2015 – The Year in Review

Well, 2015 is officially in the books! It’s been a challenging year in many ways as we started out with Jen being in the hospital for a week. But God is good and we’ve been blessed in many ways. Jen has been slowly improving since her condition was stabilized in February and there are many fun memories to revisit – from the boys starting high school and excelling at Cross Country, to getting our first family pet, the boys flying on a plane by themselves for the first time, to seeing friends & family members we hadn’t seen in a while.

Here’s a 2 minute video glimpse of 2015 for the Lowe Family. Have a Happy New Year and here’s to hoping for a blessed 2016!

Embracing New Vision

It was my junior year of high school and I was at an all day wrestling tournament. As I sat in the stands between matches, I looked across the gym to the other side at the many butcher paper posters that were hanging on the wall cheering on the various teams that were competing. Only, I couldn’t read what they said. I turned to my mom and asked, “Can you read those signs on the wall over there?”

“Yes, can’t you?” she replied.

“No, I can’t see them clearly.”

That was it. The next week, I went to the optometrist and I’ve been wearing glasses ever since.

I often wonder what people did before the invention of glasses. There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to see things clearly.

Up until last year, Jen had always had perfect vision. Reading up close and seeing things far away had never been an issue, that is, until her long-term Prednisone usage caused cataracts to develop in her eyes. She suddenly found it difficult to see her computer clearly and things at a distance were out of focus.

At first, her eye doctor didn’t want to give her prescription glasses, thinking that her vision would correct itself after she reduced the amount of Prednisone she was taking. But after several months with no change, she went back to the doctor and finally got prescription lenses. The glasses definitely helped, but not as much as we expected.

After several more months of fuzzy vision, Jen went back to the eye doctor and learned that her cataracts had grown and she was going to need surgery.

Two weeks ago, Jen had cataract surgery on her right eye and it’s made a HUGE difference. She no longer needs the glasses that she was using for distance vision. She’s still having difficulty seeing things close up though. We’re not sure if that’s just the normal vision adjustment that we all go through as we age, or if it’s a result of the cataract in her left eye causing her vision to be blurred.

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Jen can see more clearly now that she’s had cataract surgery in her right eye. Joshua (left) and Jacob and seeing more clearly on the trails now that they are wearing contact lenses.

The same day Jen had cataract surgery, I took Jacob and Joshua to see the optometrist.

Joshua started wearing glasses in elementary school while Jacob’s vision seemed to be fine until last fall, when he complained of not being able to see the board in class clearly. A quick eye exam revealed that he too needed glasses for distance. But his vision changed and he recently has complained again about not being able to see things at a distance clearly, even with his glasses.

The eye doctor confirmed what we had suspected. Both Jacob and Joshua needed new lenses as their old prescriptions were no longer adequate.

Because they’re active in running, we decided to let them get contact lenses so they would be able to see, not only in the classroom, but out on the trails as well. This past Saturday, they were able to run in their first invitational with contact lenses.

It’s amazing how much clear vision can affect our perspective and our demeanor. I was reminded of that recently via a Facebook video that went viral showing a 6 month old baby’s reaction to getting glasses and being able to see clearly for the first time. You can check it out the whole story on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/cI1jBVD1OY0.

I’m finding that having a clear vision in ministry is important as well. For the last year and half, our vision has been impaired by the circumstances of life. It’s not that we don’t know what we want to see the Lord accomplish or even have some ideas about how to go about it, but it’s more like the circumstances of life have acted like a cataract, creating barriers out of our control that made it difficult to focus.

But the good news is that with Jen’s condition more stable than it’s been in the last 18 months, we are finally beginning to see things more clearly and with more focus.

We’re excited to move forward on the journey the Lord has us on. There are still challenges and circumstances that are making our journey different than we had imagined but we are anxious to see how the Lord will use us to impact Millennials in Orange County and the surrounding Los Angeles area.

Thank you for journeying with us and for being our eyes even when we were not able to focus clearly. We are extremely grateful for you!

Overcoming June Gloom

Jen shares about her year-long struggle with health issues at our church's Sunday service.
Jen shares about her year-long struggle with health issues at our church’s Sunday service.

