Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 - A Year of Strengthened Hope

Christmas - a celebration of HOPE incarnate and in our hearts!
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
(Romans 15:8-13 ESV)
We have hope because Jesus Christ was born, grew up a sinless man, took our punishment for our sins through His death on the cross, and rose again victorious to be our King - our Savior!

As we reflect over the events of this past year, we realize that it is our HOPE in Christ that has brought us through a very dark and difficult year.  A hope in God as our deliverer through the shadows of death, the miry pits, and the deep trials of our souls.  We have been made to "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer" (Romans 12:12 ESV).
"Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!" (Psalm 119:116 ESV)
It has been a challenging year for David with his health, but we have also seen God work in wondrous ways answering our prayers.  From March-August, David had several major bacterial infections despite his weekly antibody transfusions and daily antibiotic use.  The amount of antibodies infused into his body was increased without an improvement.  Finally, after the 11th tonsillitis infection in a year, David had surgery in September to have his tonsils removed.  We feared his infections would move lower to his lungs since his previous surgeries to remove problematic areas only caused the infection to move elsewhere.  However, God answered our prayers.  The surgery was a success, and David has been infection-free since the surgery.  He is a very active, happy, tender-hearted 6 year old boy.  He is in first grade at West-Mont Christian Academy.  He has been playing the violin now for a year and is doing an amazing job.
My soul longs for your salvation; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:81 ESV)
Joshua has had a very difficult year but in other ways.  Still struggling with the anxiety over my migraine illness, Joshua's mental health became very unstable.  Joshua struggles with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  This year, he has also been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Mood Disorder (aka, Bi-Polar) and ADHD.  He had to be hospitalized in a child's psychiatric hospital in February for 12 days and in November for 14 days for re-stabilization and medication adjustment.  He has been doing very well since his last hospitalization, and we are praising the Lord for the wisdom of the doctors and success of the therapies.  We still have therapists who come to the house to work with us and Joshua and a team of doctors caring for Josh.  Mental illness is not for the faint of heart.  Our hearts grieve to watch Joshua suffer so much, but we know that God is working all of this for Josh's good and God's glory.  Joshua is now 8 years old and in third grade at Franklin Elementary School.  He plays guitar and is learning the recorder this year.  He loves to write music.  He continues to excel in academics.  Joshua loves to tell others about Jesus and makes us so proud of him when he tries so hard to obey and glorify God.
You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:114 ESV)
I have now been struggling with migraines/headaches now for over a year and am still without a diagnosis or any answers.  A repeat MRI in April showed the brain lesion has grown slightly and 2 new spots are forming in a different part of the brain.  At this point, all of the life-threatening/altering diagnoses have been ruled out.  I will have another MRI in April 2013 to monitor for changes.  We are praising the Lord that the head pain has lessened considerably since I began taking Vit. B-12 and magnesium supplements in October.  Despite the pain, I continue to advocate for Josh's special needs and care for David's health needs while continuing to work part-time as a pediatric special needs nurse for Personal Health Care, Inc, a home health agency.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:22 ESV)
Tim continues to be the anchor of our family, caring for our spiritual, financial, physical, emotional, and psychological needs with God's strength.  He has had another successful year as a financial adviser for the Life Financial Group.  To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary, he arranged for us to have a few extra days alone in Istanbul when we were in that area for a ministry trip.  He also organized a family vacation in New York City this summer.  These were 2 highlights of the year for our family.

As we look to the future we resolve with the psalmist: "But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more." (Psalm 71:14 ESV)

We encourage you to reflect on the hope we have in Christ.  If you don't know about this hope, please ask us.  We would be happy to share this blessed hope with you.  If you already know this hope, don't lose hope!  Cling to the unfailing promises of God!

May this always be true of you:  “'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him'.” (Lamentations 3:24 ESV).
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Lesson Learned

This week, as I continue to read the book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp, I learned a great lesson about myself and the trials of this past month.  I thought I would share it in case anyone else is like me and needs to learn this lesson.

The difficult struggles we had with Josh this past month and the consequential repercussions in which we were dealing with David, Tim and I found ourselves in pure survival mode.  We talked about how wonderful Heaven will be when all of these struggles will be behind us.  We longed for the Lord to return and take us from our misery.  My prayer each morning was, "God give me the strength and grace I need to get through this day."

Tripp says in his Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands book the following:
Many people in the midst of a struggle live as if they were spiritually homeless.  They live the same survivalist, distracted, fearful, escapist, and "for the moment" existence.  They do not think about growth and change or pursue the good things that are their inheritance as children of God.  They just get through the day.  They live as if they were poor, when in fact, they are amazingly rich.
When we live with a poverty identity, the problem is not that we ask too much of the Father, but that we settle for too little.  We settle for hammering together some kind of spiritual survival with the hope that things will be better in eternity.  But the Bible never presents our life on earth as a meaningless time of waiting for the good stuff that comes later.  The biblical model of waiting is not simply about what you will get at the end of your wait, but about who you will become as you wait...(p. 263-264).

