Friday, March 30, 2018

It's not about the bunny....

Today I've been thinking about Easter and what is truly means to humanity. Easter, that wonderful time of year when spring occurs and flowers are blooming everywhere has nothing to do with a Easter Lilies, or bunnies or dyed Easter eggs or candy baskets or egg hunts, no matter what the secular world wants you to believe.

Easter has to do with one man, Jesus Christ, dying a brutal death of a cross for the sins of the world. He died, was buried and miraculously rose from the dead on the third day. And there in my friends, lies our hope. If we believe in Jesus, repent of our sins and and turn our lives over to him, we get a free pass into heaven. After we die, we can be sitting at the feet of Jesus. How glorious a thought is that?

God himself became flesh and bones so he could endure the pain and torture for all of us. He took the sins and burdens of mankind upon himself on that Cross and he did it willingly. He knew what his purpose was. It was so brutal and I'm sure he didn't want to do it, but he really never wavered. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed " “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39.

Garden at Gethesame where Jesus spent many hours in agonizing prayer prior to his Crucifixion
 (photos courtesy of my friend Mary Byerman)

So, why would God send his one and only son Jesus to this earth to die as an atonement for us and our sins? Because God loves us and God is Holy. Holy God cannot exist with sinful man. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, a price had to be paid to reconcile us back to our Holy God and that sacrifice was Jesus Christ dying on that Cross. He was made a sacrificial lamb to atone for our sins. His death was foretold in the Book of Isaiah "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." Isaiah 53:7

                                                              Jesus died for you and me. 

In deeper reflection today I've been thinking about suffering in general. Why does the Lord allow suffering? You may suffer emotionally, mentally, or physically, or you may suffer through a terribly hard time in some period of your life. It's hard to know anyone who hasn't suffered at one time or another throughout the course of their lives. But often people suffer and then it's over for a while.

But for me and my suffering, it has just increased as time has gone by. Being an MS patient with a chronic debilitating, progressive disease, I can tell you that I have my daily challenges with suffering and it has increased as the disease has progressed. MS is definitely not a disease for the faint of heart.

I often wonder why God allowed this disease to overtake me? I was a healthy, vibrant, happy working woman, wife and mother of two young boys when I was stricken. Understandingly, I was searching for answers. I remember clearly my very wise Godly pastor at the time, Brent, telling me  "Nicki, God didn't bring this sickness on upon you, but if you let Him, he can use you through this illness to touch others and bring Glory to Him." Such a wise man! 

And I have tried to do just that. I have to admit as the years have gone by and my mobility has been severely challenged, it has been increasingly difficult. Not being able to drive for about 6 years now, being homebound is very challenging, but now with the invention of email, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, you can reach people around the world you may not have been able to otherwise. Thank you Lord!!

Honestly I have to tell you that I often wonder why I'm still here. I've had many of my MS friends who have passed on, but still I remain. I am just trusting in God's plan, knowing that He knows what he's doing and he must have more work for me to do. I'll just keep plugging along, praising my Lord at every opportunity.

On really bad days, of which there have been quite a few of late, I just keep my eyes extra focused on the Lord. He is my strength. Any suffering I may endure pales in comparison to the suffering my Savior did on that Cross. One verse I cling to that helps me a lot is from James 1:12 " Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." So, I just keep on persevering, trusting in Him.

So my friends, Easter is definitely not about the bunny! It's about one man, Jesus Christ, who came here, lived a blameless life and died at the age of 33 from a brutal senseless death. And He did it for us. He came so that we may have what he has, Eternal life with God. 

He died such a horrible death on Good Friday, but oh friends, what a glory awaits on Resurrection Day! Happy Easter Everyone!

My verses for today are above in red.

My prayer for today:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for your son, Thank you for his sacrifice, Where would we be if not for Jesus? He is our hope and light in this world. I pray that everyone that reads this blog might be touched and turn their lives over to you. Help open their eyes Lord to see Jesus for who he is and what he did for us.

Amen and Amen

Monday, March 12, 2018

Gone but never forgotten.....

This past week the world lost a woman I truly admired, Barbara Garcia. I owe her a lot, as do hundreds of other MS patients in the Tampa Bay area who were searching and searching for a way to improve their daily challenge of living with debilitating symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.

Barbara with her beloved husband, Robert

Enter CCSVI, Chronic CerebroSpinal Venous Insufficiency. A venous angioplasty procedure discovered by Dr. Paulo Zamboni,whose own wife was suffering with MS. Dr. Zamboni believed that MS was not an auto-immune disease, but instead a problem with blood flow as it was first described when it was discovered in 1868 by French neurologist  Jean-Martin Charcot.