The weather in Southern California is great almost year round. While much of the country was under several feet of snow this past winter, we had almost spring like weather conditions here. It’s one of the things that makes Southern California such an attractive vacation destination and it’s also why so many people want to live here, which in turn explains why it’s so expensive to live here.

In June, however, most of the the Los Angeles and Orange County basin experiences a phenomenon that has come to be known as June gloom. I’m not a meteorologist, so I can’t explain all of the meteorological conditions that contribute to June gloom. I just know that for much of June, for some reason, a thick marine layer often creeps in off the coast and envelopes the southland, creating overcast skies in the morning that often burn off by late morning or mid day.

Because our house is located up against the Saddleback mountain foothills at about 800 feet elevation, we often will walk out of our house in the morning to clear, sunny skies. But as I drive down the hill to take the boys to school, it’s not uncommon for us to drive right down into that marine layer where it’s overcast and the sun is not directly visible.

This last year for us has felt a lot like June gloom. It’s as if one day everything was going great and it was sunny outside, but then we experienced some health issues that felt a lot like driving down into that thick marine layer.

For the last year, life has not had the clear, sunny outlook that we would want. Instead, it’s been overcast and even foggy at times. Life has been challenging and at times we’ve wondered if we would ever see the sun through the dark clouds.

These last few months have given us hope that perhaps the June gloom clouds are beginning to burn off and dissipate. We are beginning to see signs of the sun peeking through.

Several months ago, when we started seeing experts at UCLA, Jen was put on a new immunosuppressant that seems to be working. As a result, she has been able to slowly taper down on the amount of Prednisone she’s taking and that alone has helped her to begin to feel more like herself each day.

A few weeks ago, Jen was able to be on a conference call with a work group with which she’s been involved. That was a big step forward since she’s had to disengage with much of her work load for many months now.

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Jen is interviewed by JP Jones, Senior Pastor of Crossline Church.

Last Sunday, Jen was asked to share in front of our church congregation a bit of her journey this past year with her health and how God has met her in the midst of the challenges of life. It was another key moment in her recovery, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. (You can watch the video interview online at: vimeo.com/130399778)

Things aren’t back to normal by any stretch but there is more hope now than anytime in the last 8 months that perhaps this disease can be managed and we can fully resume the mission to which we’ve been called.

We’re so grateful for your prayers and the way you’ve cared for our family this past year. Would you please continue to pray for our family and for Jen’s continued recovery?

Pray specifically for Jen’s blurred vision to clear and for her lung capacity to increase. Pray too that the side effects of long-term Prednisone use would continue to dissipate.

We continue to trust the Lord for this road we’re on and we pray that the Lord might find us faithful and fruitful as we follow Him and serve Him.

A Setback for Jen’s Recovery

Jen-ReaganLibraryFriends,
Thank you so much for your continued prayers for Jen. Please, please, please continue to pray for healing.Today, Jen was readmitted to the hospital for more tests. Let me explain why.

After Jen’s last infusion 4 weeks ago, she had some blood work done that seemed to indicate that things were going well with her lungs and her kidney. We were encouraged.

However, 2 weeks ago, Jen unexpectedly started experiencing some low grade fevers off and on and also was dealing with some shortness of breath.

Last week we visited Jen’s rheumatologist who was concerned when Jen shared about the symptoms she was experiencing. The possible causes of her symptoms could be a return of the vasculitis or maybe an infection that she has developed in her lungs.

Today, Jen saw her pulmonologist who determined that her lung functioning is only at about 50%. Because of that, Jen has been readmitted to the hospital for further testing to try to determine the cause of her lung issues.

Would you take a moment and pray for Jen right now? Pray that the doctors would have wisdom to correctly diagnose what is happening. And pray that she would be able to get treatment to correct her condition. Please pray that the Lord would heal her and restore her health.

We serve a mighty God who is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. Pray that God would be glorified through Jen and that He would choose to bring healing to her body.

Because Jen’s health issues have been ongoing, we’ve decided to set up a Caring Bridge site where we can post regular updates about Jen and her health. Please check out her site and register to receive updates whenever a new journal entry is posted.

The site is: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jenlowe

Thank you so much and God Bless!
Dave & Jen

The Fall Forecast

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Dave, with Joshua and Jacob on the USC campus early in August on Dave’s birthday!

