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Amid 20-year battle with lupus, she searched the Scriptures

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–She couldn’t move. No one heard her cries for help. She was trapped. A prisoner of her own bed.

Jennie Steele Martin laid in utter pain and panic for hours until her mother got up to get ready for work. Only then, did she hear her daughter’s pleas.

Martin, then an energetic 19-year-old student at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., was home in Nevada, Mo., in the summer of 1983 when she mysteriously became temporarily paralyzed. Earlier that year, she had experienced stiff joints, back pain and chronic fatigue — but she had not seen a doctor.

“My drive to continue doing ‘normal’ things probably boiled down to stubbornness,” Martin said from her home in Kansas City, where she now lives with her husband, Mike. “I kept a full load of classes, and I participated on the speech and debate team. I even took up jogging and thought about joining the track team.” She also continued serving as a youth leader at her home church, Pine Street Baptist Church in her hometown.

Her diagnosis, however, proved grim: lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disorder, which means the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against its own body. There is no cure, but the illness can be controlled with medication.

The magnitude of this chronic disease did not register with Martin. “I figured I could just pop my medication, get more sleep and then carry on with my life,” she said. “It never occurred to me to quit college or to do anything else but pursue my degree. I just kept going. What else would I have done?

“No matter what, a person has to go on living. I was going to do that until God took me home. And I wasn’t going to do it sitting in a chair watching life. I had been given one to live.”

Within two years of her diagnosis, though, she found herself on the brink of death — twice. Her first brush with death involved kidney failure, for which she later received a transplant from her brother, Melvin Steele.

Her second brush with death was in 1986. She was hospitalized with a rare form of fungal meningitis. “At first we thought it was merely the lupus getting out of control again,” Martin recalled. “But lupus is treated by depleting the immune system so that the body does not attack itself, namely the major organs of the body. When my immune system gets really low, it is much easier to pick up infections or bacteria.”

Looking back, Martin said she didn’t even realize the seriousness of what was happening at first. “I was too sick, and the medication for pain made me drowsy much of the time,” she said. “Later, I became quite fearful that I would die in my sleep in the hospital. I was so afraid that I would die and not know that I was dying.”

After weeks in the hospital lying on what could have been her deathbed, Martin emerged with a clearer picture of the brevity of life. “I wanted to live life as fully as possible, and more so, because I considered that I was on a prorated schedule. If I was going to die young, I had to cram everything in as quickly as possible.”

Martin had graduated from SBU in 1985 and was pursuing a master’s degree in counseling psychology at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University, which she finished in 1986. However, her demanding schedule, frequent hospitalizations and numerous medications had taken a toll on her spiritual life. Martin, a Christian since childhood, became angry with God.

“I started searching the Scriptures for answers,” Martin said. “I wanted to find out why all of this was happening. The inspired Word of God has given many generations the hope for which I was searching. But I had to make it personal. I made some incredible discoveries that made me want to jump into the Savior’s arms for comfort and reassurance.”

Part of her scriptural research involved the story in John 5 of the man Jesus healed at the Pool of Bethesda. This story is where she derived the name of her new book, “Another at the Pool: When Healing Doesn’t Come.”

“I had always assumed Jesus healed everyone he encountered during his time on earth until I really studied this Scripture at length,” she said. “Jesus only healed one man out of many by the pool who were suffering from physical ailments. I discovered there are many stories in the Bible in which faith has no direct correlation with whether an individual is healed. That meant I was not somehow at fault for not being healed.”

She noted one problem is that Christians have equated healing with spirituality. “We think that healing is the ultimate gift,” she said. “Instead, the gentle hand of God, through his Spirit, is trying to remind us that the final, best, forever kind of healing only takes place when we reach heaven. And the journey there is a time of learning and growing and drawing near to the Savior.”

In her book, Martin emphasizes that God does not love those less whom he does not heal here on earth. “The ultimate faith is when we realize the genesis of that faith is not in the healing, for that is misplaced; it’s in the Healer, for he is the source.”

Martin, now 39, still battles the effects of lupus every day. She works half days as a medical social worker for the Samuel U. Rodgers Community Health Center in Kansas City, accepts various speaking engagements on chronic illness and has become a published author on matters related to troubled and abused children. She also teaches Sunday School and sings in the choir at her current church, Johnson County Christian Church in Overland Park, Kan.

But she must rest every afternoon and take medication regularly. Over the years, she has had a kidney transplant, a bout with cancer caused by her lupus medication and regular trips to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Martin’s book is available at the SBU bookstore by calling (417) 328-1530 or online at www.sapphirevisions.com. She can contacted at (816) 943-9778 or [email protected]. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FAITH DESPITE LUPUS, ANOTHER AT THE POOL, COWORKERS, PLACE OF SERVICE and LUPUS NOT WITHSTANDING.

Facts about lupus:
— Lupus symptoms can include achy joints, arthritis, prolonged or extreme fatigue, skin rashes, anemia, sun or light sensitivity, hair loss, mouth or nose ulcers and seizures.
— More than 16,000 Americans — primarily women — develop lupus each year. It is estimated that 500,000 to 1.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with lupus.
— For more information, contact the Lupus Foundation of America at 1300 Piccard Drive, Suite 200, Rockville, MD 20850; phone 1-800-558-0121; or visit their website at www.lupus.org.

    About the Author

  • Stacey Hamby