Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Amen and amen

From St. Patrick's breastplate: 

Christ shield me this day: 

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me, 
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every 
person who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Discovered in Lysa Terkeurst's book "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God." 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Auto-Immune Update

It's been a month and 10 days since I first posted about my lupus diagnosis. In some ways, I can't really believe it's been that long, in other ways, I can't believe it's only been that long. Weird, huh?

I've been in and out of hospitals and doctor's offices ever since the diagnosis and basically my symptoms are centered around two areas of concern:
- My vision changes (complete blurring in my left eye - if I close my right eye, it looks like everything has a cloud over it - like I'm looking out into fog)
- My unexplained abdominal pain and digestive issues

Add those symptoms to my blood test results and that's what's adding up to lupus.

So here's what's been going on since July 10:
- I visited the hospital in Veldhoven for a MRI scan and a visual evoked processing test. Clicks on both links will take you to info pages on both procedures. Both came back "normal" - meaning I don't have any structural brain problems (tumors, major aneurysms, etc), nor do I have MS. Awesome news!
- Follow-up visit with the neurologist (after both above procedures) led to concerns that I might have been exposed to a kind of meningitis that can cause brain inflammation or Lyme disease, which can also cause brain swelling. Only way to diagnose those for sure is to do a spinal tap - yikes! Luckily, my neurologist agreed to wait until after a visit to the opthamologist to make that call.
- Another ultrasound, to continue to checking the area around my pancreas for possible problems.
- Two additional visits to my internist to discuss aforementioned appointments, add additional bloodwork, a stool sample (yep, that's a gross as it sounds) and schedule a CT scan to rule out any major abdominal issues.
- A visit to an opthamologist this morning - he found inflammation on my cornea - consistent with a lupus diagnosis and migraines, but (thankfully!) inconsistent with meningitis and Lyme. Whoo hooo! No spinal tap!!
- I've successfully cut straight sugar from my diet (following the plan outlined in Dr. Susan Blum's Immune System Recovery Plan). 
- We also found out that we'll be moving within the next year. We have no idea where we'll be going, or even exactly when, so I'm doing my best to trust in God's timing - that He'll help me find a stable place with my health before we make our next major transition!

Coming up in the next week and a half or so:
- A CT scan on Thursday.
- A follow-up appointment with my internist a week from Thursday to discuss recent bloodwork, my appointment this morning and CT scan results.
- I'll be cutting gluten from my diet. On Friday. Gluten is a major trigger for autoimmune diseases and going gluten-free has been shown to massively alleviate autoimmune symptoms. I love bread and this is going to be a huge challenge for me. Keep me in your prayers!

Thanks to all for your support! I really appreciate it!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Radical Obedience - Going Gluten-Free

I've been participating in the Proverbs 31 Ministries Bible study this month, based on the book "What Happens When Women Say Yes to God" by Lysa Terkeurst. The study has been really great and this week, we've been exploring the idea of "radical obedience" - the kind of obedience that leads to following God with all our hearts, minds and souls (Deut. 6:5).

I've been convicted this week, friends.

Ever since my lupus diagnosis a month and a half ago, I've been reading a ton of information about how important a role food plays in autoimmunity. Eating the right (or wrong) foods can totally impact how I feel and can alleviate (or aggravate) my symptoms. I've been desperately praying for relief, yet I'm still eating things I know I shouldn't.

As I was reading through my study this week, I realized that foods, especially bread and sugar, have been preventing me from fully experiencing everything God has for me. He wants to give me a life of health and happiness. He has a good plan for my future (Jer. 29:11).

Scriptures just kept popping up, in the study book, on Facebook, and even Twitter about how our physical wants can prevent us from practicing radical obedience.

"But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
1 Corinthians 9:22 

"For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world."
1 John 2:16

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do."
Galatians 5:16-17

Today, I gave my sugar and gluten addictions over to the Lord.

I'm trusting in His promise in Isaiah 41:13...

"For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you."

And I modified Lysa's prayer from chapter 3...

"God, I know You are more powerful than this pull I am feeling to eat this piece of bread or sugary snack. I know these things I think I want so much right now will only provide temporary pleasure. I know the consequences of eating these snacks will only rob my joy, my peace and my health, in the immediate future and long-term. Through Your power I am making the choice to walk away. I will find my delight in You and look forward to feeling Your fullness and satisfaction replace the emptiness this desire is creating."


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Saying #YesToGod (and VBS!)

Isn't it amazing how God works?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my "Moses moments" that I wrestled through as I came to grips with the fact that He wants me to plan a women's conference here in Europe.

I mentioned our backyard Vacation Bible School - another initiative that I was hesitant about when I first felt the Lord nudging my heart in that direction. And friends, let me tell you.

Saying "yes" to God and His plans, feels good. No, it feels GREAT.

