40

Standard

June 30, 1978.

Jimmy Carter was president and Grease was #1 at the box office. Chesapeake by James Michener was atop the list of New York Times bestsellers and “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb was probably playing on the radio. Fans of the San Francisco Giants watched Willie McCovey become the 12th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 500 home runs and in Ann Arbor, Michigan a baby girl was born to Ron and Mary Waterloo. Their sixth daughter!

IMG_7468

June 30, 1978. Baby Betsy.

This past Saturday, we celebrated Betsy’s 40th birthday. It was a great opportunity to gather together with many of the people that love her the most. People have mixed feelings about turning forty. I know, I do! This October, I will…cease to be in my 30s (see, I can’t even say it!) and the pendulum of emotions swings back and forth on a daily basis. On the plus side, I still have my hair. But it has become a losing battle trying to pluck all of the grey out of my disheveled mop. I can afford to buy the really nice soccer shoes I used to dream about but often I can barely walk the day after I play in them.

I could go on.

For Betsy, turning forty feels different. When Betsy was born in 1978, the average life expectancy for someone diagnosed with cystic fibrosis was around twenty years. To have made it to forty and to be thriving is an unqualified victory. If Betsy had any grey hair (she doesn’t), it would be a badge of honor. Betsy has been through a lot in her forty years. There have been more than a few health crises along the way. Life now looks a lot different than it did twenty years ago but Betsy has not given in to discouragement. Betsy’s day-to-day existence is not without its difficulties but it is mostly full of joy and laughter and hope.

image1

1998. Bae (I think that’s what the kids are saying these days) home from college.

And we are hopeful! Betsy is feeling as good if not better than she has at many points in the last ten years. She is still chasing after our six and a half year old son, Lucas. Betsy is a great mom – always at his soccer games and school events. Lucas adores her! She has resumed a little running after some breathing and back difficulties forced her to take an unwanted hiatus. Her time for the mile isn’t quite what it was when she was tearing up the Mackinac Island Eight Mile Run back in college but she is running! She is still operating a successful tutoring business and making a difference in the lives of her students. She even manages to still have the time (and patience!) to help me find all of the things that I misplace.

IMG_6538

Betsy and her favorite boy (yes, I’ve been displaced 😉 )

There are a lot of exciting medical advancements too. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is constantly pushing the boundaries for new treatments and medications. We participated in the Great Strides fundraising campaign on a rainy Saturday this past spring. Our team amassed over $5000 in donations and nationwide nearly $30 million was raised, all of which goes towards funding cystic fibrosis research. Betsy’s pulmonary specialist is hopeful that maybe even within the next two years, there will be a new medication targeting the underlying cause of cystic fibrosis for people with Betsy’s particular gene mutations. A company called Planetary Biosciences has been working on new dietary supplements that have made a huge difference for Betsy and others. We feel optimistic!

32323602_10216877063463714_1795108119966121984_n

Team #Breathe4Betsy

To see Betsy at age forty is a testament to God’s faithfulness. It’s a testament to Betsy’s determination and perseverance. And it’s a testament to the love and support that we have received from our family and friends. Psalm 139 says “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” We are thankful for each one of those days! We don’t know how many there will be (none of us do!) but I know Betsy will live them to the fullest, surrounded by love.

Just like Saturday. Happy Birthday, Betsy!

WaterlooGirls

June 30, 2018. Betsy & her sisters.

Advertisements

Coffee & Change

Standard

I love coffee. It’s just so good! I’m one of those people who starts looking forward to my morning cup when I’m heading to bed the night before. I drink my coffee after my routine of breathing treatments and the physical and respiratory therapy I have to do to keep my CF-self functioning. It feels like a reward for getting through the less pleasant parts of the morning.

I love everything about coffee–the smell, the taste, the warmth, and the deep, rich color. I even like the sounds my coffee pot makes while the coffee is brewing. I find them oddly comforting. Those of you who love coffee are nodding your head and saying, “Mmm-hmmm,” right now, aren’t you? And the rest of you probably think I’m a little crazy. 🙂

coffee i

coffee iii

I love coffee memes!