Tripp is talking about me!  I had the survivalist, distracted, "for the moment" existence for the month of November.  I walked, lived, and breathed in my survival mode.  Instead of praying that God would use the current struggles to grow me in Him, make me a more usable instrument, or teach me truths about Him, I just prayed that God would help me survive and that the trials would end sooner rather than later.

I pray that this lesson I have now learned will stick with me, and as we continue to struggle through various issues with our boys and life, that I will remember to access the wealth that God has to offer NOW and ask God to use my trials to make me more like Him and use me in other people's lives to help point them to Christ.  I am glad that despite my failures and weaknesses, God can still use me and grow me.  He is at work daily in my life crafting me into a masterpiece!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Laughter in the Midst of Sorrow

Once again, I have been silent on the blog front because of the trials that continue to bombard us from every side.  I decided it's about time I write down my thoughts.

After battling for David's new health insurance to cover his antibody blood transfusions, we finally got things settled and calmed down by the end of October.  We saw God work a miracle first-hand in getting the infusion supplies covered only causing David to get his next transfusion 1 day late instead of 4 days late as circumstances had determined.  Another exciting praise is that David remains HEALTHY!  He has been infection-free since the end of August--right before his September 7 surgery.  This means his surgery was successful, and our prayers have been answered.

Our greatest struggle has been with Joshua.  As I mentioned in my last blog post, we and his doctor took him off of one of his medications since it was causing his behaviors to worsen instead of improve.  However, we didn't replace it with a different drug.  Because he struggles with a mood disorder (which the doctors believe is bi-polar, but he's too young for the official diagnosis), he needed to remain on a mood stabilizer but be on one that didn't make his behaviors worse.  After he stopped the problematic drug, he got so much better, and we saw the old Josh for the first time since I had begun my battles with the chronic migraine over a year ago.  However, after a little over a week, his behaviors worsened again as he became emotionally/psychologically unstable.  In November, we put him on a different mood stabilizer, but it was too late.  He went into crisis mode.  In addition to episodes of paranoia, his melt-downs were becoming extremely violent and very long.  Tim was no longer able to control him which was very scary for the safety of our family as well as Josh's.  On November 13, we made the very difficult, heart-wrenching decision to admit Josh into a psych hospital for the second time (he was hospitalized in Feb. 2012).  He was hospitalized for 14 days and did really well on new meds and in the controlled environment.  He came home on the 26th.  He started to struggle with falling asleep in the middle of class as a result of the new medications.  When I called the hospital psychiatrist about it that Thursday,  he told me to give Josh's am dose with his bedtime dose.  The next day, I did not give him his am dose, and he saw his outpatient psychiatrist who told me Josh looked way too sedated and that his dose needed to be decreased by half.  By the afternoon, he fell over asleep while standing up and dancing during a music assembly at school.  The school nurse called me because they couldn't get him to wake up, and it was hard for her to tell he was breathing.  I picked him up and took him to the ER where we found out he was having drug-induced narcolepsy-like symptoms.  He was also wheezing, so the doctor chose to give him a double albuteral nebulizer treatment to slam his system into overdrive and open his airways.  The treatment worked, and his vitals remained stable afterward, so they discharged him.  Since then, after dealing with some severe melt-downs, things have finally seemed to stabilize, and Josh has been doing much better this past week.

Josh's hospitalization was very difficult on us because we felt like failures in being able to help Josh even though we were reassured that we did everything possible to help him and that mood disorders are very difficult to treat.  We missed Josh greatly.  We were allowed to visit him 4 days a week.  Some visits were really discouraging but others were encouraging.  Poor David suffered the most without having his brother, best friend, and play mate with him.  All 3 of us had heavy hearts as we went throughout our days leaning on God's strength and grace to get us through each day, for that was the only way we survived.

We are concerned about David as a result of everything he has witnessed and experienced with Josh and his issues.  Since Josh's hospitalization, David has become very emotional and is having a difficult time focusing.  We thought things would improve when Josh got home, but they have only worsened.  David is usually the first victim of Josh's anger melt-downs.  He has been kicked, punched, bitten, and leveled to the ground.  He has also witnessed his mom and dad getting violently attacked and has heard some awful words coming out of Josh's mouth when he would verbally abuse us.  No 6 year old child should have to experience these things.  He does not like to talk about his feelings, so we are having a hard time understanding what is going on inside of him.

Needless to say, in all of this, our hearts have been extremely heavy and filled with great sorrow.  Many tears have been shed.  Reminding ourselves of God's promises has been the only thing to keep us from being swallowed up in the suffocating darkness of our grief.  God never stopped holding us.  Even in the midst of our deepest sorrow and most difficult days, He provided times of laughter and gladness to help us carry on.

