Surrender

Sometimes I write…and then get the courage to publish later…

A few Saturdays back, a small group of friends and I met for brunch. Our group gets together yes, for girl time, but also to intentionally discuss certain questions and topics. One question brought up holiday schedules and another led to a discussion about Santa, but then came the last question.

“What does your prayer of surrender look like?”

I was jokingly asked to answer this one. In normal Katelyn fashion, I was unable to give an answer on the spot. Wait, let’s go back to Santa?

It’s funny, I think I first started composing this blog in October, long before our brunch discussion came to be. The thoughts were there and the words were forming, but I couldn’t finish. But maybe now, 12 months into this hell of a year, I’m brave enough to say that even while writing these thoughts, I really wasn’t so sure I believed them. Maybe now, I’m brave enough to reveal our many imperfections and to quietly whisper that, by faith and choice, I finally believe this to be true.

Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset

I originally began writing these words to the gentle noise of Walker strumming his guitar upstairs. I was writing. He was strumming. Because we were both grieving in our own personal ways.

On that Friday night in October, we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting on the edge of our bathtub, my arm around his, throwing wadded and wet tissues into the toilet. Well that, and consequently scolding Opal for attempting to eat the missed shots.

For some reason, we thought ourselves strong enough to watch The Fault in Our Stars, the movie version of the novel about childhood cancer. The one that so accurately and emotionally let us into a world that though we tried, we could never fully understand. We miss you, friend, and that night our irrepressible sobs reminded us just how much.

There is a line in The Fault in our Stars that’s become too familiar to us this year.

Pain must be felt.

2014 has proved this so. For us. And for so many others.

We’ve seen death and disease sweep down in the cruelest of ways, at times to us personally and in other times to those we care about. We’ve watched families and friendships be forcefully ripped apart, leaving jagged seams and irreparable holes. We’ve experienced our church scandalized by tragedy, and watched the media proudly make life hell for all involved. We were bystanders as adults and youth alike fled from our pews without even a quick goodbye. We stood shocked as strangers and friends showed up in the midst of crisis, while those we just knew would show up, well, they never did. And then there were the weeks the entire world went haywire. Iraq. Ukraine. Ebola. The border children crisis. Missing planes. Ferguson.

The bitterness crept in just as plainly as it did in my words above. We smiled in front of the curtain while behind the scenes soon became strangers to ourselves. Complaining too much, criticizing too often, loving too little. Looking back, I see two people unwilling to even look for glimpses of good, because with all the pain in us and around us, survivor’s guilt told us not to. Even with all the good things happening, too, our weary hearts wondered ‘When will the next bad thing happen?’

But, we’re learning.Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset

Yes, pain must be felt. Circumstances arise and they leave you helpless, but I think today, on the last day of the year, we can confidently declare that while they can leave us helpless, they do not have the power to leave us hopeless. This year has changed us, but we have the power to choose how it changed us. Pain can demand to be felt. But pain cannot demand to be lived. Grief is long lasting. It can and does last a lifetime. But joy.

Joy is eternal.

I write these words not because our skies are now abundantly blue.

We began this year with death. And now, again, we are leaving this year with death.

I write these words because through all the unexpected back roads we’ve taken on our journey these past 12 months, I can shakily say that joy, in fact, does not come in the morning. Joy is present even through our darkest of nights.

Joy, much like love, is not something we are meant to feel. Joy is something we are called to do, to recognize and accept, to seek out, to give to others. We must boldly notice it in the midst of a new baby or in the gathering of family at a graveside. In the monotony of a job or in the old couple laughing in the car next to us.

It doesn’t always look the way we want or expect. Sometimes it’s almost unrecognizable. But it’s there. Prompting us to remember that

Great loss means there was once an even greater presence.

Grief reminds us we had the opportunity to love someone with every fiber of our being.

Pain reveals we had the privilege to believe in someone or something so deeply that now we must relearn to live without.

Loss. Grief. Pain. We feel them deeply. Our tears are real and our anguish is tangible.

But.

Joy says look for me. I am here through it all.

So maybe, just maybe this nutso year called 2014, has gradually and unsteadily revealed not only the agony of this world and our own imperfections, but perhaps it has also taught us about the relief that comes with embracing a surrender prayer.

