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Lupus Adventures Sojourning in the Land of Learning

My Cheering Section!

The Whole Cheering Section!

Finally done!  A two-year long scholastic adventure closed with long-awaited pomp, circumstance, and enthusiastic celebration of family and friends.  It is finished, and the Lupus Adventurer is returning to her blogging home, after sojourning long in the land of learning.  Graduation came as a sweet finish to a college degree put on hold for over thirty-five years.  Returning to college after a 34 year gap was a deeply fulfilling, challenging, and mentally invigorating experience.  Concern that the risk of lupus flares might increase with the added stress of school studies fueled some real trepidation at the beginning, and could have been a valid reason not to try.  However, after being on Benlysta infusions for several years, my health had never been more stable.

Over the years our children grew up, married, and five beautiful grandchildren graced our lives.  Finally health, family needs, and personal priorities were in a place where it made sense.  Personal values put the needs of children and family first, so with great peace of heart college held lowest priority.  Just like many other lupus patients, the years are peppered with various milestone health challenges.  Always thankful for the education received over four years of attending college, a lingering desire to tie a bow on the unfinished degree never lapsed.

th2C28Z9N0With all the credits aging quickly, after ten years had passed without going back, traditional college degree programs required starting all over again.  Until schools began offering degree completion programs, there was little opportunity to consider reviving a quiet personal dream to finish it.  By the time our children were in school, my career was in full stride and lupus was flaring as an unwelcome life companion.  Keeping  up with the demands of home front and work took daily doses of love from husband and family, and the abiding strength gifted though the daily grace and mercy of a walk with God.

With a husband’s support and encouragement from all the corners of life that mattered the most, it is finally done.  After deferring my desire to finish my college degree for many years due to the events and obstacles of life, choosing the priority of putting my husband and family first, and waiting contentedly upon God unless and until He showed me a time when it was right for me to do it.

So, I prayed my way through countless long nights of arduous study, and stretched my brain and heart to embrace and comprehend new ideas and understand new concepts.  Scores of papers were written, supported by hours and hours of academic research.  This was the type of college experience that made me better and my work, and helped me professionally grow.  My husband, family, friends, employer, and co-workers cheered me only continually.

Senior year of high school

College was harder work for me being a lupus patient in my late 50’s who works a full time in government management.  My sleep hours were often deprived, and the hours of study almost always went beyond midnight.  As a result, perhaps, there were some increased health challenges along the way.  But, now at age 59 it is clear that it was a deeply rejuvenating experience.  Study at night after my demanding day job, together with class time, reading text books, and writing innumerable papers were difficult at times.  During the second year of my studies, our son and his wife and family moved in with us and we spent a blessed year as a full household of nine.

Our five young grandchildren brought joyful love and laughter into our hearts, and they prayed for me and encouraged me daily with their hugs and kisses, warmth and smiles.  I felt like my cup of family love was overflowing and spilling out all around me – my heart was full of joy, despite the normal stresses and challenges of sharing our household.  We got to know and love our grandchildren even more deeply and intimately that was ever before possible, and so this will be an ongoing gift to all of our lives for years to come.

 

Returning from East Coast Lupus Adventures

thDDSVWJG3After all the fun traveling from Arizona to Philadelphia for the 2015 GSK Lupus Blogger Summit, life and reality always have their return.  The high point was stepping off the plane 10 minutes earlier than expected and calling on the cell phone to find out my husband was already almost at the airport.  It is so nice when you have those moments that remind you that the one you miss, misses you, too!  After leaving the east coast at noon it was eight when a suitcase and tired girl slipped into the pickup truck.

Hungry and tired, we stopped off at a coffee shop for comfort food, pie and a coke, did some catching up.  A friend was working last night, and waited on our table, and with the sodas, placed a fresh red carnation table in front of me with the gentle explanation, “a flower for you.”  That was sweet and a welcoming thought after a long, flight weary day.  Tummies full and spirits a little revived, we were thankful to be together and soon ready for the last five-minute trip home.