This morning as I was drinking my strong, black brew, I was thinking about how coffee never changes. It’s one of those things I can count on each day. It’s a homey comfort and a fixed part my morning. It’s nice to have simple pleasures like coffee to ground me (no pun intended 😉 ).

In another area of my life, I’m in a period of change. Lucas is off to school full-time now, and beyond that, he’s becoming increasingly independent even when he is home. He demanded so much of my time and attention as a baby, toddler, and preschooler. He was a child who needed a lot of closeness and a great deal of attention to feel safe and comfortable in the world. Sometimes it worried me and sometimes Jaime and I both grew weary of it, but we felt strongly that his needs were legitimate and we should do our best to meet them. For five years, taking care of Lucas consumed a great deal of my time and energy. We learned early on with Lucas that developmentally, he did things in his own time. He didn’t always follow the same trajectory as other kids, but once he was ready for a particular milestone, it was as if a switch would flip, and all of a sudden he would be there.

This fall, the independence switch flipped. Suddenly he was comfortable (enough) in big, noisy groups. He was able to handle the chaos of a crowded school. He was happy to play independently for long stretches without having me within his sight. I was so busy with various things this fall that I didn’t feel the full impact of these changes, but I’m feeling them now. With the formidable germs that are on the loose this season, I’ve been keeping close to home, and no matter how many tasks I busy myself with, I’m feeling the emptiness of the house in a new way.

I was noticing last night that sometimes Lucas resists changes, too. Our treadmill is broken and Jaime and I were discussing what we might do if it can’t be fixed. Lucas told us that he was sad to think that we might have to get a different one, and hoped we could find the exact same one because he loves it so much. (That makes one of us that loves the treadmill!) It made me smile. I mean, Lucas obviously never uses it, but somehow he feels attached to it and doesn’t want to see it go. Maybe all those hours he spent down there in the basement with me while I walked or jogged on it are stuck in his memory. Maybe part of him doesn’t want to see those days over and done with either.

It’s hard to let go of the past sometimes. I longed for more freedom in the most intense years of Lucas’s early life, but now it almost feels as though I have too much. I’m not quite sure where to go from here. The abruptness of the change has left me feeling a little lost.

It’s comforting to know that God’s promises never change. Even as I’m adjusting to a different set of circumstances, I know that God has a purpose and a plan for me. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” We put the first part of that verse on Lucas’s birth announcement.

img_3556

Lucas was and is God’s perfect gift to us, and whatever God has in mind for me now that Lucas’s demands are lessening, that will be a perfect gift too. My job is to continue to trust God in the face of these changes. It doesn’t take me long to get anxious and fearful once I start trying to figure out my future. Peace comes from leaving it in God’s hands and knowing that he will provide for me no matter what comes, or doesn’t come. He will never leave me, and he will give strength for each new task. His plans are for good and not for evil, and he has promised me a hope and a future. Those wonderful promises are even more comforting than my morning coffee. 🙂

Ventura17-45

photo by Jess Marie Photography.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ~Romans 15:13

 

A Year in Review

Standard

Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done.

~I Chronicles 16:11-12a

Happy Holidays a little late! I’m sorry I’ve been absent from my blog for so long. Jaime told me I’d better get something published before people started to worry about me! My writing has gotten pushed to the back burner. It’s not as though life is busier than before, it’s just been different since school started in the fall. Somehow when my routines and responsibilities got rearranged, the blog got pushed out of the mix. I miss writing here, so stick with me. I’ll be back in 2018.

Last night Jaime and I were talking about the highlights and low points of 2017. I like reminiscing about the past year before I venture into the new one. It’s fun to remember and relive the happy times and good to note that we did, in fact, survive our challenges. And there were a few–Jaime had a really tough, busy stretch at work for the first few months. I had a rough summer health-wise and had to have both IV antibiotics as well as oral antibiotics and steroids during what are usually my healthiest months of the year. A bunch of my hair fell out (gotta love side effects). I lost some lung function. I had back problems and spent months in therapy. We had to cancel a trip to Chicago in the early spring because of the Jaime’s work situation and we missed a planned vacation to Tennessee in July due to my illness. I woke up with pink eye on Christmas Day (apparently I was on Santa’s naughty list) and I am on antibiotics now for a virus gone rogue. Those were some of the low points.