                                                                       Dr. Paulo Zamboni

Dr. Zamboni's discovery, after years of research, CCSVI, was first performed in the U.S. at Stanford University by Dr. Michael Dake. He was approached by a woman, Joan Beal, who was looking to help her own husband suffering with MS. Joan had done her research and she sought and located Dr. Dake

Dr. Dake agreed and did the procedure with some pretty remarkable results. Shortly thereafter Joan began a Facebook Page CCSVI in MS and the word began to spread around the world. Everyone began asking questions about what this new procedure was, how they could get it, and would and could it really help them too? There was HOPE in the MS world, something that is in short supply in the lives of people living with MS.

The social media giant Facebook was back in it's infancy back then, having only been around a few years, but when you have any news of something that can help people who live with this debilitating disease, news travels fast and let me tell you, it began spreading like wildfire.

I was learning about CCSVI on Facebook through Joan and began talking to people, new friends I met on Facebook. Meanwhile my friend Barb was hot on the trail too. She began searching doctors in the Tampa area that could perform this for her. I remember her telling me that she opened the phone book under interventional radiologists, said a prayer and her hand landed on Arslan. So, she contacted Dr. Bulent Arslan, an accomplished interventional radiologist practicing at Moffitt Cancer Center. She approached him and pleaded her case.

Dr. Arslan did his homework and decided to help Barb and in July 2010 she became the first person in the Tampa Bay area to have the CCSVI venous angioplasty procedure done. Others soon followed. I was patient #4 and others from around the country began flocking to him to try improve their lives. There were other interventional radiologists who began to get involved in the area too. It seemed to us MS patients, that this group of doctors seemed to be the most compassionate of professionals. They actually listened to you and empathized with your problems, something that is sometimes in short supply in the neurological community, at least from my perspective.

CCSVI was a hot topic in the MS community, at least in the tech savy MS community. You certainly weren't going to learn of this from your neurologist. They began to see the interventional radiologists as a bunch of cowboys lassoing their MS patients up and stealing them away. After all, MS is an auto-immune disease, as medical science redirected the disease in the 1950's. right? But for me, and for alot of others, MS seemed to be more of a vascular disease. I for one always had terrible circulation and bad varicose veins, so it made sense that proper blood flow was part of the problem.

And after I did months of research myself and learned about Dr. Arslan, when first CCSVI procedure was done in August 2010, I saw some pretty dramatic results as well. Gone were the bone-crushing, my head in a vice headaches that had plagued me for years. My fatigue level was dramatically reduced,. I used to have to lay down every few hours, but now I was able to have a life, being up and alert for 7-8 hrs at a time. My cognitive function was also dramatically improved. And also gone were those terrible burning ears which had also plagued for so many years. I felt exhilarated to say the least, something I hadn't felt in many, many years.

When Dr. Arslan told me that my jugular veins, the main drainage from my brain were both 70% blocked it made sense. While CCSVI never claimed to be a cure for MS, getting my blood flowing properly out of my brain certainly helped many of my worst MS symptoms.

I knew I had to do something to tell others about this remarkable procedure so I reached out to the CCSVI Alliance, a newly formed organization, whose main purpose was to educate others about CCSVI and it's relation to MS.

I began working with others in the Alliance, Joan Beal being one of the founders, along with Michelle Brown, the first one to have it done in NY and Sharon Richardson, another one of Dr. Dake's early patients.

With Dr. Arslan's full encouragesment, we decided to have an educational seminar and the first ever CCSVI Walk to spread the word. Barbara Garcia was one of our speakers at the well attended seminar telling others about her astounding results and how she was enjoying walking unaided for the first time in years.She said one of her biggest joys was being able to hold her granddaughter on her hip just like a normal healthy grandma. She was also able to travel overseas and enjoy her life like never before. What a blessings that was for her.

In conjunction with the educational seminar we held a fundraising walk called the CCSVI Walk n' Roll. It was held at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, with hundred of participants and interested parties. We were able to raise a ton of money for the CCSVI Alliance, which I was very happy about. Here are a couple of wonderful pics from the walk.

