It’s been a while…

Back in December I wrote a blog post about being diagnosed with scleroderma/systemic sclerosis. I wanted to just write a very brief update on what has been going on with all of that.

Last week I had an appointment with my mom’s rheumatologist in Wisconsin. He had graciously read my labs and offered to meet with me to discuss the results, perform a few more tests, and work with me after. I was so thankful for his offer and happily met with him!  

He sat and spoke with me for quite some time about my previous labs, the onset of my symptoms back in August, my current meds, and all the questions I had.  He informed me that my labs were not especially convincing to him and he wasn’t sure why certain labs were never performed. He offered to re-run some tests and do a few new ones. Of course I was willing!

Well, my labs came back with flying colors…just not really in the direction we were hoping.  A couple of the results were greater than or equal to the highest possible number. So that was discouraging. Then two other labs came back low that are usually associated with lupus. 

While the labs didn’t come out as I had hoped, I was thankful for more clarity. He did say that he didn’t feel comfortable giving me an official diagnosis. While my labs seem to strongly indicate an auto-immune disease (specifically Scleroderma) I have none of the clinical signs/symptoms…just very general symptoms that tend to show up in people of all auto immune diseases (chronic pain, digestive complaints, joint pain…etc).  So I will meet with him again in the summer and will likely keep him has my rheumy for future follow ups as long as it’s possible for me to make the treks to Wi.

So what’s the good news?

First and foremost, I have hope. While there is no cure for auto immune diseases and I may go through this for the rest of my life, this isn’t forever. I was talking to Josh and reflecting on how long 9 months of pregnancy felt and how the pain of labor felt unbearable. But the labor pains encouraged me that a new and better season was on its way. This auto immune disease may cause me some problems and may limit me…but the pain reminds me that Heaven is my true home and this season will pass away eventually and will be nothing but a memory and I’ll be able to say, “that was tough! It felt like it was going to never end but it did! Glad that’s over!”

I don’t have any clinical symptoms. While I know my numbers are high, it doesn’t have to mean that my disease will be more severe. A loved one told me that she has friends whose labs are just like mine and yet they rarely experience symptoms aside from a little pain here and there. That may very well end up being my story. 

I have a great support system. I have friends and family who genuinely care for me. I am so lucky to have that. I think about people who go through these illnesses alone or as a single parent and how much more difficult it would be. 

I also feel vindicated. I had plenty of people tell me that I was crazy and it was all in my head. That was pretty annoying and difficult to manage. The one benefit of really telling labs is that I can point to something and say, “see! I knew something didn’t seem right! I kept my nose to the ground and didn’t stop until I found some answers!” How freeing it feels to not have to listen to those who would only bring you down!

I have some wonderful prescriptions that are helping to manage my symptoms! I told my doctor just this week how thankful I am for one in particular. I had lost so much weight during such a short time. I cried and looked in the mirror recognizing I was just a shell of the person I had once been.  I felt weak and frail. In that moment I promised myself that I’d never complain or call myself fat again if I could just get healthy and keep food in my body. I am happy to report that I have gained almost 20 pounds from last summer/fall…over half of that being in just the last few months. You know you needed to gain weight when you put on 20lbs and don’t need a new wardrobe!! My pants are a little more snug, of course, but they button up fine so I’m satisfied! 

We could still use your prayers. I have my very bad days when I cry as I imagine what could become of my body should this disease really get a foothold. I’ve seen the pictures and it can be scary…and there’s no cure.  The signs are visible. My disease would be out in the open for everyone to see.  There’s not a treatment for scleroderma…just a constant attempt to manage symptoms. I think about taking pictures at my boys’ weddings someday and having my disease as a constant reminder to them in a photograph. I think about if this disease should attack the wrong organ or body system and should I die and leave the boys behind… What would happen to them? How would they handle it?  There are many worst-case scenarios that can plague my mind. So we need your prayers.  Pray for the boys, for me, for Josh, for my family and friends, and doctors. 

The Bible tells us to take every thought captive…it tells us to renew our minds. The Bible says to only think on things that are pure and noble. We don’t need to worry. So please pray that God would help me to take control of my thoughts…and make Himself the commander of all that goes in and out. 

Pray for my mom. I know how hard it is to watch my kids battle so much as a cold. I hate watching Emery struggle with CVS and I am constantly on the hunt for how I can help him. I also think of the guilt I’d experience if the boys were to ever develop an auto-immune disease. I would feel like it was somehow my fault and my crummy genes. But those things aren’t true. There’s nothing like the love of a mother and I know she would take this on herself if she could. I know it kills her to watch this happen. So pray for her and the rest of my loved ones who watch on helplessly as they manage both my symptoms as well as their own illnesses. 