Ah, but the highlights! There were many more of those. The tooth fairy made two appearances here and one at Grandma’s which was a fun first for us and Lucas. Lucas played on his first two soccer teams with coach Dad, and so far has not broken anything  in spite of all the soccer balls he kicks and scoops and does who-knows-what-else with around the house. Jaime’s mom courageously fought cancer with surgery, chemo, and radiation and was given a clean bill of health. We participated in the Great Strides walk for CF in May and were showered with support. We had several gatherings with Jaime’s family and visits from my family. We traveled to West Michigan for beach time and reunions. Lucas, Jaime, and Grandpa Ventura took a trip to Washington D.C. to see Manchester United play. We went to Wild Kratts live and Detroit City FC games. We hung out with our friends. Lucas did great in Young Fives and he transitioned smoothly into Kindergarten.

I realize at this point I might be overdoing it, but I hope you’ll allow me to share a few more highlights. 🙂

Lucas helped me brush up on my geography skills and he learned to ride a two-wheeled pedal bike. There were ten new deer signs installed within a few miles of our home which was mega exciting for our resident six-year-old. We did some nice landscaping in our backyard and my garden was extra beautiful. I had a healthy fall and even got through my first virus in November without needing antibiotics.  My back issues improved and I was able to start jogging again. I got to go on two field trips with Lucas and his classmates and Jaime went to two in-class parties. We both got to see him read a self-authored book to his class about what he was thankful for, and we both made it onto the book. Lucas got interested in Legos and I’m living vicariously through him as they were not marketed to girls back in my day. (I didn’t know what I was missing.)

We laughed a lot this year and experienced much joy. We cried a bit too, and faced some tough disappointments. But our consensus is that we have a really great life and we’re extremely thankful to God for all the blessings and the challenges and the various facets that make it ours. God has always been faithful to us and we know that will never change.

And so we look forward to whatever 2018 will bring.  Jaime and I will both turn 40 which is shocking (and somewhat disturbing). It’s quite a milestone from cystic fibrosis perspective though, so I think we’ll celebrate rather than mourn (any black balloons that show up on my doorstep will be immediately popped). I’m sure there will be more soccer and Legos and more visits from the tooth fairy. There will be good times with family and friends. There will be struggles. I always feel some nervousness as I look out toward the future, wondering what is coming my way. I can’t quite see how certain things in my life are going to work out. But it’s not my job to know. I don’t need to be afraid because God has promised never to leave me, always to help and strengthen me, and He’s promised to finish the work He has begun in me. And so with a nod toward last year’s challenges and a heart brimming with thankfulness for the blessings, we’re stepping forward into a new year.

May your new year be full of blessings, may you know God’s love, and may you take hold of His strength during the tough times.

Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever.

~I Chronicles 16:34

Sheri’s Answers

Standard

A few weeks ago, Jaime, Lucas and I left for our annual beach weekend in western Michigan. We started this tradition when Lucas was three and now it’s something we all look forward to. We’re fortunate that my parents live just a little more than a half hour from Lake Michigan so we have the most wonderful place to stay!

This year we left in the early afternoon on Friday and drove straight to the beach. I figured we would have a few hours of sunlight left to enjoy the sand and watch the waves. It had been cold and windy earlier in the day so we knew we wouldn’t be able to swim but the air was fresh and the water and sky were so beautiful.

img_2614

It was only a short time before the park emptied out, and finally, we were the only three left on the beach. “Mommy, I just love watching the waves,” Lucas told me as he snuggled on my lap. Me too. It was wonderful.

img_2626

As I gazed at the expanse of the lake, it struck me how peaceful it was on the beach. It wasn’t quiet–the waves were choppy and rough and they crashed forcefully onto the shore. Seagulls were squawking and scuffling.  But still it was peaceful, natural, lovely. A gentle breeze danced around us and I found myself breathing deeply of air that felt clean and pure. I could practically feel my heart disarm, setting aside its indignant complaints and surrendering to God’s peace. Peace amidst the turbulence.