A prayer that says I will stop resisting and surrender to the reality that joy is always there. That these are my circumstances, good or bad. I promise to feel the pain profoundly, but I will obediently seek out the beauty in it all. That there is community even in the loneliness, contentment in the longing, laughter in the tears, hope in the despair, and life even in death. That this is life, and amidst the suffering, heartache and disappointment, I will stay open, stay vulnerable, and be present through it all. I will continue to love and believe and risk. I surrender. I surrender to life. Because come what may, life is abundantly good.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Advertisements

Steps

The following is something I started writing in the days surrounding Lizzie’s death and that I was only able to finish recently. I wanted to share it on Friday—her 20th birthday—but was traveling and without Internet access, so today works, too.

We think about you every day, Lizzie, and miss you in every thought. Happy Birthday!

Lizzie Birthday

I thought about the first thing Lizzie might have said to Jesus as she met him face to face. My immediate thought was, “Please tell me Ryan Gosling will be here one day.”

But after she gets out all of her jokes, I imagine her looking Him straight in the eye and saying “Oh Jesus, I adored you. I laid my life before you. Oh Jesus, how I loved you.”

Once, while visiting Lizzie in hospice, I witnessed her mother, Dianne, help her take a few steps from a chair to her hospital bed. I couldn’t help but think about the first few steps Dianne probably helped Lizzie take as a small child. My inner reflection on the overwhelming dissonance between those first few steps of joy and those last few steps of sorrow soon became tangible tears.  Tears that pleaded “Nineteen years. Nineteen years is just not enough steps.”

I felt this way for a while. Still do. Probably always will.

But on some days, on some rare days, I am able to remember that every single step of those 19 years was filled with joy. Not perfect circumstances, but joy. Because Lizzie was joy.

And in these occasional moments on those rare days I am able to recognize that Lizzie did in fact beat cancer. With every step she took. Yes, Lizzie beat cancer in the way she continued to not just walk but dance through life even when a disease tried to strip her of all she had.

She beat cancer when she found simple delight in the silliness of holding a baby goat.
She beat cancer every time she made one of us laugh even when it was at her own expense.
She beat cancer when she showed up to the skating rink in the shiniest gold wind suit known to man.
She surely beat it when she shimmied for her male hospice nurse she had fallen for.
She beat it when she sat in her wheelchair outside the hospital, conversing with a man who just needed to talk, because his wife’s health was declining.
She beat cancer when she showed up to youth group and volunteered to be bald Brittney Spears circa 2007 for an announcement video.
She beat it when she danced at prom and walked across the stage at graduation.
She beat cancer when she taught an entire community to be a positive change in the world.
She beat it when she gave us all the courage to take more steps, one foot in front of the other, no matter how weary we might be.

Lizzie beat cancer because her faith always told her there was hope beyond her existing experiences, and now that very faith has found her resting in the arms of Jesus.

Today is a rare day. And I remember these things.

So I kneel here, and every day to follow, in my humanness desperately holding onto that one game changing truth—that while we have lost profoundly, Lizzie has gained, not in part but in full. Her body is redeemed, her faith is now sight and her life is everlasting.

I imagine now that Lizzie is walking side by side with Jesus in that sweet by and by that we can only sing about. And somewhere on that beautiful shore, they both wear matching flower crowns braided across their foreheads—hand crafted by Lizzie of course.

And as the waves tenderly glide across their feet, Jesus is ever so gently putting his hand around her shoulder, looking deep into her eyes, saying: Job well done. Life well lived. My good. And my faithful servant. 

I’m reminded of a song we sing in our youth group on Wednesday nights.

When shadows fall on us/We will not fear/We will remember
When darkness falls on us/ We will not fear/ We will remember
When all seems lost/When we’re thrown and we’re tossed/We remember the cost
We are resting in the shadow of the cross

However painful our grief might be, we are resting in the shadow of the cross. And Lizzie is living.

LIVING! Her lungs are filled with air and her legs can dance again!

Yes, Lizzie is living in the light of the resurrection. To God be the glory. And peace be with us.

Amen.

January

Lufkin snow dayI’d like to think the reason behind my month long hiatus from this space was due to my confession of having toe fungus in my last post, but the truth revealed probably lies more in the month of January itself. The first month of 2014 has been an inexplicable blend of emotions. The kind where laughter or tears strike in any moment. In the same moment.

