundreds of bunk beds. Those were LONG, hard days that I remember falling into bed and getting too little sleep as our class work and memorizations had to be done before the day was through. Mornings came early, and quiet times could not be skipped. Never had I dreaded my time with God until this point. It had always been refreshment to me, a pleasure, not a chore. Having my time with God quantified and recorded to fulfill my “LAP” score, and my standing as a “good intern” was yet another red flag for me. I wrestled with feelings that this was not congruent with the spirit of the Lord who had saved me by grace.
Concurrently there seemed to be a consistent trend of interns during this time who were sent home for not fulfilling the expectations of an intern, or for having feelings for members of the opposite gender, or for expressing their opinions too boldly and not being teachable enough. We all kind of feared that if we slipped up that we’d be the next to get sent home to have to explain to all of our sponsors why we had let them down and wasted their money. Again, this undercurrent of needing to fulfill an image to gain the approval and acceptance of TM staff (and God), ran deep and troubled me even more deeply.
Having spent a great deal of time in the woods putting together buildings and bunk beds, I have distinct memories of brushing off the ticks that would fall from the trees onto my fellow interns backs while they were hauling bunk beds. We tried to stay away from the biting red ants, but no one ever mentioned that ticks were a risk in this part of the country. Tick bite prevention was not on anyone’s mind, and we all seemed so focused on keeping a good attitude and working as hard as we could, that insect bites only seemed to detract from cheerfully fulfilling our duties as interns. We were taught to “beat our body and make it our slave.” Weakness was not permissible.
During this time, my body began to weaken. We had been working 16 hour days for several weeks, and getting little sleep. The fact that I felt myself getting ill did not really surprise me, given our routines, but yet I did not feel able to share my struggle, for fear of being thought spiritually immature. I have a distinct memory of waking one morning with a horrible splitting headache and struggling to get to breakfast and chapel. A young man held the door open for me as I walked into chapel and offered the cordial “How are you?” Being quite affected by this headache, and also sometime being too honest, I said, “I’ve got a terrible headache this morning”. His response floored me. No sympathy or condolences, but simply “Why don’t you just claim your healing?” I was taken aback. This was my fault! *I* had not done enough to make God remove my discomfort. Again, it came back to my performance and my spirituality alleviate the discomfort. I knew that this was poisonous teaching, but it was everywhere and I became afraid.
The headache was a precursor to a flu-like malady that rendered me more tired by the day, and unable to fulfill my roles as an intern. I went to the doctor in Lindale and was diagnosed with an enlarged spleen and a quick monospot tested positive. I was told that I had mononucleosis and that my spleen had become so enlarged that I was at risk of rupturing it and bleeding internally. My ribs hurt, and I felt horrible, but how could I be sick without being judged? I went through the motions, pretending that I would be going to work, but laid in bed with a note pinned to the inside of my shirt with my insurance information and the simple message that “If I am unconscious, I am bleeding internally, please call 911.” Alone I laid in bed, terrified that I would die without anyone knowing I was even sick, or that they would find out I was sick and apply the “infirmity=iniquity” argument to my case and condemn me for living in unconfessed sin. It was more than I could take, I called my parents across the country and they agreed to come and take me home. Shortly after (and before my parents even left their state), I began having sharp pains and feared the worst – that my spleen had ruptured. I had to ask one of my roommates with a car to come home and take me to the ER immediately. I also remember making her promise not to judge me or to tell anyone else what was going on. Thankfully she agreed on both accounts, and I ended up spending the day in the hospital on IV fluids and undergoing testing to ensure that my spleen was still intact (it was! Just really painful!). The rest of the details are fuzzy to me as I was so fatigued during that time that I was sleeping a lot. I do remember that my parents came swiftly and gathered my things while my roommates were on their mission trips and away at work. I never told my story to more than a small handful of trusted friends who promised not to pass judgment or tell. And just like that, my internship experience was over.
The time following the internship led me to a lot of self-doubt and wondering what I really did believe. Was there validity in what the Teen Mania Interns were being taught? Who was God, and was he really so formulaic, and impressed by my claims for healing? Why were there so many sick people in the world if this was the way it really worked? Why did this not line up with the mercy, grace and joy in following God that I had been taught? My mother was certain that my illness was God’s way of allowing me to escape Teen Mania, and I have to say that I’m inclined to believe the same.
Fast forward 13 years. I have dealt with chronic and variable aches, pains, migraines, double vision, tremors, muscular weakness, hormone problems, GI issues, and the like since that time. Numerous doctors have been unable to diagnose, but we know that it all started with the “mono” case at TM. After dozens of doctors, and what seems like hundreds of blood tests, and many inconclusive diagnoses (such as Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression, etc) I now know that while working in the woods at Teen Mania, one of the distinctive “Lone Star Ticks” that fell from the trees in such great quantity, bit my ankle. I developed a small cyst on my ankle following that time at TM and was unable to figure out a cause, until my doctor diagnosed it as a dermato fibroma, caused by a tick mouth or body lodged in my skin. I was tested for Lyme and its co-infections and first tested positive for Ehrlichia Chaffeensis. This is a rare co-infection that is carried by the Lone Star Tick that resides primarily in Texas (I have only been in Colorado since and we have no such tick-borne illness here). My test for Lyme/Borreliosis came back positive shortly after. The mono diagnosis had, in fact, been a mis-diagnosis. I suffered with chronic illness for 13 years with no diagnosis, and all along it had been my time at Teen Mania and the ignorance of the dangers of not listening to your body that had caused it.
I am currently in treatment for Lyme/Borreliosis/Ehrlichia Chaffeensis, and very ill from the medication and the advanced stage of this disease. In addition to my health, this disease has also cost me tens of thousands of dollars spent on treatment. There is so much I wish I could tell interns today and then. I wish so much that we had been warned of the dangers of ticks (especially those of us who were completely unaware of the dangers ticks present), that we had been encouraged to listen to our bodies instead of “beating them and making them our slaves,” but mostly I wish that we had shared in the knowledge and the joy of being loved unconditionally by a gracious God because THAT makes all the difference.