Friday, July 26, 2013

Moses Moments

God's been calling me to do something big. Something that scares the daylights out of me. 

I want to plan a gathering. In Europe. Like this one: http://ifgathering.com. To "unleash the next generation of women to live out their purpose." To live for their Creator. 

I've wrestled with this. In the last month, I've said "no." I've said "I can't, Lord." "I don't want to, Lord." "I don't feel like it, God." "I'll just attend the conference in Austin, God, after all, Dad lives there" and finally, "Really, God? Me? Really?" (adding my very best Amy Poehler / Seth Myers impression) 

I've been a bit of a Moses.

And while He hasn't sent a burning bush, He's sent Facebook messages. He's sent phone calls. He's sent people asking me to do this out of the blue. 

And then He sent VBS. 

Because I struggled mightily with VBS. I felt called to do it and I started. So many people said it wouldn't work. There were so many reasons why it shouldn't work - a lupus diagnosis for me, an INSANE travel schedule for my husband this summer, two young kiddos at home, an overwhelming desire to sit on the couch with a few good books. The list goes on. But I moved forward. I honestly thought we'd have around 8 kids sign up. And now ... 22 kids confirmed, with maybe a few more. 

And through all of this, as I've been encouraged in so many ways over the last two weeks, I feel Him whispering to me...

"See, you can do this." 

"When you listen to me, I show up." 

"This is just a warm-up. Wait until you see what's next." 

"Step out in faith." 

"Trust me." 

"Do it." 

So, here we go, Friends! I'm going to start planning a women's conference / retreat. 

You may not know that I have fairly extensive corporate event planning experience and that background leads me to believe that the conference/retreat will take place sometime in the Spring. 

If you're reading this, I'm inviting you.

I don't care if you live near or far. If you like conferences or don't. If you're a Christian or not. 

Stay tuned for more information. 

And if you'd like to help (in any way), please get in touch. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lupus Is ... And Isn't

Since my lupus diagnosis a couple of weeks ago, I've had the privilege of speaking to so many people about the "condition" (I hate the word "disease," so don't use it much!).

In an attempt to spread some info (and hopefully do the world some good), here's a little primer.

Lupus is...
... a sneaky little bugger. It's symptoms are often mistaken for other diseases or conditions. Or, as in my case, doctors often think those living with the condition just "need more sleep," or "more exercise."
... an autoimmune condition. It tricks the body into thinking normal tissues or cells need to be destroyed, so the immune system goes into overdrive, but turns on the body by mistake.
... highly individual. The condition expresses itself in a variety of ways - and is almost always specific to each person. This is one of reasons it's hard for doctors to diagnose and treat it.

Lupus isn't...
... a death sentence. After the condition is under control, many people live long, "normal," happy and productive lives. I plan to be one of them.
... something to be taken lightly. Although fear doesn't need to be a part of my life, awareness does. My life changes now that I have this diagnosis and I plan to take my health seriously.
... going to be "cured" by a prescription. While medication might be necessary, I plan to exhaust all lifestyle change options before I sign up for any drugs or pills.

If you'd like to learn even more about lupus, click here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Great is His Faithfulness

God is real. And He is good. Great is His faithfulness!

One of my favorite hymns is "Great is Thy Faithfulness." It's "an oldie, but a goodie." It's been coming to my mind this week a ton and I thought I'd share it with you...


God has provided and proven His faithfulness in ways big and small this week:
- He provided a pony for our backyard VBS next week, after several cancellations and potentially disappointed kids, we found not one, but TWO and for a 1/3 of the price of our original ponies!
- He answered an unspoken request - I hadn't shared it with anyone and a volunteer stepped forward out of the blue because she felt like the kids would appreciate what she had to offer.
- During my MRI today (the first in a series of many doctors' appointments in the coming week), I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort. No matter what the outcome, I know that He is with me and He is, and always will be, the Greatest Physician in my corner.
- A couple of months ago, I felt led to order a necklace from a friend's Stella & Dot show. I love S&D, and I've actually wanted this particular necklace for a while, but when it arrived, I couldn't bring myself to put it on. It was beautiful and everything I wanted - a delicate little cross on a thin silver chain. Small, but elegant. Dainty, but pretty. Everything I usually wear. And yet, I don't know why, but I just left it boxed up and sitting on my shelf. Fast forward to Bible Study this morning, a friend of mine talked about the mission trip she's going on soon to a closed area. The folks going need small crosses on chains to wear to identify themselves silently to other Christians. Ummm, hello! I knew immediately that she was meant to wear the necklace on her trip and ran to get it right away. I had goosebumps. Seriously, friends! What are the odds ... that I would order a necklace, sitting in the Netherlands, from a friend in Kansas (USA) to ultimately give to a friend heading out onto the missions field in yet a third country??? Hand of God.