We experienced the truth of Proverbs 17:22 (ESV) firsthand:
"A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."
 We happened to capture two particular incidents where God gave us laughter in the midst of our sorrow on video, so we share those times with you:

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
(Psalm 30:11-12 ESV)
I find great hope and comfort as I relate to the Psalmist's words in this wonderful passage (with emphasis added:
I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”
Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;

I will walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116:1-9 ESV) 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Overwhelmed but Clinging to Hope

I have been silent on the blog front for a while now mostly because the demands of life have kept me too busy to write out my thoughts but also in part because I did not know where to begin to express my thoughts and feelings of the struggles of the past month plus.

Yesterday's congregational Scripture reading of Psalm 13 struck a cord with me:
[TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.] How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13 ESV)
The enemy I face is Satan, and he is doing everything in his power to take me down and make me feel defeated.  At times I feel as if he has won.  When I am at my lowest, God uses passages like this or songs about His promises to remind me that He has not forsaken me and that He loves me and is taking care of me.

If you've read other blog posts from this past year plus, you know that things for the Russell family have not been easy.  Things continue to be a daily struggle with new battles to be fought it seems almost on a daily basis.  Currently, we are in a medical insurance crisis with David whose government-funded insurance (CHIP) dropped him due to their labeling him with a "chronic disability" aka, his immune disorder.  We are in the process of appealing the decision but it could take months.  In the meantime, he has been sent to the welfare insurance (Medical Assistance-MA) which has made him lose his pediatrician in order to keep his immune specialist because of our limited choices of plans which few doctors accept.  We currently do not know if and how he will be able to get his next weekly antibody transfusion due to MA not wanting to cover it. Josh continues to have behavioral, psychological, and emotional challenges that try our patience and sanity.  Coordinating care with three different doctors has been a challenge.  We are struggling to get the proper care and supports into place for Josh in his school due to a new school year and a failure of the school to complete a behavior analysis at the end of last school year.  My health continues to be a struggle for me and a mystery to all doctors involved in my care.  After the last series of testing rechecking my thyroid which came back normal, my doctor has said, "No more testing. Sometimes people go for years without a diagnosis.  You need to accept that."  So, she has given up, and I've lost my last medical ally willing to help me find a diagnosis.

Needless to say, just in these challenges alone, I spend many hours a day on the phone, on email, at doctor's appointments, and at the welfare office trying to take care of the problems.  House work has been pushed to the back burner making me feel more like a failure as a wife and mother and frustrated with my situation.   As I feel discouragement and doubt creeping into my heart's door almost on a daily basis as I fight my daily battles, I need to remember the good things of life and the many blessings God has given me in the midst of my multiple storms.
  • David made it through his surgery better than we could have ever hoped.  He kept us laughing helping to ease the anxiety in our hearts before his surgery as his pre-anesthesia drug made him do silly things.  We couldn't help but take a video of him and his silliness.  He healed better than even his surgeon expected and had barely any post-op pain at all.  It was difficult to keep him down during his 2 weeks of activity restrictions, but he made it, and now he's enjoying being wild and crazy.  It has almost been a month since surgery, and David has remained infection-free which is approaching a record for the past few months. We have so much to be thankful for in this area!
  • I contacted Senator Rafferty's office about David's health insurance.  They are doing what they can to help us with the situation and sympathetic to our crisis.
  • My health has been better than it has been with fewer flares where the symptoms are at its worst ever since I decreased the seizure med used to control the pain in my head.  My headache pain has been stable or pretty good outside of a few breakthrough migraines or headaches.  This is all reassuring especially considering the amount of stress I have been under in the last month.
  • After meeting with Josh's Developmental Pediatrician, God helped me to see a possible cause of Josh's behaviors since his hospitalization in February.  As a result, I have consulted with his psychiatrist, and we are doing an experiment with his medication taking him off of one completely to see if we see a difference.  It has only been a few days, and we have noticed a huge improvement, so we are praying that this is the answer we have been praying for for months.
  • The boys celebrated another year of life this month.  David turned 6 years old on Sept. 9, and Joshua turned 8 years old on Sept. 18.  They had a Spy birthday party on Sept. 22 which was fun for everyone there including the adults.
For more birthday party pictures, check out my Facebook Album (you do not need facebook account).
  • Tim continues to be the anchor of our family.  Outside of a recent battle with allergies and a sinus infection, he has been healthy, strong, works so diligently to provide financially for our family, and supports our family's emotional and spiritual needs.  I am so thankful for him.
God uses all trials to teach me and make me more like Him.  With each struggle, He is giving me more tools to be a blessing and instrument in the lives of others.  With each battle, He is forcing me to lean on Him more.  When all seems lost, He forces me to see that He remains my Rock and holds me close.
Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3 ESV)

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Time to Bless Others and Have Fun Doing It!

Despite the craziness of life, we took time out to do something fun and celebrate the upcoming birth of our friends' (and Tim's co-worker's) first child.  Originally, we just wanted to have this wonderful couple over for dinner to get to know them better and have some fellowship before their life changes forever with the birth of their long-awaited daughter.  Then discussions at the office about throwing a baby shower and the desire for it to be a surprise which is hard to pull off on this very suspecting individual led to our invitation for them to come to our house for dinner and fellowship to then be the cover for a surprise baby shower thrown by the Life Financial Group.

