Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ashley's May Ministry Update

Hello from Alaska!
I'm sitting here in the Dining Hall at camp, listening to various conversations among the staff around me, eating trail mix, and looking out the window at a spectacular sunset sky over the mountains and Berner's Bay. I feel like it's been years since I last emailed you guys! It has been a few weeks, and a lot of life has happened since then.
Again, I will list specific prayer requests at the bottom of this email.

Retreat Season
Spring retreat season was great! We hosted six groups ranging in size from 10 people to over 100. For these retreats, we cooked and served meals, ran the zip line and outdoor laser tag, led team-building activities, cleaned the facilities, etc. It was great to be able to interact with these diverse groups. Only one of them was actually a religious group (a Christian school), so we had a lot of opportunity to interact with people who don't know the Lord. We met some neat people and had some good conversations. Please pray that the seeds that were planted continue to be watered!

Counselors are here!
Our team of summer counselors arrived this past Wednesday, and it's so exciting to have them here. They have brought such a fresh energy and excitement to camp! We are in the midst of Counselor Orientation right now. This summer staff is made up of college-age young adults from all over the United States (and one from Canada) who have committed their whole summer – and paid $400 – to serve here at Echo Ranch. It has been so good to get to know them over the past few days, hear their stories of how God brought them here, and see their excitement for being here and serving. I'm so thankful for each one of them and their sacrifice and dedication to follow God to Alaska! Yesterday we spent several hours doing team-building activities, and I was so blessed to see them already working so well together as a team, and the support and encouragement they gave each other during the challenges. It's going to be a good summer, I think! :-) Please keep these young adults in your prayers – I'll list a few specific names/requests below.

A little about life here...
Life here at Echo Ranch is definitely different! One key aspect is how heavily everything depends on the tide. Since the road ends 2 miles from camp and we have to drive or walk on the beach to get into camp, travel in and out is limited to certain times of day when the tide is out. If someone needs to go in or out while the tide is high, we have to take a boat!
All of our electricity runs off a generator. Because of limited water resources, those of us who live in the counselor dorm can only shower every-other-day, and are not allowed to shower one hour before or after meals (the dorm shares a building with the kitchen). The internet is very limited, so we're not allowed to use anything but email.
Of course, even with these small annoyances, this is a beautiful place that I get to live in for these few months. The bay and the mountains are breathtaking. The sun sets at 9:30 pm and rises around 4:00 am right now. Occasionally we see whales, seals, and eagles in the wild – literally right in our front yard. Life in Alaska is different from the Lower 48, and I'm so glad to get to experience it.

Finding my place
For the first couple of weeks I was at camp, I felt a little overwhelmed and unsure of my role. I feel now like I'm really finding where I fit in the staff and what my place and responsibilities are. The rest of the program team arrived recently, so we now have a team of 6 of us who are in charge of the camp program – activities, spiritual emphasis, schedules, etc. I'm so blessed already by being a part of this group. We meet together every morning for devotions, prayer, and discussing the day ahead, and are really forming a good connection together. It's an encouraging way to start each day.
Also, now that the counselors are here, I'm really getting to dive into my role as Counselor Adviser (CA). As a CA, I live in the dorm with the girl counselors, and serve as their leader/mentor/friend/counselor/go-to person. For the counselors, their mission field is the campers who will come, but as CA's, our mission field is the counselors – to support, encourage, lead, and motivate them throughout the summer. This is a role that I take very seriously. I really want to serve these young women well.

Prayer Requests
  • Watering and growing of seeds that were planted during spring retreat season
  • Counselors and Staff who have left home, family, and jobs to serve here this summer
  • Continuing growth of team unity
  • Health and safety, especially as camp and activities start
  • Beth – a counselor who is struggling with some health problems and will probably be going home next week. She was excited to be here and is very discouraged about having to leave.
  • Chelsea – a counselor for whom I am praying specifically to see God increase her confidence in herself and her calling.
  • Kevin – a counselor whose spiritual maturity we are a little concerned about.
  • The first week of summer camp, starting a week from today! (Monday, June 3) This will be a Middle School camp. Pray for our preparations and for the campers who are coming. 
Thank you so much for all your support, and for the emails and the letters/cards you have sent!  Again, if you want to send any regular mail, the address is Echo Ranch Bible Camp, c/o Ashley Smylie, PO Box 210608, Auke Bay, AK 99821.  God bless you. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Health Update~ When Not So Good News is Good News

Every week I go to Knoxville for an appointment on the Ondamed, which is the treatment that got rid of the Lyme. We continue to use it to treat the damage the Lyme did. In addition, every 3-4 weeks I had appointments to check my supplements. The last couple of months, the supplements started changing so much so often, that I've increased those appointments to every other week (same trip as the Ondamed appointment). Some of the changes in supplements have been decreases; some have been increases. Pretty much, the only change I've felt has been to feel worse. However, I know from everything we have read about Lyme Disease that that actually means progress is being made, even though I don't feel it. It gets hard sometimes to remember that and to keep my focus off increasing symptoms, but the Lord keeps me hanging on, reminding me, and reminding me of the restoration He has promised.