Great is His Faithfulness!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Day in the Life (with Lupus)

Foreword: What you are about to read might surprise you, particularly if you know me well. I haven't chosen to share a lot of this story in the past for many reasons that I'll share over time. I'm blessed with a close family - those I was born with and those who I've adopted along the way - and if you're in that group and feel I should have been more open about my journey, please accept my apology. I love you all, I appreciate your support immensely and I desperately thank you for your prayers! 

---------- 

Lupus is a highly individual "complication" (I don't really like using the word "disease" - it causes me so much dis ease - hahaha, ok I'm really not funny...). It starts in different ways, it manifests itself in different ways, it's managed (or cured) in different ways. That's one reason it's so hard for doctors to diagnose and understand.

Here's what a day looks like for me ... with descriptions tied to symptoms (in parentheses).

It's hard to wake up in the morning - even after a full night of sleep, I don't feel "rested." (symptom: crushing fatigue)

My eyes take a few minutes to focus. I try to blink my left eye into focus and never quite get it right, resulting in a foggy haze if I keep my right eye closed. (symptom: my lupus seems to be impacting my optic nerve for one reason or another)

As I fix breakfast, I try to avoid foods that provoke an inflammatory response - bread, sugar, dairy, caffeine. (symptom: inflammation in the body tends to make autoimmune "flares" worse)

Sometimes I succeed, but usually, I break down and have coffee, which brings on a headache.

I spend some time talking myself out of being worried, by praying and reflecting on my "old faithful" Bible verse Romans 12:12 - "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."(symptom: anxiety - but I'm not sure I buy that it's totally a symptom - I think it's normal to be anxious about your body attacking itself. Am I wrong???)

After (or during) my morning worry-fests, I come up with a plan fun activities to do with my two adorable kiddos during the day that won't involve too much getting up and down off the floor. (symptom: joint pain, in my case, my back tends to "go out" easily) This is one area where "symptoms" really get to me - I kind of hate that I can't just get down on the floor and play with my kids.

Whenever I get out of the shower, I take care to lotion my arms really well (symptom: itchy, red rashes on both my arms) and choose long sleeves, even when it's hot (symptom: photosensitivity - too much sun can cause flares). But hey, at least it's not hot very often here in the Netherlands!!! (Dutch friends - see - there IS something positive about the climate!)

Before lunch (and before dinner, for that matter), I face the same worry-fest when planning out the meal - and questions race through my mind - "can I eat ____ (fill in the blank with whatever I have in the pantry)?" "will the kids eat ____ (fill in the blank with whatever I find that I can eat)?" "are the kids going to have massive food issues if I make them eat ____?" (symptoms: anxiety - inflammation- inflammatory foods)

After lunch, we have "quiet time" and I'm faced with a dilemma - do I lie down (symptom: crushing fatigue), do the housework that's been piling up (symptom: joint pain in the form of an aching back) or focus on a Bible study or book (symptom: anxiety)? Admission - this is when you'll usually see me on Facebook ;)

Afternoon activities are a "rinse and repeat" of the morning. Usually with a walk thrown in to get some exercise for everyone. If it's sunny, the walks bring on some dizziness and light headedness (both symptoms).

I've already mentioned dinner.

So, fast forward to bathtime and bedtime.

During baths, I have to be on my knees. Which isn't so bad, until I need to stand up (symptom: aching joints). Then, it's pulling both the kids out of the tub, drying them off and carrying the slippery Little Miss (my 1-year-old) to her room for jammies. For some reason, this always exhausts me (symptom: crushing fatigue) and results in heart palpitations, light headedness and dizziness (symptoms).

After bedtime, it's time for evening chores and whatever online-related activities I didn't get to during the day. Frequent pauses as I have a hard time "getting out the words" (symptom: fuzzy brain) and sometimes have to remember what I'm trying to say (symptom: memory issues).

