Chicago

20130804-233032.jpgLet’s move past those forehead wrinkles and get straight to the truth. This post could easily be titled ‘The perks of being in youth ministry.’

We took our group of graduates on the annual senior trip. This year Walker decided on Chicago, based almost solely on the Megabus giving us round trip tickets for $38 a piece. After our 20-hour ride, we hauled our suitcases through the subways, washed ourselves in the hotel bathroom and stepped into four days of metropolitan bliss. We packed in as much tourism as our days would allow- soaking up the local food, segwaying to the major attractions, riding the subway to museums and sky decks, and shopping, of course.

I can’t say enough good things about this group of new adults. Traveling, while so much fun, is also exhausting, and weariness didn’t get in the way of their adventure … that would be us chaperones who took a cat nap on a bench inside the aquarium. They kept smiles on their faces, maintained their easy-going attitudes and stayed flexible as needed. Complaints were few and harmony was tangible. I love it when travelers awe at new sights and sounds and people, and that’s just what they did. They got excited over small things like orangutans and woke up early to seize the day. They’re an incredible group, and I’m really going to miss them.20130806-180518.jpgmuseumgothicelevatorsky20130806-180736.jpgdark20130814-154731.jpg20130814-160702.jpg20130814-162946.jpg20130814-162904.jpg20130814-163037.jpgSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES20130814-155047.jpgflash20130814-160758.jpgrainybeanOn our last drizzling morning in the city, we ran over to Millennium Park for one last exploration. Walker was wearing his ‘Keep Waco Wacko’ shirt when from behind me I heard ‘Sic em bears!’ I turned around to see the dad of my really good friend. Brad, who practically became my brother as we spent a summer together as church interns in Spain was standing next to him. I hadn’t seen him since he was an usher in our wedding 2 years ago. Brad, who lives in North Carolina, and me, all the way from Texas, found ourselves in a reunion embrace…IN CHICAGO! It is one of my very favorite life moments. Ever!

Brad, you are the best! And so are your parents. My squeals didn’t even come close to explaining my happiness. Grateful to call you my friend! bradbeanbradyouthbeanHoping we meet again soon, Chicags. You were so good to us. Clean, friendly, beautiful. Hoping we meet again, too, youth graduates. Come back and visit soon! You are a gift to us. Happy college to each of you!

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Our friend, Lizzie

Sunday’s Blog Every Day in May prompt was to publicly profess my love and devotion for a blogger friend. I decided to go with someone who does write a blog– an authentic, humorous and expressive one at that- but I don’t call her a blogger friend. I simply call her friend.

And today is her BIRTHDAY!

So let’s throw a little online birthday party for her! She has been struggling lately and is currently in the hospital. Let’s use today to encourage the heck out of her!

See previous Lizzie posts here, herehere and here.

lizzie collageThe first time I remember meeting Lizzie was at a youth lock-in, which I’ve tried to block out of my mind forever—the lock-in, not the conversation. I was standing behind a check-in counter in the church gym and a small brunette started up a conversation about my friends. I don’t remember exactly what she said about them (probably that they’re awesome because they are), but I’ll never forget her last line.

“I just hope I have friends when I get old.”

I looked past the fact she had just referred to my then 25 years as old and responded as anybody would.

“Of course you’ll have friends! I don’t think you need to worry about that.”

It never crossed my mind that in the next year cancer would become Lizzie’s new normal and might prevent her ever from growing old. With all the surgeries, chemo, conversations and emotions she’s been through in the last 18 months, I think it’s safe to say she’s officially an adult. How does it feel to be old like me?

The first three pictures posted above are images of how we could think of Lizzie—before, during and ‘after’ cancer. It’s easy to think of her as how she was before her body started attacking itself, how she coped during treatment and then remission, and how she is responding now that her cancer is back and taking its toll.

BUT I’m choosing to see what this second set of images reflects. lizzie collage 2How Lizzie is and always has been. Lizzie is and always has been joyful with a zest for life and adventure. She makes people laugh and laughs at herself. She’s transparent and authentic putting those of us around her at ease. We know we are welcome in her presence. She makes time for people- even to watch Dance Moms with two old twenty-somethings. She smiles. She includes everyone and excludes no one. She’s a servant leader who actively lives to be the change she wants to see in the world. She boldly and honestly displays her faith in all situations, whether it be in fervent trust or understandable doubt. She is Lizzie- then, now, always.