Each day, sometime after I (Dave) wake up, I grab my phone and the first thing I do is __________ ? Many of you probably would think that I check my e-mail but that is not correct. One of the first things I do when I grab my smartphone is check my weather app. I want to see what the forecast is for the day. How hot is it going to be? Will I need to run the air conditioner? And will it be so hot that I need to think about extra water for the grass and plants? And most importantly, is there any chance of rain in the forecast?

For much of California, we have been in extreme drought conditions for the past 2 years. Our snowfall in the Sierras in 2013 was about 25% less than average and 2014 was much worse at only about 30% of our average snowfall. (see this link for satellite images on the California drought: http://goo.gl/U56uFH)

Earlier in the year, forecasters had been predicting El Nino conditions for this winter which would bring the promise of above average rain and snow in the west. However, those forecasts may have been premature and the possibility of another dry winter still looms. (This article from the IndyStar explains: http://goo.gl/HNSyf6)

Water is essential for life and the lack of water can complicate normal daily activities and routines. The forecast for this fall calls for more dry weather but we’re praying for rain and snow to help bring relief and normalcy back to this region.

In our personal lives and ministry, we’re also forecasting what life and ministry will look like for the fall.

Typically, the fall is a busy season. The kids head back to school and with it comes lots of homework and other activities.

Jen is usually busy with travel for her Leadership development role and of course, we have our local ministry with Millennials that we are developing.

However, the forecast for our fall looks different than normal. Recently, Jen has been getting infusions of a chemotherapy grade drug that is designed to put her vasculitis disease into remission. As I write this, she has received 3 of the 4 infusions, with her last infusion next week. Over the next couple of months, her immune system will be broken down and rebuilt. This is normal and expected but the result will be a compromised immune system for several months.

Jen’s third Rituxan infusion bag. Though it looks like simple water, we’re trusting that the Lord will use this to reset Jen’s immune system and restore her health.
Jen’s third Rituxan infusion bag. Though it looks like simple water, we’re trusting that the Lord will use this to reset Jen’s immune system and restore her health.

After consulting Jen’s rheumatologist and learning how the process works, we realized that traveling this fall would not be wise with a compromised immune system.

As a drought impairs normal activity for those who are affected, our lives and ministry have been affected by Jen’s condition. Ironically, the drug that Jen is taking looks as clear as water and we’re praying that the infusions have the desired effect on Jen’s immune system.

So while the short term forecast means we’ll be grounded and working more locally and virtually, we’re hoping and trusting the Lord to bring some healing and restoration to Jen so that the long term forecast might bring a return of normal activity to our lives.

Whatever the circumstances we’re in, our prayer is that we would glorify Him with our lives and that He would bear fruit through us as we serve Him in whatever capacity we’re able to serve.

Thank you for your continued prayers and encouragement. Please pray with us, that the Lord would “bring the rain” in our personal lives as well as this region in which we live.

We are so grateful for you and we thank the Lord for you and we pray for the Lord’s blessings in your life as well. And we invite you to share your needs and requests with us so that we can pray for you as well!

Click here to read the pdf version of “The Lowedown”

One Down, Three to Go

Dear Friends,

2014-Aug-BarnardsLast Thursday (Aug 21), Jen had her first infusion of Rituxan. Thank you for praying. The infusion went well in that there was no adverse reaction and no noticeable side effects. Though this is a chemo-therapy grade drug, the good thing about Rituxan is that most people adjust well to the treatment and don’t experience any adverse sickness or reaction.

Jen was able to come home and pretty much resume normal activities.

Today (Wednesday, August 27th), as I write this, Jen is receiving her second infusion. After today, she’ll have two more infusions and then we will be able to see if the medicine is working.

Please continue to pray with us that the Rituxan would put this disease in remission and that her vital organs, lungs and kidney, would not be adversely affected.

Thanks for your continued prayers and concern.

God Bless!

Dave & Jen

Nazi’s, Codes and our Ongoing Medical Journey

What does a Nazi and a code have to do with Jen’s medical condition? Read on to find out.