Exhaustion overtook both of us, and after a quick shower blasted away the grime of taxicabs, airports, and airplanes, sleep arrived almost instantaneously.  The night passed nearly as quickly, ending abruptly with the welcome smell of fresh coffee on the bed table beside me.  Leaning on the pile of pillows he tossed my direction from the nearby bench, eyelids drooped off to moments of sleep and husband’s chatter between sips from a warm caffeine-filled mug.

th2C28Z9N0Unlike the night, morning moved very, very slowly, matched only by slow reflexes and even slower murky disconnected thoughts.  If ever there was a day to be tempted to call in sick with my lupus after a trip, this was it.  Unlike the sweltering sauna on the east coast, the Arizona desert morning was unexpectedly crisp and refreshing.  After kissing my husband goodbye in the driveway, the second cup of coffee led me through the house into the back yard’s fresh air and fragrant rose blossoms.

Delightfully, the cool morning breeze invigorated and refreshed, as deep draughts of blustery breeze wakened a sleepy set of lungs, slapping fresh life into the lupus fogged gal walking around the yard in my slippers!  The day began to look suddenly promising and worthy of pursuit.  The refrain actually passed over astonished lips, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”  What a blessing to be home in my back yard!

Quickly gathering all the loose ends of hair, clothing, keys and a sack lunch, every thing seemed to tumble to the floor as a startling reminder CNS lupus might be a little flared from exertion and travel.  The reality of lupus limitations has a sneaky way of keeping a gal humble.

The commute drive was executed with extra care and attention, followed by a couple of conversations at work with obvious moments of difficult enunciation.  Mild lingering CNS difficulty lasted through mid afternoon, but finally the fog burned away completely.  Eventually, the morning song continued into later afternoon with, “Oh, what a beautiful day!”

Lupus Adventures in Advocacy with Lupus Sisters

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Breakfast of Lupus Champions @TiffanyAndLupus @LAlupuslady @LeslieRott and @LupusAdventurer (taking pix)

Sharing stories and coffee we nibble and smile,
while catching a quick bite to eat.
All kindred spirits fighting for health,
if only our foe to defeat!

We strive and endeavor to get the word out
and tell anyone who will hear
Awareness of facts each person should know,
information to replace their fear.

WP_20150512_001Each of us bloggers and advocates strong,
we gather with purpose as one,
We’ll talk and discuss issues we know so well,
informally we’ve already begun.

A few minutes later we join all the rest,
in the summit we’ve come to create,
With meeting of minds, a free flow of thoughts,
and messages we each came to state.

For just a few hours, we gathered together,
a great combination of voices we were,
Relationships strengthened in this rare adventure.
If only there could be a cure!

Short of that miracle, so much can be done
through research and tireless care,
Joining perspectives and wisdom diverse
by patient advocates with personal flare!

Our voice will be different, more united and strong,
after meeting together today,
What once was just virtual has leapt into life,
after meeting in this wonderful way.

Encouraged and enthused, still striving on
to reach out to every life we can touch,
Advocating, writing, and partnering together.
Alone, we could never do as much!

Lupus Adventurer
© May 2015


Edited in Lumia Selfie

Lupus Adventurer and Sarah Gorman at GSK Lupus Summit

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Leslie Rott @LeslieRott

#GSKsummit Lupus Summit

#GSKsummit on Lupus @shanelleG @LeslieRott @LAlupuslady @LupusAdventurer @cmswrites @TiffanyAndLupus @marlajan @despitelupus

A very special thank you goes out to Glasko Smith Kline for sponsoring the May 12, 2015 GSK Summit on Lupus — #GSKsummit , and inviting  lupus bloggers to join in this precedent-setting lupus event. Note to Reader: GSK provided reimbursement for travel and expenses to attend the GSK Lupus Summit.  However, this post is voluntary, represents my own views and I was not paid to write it, nor asked to promote GSK or its medicines.