A sudden change of date as of last Monday moved the shower up to Sunday (yesterday) instead of the following Sunday as originally planned, so it sent us in a flurry of action to pull the thing off.  With the support of many office personnel, we managed to make the shower a complete surprise and utter success.  Although, we hope that sometime, before or after the baby, we can eventually have the couple over for "dinner" officially.

I had a lot of fun planning the event and heavily relied on Pinterest for ideas for decorations and food.  Because my garden is abounding in tomatoes, tomatoes was the theme, and we made Bruschetta and Broiled plum tomatoes with Feta cheese as appetizers.  We served Tomato/Mozzarella Salad as a side.  Then for the main dish, we had crock pot lasagna and baked ziti.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, and all of the other food items others brought to contribute made for a full table and fuller stomachs.

For the main dessert, I made carrot cake in baby food jars and colored the cream cheese frosting orange to look like carrots.  I printed off labels for the idea from the internet and placed them on the jars.  We ate the cake with baby spoons.  It was a fun experience for those who indulged.

We presented mostly joint gifts.  Two in particular were special gifts - 1 for each of them:  A hospital survival kit for her containing all kinds of things that would be helpful and nice for her to have with her at the hospital and a Daddy Doody Kit for him for that emergency time when daddy may need to change a diaper or feed the baby.  Again these were ideas I got from Pinterest.

As a gift and decoration, I made a "Pea in the Pod" diaper gift using receiving blankets, diapers, 4 washcloths, a baby doll, and ribbon.  My boys had fun rolling the diapers for me.  They were a huge help!  We've been asked to make another for a different baby shower.  Maybe we should start a business!

I sent out ideas to the ladies of the office to garner help with some of the ideas, and got one volunteer who made the washcloth bouquets, and another one made the cute watermelon stroller fruit salad.  I added one elegant decoration that I've been dying to use ever since I found it on pinterest just for the fun of it - it was florals inside an overturned wine glass with a candle on top.  I loved how it looked.

The party favors were marshmallow pops I covered in melted chocolate and melted chocolate heart candies.

The afternoon was a fun time of fellowship enjoyed by all.  We were totally exhausted by the end of the party, but we were happy to have been a part of the celebration of such an exciting time in our friends' lives.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

David Awaits His Third Surgery!

Well, after David's infection in the middle of May, his immune specialist increased the amount of antibodies David got in his weekly antibody blood transfusions and also put David on a rotating class schedule of prophylactic antibiotics in the attempt to curb David's infections and keep him healthy.

This was successful until Sunday, August 12, when in the evening, he spiked a fever.  Getting out my nursing equipment and doing an assessment, I came to the conclusion that David had a sinus infection and tonsillitis.  Anytime David runs a fever, we have to call the doctor, so Monday morning, while driving to work, I made a call to his immune specialist who was out for the day and asked that we get David's pediatrician to see him for a throat culture in light of the issues David had in May with having heavy growth of a bacteria called staph aureus which was resistant to many antibiotics and led him to the ER.  Monday evening, I took him to his pediatrician who diagnosed him with a sinus infection, tonsillitis, and STREP THROAT to top things off!  My head was spinning at how he could be so sick with having an antibiotic in his system all the time on top of the extra antibodies from his transfusions.  So, David's prophylactic antibiotic of omnicef was doubled to be a full-strength antibiotic to fight all three infections.

The confirmation of tonsillitis meant David would need to see his Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) again, and this time surgery was a MUST.  We met with his ENT on Wednesday which was just in time since David had been running a 104°F temperature for the past 2 days despite the antibiotic and maximum dose of Tylenol and ibuprofen which meant that once again, his tonsillitis was resistant to the antibiotic he was on to treat the infections.  The ENT put David on Augmentin which did the trick back in May and was one of the few oral antibiotics that the bacteria was sensitive to.  Surgery details were discussed and paperwork signed.

On Friday, September 7, David will have a tonsillectomy, his third surgery in his 5 years of life (ear tube surgery & adenoidectomy were the other 2).  This surgery date is bad timing in many ways.  First of all, David starts 1st grade on Sept. 5, only 2 days before.  Secondly, David's birthday is Sept. 9, so he will only be 2 days post-op and most likely not feeling up to celebrating.  He will still need to be eating only cold, soft foods too, so an ice cream cake is definitely in order. :-)  We had to also push back the boys' joint birthday party to Sat., Sept. 22 so that David will be able to run around and have fun with his friends since he will be on activity restrictions for 2 weeks post-op.  Finally, the most scary timing issue is that David will finish the Augmentin about 2 weeks before the surgery.  He will resume his prophylactic antibiotic, but after this last infection, we know that he still is susceptible to infection.  We need to bathe David in prayer that God would protect his body from infection and help him to stay healthy to make it to his surgery date.  Otherwise, an infection would cause the surgery to have to be postponed.
David competing in his first horse show this summer after a week of horse camp which he thoroughly LOVED!.
You can see the ribbons he had already won there in the picture, and in this particular heat, he took 1st place!