I think back to the lock-in as I began watching the all-nighter enthusiasts arrive. There were youth I was trying to get to know, parents I hardly knew at all and a husband who would be running around making sure no one was making out. I felt like like an outsider. Alone. And then that little brunette initiated our conversation. She made me feel welcome, encouraged and loved. With the few steps it took her to seek me out, I all of the sudden wasn’t so alone.

You see, that’s who Lizzie is and always has been. To all of us. In a word of encouragement, a goofy joke, a simple conversation and deep heart to heart, a friendly smile or an honest blog- she has sought us out and she has found us. And she’s made us feel we are never alone.

So today on her birthday, let’s do what she always has and always will do for us. Let’s seek her out! Let’s find her! Let’s let her know she is never alone!

Find a way to tell her what you think of her. Facebook, Twitter, this blog, her blog, text, call, whatever! I encourage you not to throw random Bible verses at her or tell her that God has a plan (she already knows that). Don’t focus on her situation; focus on who she is as a person. Tell her what she means to you and what you’ve learned from her. Tell her how proud you are of her. Say what you’ve always wanted to say but never took the time, got a little scared or didn’t think of in the moment. Write thoughtfully. Write authentically. Write boldly.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LIZZIE! The McWilliams love you!lizzie wallace

Let’s build a Casa in 10 days!

I’ve just returned home from the TX/Mexico border. Walker is still there and has the cam cam, but I thought I’d post the few pics I collected on my phone–although, maybe I shouldn’t if I’m tired enough to use words like cam cam.

Through Buckner, a group from our church is building a house for the sweetest family, la familia Torres, in 10 days. Foundation. Sheetrock. Shingles. 10 days. Whoa! The crew has been working until exhaustion, but I think watching two little girls, Ruby and Valeria, walk through the construction zone designating their rooms gives them the boost they need.

I’m sure I’ll post more, you know, when that cam cam makes it back. sunsetnailscollagephoto copy 2

My encounter with a woman I never met

The following post is not my attempt to jump on the bandwagon. It is only my written words flowing from the thoughts swirling through my head yesterday. It is simply remembering a lady who touched my life without us ever meeting.

Yesterday, Lufkin suddenly lost a precious lady- a mother, friend, church member, co-worker, community advocate. I say ‘precious’ not because I knew her to be, but because so many others did.

I’m really not sure I ever met Emily Watts, but Walker would be the first to say that I referred to her as ‘the lady I wanted to be my best friend.’ I thought my life would be more fun with her in it, and I know those that actually knew her would say theirs was.

She was a vibrant woman known for her voice, but the moment I remember most about Emily was when the singing stopped. We were at our church women’s retreat almost a year ago, and she was on the worship team. One particular song wasn’t quite living up to the quality of the previous songs. People were off beat, eyes were looking around the room, and I was wondering if we would actually make it to the end.

In that moment, Emily stopped singing and started laughing into the mic.  A deep, hearty chuckle straight into the microphone. I think my instant infatuation with her actions has caused me to embellish it in my head, as I recall her bending over and slapping her knee before standing up to continue with the song. A knee slap or not, this is what I know for sure—she stopped what she was supposed to be doing to take a moment and laugh.

To many people, Emily was a whole person—somebody they knew intimately for years. To me, she was bits and pieces I witnessed here and there—but how important were those bits and pieces.

In that particular moment I saw her as someone who didn’t take life too seriously. A woman able to laugh at herself even with all eyes on her. Some women at the retreat might not have even noticed Emily’s few seconds of cackling, but for me it was a moment of growth, of inspiration, of gratefulness.

In most moments of our lives, eyes are watching, and how we choose to live in those few seconds will affect people we might never even meet. In a moment that could have brought on frustration or embarrassment, Emily chose laughter and joy. I pray in future moments I will go forth mimicking a lady I never met face to face. I pray we all do.

Soon enough there will come a moment, probably today, when I will have that choice. When someone will witness bits and pieces of me. In that moment I’ll remember Emily. In that moment—that fleeting moment called life—I will choose to look full in His wonderful face and let things of earth grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Lizzie Update

We are here with a Lizzie update. You might have read our last post here! What fun it has been to watch Lizzie fall in love with college these past few months. We’ve delighted in seeing her healthy, living boldly and thriving. She even wrote a blog about her gratefulness to cancer and the way it changed her outlook on life.