GSK Lupus Summit, Philadelphia, PA

Edited in Lumia Selfie

Charlotte, NC Airport

All day was spent traveling from Arizona to Philadelphia… three airports, two flights and a taxi ride.  Sitting here in the hotel room, the view includes the GSK Corporate offices next door, and the 76er’s and Eagles’ sports complex.  This is a great time to kick up heels and unwind before looking for some dinner.

Taken with Lumia Selfie

Boarding for Philly

GSK had a welcome packet waiting at hotel front desk, in preparation for tomorrow’s GSK 2015 Lupus Summit — #GSKsummit — and it seems the other bloggers have not yet arrived.  It will be great to meet some of the other participants who have been social media “pen pals”.

The updated list of participants in the welcome packets includes lupus bloggers with these Twitter addresses: @marlajan, @ShanelleG @despitelupus, @LAlupuslady, @lupusguru, @TiffanyAndLupus, @cmswrites, @LupusChickcom, @LeslieRott, @QueenofSpain, and of course, “moi”, @LupusAdventurer.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure.  Follow us tomorrow on Twitter.

Lupus adventures in accidental forgiveness at the side of the road

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Softening that first impulse… Stop, breathe, think and pray!

Accidents happen!  For emotional and spiritual health, it is important after a traumatic injury to start by sorting out emotions and clarify the difference between fault and malice.  If someone was at fault due to negligent, careless, or otherwise the unintentional actions causing an injury, for our own health and peace of mind we should try to forgive them. They did not mean to cause hurt, as there was no malice in their actions.

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Admitting responsibility

We should not confuse forgiveness with the need to hold others responsible for the results of their actions, but we should understand we will only hurt our own heart and spirit by rehearsing and feeding anger and resentment toward someone who caused our injury.  Imperfect humans cause accidents, and we should see them as simply that.  Imperfect.  Human.

Amazingly and unexpectedly, healing began right at the scene of a recent accident, when the man who caused it stood there by the side of the road, holding out his hand with regret on his face.  Hands were shaken and the lament in his eyes was clearly genuine, his words of apology were real, and his full acceptance of fault meant only one thing.  He was concerned with my wellbeing, took responsibility for his actions, and deserved nothing short of immediate forgiveness.

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Expressing a response of kindness

Thanking him for his integrity and sincere apology, it was somehow easy to  shake his hand and respond with a message of kindness.  Agreeing the insurance companies would work out the financial issues, our clear understanding was that the gentleman was clearly at fault.  I felt compelled to assure him of the absence of resentment or anger toward him.

As we shook hands again upon leaving, our polite agreement was that it was just an accident, and that it had happened because we are imperfect and make mistakes.  It was a heavy, bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic jam, and we were grateful only the two of us were involved.  Accepting this perspective on the situation helped immediately dismiss strong negative emotions and shift attention to thankfulness for the good aspects of the otherwise generally negative experience.  Considering that we both walked away in “one piece”, no one else was hurt, and we amicably communicated at the side of the highway, we had much to be thankful for!

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Bright spot in memory of accident

In the midst of the early pain of injuries, the gentle human connection with the other driver remains now a little glimmering bright spot in memories of the traumatic experience.

Sometimes we feel justified in our anger, but we are not forced to exercise that “right”.  If someone causes injury for reasons such as mal intent, criminal negligence such as drunk driving, over aggressive driving, or road rage, it might still behoove us to show charity of heart and pity them for their poor self-control and lack of wisdom, and not focus the inwardly destructive potency of hatred upon them.

Many times these infractions ultimately put the erring doer in jail, with severe legal punishment, fines, and restitution.  We should choose to let that be enough.  God’s important message to us in the Bible on this issue gives us that better perspective.  “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink… be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12: 19-20.  The negative emotion of resentment hurts the one who hates more than it affects the object of such feelings.  Just as forgiveness is emotionally and spiritually healing and freeing, resentment and hatred bring a painful grip that hurts and damages the hater more that the hated.

