Exiled by MCS: A Survivor’s Perspective

By Janine Ridings

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

One of the most inspiring people I have met since having MCS is a woman by the name of Linda Reinhardt. Linda Reinhardt is a survivor. Back in 1998 when I was chemically injured on an airline, I was at a desperate point in my life where I needed hope and encouragement. At that time Linda’s ministry, The Jeremiah Project, provided many resources that gave me the perspective I needed to face the future. I have spoken with Linda on the phone and corresponded with her, and have found her to be a godly woman of strength and character. Recently I asked her if I could share her story, in hopes of inspiring other people with MCS who may be facing insurmountable circumstances. Linda gave me permission to do this, and as you read her story I hope you will be blessed by her faith and perseverance. Here is her incredible story.

Linda’s story begins back in 1987 while she was vacationing in Florida. At that point in her life, Linda was accustomed to the “good life.” She was able to participate freely in mainstream society and had a lot of the material comforts many in the United States take for granted. One fateful night in Florida, however, Linda’s life would be changed forever. As she slept by an open window on the last night of her vacation, a plane flew overhead spraying the pesticide malathion. The pesticide drifted into where Linda was sleeping, poisoning her. Later that day Linda experienced anaphylactic shock and had a near brush with death. Due to her exposure to malathion, Linda suffered severe lung and immune system damage. In addition, she became chemically sensitive and could not tolerate being around perfume and other petrochemicals. It took a long time, but Linda slowly recovered from this incident and was eventually able to return to a somewhat normal lifestyle even though she still had to be careful about chemical exposures. Prior to her poisoning, Linda had a degree in Religion and was a certified Christian counselor. After her chemical injury, she felt a call from God to return to school to get two additional degrees. She went ahead and completed a degree in Religion and Philosophy and a Master of Divinity degree from a Presbyterian seminary.

In 1995, after completing seminary, Linda was forced to leave the city due to the pollution there. She and her husband bought five acres of property in Canyon Lake, Texas, an isolated area between the cities of San Antonio and Austin. They had plans to build a “safe” home there and started developing the property, drilling a well and installing a septic tank. While building their “safe” home, they bought Linda an Airstream trailer to live in that had previously been owned by someone with MCS. The trailer had been gutted and had no kitchen or bathroom. Additionally, it had no electricity or running water. It was basically a shell with the interior covered with Denny foil where Linda was able to hang a few clothes and store a cot where she could sleep. During this time, Linda was able to use the bathroom and shower in the “safe” house they were building, so that was a blessing to her.

In 1996, in spite of all her health and housing challenges, Linda was ordained by the Presbyterian Church to oversee the Jeremiah Project, a nationwide ministry to other chemically injured people. Since it’s inception, the Jeremiah Project has provided many services to those with MCS including a tape ministry, support groups, a quarterly newsletter, and educational materials which are pertinent to those with MCS. In addition, for a period of time when Linda’s health allowed it, she held outdoor services for others like herself who could not tolerate chemicals found in traditional church services. Over the years, the Jeremiah Project has ministered to over 2,000 people, sharing the hope and love of Jesus with them.

Two years after starting the Jeremiah Project, Linda’s health took a turn for the worst. One of the neighbors who lived south of her became a heavy equipment operator, using his property as a base of operation. He installed two 500-gallon tanks of diesel on his property which were less than 300 feet away from Linda’s trailer. At first, Linda couldn’t seem to smell the diesel, but as time went on Linda became more sensitive to it. Being exposed to the diesel day after day had an impact on Linda’s health, and one day in the summer of 1999 she became very ill and collapsed. Following this incident she was forced to flee from her property for her health and safety. A neighbor who lived across the street owned a fifteen-acre plot which she let Linda camp on for the summer where she was safe from the diesel. As summer ended and the weather started turning cold, Linda needed a shelter so she moved back into her trailer on her own property.

By February 2000, the diesel fumes again began to take their toll on Linda’s health and she started vomiting daily about every forty minutes. This went on for an entire year during which time she became very dehydrated. She lost about sixty pounds and was so weak she could barely walk or talk. Her doctor told her that her case was hopeless, and that she should prepare to die. At this point Linda was so sick and her quality of life was so poor that she lost her will to live. Wanting to die, she thought that Easter would be a special day to go home to be with the Lord. Easter that year came and went however, so Linda realized it wasn’t her time to go. God had other plans for her.

During this time Linda’s faithful husband, who goes by the name “Texas Bob” would not give up on the possibility of his wife’s recovery. He began to search for a doctor who would be willing to help Linda. Many of the doctors that saw Linda said they could not help her and most gave her a death sentence. Finally Texas Bob located a nutritionist who was willing to treat Linda. The nutritionist told her that he would not be able to help her unless she moved off the property, so Linda and Texas Bob moved to some acreage owned by a Presbyterian camp where they currently live. The camp owns 300 acres and they allow Linda and Texas Bob to use five of those acres. Linda has moved her trailer there and is somewhat isolated, but at times she can still smell fumes from tractors or other equipment drifting to her area of the campground. She has no electricity or running water, so the conditions she lives in are very difficult. She hasn’t had a shower in two years. During the summer in order to bathe, her husband will carry several buckets of water to her which he dumps over her so she can wash and rinse off her body. During the winter, however, it is too cold to do this so she basically just sponge bathes herself until the weather warms up again in the spring.

