God of the “What If”

I haven’t written very much in 2018 for a couple reasons. One is the decision I made earlier this year to delete all social media apps from my phone to focus more time on my family. This is the primary way I have shared my blog in the past so this may have contributed to my hesitancy to write. I think the main reason I haven’t been writing as much is because there isn’t much to share.

Our life for the most part has been pretty normal. School for the kids, work for me and Adam. Some family vacations this summer and continued work on the cute house we bought in Tucker late last year. Life has been really good, really fun, and for lack of a better explanation, really normal.

Beach time in St. Simons

The awesome planter box Adam and the kids built me for Mother’s Day

Since my MRI in August of last year, we’ve adjusted pretty well to our “new normal”. Seizure medicine is a daily thing and the side effects are something I’ve become used to experiencing. I started a new regimen of vitamins and supplements that have given my immune system a much needed boost and kept me well for months. I met with my neurologist in February alone for the first time. Adam came to all of my previous appointments but since this is one of the many “forever things” about my tumor, I felt like I needed to begin going to these appointments by myself. No one tags along for my annual physical or lady doctor appointment. A twice a year neurologist visit is now part of that list of norms for me which we are accepting more and more.

Another part of our “new normal” is my once a year MRI and meeting with my neurosurgeon. This will occur annually around this time of year for the foreseeable future and most likely for the rest of my life. My scan for 2018 is scheduled for August 17th with a meeting directly after with Dr. Robinson. Though I’ve decided I am ok with going to my neurologist appointments on my own, I have not yet reached that point with my neurosurgeon appointments. I am very thankful that all of our life changing news has not been received alone and this appointment will be the one each year where we get a thumbs up or a less than favorable report.

For the most part, I have been calm and optimistic about my MRI and the subsequent meeting with my neurosurgeon. But every now and then the “what if’s” sneak in and make me wonder. I know that we really have four possible outcomes from next week’s MRI. One is the tumor having shrunk even more since last August’s MRI, the second is no change, the third is the tumor having grown, and the fourth is a new tumor being found. The best and most likely results are numbers one and two. I say this because I am not experiencing any symptoms that would lead us to believe there is another tumor and the simple fact that the tumor has already shrunk does not make it likely that it would reverse course and start growing again….but what if.

A few weeks ago, my family was invited to a dinner by our friends, the Burkes, where some of their neighbors would also be in attendance. Never one to shy away from meeting new people, we were excited at the idea. Marcia told me ahead of time that one of the ladies who would be there also had a brain tumor, but her prognosis was not as positive as mine. As much as I tried to prepare myself, I had no idea how much being face to face with someone who was in the midst of the “what if” I feared the most would affect me.

At the end of the night, I was so thankful for our time with them. I loved getting to speak to her and her husband. I loved getting to meet their daughter and watch her play with Charlie as he flirted and laughed. I loved hearing about their other children and their dogs. I loved everything about their family, but I hated and ached for what her tumor had done.

I was reminded by this sweet family and this amazing woman just how blessed I am and how grateful I should be for our story. I am grateful that my tumor is benign. I am grateful that my tumor should not impact my longevity. I am grateful that the side effects from my gamma knife treatment and my medications are minimal. I am grateful that my “what if’s” are just possibilities and not current realities. If that ever changes, I’m grateful that none of it will have taken God by surprise, and just like He has before, He will prepare us and guide us every step of the way.

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THIRTEEN POINT DONE

I can’t believe it has been a month since I completed my first half-marathon and because of some amazingly generous people we raised over $13,000. Because of everyone who gave, the educational and healthcare needs of some deserving kids will be met for 2018. This money is a game changer and literal lifesaver for the people of Nsoko, Swaziland.A few days after the race, the director of The Sound of Hope sent me a message that I want to share with all of you. Your generosity is powerful and I want to make sure everyone knows just what a difference it will make. Read Rusty’s words below…

Think about this… for at least 40-50 kids next year, they won’t have to worry about school fees. That’s 40-50 FAMILIES that won’t have to make a choice between FOOD and sending their kids to school. That’s 20-25 girls who won’t be faced with the decision to SELL THEIR BODIES to go to school. That’s 20-25 boys who can go to school instead of sitting around with too much time on their hands to get in trouble (sex, drugs, the spread of AIDS). That’s 40-50 kids who will now have a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Your money is making not just a difference in their lives and the lives of their families, BUT in the entire community. It’s a ripple effect of change! And that’s just the school fees. The medical side is the same!

