Lessons of the Forest

Yesterday afternoon we went on a picnic at a nearby forestry center. What a beautiful place! We walked around the grounds, enjoyed a yummy lunch, waded in cool river water (being careful not to slip on the slimy rocks) and enjoyed the 89 degree sun.

The forest we visited had been completely destroyed by massive fires in the 1930s and '40s and all of the trees surrounding us were relative babies, as trees go, having been planted by busloads of school children and youth groups after the fires decimated the area. There was doubt as to whether the replanting would work, as elk would come along and eat two out of every three new trees. Now you wouldn't know that the forest had been consumed repeatedly by flames, and that there was nothing left but black chard; there's no trace of the fiery inferno or its total destruction.

The trees stand tall and straight, providing shade and cool patches and meandering hiking trails. There are picnic tables and benches and paths and a visitor's center and a beautiful river.

I am always inspired by water. I love the see the ocean and whenever I'm on vacation near the sea I begin to have phrases and words and sentences and ideas come to mind. The ocean is powerful and vast and I can't help but be inspired by its sheer presence. It seems to put into perspective whatever problems I carried when I arrived.

The forest and its trees had a similar effect, and I have been thinking all day about our time there yesterday and looking forward to another visit. I felt such hope there -- knowing everything around me had once been burned down, and was now growing, thriving, green and healthy.

I am still not feeling well, and am currently waiting to see a rheumatologist. My appointment is not until late September, but I am on a cancellation list. I am still having swelling, pain, stiffness, and low grade fever every day. I am more tired than usual and don't sleep as well. I am trying some supplements and dietary changes in the meantime, hoping to alleviate some of the symptoms. I've recently decided to try vastly reducing, or eliminating altogether, my intake of wheat and dairy, (no small decision for this lover of carbs and cheese) as they are thought to cause inflammation, which is the root of many autoimmune diseases.

Today the Live Art.fully Facebook page hit 200 fans. Live Art.fully is still a baby, less than a year old, and in celebration of having over 200 fans now, I wanted to have cupcakes. My husband found me gluten-free chocolate cake mix and chocolate frosting without dairy or gluten, and we were in business!

We made cupcakes and dinner and had friends over. Any evening with good food, good friends, laughter, support, music, holding babies, and chocolate is ok with me.

I don't know what my life will look like in the future. I don't know if my joints will deform or my spine will fuse. I don't know if I'll be able to maintain good health or if I'll need to let some things go. It's sometimes hard to wait to be diagnosed. There's some fear. But I plan to live my life, enjoying everything I can still do, to the best of my ability. I will try to maintain my humor and joy throughout the process.

I can have my cake and eat it too (even if it is gluten-free!) And if inflammation burns through my body, causing destruction and wreaking havoc, I will keep searching for ways to rebuild.


Father's Voice

This evening over dinner I was telling the girls some of my memories of meeting them when they were born. As I reminisced, Hannah's eyes sparkled, and Natalie would say occasionally, "And then what happened?" I told them that the night Hannah was born and the day Natty was born were the most special times of my life.

I told them that when Natalie was born she cried and cried, as if unsure of where she was and feeling scared, until the nurse handed her to me and I held her and said, "It's okay, Natty Kate, Mommy's here." As soon as she heard my voice, she recognized it, and stopped crying.

I was thinking as I tucked Natalie in, how often we feel unsure of where we are and where we're going, and how scary that can be. I began to sing a soft little song to Natalie, smoothing her brown hair, "When you're scared, do you listen for your Father's voice?"

Hannah came in from brushing her teeth and asked, "What are you singing to Natalie?" I told her that I was making up a little song and that how Natalie stopped crying when she heard my voice just after she was born is how we should be when we are scared. We should listen for our Heavenly Father's voice, and not be afraid. She said, "Ohhhh," solemnly as if agreeing, and then said, "I just heard God's voice just now! I heard Him say, 'That's right, Jennifer.'"

I don't know if God really spoke to my 6 year-old tonight or not, but what I love is that she believes. She believes that He is real, that He is near, and that He would choose to speak to her.

Do you believe? When you're scared, do you listen to your Father's voice?


