Monday, March 14, 2016

The Hand Of God Holds All Things

The time has come to share what our family has been going through. We've all heard the phrase, "God never gives you more than you can handle" and I used to cling to that in times of need.  Ben and I have realized in the past year that God will give you more than you can handle, He just promises to be there to help carry the load when we can't.

We found out in the fall of 2014 that Ben had reduced kidney function.  This was a complete shock to us.  His diabetes had been under great control, and he had zero of the symptoms that he should have had.  To keep a very long story short, we learned that Ben had reacted poorly to a medication that is routinely used to "prevent" kidney damage.  The nephrologists in Iowa were still convinced that it was impossible that Lisinopril had done anything and blamed it on the diabetes alone.  We ended up fighting a 6 month battle while they refused to take him off the med (which he now needed for blood pressure control due to the damaged kidneys) and we switched to a nephrologist in MN.  It was then confirmed that Lisinopril did in fact cause severe damage in Ben's case and he was switched to a different medication.

The outlook was good at that time and we were told he could sustain at that level for many years with a good diet and careful blood pressure control.  We were glad we knew and could make a few changes to keep Ben healthy.  We jumped into healing mode and used supplements, homeopathy, juicing, and exercise to encourage Ben's body.  He still felt great and at times we saw improvement in his numbers and felt we were on the right track, and that there was a chance God would choose to heal Ben's kidneys.  In July that all changed.  We packed our moving truck to MN on the hottest day of the year. Ben ended up getting severely dehydrated despite pushing fluids and stopping for many breaks.  He ended up in the emergency room with extremely high blood pressure, heat stroke and was unable to do much more than rest for the next few days.  That caused some sort of shift and his kidney function rapidly declined throughout the rest of July, August, and September.  In September we found out that we could not avoid dialysis.

The doctors were baffled, and we were in a state of shock.  The nephrologists had felt that since Ben was so healthy that he could avoid dialysis completely and when the time came have a transplant.  Sadly, dialysis was quickly arranged and Ben had a catheter placed in his abdomen to prepare for peritoneal dialysis.  We chose this method so that he could dialyze at home while sleeping and have his day free.  It is also a chemical free method and more gentle than hemodialysis.  When he started his kidneys were still doing the majority of the work and he needed very little dialysis.  This further baffled the doctors, and they kept trying to add too much dialysis...repeatedly dehydrating Ben and landing us in the ER and hospital.

Unfortunately, this further damages his remaining kidney function and makes his blood pressure harder and harder to manage.  Along with bp control, the kidneys also perform many hormonal and enzyme functions.  Now we are trying to mange severe anemia, calcium, vitamin D, and B-vitamin deficiency, and fluid shifts that make his sodium/potassium balance all out of whack.  Friday night he took a medication to encourage red blood cell production to help with anemia (a synthetic version of the hormone the kidneys usually produce) but this raised his already touchy blood pressure, and exacerbated some fluid retention he had.  This is what led to his inability to breath properly and I had to call 911.

In the midst of this we tried desperately to be the best parents we could be, move into our new home and unpack, work on a few projects, and help our kids through the transition of a new school and friends.  Thankfully, God had prepared the perfect job for Ben in advance.  He now knows he never would have been able to continue teaching throughout this journey. He had struggled with the call to administration three years ago.  He still loved teaching (especially Kindergarten!) and couldn't understand why God seemed to be so clearly telling him it was time to move in a different direction so soon.  When we packed up his classroom in May he was so excited for the new challenge, and yet so sad to be saying goodbye to the most fulfilling work he had ever done.

One of the biggest struggles for Ben has been accepting that there is no longer a chance for healing on his own, and that a transplant could affect someone he loves.  He's a protector, and an advocate for others.  All of you who know Ben well, know he is rarely ever sick but when he is he catches something rare, weird, or intense.  He hates sick days and will push through anything with shear will power.  Letting people down is not in his DNA.  He didn't want to share what has been going on, because he didn't want to be treated like he was sick and he didn't want people asking our kids how he was doing.  He loves his new job, and wants to do amazing things, and be a support person for the new staff and school he represents.

As Ben's wife, I am asking for prayer.  He is my best friend, the best daddy to our kids, a great provider, and a man called by God to be an advocate for all children.  Now he needs support, compassion, understanding...and a kidney.  I will be tested this week, our oldest son (Braeden) is being tested, and we have had a couple other people offer to donate if they are a match.  Ben is beyond humbled by these offers to give him the greatest gift of love.  I am also looking into the paired exchange program if I am not a match.  That would allow me to donate my kidney to someone who has a family member that was not a match for them, but is a match for Ben.  We believe the hand of God holds all things, and He sees this great need.  Please join us in praying that the right match is found quickly, and that if we are meant to meet another's need as well that we would see that quickly and clearly.  We are also praying for stability while we wait.  Ben's blood pressure needs to stabilize to protect the rest of his body for transplant, and the constant trips to the ER and hospital are very stressful and hard on our kids.  We are SO thankful for our family, friends, church, community...all of you!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

God's sense of humor...the rest of the story

Well, a few days ago we posted on facebook about God's sense of humor.

