Just some of the MANY MANY beautiful and encouraging cards I’ve received over the past few months from my incredible family, coworkers, and friends. Each of these cards arrived exactly on time 🙂
I know… it’s been a while since I last posted… (45 days to be exact)! Nothing has really happened, though, in the past month and a half…
So many WONDERFUL, EXCITING, AWESOME things have happened and I feel like with each passing day, I have something new to add to the list. Hmm, where to begin…
Kyle and I got to celebrate our 1st year of marriage!
One of the best days ever!
On April 11th, my husband and I got to celebrate one year of coming home to each other, falling asleep nightly to The Office, discovering pet peeves we failed to mention (or just didn’t know about) beforehand, extending grace to one another in our weaknesses and struggles, as well as encouraging each other’s strengths and passions, and just learning and growing alongside each other in our walk with the Lord. I know I’ve said before that we never expected to experience the kind of hardships we’ve gone through in the past several months during our first year of marriage, but by God’s grace and the encouragement of Christian brothers and sisters, we’ve been able to see the many blessings that have come of it.
I was just sharing with a friend yesterday about how I’ve seen the outworking of the Gospel in the way my husband has taken care of me and selflessly served me in this season. I think back to the nights just a couple of months ago when I would be sobbing in the middle of the night because of the pain and how I couldn’t sleep and how Kyle would wake up and always come to comfort me and pray for me, often half-asleep, and stay with me until I was okay. I think of how he has taken on most of our chores without complaint as I’ve been slowly regaining my strength. He is not perfect, and neither am I, but what a miracle it is that the Lord saw it fit to bring us, two flawed human beings, sinners that have been redeemed, to walk through this earthly life together.
We also got celebrate Kyle’s 30th birthday!
My husband looking handsome and me trying to rock a headband and a hoodie… hehe 🙂
2 days after our wedding anniversary, Kyle turned 30 (I told him that because the dates are so close together, he has no excuse for ever forgetting our anniversary… haha)! He ended up being off that day and I was still on leave, so we just got to enjoy the day together to celebrate both occasions. Again, it wasn’t what I had pictured for our first anniversary and his 30th birthday, but it was still awesome because we were together.
A couple of weeks later, Mom Graf and I got to throw a surprise birthday in NJ for Kyle with the help of our awesome family and friends! It was rainy that morning, but the weather cleared and it turned out to be a beautiful day. We had such a fun time of eating good food and catching up with our amazing friends who we don’t get to see very often.
Kyle and some of his bros. What a serious bunch…
Also, I went back to work!
Back to the land of glockenspiels, quarter notes, the treble clef, and reminding kids to use hand sanitizer after they blow their nose.
After being on leave for over a month, I finally returned to my music classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful that I was able to take time off to rest and give my body some time and space to heal, but I was definitely missing my kiddos, my coworkers, and teaching. I was super anxious about how my sleep would be once I started work, and I had flashbacks to to February, when I started to get itching episodes WHILE I was teaching. I was also nervous to be away from what had been my “safe space” (our living room couch) where I didn’t have to worry to much about what I looked like (I could be red and flakey without having to worry about explaining what was wrong to people who didn’t know what’s been going on). However, the Lord was gracious and answered my prayers. For the past few weeks since I’ve been back, I’ve been able to sleep mostly through the night, only waking up once or twice, with the help of only half an Atarax or 1 Benedryl tablet! I can’t really describe how amazing that truly is! I’ve also been itchy from time to time during the work day, but it is NOTHING compared to what it was.
At the beginning of the first week I got back, I was trying to figure out how to explain where I’d been for the past month to my students, as well as how to address my current appearance. I’m not quite sure, but there was a part of me that was embarrassed to say that it was a skin condition and I didn’t know if I should even explain TSW. Initially, I kept my explanation vague and then at one point, I tried to explain what an autoimmune condition was to the older students, but it still didn’t quite make sense. Finally, I started off telling one class that I had bad rashes and I noticed 3 students sitting right next to each other smile really big. In my head, I was like, “What is going on?” It was then that the girls rolled up their sleeves and showed me the rashes on their arms. One of the students said, “Mrs. Graf! We have rashes too! It’s called eczema!” It might sound weird, but my heart was so full a that moment! Part of me was definitely sad that they have eczema (I pray that they will grow out of it and not use topical steroids), but there was also a part of me that was like, “Kids DO understand! Because so many of them have it!” The fact that they were smiling because we found out we all have eczema was something I will never forget. From that point on, I just told every class that I had eczema and so many kids would raise their hands and shoutout, “I have it too!”
I’ve experienced such encouragement and support from my coworkers and students since I’ve been back. My amazing coworkers sent me so many cards while I was out, as well as some cards from entire classes, so I was surprised when I kept receiving more cards since I’ve been back! My desk at home is COVERED with them and all the other beautiful cards I’ve gotten from my family, church family, and friends. Every time I’ve received a card from anyone, I’ve just had to thank to the Lord for people’s thoughtfulness and kindness. I pray that He’ll always give me the same compassion to do the same for others. My students have also been so sweet. Just this past week, I’ve had several students either stop me in the hallway or look at me on their way into the classroom and say, “Mrs. Graf! It looks like you are getting better! How are you feeling?” Talking about trying to hold back the waterworks! Haha!
Healing is happening.