Maybe one night when a mom gets bit by a venous snake, instead of dying, she will live to raise her children. Kids will not be orphaned all because you chose to care! That’s HUGE!

So I say all that to say – THANK YOU, not from me, but from the community of Nsoko, Swaziland.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I have never gotten to run a race with such purpose knowing that the main goal had already been met and me finishing 13.1 miles would just be icing on the cake. I look forward to being able to share stories of how your generosity has made a difference in the lives of these people over the next year. Thank you for being the reason we can #GiveHope in a big way.

One Month Out

I can’t believe that I am just one month away from running my first half-marathon!  I also can’t believe how excited I am!

When I first decided to sign up for this race and raise money for The Sound of Hope, I was terrified.  13.1 miles is a long way.  2.5-3 hours is a long time to do anything (much less run).  $13,100.00 is a lot of money.  Along with all of these thoughts were all of the “what if’s” that go with them.  What if I can’t run that far?  What if I get hurt?  What if I can’t convince people that this is a worthy cause?  What if I can’t raise the money?  What if I can’t provide the things these Swazi kids so desperately need?  What if I fail?

I realized in the midst of listing my “what if’s” that they are all about me.  Even the ones that sound all sweet and selfless still ultimately land back on me and what I can do.  The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that this isn’t about me at all.  It is about kids who need an education.  It is about a community that needs medical care.  It is about people who need to be reminded that they are loved, valued, and worth every step that will be taken and every dollar that will be raised in the process.

Kristin’s Half for Hope from The Sound of Hope on Vimeo.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at being so excited.  I’ve got a great plan to keep up all of my training for the next few weeks so that I can not just survive this half-marathon but maybe even enjoy it a little.  I already have over 20 people who have donated over $1,400.00 to help people they have never met and probably never will.  I’ve got an amazing team supporting me and reminding me that if I just do the next right thing, God will take care of the rest.  I’ve got all of you who see enough value in this to take time out of your day to read about what I am doing.  I’ve got incredible friends at The Sound of Hope who have put together the video (above) that shows why I am doing this far better than I could ever write.  We all spent hours creating this because we knew it would so vividly express why I’m doing what I’m doing! Please take just 3 minutes to watch it – then click the blue button at the end of the video (or the link below!) and donate to be a part of giving HOPE to those who need it the most!

DONATE HERE

#Kristins13for13

But Not My Girl

Ever since the night of the seizure, I haven’t loved being a patient. I don’t like being poked, prodded, scanned, and examined, but I have become more and more accepting of this position for one main reason…it is me and not someone else. I can endure being inconvenienced or put through pain far more than I can handle watching someone else do the same. This (among many other reasons) is why what happened on Saturday morning was so hard to take.

Lydia had her first soccer game this Saturday and was so excited. Watching her nephews play over the years has had her asking when it would be her turn and this year she was finally old enough to join the league at Briarlake. About five minutes into the game, she took a hard ball to the jaw. Adam is helping coach her team and was on the field so she immediately ran to him for help. That was when a minor, shake it off type injury turned into something I never would have imagined. As Adam knelt down trying to console her, I saw her body jerk and then go limp as he lowered her to the ground.

In an instant my feet were moving to run to her and the tears were flowing as I went into full on panic mode. My first thought was “this can’t be happening”. Last Sunday I told the story of my seizure and health issues to the people of Briarlake Church in the building next door. Now, less than a week later, my five year old is having a seizure on the field outside. How is this possible?

The seconds she was unconscious seemed like hours. The minutes I was uncontrollably crying repeating “this can’t happen to our family…this can’t happen to our family” while the paramedics were called seemed like days. And the cries of my hurt and confused little girl seemed to go on for a lifetime.