The words of the old hymn, Be Still My Soul, came into my mind, and I was transported back, again, to the summer when Sheri was dying. That hymn was meaningful to our family around that time. I quoted from it in a letter I wrote to Sheri just before she died. I posted it on my refrigerator as a way to be strengthened in my grief. My sister Julie wrote a beautiful piece incorporating its words on the first anniversary of Sheri’s death. Sheri died on September 4, 2004–thirteen years ago, today. It’s so hard to believe she’s been gone that long. I miss her so much.

I think of Sheri all the time, perhaps even more now that I find myself wrestling so much with the effects of this disease. I often wonder what advice she might have for me. Her faith in God sustained her, this I know. I saw it with my own eyes. But would she have specific suggestions for me? Would she attempt to answer the unanswerable questions? She fought through a seemingly endless string of challenges in her life without bitterness, and left a mark on this world that no one who knew her would deny. She was so faithful and so incredibly strong. But I know it was hard. She told me it was hard and I saw her struggle. I imagine that sometimes, when the house was quiet and the night was dark, she too felt overwhelmed by the burden of the fight and surrendered to the tears. Knowing that makes me feel close to her, even though 13 years have passed since I’ve talked to her and touched her.  Sometimes I just go ahead and ask her the questions. I don’t know if she can hear me, and I know for sure I won’t hear an audible reply, but sometimes just giving voice to them brings me comfort.

Sheri trusted God. She had hope, she had confidence in His goodness and love, and she knew God was in control. She knew He would give her the strength she needed to live and love fully until the day He took her home. And He did. There were good days, great days! Days filled with joy and hope and love. She touched so many lives and accomplished so much in her 35+ years here on earth. There were bad days full of hospitals and doctors, medicines, loss, and pain. Some days were downright ugly and filled with darkness and despair. But the beauty of her spirit is what we remember most of all–how hard she fought, how victorious she was, how strong, how loving, how generous. We remember those things because she refused to be defined by the disease that plagued her. At times cystic fibrosis ruled her body but she staunchly refused to allow it to break her spirit. Her husband Pete once told me that rather than allowing CF to define her, Sheri defined CF. Cystic Fibrosis on Sheri’s terms.

As the lyrics of the hymn scrolled through my mind that evening on the beach, I began to think that the words contained some of the answers she might give me, answers to the questions of how to weather the losses and disappointments, how to face my fears, how to resist bitterness and choose thankfulness and joy even when I feel battered and bruised. “Be still my soul” is a good start.

“Be Still, My Soul”
by Catharina von Schlegel, 1752
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1855

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

I love you so much, Sheri. Thanks for loving me. Thank you for being a great example, leaving for us a legacy that continues to guide and inspire our journeys of life and faith. I’m so grateful for the 26 years I had with you, and that I’ll see you again, when the vale of tears is lifted and love’s purest joys are restored. Until then, you will remain forever part of the fabric of my being, my dear and beloved big sister.

Sheri

Sheri Leigh VanBruggen, September 26, 1968 – September 4, 2004

 

 

Living in the Shadow

Standard

This summer has been such a mixed bag. There have been many great things about it. I love the more relaxed pace of the afternoons and long evenings. Last night after dinner the three of us headed down to the park so Jaime and Lucas could play soccer and I sat on a park bench watching them run and laugh and enjoy their health and freedom. It was heavenly.

img_2606

Run like the wind, boys!

I’ve loved the lazy mornings and the long bike rides and eating breakfast at 11am. I’ve loved the swimming and biking and playdates. Sometimes I think I never want summer to end.