In our marriage we have experienced this many times!  You know what I mean, you say "oh yeah right, that would never happen" and next week it does.  As believers we have always had total faith in God and His decisions for our lives, and never once have we regretted that faith and trust.  There have been many times we have questioned His timing, or reasons but knew that in the end life is a Gift and our time here is really not our own anyway.  Through the toughest and most blessed times in our marriage we have seen God do things that we didn't even think were possible!

Here we stand in complete awe again.

11 years ago when Ben was bitten by the brown recluse spider he had many health complications.  Most were overcome with time, healing, and God's grace.  But Mayo clinic told us we would never have kids again.  We were pregnant with Christian at the time they told us this and were just praying Ben would survive.  It was okay, I had always wanted to adopt and Ben and I had talked about it the night he proposed.

Through Ben's illness he felt that he had been ignoring God's calling for his life and living for the wrong reasons.  Nine months after the spider bite he enrolled in college again and pursued his degree in elementary education.  One week before Christian was born Ben climbed the stairs at the Crosslake Super Slides, and went off all medications Mayo had prescribed.  Mayo told us he may never work again, regulate his blood pressure again, drive again, or resume normal life.  Our God knew different!  Ben says to this day that he was just too stubborn to go back to school without a big push (he felt he was doing fine in insurance)...I continue to tell him not to wait so long when God speaks to him!

While he was in school we decided to look into adoption since we had heard it takes a while to be matched with a birth mom.  Two years later we adopted our sweet Isabelle, and Ben was almost done with school.  When he graduated we headed to Texas to have a better chance at job stability and higher first year teacher pay.

When Isabelle was 2 1/2 we decided she needed a sister.  At that time we knew we wanted to adopt again, but also wanted to make sure that there was no chance that we would "accidentally" have any homegrown surprises.  We saw one of the top specialists in Austin and he again told us that we would not be having any more children.  The next week we contacted Lutheran Social Services and excitedly pursued our second adoption. Eli came in April of 2007 and we were beyond ecstatic!  We couldn't have asked for a smoother adoption and felt so blessed to have our 4 kids.

September of that same year we saw a program about adopted older kids from foster care and the great need there is for families for these kids.  We prayed about it and decided we still needed one more girl, so again contacted LSS and had our homestudy transferred to the foster-to-adopt program.  That program was heart wrenching.  We poured through case studies looking at kids and praying to God to ask us to show us who was to be ours.  There were several times that we asked about kids we thought might be right and then knew it wasn't.  The need was SO great and our heart just broke each time we couldn't be the family for a child.

April of 2005 we had a nice big garage sale!  We had moved to a home closer to the school that Ben taught at, and the boys attended.  The house was much bigger and yet it still felt good to purge all that stuff we all seem to accumulate over time.  We sold almost all of our infant stuff because we knew that we were adopting an older child and that Eli would be our last baby :-)  God was chuckling the whole time.  May 19th Luke arrived at 2 days old with a hospital band on and a little white t-shirt.  We had 1 hour to gather up baby supplies.  They needed a family with a stay-at-home mom to take him for 2 weeks because he was too young for daycare and they needed to contact extended family.  Long story short...2 months later we were told he was ours!

Now at this point, many would say "wow, they must not be meant to have another girl".  We had the same thought!  We love our boys, and Isabelle is such a beautiful princess.  On the other hand we had seen the need for older child adoption and we couldn't ignore and walk away from that any more than we could help breathing.  We still left our information in the foster-to-adopt system and waited.  In December we got a call that we had been chosen to adopt a sibling group of 2.  Yes two.  They were 10 and 8 and beyond amazing.  We had room in the house, needed a bigger truck anyway, and Ben could be there everyday for them at school.  Finally, another girl and a little guy with the biggest smile we had ever seen.  They flew home to us and arrived on December 30th, our 13th wedding anniversary!

We had a long wait for finalization with that adoption.  It was very hard on all of us, when we were just ready for no more court dates, home visits (although we all LOVED all of our case workers!), and the worry that something would change in the case.  Once again, that was God's plan.  If we had finalized when we thought we were going to our file would not still have been open and active at the end of summer 2009, and that is when we found out about our Riya girl.  A five year old beauty that needed a forever home.  We finalized Max and Elly's adoption, made room for one more, and she moved in the day Christmas break started and just in time for a trip home to MN to meet family and friends!

While on that trip home we realized that we were going to need family support and encouragement while raising this crew of 8!  We also wanted to enjoy our summer breaks with the kids instead of spending all summer dripping in the TX heat.  We checked out schools and small towns all around north Iowa.  We accidentally drove through Garner and commented on what a nice little town it was.  When we got home in January Ben started applying for jobs, and was hired in Garner, Iowa.

June of 2010 it had finally been 6 months (it has to be this long before you can finalize an adoption) and we could be all done with court!  The same judge that had finalized our last 3 was there to do Riya's too.  It had been a long, crazy, joyful, stressful journey and we were so happy to move forward as a family and make a new start in Iowa.