Finally, pray for a cure! What a happier world we would live in if we could truly find a cure for the many diseases that plague us from cancer, tumors, auto-immune diseases…or even the common cold! What if there were a vaccination that could take these away or keep the symptoms as mild as possible. 

Working for the Enemy

Last week I wrote a post about remembering who the real enemy is.  I’ve been thinking about that concept so much lately…about how we bicker and fight amongst ourselves so often that we end up doing the enemy’s work for him.

The other day, though, I was reading through my Bible and I came across a passage that I’m sure I’ve read a hundred times before, but this time it touched me differently.  Matthew 9:9  “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”

So, let’s set the scene here…Jesus has just finished a long stint of healing people.  He has healed people with leprosy, paralytics, the possessed, and  calms a storm.  Then we get a little blurb about Jesus running into Matthew and asking him to follow him.  He goes on to eat dinner at Matthew’s house with other tax collectors and sinners.  The Pharisees are, once again, irritated that Jesus isn’t behaving the way they’d like.  Jesus, per the norm, puts them in their place and tells them that the sick are the ones who need the doctors, not the ones who are well.

Now, if the Pharisees had been honest with themselves, they would have seen themselves as sick and needing a doctor too…But we will save that for another day.

Jesus calls Matthew.

I’ve read it a hundred times.  I’ve passed by this little bit of the Bible so many times and, for whatever reason, it hit me like a ton of bricks this week.

Matthew.  The tax collector.  I mean, I’ve heard before that the tax collectors were considered the scum of the earth.  They were usually cheating people out of their money and so on and so forth. I mean, no one likes the guy who works for the IRS, right?  But it occurred to me this week to look into who Matthew was working for.  According to Wikipedia (because it is the ultimate source for all things reliable…), Matthew would have been collecting taxes for Herod Antipas.  Herod Antipas would have been the son of Herod the Great (the one who lied to the wise men and killed all the boys 2 and under in Bethlehem…yeah, the nut job).  Herod Antipas was the one whom Pilate sent Jesus to when he didn’t want blood on his hands.  Herod was a tetrarch (which is the name given to some who ruled Roman provinces).  Matthew was a Jewish guy working for the Romans…the enemy.  And Jesus called him.

Think about that for a second.  Let that sink in.

Matthew.  A Jewish man.  Working for the Romans.  And Jesus calls him.

That just blows my mind.  It already amazed me that Jesus would call the tax collectors because I’ve heard so much nasty stuff about them…but then when I really sat to think about it, it was so much more than people cheating other people out of money.

Put yourself in the picture.  Let’s say some big strong group comes in and takes over the country.  They’re taking our money, ruining our land, killing our people…And they offer you a job to collect taxes for them.  Do you sell out?  Or do you decide to do something else like become a carpenter or fisherman?  Matthew was a sell out.  He was a Jew working for the Romans…and he made money off of it.  He’s like the guy in all the movies that you just hope dies.  He’s like Saruman working for Sauron.  He’s like Snape when you think he’s working for Voldemort.  He’s the guy you would think should be a good guy but isn’t!  He’s a traitor!

And I am just like Matthew.

I have worked for the enemy.  I have called myself a “Christian” so many times only to go off and do the enemy’s work for him.  I have done what was easy and comfortable.  I have been one thing on the outside and another on the inside.  I have sat and preached one thing…and gone off and done the opposite.  When everything is stripped away, I am totally the sinner who does not “deserve” to be called by Christ.  I don’t deserve for Jesus to ask me to follow him.  I never have.  But He did anyway.  Isn’t that amazing?  He did anyway!  It had nothing to do with me.  He called me, in my sin…even though I was a sell out…

Being a “good Christian girl” was pretty easy in high school.  There were lots of people around watching.  I had church twice a week, I read my Bible and journaled my prayers every night…and I had a reputation to uphold.  I had incentives to be “good.”  Then college came.  Rome invaded.  I had to learn to fend for myself.  I still called myself a Christian, but it was a whole lot easier to get on by without doing all the Christian stuff for a while.  After all, I had no one to impress, I wanted to fit in…changing sides was just easier.  And that’s where Jesus called me.  In my darkest, deepest, most lonely time in my life is when Jesus came to me and made himself real to me.  When everything else fell apart, He remained.