But as I sit here and write very late thank-you cards to some freaking awesome people, I’ve realized it’s February 1. We made it. And so now I’ll blog about that month I didn’t want to blog about, if not only because it’s a part of our story.

Before Walker and I left Tucson the four of us felt our hearts break as we put our 13-year old dog, Yoda, to sleep. Minutes later I took one last look at the the house I grew up in before my parents move across town. We found ourselves back in Lufkin only being forced to buy a new washer and dryer but how trivial the stress of appliance shopping would soon seem.

On January 14, Walker kissed Lizzie on her forehead and I stroked her cheek as we left her hospice room that night. In the early morning hours of January 15, Lizzie passed away. And as thankful as we are that her suffering is no more, we miss her. Through the many times as I’ve written and erased my thoughts about her, I’ve come to accept that although I know they will return, right now my words have been stolen by grief.

But this is where it feels confusing. Because we look back on January and remember such wonderful times, too. The Fiesta Bowl followed by a day with friends in Ft. Worth was a pretty decent way to start the year. Opal turned 2 and my dad made it to SIXTY! I was able to attend Danielle’s shower for soon to be baby Evie all while getting to see a bunch of friends. Baby Landon made his 6 lb. appearance in this world and we spent most of our days with Jared. I caught bronchitis and not the flu, so that’s a Super Bowl win in my opinion.

So many emotions unexpectedly given life in 31 days left us feeling exhausted and constantly trying to catch up. But as we move into February, our heartbeats grow steadier and our breaths more relaxed. We can look back at January knowing that if we have lost, it means we have loved. And for us, that’s enough.

Plus we had snow. Twice!Play in snow 2Lufkin snowOpal in snowLufkin snow ball

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

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.

Because Everybody Keeps Asking Me!

The first time I heard the name Lizzie was a year ago.

My husband, fiancé at the time, moved to Lufkin just in time to gift the upcoming seniors with an extra early wake-up call. He barged into houses around 6 am, shaking the seniors to life and inviting them to a celebratory breakfast. As expected, the new 12th graders responded with varying degrees of emotion– from fist pumps to fist fights.

Besides the girl who he found in only a sports bra, I can only recall one story specifically. Maybe I should have known she was special from the beginning.

Walker, delighted to be the sleep intruder, called to tell me tales about the success of the morning meal. He couldn’t stop laughing as he described one situation involving ‘this awesome girl.’

As he awoke ‘this awesome girl’ she refused to get out of bed. Over and over again she rejected his invitation to partake in the breakfast party with her friends. Begging and pleading made no difference. She wanted to sleep, and nothing was going to change her mind.

Finally, after relentless badgering, ‘this awesome girl’ who had rejected Walker’s every plea asked her deciding question.

“Will there be bacon?”

With what I imagine to have been the grin of a lifetime, Walker answered.

“Of course!”

With the promise of bacon, she got out of bed and made her way to the host home. Walker, happy with his effort and success but even happier with his revelation that there is a girl who loves bacon as much as he does, left with a story he couldn’t wait to tell me.

“Who is ‘this awesome girl’? I’ve got to meet her.”

“Her name is Lizzie.”

I should have known she was special from the beginning.

Earlier this year Lizzie was diagnosed with a rare stage 4 liver cancer- specifically Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma. When I say rare, I mean rare. Only 25 people get this diagnosis each year in the U.S. Lizzie’s took up the entire right lobe of her liver and spread to other parts of her body making her condition grim. We were told the only reason she received treatment was due to her age. An adult would not be considered for treatment because of the gravity of this particular cancer. If we are being honest here, she was not expected to survive. Even more honest, I didn’t expect her to survive.

Since her diagnosis she has endured rounds of chemo and side effects, undergone major surgery and dealt with emotions no 18-year-old should endure.

But she has done so with grace.

Yes, she has cried. She has wrestled with her faith. She has felt like an inspirational fraud. She has struggled with extreme anxiety. She has experienced real fear. She has felt angry. Life with cancer has not been easy, but she faced it with authenticity, humor and positivity.

Without intention, Lizzie has unified the town of Lufkin and beyond. She has united a church. She has strengthened her friends. She’s given hope to the other kids in the hospital. She has made people laugh on her blog. She has spread the gospel.