We arrived on 4th of July weekend in Iowa with my mom driving the moving truck, Ben in the poor limping suburban (the U-haul trailer had issues and had wrecked both of our newer rear tires), and me in the excursion with the other trailer.  Our sweet home with a white picket fence, perennial flower gardens, and front porch was all we had prayed and dreamed for.  The town was beyond welcoming and helpful, and the school everything we had hoped it would be!

The last year and a half has been a blur of busy and fun.  Settling into a new town, making new friends and relationships, losing both my grandma and Ben's grandpa within 2 weeks of each other, and kids all involved in activities now has kept us crazy busy.  All the kids love it here!  They have made good friends, they have new freedoms in a small town,  and we have all finally felt settled.

So, on to God's sense of humor?  After 10 years of no "prevention" and no babies, after selling and donating all of our baby stuff, and me planning to go back to school (I had even visited my first college) and finally get that degree...God has decided to bless us with a new life.  A homegrown one again!

You see, during all of our adoption stress I started having some health issues and decided to try eliminating food from my diet to see if that was my problem after doctors could give me no answers.  After a month of no wheat, sugar, or milk we discovered that I was not the only one with food issues.  Our whole family reacted to wheat when we tried to reintroduce it, but Ben and Braeden had severe allergic reactions and we found out that they have celiac disease.  This explained many heath issues of the past and was actually a total relief for all of us.  I also found out that I have a major thyroid problem (the worst numbers my doctor had ever seen).  Two things known to cause infertility: hypothyroidism and celiac disease.  We know that now.  Two years off of wheat and 4 months on thyroid meds, and surprise!  The doctors were wrong about the cause of that infertility, but God knew all along :-)  He makes no accidents!

We all feel great, and are excited to be welcoming a new blessing around September 13th.  We know it is early so we are asking for prayers for a healthy mama and baby.  There are a few extra risks with my thyroid issues, but as always we are in God's hands and following His plan.  Honestly, we would have waited until 14 weeks to tell everyone but while there are some easy things about being a size 4, hiding a huge chest expansion and baby bulge are not one of them.  Since I am already hot all the time now I am not about to run around in layers!

There have been so many God sightings over the years that I wish I could share with all of you!  So many times that it couldn't have possibly been just fate, or that "Johnston luck".  I would need a whole book, and the permission to share our kids full stories...maybe some day.

May we all remember to live life to the fullest, in God's grace, and for Him!!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goggle Girlies...

Would you look at those smiles?  

Summer Blessings

This summer started off with a bang.  On June 1st we completed our final adoption...and Riya Kendi Monique became ours forever!  This little girl was smiling from morning til night and her joy was contagious.  It was truly a special day...

Waiting for our Adoption Decree
The judge gives a stuffed friend to all the kids, Riya went for the biggest!
Adoption day thoughts, so many for such a little mind and heart...
Court in session!
With the same judge who made Luke, Elly, and Max forever Johnston's

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Update #1

So, for those long ago promised updates...

The red truck was broken into last month.  I know it happened while I was in the shower, which makes it all that much more creepy and unsettling.  I found out when I went out in the rain to throw out a poopy diaper and noticed the front passenger door open on my truck.  How odd, I thought.

Then comes that sickening feeling as you get closer and just know your personal space has been seriously invaded.  I got up to the door, cautiously looked around, and then peered in. Yup.  They got the GPS, both DVD players, a lot of movies, an Ipod, some cords for the sound system/GPS that Ben was seriously annoyed about (hard to find), and my peace of mind regarding humanity in general that day.

However, peace of mind was returned when...we realized that the movie that they found when they opened their "new" DVD player was none other than Eli's favorite Veggie Tale.  God Made You Special!  So chew on that one for awhile thief, and let's hope that God uses that ugly situation to turn some lives around.  Nothing like a picture of a smiling big, red tomato to throw your specialness/usefullness in your face!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

7 Smiling Faces

Finally some new photos to put up!  I can't believe how much the kids have grown and changed in just one year.  We are so thankful for each moment we have had with our babes, all of them have such amazing qualities...

Each of these faces are a blessing from heaven!

Almost 2Almost 3
Kinder2nd Grade
3rd grade5th grade
7th grade

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Sweet Ben

I am constantly writing blog posts in my head.  I know that it doesn't seem that way from the serious lack of posts...but one post that keeps running through is a dedication to my sweet man.

It's funny how having 8 kids can really help you appreciate the man God has given you as a life partner!  He could have blessed me with anyone but he picked Ben, and I am so thankful for him.  A man who shares my love for kids, chaos, and spontaneity!  This Christmas Ben was given a poem by a student in his class that just sums it up.  

Mr. Johnston Is Cool!

Mr. Johnston is my teacher.
He is awesome in every way.
He helps me with each subject, so that I get an A.
He helps me with my diabetes even though I am new.
'Cause guess what, he has it too!
He helps me with my "gluten free" which means I can't eat wheat,
but he can't eat it either...isn't that neat?!
He taught us kickball and football.
It is SO Fun!
We give him a high five when we are done!
He can kick a ball farther than anyone in the school.
There are 4 words I want to say:
Mr. Johnston IS COOL!


Thank you Lord for blessing us with this super cool man, we love him!