See, in high school I was more like the Pharisees.  I was a whitewashed tomb.  I thought I had it all together.  I knew the difference between right and wrong and worked really hard to do all of those things.  I was a “good kid.”  I got good grades and didn’t get into trouble in school.  I worked hard and did what I was supposed to do.  And I was such a brat in my heart.

I very distinctly remember one day at the beginning of my senior year sitting in my car (after doing an outreach of all things) and being angry with God because everything seemed to be going so well for a friend of mine and nothing was going my way.  This friend of mine had done everything wrong.  I had done everything right.  She ended up getting everything she wanted…and I didn’t.  It wasn’t fair!  Sure, she was a Christian and she was remorseful about the stuff she had done, but still!  I hadn’t done those things!  I had to work hard to not do what she had done and lost friends and boyfriends for putting my foot down about my beliefs and standards.  And here she is, the girl who did everything I said I’d never do…and she’s happy.

Man, it’s so embarrassing even admitting I felt that way.  I was such a snot.  I was a spoiled little Pharisee.  I was just like the Pharisees in Matthew’s story.  I sat there and said, “What is Jesus doing with her?  She’s a sinner.”  Had I really known my own heart I would have seen how depraved I was.  I was arrogant and unteachable…I was so wrong.

It wasn’t until I could finally see the sickness inside myself that I realized I really needed the Great Physician.

So in some ways I’m like Matthew.  I’m the Christian girl on the outside who has taken the easy route and works for the enemy.  I’m doing the devil’s work and have switched sides.  And in others I’m like the Pharisee.  I’m all good on the outside…doing everything I’m supposed to be doing but missing all the heart and soul.  I am so glad that Jesus came for people like me.  He came for the lost and broken.  He came for the sick.  He didn’t come to make us feel guilty, but to show us truth, love, grace and to give us a hope.  It is his kindness that leads to repentance.  My prayer is that I never forget my need for Jesus.  Not so I can sit and mourn my sinful soul for all of eternity, but so I can truly see the love of God and his grace that pours out.

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

I love the Hunger Games trilogy. I loved the books and I enjoy the movies. Just yesterday I put Catching Fire on while I was folding the laundry. One of my favorite lines comes up when Katniss and Haymitch are talking about keeping Peeta alive. Haymitch says, “Katniss, when you’re in the arena, remember who the real enemy is.”

Katniss has never been especially good at making friends and she is quick to judge a situation, declare it as she sees it, and react. There was a much bigger plan that Katniss couldn’t see, and because she didn’t know about it she became a bit of a risk. Haymitch needed to remind her that the enemy wasn’t the other tributes. She needed to stay alive, but she also needed to trust some of the other victors to make this plan really work.

In Ephesians 6 Paul urges the church to prepare for battle. Before he gets into the specifics of which weapons they will need, he reminds them who the real enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We are so much like Katniss. We can be so quick to defend ourselves and come up with strategy. Some seek out trouble to get rid of like a hunter stalking his prey. We like to list all of the rules and all the kinds of people we shouldn’t be friends with. We become argumentative instead of loving. But Paul says, “Christians, when you’re in the world, remember who the real enemy is.”

We feel threatened by someone and say, “that’s the enemy!” We have decided to wage war against those who are not like us. They don’t believe what I believe and, therefore, they’re our enemy. We don’t follow Jesus’ advice and love our “enemies” and pray for them. Instead we write long blog posts, post controversial subjects online. We have gathered up all of our armor: truth, righteousness, and readiness…And we use those things to defend ourselves against other people.

Our real enemy isn’t the pro-choice camp. Our real enemy isn’t against those who choose to or not to vaccinate their children. My enemy is not the person who things I’m an idiot for believing in God. My true enemy isn’t the president or congress. My enemy isn’t my teacher, neighbor, or the alcoholic next door. And yet, we act like they are.

I’ve been criticized by a few people for being ambiguous about my stance on various social or political issues. I choose 99.9% of the time to NOT post things on Facebook or write blogs about things that are going to ultimately hurt my relationships. Some people might view this as cowardice. They may accuse me of being afraid of what someone might think of me. And I would be lying if I said that I don’t value other peoples’ opinions of me. I do value that. It does matter to me if someone thinks I’m a jerk. But it is much more than that.

In Matthew 22:15-22 the pharisees challenge Jesus about taxes. They ask him flat out if it was lawful to pay taxes or not. They wanted to catch him in some kind of lie. They were searching for a way to discredit him. Jesus knew this and responded by saying, “give Caesar what is due Caesar. Give God what is due God.” Jesus really didn’t answer their question. And he really didn’t answer it in the way they’d hope. He knew they were trying to trap him and alienate him from those to whom he was ministering. They saw Rome as an oppressive force that needed to be destroyed. But Jesus didn’t say, “do off with Rome,” even though he knew it wouldn’t be long before he was hanging on a Roman cross. Instead he called the Pharisees hypocrites.