By the time my bedtime rolls around, I'm usually cranky (symptom: crankiness, or "personality changes" - but seriously, isn't ok to just be "cranky"???) and really, really, really tired (yep, you guessed it, crushing fatigue). I often have chest pain (symptom) at night and I tend to spend time praying, reading the Bible and listening to relaxing music before I head to bed. I slather on some more lotion just before falling asleep and pull my hair back in a ponytail before my head hits the pillow (symptom: hair loss - I hate seeing any big clumps on my pillow in the morning, so I just pull it all back!)

And that's about it.

Add in occasional travel (I can't let this "complication" stop me from enjoying our Euro experience!) and a doctor's office waiting room once a week or so, and you know what it's like for me living with this thing called "lupus."

Now, you might be thinking - "wow, that's a lot." Or, "yuck." Or, "poor Christa."

I'm just gonna stop ya right there, friends.

Please don't.

These are my days right now, but this is a but a chapter in my story. And while it might be a little dark and twisty, I know the author. And He believes in happy endings. 

He's got a plan. A plan to give me hope and a future.

And for those reasons, despite the twistyness of this chapter, I can tell you that it is truly well with my soul.


And by the way, the author I mentioned? God.

Have you met? If not, I'd be happy to introduce you.

Because He's writing your story right now too. And it's got a happy ending, just like mine.

Wishing you lots of health and your own happy ending.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Autoimmunity - the back story

I wrote earlier about the new chapter in my life - where I start managing this whole thing called "autoimmunity." And I know there are lots of questions about my story - how this whole thing started, my symptoms, etc.

Here's my attempt to answer as many as I've received.

1. What are my symptoms?

Lupus manifests itself differently in everyone. One person might have severe joint pain, another kidney disease and still another major skin problems.

In my case, severe fatigue, headaches, skin rashes and finally, blurring vision. It's the last one that finally got the attention of our local doctors, who are essentially the gatekeepers of Dutch medicine, charged with protecting the specialists from unnecessary visits from locals. (Side note: all specialists work in hospitals here, so in order to see one, you need a referral from your local General Practitioner)

2. How did I get to a lupus diagnosis?

It's taken over a year.

Longer than that, actually,

Before my now-4-year-old son was born, one of my pregnancy screener blood tests came back positive for ANA antibodies. Basically, that's a precursor of an autoimmune problem. However, at that time, additional tests didn't show anything "of concern" (again, quoting my doctor) and I didn't have any physical symptoms.

Lots of folks screen positive for ANAs, so I put any thought of any potential problem out of my mind.

Until last year, after my now-1-year-old daughter was born.

When she was about 6 weeks old, I started having major problems. A migraine that left me unable to move anything on the left side of my body for several hours. Severe fatigue. Blinding headaches. A photosensitive rash on both my arms. Hair loss. Join pain. Chest pain. Side pain.

After a brief stay in the hospital, I spent time just about every month visiting my doctor. I had several ultrasounds of my belly area, to check for any abnormalities. I had all of my hormones tested (twice) and even wore an EKG halter for 24 hours to check for signs of heart trouble.

Every time any test result would come back "normal," my doctors would suggest that I "get more sleep" or "find time to relax." One of my doctors even suggested this was "something in my head."

Finally, after 10ish months of basic-level blood tests and ultrasounds, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor, during which I told her that I wasn't leaving until she referred me to an internist. I left her office shortly thereafter, referral in hand.

Victory!

(Side note: if you're familiar with the Dutch medical system, you'll understand how great it felt to get that referral!)

I was so happy finally getting to meet with the internist at the local hospital that covers our region.

He did an exam and ordered a battery of tests. He clued in on my family's history of autoimmune troubles and ordered another ANA test.

The test came back positive, as I expected, so he ordered another 3.

As I left his office, he told me not to worry. Usually, they all come back with "nothing to bother with." He asked me to set up an appointment with his assistant for a phone call tomorrow.

And, then he called yesterday.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, it's never a good thing when a doctor in any country calls you before a scheduled appointment.

He explained during that call that the blood tests indicate lupus.

Bummer.

3. What happens now?

My internist is talking with a rheumatologist tomorrow and the internist will let me know what they come up with, in terms of next steps to begin figuring out what to do, in terms of necessary treatment.

I've also been to a neurologist, to rule out any other possible situation that could be causing my vision problems. I'll have an MRI, a visual reactive stimulus test and an appointment with an opthamologist in the coming weeks.

Lots of time sitting in waiting rooms, but I just see that as lots of time to catch up on some long overdue reading! I'm doing Beth Moore's Bible study on the book of James at the moment (called Mercy Triumphs) and it'll be nice to have the extra time to review the great material in the study.