Lydia had me take a picture of her jersey so she could see what the back looked like with her name on it

After a full examination by the wonderful staff at the Scottish Rite emergency room, they told us they do not think Lydia had a seizure or any severe head trauma. She tends to have a difficult time handling stress and a soccer ball to the face sent her to a level of anxiety we have never seen before in our little girl. They think she had a panic attack which got so severe that she briefly lost consciousness. Figuring out a way to help her handle stress and anxiety in the future is something we know we are going to have to make a priority so we can make sure something like this does not happen again. The next day, she was back to her old self and did not seem to have any lasting effects from everything that happened. Adam and I on the other hand are another story.

Lydia drew a picture for her Aunt T on the back of her discharge paperwork on our way home from the hospital so she would know she was ok

Ever since we started this crazy journey that began on the night of my seizure, I have learned a lot about trust. I have learned to have a huge amount of trust in my husband, my family, and our community (who once again flew into action on Saturday praying for us and providing for our family’s needs as soon as they learned about Lydia). I have learned to trust that my seizure, tumor, and every other piece of my medical insanity has not been by chance. But what about everything else? I would love to say that I have learned to completely trust God with everything in my life, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there are a lot of “buts” for me. I trust God with my health, BUT I feel like my kids’ and Adam’s health are off limits. I trust God with my future, BUT their future (and how anything in mine may impact them) is an area I don’t want to relinquish what control I think I may have. I trust God with my nephews, niece, sisters, brother, parents, dogs…BUT sometimes…well, I just don’t.

How do I trust? How do I make myself believe that God has not just my best interest in mind but all of those that I love? How do I convince myself that He loves my children, my husband, my family, and my friends more than I ever could?

I wish I had some super insightful answer to those questions. I wish I had the trust that I feel like so many people believe I have. It is then I am reminded THAT is exactly why Jesus came in the first place. Because we need Him. He doesn’t expect me to handle things on my own because, whether I can believe it right now or not, He is enough.

Better than the Best

There are no silver linings to report because there is not a dark cloud in sight!

After a rocky start to the morning when my Mom fell in the parking lot and we then learned I was double booked for the MRI machine with a breast biopsy patient, things went no where but up. Besides a few scrapes and bruises, Mom is ok. The doctor who had scheduled the other patient agreed to allow me to complete my scan before her since mine would be 45 minutes while hers may be over three hours. The staff at Northside Forsyth Hospital were over the top helpful and did everything they could to remedy the frustrations of the morning. Please pray for the patient who allowed her MRI to be delayed so mine could be completed in a more timely manner. It sounded to me that yesterday was just the start to a long journey for her and I pray she receives nothing but peace and great news.

We then began our tour of physicians. My neurosurgeon, Dr. Robinson, was first on the list. He was not able to review my MRI during my appointment because of issues with Northside’s remote radiology system but said he would go by the radiology department at the hospital before he left for surgery. We discussed the ongoing discomfort I’ve had on the back, right side of my head which he said he can give me a nerve block to help if it does not resolve. While I don’t feel that is necessary right now, it is nice to know it is an option.

We then swung by my chiropractor’s office so he could continue working on the problems I am having with my neck which are getting better with each appointment. Not long after I walked out of his office, I saw the number for my neurosurgeon pop up on my phone. Since Dr. Robinson had surgery to begin, his nurse was calling to fill me in. She started off by telling me he had reviewed my MRI and then said two words I still can’t believe I heard “it shrank”. I immediately said “I’m sorry…what”. Having been told that our best case scenario was no growth, it never entered my mind that we would hear news like this. She went on to tell me that because the tumor had gotten smaller, Dr. Robinson feels comfortable with us waiting a year for my next MRI.

With an extra pep in my step, we went to see my neurologist, Dr. Williams. When he came in the room, I told him I had an MRI that morning which he said he would go review. I didn’t tell him what Dr. Robinson had told me about the scan because I wanted to hear his objective opinion without knowing what someone else thought. As he came in the room and said “it is a little smaller, about 2mm” Adam and I could not contain our joy. Based on how the tumor has been growing since we have known about it, it should have been 2mm larger since my last scan. We will gladly take a 2mm change in direction no matter how small it may be.