After being tortured and taunted, Jesus hung on a cross. He could have said, “curse you all!” He could have made them all blind with a word. He could have caused them to all feel the pain he was feeling at that moment. He could have chosen that time to go through scriptures about why he is the messiah and why they are all crazy. He could have chosen to defend himself….instead, he simply said, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” If anyone was an enemy, you’d think it would be those who literally hung him up on that cross. But Jesus knew that they were not the true enemy.

There are so many people who hate the church because it’s filled with a bunch of self-righteous snobs. That’s how they feel. Now, I go to church and I know that isn’t true. I know that there are people in the church who turn people away. I also know that the church is filled with kind, loving, generous people. Sadly, however, many people have not had the same experience.

So here’s the thing. I refuse to sit and post a public stance about what I believe so that I am trapped. I refuse to do away with friends because we disagree on a topic. I believe it is far more valuable to be a friend than it is to create enemies. I believe I can pray for people with whom I disagree. I can love them. And maybe, just maybe, someday they with be in a place when they’re ready to consider Christ and I will not have hindered them by my words or actions. I don’t want to be the reason someone says they won’t even consider believing in God. I don’t want someone to say, “Well, if Kristin is a picture of what a Christian is, then I don’t want to be one.”

Those people are not my enemies. I choose to not respond to every offensive Facebook post. I choose to not play the victim. I believe that the Bible is true, pure, and reliable. I believe what it says. I choose not to stand in the town square holding up signs and saying, like the Pharisee, “thank you, God, that I’m not like so-and-so…” I wage war NOT against other people…but against my self, and against the Devil and his schemes. Just like the rebels in the Hunger Games, God has a bigger plan at work. He knows that we are a reactive kind of people. He knows that we are quick to try to defeat our enemies. So he has warned us, through Paul, to remember who the real enemy is.

The Best Job I Never Knew I Wanted

I have never really been good with kids. When I was in high school I volunteered to help out with VBS because it was required in order to go on mission trips. I really liked the kids. I thought they were so cute and I enjoyed being around them, but I never really felt like they liked me back. I just wasn’t a kid-magnet. You know the kid-magnets, right? It’s the guy who is as animated and loud and funny as a cartoon character. Is the woman who isn’t afraid to look silly or foolish. Kids just seem to love them. It doesn’t matter what they wear or what they look like. Their personalities just attract the little ones like moths to a flame. And that was never me.

I remember once asking a man in our church how he did it. Kids FLOCKED to him. Little kids, teenage kids…It didn’t matter. They ALL loved Dan. I loved Dan. What did he have? His response was, “I love them. You just gotta love them.”

Fast-forward a few years to when I was in college. I really enjoyed working with high schoolers. I loved volunteering in our church’s youth group. I thought of how I was as a teenager…and it’s hard. I wanted to become a safe sounding board for these students. I wanted them to feel like they could talk to me and get a non-judgmental ear. I know how hard it is to be a teenager…to do the boyfriend thing…to be confused about life…and to get frustrated with my parents. I was old enough to know that parents are usually right about things, but young enough to remember that it doesn’t always feel that way. I also knew that a lot of kids were coming from dysfunctional families and maybe didn’t have a mom or dad who was actively involved in their lives. I wanted to be able to be an adult role model for these teenagers. That was my sweet spot. I still love teenagers.

When I imagined my life in the future, I never imagined being a stay-at-home-mom. (no, this post isn’t going to be all about being a stay-at-home-mom). I never believed I had the patience. I don’t like snot and puke and anything that’s sticky or germ-infested…and little ones always have at least one of those things going on. When I imagined being a stay-at-home-mom I figured that my kids probably wouldn’t like me. I probably wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, I think I had one single friend whose mother stayed home. So I didn’t really have an example of what that might look like.

