Saturday, October 18, 2014

My Old Lady Post

I can't believe it has been over a year since I've posted. Not that I think people have been waiting with bated breath or anything. But man, a year can sure fly by!

I do want to share my story of the past year. Hopefully it can give someone encouragement if they have been sharing similar struggles.

It's been a rough year. Hold on to your hat and get ready for this little old lady to tell you about her laundry list of health ailments. Don't worry, I won't get too graphic.

A little background: I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2003. Daily high fevers and severe abdominal pain sent me to my family doctor who referred me to a gastroenterologist who knew even before internal testing that it was Crohn's (even though I didn't present with the typical *ahem* bathroom issues).

I took four gigantic horse pills called Pentasa, four times a day. My fevers went away and I felt TONS better. I was in college so as soon as my symptoms went away I went back to my normal life and forgot that I even carried this diagnosis of a chronic disease with no known cure.

After Jim and I got married in 2006 I had another flare up. I needed to get back on my Pentasa but we learned that it was not covered since it was a pre-existing condition. $500 a month. That wasn't going to happen. I began to learn to manage my symptoms by changing my diet... somewhat... like... as in... not very much. I did enough to keep fevers away but I couldn't give up these foods that I loved so much. The creamy sauces. The desserts. The fried foods. THE CHOCOLATE. 

Pregnancy, oddly enough, brought relief. I felt great and we joked that I should just stay pregnant for the rest of my life. (Ha. Ha... no.) But after James was born, and for the next entire year, my body returned all of the evil that I had done to it. All of my belly issues came back in addition to normal post-pregnancy issues.

Understandably, it took us a while to become pregnant with Anna and I banked on the fact that pregnancy would bring the relief that James' had. It did. However, I was underweight throughout her gestation and after she was born I watched my body deteriorate terrifyingly fast. This time I dropped below my pre-pregnancy weight within a few months (which, for me, was not healthy at all) and continued to drop weight. I nursed as long as I could but stopped early in hopes that my body would begin to build itself back up. Even though my Crohn's disease wasn't flaring up, according to colonoscopy and endoscopy tests, the malabsorption was in full swing. It didn't matter how much I ate, I wasn't gaining healthy weight. 

Soon my abdominal pain became debilitating. This was stop-you-in-your-tracks, bend-over-holding-your-belly pain. Then the vomiting, 3-5 times a week from the pain, began. I had a very sick gallbladder removed over the summer of 2013 before Anna turned one. It brought some relief, but soon it all returned. I was literally prescribed every antacid known to man. Every single one made me sicker. I have a small hiatal hernia, but my gastroenterologist didn't think it should cause these many issues. This spring I had an MRI scheduled and new blood work done to search for tumors and cancer markers as my weight was at a whopping 83.5 pounds. Yay.   

I should pause here and explain that I have the most wonderful husband, family, and friends in the world. My in-laws and parents cared for me and the children, Jim came home early from work on bad days when I needed him. James prayed sweet prayers at night to, "please make mommy's belly feel better." I could function to get through the day, but only just. I needed them and they were there for me.

The MRI and blood work results were negative and Jim and I praised Jesus for his mercy. While we were relieved, this still left us with more questions than answers. My Crohn's disease wasn't causing this directly, neither was my hernia or gallbladder or liver or anything clearly pathological. So why was my stomach rejecting everything I offered? There was one more rare thing it could be called Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction - I would be sent to Charleston for that test in two weeks. Neither Jim nor I felt like this was the answer either.

Would you believe me if I told you that Facebook gave me back my life? Cheesy. I know.

One of my friends shared this page about following a Paleo diet. I should share that throughout these years of struggle I had cut out gluten, sugar, and dairy at different times but never all three together. And never with the determination that is really required for it to make a difference. Honestly, I was immature about caring for my body. And my gastroenterologist's response about diet? "You should be able to eat a normal diet." Bless his heart.

I believe the numbers on my bathroom scale coupled with a scary MRI lit the fire that I needed to do it. Jim and I decided to do the Paleo diet very strictly and if it made no difference, we would go through with the MUSC visit. That very day, June 16, 2014, my mom stocked my kitchen with everything I needed. 