This, however, is the most I’ve ever struggled with my CF in the summertime if I’m remembering right. It’s as if my lungs have forgotten that this is supposed to be my healthiest, most carefree time of the year. Instead I spent most of the month of June on a some combination of IV antibiotics, oral antibiotics and steroids. I had the month of July “off” but struggled through a particularly challenging adjustment period. Once I was through the adjustment phase I was dismayed to find that my lung function had dropped back down five points and after consulting my doctor, we began a round of oral antibiotics at the start of this month. They didn’t seem to be cutting it so last week I started a burst of steroids as well. I can’t find my footing and my lung function is stubbornly refusing to climb back up, even while on the medications. It’s been incredibly disheartening.

My emotions have taken a pretty hard hit, and that has perhaps been the hardest part of this summer. Just three short months ago I was flying high. I was so relieved and excited to have gotten through the winter relatively unscathed for the first time in several years. My heart was brimming with hope and thankfulness. I thought I had finally regained the strength and stability I’d been laboring towards for the past two years and I fully expected to continue to gain health and strength through the summer months. Suddenly I could imagine things for myself that I barely dared to hope for during some of the hardest moments of the past two years. I thought that after jumping hurdle after hurdle I’d finally reached my goal. Yet here I am, no better off than I was two years ago. Back to the beginning again. I imagined blue skies and puffy white clouds, and instead the skies have been dark and the storm clouds menacing.

And it hurts. Dreams are threatening to slip away forever. The hope, the joy, the anticipation I felt last spring seems like some sort of cruel joke now. I feel betrayed. Was I a fool for expecting those clear skies?

I know that in these hard times, the only thing that keeps me from sliding into an abyss of despair and bitterness is my hope and trust in God. But the truth is, it can be very hard to trust God in times like this. As humans it’s our natural tendency to assign blame when things go wrong. It makes us feel like we have some control over our destiny. So in these circumstances, when there’s nowhere to point the finger, sometimes I find myself wanting to blame God. Is God responsible for my current state of health? No, I don’t believe that. But part of me wants to be angry that after filling my heart with hope and joy this spring, He didn’t stop the events of this summer from happening. Why.  Why?

I recently re-read the book Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s an open, honest book that explores the questions many of us are hesitant to voice aloud–questions of God’s fairness and accessibility and why He doesn’t consistently swoop in to prevent our hurts–why evil and disease and death seem to have free rein in this world. In one chapter, Yancey discusses Job, specifically The Wager at the beginning of the book, where Satan asserts that we humans are not really free. He argues that we only love God because of what He does for us; that we only love him because of His blessings. As the story goes, Satan is proved wrong by the life of Job, who amidst a staggering amount of suffering, still clings, even if by a thread, to his hope and trust in God.

Satan denied that human beings are truly free.  We have freedom to descend, of course–Adam and all his descendants proved that. But freedom to ascend, to believe God for no other reason than, well…for no reason at all? Can a person believe even when God appears to him as an enemy?…When tragedy strikes, we will live in shadow, unaware of what is transpiring in the unseen world. The drama that Job lived through will then replicate itself in our individual lives…Will we trust God? Job teaches us that at the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, then faith is most needed. His struggle presents a glimpse of what the Bible elsewhere spells out in detail: the remarkable truth that our choices matter, not just to us and our own destiny but, amazingly, to God himself and the universe he rules.” Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, p. 192-193

I don’t know why God is allowing these struggles in my life right now. Part of my healing is simply acknowledging that and admitting how frustrated and angry and hurt I feel. The next step is making the choice to have faith and to trust God. These feelings of faith and trust can be impossible to muster up on my own. That’s where I turn to the example of the man in Mark 9 who sought healing for his son. He acknowledged his doubt and asked Jesus to help him to believe. Similarly, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith in Luke 17. I imagine that Jesus was pleased with those requests. God is not surprised nor do I think He is disappointed with my angry feelings.  He’s my father, after all, and He understands hurt and pain. I think it makes Him angry too. I may be living in the shadow now, unaware of what is transpiring in the unseen world, and unaware of how this will all work out. But I am never in the shadow alone and my response matters. And so even though my heart is broken and wants stay locked up tight, I ask God to give me faith–faith to believe that He is trustworthy and that He will provide whatever it is I need. Faith that He will complete the work He has started in me and that His plan for me is good. I ask Him to open up my heart so that He can fill it with peace, and then hope and joy again.