David is in good spirits about all of this and wants the surgery.  He is sick of getting tonsillitis, and I don't blame him since this is his 11th case of tonsillitis since last Spring (2011).  We continually thank God for David's easy-going spirit.  He is such a trooper!
The ever present smile that warms my heart in David's good and bad times!

The other concern and need for prayer is that this surgery will be successful in PREVENTING infection.  The past 2 surgeries have only caused the infections to go somewhere else.  His ear surgery stopped the ear infections, but David started to get sinus infections.  His adenoidectomy was intended to stop the sinus infections, and although it reduced the amount of them, he continued to get them but also started getting tonsillitis infections.  Our fear is that if we remove the tonsils, the infection would find another location as before.  The only place to go is farther down meaning infecting his lungs.  It's not like his lungs can be removed next.  The real problem is his immune system, and with the removal of the tonsils, he will now be down 2 immune organs which doesn't help his already deficient immune system.  At this point, there is no other alternative.  We are still praying for God's healing and that the antibody transfusions will be sufficient and most importantly, that David's body will start producing the antibodies on its own so that all of this can become a thing of the past to the glory of God, the Great Physician.

David is in God's capable hands.  God is working out His perfect will in David's life molding him and making him into the vessel He desires for His service.  We are resting in God's promises and are walking in His daily doses of grace and strength.  Will you join us in praying for David's health and his upcoming surgery?  Perhaps God wants this to happen so that we can be a shining light to the staff of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, the hospital where David will have his surgery.  We don't know God's purposes, but we know that our all-sufficient God will work His perfect will, and we stand humbled that He chooses to use all of us as his tools in His Kingdom!    

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Instruments of God's Love in the Redemption Story

I've begun reading the book Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands:  People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp.  A friend of mine had recommended it to me, and it's been really great so far even though I have much of the book yet to read.

This week, I read a great section which dealt with the fact that all of us as Christians are meant to be useful tools in God's very large toolbox.  However, we too often, think that God has a very small toolbox made up of people who are skilled for ministry and counseling and such.  We forget the fact that God uses the common and ordinary most of the time to fulfill His purposes.

Paul reminds the Corinthian believers and us:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV)
There is a paragraph from chapter 2 in Tripp's book that really struck me hard and is just too good to not share:
"Embedded in the larger story of redemption is a principle we must not miss: God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in the lives of others.  What mission board, what ministry, what local church would use the people God used in Scripture?  There was Moses (an exiled murderer), Gideon (fearful and hiding), David (the shepherd boy with no military training), Peter (who publicly denied Christ), and Paul (persecuter of the church), to name a few.  Along with these are untold numbers of little people God used in big ways to fulfill his plan on earth.  God never intended us to simply be the objects of his love.  We are also called to be instruments of that love in the lives of others."  (Tripp, p. 18)
After being reminded of this, I have no excuse for my feelings of inadequacy.  God can use me as I am.  He wants to use me!

Lord, let me be a pliable tool ready for Your use at all times.  Please give me the confidence in You to complete the work You give me.  Thank you for loving me, and thank you for choosing to use me to be an instrument of love to those around me.  Amen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Onward to another specialist

So a few days ago, I stumbled across this verse in Job 30:17 and couldn't help but chuckle because it so adequately described how I've been feeling of late:
"Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest." (NIV) 
In searching more, I found other verses from earlier on in the book to which I could relate:
 Job 3:26: "I have no peace, no rest, and my troubles never end." (NIV) 
Job 7:13: "
I lie down and try to rest; I look for relief from my pain." (NIV) 
 I can totally sympathize with Job, and somehow, I feel comfort knowing that he felt similar pain (having suffered so much more than I have), lived through it, and still praised the Lord in the midst of it. It gives me courage to keep on keeping on. I have the same God carrying me through! I have Jesus' command and promise of Matthew 11:28-30 to cling to: 
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (ESV) 
As of August 1, I will have been suffering in pain for 9 months straight and still be without a diagnosis or answers. Back in June, I did have a breakthrough with the headache pain in which I now have days where I sometimes go for 6-8 hours without headache pain. Those are truly amazing days. Other days, the pain is increased above normal, and I really cannot find a cause or correlation for the changes. I have made progress on the diagnosis-front in ruling out more things. Over the past several months, there has been a lot of uncertainty about and questioning/revisiting of former diagnoses that had originally been ruled out. Within the last month, Lyme's Disease has been ruled out definitively, and last week I saw the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) specialist I had been waiting to see since April who told me very confidently that I DO NOT have MS.