CCSVI Walk n'Roll, March 5, 2011 Tampa, Fl.
Me with Dr. Bulent Arslan and Barbara Garcia
CCSVI Walk, left to right, 
Susie Ulrey, Janet Grieco, me, Michelle Sciuto, Michelle Brown & Marsha Mays 

Latest Frontiers in hemodynamics,imaging and
treatment of obstructive venous disease by Dr. Paulo Zamboni

Several organizations were born from CCSVI., the ISNVD (International Society for NeuroVascular Diseases) was the most important. It is still very active today. There is still so much to learn about the vascular connection to multiple sclerosis. Actually, Dr. Zamboni has a new book out because he continues to learn more about MS and the venous/vascular system.

Many of us MS/CCSVIers were blessed to be able to attend one of the ISNVD conventions that was held in Orlando FlL back in 2012. I met new friends from around the country that had CCSVI done. We were a growing community and remain pretty close knit through social media. Even though now we are scattered across the country and even around the world, if and when new information becomes available, we all pass it along to help keep ourselves and other MS'ers informed.

Barb, Dr. Arslan and I at the ISNVD 2012

                                          Barb was so happy to meet Dr. Marion Simka from Poland.

Barbara with Dr. Zamboni at ISNVD 2012
The CCSVI craze has now passed. The neurological community fought hard against this simple vascular procedure that helped so many MS sufferers and sadly, in many ways they won this battle, but the research continues. Thousands of people all over the world had the procedure done, many with long lasting positive effects. Unfortunately, many had their MS symptoms return when their veins closed back up, but for those brief months or maybe years, they were free and were able to live life as an able-bodied person. They were able to experience life as a normal person, maybe if only for a brief while, but for me and for many others, it was worth everything.

So our sweet Barb has left this earth, and is now residing in heaven where she is no longer shackled by the MS that racked her earthly body for most of her life. I'm so saddened for her family, I know it is a tremendous loss. She was only 55 years old. She leaves behind a loving husband, her mother and two daughters and grandchildren. I'm also sorry for those of us who love her and were able to share this CCSVI experience with her. We'll miss being in touch with her. She was a fun gal.

A recent picture of Barb with her family

Yes, I am sad, BUT, and this is a big BUT, I am absolutely THRILLED for my friend. She is now dancing in heaven in front of Jesus, her Savior. For the Bible is very clear. In 2 Corinthians 5: it says "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."

Barb is now with Jesus! She is no longer in pain or in a wheelchair. All her body parts work perfectly again! She is brand new! I also know she is having the time of her life. Honestly, I have to admit, I'm a little jealous. But I know my time will come to meet my redeemer. Until then, I will carry on spreading the Word of God and trying to help those who are hurting in this world, because I know there are so many.

So farewell my very sweet friend. You may be gone from this earth, but you will never be forgotten.

My verse for today is above in red.

My prayer for today:

Dearest Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the life of my sweet friend, your servant Barbara Garcia. She was such a kind soul and her pioneering spirit helped so many suffering with MS. Thank you for her boldness to forge on and learn about CCSVI so she could share it with the world. Thank you for Dr. Zamboni and his discovery and for Dr. Arslan and so many other doctors who were willing to step out of the box to try something new to help those suffering. I will be forever grateful.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

He's Home at Last....the Ministry of Billy Graham.

Last week, we lost what I would consider the world's pre-imminent ambassador for Jesus Christ. Billy Graham went home to be with the Lord at the age of 99 years. He is now sitting at the feet of his sweet Jesus, after a life well lived.

My memories of Mr. Graham go way back. As a young child our family would watch his worldwide crusades on the television long before TV preachers even thought of coming into existence.

His love of Jesus was so evident. He spoke with such fire, such passion, and such conviction. He spoke the truth about God and His love for humanity. Billy spoke it out so clearly that anyone with a heartbeat could easily comprehend what he was trying to communicate. He told us that we are all sinners and but for the Grace of God we will all face an eternity without Him.

But Jesus changed all that when He died on the cross for our sins. Jesus was sent into this world for that specific purpose: to die for the sins of the world. And I mean any and all sins that we commit. No sin is too small or too great to be washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.

No matter what you have done in this life, if you confess your sins, turn from you ways and put your trust in Jesus, the gates of Heaven will be open unto you. Isn't that just an unbelievable promise? Everything you may have done against God's will in this life will be wiped clean if you confess it and accept Jesus into your heart.

Billy's message was simple and oh so easy for anyone to understand. He used Bible scripture to lay it out clearly for us.  Romans 3:23 tells us "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We are all born with a sin nature, courtesy of our ancestors Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. 