VenturaFamily-1

Photo by Joyce Gan Photography

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Keeping Hope Alive

Standard

As Jaime recently mentioned, our summer has been great overall! He’s a summer enthusiast, I’m a summer enthusiast, and Lucas has followed in our footsteps to adopt summer as his favorite season as well. We’ve enjoyed days at the pool, time in our garden, park trips, games, lots of soccer, visits with family, art projects and bike rides. If you ask Lucas, though, he’ll tell you that his favorite part of summer is sleeping in as long as he wants. I didn’t realize those attitudes started at the young age of five but I’d have to agree, sleeping in is the best!

IMG_2377

A pool date and ice cream with cousins! Well, ice cream for the cousins and a banana for Lucas.

IMG_2229

Playing soccer in the sprinkler.

IMG_2440

Perler bead art project meets Lucas’s love of deer signs!

IMG_2444

Scrambled States game with more cousins!

Jaime also reported that I had been back to the doctor after finishing my round of IVs and was relieved to see that my lung function had come back up to 38%. When I first began the IVs I wasn’t sure what to expect. When I was on them two years ago I went from feeling a little sick to feeling horrible within the first week. This time, however, I felt much stronger and more stable throughout. Relief flooded in when I felt my breathing ease and I knew I was headed back up towards that 38%. Then I started to hope for more. I thought maybe I could surge up into the 40s again which would give me a little more cushion in case my lung function settled. During antibiotic treatments, my lungs are healthier than usual due to reduced congestion levels and less inflammation. It’s not uncommon for my lung function to drop a few points after I’m off the medications, once my chronic levels of bacteria return with their accompanying symptoms.

I made slow and steady progress in the first two weeks of my IVs, but into the third I felt myself plateau. It’s okay, I assured myself, at least you’re back to baseline.  I remember telling my sister that I almost wished I hadn’t hoped for the 40s because it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. It’s tiring being a hopeful person sometimes. Allowing yourself to hope means opening to the door to disappointment. Hopes that aren’t realized lead either to despair or require me to readjust my expectations.

I decided to readjusting my expectations was the way to go. Having done so, I was relieved, even excited to blow the 38%. The rest of the appointment went well too–my blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, temperature and pulse were all normal. My lungs sounded clear and my heart sounded healthy.  The only thing that gave me pause was my doctor’s confession that he would feel more comfortable once I strung together six months of stability and we saw that the 38% was sticking.

I wanted to feel joy about the 38% and satisfaction for how hard I worked to see that number again, and I did, at least for a time. But after a few days, I began to feel the weight of his comment. I know where he’s coming from. What happened to me–a sudden and not-easily-explained eight point drop in lung function is not a good thing. He has treated hundreds of CF patients over the course of his career.  He certainly knows that lung function can slip down after a course of treatment. He knows from experience that as baseline lung function drops, patients are more likely to have frequent infections and health becomes more difficult to maintain. He’s a compassionate and caring man but he never sugar coats the truth.

And so a few days after the appointment I felt myself sliding into a place of grief. I felt sad that somehow I have gotten to this place of 38%.  I grieved the fact that I was even temporarily pleased with it. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was struggling because I had dipped into the high 40s? And not so long before that I was stuck in the upper 50s, straining with every fiber of my being to get back into the 60s? The honest truth is, I am sick and tired of readjusting my expectations.