Instead, I wanted to be a baseball player…then I wanted to be a secretary. My mom was a secretary and I thought it was the coolest job EVER. First of all, she got as much red fruit punch from the hospital cafeteria as she could handle (I only knew this because she took me with her on Take Your Daughter to Work Day…and clearly, that’s what she had to have been doing every day…that’s what I wanted when I went there…). Secondly, she sounded so professional when I would call her…”Physical Therapy, this is Julie,” or “Education, this is Julie,” or “Clerical Services, this is Julie,” or “Administration, this is Julie.” She got to have a cool answering machine message, “You’ve reached the desk of Julie Larson. I’m either on another line, or away from my desk…” But why I really REALLY wanted to be a secretary was because my mom got to wear cool clapping shoes (pumps) complete with toe cleavage! It was AWESOME! I wanted to be like that. In fact, I wanted to have a boy and a girl. I would name them Steve and Julie…because those are my parents’ names.

None of those things happened. And I may have 1 pair of shoes I wear every once in a while that have toe cleavage.

Then I became a mom. And that changes everything.

The moment Big Man was born, I knew in my heart that I could just never leave him. I could never go off to a job and work with 80 teenagers while I paid someone else to take care of my son. God had changed my heart. I desperately believed that I wanted to stay home and I would do whatever it took to make that happen. I didn’t care about his poop or puke or boogers. It no longer mattered.

Even so, I still wasn’t too keen on being with other people’s kids. Again, I just didn’t think they really liked me. I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as my kindergarten teacher friends. They were so soft and sweet and I was…well, not. I have even been known to say (in previous churches), “don’t even ask me to volunteer in the nursery. I can’t do it unless it is an emergency. Find some other way I can help or get involved. Just not elementary kids…PLEASE!” I didn’t believe I was cool enough. I didn’t believe I had the patience.

Then something happened. Someone said, “you are so patient with your boys. Even too patient.” Now, I never thought I was patient with them because I knew what I was thinking…and my thoughts did not reflect patience. It was amazing, though, hearing those words. Then someone told me that I was a good mom. I never thought I was an especially good mom. I mean, I love my kids…but I am not doing all of those cool Pinterest crafts. I don’t make play dough or paint out of shaving cream or microwave a bar of Ivory soap just to show my kids what it does. How could I be a good mom if I didn’t do those things?

So I started watching my friends kids periodically so they could go to doctor appointments. I started watching a 4-year old on a regular basis…and, miraculously, I loved it. It was hard work, but I loved it. I loved the sweet smiling faces. I loved listening to their imaginations run wild. I loved watching them run around and scream and giggle. The sound of happy children would flood my backyard and bring me so much joy.

But that was ONE kid. I could never do more than ONE kid.

So I started working at our Mom’s Morning Out program at our church. And loved it. I called my mother-in-law after one of my mornings with the kiddos and said, “I totally see why you love elementary kids! They are SO CUTE! They are SO FUNNY!” Now I look forward to seeing the kids when I help out in the Sunday school class or Mom’s Morning Out. I look forward to drawing pictures, creating crafts, building towers of blocks, becoming a spy, playing with toy farms, and braiding hair. I love hearing what the kids did over the weekend…even when I have no clue what they’re talking about. I love listening to them tell me stories. I love holding their hands as we walk to the bathroom or water fountain. I love bringing home beautiful masterpieces that they draw for me. I LOVE these kids.

So here I am…in a place I never imagined I’d be…something I never wanted…and I love it. And I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful that God changed my heart and mind. I’m so thankful that God blessed me with these little ones. I have the best job in the whole world. I get to, not only talk to these kids about Jesus, but show them the love of Jesus. I get to do it every day at home with my kids. And now I get to do it for other children.

Of course I have my bad days…even bad weeks. It’s easy to burn out when you’re constantly pouring into other people, but don’t take care of the spring coming into your own life. You can give and give and give…and, eventually, you run out. So I have my days or weeks when it is clear that I’m running on empty…and I need to fill up. But who doesn’t, right? We ALL have those moments. I just never believed I was allowed to need to be filled too.

My hope and prayer for these children is that the love of God would fill them up. That His love would be made clear to them and they would, someday, choose Him for themselves. And, to me, there’s no greater job in the world.

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There was a spy in Sunday School today. Apparently he had gotten a hold of a crystal emerald and a crystal diamond. In the wrong hands it would make the world go “boom boom” (complete with flashing hand motion). In the right hands, it turns into an amusement park. My vote was for Disneyland.

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This is what I look like to a 7-year old girl…:) She noticed my pink hair. I always knew the other side of me had awesome lips like Angelina…

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This would be me if I had been born a different race, apparently. :)

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A couple of angels a little girl colored for me.

2014–A Reflection

I can’t believe we are already in the final hours of 2014. This year has had plenty of ups and downs, highs and lows, roses and thorns…and whatever other little phrase you may have. We have experienced great joy at the births of babies, trips to Disneyland, and wonderful times with friends and family. We have also met great sorrow at the loss of babies, friends, and family, with illness, and struggle emotionally, relationally, financially, and otherwise. We have lived…and we have learned.

