Friday, May 18, 2012

Ten Years and a Little Black Dress

A lot can happen in ten years, especially while wearing a little black dressJ I mean, let’s be honest, what girl doesn’t feel like she can take on the world in her LBD? It can make you feel confident, beautiful, ready to take on the world.
Still, I can’t say that was my little black dress experience. No, mine was entirely different, but I wouldn’t change it, because, this black number reminded me about love. And who would want to miss out on that?
Ten years ago, May 18, 2002, my life changed drastically. Never to be the same.
Ten years ago, I lost my hero. My rock. My best friend.
Ten years ago, my dad went home to be with Jesus – and my world was shaken. I went home from the hospital,  the night he died, completely lost, not knowing what in the world I was supposed to do next. Feeling more alone than I ever had in my life, not knowing if I would ever feel normal again.  
So, for the sake of being transparent and real, I will tell you what I did that night.
My grandma drove us home from the hospital, and I sat in the back seat while my brother bawled in the front. I wish I could have cried so freely, but I couldn’t. What I wanted to do was shut my brain off entirely, but that wasn’t happening. We got home, and my mom got there shortly after we did. I sat down on the couch, and, well, I turned on the television. Maybe I should be ashamed of that, or maybe I shouldn’t. Ten years later, I really don’t think that it matters either way. I turned on the tv, with a blanket, and curled up in the spot where my dad had sat just the night before.
Looking back, I think I just wanted to be close to him, and that was the best I could do at the time. Adding the television was just a way of keeping me from thinking too much. I stayed on the couch for awhile, watching some makeover show about this couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary. How I remember this, I have no idea. I do remember getting really ticked off at this point, because I knew my parents would NEVER have that, so I got mad and turned it off.
The next morning we went to church as usual. And the love that we were shown that day… It was almost unbelievable. But at the same time it wasn’t. Growing up in the same church has its advantages, one of them being, length of tenure gives room to a lot of love from cultivated relationships. Although I only remember snippets of that day, I can never forget the love shown to us….never
Later on that week we had my dad’s service. It was….inspiring. Because my dad was a Seattle Police Officer, there were quite a few service men and women at his funeral. But here is the awesome part – most of them were there because they knew and respected my dad. That was such an honor to him and his reputation as a man and an officer. I couldn’t have been prouder. Six hundred people packed out the auditorium that day. Twenty five of them accepting Christ, and countless more encouraged by the testimonies given about my father. How I stood in front of that many people I will never know. I was 14 years old, and I stood in front of 600+ people like it was nothing. I didn’t even cry….
Some people might refer to it as having composure, but probably, I was still in shock and just going through the motions. I don’t remember most of what I said, but the one thing that I do remember is this. As I was trying to wrap up my tribute to my dad, I mentioned that I didn’t want people to forget him. That was and is still a fear of mine. That people will forget what an amazing man he was. That they will forget how he touched their lives. I could never forget, and I didn’t want other people to forget either. And you know what? Ten years later, people still tell me how much they loved my dad… Check it out Dad, you’re famousJ
Time continued as it does and will, and I grew up, or tried to at least. I tried to be strong, to fill his shoes, to step up to the plate. But, I never felt like I did it justice, I couldn’t ever seem to do it right. I now know that it wasn’t my role to fill. That I wasn’t him, nor should I have expected myself to try and be him. Yet, I somehow thought it was my responsibility to emotionally take care of my family. To fill in the gaps that he left behind.
Grief does crazy things to a person. For me, my grief put responsibilities on my shoulders that didn’t need to be there. Did I need to grow up? Sure I did. But I needed to grow up as a teenage girl, not grow up trying to fill the shoes of a grown man who had been a husband and father. However, I believe the Lord uses everything for good and to His glory. And my expectations of myself are no different. The Lord took this crazy drive inside me and used it for good.
In high school, I hit the ground running, and in all honestly, haven’t stopped since.
I was involved in everything: Nursery, bus route, teen choir, 4-5 yr old junior church, playing piano for church service/sunshine church/junior church. Did I mention that I also worked at the school, cleaned houses and babysat, all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA? Yes world, I was Wonder Woman. Haha, just kidding….. I was straight up crazy is what I wasJ
But it was through all of these experiences that I have become the woman that I am today. It was through one of these particular experiences, I was reminded about love and thoughtfulness in a most unexpected way.
One of the sweetest elderly couples in our church had been running the children’s church hour for years, and when she broke her arm, her husband asked if I would step in and be the pianist. Of course I said yes! I hadn’t learned to say no yet, haha, and I am glad that in this instance, I said yes.
So began my junior church piano careerJ Should I really have been nervous in front of 10 year olds? Probably not, but sure enough, I was. Once I got the hang of it though, it was a lot of fun. One Sunday evening, after a long day of ministry, this man approached me and handed me $20. Puzzled, I looked at him, waiting for an explanation. He then said something I will never forget. He said, “There is a store in town where you can get a nice dress for around $20. Whenever my granddaughter is in town, I take her there, and I buy her a new dress. I want to give you this so you can go buy yourself a new dress too.”
I stood there, not really knowing what to say. I was moved beyond words. This was a thoughtful and generous gift. This was something unexpected and lovely. Tears came to my eyes as I thanked him. I went home, feeling very loved and very humbled. You see, the last person to buy me a new dress had been my dad. This man didn’t know that, but Jesus did. And just that was enough to keep my tears coming for awhile.
So here is where I tie it all together.
Today, I am going to wake up, walk into my closet and put on my little black dress. Yes, the little black dress that Mr. Pennington bought me, I am going to wear it. I am going to wear it and pray for him. I am going to wear it and think about my dad. I am going to wear it and go to work with a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
For the tenth year in a row, I am waking up without my dad. And one day, I am going to wake up knowing I’m not going to see my friend at church anymore. One day, I will take my beautiful dress to a thrift store because it no longer fits or is out of style or is worn.  But, even though people and things pass away, I will always have these precious memories. I will always have the memory of my dad –  teaching me about baseball, and life, and Dick’s Drive In. (Praise the Lord). I will always have the memory of his laugh, wishing all the time that I could just hear it once more. The memory of my time playing piano in junior church will always be there. The feeling of buying that brand new dress will never leave me. The smile on my friend’s face will always be imprinted in my mind and on my heart.
A lot can happen in ten years, especially in a little black dress. A lot can happen, a lot can change. But let me tell you folks, Jesus never changes. Jesus is always the same. Jesus will never leave me. Jesus will never forsake me. And He is always there, reminding me of how big and great HE is. Yet, in all that greatness, He still finds the time to remind me of how precious I am to Him.
And He reminds me of that fact every time someone talks about my dad, and every time I put on that little black dress.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