Winters present a challenge for Linda, as sometimes the temperature drops to seventeen degrees and ice forms inside Linda’s trailer. In the morning as the ice melts, Linda feels as though it is raining in her trailer. Summer is also challenging for Linda as the temperatures can hit 120 degrees during the heat of the day and remain as high as 100 degrees even at midnight. One of the few ways she has to keep cool is to lay under a tarp. Almost everyone in Texas has air conditioning but this is a luxury Linda must live without.

As far as how Linda spends her days, her options are extremely limited. She is unable to talk on the phone, watch television, listen to the radio or use computers as she becomes ill when exposed to these modern day pieces of equipment. In addition, she is unable to read or write as touching paper makes her vomit. She has tried at least twenty different types of paper, but so far has had no luck in finding one she can tolerate. Linda’s social life is very limited as a simple car ride will take her months to recover from. On average she may have one visitor per month, other than her husband who works during the day and visits her in the evenings. Some of Linda’s friends in the area have “safe” homes, but Linda is so sensitive she is unable to tolerate any of them. Linda’s main activity is thinking. She is working on a book about God’s unconditional love, so she rehearses it in her head in hopes of someday getting it published. Linda also spends some of her time in prayer for the needs of others.

At this point you may be wondering how Linda continues to press on while living in such dire circumstances. According to Linda, she keeps going by trying to keep her life in perspective. She refuses to judge her life by the unrealistic standards of our culture, as she believes we live in a culture of excess. She believes the way many Americans spend money is obscene in light of the fact that many throughout the world suffer greatly, and she feels America needs to wake up and be more concerned about those in third world countries. With the world population being around 6 billion people, Linda points out that about 4.8 billion of those people live in substandard conditions, often living without running water or electricity, and many have little or no shelter. Those with shelter may only have houses made out of cardboard boxes or tents. Linda thinks of all the refugees in Somalia and Afghanistan, and the thousands of people who die daily in Africa from AIDS, and is thankful her conditions are not as bad as theirs. She points out that many of those people don’t even have food, clean water to drink or access to medical care. One of Linda’s keys to perseverance is having a thankful heart.

Another thing that helps Linda persevere is knowing that her hope is not in this world but in the life to come. Revelation 21:3-4 says,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”

Linda recognizes that this world is not where ultimate happiness will come, and so she looks forward with anticipation to the time when there will be no more sickness, pain or death.

Linda’s acceptance of suffering is another thing that helps her continue on in the midst of her circumstances. Linda points out that the Bible never teaches that this earth will be pain free. On the contrary, it talks a lot about the sufferings that we all will go through on this planet. Linda feels we need to stop thinking that God doesn’t love us if something bad happens to us. We will never totally understand God’s ways while on this planet, but Jesus can help us through our sufferings. Linda says that studies show that most Americans have a fifth grade maturity level or understanding of God. She sees the need for the church in general to grow up in their faith and knowledge of God. Linda says that the people who think you will be healed simply because you have enough faith have “immature faith.” Mature faith accepts the suffering God allows.

One last coping skill that enables Linda to face each day is her ability and willingness to be honest with God. Linda gets angry at her circumstances and she tells God about it. She echoes the cries of many of the writers in the Old Testament who ask, “How long, O Lord?” in response to their various trials. Linda asks questions such as, “When will this end? How much more sensitive will I get? How much longer can I keep putting my husband through this? Since we have no money how will we ever buy property? How are we ever going to leave this place?” Linda says there seems to be no solution to her problems, so all she can do is hope that God will work things out if He so chooses. If not, then she says she will just have to accept her suffering like many other people suffer throughout the world. She is realistic in knowing that there is always hope but there is also the possibility that the way she is living now just may be her lot in life. If that is the case, then she realizes she must make the best of each day, asking God to give her the grace to make it through, which she says He always does.

As I think of Linda’s honest questioning of God and acceptance of her circumstances, a couple of passages written by Habakkuk come to mind. In Habakkuk’s day, the people of Judah worshipped false gods, moral corruption was rampant and violence and lawlessness abounded. Judah was in the midst of desperate conditions and yet it appeared to Habakkuk as though God was being silent and not doing anything to help bring justice to the situation. As a result, Habakkuk cries out to God and says,

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Later in the passage Habakkuk goes on to say,

“O Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, we will not die. O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment; O Rock, you have ordained to them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Habakkuk 1:12-13)

After all Habakkuk’s questioning and crying out to God, he ends the book with these thoughts:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Here we see Habakkuk being thankful even though his circumstances are grim. Habakkuk continued to hope in God even when life dealt him a difficult hand. Linda, like Habakkuk, has questioned God during difficult times but continues to have an unshakeable faith and trust in Him even while walking through dark circumstances. Linda has faced incredible adversity in the midst of having MCS yet her hope in God carries her through. Habakkuk 2:4b says,

“…but the righteous will live by his faith.”

My hope and prayer for all of you reading this story is that you, like Linda, will find courage, hope and strength through faith in Christ. No matter how desperate your circumstances might be, be honest with God, wait on Him and put your trust in Him. He will be there for you and carry you through the darkest night. He’s been there for Linda, and He will be there for you and me.

Note: Since this story was written, Linda Reinhardt went to be with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ on May 27, 2010. How wonderful for her to now be in the presence of the King of Kings!

Categories Special Subjects | Tags: | Posted on January 30, 2012

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