Our news this time is not what we hoped. Lizzie’s cancer is back, and she has decided not to treat it, choosing quality of life over quantity. That’s all we will say, because we recommend you jump over here and read her own words. They’re much better than ours.

Lucky us, Lizzie sat by us in church this morning while home for the holiday. We visited with this young lady who is just as confident, joyful and peaceful as she sounds in her blog post. As she worshipped with hands lifted high, we sat back in awe of this girl. While we consider her first healing to be an obvious gift, today we were left as witnesses to the true miracle–Lizzie’s spirit. The essence of who she is so closely connected to her Creator that as she has been on display for all to see, we have been seeing God.

I wish Walker and I could say we are mature enough to accept this news as she has, but we aren’t…we are sad. Sad, but still hopeful, and excited to see how this story unfolds as our dear friend sets out to cross things off her bucket list20121125-211917.jpgWalker is squinty and my bangs are a’flyin, but Lizzie is lovely, as always.

Home Sweet Bed

We find ourselves writing this post to let our friends and family know that we made it home today safely, but selfishly we are writing in attempt to keep ourselves awake until 9 p.m. Surely that is an acceptable bedtime, because we were ready to lay ourselves down at 6.

We had the most incredible trip that we can’t wait to document on here soon enough! We are both on our computers (with Opal snoring between us) looking at pictures and already wanting to go back. But for now we are relishing in hot showers, chowing down on burgers, brushing our teeth in clean water goodness, celebrating the invention of the mattress and thanking the public bathroom gods for their cleanliness standards.

The remote villages of Ethiopia just might be our new favorite places in the world. The unexpected landscape. The friendliness of the people. We fell in love! And who wouldn’t when you get to wake up to this every morning?

See you soon, Ethiopia!

We’ve finished our typhoid pills and sorted our hygiene supplies. VBS materials have been put together and Pepto Bismal has been bought in bulk. Right now, bags are chaotically being packed with Mumford and Sons pumping us up. That must mean we are heading to Ethiopia this weekend! As excited as we are, I’m not quite sure the reality has set in!

We leave Saturday night out of DFW, spend the night in DC and fly straight to Addis Ababa. We’ll arrive in our home base of Bantu later that evening and get settled in. We will spend the next two days in a rural village doing VBS in the morning and renovating wells in the afternoon. The following two days will be spent in a second village with the same schedule. A final day of tourism and shopping in Addis Ababa, and we head back to DC. Af fun day of sightseeing in DC and back to DFW!

Thank you to every one who so generously collected our hygiene supplies on such short notice. And your prayers, we appreciate them greatly. Continue to pray for: Seeds of the Gospel to be planted in the hearts of the Ethiopians. Traveling mercies. Our health. Continued relationships. The Ethiopian leaders we will be working alongside. Praise for the chance to experience what God is already doing in Ethiopia. Cultural sensitivity. Spiritual rejuvenation for our team members. And finally, that Katelyn doesn’t bring home a child.Walker and I are not only grateful to be venturing to Africa, but we are pumped about spending a week with our team. It’s a hardworking, goofy bunch…and for us that’s perfect. Ps. Contrary to how I may look in the first picture, I am not pregnant!

Cars and Noses

On Sunday night my car got hit in the church parking lot with no perpetrator in sight.

On Monday night, while getting the broccoli, I slammed the freezer door so hard into my face that it caused me to fall to the ground, burst into tears, and look in the mirror to find a dented and crooked nose.

On Sunday night Walker and I thought we would have to pay our insurance for partial cost of the hit and run.

On Monday night we debated going to the emergency room and then decided to just wait until the next day to get x-rays from my primary care doctor.

It’s been one of those years where sometimes we’ve felt like we just can’t get a break.

On Sunday night an honest, young lady came forward later in the night to tell us she hit my car, and her dad agreed to pay the $1500 in damages with no question and many apologies.

On Monday night while we slept, the swelling went down to reveal a slightly less dented nose and only a crookedness that the two of us could notice. It has continued to heal without a trip to the doc.

This week we caught two breaks. And we are grateful. For honest people. And for ice. But most of all for grace.

Plus we got to drive this super comfy Cadillac as our loner car. Walker was pumped to say the least.