We went on to discuss the possibility of me being on a lower dose of my medication at some point in hopes of reducing the side effects. I know being free from seizure meds is probably something that will never happen, but if we can get me on a dose that is effective and more comfortable, I would like to do it. He drew some blood to send to the lab to check the levels of a certain metabolite that is used to determine the level of medication in my system. Because it will have to be sent to a specialty lab for review, it may take more than a week for us to get results. If the results show that my levels are well above a level that is considered therapeutic, Dr. Williams will consider letting me drop from 800mg a day to 600mg a day. Because of the increased risk of seizure during the first few weeks after reducing medication, Dr. Williams has said he would like for me to avoid any high risk activity for the first month including driving or running by myself. We will not be able to make any decisions until the results from the blood work come in, and have decided even if they are positive, we will delay making a change until after my half marathon. Our prayer is that the results are not in a gray area. We either want my levels to be really high where reducing the dose seems likely to still be effective or low enough where reducing the dose is not an option.

As Dr. Williams left the room, he told us how happy he was for our good news. I realized that in the almost two years he has been seeing us, he has not gotten to give us any good news. I was one of the last patients he saw on Christmas Eve of 2015 when he had to tell us about the tumor. He had to give me the less than positive results about my first EEG and tell me that the tumor was in a less than ideal location near my cavernous sinus not where they originally thought it was on my frontal lobe. He had to tell me about my second EEG that was no different from the first and deliver the devastating blow that seizure medicine would be a forever thing for me. Yesterday he got to give us news that was better than our best case scenario.

As I was getting ready last night to go celebrate with our Decatur City small group, I couldn’t help but cry. For years our best news has been finding the silver linings on some very dark clouds. I almost don’t know what to do with pure, no strings attached good news. I realized as I was writing this that I never told everyone that we sold our house outside of Athens at the end of June. Even that news seems to still not be real. Yesterday the news was not just good, it was better than what we thought it could be.

What’s in Your Hand?

A few weeks ago, I heard a woman named Danielle Strickland speak and she asked this question; what’s in your hand? She went on to explain that so many times we default to telling God why we are not fit for something He has called us to do. I immediately realized that this was a message I desperately needed to hear. Over the last few years I have spent the majority of my time not focusing on what I have but on what I am lacking. My brain is not healthy, my system has not liked any of the medications I have been prescribed, and my body does not heal like it did when I was in my 20’s. I was so focused on all of those “nots” that I was completely missing all the great things that I have.

The first thing that came to mind when she asked “what’s in your hand” was “I can run”. Though my brain may be firing off in different directions only controlled by a medication I don’t like, my heart and lungs are strong and my legs have been running distances over the past few months that I never thought possible. I can run. The next day, I signed up for my first half-marathon which will take place on October 28th.

A few days later, I reached out to my dear friend, Ericka Jackson, told her I had signed up for this race, and I would like to use it to raise money for the non-profit she and her husband run called The Sound of Hope which exists to raise funds and awareness for orphans and vulnerable children around the world. I asked her to give me a number and told her I would do my best to raise every dollar I could to fund a couple specific projects for their organization.

After gathering the necessary information, Ericka told me about two needs they have in Nsoko, Swaziland. The first is a medical fund that will provide for the expenses of the entire community for all of next year. The second will pay to completely run the preschool and kindergarten programs as well as cover school fees for any older child who need assistance for 2018. The total to fund both of these needs is $13,100…a thousand dollars for each of the miles I will run in the half-marathon.

I want to kick off this fundraiser with a celebration. Today is my half-birthday. Today I get to thank the Lord for the 35.5 years He has given me on this planet. I can’t think of a better way of doing that than asking my family and friends to celebrate with me by donating $35.50 to help these amazing kids get their medical and educational needs covered for the coming year. Please follow the link below to learn more, to donate, and to be a part of The Sound Of Hope for the people of Nsoko, Swaziland.