So, I thought it would be fun to think about 10 things I’ve learned this year…so, here goes nothin’…

1. I’ve often heard it said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I have found that to be true in many cases…but even more true, I’ve found that struggle can make us stronger…relationally, I mean. When storms come you can either choose to come together and take it on together or you can choose to become angry, bitter and distant. As for Josh and me, this year has been full of struggles. We had to actively remind each other that we are on the same team here. We are a partnership. We go hand-in-hand and need to work in tandem. A canoe can steer a lot better when it has two oars. With just one, you’ll just spin in circles. We are better together and there’s nothing like high winds and rocky seas to give us a real workout so we can come out victorious.

2. My problem is me. Yep. I said it. My problem is ME. It isn’t where I live, how much money I make, my parents, kids, friends, or boss. My problem is me. Just like in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, “the chains aren’t what’s holding you back, Quasimodo.” Financially, we make more money now than we have ever made…and we are also in more debt than we’ve ever been. How is that even possible, right? Me. It’s me. It’s my attitude and my choices. My issues living in California were me. Sure, I’m not a fan of hot weather or traffic, and those things can’t be changed, but it’s all about my attitude. What do I choose to focus on? The good? The bad? When I was a little girl my mom would say, “Make it a good day…” It wasn’t “have a good day” as if it would be handed to me. “MAKE it a good day,” implies some control over my circumstances.

3. I’ve learned that relationships mean more than anything else. I could not have gotten through this year without the people I care about…and who care about me. Getting notes of encouragement or a hug on a bad day can change everything. Having a simple game night with friends can be better than going out to a fancy dinner or a movie. The time spent laughing and enjoying each other’s company is life bringing…and it isn’t worth it to trade it in for any other worldly convenience or comfort.

4. You don’t know until you know. Plain and simple. There is so much I don’t know…and I don’t even know I don’t know until I am made aware by someone who does know…or until I’m forced into learning. I’ve watched people struggle through chronic illness and, while I had compassion on them, I could not really understand what they were going through and the exhaustion of the day-to-day struggles. Likewise, you can’t know the loss of a child until you’ve experienced it for yourself. You can’t know the pain of losing a loved one until you walk in those shoes. You can’t know the weight of debt until you find yourself under it. This applies to joyful things as well, of course, but I think we are all far more inclined to offer advice or chime in with our opinions when someone is struggling. We like to tell the mother who has just found out that there’s no longer a heartbeat in her womb that “everything happens for a reason…” We like to tell a daughter who has just lost her father, “Things will get back to normal soon.” We like to tell a friend who is struggling with addiction, “just stop. You need to just stop.” We love to offer up suggestions for diet, exercise, medicine (or lack thereof). We know all the answers…except we don’t. Even if I was qualified to offer advice or answer a question about why these things happen, it isn’t helpful…and people don’t want advice…unless they ask for it and even then they will rarely follow it. It’s better to approach suffering with a listening ear, a humble heart, and sincere love.

5. God created me because He loved me. (And you too!). I’ve often wondered why God would even bother making people if He knew that we would be so destructive. If He knew we would suffer, then why not just skip over humanity in the first place? But it occurred to me one day that I did the same thing. When we chose to have our children I was fully aware that they would hate me at some point (or many points) in their lives. I was fully aware that they would get sick, get hurt, experience pain. I chose to have them, though. I chose them because I love them. I loved them before they were born. I knew they wouldn’t be able to support me or help me or contribute to our family for quite some time…and that they would be a lot of work…but I loved them. So it was worth it. Likewise, God loves me. He knew I would suffer. He knew that things would be difficult and that I would make bad choices. He chose to create me anyway because He could see the big picture…and he decided it was worth it.

6. There are a lot of hurting people…and you can make a difference for them. The next time you go out to the store, the park, church, or work look around you. Chances are that you’re interacting with someone who is hurting. Your smile, extra tip, or random act of kindness can mean the world to someone who is in pain. I was listening to the radio this Christmas and was so happy to hear about people going into Toys R Us and paying off layaway bills for complete strangers. You know, a lot of those moms and dads were working hard to make Christmas special for their children. And in a world of Santa Claus and Elves bringing the rich kids computers and bicycles…and the poor kids a book or a used jacket, I applaud those who go out of their way to help those who need an extra nudge. We were the recipients of wonderful kindness and generosity this year…and we also gave random gifts to unsuspecting individuals. It brought us great joy to give…and it restored something inside of us when we received.