Light in the Dark

Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it feels like you've been hit by things that are so big, so strong, so overwhelming, you will never get up again. It's so dark, you can't find your way.

Maybe you lose a loved one unexpectedly.
Maybe you get a diagnosis you didn't want.
Maybe a child you wanted slips away before you even get the chance to say I love you.

Maybe it's not even that big.

Maybe you're simply exhausted.
Worn down.
Shut down.
Run down.

I want to be the person who runs to God when I no longer have the strength to walk.
Talks to God when I can no longer speak.
Listens when I can no longer be heard.

I want to be the person who reaches out when I feel shut in.
Lifts others up when I feel knocked down.
And keeps swimming when I feel I've already drowned.

And when I find myself questioning,
All that swirls around and within me
I want to be the person who praises.


Lab Results & More Waiting

Most of my lab results are in now, and pointing strongly toward something autoimmune. I have been experiencing low-grade fever, joint pain and stiffness, poor sleep and  insomnia, swelling, fatigue and weakness for 6-8 weeks now.

Commonly known autoimmune conditions are Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus. There are many others.

I am being referred to a Rheumatologist, who will likely need to do more tests before we can get a diagnosis. At this point I don't know how long of a wait I will have before I can see the specialist.

It's kind of a solemn thought to know that something's wrong, but with how I've been feeling, that isn't a surprise. It's also a relief to know my labs showed something abnormal.

As always, I appreciate all of your friendship and encouragement. After a very busy day, it's time for Elephant PJs! :-)

I hope everyone's doing well.


Elephant Pajamas and Doctor Appointments

I love elephants. I have since I was a little girl. They have been my favorite animal all my life. When I was seven I broke my arm and had to have an operation to repair it. My Grama bought me a big floppy grey stuffed elephant, and I named her Ellie. Ellie was my favorite stuffed pal and I took her as many places as I could (she was the size of a suitcase so she couldn't always accompany me) for a long time. Throughout the years she got very dirty and beat up. One summer when I was verging on Grown Up, I decided the right thing to do would be to throw Ellie out. May I just say that I wish I had kept her? Had her dry cleaned? Put her in an extra large pillow case and washed her? Invested in a shadow box the size of a car trunk and hung her on my wall? (Okay, maybe not that last one...)

In my last post, I mentioned that I haven't been feeling well and that I had finally scheduled an appointment to see a doctor.

Yesterday was my appointment. I have to admit I was anxious. Even though I haven't been feeling well for several weeks, at this point I only have symptoms and suspicions, no diagnosis. With a diagnosis comes something altogether different: an effect on how I identify myself and sorting through treatment options is just the beginning.

But I'm not functioning well. Every single day I feel ill. Weak. So tired. Hurting. And I have a life to live. I have a part-time job and a household to run and writing & projects I want to do, and a husband and two little girls who deserve the best their wife and mama has to offer.

So I went.

Long story short, the doctor took me seriously and has the same suspicions I had. I had blood drawn for lab work, and walked out of the office feeling a bit lighter because now someone else is joining me to try and figure out what's going on. It's nice to have help.

Life has been busy lately. Dinners. Parties. Projects. Deadlines. Work. Responsibilities.

My mom took care of my girls during my appointment and offered to keep them all night so I could rest. It's nice to have help.

My husband took me to a second appointment as the pain I already deal with had cropped up again. So I had a pain treatment. We had dinner out and got to peruse Target, despite my low-grade fever causing me to feel flushed and my legs trying to collapse beneath me. Jonathan & I walked arm-in-arm. It's nice to have help.

I found one thing that made me feel more cheery: blue capri PJ pants with big pink elephants and flowers on them. There's just something about feeling sick that makes new jammies so appealing. We headed over to the girls' clothing section to find new PJs for my 6 year-old and what do you think they had? Blue capri PJ pants with big pink elephants and flowers on them! So Hannah & I are going to have matching jammies for the first time. I don't know who will be more excited.

Forgive me if this is disjointed. Hopefully I will hear soon on the lab results and I will know what to do next. Until then, I will have cute PJs to wear.

I really appreciate every single comment that is left. Thank you, friends, for your sweet notes & well-wishes.

Until next time...
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