After that visit, I decided to start over and see my primary doctor once again revisiting my symptoms and describing my new symptoms of the past several months which include fatigue, severe joint and muscle pains, hair loss, mouth ulcers, cold intolerance, and others. I shared with her my concern that I may have Lupus. She agrees with me that my symptoms seem to be lupus-like or something else rheumatological in nature. As a result, she is sending me to a rheumatologist who I will be seeing August 9. She feels that he will be able to give me my long-awaited diagnosis after running some tests. I pray that she is correct!

The joint and muscle pains have been so severe lately (during this current attack - the symptoms come and go in flares) that I have had a very difficult time sleeping. Instead of just dealing with headache pain, I am dealing with pain all over my body which also takes a toll on me. I am praying that an answer comes sooner rather than later and that God would provide me with relief from the constant pain!

Just as God restored Job's health when his testing was over, I know He can restore mine, if that is His will. I just have to keep looking to Him for strength and grace to endure knowing that "...when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold" (Job 23:10b, ESV).

A picture from vacation at the base of the Statue of Liberty- We are still praising the Lord for upholding my health and allowing me to enjoy our time together as a family on vacation

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Family Time and Rest

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
(Psalm 127:1-2 ESV)

Just as we need sleep, we need relaxation.  We need time to be refreshed - a chance to get away from our normal routine and responsibilities.  We need time to be together as a family enjoying making memories together.  After all, it has been ordained by God!

With everything our family has gone through the last two years, we were in a desperate need to get away.  With continued struggles with my health and Josh's behaviors, we were a bit nervous deciding to take a vacation, but we decided to step out in faith and go on a vacation for our family's health.
On the Ferry after visiting Liberty Island

It was the best decision we could have made, and God blessed our time away tremendously.  We had a very busy vacation with lots of sightseeing and driving, but the boys had a blast, and it was so much fun watching the wonder and joy on their faces as they marveled over the sights they were seeing.

We started out our time Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon (7/11-7/13) touring Manhattan in New York City seeing Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Centers and Memorial, Times Square, fun stores, and the American Museum of Natural History.
Walking through Central Park

At Hershey's Times Square Store

Lady Liberty

The boys were excited to see Dum-Dum (from the movie Night at the Museum) in the American Museum of Natural History

South Tower World Trade Center Memorial

New South Tower World Trade Center under construction

From there, we drove to Connecticut to connect with family and enjoy our time on Lake Candlewood for another Totora family reunion which is always loads of fun with our very large Italian family.

Totora Family ~ 4 Generations of Extended Family (photograph by Tim Benedict)

We left CT Sunday morning to drive back to Manhattan to worship at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and enjoyed a very worshipful, God-honoring service.  After church, we continued driving South arriving in Sea Isle, NJ where we stayed until Tuesday morning with Tim's family enjoying some time at the shore where the boys thoroughly enjoyed the sand and the waves.

David working on building a sand castle

Joshua running into the water to jump waves

Sea Isle Beach, NJ

Despite the stress of making sure we had the appropriate meds for the boys, David's transfusion supplies, and necessities for all 3 vacations spots on top of our initial concerns about going in the first place, we had a wonderful time!  God helped Joshua to do amazingly well while we were gone especially in NYC where there was constant sensory overload which is a struggle for any child with Autism.  David has continued to stay healthy the past several weeks with the increase of antibody transfusions and remaining on a prophylactic antibiotic.  God gave me several good days health-wise while on vacation.  I was definitely fatigued, but able to keep up with the family and able to participate.  My headache pain was increased from the tons of walking and heat, but still tolerable.  The end of the vacation became the most difficult, and I am still trying to recuperate, but the time at the shore was a chance for me to relax which was just what I needed.

We are praising the Lord for blessing us with the chance to get away, have much-needed family time, and rest!
Taking a break in a nearby park waiting our turn to visit the 9/11 World Trade Center Memorial 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Times of Celebration

In the midst of our struggles, we had the opportunity to celebrate God's work in David's life twice in the past week.  On Saturday, June 9, David played the violin in his first recital.  He was the youngest participant by far and did a wonderful job making us very proud of him and his accomplishments this year as he learned how to play the violin.

On Tuesday, June 12, he graduated from Kindergarten.  We have watched him blossom and grow academically, spiritually, and personally this year.  God has given him a wonderful spirit that has been a true blessing to us as parents, to our family, and to his teacher and classmates.  He was awarded the Gentle Character Award on Friday, June 8 by his teacher for his gentle spirit and responses during this school year.

We praise God for the wonderful gift of David Isaiah Russell!  With the intense battles this little child has had to face already in his short 5 years of life and his non-complaining spirit and determined disposition, we know that God has some amazing plans in store for this young man.  We are excited to watch God continue to mold and shape him according to His plan.  We feel blessed to be part of the process.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Under the Siege of the Lion

And the saga continues....The woes of the Russell household continue.  Things continue to be extremely difficult with Joshua and his battles with Autism and mental health issues.  We are constantly emotionally and physically drained by his all-consuming behaviors and melt-downs.  Nothing we do seems to help.  He's fully aware of his own struggles and is now coming to his own faith-crisis saying that he keeps praying and asking for God's help to make good choices but "God's not helping him" or "God doesn't seem to care."  Nothing we say seems to get through to him.  This week, Josh ended up being suspended for a day from school because his behavior got so out of control.  It is becoming so difficult to cling to any source of hope in this situation.