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How many times must I forgive?

Jesus said we should forgive our brother that hurts or wrongs us, not only seven times like an inquirer had suggested to Him, but instead we should forgive them “seventy times seven”.  That comes to 440 times!  It seems pretty clear that He did not infer that we should stop forgiving the 441st time someone wrongs us, but perhaps by then we will have well exercised our ability to forgive with reasonable success.

thL96KOAO8While it is impossible to count the number of other people throughout time who have ever lived on the face of the earth, Jesus bore the sins of all of us in His body on the cross, that He might bring us to God.  He offers lasting forgiveness to us, not at the side of the road, but at the foot of the cross.  If we will accept his sacrifice there for our own sins, and receive his offer of love, forgiveness, and eternal life, we can walk away spiritually healed and whole.  The apostle Paul explained, “for the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 3:23.

The body will heal, although lupus may flare after trauma, that will pass in time.  More important than the healing of our body, or any flares of chronic illness such as lupus triggered by trauma or stress, is the healing of our heart, soul and spirit.  Sinners like me who are saved by God’s gracious undeserved kindness, can choose to extend the healing of simple forgiveness to fellow sinners who happen to collide with them on the roadway of life.  With God’s help, I can, too!

Forgiveness does not happen by accident, but rather it is a choice.  I have made mine, and as a result, am well on the road back to health!

Back to school a little late with lupus

Road sign saying College Just Ahead

Returning to College

Returning to college after a 34 year gap has been an exciting adventure, and after the finish of the first class, the jury is in with a verdict.  This IS possible, even with lupus.  Finding an adult degree completion program that would work with lupus was essential.

Early morning college classes were not an option, so traditional college was out of consideration long before planning to going back even started.  Planning activities in the morning with lupus is never a good idea!  There had to be a better way.

College fund label on glass Jar full of dollar bills

Figuring out the funding

When a program was located that would honor all the work put in over four years of college, split between two schools, and make the most of it to complete the degree, I was glad.  The second college started an adult degree completion program a year ago, and they began sending out emails.

After figuring out the logistics and funding, the day finally came for registering and signing up on the dotted line!

College library books on shelves in the stacks

Plenty of work, but no exams!

It was finally time to go back to school, and it was both exciting and a little scary.  An unexpected blessing came on the first night of class in January, when the professor announced there were no exams!  A brain, sometimes impaired by short-term memory problems from lupus, heard that news and did an exuberant back flip!

What could be better than that?  Lots of books to read, awesome!
Major research to do, how fun. Lots of papers to write, bring it on!
Presentations to make, even better.  But, no exams? Absolutely perfect!

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A thing or two to learn!

Now, class number two is already underway, with one down and 13 more to go after this one.  June 2016 does not seem too far away and with prayer, some amazing support from my husband, quiet lupus, and the grace of God, graduation will be 17 months from now.

In between, there might be a thing or two to learn!

Lupus and the adventure of finally finishing something

Senior year of high school

Finishing Something!

Finishing something

There is no feeling quite like setting out on an adventure to finish something that has been waiting a very long time to be completed. So it was this week. After a long thirty-four year interruption, there was finally enough health, time and money to return to college to finish a nearly-complete bachelors degree.  Thirty-four years was time enough to equal more than half of a life, filled with countless challenges and blessings.  Yet, this was the one undone endeavor that still carried a sting of lament.  After investing four years at two colleges, the final semester of college was never completed.

Over the intervening years, a lot of stuff happened!  Enough years had passed to,

  • Love a husband more than a third of a century
  • Work long enough in a career to earn a pension and start to think about retirement
  • Conquer great financial hardship and recover, and go on to own two homes
  • Face the threat of imminent death three times
  • Raise two children and watch them graduate from high school and college
  • Watch children marry and enjoy four grandchildren
  • Lose one parent suddenly and lose the other slowly to dementia

Why the long wait?