It’s been a long road and I know I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’ve been seeing AND feeling healing taking place! These are just a few pictures of my progress over the past 4 1/2 months. Even in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling more and more like myself. My sleep has been so much better (been averaging about 6 hours, only waking up once or twice through the night), my skin shedding has gone down drastically (I considered posting a picture of my clothes COVERED in skin flakes, but I decided to not subject you to that horror… EWW!!!), I am not as red or as itchy as I was even a month ago, I no longer waking up in extreme pain from dried out, sore skin, my swollen lymph nodes seem to be shrinking, and I’ve been able to branch out of my regular cotton long-sleeve shirts and leggings because my skin doesn’t feel so sensitive (don’t judge me about the leggings… I used to joke around in college that leggings are not a good substitute for pants, but my mind has forever been changed… leggings are so comfy and have saved me from scratching my legs raw)!
I am SO thankful for these positive changes and I’m trying to focus on them, but I know I still have a ways to go. Last week, I experienced a weird tingling sensation in my hands that lingered for several days and I was waking up with swollen knuckles. I went to the doctor who suggested it could be psoriatic arthritis, but I think it’s TSW related. She ordered me some blood tests, which I will definitely still take, and offered steroids again, which I politely refused. I tried not to get discouraged when she offered them, because I was so excited about the progress that I’ve seen and felt, but I tried not to let it get to me. Fortunately, the tingling has gone down and my knuckles are not as stiff this week, so I’m taking that as a good sign.
In the midst of all the progress, there is still a part of me that is so scared that things will get bad again. A few nights ago, my wrists got super itchy and I felt myself slipping into panic/anxiety mode. Kyle found me huddled up against the couch on the floor, scratching furiously at my arms. He calmly got my ice packs, which I haven’t used in so long, and wrapped my arms. The itching finally stopped, but the fear was still there. I know so many people in TSW experience cyclical healing, in which they flare, they get better, they flare, they get better, etc. Kyle, Mama Guerra, and Mama Graf have all tried to remind me that everyone is different and that there are those people who experienced significant healing in less than a year. I’ve been able to come to a place where I am going to be positive and move forward with the mindset that things are uphill, but also know that if I do flare again, the Lord is going to give me strength to get through, as He has done and is doing every single day that I am on this earth.
Can’t wait to read this book!
This past weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the women’s conference that the women’s ministry at my church, New Hope OPC, organized and hosted! Our main speaker was Aimee Byrd, an awesome blogger, radio show host, and author who is also a member at New Hope. Her talks covered chapters from her book, Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith. Throughout the weekend, she unpacked the verse:
“Let us hold fast to our confession of hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
I always find it so amazing how often I can read a verse over the years, and gain so much more richness and insight, when someone like Aimee, or our Pastor Francis, breaks it apart and points out connections to other parts of Scripture.
In her first talk, she defined theological fitness as “the persistent fight to exercise our faith by actively engaging in the gospel truth revealed in God’s Word.” She then challenged us with the first part of the verse, “Let us hold fast” in reminding us that “holding fast” means being engaged in God’s Word and holding tightly to our confession of hope within the church body. In the second session, she unpacked “the confession of our hope,” who is our Savior, Christ Jesus, and talked about how the truth that “Jesus is Lord” is displayed in who He is and what He has done/is doing.
The third session focused on how “he who promised is faithful.” There was another verse from Hebrews Aimee went over in this session that really hit home with me.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
While I don’t believe all that I’ve been going through is “punishment” (but I do believe that Lord allows us to experience the consequences of our sin and corrects us when we need it), I know that the Lord has been disciplining me and teaching me many things in this season. We are reminded in Scripture that the Lord disciplines those he loves and that “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:11)
In being stripped of my comfort, my appearance, my “everyday life,” the Lord has confronted me with my pride and it’s many manifestations. I’ve been reminded that Christians are not guaranteed a life of comfort. In fact, we know for a fact that we will endure hardships, suffering, tragedy, and trials as long as we are living our earthly life. I’ve been reminded that my confidence as a believer does not come from my outward appearance, my intellect, or the talents I’ve been given, but rather from Christ, who gave me true life. I’ve been reminded not to hold on too tightly to all that I know today, for it can all change in the blink of an eye. However, I know that through all the changes and seasons, God is my solid rock. He is unchanging. He is my Provider. My joy, peace, and strength come from Him.
Aimee talked about the choices we can make in the trials we endure. Will we be hardened by our hardships? Will we allow them to make us bitter? Or will we choose to be “trained by it,” will we allow our hearts to be softened and molded as we are being sanctified each day?
Even though I am feeling better these days, I know that I am still called to persevere and hold fast to my Lord. I know this season will be one of many hardships that Kyle’s and my road will be marked with, but what joy and peace we can take in God’s faithfulness to us!
Also during the conference, some amazing women shared their incredible testimonies and I got to talk and meet many more of the awesome women from my church. I was so blessed by the teaching, the conversations, and the fellowship. I’m really glad that I got to go.
Mixed berry chia seed jam with coconut whipped topping… I made this a while ago but I just had to post it because it tasted so good. 🙂
And the cherry on top was coming home after the conference to a clean living room and deflated air mattress! Kyle cleaned up all my mess (aka shoes, music, bags, Hello Kitty socks, etc.) in our living room and packed up the air mattress. Last night, we attempted to sleep in the same bed after many, many nights sleeping in separate rooms, and it was awesome! Well, for me at least. I didn’t notice I was scratching in my sleep again, so Kyle didn’t sleep so well… So it’s back to the air mattress I go… but I’m not so sad about it, because I know I am that much closer to “normalcy” in that sense 🙂
Alright, it’s The Office time/bedtime. As always, thank you for your amazing support, prayers, and all the sunshine you bring to my life. Wishing you a happy, healthy week!
ROCK OUT AND RAWK ON!