Within three days of a strict Paleo diet my abdominal pain and vomiting had completely ceased. I didn't even know what to do with myself. That had been my norm for so long. My lower back was sore from standing upright because I was so used to being hunched over! I called my gastro's office and was so excited to share with Linda, the nurse, (yes, we were on a first name basis by then) my happy news. We cancelled the Charleston appointment but of course will return to my doctor if needed.

It has now been 4 months and I've gained about 5 pounds. I know that doesn't sound like too much but I'm thrilled. After about a month, I introduced rice and white potato back into my diet to try to gain more weight. Since then I've completely added grains back in to continue to try to gain healthy weight. I'm still off of dairy and trying to avoid added sugars. I still feel great and truly like I've been given my life back. 

I also have a more realistic outlook on the rest of my life: I will always need to be careful with my diet. The creamy sauces. The desserts. The fried foods. Even THE CHOCOLATE. It's not worth it to me. (Yikes! Did I really write that into existence??)

So. I wrote this for me. To remind me of God's faithfulness through this storm. And yes, He'd still be faithful if that MRI returned with scarier results. Yes, He'd still be faithful if the Paleo diet didn't work. In this part of my story, though, he's teaching me discipline through my food choices. And his mercy in restoration.

Thanks for pushing through to the end! Please, if you struggle with similar belly issues that plague so many people these days, consider looking at a lifestyle change such as the Paleo diet or something similar. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Filling bellies

Come into my morning if you will.

I shuffle, still haven't spoken words, into the coffee maker, the toaster, the cereal bowls, the milk. Fill the empty bellies. Anna is crawling around my feet, pulling up to my legs to be held. James is asking if I want to play Legos. Really so sweetly and with such good manners that it hurts my heart to say no... again. 

And the day begins. My brain is already searching for my own space. Push away. Leave me alone for - just - one - minute - PLEASE. No solace. Where's the quiet that was so fleeting with sleep? 

I sit with my breakfast, take one bite. 

"No, no more juice. Fill your cup with water if you're still thirsty."

"Anna, are you already stinky?"

"You don't have to announce that you footahed, James. Just say excuse me."

I don't think I have finished one complete thought yet.

Anna soon goes down for her morning nap. Ah. James is playing Legos at the dining room table. Yet still I am on edge. The day isn't half over and I feel so panicky. Crazy. Still bitter inside, even as I sit with my now-room-temp-coffee. Just waiting for one more interruption, to feel justified in my internal wrath. 

I open my Bible to Matthew's account. 

I see here that Jesus, too, was once on edge. His cousin, his dear close friend, the one who baptized him was just murdered. Beheaded. A bigger deal than my semi-chaotic-first-world-breakfast-morning, I suppose.

He was in mourning and wanted to be alone. He needed quiet. And for excellent cause.

But he didn't get it. THRONGS of people searched for him and found him. THOUSANDS of people interrupted him. They interrupted his agony and his need to have complete thoughts about the death of his friend. 

So where was his bitterness? Where was his lashing out and his leave me alone for just - one - minute?

It was lost and gone. Killed by his compassion for the hungry bellies in front of him. And he fed them - all of them - until they were satisfied.

He still needed to be alone, though, and that time did come. He went high on a mountain to pray and found his quiet after they were all gone. But I see that in the meantime, in the interruptions, he was patient. And compassionate. And so generous and gentle. I have a feeling he wouldn't even call them interruptions.

And so when the inevitable chatter began again, I was thankful to find my heart a little softer. At least this time. Grace for today. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Storytelling with little ones

If you tell bedtime stories to your kids, you're making them smarter!

My parents are incredible storytellers. Growing up, we snuggled in their bed and listened to the adventures of Tubby Turtle, Ricky and Rhonda Robin, Moo-Moo the Cow and the Doodah Bear. Sometimes the bad guys were The Troggs who would try to make Tubby into turtle soup. We later learned they were the band that sang "Wild Thing." Nice. My parents told stories slowly and with lots of detail. And we were rapt.

The benefits are numerous. Selfishly, it's a great excuse to lay down and rest and cuddle with my boy who doesn't always want to stay still these days. But also, he is forming the story in his imagination - no pictures in a book, no screen to dictate the action that he sees in his mind's eye. And it doesn't take much. Not a super complex storyline. Just a not-too-scary problem, lots of sillies, and the good guys winning at the end.