This past week's seemingly "not so good news" was that another bacterial infection has shown up. I have honestly been very surprised that I have only had the one very stubborn Staph infection, which I had for 15 months. Antibiotics didn't kill it, then when I started treatments at this new place, it took about 7 months of treatment to knock it out. The reason I am surprised is that Lyme always comes with co bacterial infections~usually 2 or more. The good news is that she doesn't believe this is a new infection, but one that has been there finally showing up. The way this treatment works is like pulling things off in layers...peeling an onion. As the body deals with one thing and starts healing, the next layer can show itself. She said she has been waiting and waiting on this to come out, because she knew it had to be there. So, yes, it showing up is a good thing and can now be treated. It also means that progress is being made against this disease, even when it doesn't feel that way. This was really an answer to my prayers the last few weeks, because I have felt at a stuck place. Like we are just treating the same things over and over, week after week, with no progress, even though I know it takes time....healing from Lyme takes LOTS of time, unless you catch it early. The Lord knew I needed to see things take a step, and He has been faithfully healing on the inside. 

The only known visable effect the new bacterial infection is having is discomfort/pain in my left shoulder and shoulder blade area. However, I have also been much more tired and more out of commission the last few weeks, and I don't know if that is playing a part in it. I have just assumed it was from way over doing it since the beginning of April.

April and May were incredibly hard, but God kept me going to do what I needed, and a little of what I wanted, to do. It started April 7th, taking Ashley to Kentucky to start her journey to Alaska. We spent one night in KY, and traveled the next day to Nashville for James to help work on Troy's and Briana's new house. That day traveling was exhausting, and I got a severe neck ache, which I guess caused one of the most horrid headaches I have ever had, although even after my neck felt better the headache was relentless for days. (Lyme can cause migraines, but I had only had such a severe headache once back in Oct.) I spent most of the several days in the hotel resting, but still needed to be up and dressed, going out most every day, and that is extremely draining. The week after we got home, was Daniella's birthday, and we celebrated with family with an afternoon out. The next week, James and I were back to Nashville for him to help work and move them. I over did it, and this trip was even more difficult physically. (I WANTED to be there, though!) We returned with about a week and a half until Marissa's birthday, followed the next week by her slumber party. That is why I assume I have felt even more fatigued! (Ya think?!) I just haven't been able to recuperate from those weeks, and I am sure the bacterial infection is making it harder.

One other issue that I have dealt with in the last few weeks is what we think was a detox. Just before that second trip to Nashville, she discovered that my kidneys were not detoxing. When you start treating Lyme, it reacts by releasing tons of toxins and bacteria into the blood stream and cells. It overloads the system and massive detoxing is necessary. The body can't always keep up, but also my kidneys weren't working the way they should. She put me on a new supplement for that. I didn't know what was coming! I went through a horrid week or 2, where I told them that I felt like something had invaded my body. It was a scary feeling. The Lord held onto me without too much collateral damage, and a week or so after this was over, I read this~

"Herxheimer reaction ("Herx"): definition should be "torture." Can be used as a noun or verb as in "I herxed so bad I felt like I was run over by a truck and then dragged by a pack of wolves through hot dry sand." Scientifically speaking, a herxheimer reaction is what occurs during the treatment of Lyme disease and its co-infections. The common misconception is that when a patient is treated with meds, it should be all uphill from there. Medication should make you feel better, right? Very wrong. When spirochetal bacteria (like Lyme) is killed off, it releases a massive load of toxins in the body. These toxins are "neurotoxins" and "endotoxins", which putting it simply means that it is a toxin to the brain and the patients' organs. Typically the death of these bacteria and the associated release of endotoxins occurs faster than the body can remove the toxins via the natural detoxification process (hence the need for tons of detox supplements, herbs, and strict diet). Herxing can cause a whole host of symptoms, ranging from seizures, migraines, excruciating pain, dizziness, relentless hours of crying, anxiety, heart rate issues, pain, inability to breathe, insomnia, episodes of rage, confusion, memory loss, and much, much more. This, therefore makes Lyme treatment grueling, and very similar to cancer treatment with chemotherapy."

I, very thankfully, did not have all of these symptoms listed, nor were some of the ones I had as severe as they indicated, but they were bad enough. Some were very bad. I am so thankful that is over, at least for now, and prayerfully, for good!

Aside from the increased fatigue, the only other increased symptoms I can think of at the moment are joint and muscle aches (not daily, but lots of days), my trouble with comprehension and processing has gotten worse again, some increased digestive issues again, the insomnia and dreaming has increased again, and my body's ability to handle stress. (stress? who has stress?!)

And, of course, there are times that it is extremely difficult emotionally. Not daily...or sometimes daily for just a short while. This past week, my practitioner said something that stood out to me. She said that when she had been sick with MS, and as with many other sicknesses, she was very sick, but "functionally sick". She said that I am "non-functionally sick". Not a news flash. I kind of knew that, but I think to hear her say it jolted me a little. It's not just me. I really am. However, God is gracious, and He's helped me, and He's going to continue to help me, and we believe, heal me. 

The 3rd week of June will mark 2 years since I first started feeling worse again...sick and fatigued, resting some, but having to push myself to go places. The last week of July will mark 2 years since my body quit. I'm about to take a risk here, and tell you something. The Lord spoke to me recently, through scripture (Elijah) and His voice, about 2 years of rest and good food. I don't know what He has planned. I don't hold Him to anything my heart might wish. June or July will be two years of rest. Two years of good food...not so much until next Feb. I also don't hold God to any time table. But, He did speak the 2 years to me. He says to ask Him, so I'm asking Him, and asking those who would to join me, for me to have a significant amount, if not total healing, by the end of June or July. Is that risky? Yes. But, that is what faith is. If that is not what He had in mind, I will be disappointed, but all will be okay. He will have a bigger blessing in store. Thank you to those who will join me in this prayer, and if you feel comfortable letting me know, please do, as it is great encouragement. Any "like" or comment in this battle is great encouragement.