With these unhappy thoughts coursing through my mind, I entered the adjustment phase–the span of time that my CF symptoms spike up as my body gets used to life without the help of antibiotics.  This means hours of coughing each morning and again in the evening, back pain, headaches, and poor nights of sleep. It’s about as enjoyable as it sounds. I began to feel certain that I would work and strive and do everything in my power to maintain that 38% and that it wouldn’t be enough, and my lung function would slip down to a new, lower normal. Sometimes it’s hard to hold onto hope when you’re so frequently disappointed, and feeling awful doesn’t help either.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent years in a Soviet work camp (and therefore knew a lot about despair) said, “All that the downtrodden can do is go on hoping. After every disappointment they must find fresh reason for hope.” Why is hope so important? We know from medical studies that hope itself has a healing power. Hope causes the placebo effect–where patients show improvements just because they believe they are taking a medication that will help them. Hope is such a strong influence that many drug studies are done double-blind so that the patients aren’t influenced by the unconsciously communicated hope of the researcher. There are studies that show that patients who have an attitude of hope experience much better outcomes than patients who feel defeated or depressed, and true hopelessness can even result in death.

Hope is an essential part of a healthy soul. When I’m hopeful I believe that there are good things ahead and that my life is worth fighting for.  It keeps me from giving up. I do get tired of readjusting my expectations. I weather plenty of disappointments in my life with cystic fibrosis. It’s hard that with a progressive disease, what I’m hoping for feels like “less” over time. Just two years ago I was hoping for 50% lung function. Now I’m hoping for 40%. Or even 38%. The numbers are less, but what is behind them is really the same. I want the health and strength to live a full and meaningful life.

The “small” hopes–hopes to recover from illness, hopes for a higher lung function, hopes for a better day tomorrow–they are important. If I didn’t wish for those things, if I didn’t think they were possible, I wouldn’t fight nearly so hard for them.  Sometimes they lead to disappointment. But better to hope and be disappointed than to live in darkness and despair.

I have other hopes too, ones that don’t require any adjusted expectations. I have the hope that God will transform and redeem my pain and bring wonderful good out of it–for me and for others. I believe that the ugliness and pain of this disease is only temporary but that the good God brings from it will be eternal. I don’t know all the ways God has redeemed my suffering but I have witnessed some things. I have seen my faith become stronger and deeper. I have been drawn and into a closer relationship with God and with others because of my dependency. I have struggled but I have also experienced victories. I have been knocked down but I have also overcome. The joys would not be so sweet without the hurts nor the victories so gratifying without the struggles. I know the eternal glories that await me when this life is through will far outweigh any loss I have sustained. I know God is using this disease for my good. I have built my life on that hope.

And my desire for a full and meaningful life? That can happen at 100% lung function, it can happen at 50%, and it can happen at 30%. It may look different at each step of the way and it may involve adjustments and disappointments. I may need to find fresh reasons for hope on a regular basis. But until the day that God calls me home to heaven, I know He will help me to truly live.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you. 

Psalm 33:20-22

IMG_2363

Waging War

Standard

It’s time for a health update and this is not the one I thought I would be giving! I had a really great winter, getting only two viruses that I was able to recover from without excessive difficulty. I was so excited as the calendar flipped from March to April, and as we sailed through May I thought for sure I was in the clear. I was dreaming of reaching new heights and regaining some lung function this summer after not battling with a myriad of bugs all winter.

A few weeks ago, however, I started to notice increased shortness of breath. I was keeping up with all my normal activities, but suddenly exercise, yard work, chasing Lucas around, and other things of that nature became more difficult. My seasonal allergies are bad at this time of year so I assumed those allergies were irritating my asthma and I wasn’t too concerned. I headed to a routine pulmonary appointment the last week of May and was surprised when my breathing test revealed that my lung function had dropped from 38% to 34%.

I had no other signs of illness or infection, so my doctor put me on five days of steroids hoping that would reduce the apparent inflammation and get me back on track. I experienced a little reprieve while on the steroids but still wasn’t feeling right, so I contacted him again last week. He put me back on the steroids and added oral antibiotics to address any infection that might be locked up and hiding in my lungs. On Friday I went in for a check and was dismayed to see that my lung function, rather than rebounding, had dropped an additional four points to 30%.