Frederich Wegener was a German pathologist who in 1936 and 1939 was the first person to give a full description of the disease that is now afflicting Jen. It came to be known as Wegener’s disease or Wegener’s granulomatosis. However, in 2006, two doctors investigating Wegener’s past, determined that at some point he was involved in the Nazi regime and was even wanted by Polish authorities for possible war crimes. Given his professional past, there has been a desire by the medical community to refer to this disease as P-Anca Vasculitis rather than attaching it to Wegener’s name. (Read more about Wegener in this 2008 New York Times article)

Jen and I take a day to celebrate her birthday by visiting the J. Paul Getty museum.
Jen and I take a day to celebrate her birthday by visiting the J. Paul Getty museum.

By faith, we have scheduled an infusion of Rituxan for Jennifer for this Thursday. I say “by faith” because we still have not been approved by our insurance to cover this treatment. This despite the fact that we have been waiting for 3 weeks for an approval that should probably take 3 days or even less.

So what is the holdup? A code. That’s right, a code. Not a Nazi code but a medical code. Somehow, the insurance company was given a code that represents Jen’s condition that is not accurate. The code is not correct for the diagnosis she has. So we’re scrambling this week to get the code corrected so that Jen can begin the infusions to treat her disease.

While it all seems like a simple thing to correct, somehow when dealing with insurance companies and approvals such as these, nothing is quite as simple as it would seem it should be.

So we ask for your prayers this week. Pray that we would get the approval for the infusion BEFORE Jen gets the infusion. Pray that we would be able to get our doctor and the insurance company to communicate the right information with one another in an expeditious fashion. And lastly, pray that these infusions (she’ll need one per week for four weeks) will put the vasculitis into remission and that Jen will be on the road to managing this disease.

Thanks so much for your continued prayers. We are grateful for your love and support.

Please let us know how you are doing and if there is any way we can pray for you as well.

God Bless!

Dave & Jen

The Ups and Downs of Dealing with Medical Issues

 

Dear friends,

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Jacob and Joshua prepare to head up to Hume Lake with their youth group!

Jacob and Joshua are at Hume Lake this week with their church youth group so Jen and I are spending the week alone! We are praying that they would have a great time in a great environment and that this week will be pivotal for them in their own spiritual growth and development!

It’s been two weeks since I sent out any significant update on Jen’s health status. We want you to know how grateful we are for you during this time in our family and we wanted to give you an update so you can continue praying for us.

The last two weeks have been filled with more doctors visits, more lab work and even a trek to UC San Diego for consultation with another rheumatologist.

What we know for sure is that Jen has a lung disease known as Non Specific Interstitial Pneumonia (NSIP). In layman’s terms, it means that her lungs are really inflamed. The doctors have been working for months to isolate the source of the inflammation. We know for certain that it’s not viral or bacterial. She doesn’t have an infection that can be treated with antibiotics.

ScrippsSign
The “new” Rheumatology offices at Scripps are located in the basement. Ugghhh!

Instead, it’s been determined that Jen has a vascular disease known as Vasculitis. This is a rheumatological condition, meaning that it is being caused by her own immune system, which is not functioning properly.

A few weeks ago, Jen’s rheumatologist prescribed a steroid for Jen to begin taking in order to deal with the inflammation in her lungs. Though it has really helped Jen to feel a bit more back to normal, there are side effects. For one, the steroid makes it more difficult to maintain your blood sugar level, which is very critical for a diabetic. Jen is working very hard to manage her diabetes. We are really thankful that she has an insulin pump, which has helped tremendously.

The other noticeable side effect is that the steroid has made it more difficult to go to sleep and to get good rest.

So one prayer request is that Jen would continue to maintain her blood sugars while on the Prednisone and also that her sleep would be minimally affected.

The goal is to treat the vasculitis and to get it into remission. To do that, Jen’s doctor wants to prescribe a chemo-therapy grade drug (Rituxan) that has proven to be very effective. We don’t know when Jen will begin treatment because the doctor needs to get approval from our insurance company before administering the drug since it’s quite expensive.

Scripps1
Jen checks in for her appointment with the Rheumatologist at Scripps. Her diagnosis and proposed treatment plan were confirmed.

The good news is that this drug has shown to have minimal side effects compared to other chemo-therapy drugs. We’re told that most people adjust rather well to the drug, allowing for a more normal lifestyle during treatments.

Please pray that we would get approval from our insurance to cover the drug and that by taking this drug, the vasculitis would be put into remission.