Now we are trying our hand at some storytelling. We let James name our characters and each character is a member of our family. Jim is Bobalob the Bear, I'm Hubbly the Owl, James is Funny the Fox, and Anna is Honky the Horse.

We're a blended family, obviously.

Mainly, their adventures occur in the woods with other woodland creatures. A baby mouse with her tail stuck under a fallen rock; Funny the Fox comes to the rescue (yea, forget that Funny would probably make a snack out of baby mouse.) Bobalob the Bear has to climb waaaaaay up in a tree to rescue Honky the Horse because she climbed up but, Hello! she's a horse and now is stuck.

But honestly, the very best stories are when James gets us started. Riveting plots such as, "...when Bobalob takes everyone out of the forest to eat at Papas and Beer!" or "...when Funny the Fox asks Hubbly if he can play a game on her phone."


And of course you can always do the sneaky parent move where you reinforce a moral or solution from  reality. You know, when Funny the Fox didn't want to go to bed or Honky the Horse knocked down Funny's tower...

There's a reason storytelling is so powerful. Check out a bit from this incredible article:

It's in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.
If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it's about motion, our motor cortex gets active. 
In short, telling stories makes meaningful, creative, and lasting connections with our children. And it's really no surprise to me that, once upon a time, Jesus did the same.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sweet Anna at 5.5 Months

I know. Five and a half months is no significant milestone. But I just realized that she's almost six months old and I've dreadfully succumbed to the "second-child-doesn't-get-baby-book-filled-out" thing.

Of course, she doesn't even have a baby book... and I think James' is only about a third filled out. I did keep regular milestone updates for James on here, so I better get crackin' for my girl!

I must say, Anna Jubilee is simply a joy. She's somewhat bashful and oh, so sweet. Usually, she's looking around, wide-eyed, with her eyebrows lifted in expectation. When you talk to her, she'll tilt her chin down and look up with her big dark (smoky green/brown?) eyes to throw you a grin and your heart just plummets right to the floor.

At the same time, though, when she gets excited (the changing table = Disney World), her plump little legs go wild, kicking so fast there's not much hope for diving in there for a diaper change. She's perfected the feminine squeal. I remember the first time she did it, I thought, "Whoa. That sound has never emitted from my rugged little man-boy. She IS a girl."

She loves to be held and walked around, facing outward. If you hold her toward you, she twists and turns and kicks until you turn her around.

She has most blessedly slept through the night (7pm - 7:30am) for the past three nights. She takes sporadic 45 min/1 hr naps, but I have no complaints there. She has marginally tolerated a few helpings of baby cereal and we'll probably go for some avocado soon.

She has two teeth on the bottom row and she drools and blows bubbles so much that I barely notice it now... probably much to the chagrin of strangers around us. If there is anything within her fluffy arms' reach, it is immediately deposited into her gnawing chops.

She rolls from tummy and from back and has been for a while now. I caught her trying so desperately to push up to her knees to reach a toy the other day. But don't worry, she got a severe reprimand for growing up THAT fast.

I can't believe it's almost been 6 months, and yet of course I can't imagine our little life without her. I'm so excited to watch her grow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Buddy Conversation.

I was admiring a recent Lego construction and said, "Wow, you're so creative, James!" He looked at me for a moment, then back to the space ship, then back to me...

James:  Mommy, God created the heavens and the earth.

Me:  And he created us, too. And he created us to BE creative.

James:  What's creative?

Me:  It's when we make things. Like painting, or cooking, or building with Legos, or planting a garden outside...

James:  ... or telling stories... or making BABIES!

Me, laughing:  Yep. And babies.

He gets it.

Jim has a habit of speaking scripture to James in a conversational way, just like he's telling him a story. I'd love to do this, too, but it helps if you have some memorized... which I don't... or not that well anyway. The first chapter of Genesis is a frequent one and it's so beautiful when conversations like this happen and it's clear that he's been listening. Even when sometimes as Jim finishes, James will respond with something like, "Look at this booger I got, Daddy."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Her name.