Kristin’s Half for Hope

In 13 weeks I will run a little over 13 miles in the hopes of raising over $13,000. Today I hold in my hand something that I will wear around my neck on the day of my race. It is the fingerprint of a ten year old boy in Swaziland named Anele (pronounced uh-nelly). Anele is an orphan and one of the children who will be helped by the money we raise. On October 28th, hope for him will sound like my feet hitting the pavement as his fingerprint jingles around my neck. Thank you for all of your love, support, and for traveling with us through every step of this journey.

Where We Are

I have never been very good at living in the moment. I’ve always looked at each victory as a stepping stone to the next and each defeat as a chance to fix whatever went wrong the next time around. Analysis of the present was mainly for future use not just dealing with the current situation. Then a seizure and a brain tumor rocked our world and my inability to live life right where I am changed drastically.

Two of my favorite reminders of how great life is right where we are

Over the last few months, we have been in another medical lull. It may sound strange but I am not a big fan of these times where we are not doing anything to actively treat the tumor or find out new information. I have sprinkled in orthopedic appointments for my shoulder (which has been an issue for years) and chiropractic appointments for new issues with my neck and back, but with a greater issue looming, even these doctors tend to downplay anything else I bring to their attention. Imagine my surprise when I glanced at the calendar and realized I have my next MRI coming up in a few short weeks.

Of all the scans I have had, this MRI on August 4th is the one that excites/terrifies me the most. We have been told that our best case scenario is to see no change. Because of the kind of tumor I have, the doctors do not think it is likely that the gamma knife radiation will cause it to shrink. No growth from my MRI in January is their hope.

While I would like to say that my hope is for the tumor to have shrunk or gone away completely, the truth is, I don’t really care if it shrinks as long as it doesn’t grow. After my EEG showed that the seizure activity in my brain has remained the same, a decrease in the size of the tumor makes no change in my day to day. Tumor or no tumor, I will be on medication every day for the rest of my life. I am not being pessimistic, just very aware of the reality of my medical situation.

The big “what if” is what happens if the tumor has grown. The odds of gamma knife being a success are over 95%. What happens if I am in the less than 5%? What if we learn on the 4th that the procedure in February did not stop the growth of the tumor? If gamma knife did not work the first time, it is highly unlikely it will work if we do it again and surgery will be our only option.

A few months ago, I met a lovely couple, Rick and Cindy Weatherman, while Adam and I were in Hilton Head. Adam had recently discussed a possible position with Vulcan in Charlotte, NC with me so imagine my surprise when I asked them where they live to hear Cindy cheerfully say “we’re from Charlotte”. As is my tendency, I jumped 1,000 steps ahead and immediately launched into questions about where we should live, where the kids should go to school, and where our family should go to church. Before the end of our hour long conversation, I had already decided we were going to be closing on a house down the street from the Weathermans and putting them as our kids’ emergency contact at the local school I had already selected.

Not too long ago, we learned that God had closed the door on Charlotte. I began to wonder why He would have me meet these great people only to give us a “no” on them being a part of the life I had planned for us with them right down the road. I then remembered that Cindy had given me her copy of Chip and Joanna Gaines book, The Magnolia Story. I remembered there was a quote at the end that stood out to me…

“If I had planned my life, it never would have ended up like this. So maybe it’s kind of fun not to plan. Maybe it’s more fun just to see where life takes you. After all, we’re living proof that sometimes even the messiest stuff and the biggest mistakes can take you some place wonderful.”

What an amazing truth for me to read. Things have definitely not been the way I would have planned them. The last few years have been hard and incredibly messy but they have brought us to a place we never would have imagined being. Maybe God gave me Rick and Cindy so they could give me this book and I could read this quote. Maybe I needed them so I could be reminded to stop planning and just enjoy where I am. Maybe what we have just around the corner is something wonderful that we never would have planned. Maybe I would have missed it had it not been for a chance meeting with some kind strangers who graciously gave me a book that made me slow down and make the most of right where I am. 

“If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in the beauty, either.” ~ Joanna Gaines