David's most recent infection is finally behind us, but he is back on a prophylactic antibiotic despite the weekly antibody treatments.  We are in limbo with the specialists now because the ENT felt that it would not be a good idea to proceed with the tonsillectomy now because of his condition even though for the past year this same ENT had been pressuring us to have the surgery done.  Instead he wants to do a weekly rotation of antibiotics where David will be on a different class of antibiotics every week for 4 weeks then repeat each month.  It's kind of a new, more complex idea of a prophylactic antibiotic treatment.  We are waiting to hear back from David's immune specialist to get his opinion on the matter.  Otherwise, we will need to go for a second opinion with another ENT.  The past several days David has become extremely emotional and easily upset/angered.  We are wondering if he is again starting to not feel well (this tends to be a going trend for him) or if everything going on with Joshua is finally starting to affect David since David has had to witness way too many traumatic events for a sweet, innocent 5 year old.

Not surprisingly, the headaches for me have become more intense, but with the amount of stress I've been up against, it's no wonder.  We also are not getting good sleep as often Josh or David are waking us up in the night, so sleep deprivation isn't helping either.

We have finally come to the conclusion that we are not just up against simple trials in which God is trying to teach us a lesson.  We are under direct attack from the Evil One, and he is working overtime to be relentless!  We have fallen under the siege of the Lion!  Each time we seriously pursued missions within the past 2 years, Satan has directly attacked our family hindering our ability to further pursue missions at that time.  As things had calmed down last Fall, we revisited the idea once again, and the next day, I woke up with the severe migraine pain in my head that has yet to fully leave.  In April, we were excited about the ways in which God revealed to us how we could serve doing short term work encouraging and building up believers through short term mission trips.  As soon as we made ourselves available to God for this work, the lion attacked us from all angles and has not let up!  It is easy to understand why the devil does not want the Gospel to go forth.

Jesus was aware of the evil one and prayed for His disciples to be protected from the evil one as He had sent them into the world (John 17:15).  The devil wants to attack everyone and anyone who is a servant of God because he hates righteousness.  Peter commands and warns:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."  (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV)
Yes, the lion is trying to devour our family.  We are doing all we can to resist him, standing firm in our faith.  We are heavily relying on God's grace to sustain us and look forward to the day that He will restore and strengthen us.  Never before have we prayed so earnestly for Christ to return for His Bride!  We long for our eternal home where there will be no more pain or sorrow or suffering, and we can spend our days in God's presence worshiping at the feet of Jesus.

Until then, we must endure.  We must finish the race that has been set before us.  We must press on.  We can't do it alone.  We need the prayers of the saints, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  James 5:16 says, "...The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."  We need everyone to rally around us and pray that this cloud of darkness be lifted from over our household, that the power of Satan be weakened over our family, and that we be released from the stronghold of the lion.  Will you join us in this battle against the evil one and rejoice with us in the victory that is ours because we serve the Lion of Judah who has conquered (Revelation 5:5), and "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:31-39)?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Holding On: When it's all you can do

Our family has had a rough past year and a half, but the last month has been extremely difficult and honestly has brought me to my breaking point.  We came back from our amazing time in Turkey only to be faced with incredible challenges with Joshua, our oldest who has been struggling with his Autism and related mental health issues since February when he had to be hospitalized at that point.  We have had multiple medical consults, behavioral specialist consults, medication adjustments, and meetings with our pastor, but yet things continue to spiral out of hand and we find ourselves desperately at a loss with how to deal with our son.  Our biggest fear is that we are going to lose him because of his behavior/anger issues.

I had a repeat brain MRI the week I returned to the States which showed that my brain lesion has grown slightly and is now lighting up with the contrast dye.  In addition, two new spots are forming in my frontal lobe of my brain.  My neurologist is convinced I have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) even though I don't have any other symptoms of the disease and had a negative lumbar puncture back in November when I was hospitalized.  She is sending me to a MS specialist at Jefferson University Hospital who I will see July 16 to get his take on the whole situation.  Even if it is MS, it does not explain my constant headaches/migraines since Nov. 1 which have prevented me from being pain-free longer than 4-5 hours on a good day.  My neurologist has basically given up on trying to find an explanation for the headaches and is content to keep me on the seizure medicine I have been on since January which causes neuropathy symptoms that I have to live with and that become intolerable if I take a higher dose to try to be pain-free from headache pain.