This is my dear, precious, best, bosom friend, Anna. In this picture we are juniors or seniors in high school, squeezing each other in the frigid football stands of a marching band competition. She played the piccolo, I played the clarinet.

And here we are with our other sister-friend, Rachel, around age 4 or 5. Anna would still rock those gold shoes and wacky hair bow today. Shamelessly.

Anna has been my friend since my memory begins. We were neighbors, children together, up on Chestnut Mountain. Way out in the boonies where no one else was. We slid down rocky creeks in just our Hanes Her Ways and picked blackberries along the road that was cut through the woods on our mountain. We swam in the muddy lake and got stung by yellow jackets in the summer. Our playground was a seemingly endless forest with fabled bobcats (often heard but never seen) and maybe even a bear or two.

She was home schooled for some of her elementary years and then joined me in 5th grade at our little public school. It absolutely made my year that my best friend was going to be in my class. We were inseparable into middle school. 

Middle school. As tragic as middle school is by itself, Anna also endured the loss of her mother to cancer. Carol was a beautiful, gregarious, welcoming, and artistic woman. It was devastating. Anna spent many nights with our family during that time, some of which I would wake to her crying. An awkward seventh grader myself, I would have no clue what to say. My mom was alive. 

With our mamas, Anna and Carol on the right.

We weathered middle school together, became women together. We liked some of the same boys and got in trouble for talking too much in freshman biology class. We both drove little white Toyota Corollas.

In late high school, boyfriends and youthful indiscretion (read that: underaged drinking of cheap beer) distanced us. Anna pursued the artistic gifts from her mom through photography. I pursued shallow popularity. A really cool thing happened, though. On the very last day of our senior year, it was like all of that had never happened. We fell right back in step. That tends to happen with true friends.

On Senior Day.

We continued on into different colleges, but remained very close. Anna obtained a degree in black and white photography and then another in art history. I chose elementary education. She was there for me when I finally realized the futility of partying and when I transferred schools because I just wanted to come home. 

She was there when I remembered Jesus. She was there to affirm that, yes, he is in fact the greatest in all of existence. And that's not to say she didn't have her own struggles with God. Her faith was deeper. Her's was wrought out of anger when he took her mom. The pain that she felt as a middle schooler, I have yet to experience.

She was there when I met Jim. She was there in the tiny apartment that we shared, already crying happy tears as I walked in the door because she knew he had proposed that day. She stood beside me on my wedding day as my maid of honor, holding my 800 pound bouquet of lilies and roses.

I watched her, in proud awe, as she boarded a plane to study art in Italy. She came home a different person, worldly-wise and fresh with adventure. Her strength, independence, and bravery are some of her greatest attributes. 

She shed more happy tears when I announced that I was pregnant with James. She stood outside the delivery room and was one of the first in to see us.

She remains one of his favorite people.

So when we found out that we were pregnant with a girl, we began the daunting task of choosing a name. (It was easy with James Walker Thompson the Fifth, for Pete's sake). But then, all of the sudden, it became clear. Of course she should be called Anna. 



My beautiful friend.

Anna is now finishing her graduate work in seminary to become a counselor. She has traveled to the Dominican Republic to serve others and regularly helps the needy in her area. She still loves the arts, but wants to be able to help people who are hurting. She is kind. Compassionate. Selfless. 

Strength and dignity are her clothing and she smiles at the future... and I pray that our Anna will follow in her footsteps.   

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Watermelon and saying hard things.

I don't like cutting up a watermelon. Or a pineapple. Or even uncooked potatoes.

Twelve-year-old me, standing next to my mama chopping in the kitchen, she teaches me, "Sara, you have to have a special balance of confidence and caution when using sharp knives. Without one or the other you will cut yourself. Be strong but always know where your fingers are."

I try to remember this but my knees still get weak as I try to push a big knife through a cantaloupe. It takes practice.

Confrontation also makes me physically sick. I get queasy and tongue-tied and would rather do anything but tell someone something uncomfortable. But we are not to sacrifice our loved ones on the altar of comfort. It, too, takes practice.

I have to be confident and cautious. Confident that it is always right to tell the truth and cautious with my words. They have to be compassionate and edifying and helpful - not browbeating or condemning.

And with that, Ephesians 4 is a good read. May we learn to speak the truth in love and kindness to one another.