God is holy and no one can be in His presence unless they are saved by the His Grace through his son Jesus Christ. John 3:16 says " For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

God loves us so much. He made you and he made me. Your life is not an accident. Psalm 139:13 reminds us "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. Luke 12:7 explains to us..."Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." The Lord knows all about us. He created us and he wants to live with us in eternity. That is why he sent Jesus. Through Jesus and his incredible sacrifice, we too can have eternal life with the Father. 

Billy Graham knew this important fact and spent his life spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ around the globe. He knew that we are all going to stand before God Almighty in judgement. God wanted us to have a way out so he sent his son to earth to be a sacrifice for our horrible sins. All we have to do is accept this gracious gift and we too, will spend eternity with God. 

Billy Graham's ministry was in a time when there was no internet, yet he spent his life spreading the love of God to everyone he encountered. He truly lived his life through the important verse from Mark 16;15..."He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. And so he did.

This is a clip from one of Billy's crusades from 1986. His sincerity is so evident.

Billy Graham traveled all over the world telling anyone who would listen about the love God has for them. He told them about Jesus and how anyone can spend eternity with Him if they just repent of their sins and  accept Jesus into their hearts. 

Mr. Graham's passing has affected me. He touched my heart from a very young age. About 18 years ago, I was blessed to be able to go with my family and members from my church to attend one of his last crusades in Tampa, Fl. Yes, he had aged quite a bit and his son Franklin was leading the details of the crusade but when Billy spoke about Jesus, the passion was still there. He hadn't changed one bit  from the man I used to watch in the living room of my family's home in Virginia. 

I guess it's natural as you get older to this about what your legacy will be. What will the world remember you for? When I look at Billy Graham's legacy it's quite clear where his priorities were during his time on this earth. He always said, "My home in is Heaven, I'm just passing through this life" Billy and his wife Ruth left behind a family dedicated to serving the Lord. He founded a very reputable organization for Jesus in the Billy Graham Evangelical Association,  People will remember the name Billy Graham for years to come and when they think of him, they will undoubtedly think of Jesus.

                                     50th Wedding Anniversary for Billy and Ruth Graham

So what will people remember about me? Thankfully, the invention of the internet and social media sites Facebook and Instagram have aided me in quest to help others know Jesus. I know I'm no Billy Graham but I feel the Lord is still using me in a unique way to reach out to others in His name. We can all do our part. We are all God's children and we can all reach out to others in Jesus name if we will just take the time out of each day to make an effort. 

I hope and pray my children will remember me as a servant of the Lord. We took our children to church and brought them up to know Jesus. I am trying my best to spread the love of Christ to my sweet granddaughter. It's hard when you live long distance, but as she looks back on me long after I'm gone, I hope she will know that I loved the Lord and did what I could to teach her about Jesus and his love.  I hope my life has been an example to everyone in my life of how Jesus can give you strength and peace to face this uncertain world. I honestly don't know how I would get through my days without the love of God. He alone gives me the strength I need to face to challenges of living with a chronic debilitating disease like MS.

As my MS has progressed over these past 20 years, and especially my cognitive function has declined, I find myself more and more having a hard time putting my thoughts down on paper. The thoughts are definitely in my head, but it's hard to get them to come out in a logical manner. But I know that no matter my condition, Jesus would want me to continue to spread the word about His love for us and so I do.

But honestly for me, sometimes it's hard to know if I am are making a difference. Being home bound most days now, almost all my interactions are through social media. It's just little old me, sending devotionals out, or encouraging others through my online prayer group. I've made online friends from all over the world and I am grateful for them. I just slowly but surely keep plugging way in the name of Jesus. I pray He is smiling down on me.

One of the things I saw on the internet recently that made my heart smile was Kathie Lee Gifford when she appeared on the Megan Kelly show days after Billy had passed. The clip below shows her bold love of Jesus. All  can say is WOW! What an incredible testimony for the Lord!

If we could all be so bold as Kathie, think of the souls that could be saved for Jesus. 

I'm so grateful for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. He impacted the world for Jesus in a way that will most likely never be seen again. As a member of the next generation, we must continue on in any way that we can to tell others about Jesus and His love for mankind. Billy would want us to and that's good enough for me.

My verses for today are above in red.

My prayer for today:

Heavenly Father,   

Thank you for the life and ministry of Billy Graham. It's said that he preached the gospel to over 251 million people over the years. Thank you that he had that bold faith to go out into the world to tell others of your love and the love of your son.

Help me to be able to continue to spread the love of Jesus whenever I can. Give me the strength and resolve to lead others to you so they can have the "Peace that surpasses all understanding"