4. How are you doing?

Really, I'm pretty ok. I commented to a friend last week that I really didn't care what the diagnosis was, as long as I got one. And I mean that. I've been feeling so crummy for so long and I got so sick of hearing from my local doctor that I just need more sleep. In my gut, I knew that sleep wasn't going to fix what's going on inside me right now.

I've decided that I'm not going to get too worried about this, until I have something concrete to worry about.

And, even then, I'm going to remember who's in control of this situation.

Not me.

Not my local Dutch doctor.

Not even the hospital specialists.

I'm so blessed to have the Greatest Physician on my side. The God of Angel Armies, who's always with me.


5. Is there anything you can do right now?

Yes, there are a bunch of lifestyle choices anyone with an autoimmune disorder (lupus, MS, etc etc) can make to reduce/alleviate symptoms. None of which I'm looking forward to - giving up coffee, sugar and gluten. Booo. Also, vitamins, supplements and a few additional steps outlined in this article offer some options I can consider before beginning any treatment regimens my doctors might recommend.

So.

Now you have the back story.

I'll keep you posted!

An Autoimmune Chapter - the beginning

Yesterday, I got the kind of call that's never welcome.

From my doctor.

Who's been testing my blood after a year of health problems.

For autoimmune diseases.

Specifically, lupus.

And you know it's never good when a doctor schedules a follow-up call and then calls you two days early. They only do that when there's something to discuss and they're not in the habit of discussing the weather (that has been quite gorgeous lately...)

So, my doctor called to tell me that my blood tests indicate lupus. Or, I should say that 2 of the 3 that he ordered do. He's still waiting on the third, but, in his words, "2 of 3 require action."

In the next few weeks, I'll have a series of tests, including more bloodwork, an MRI, a vision test and an appointment with an opthamologist. I'll also meet with a rheumatologist to discuss long-term treatment options, etc etc.

Luckily, in addition to lupus, I have lots of other things: a personal relationship with my God who loves me, a wonderful husband, two sweet kiddos, awesome extended family / friends, a nice house, great travel opportunities and way too many more blessings to either list or count. 

As I end this first post, in what I'm sure will be a series of many, I'm reflecting on the promise of James 1:12 "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

If you're reading this and feel a little bad for me, or sad, or anxious, please know that I'm more than ok. I have the Lord on my side - the one who created the universe, who knew me before I was born and who will guide me through this new chapter of my life.

Peace, love and hugs from Eersel. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Pressing the Reset Button

The month of my last post shows up as "January."

It's now "July."

In between "then" and "now," God has been moving in big (HUGE) ways in my life. And it's time to hit the "reset" button.



I could list them all - and I have a feeling I will in the coming months - but first, I want to share that this blog is going to be the online expression of some big changes.

1. I'm officially closing the marketing consulting and health coaching chapters of my life.
2. In the coming weeks, I'll begin writing posts that focus on my faith in God, my family life in the Netherlands, how I keep my home healthy.

Here's what I hope my posts will do:
... Allow me to honor my Creator and express the talents He's given me, using the gifts He's given me to use while I'm here.
... Encourage you. I've been through a lot and I'll bet you have too. My prayer is that God will bring people here who need to read what He calls me to write. If that's you, I'm honored to share in part of your journey.
... Offer you a chance to gain some wisdom - from my mistakes, from my successes, from our shared experience.

Here's what this blog probably won't do:
A. Conform to your expectations. One of the things I've learned about myself in the last few years is that I'm really a misfit. I don't (and probably won't) fit the "mommy blogger mold" or the "Christian author mold" or ... any other mold. I'll write on what I feel God wants me to share, in the authentic voice He's chosen to give me.
B. Rant. There's a lot of negativity going on in the world today and I won't "go there." I believe Jesus came in love and was love. To everyone. In fact, the only time the Bible describes Him getting made was at hypocritical religious folks (see Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18 and John 2:13-22). To the best of my ability, I'm going to keep this a safe, positive place, where we can openly discuss what's on our hearts.

A few additional notes:
- I'm planning a minor blog design update, to better fit with the new goals of my blog, so please hang tight as I figure it all out! 
- As you're reading my posts, I'd love for you to forward anything you like as the Holy Spirit leads.
- I'm not planning to delete any of my old content, but I am going to be reorganizing my labels, to make them a little more "reader-friendly."

So, here we go, friends! 

Ready, set ... "reset!!!" :)