7. I can do this. Every time I approach a new mountain that I think I cannot possibly climb, I find myself on the other side and am surprised at how I was able to overcome. I remember when middle-man was a baby and I just wasn’t sure I could survive those first few months. I was so tired, worn, and felt like I was surely going to die. I was broken. Here I am 3 years later and I survived (middle-man did too). Heck. We even decided at some point it was worth the risk of possibly going through postpartum depression again and had another! So, now I’m facing a new mountain. There are days when I tell myself, “I can’t live like this! How long can I endure?!” And dawn always comes. I make it another day. God sustains me. I can do this with Him by my side.

8. People change. Thank God, right? I mean, I am so thankful that I’m not who I was ten years ago. And I have many downfalls that I’ve thought I would be stuck with forever…but then I remember that I’ve changed before…and I can change again. I’m not stuck with my flaws. It takes work. But I can change. So can you. Of course, sometimes people don’t change for the better…or they don’t change as quickly as you’d like. But, while people do change, it isn’t YOUR responsibility to change them. Just don’t give up on them…and don’t give up on yourself.

9. Time changes everything. Time can heal wounds. Time can bring people closer together. Time changes your perspective…provides a better vantage point. We need time to grow up and to learn more about ourselves and others. Even with the struggles I’m facing now, I can feel confident that this struggle will be different in 10 years.

10. God has my back. Through thick and thin. God is FOR me. He knows me better than I know myself. He know what I need and He provides it all. The world may crumble down around me. My friends and family may turn their backs on me…but God will be there. His love is perfect and enduring. I can keep my confidence that He will not leave me… He won’t leave me when I make horrible decisions. Instead, He will teach me through it and provide a safety net to catch me when I fall.

So, there ya have it. 10 things I learned this year. Of course, I learned more than that, but I can’t fit it all in…that would be silly. I’ll save it for next year.

Here is to a new year! 2015, here we come!

What does that even mean?

So, as many of you know, I have been having some health challenges these last several months.  I’ve been working with several different doctors to figure out what is wrong with me.  I’ve been tested for almost everything under the sun.  I’m surprised I still have blood in my veins.

Finally, in November, I had a blood test that came back and started us off in a different direction.  I tested for positive for autoimmune disease (ANA test), and then was tested for most of the major auto-immune diseases.  I was tested for Lupus, Sjogren’s, Crohn’s, and Scleroderma…as well as many other tests to check for issues.

I was really praying against Crohn’s disease, but it seemed to fit a lot of my symptoms, as most of my symptoms are digestive.  I was relieved when the tests came back and showed that I do not have Crohn’s disease.

I do, however, have Sclroderma (AKA Systemic Sclerosis).  There are a few different types of scleroderma and most of them affect the skin.  I have not had any skin issues whatsoever.  While I’m thankful for that, I do have to undergo some other (expensive) testing in the middle of January to check out my digestive tract.  I know that’s going to be tons of fun, so I appreciate all of your prayers as that date approaches.  I am thankful, though, that those tests are available.

Right now, I’m hoping against hope that the tests reveal something a little more simplistic than sclerosis of my intestines.  I never thought that I would say, “I hope I only need to get my gallbladder removed or something…”  My hope would be that I can be cured of the symptoms I’ve been experiencing and that the disease would just be a dormant thing and I would be considered to be in remission.  See, the thing is, like all auto-immune diseases, there is no cure for Systemic Sclerosis.  There really isn’t anything I can do about it except treat symptoms.  If it is causing me to have heartburn, I would have to take meds for heartburn.  If it attacks my kidneys, then we have a bigger problem.  If it attacks my heart…well…let’s just plan on it not going there, right?

I’m already on some medications to manage the joint pain and stiffness, and it is working really well.  I’m thankful for that.  I just started another medication to help with my digestive system until we can really figure out what is causing the problems.

So, why am I telling you all of this?  Why am I revealing it to the world?  I don’t know why.  Maybe I just need to get it off my chest.  Maybe it will give me an opportunity to say that I don’t want everyone privately contacting me with a miracle cure from Mexico or something.  I don’t want to read page after page after page of how this simple change or that simple change is going to cure me.  I believe, in my heart of hearts, that my only hope for a CURE is through God.  Everything else is just a waste of my  time.