To the Third

October 2007
I was sitting in an airport, talking on the phone, when suddenly I started slurring my words. Strange thing was, I could feel it coming on, and could stop talking soon enough so that the person I was talking to didn’t seem to notice. I thought it was odd, but chalked it up to jetlag and being exhausted from midterms. Over the course of the next week, it continued. My friends thought I was talking funny on purpose, but I started to get a little worried when it didn’t go away. Then the hand problems started. I couldn’t grip my pen while I was taking notes in class. I couldn’t play my scales during my piano lessons. The slurring was getting more and more frequent, and I was also becoming more unsteady on my feet. Something wasn’t right, and in the pit of my stomach, I knew what it was…
November 2007
I had called my mom after about a week of symptoms. She was a little worried, and suggested I go see a neurologist. I made an appointment with a local doctor for later that week. Looking back, I really should have taken someone with me to that appointment, but the thought didn’t even occur to me. I had done so many other things on my own, that it seemed entirely natural to go alone. That is one thing that is different today, I won’t go alone again. And another thing – I could have asked several different people to go with me that day, but I just didn’t ask. I now know that I can, and that is an amazing feeling…
When I got to the doctor’s office and sat down with the neurologist, I explained to him all the symptoms that I was having. He got very serious and said to me that we needed to rule out two things right away. Lupus and multiple sclerosis. When he said that, I tried to school my features and be brave, but all I really wanted to do was run out of that office and never come back. I called my mom, and we scheduled my trip home. I had to come home for all my doctor appointments, and would have to miss about two weeks of classes. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement.
After getting off the phone with my mom, I went back to the dorms. I found my room empty – I was relieved. The first thing I did was grab my Bible and kneel down in a ball on the floor. I began to weep. I was really scared. I said, “Lord, I don’t understand completely what’s going on right now, but could you please give me a promise from You that everything is going to be ok?”

Now, I know that the Bible is filled with promises. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart..”
“All things work together for good..” “Take everything to God in prayer…” I could go on and on. And the thing is, these are all wonderful and amazing promises. But, I wanted one that
was personal. One that would remind me everytime I heard it, that God had my back, regardless of the outcome. I opened my Bible, and the first page that it landed on was Psalm 18. I began to read, and when I read verse 19, I wept. I wept with fear, relief, heartache, and a myriad of other emotions. This is the promise that the Lord gave me…
“He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”

I knew in that moment, no matter the outcome, everything was going to be alright. Now, I didn’t say everything was going to be perfect, but it was going to be alright. If my diagnosis was going to be one of the two that the doctor mention,ed then I knew it wasn’t because Jesus was angry with me, it was because He delighted in me.