We had an awesome VBS last week - in total, we had 31 kids come through our program and we had between 49 and 53 people over for our Family Fun Faire to close out the week on Friday. Our count depends on who you ask - all volunteers were having such a fun time that we couldn't exactly find agreement on the "official" total :)

A few of our families have privacy concerns about posting pictures publicly, so I won't include any in this post. Just imagine if you will...
- 31 kids from a variety of home cultures and countries (US, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, China, Germany, Mexico, South Africa ... just to name a few!)
- A bunch of moms gathering each morning in fellowship and service to help our volunteers!
- Games, crafts and drama programs all focusing on putting on the armor of God!
- Songs in two languages lifted up in praise to Jesus five mornings in a row!

And my socks were completely blessed off! It was tough, tough, tough to have so many people in my house, friends! But, I tell you what - seeing the smiles on kids faces, and reading emails from parents whose kids are reciting Bible verses they learned last week makes me want to jump up and give God a big ol' virtual high five.

It's no coincidence that this week, just a couple of days after VBS ended, I began a Bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries called "Say Yes to God," based on the book What Happens When Women Say Yes to God by Lysa TerKeurst. The first chapter is all about radical obedience - obeying God's commands, listening to the Holy Spirit and following in the character footsteps left by Jesus all over the New Testament.

I took that radical walk planning VBS. And I'm gonna take it again and plan that conference.

My doubts are the same that they were when I wrote my Moses moments post, but when they pop up into my head, I bow it and just say "yes."

"Yes, Lord."

"I'll do it, God."

"Thank you Jesus, for the opportunity to serve you."

Until next time...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

How to Host a Chocolate Tasting Party

My posts have been so heavy lately! Time for a fun one :)

I hosted a super-fun and oh-so-lekker (lekker = tasty, in Dutch) chocolate tasting party yesterday for 8 of my nearest and dearest. I posted this picture on Facebook and a couple of people asked about how I did it, so figured I'd write and share the choco-love.

Each of the four courses paired a chocolate bonbon, with a complimentary pastille (round disc of chocolate) and a beverage (tea, white wine, red wine and coffee). In between the chocolate courses, I served a palate-cleansing appetizer and some water (plain and spa - made with lemons, limes, cucumbers and fresh mint). Here's the gang in the kitchen, waiting for the party to begin.

And the pastilles and bonbons lined up and ready to go. 

Close up of the stars of the show, the bonbons. Top left - a caramel "cupje" (little cup, in Dutch), with caramel in a milk chocolate cup, topped with white chocolate. Top right - a fruity bonbon, topped with lavender. Bottom left - dark chocolate around ground espresso beans and bottom right - a Bailey's filling topped with a cookie, covered in milk chocolate, drizzled with white and dark chocolates.

My table settings were pretty basic. I don't have enough nice-looking serving pieces for a party of more than about 6, so I used what I had (and no, it didn't all match - my apologies to Martha Stewart). 

Here's how I served the courses:

Course 1 - cupjes, with a pastille featuring the same chocolate used in the little caramel-flavored chocolate on the top of the bonbon (approximately 33% cacao). Served with a light tasting organic earl green tea. 
Palate cleanser #1 - a smear of chevre cheese and a slice of roasted red pepper on a melba toast cracker (to roast a red pepper, simply coat a red pepper in olive oil, bake at 350 until the skin begins to blacken, the strip the skin and slice), served with cucumber slices and plain water

Course 2 - the fruit bonbons, with a slightly darker chocolate pastille (approximately 50% cacao) and a lovely, light and fruity South African chardonnay. 
Palate cleanser #2 - I wanted my guests to retain some of the fruit taste for the next course, so I served "spa water" (a carafe of water with slices of cucumber, lemon, lime and mint - refrigerated for approximately 2 hours before serving) 

Course 3 - the coffee bonbons, with a much darker chocolate pastille (approximately 75% cacao) and a wonderful aleatico from Italy. The wine in this course was a huge hit and did an awesome job complimenting the bitterness of the dark chocolates and espresso beans in this course. 
Palate cleanser #3 - At this point, after all the sweetness, I figured guests would need a bigger break, so I offered a pasta salad, with lots of veggies, olive oil and feta cheese. The salt and oil did a great job mopping up the bitterness and heaviness of the wine and chocolate in this course. 

Course 4 - the Baileys bonbon, no pastille this time, with a good, easy-to-drink Ethiopian coffee. Definitely the perfect way to end the tasting!

Some things to consider, if you'd like to give this a go (and I think you should!): 
- If you're going to do this, go all out. Source quality ingredients and find an expert to help you pair the tastings. I know that's totally easy for me to say, sitting 12 miles from the Belgian border (land of awesome chocolate!), but still.... almost any major city (and many smaller ones now) have chocolatiers who can help you put this party together in a way your guest will appreciate! 
- At the beginning of each course, introduce what you'll be serving and how you prefer to taste. For example, with course #3, I let my guests know that I prefer to take a sip of the wine, then a bite of the pastille and end with the bonbon. They don't have to taste that way, of course, but go ahead and give your advice.
- That said, make sure you taste your pairings prior to your party. Do a "dry run" a few weeks ahead of your event. Darn. What a shame to have to taste more chocolate ;)
- Don't feel like you need to be perfect! More than anything, these parties should be fun!! For everyone. That includes you, the host.

If you give this a try, please check back in and let me know how it goes!