I don’t say this in anger or sadness.  I’m not trying to be negative or hopeless.  I’m being realistic.  Without a miracle, I will be living with this disease until the day that I die.  That’s just a fact.  Do I think certain changes might help manage my symptoms?  Probably.  And maybe I will look into those things on my own when I decide I’m ready to read the long lists of foods and drinks I supposedly can and cannot have.  But, to be honest, it is a bit overwhelming to read it all right now.

What do I want from all of you?  Prayers.  Prayers and encouragement and support.  Our family has been turned upside-down during the last five months.  Prayers for my husband, my children, my family and friends, and, of course, my doctors would be greatly appreciated.  Prayers that this disease doesn’t find its way into my heart, lungs, kidneys, or other major organs would be also be helpful.

In all truthfulness, this all seems a bit surreal.  I had other plans for my life…and they didn’t include chronic illness.  I find hope, though, in the many who have gone before me and have lived happy, full, fruitful lives.  I’m thankful for the motivation that my children and my faith provide me.  I’m thankful for the patience of my husband.  I’m thankful that his mother taught him how to be kind, loving, and gentle to those with chronic illness.  Had he not grown up with a mother with chronic illness, he might say stupid things like, “Isn’t there a pill for that?” or “Mind over matter, Kristin…it’s all in your head, ” or “Just don’t think about it so much.”  Instead, he asks me if I need a hug.  He asks me if I need to cry.  He asks me what I need from him and he is willing to give whatever he can.  And I am so grateful for that. I’m thankful for health insurance…even though this is sill costing us more than we can handle right now. It could be so much more.

So, I thank you in advance for all of your prayers and encouragement.  They mean more to me than I could express.

Missing Christmas

A couple weeks ago the boys and I were playing with our Fisher Price Little People Nativity set.  We carefully put the scene together piece by piece.  When we got to the end, the baby Jesus was nowhere to be found. I looked all over the toy room.  I emptied out bins and the toy box.  I couldn’t find him anywhere.  After a few days, I finally found him under the couch wedged right by the foot so he was easy to miss.

Here we are, only “2 sleeps” until Christmas Eve…and it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  I have my Christmas tree up…I’ve been listening to Christmas music…watching Christmas movies…But it doesn’t feel like Christmas.  I feel like Charlie Brown or Little Cindy Lou-Who.  “Instead of feeling happy, I feel sorta…let down.”  “Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?  Why have you gone away?  Where is the laughter you used to bring me?  Why can’t I hear music play?”  I feel like all the fun Christmasy stuff is happening…but it’s not really happening in my heart.  I’m totally missing Christmas.

I remember growing up and not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve.  The warmth of friends and family, putting up decorations, opening presents, eating delicious treats and hot, homemade meals…It just filled me up with all joy inside.  I loved to lay in our dark living room with nothing but the Christmas tree lights on.  We used to have blue lights, so everything was just so peaceful and dim.  The glow of the lights would touch my heart…almost like magic.  I would go to bed feeling satisfied and loved.  Christmas was, truly, the most wonderful time of year.

But not this year.

I really can’t put my finger on it, but my guess is that Jesus has been lost in my heart this year.  He’s been buried underneath all the toys and wrapping paper.  He’s lost in the decorations.  He has taken a backseat to all of the sickness our family has been enduring these last several months.  He’s underneath the piles and piles of anxiety that I’ve been feeling for  months.

Sometimes it is hard to find joy during suffering.  I have had several friends have miscarriages this year…some of them more than one.  I’ve watched as family members have suffered at the hands of disease.  I’ve witnessed a daughter lose her father, a husband lose a wife and mother to his children.   Marriages have dissolved.  People have moved.  I’ve watched on as children have been overcome with terminal illness.  Struggles…nothing but struggles.  Pain.  I have to force myself to think of things that are positive…like the friends who have had babies, job opportunities, making new friends…We are so blessed.  So incredibly blessed.

So now, here I am, just a couple days left until Christmas…the day we celebrate the vastness of God’s love for us, that He sent his only son to become a man that we might be saved…that I might have life and have it abundantly.  And instead of feeling blessed, I feel stressed.

Oh how I long to look at our Christmas tree and feel joy fill my heart.  If I ever want that feeling again, I’m going to have to refocus my heart on the real reason for Christmas.  Instead of thinking about all the presents we will give to the boys, the fun foods and craft projects, while those are all good things, I will have to be intentional about fixing my mind on Jesus.  I cannot lose track of him.

Even now, my heart is heavy.  Please, God, train my heart to follow you. That’s what You’re doing, right?  You’re reminding me that I need You.  My heart needs to be broken in so I would not be selfish and lost.  I am Your child.  Fix my eyes, heart, my soul on you.