Now, I am not a martyr and I want to make that clear early on in my story. There are days when my spirit is discouraged, and I get very frustrated with the path that I am on; but I NEVER doubt His love for me through all of this. This verse is my constant reminder of His incredible love.

December 2007-February 2008

Back to Seattle I went, constantly back and forth to the doctor and home. Doctor and home. Doctor and home. When I wasn’t getting tested, I was studying for the tests that I was missing. Those few weeks at home are still a bit of a blur. But at the end of those two weeks, I went back to college without any answers, just in time for finals. Which, on a side note, I think I made straight As on all of them that semester. A fact, of which, I am EXTREMELY proud, lol. After finals I came home for winter break. I spent a lot of time resting, and planning the next semester, and trying not to worry about my diagnosis.

On the morning of January 4th, I went back to my neurologist, sat in his office, and listened to him tell me that I had the beginning stages of multiple sclerosis. He told me about treatments. He told me that it’s different for everyone. He told me that I could go my entire life without another flare up. He also told me that some people have MS and cancer at the same time, and that they say the MS is worse than the cancer… Gee, thank you soo much. I am 20 years old, just got this diagnosis, and this is the information you choose to share with me. I want to punch you….

Before leaving his office, I gathered information about treatment options, made a follow up for a couple days out, and left. My mom and I walked down the hall, got in the elevator, got down to the parking garage, got in the car, and my mom broke down. I just sat there. Numb. Wanting to run away. Wanting to curl up in a ball and not come out for awhile. But, that is not me. That is not how I typically handle things. Looking back, maybe I should have gone a little crazy. Maybe I should have had a meltdown. But I didn’t. I went home with my mom, looked her in the eye and said, “Well, I know that God has a plan and I want to go back to college for this upcoming semester.” Now, I didn’t say it exactly like that, because, like I said, the afternoon is a bit blurry. But I did decide to not sit out a semester. To go back as planned. I am a fighter, I hate losing. And, the truth was, I had lost alot things in my life, and I wasn’t quite ready to let go of anything else.

I got back to college that semester, and honestly, it was really hard. I was tired ALL the time. I felt like I had the flu. I couldn’t remember squat. Because, apparently, that is another symptom of MS, cognitive capabilities going out the window. And for a girl with a 4.0 GPA, not remembering what you study, stinks, big time. When I flunked a midterm, I bawled. I bawled because I had been too exhausted to study for it. I bawled, because even though I had studied through my exhaustion, I couldn’t remember a stinking thing that I had studied. My pride took a serious beating that semester. But maybe, that was the point. Maybe my focus had gotten a little out of proportion. This thought stuck with me, and during a chapel message about a week later, I was inspired.

I decided that I wanted the letters “MS” to mean something different to me. I didn’t want to think of my disease every single time I saw those letters. I wanted to be encouraged. I wanted the Lord to give me something that I could pair with my verse. But I was stumped. I couldn’t just think of two words. So Jesus gave me a phrase. He gave me a mantra. He gave me hope…

MS might mean multiple sclerosis to some people, but this is what it means to me…

My Saviour, Meets Sufficiently, My Struggles

That morning in chapel, I changed my perspective. Everytime I thought that I couldn’t push through the fatigue or discomfort, I would remind myself of this fact. That no matter what happens; HE is always there and always meets my needs. Maybe not my wants, but my needs….always.

Fast Forward →March 2012

Let me jump ahead quite a bit. Otherwise, we will be here for awhile, and I have already taken probably a lot of your time. That is, if you are still reading thisJ

To give a rundown of the time we are jetting past – I graduated college, without missing a semester (3.46GPA, just to brag for a minute). I moved back to Seattle, working 3 part time jobs until the Lord provided 1 full time job. I moved in with some friends, learning more about life and myself than you could from a paid therapistJ

But amidst all of that, I still felt pretty awful, 80% of the time. And to be honest, I was starting to get a little mentally and emotionally weary. I was 24 years old! I wanted to do things! I wanted to go places! I didn’t want to come home from work, crawl in bed for two hours, and THEN try to make dinner for myself. Yes, I was that tired, all the time. I didn’t like missing church because of how I felt. Especially when looking at me – nothing seemed to be wrong with me. I was getting a little discouraged. I still knew that God had a plan, and had seen some fruit from it, but nonetheless, I was tired, and once again, I needed some holy hope from my Dad.