The drug is given intravenously at an infusion center, so no hospitalization will be required. That’s good news for us as we’ve encountered a number of problems with our insurance covering the two different hospital visits that Jen has had over the past few months.

Honestly, one of the biggest prayer requests right now for us is that we would be able to get some of the insurance stuff straightened out. I can honestly say that dealing with insurance and some of the medical bills that they don’t seem to want to cover has been far more stressful than the medical issues themselves.

Pray for us to continue to trust the Lord during this time. Pray for healing and please pray that our insurance would cover the hospital visits for which they are currently denying coverage. I probably don’t have to tell you that the amount for those two hospital bills is quite obscene.

We are so grateful for your prayers, cards and notes of encouragement. It has been so comforting to know that we are not walking through this alone.

God Bless!

Dave & Jen

For the PDF version of the newsletter, click here.

 

The Results are in … Sort of

Hello friends,

Thanks so much for your continued prayers for Jen and our family as we’ve been on this medical journey for the past few months.

Jen is mostly recovered from the lung biopsy that she had on July 3rd. The soreness has mostly subsided, making it easier to sleep at night and providing a lot less discomfort through the day. We are thankful for that.

Last week, we met with a bunch of different specialists who are involved in Jen’s health treatment. We found out from Jen’s rheumatologist that she had received results from Jen’s biopsy. These results were from a sample that was analyzed by the local hospital. There is another sample that was sent out by the surgeon to either the Mayo Clinic or Stanford. We have not heard back about those results.

Jen’s rheumatologist felt she had enough information from the local biopsy results to move forward with an initial diagnosis and treatment. We expect the other biopsy to only confirm what we already know but if something changes, we’ll be sure to update you.

The biopsy results were not a surprise, as they indicated extreme inflammation in the lungs. The doctor has diagnosed Jen with something called P-Anca Vasculitis which is not too common but can be treated. Basically, it’s an inflammation of the blood vessels that can attack and present itself in different organs or systems. In Jen’s case, it presented itself in the lungs. Essentially, it’s an auto-immune issue where the immune system doesn’t shut off properly.

Jen is now on a steroid medicine that is designed to reduce the inflammation. She already is starting to feel better. The down-side to steroids is that it raises your blood sugars, and that is not good for someone like Jen who is diabetic. So please pray that Jen will be able to manage her blood sugars while she is on this medication and that she will not have to be on this steroid medication for too long.

My understanding is that the steroid is really only to help with the symptoms Jen has been experiencing since April. To treat the vasculitis, Jen will more than likely have to go on some kind of chemo-therapy medication to turn off the immune system and reset it.

Please continue to pray with us and for us as Jen has many doctor’s appointments this week. We are hoping that she is finally at the beginning stages of a road to recovery. We are grateful that Jen doesn’t have cancer or any of a number of other very serious diseases, but we also know that what she has is not a simple bacterial infection that can be treated with a few days of anti-biotics.

We are very grateful for your continued prayers and your notes of encouragement. We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more!

God Bless!
Dave & Jen

An Update on Jen’s Health

Thanks to all of our friends who have been praying for Jen and her health. If you are unfamiliar with what’s been happening with Jen, please check out our latest newsletter, which explains more of the history of her condition.

Last Thursday, Jen was admitted into the hospital for a lung biopsy. The doctors felt this was necessary to try to diagnose what is really happening with her lungs. The procedure was not long or incredibly complicated, but it did require a short stay in the hospital for recovery.

Jen spent two nights in the hospital and came home Saturday afternoon. She is home recovering and though she is very sore from the incision, she is showing improvement every day.

She has several follow-up doctor visits this week but we don’t expect results from the pathology report really until early next week.

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Saddleback Hospital has become very familiar to us in the last 2 months.

Please pray specifically for two things – first, that Jen would recover quickly from the procedure she had. The incision was near the rib cage and I guess there are a lot of nerve endings in that area so it can be quite sensitive to pain.

Secondly, pray that the biopsy would enable the doctors to make an accurate diagnosis and corresponding treatment. Up until now, the doctors have been eliminating things that they know are not part of the problem. Our hope is that the biopsy would show clearly what the issue is and that it can be treated simply and quickly. We hope that Jen’s body will return to normal as soon as possible.

Thanks again for your love and support during this time of uncertainty. Your notes of encouragement, your prayers and concern have meant a lot.