Grace upon grace

God’s grace sees a family through the storms of life.

Julie K. Wietzke

“People say, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle,’ ” says Jennifer Bugenhagen, a member at Christ, Big Bend, Wis. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, but the devil sure likes to prove him otherwise.’ ”

The last five years for the Bugenhagen family have been, as Jennifer describes it, like being in a tornado. “Something hits you and you think, What was that? And you don’t even have time to look because the next thing is hitting you.”

With two daughters with complex medical issues and three close family members—a grandmother, father, and uncle—dying within several months of each other, Jennifer says that sometimes it was hard getting out of bed in the morning. “You wake up and immediately think, Is someone going to be dead? . . . Is someone going to be sick? What’s going to happen today?”

But faith in God and his promises have kept the family going—and that’s a message Jennifer wants everyone going through hard times to remember. “You have to keep going back to God’s promises. I don’t know where we would be without them,” she says.

Facing challenges

The storm started about five years ago. Katie, the Bugenhagen’s third daughter who had been ill on and off for most of her life, started getting sicker, complaining of headaches, joint pain, and mouth sores. “Whenever we talked to her, she would say, ‘I just don’t feel good,’ and she would be in tears,” says Jennifer.

Multiple doctors’ appointments later, they discovered that Katie had Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which eating gluten causes damage to the small intestine. But even after the family overhauled her diet and completely redid how they cooked and ate, Katie wasn’t getting better, missing about a month of her freshman year of high school. “We were seeing nine different specialists at our worst point,” says Jennifer.

Doctors discovered a thyroid disorder and then also began treating Katie for migraine headaches. She missed 60 days of school as a sophomore, and “we stopped counting at 70 during her junior year,” says Jennifer.

“It was really hard,” she continues. “Every morning you wake up and think, Okay, is today going to be a good day or a bad day? I leave for work knowing there’s nothing I can do for her.”

When Katie started getting dizzy as well, doctors decided to do autonomic testing, looking at body functions like blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. They discovered she had Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or POTS, in which the heart rate increases significantly when moving from a seated to a standing position. While it isn’t a rare condition—an estimated 1 to 3 million Americans suffer from it*—it is difficult to diagnose.

Meanwhile, the Bugenhagen’s second daughter, Rachel, was having health issues of her own. Doctors misdiagnosed her as being depressed and put her on anti-depressants. She was hospitalized several times and then developed a severe case of mono, where, according to Jennifer, she went from “healthy to almost on life support in two days.” A fifth hospitalization finally led to the discovery that she also had a thyroid condition. Later tests showed she had POTS as well.

Learning lessons

While it took its toll on the family to be dealing with sickness and emergencies daily, Jennifer says that they learned some important lessons along the way.

Stay rooted in the Word. Jennifer says that she read a devotion every morning and every night. “I can’t tell you how many times the devotion for that day just happened to fit exactly what I was going through or feeling,” she says. “God meant it to be that way.”

She mentions that she kept going back over and over to one devotion called “Grace upon grace,” which asked the question, “What if God’s only blessing to his people—the only thing he actually gave us—was eternal life? . . . Would it be enough?” “Of course it would,” she says, noting that God has given us so many more blessings—grace upon grace—even though we often take them for granted.

Remember God’s promises. “The Bible is full of them,” Jennifer says. “He’s never going to leave us. He’s never going to forsake us. He is never going to give us more than we can handle. There are days, yeah, that you question that. Who wouldn’t? But then he puts people and events in your life as those reminders—I’m still here. You’re not alone.”

Some of those people include members at Resurrection, Rochester, Minn., who offered support when Jennifer took Katie to a month-long pain rehabilitation program at Mayo Clinic last fall. Members donated a guest house for them to use for free, gas money, a clinic parking pass, and help in shopping and paying for Katie’s food for her specialized diet. “They literally took care of every single need we had,” says Jennifer. “They just took this huge burden off me and carried it for me so that I was free to focus on my daughter.”

Give it to God because he’s got it. “When we try to control everything and try to fix things, it’s really not giving the control to him, and then we kind of screw things up,” says Jennifer. At one point, when dealing with a serious turn in Rachel’s health, “I just gave up, and I gave her to God,” Jennifer says, even if that meant God would take Rachel from this life to heaven. Rachel pulled through, and Jennifer discovered later that her husband was praying for the same thing. “It gives you a whole different understanding about when [God] says, ‘My grace is made perfect in weakness,’ ” she says.

Pray. Jennifer says another piece of letting go and letting God is going to the Father and asking for what you want. “If the answer is no, then you ask that God change your heart. That’s an acceptance thing, and that’s a prayer he answers yes to every single time,” she says. Now she is praying that God will use their family and their experiences to help others.

Weathering the storm

The storm has quieted for now for the Bugenhagen family. Both Katie and Rachel are doing much better, though they will be dealing with their conditions for their entire lives. Rachel graduated from college and is looking for a job. She also will be going through the pain rehabilitation program at Mayo in 2017. Katie, through the program at Mayo, is learning how to deal with pain and manage her life with POTS as she completes her senior year in high school.

“We are trying to find our new normal,” says Jennifer.

That normal includes trusting in God to lead them through any other storms that life will bring. “God has a plan, and sometimes you don’t know what it is,” Jennifer says. “But

it is absolutely evident that he is carrying you through when you can’t do it yourself.”

Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.


Author’s note: The Bugenhagens will have another storm to weather in 2017. Just before this story went to print, Jennifer discovered she has Hodgkin lymphoma. She writes, “We will just keep taking one day at a time and keep praying. . . . Only God’s grace will see us through.” Please keep the family in your prayers.



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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 104, Number 2
Issue: February 2017

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