The two things that I was most afraid of losing to MS were my music and my words. I love music and writing with a passion. And when the slurring and hand weakness were there in the beginning (they have since gone away), I was very much afraid of losing those two things. So the Lord, challenged me with that fear. It was almost as if He said, “Use it while you have it Elizabeth. I gave it to you, don’t waste it.” It took me awhile to get there, but I am getting better at stepping out there with these two loves of mine. I sing to myself mostly, but when I get a chance to sing for other people, I am getting braver at taking that opportunity. Probably one of the biggest steps I took was starting this blog. I had been writing for myself for years, but hadn’t been sharing it with anyone. And the Lord would not let up with me about sharing it. He knew that it would be healing for me. And it has been.

So, amidst all the fatigue and weariness, I was trying to still make the most of the energy that I had by going after my writing and music. And then He gave me hope.

A few years earlier, a doctor mentioned that some people with MS or other autoimmune diseases, cut wheat and gluten out of their diet and experience unbelievable results. At the time, I didn’t have the money or the energy to think about making a change like that. But fast forward to present day (aka – full time job$$) and the prodding of a friend, I started doing some research. After what I read, I cut out gluten. I mean I went cold turkey off wheat. And, oh my word…. For the first time in 4 years, I had energy. I was practically bouncing off the walls. I didn’t have to sit down 20 times a day at work. I was running all over the place, getting more done in a day than I used to get done in a week.

The Lord had given me a huge blessing, and I wept with gratitude and appreciation.

But, then I got a little cocky, and this is where the story is winding down. Because I was feeling soo much better, I got lazy with my shots. Oh yeah, did I mention that my treatment option was daily injections? Yeah, not the most pleasant experience in the world, and I have site reactions which makes it even more annoying. Anyway, I got lazy and started skipping shots. And….I had a flare up. Thankfully it only lasted about a week, but it scared me, and I went to my doctor for a much needed check up.

It was there that the Lord gave me two MORE blessings. 1) there was now medicine in pill form, and I could possibly get off my shots. 2) the MS center at my hospital has an annual art show for people with MS or people affected by MS to enter anything of their choosing. (photography, painting, craft, etc…)

Now, I realized the blessing of the new medication right away, but the art show blessing was a longer time coming. You see, I hand make cards for people all the time, but never really worked with a canvas bigger than 4” x 6”. Until recently anyway… I had written a couple poems for friends, matted, decorated and framed them as gifts. And they turned out quite lovely in my opinionJ So when I took a closer look at the art show flyer, I started thinking. I had been wanting to share my MS phrase for awhile, but wasn’t really sure how to go about it. This art show gave me a chance to push myself and to take charge of this thing in my life.

                                                  This is what I designed and created.

This is how I view my disease. Not as something that defines me, but rather, I define it. No... God defines it. This disease doesn’t control my life. Jesus controls my life. He guides, He directs, He lets be what will be. Something ugly was sent into my life, but Jesus has made it beautiful. Jesus has taught me to live each day to the fullest. To never take for granted the smallest of blessings. To appreciate everything around me for the wonder and miracle that it is. To realize that people are more important than things, and that the whispering of the Holy Spirit should speak louder to me than the demands of the day.

I may have MS, and it may still be hard for me to say that out loud to people, but if I have to say it, this is what I want people to see. I want people to see Jesus. I want people to see that I love HIM with my whole self, and that if this is what HE needs to give me so that I can be what I need to be for Him, then so be it. To say I am not still frightened at times would be a lie. To say that if my disease progresses, I won’t weep, would be false. I am afraid sometimes. I still get discouraged and sometimes angry. But here is the thing, for all the discouraging moments I have had with this disease, I have had equally encouraging moments. I have had more blessings and personal growth in the last four years than some people gets in a lifetime. I constantly ask the Lord to stay the progression, because there is so much I want to do. But in the same breath, I know that while I see the current angle, He sees the panoramic view.

So as my friends and family – please join me in prayer. That my life will reflect Christ. That this disease will be used to glorify Him. And that I will not waste one moment that He gives me.

My savior has been sufficiently meeting my struggles for the last twenty four years of my life, and I have no doubts that He will continue to do so in the years to come…

My Jesus, thank you for being my very best friend and for always giving me something about which to sing and write… I love you….