Then, there's sweet David who has been struggling physically once again the past few months, and has already had 2 serious infections since we returned back to the States.  He was infection-free from November-February, which is the longest stretch of time he has gone in his whole entire life.  Since then, he has had 5 bacterial infections with this last one giving us quite the scare this past week.  He had a really high fever (he went as high as 104.2) for 5 1/2 days straight despite starting an antibiotic the second day for tonsillitis.  He had been put on a prophylactic antibiotic the week before because of his increase of infections lately and had some blood work done to see how his antibody levels were doing.  Even with the prophylactic antibiotic, David came down with the tonsillitis, so his doctor did a throat culture just to make sure it was a bacterial infection.  It was a good thing he did that because when his fever persisted, his doctor sent him to the ER this past Thursday for a full work-up.  While we were in the ER, David's doctor got the throat culture results back showing his infection was from heavy growth of staph aureus (bacteria) which was sensitive to a different type of antibiotic.  So, David was discharged from the ER on the new antibiotic, and finally his fever cycle broke.  However, because he has had tonsillitis 9 times since last Spring, he now has to have a tonsillectomy (his 3rd surgery in his 5 years of life).  We meet with his ENT on Wednesday to schedule the surgery.

Tim is left to be the strong one to hold the rest of us together.  We are thankful he is strong and healthy. 

Needless to say, with everything going on, we have been feeling like we are constantly fighting to keep our heads above water, and we are weakening fast.  I feel like I have entered a spiritual desert.  I know God is with me.  His strength and grace are what carry me through each day and have allowed me to survive the past few weeks.  However, I am getting a first-hand experience of what David must has felt those times he wrote the Psalms that cry out to God asking Him where He is or why He had forsaken him.  Each time, David came around and acknowledged God's presence, but the feelings of God being distant were very real.  I totally understand how that feels.  My heart is hurting so much for my boys and their struggles that I find myself at a total loss for words when it comes to prayer.  I am glad that God knows my heart and my thoughts before I think them or say them.  I am glad that feeling God is distant is just that - a feeling.  I am glad that I know that God has not truly forsaken me and that God is with me each painful step of the way. 

I am reminded of the poem, "Footprints in the Sand" where when only one set of footsteps was seen it was because God was carrying the author.  I am definitely too weak to walk this path any longer on my own.  I am totally relying on God to carry me the rest of the way.  I look forward to the day when He gently lowers me back to the ground placing me and leading me beside the still waters (Psalm 23:2).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Funny Customer Pick-up Lines

Well, we are home from our trip to Turkey, and although, we can't share the greatest highlights of our trip due to safety reasons, we can share other highlights from our trip.  One highlight of our trip was the entertainment we received from Turkish vendors as they tried to rope in their customers.  Some are very persuasive in the way they catch their customers.  Others are hilarious in the way they express themselves, particularly in their English phrases.  I decided to start keeping track of some of the funny lines before I forgot them all.  Unfortunately, I've forgotten some, but at least I've managed to capture many of them to remember for future laughs. 

Feel free to let me know what your favorite customer pick-up lines are from the list.

Hey, you dropped something!
Hey, please, let me help you spend your money!
Hey, I was expecting you!
Hey, you look lost - come to my store.
Hey, I've got a great view of the Blue Mosque from my balcony!
Come drink wine and Turkish coffee from my balcony.
You need a carpet.  Let me help you find one.
I need a customer. I need a friend.
Come take a look in my store.  Looking is free.
Hello, Hello. Excuse me, excuse me.
Hello, Hello, I am here!
Excuse me, come here.
Excuse me, I am sorry.
You're welcome.
Hello, hello, hello.
Hello, my friend, my brother, are you looking for something?  Would you like to see my carpets?

The mob at the Egyptian Bazaar

One of many spice shops at the Egyptian Bazaar (also known as the Spice Bazaar for obvious reasons)

Arasta Bazaar, a much more relaxed bazaar near the Blue Mosque where we weren't hounded as much but where a shop keeper told Tim he was expecting him - imagine that!  Doesn't Tim look like such a tourist?
Food poisoning for me ruined our plans to visit the Grand Bazaar while we were in Istanbul.  The Grand Bazaar is the biggest tourist attraction where I'm sure we would have heard the best pick-up lines, but it was nice to not have to fight the crowds or be hassled by the shopkeepers.  We got to experience the Grand Bazaar when we were here back in 2008, so at least it wasn't that we had never been there before. Instead of shopping, we enjoyed a quiet evening in our hotel room for a change after all of the late, crazy nights out around the city.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Russell World Autism Awareness Day 2012

Our whole family dressed in blue for the day and wore ribbons and autism accessories on April 2 in honor of World Autism Day.  We decorated our front yard with puzzle piece signs this year that the boys helped paint.  Because it was a really busy day for us with a doctor's appointment earlier in the day for Josh then his music therapy followed by his family based therapy session, we went to Friendly's for dinner.  We had a fun celebration of World Autism Awareness Day and helped spread awareness even at the restaurant.

Here are pictures of our family and the decorations around our house.
Front Yard

Front porch

Blue light at the back of the house

Josh's idea of a pose

Front Porch Light at night

Front Porch at Night

Back of the house light at night