Header Image

Kristen

My husband Rob is in the military, and in 2006 our family was stationed in San Antonio.  We learned about Redeemer because a friend of a friend worshipped here.  At our first service, members invited us to lunch and connected us with other young military families to help us navigate our move.  We visited several other churches as well, but we continued to gravitate back to Redeemer. It’s a place where you can come as you are, with your messy life. We found solid teaching and intentional community at Redeemer.  It is a reflection of God’s Kingdom – a group of God’s imperfect people who love Him and show His love to their neighbors.  We wanted to be a part of that.

We were stationed in San Antonio until 2011, when the military moved us to England.  We loved England.  We had a lovely community, school, and church.  I am a pediatrician, and I was able to continue practicing medicine overseas as a volunteer with the Red Cross.

In 2012, I began to feel unwell.  My hands were stiff every morning, and I couldn’t use them without rubbing them under warm water.  About a year later, I developed a rash from my ears to my feet.  My knees, elbows, wrists, and hands became stiff and ached.  I walked with a limp and fell down the stairs twice because my body moved slower than I anticipated.  I was exhausted.  Every morning after walking my children to school, I would sit on my steps for about 20 minutes to regain enough energy to walk into the house and lie down on the couch.

By 2014, I had a myriad of other symptoms and was diagnosed with lupus.  Lupus is an autoimmune disorder which can damage any part of the body – skin, joints, internal organs, etc.  While there are treatments for lupus, it is a chronic condition I will live with for the rest of my life.

By the time I was diagnosed, day-to-day life had become difficult because of my physical symptoms.  A few months later, I started having cognitive problems as well.  I had begun studying for my pediatric board recertification examination.  When I started studying, I was getting 80 percent of the questions right; three weeks later, I couldn’t even get half the questions right. I could still go about my daily routine, but I struggled with higher order thinking.  My rheumatologist told me my immune system might be attacking my brain, and she started me on a variety of immunosuppressant medications.

My ability to think deteriorated rapidly, and I took a leave of absence from work.  I stopped driving, because I would forget where I was going or how to get home.  I could walk to town, but twice I was nearly hit by a car trying to cross the road because if I looked in one direction I could not remember if the traffic in the other direction was clear or not.  One day I came so close to stepping into traffic that the side mirror of a car brushed against my jacket.  I couldn’t add two simple numbers like 5+7.  I couldn’t remember the value of coins or count money.  I couldn’t figure out right and left. I couldn’t remember how to braid my daughter’s hair.  I struggled to cook a meal, because I could neither follow a simple recipe nor understand fractions like ½ cup. I couldn’t remember the value of coins or count money.  I couldn’t read analog clocks. At my worst, I struggled to even remember my name and date of birth.  I would hold on to my ID card at my doctor appointments and look at my name, so that I would remember what I would hear when it was my turn to be seen.

I went from being a healthy, fit woman with a 35-year history of doing most things very well, to being jobless without hope of returning to the work I loved, unable to care for my children and unable to care for myself.

I was terrified.  My mind was slipping away from me.  We had no idea if my mental impairment would be permanent or if I would recover with medications and time.  We discussed whether Rob would have to leave the military for a more predictable schedule, and if I would need a full time caregiver.  I was no longer self-sufficient, and I felt useless. I identified with a passage in the book of Lamentations, Chapter 3.  Jeremiah had an undeniably miserable life, but he wrote, "I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

During this time we received tremendous help from our community. Our neighbors walked to school and to town with me so I was not alone. The school knew who my kids could walk home with if I forgot to get them.  They called to remind me to send in forms, and counted my money for me as I paid for school events. When my five year old asked his teacher, “If my mom dies, will you still be my teacher?” she gave him a big hug and answered, “If something happens to your mom, of course I will still be your teacher.  I will always love you and do whatever I can for you.”  In addition to providing practical support, our church community also encouraged us to pray 2 Chronicles 20:12 “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”  God surrounded us with people who loved us and cared for us well, and they comforted us with truths about God’s love for us.

Thankfully, I have more good days than bad now. In 2015 we returned to San Antonio and to Redeemer, and before we even moved back, many Redeemer families contacted us to learn our family’s story so they could know how to help. Now when I leave a church event early because my mind is fatigued, multiple Redeemer families call to check on me.  Redeemer women have driven me to appointments when I’m not thinking well enough to drive, have left flowers on my doorstep to brighten my home on days I’m not thinking well enough to leave the house, and provided meals for me to pop in the oven on days I’m not thinking well enough to cook.  

Returning to Redeemer was like coming home to family.  The church meets me where I am and loves me there.  I have limitations many people do not have, but no one makes me feel like a burden at all, and I am grateful.

I am learning a lot through this.  Since my mind became impaired, it feels as though who I am has changed.  I approach life differently now.  It's hard to make firm plans, because my symptoms fluctuate.  I've had to back away from many activities and rely on others to help look after our family.  Regardless, I am reassured that whose I am has not changed.  And that is a refreshing constant.  I enjoy rest in knowing that God loves me because He loves me, not because of what I achieve.  I am gaining freedom from my idol of self-sufficiency.  I impose fewer unhealthy expectations on myself.  I am less interested in trying to accomplish a lot, and more interested in seeing and savoring Jesus.  I delight in the friendships I gain from asking for help.  Most of all, I’m grateful for experiencing God’s promises - that He is always with me and that His grace is sufficient for me, both on the good days and the difficult ones.