Paying medical bills

Paying medical bills

Why did it take so long to get to this point? In a couple of words, life and lupus got in the way!

Several times a target date was set and never worked out.  First, after taking a semester off college to get married, a baby [note, the pill does not always work!] was soon on the way and a prayerful decision reached that my husband needed to finish college first since we had started a family who needed nurturing.  We assumed my degree would quickly follow, as soon as toddlers went off to school.  But, when severe asthma shattered those plans my husband’s medical bills equaled enough to pay off a house (without ever having a house to show for it.)  Somehow we paid all the bills, but it took seven years, and thankfully, without declaring bankruptcy.  It was a small price to pay, and we were grateful, because the doctors saved his life!

Sober concerns about my husband’s long-term survival made him urge me to find a job that could support us right away as well prepare me financially for the very real possibility of losing him.  So, this meant going to work without finishing the degree.  Even then, Lupus was lurking around in the shadows, but still had not introduced itself properly.

As kids went to school, their dad was home, through kindergarten and several years along.  This meant my job was the sole support for the four of us for a while.  It was a great blessing to see God’s wonderful provision meeting our financial needs through my new career as a paralegal trainee, over the next three decades promoting through the law office ranks to government law office management.  Eventually breakthroughs in asthma medications stabilized his health, but by then our children were a little older and my career was well-established.

Trading places!

Photo Lupus Adventurer's Daughter-In-Law

Photo by Lupus Adventurer’s Daughter-In-Law

Then, we traded places.  lupus came out of hiding while he regained health and became the strong one.  As children turned into teenagers, lupus was in full flare with arthritis, fatigue, rashes, mouth ulcers and deep gnawing bone pain.  Many nights spent in a chair rocking back and forth was sometimes the only tolerable way to pass through those early morning watches.

Then, while grieving my mother’s death, opportunistic lupus rampaged through my body, targeting my central nervous system and muddying memory, coordination, speech and analytical thinking.  That was the year lupus moved in like an unwelcome intruder, threatening my career and nearly completely disabling me.  When abdominal artery ruptured, nearly taking my life, while our kids struggled with a mom who got confused, forgot things and was struggling to stay afloat.  When there wasn’t enough of mom to go around, there was also complete peace that husband and children were the priority that came first.  College was never even a consideration because of time and money.

Finding an open door

Two important questions

It did not make sense to put personal goals first unless it made sense to heart, budget and what mattered the most in the depths of my heart.  While wishing I could finish college, other commitments and priorities mattered far more. Character and patience required waiting until a right combination of physical health and strength, priorities and schedule, and financial resources and wisdom would (ever) add up an open door.  A final decision also required defensible answers to two important questions, especially this late in the game:

  • Would there be enough return on the investment to make spending the money a wise financial investment?
  • Would the degree contribute enough to reaching future goals to merit spending the necessary time and energy?

Regardless how long it took to get here, there are no complaints about the wait. It was always clear when God used events to deliver a very personal message that not all moms should be “stay home” moms, and not all moms are supposed to get their college degrees before their kids do!  Sometimes, God calls a few of us down a different, sometimes difficult path to help us understand His love and care through the struggles.  Now, it makes sense to spend the time and money on getting the degree completed. It will boost earning power and open up a wider arrange of choices for a meaningful semi-retirement second career.

Back on campus!

So, this week it was thrilling (and a little nerve rattling) to become a college student once again.  On-campus classes are held one night each week for the next eighteen months as part of the degree completion program. Someday husband, daughter and son — who all finished their college degrees (daughter has two) — will assemble to watch mom put on cap and gown and cross the stage to receive her diploma.  This is the time to make it happen, lupus and life not withstanding!

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