By Shirley Gould
Feb. 10, 2013
Have you ever had a bad year? From 2010 into 2011, my husband, J.R., and I faced one of those seasons when we had to tie a proverbial knot in the end of our rope and hang on.
We had enjoyed 20 years as pastors and then 14 years in Africa as missionaries before J.R. took on a series of assignments for the Tennessee District of the Assemblies of God — HonorBound (Men’s Ministries) director, district secretary-treasurer, district superintendent. Dealing with difficult financial and pastoral issues across Tennessee added to J.R.’s workload as superintendent.
By January 2010, J.R. was severely burned out. Two weeks of rest and some deliberate attempts to manage the stress of his assignment improved his condition. He continued to give his best to the task. But after he led our annual district council in April, we needed to take a sabbatical. His physical and emotional condition was deteriorating daily.
Within a few weeks, J.R. Gould — a man of strength, an accomplished speaker, a prolific writer and an incredible leader — could no longer preach, read, write an email, answer his phone, drive a car, or watch television.
We went from one diagnosis to the next, seeing doctor after doctor in search of an answer.
In July, doctors suggested J.R. might be infected with a parasite. This matched a list of symptoms that included insomnia, paranoia, weakness, excessive weight loss, memory loss and severe anxiety attacks.
By the first week of August, J.R.’s condition was degrading every day. During an ambulance ride, the emergency medical technician became convinced J.R. was having a heart attack. They worked with him as sirens blared and lights flashed on their way to the hospital. Thankfully, it was an intense anxiety attack rather than his heart.
Desperate for answers, J.R. signed himself into Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. It was the darkest day of our lives. Because of the anxiety attack, the medical team called for intense psychiatric testing. Again, a small piece of encouraging news — there was nothing wrong with J.R. mentally.
“This is not a psychiatric illness. His problem is organic,” a doctor told us.
Tests followed for an array of diseases. The Vanderbilt team contacted every physician we had seen and brought in additional experts in search of a diagnosis. An MRI revealed dark spots on J.R.’s brain, but an exact cause eluded the doctors. Though J.R. continued to worsen every day, he was released from the hospital because he rested better at home.
We continued our search for a clear diagnosis. After parasite medication, J.R.’s condition improved slightly. We went to Emerge Counseling Services in Akron, Ohio, and that ministry helped him develop a plan of action to re-enter the workplace. In November J.R. tried returning to work. The attempt was unsuccessful, and he again took a turn for the worse.
After more parasite medication, J.R. regained some ground but continued to lose weight and endure severe anxiety attacks. Every day was a struggle through the holiday season as his heart-wrenching episodes continued. The lengthy ordeal took a toll on the entire family.
As we began our journey into 2011, I spent another day in the emergency room at Vanderbilt. I felt so discouraged. But the Lord reminded me of a yellow fever vaccine J.R. had been given on April 12, 2010. I contacted the doctors, and they met with the head of infectious diseases to consider the possibility of a bad vaccine causing J.R.’s illness.
Our situation remained desperate. In mid-January 2011, J.R.’s skin had a gray cast to it. Without a miracle, we would have to go back to the hospital.
I took J.R. to a revival meeting in Knoxville. Many of our ministers gathered, and after fasting and much prayer J.R. slowly began to improve. The severe anxiety attacks came to an end, though his other symptoms continued. Because he was clearly unable to work, we wrote a letter in February and took his name off the ballot for superintendent at the upcoming district council in April.
At our next visit to Vanderbilt, we were told oxidative stress had activated dormant parasites J.R. had picked up during his missions work. Doctors also diagnosed his condition as vaccine-induced encephalitis of the brain — from which some patients never recover.
But on a sunny afternoon in March, the Lord touched J.R. It was a divine miracle! From that moment, he began to get well: He was hungry, and could use his phone, watch television and use his computer. All anxiety and stress were gone. J.R. was on the road to complete recovery.
On April 1, a neurologist at Vanderbilt did a layered MRI of J.R.’s brain. His report: All the dark spots were gone.
At our next visit, a physician at Vanderbilt was surprised at the sudden improvement in J.R.’s health. She asked him, “What do you attribute your good health to?”
He smiled, “You may not understand this, but I’ve had a lot of people praying for me.”
Many have asked how I made it through this ordeal as J.R.’s caregiver. I tell them I tied a knot in the end of my rope and hung on.
But what happens when the trial grows in intensity and seems to never end? What if the situation is looking darker every day, and the rope we’re holding is getting frayed and weak?
What do we do? We keep hanging on to the frayed knot — without fear. Our God is still on the throne. He heals and delivers His people. He will see us through.
My husband and I have witnessed a miracle. We know the prayers of our friends and family around this world touched heaven. Because believers went to their knees, today J.R. is standing strong, proclaiming the good news again.
SHIRLEY GOULD, a licensed AG minister, lives in Cross Plains, Tenn.
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