Cystic fibrosis can be puzzling. Most of the time when my lung function drops, it’s because I’m sick and I know it. Usually it starts with a virus and moves to a CF-related secondary infection. My lungs fill with mucus, my airways swell, I struggle to breathe, and I can’t wait to get relief. But this time, I feel pretty decent. I do have the shortness of breath that I mentioned earlier and my lungs have been achy, but overall I have been feeling fine and handling all my regular activities. There was nothing obvious to account for this big drop and that makes it even more unnerving.

My doctor explained that although I wasn’t exhibiting any classic signs of infection, infection is still the number one cause of a drop in lung function. The fact that I wasn’t responding to steroids probably means that although my asthma is always a component of my struggles, it wasn’t the main player in this situation. My doctor ordered a chest x-ray to rule out anything else unexpected, but that came back clear. So we have circled back to the notion of an infection.  This one is hidden, yet waging war on my lungs all the same.

To quote Farmer Boggis, “Dang and blast!” Dang and blast and a lot of other emotions too. A kind of numbness settled in at first. I just couldn’t understand it. Next, frustration. Moments like this shatter any fleeting feeling of security I may dare to believe I have. Getting through the winter unscathed was such a victory–a victory I was reveling in and so grateful for. Yet here I am with my lung function lower than it has ever been before. After a bit the frustration moved aside and the grief set in–waves of sadness swelling up and washing over me as the fears gripped my heart. My lungs are functioning at only 30%. It’s so scary.

Times like this always bring emotional struggle. It’s never just a physical battle. It’s necessary to experience the disappointment, the frustration, and the sadness and face the fears. The emotions never fit into a neat little box. There is no scheduling myself 36 hours to get over it. Friday night was rough but Saturday I felt better. Sunday I woke up in the wee hours of the morning feeling heart-broken. But in the midst of the sadness and frustration I knew it was time to get to work. The tables need to be turned. It is time to wage war against this infection.

This battle has two fronts: the physical and the emotional. Waging war means doing everything in my power. Jaime and I started doing manual percussion on my chest in addition to my normal airway clearance. Monday afternoon I headed to the hospital to get a PICC line placed and I started an IV antibiotic on Tuesday morning. My buddy the treadmill and I have been spending time together each day as currently, brisk walking has been the only thing that makes me cough mucus out.

IMG_2066
Attempting to show this infection who’s boss!

To balance off the treadmill work, I’ve been resting more in the afternoons. These afternoon rests are made possible by the arrival of my sister Julie from Tennessee! She got here Wednesday and will be staying through Monday to help me with chores, play with Lucas, give me moral support, and make a bad situation a heck of a lot better. She’s helping me with the physical aspect of this war but also helping all of us get through it emotionally.

IMG_2155

Aunt Julie is an awesome playmate and Lucas is thanking her with hundreds of hugs and kisses.

Fighting on the emotional front means a few things for me. First of all, I am committed to continue on with as much of my life and daily routines as possible. The PICC line is so great that way. There are some restrictions, but nothing too limiting. I’ve been spending time in my garden. Nature feeds my soul. I’ve been picking Lucas up from school and running an errand with him here and there.

IMG_2073

Lucas, holding the door for his class at pick up!

IMG_2075

A quick stop for some groceries and an orange balloon.

We’ve been keeping up with his school work.

IMG_2063

A special secret school project to thank his teacher.

I’ve continued my normal work schedule.

IMG_2061

Tutoring with my PICC.

I may have to cut back on some of these activities depending on how the next weeks play out, but as long as I have the strength, I want to continue on.

Most importantly, I’m trying to keep my eyes off my circumstances and on my Creator. He is the one who calms my fears and speaks peace and comfort to my heart. While I was on the treadmill the other day, a song came on that I haven’t heard for quite some time. The words were fitting. They go like this:

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
of the mountains I can’t climb
I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer
of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

From “I Will Lift My Eyes” by Bebo Norman

These troubling circumstances are a lot to handle. These mountains are too high for me and these oceans too rough. The hurt and fear are at times more than I can bear. But none of it is too much for God, and I know my life is safe in His hands. He holds me and watches over my life. And best of all, He has already won the war.