And I am excited, humbled and grateful to tell you, that with the strongest of intentions, Lizzie BEAT CANCER.

Her newest scans came back clean. Her tiny body is cancer free. A body that months ago was peppered with disease is now white as snow. A body that has served as the first true and only God-explained miracle I (and many others) have witnessed.  A body that is headed to the University of Texas in a matter of days. And in that body resides an old, wise soul who has experienced the deepness of God’s grace in a way that many of us would never choose. Grace that has shown up in community, in modern medicine and in peace that surpasses all understanding.

Goodness, I should have known she was special from the beginning.

To all of you who have never met her but have lifted prayers, donated to Relay for Life and constantly asked me how she is doing, THANK YOU, and please continue.

Relay for Life!

Friday night was the big night– Relay for Life! We had 53 people come out to walk in honor of Lizzie, and we raised around $4,500 in her honor for the American Cancer Society.

It was a long, long day/night, but well worth every moment. We arrived at 4:30 p.m. to set up our tent and get it decorated. The survivor lap kicked off the event at 7 p.m., which was the most moving part of the relay for me. To see people walking around the track who have been given the worst news, fought hard, and won the battle. Wow. There was even a toddler being pulled in a wagon.

There were team tents set up all around the track with various fundraisers including hair painting, sausage on a stick, x-box, iPad raffles and face painting. Our team sold cakes, cake pops and gatorade!

Later on in the night was the luminaria ceremony that honors and remembers people affected by cancer. The lights went dark and the luminaria bags lit up the track. Special moment.

The walking took place for the duration of the entire event. You are always supposed to have at least one member walking the track to signify that cancer patients never stop even when it gets rough.

It did get rough. All nighters aren’t our thing (whose thing are they), but being involved with youth, they aren’t rare. We were exhausted but determined. Walker and I were walking the track about 3:45 a.m. when they announced we were being sent home early due to an incoming storm. Beautiful words for Walker who had to be back at the church at 9 a.m.

Thank you to all who donated to our team, walked with our team, and supported our team in any way. We had people from all over the U.S. making donations in honor Lizzie. We are beyond appreciative of how so many came forward to help! And thanks to Alyssa Franks who suggested the idea in the first place, joined our team, and fundraised like heck all the way from AZ! Finally, thanks to Lizzie who has the unique ability of uniting people from near and far into one community dedicated to a great cause.

Here is our night through pictures.

Happy Birthday, Walker!

Walker turned 27 yesterday! We didn’t celebrate the usual way, but we wouldn’t have changed a thang. Walker left the house at 5:30 a.m. and drove to Houston for Lizzie’s surgery. The surgery scheduled for 7:30 a.m. got pushed back until early afternoon, so Walker got a chance to hang out and joke with her during the morning hours. After she went to sleep, he ate in the hospital cafeteria. I told him I was jealous and asked him if he was eating in scrubs gossiping about the other doctors and nurses like on Grey’s Anatomy. He didn’t even acknowledge my comment.

He didn’t tell anyone it was his birthday, but Lizzie already knew and told her mom. I had sent Walker with some birthday muffins for the long day, and he graciously offered them to the starving family members in the waiting room. Lizzie’s mom announced that it was Walker’s birthday and after realizing they had eaten his b-day muffins, the entire waiting room sang him ‘Happy Birthday.’

The 8 hour surgery only lasted 4.5 hours, so Walker left the hospital around 7:30. We were planning on inviting some friends over for cake, but since it was so late we thought we’d reschedule. But the Longinos showed up in good friend fashion and celebrated Walker’s 27th year around 9:30 p.m. I had baked him a 4-layer cake complete with sparkler candles and sprinkles. I laughed many times throughout the day at the size of it. Huge. It reminded me of when Bruce had to eat the chocolate cake in one of my favorite childhood movies, Matilda. Bruce! Bruce! Bruce! We indulged in a piece of cake (which really equalled 4), debriefed the day and allowed Walker to relax with some T.V. watching.

Yesterday on Facebook I said that ‘most days I’m glad Walker was born,’ but when I realize I’m married to a man that will spend his entire birthday sitting in a waiting room with the family of a child with cancer, I see just how good I have it. Kinda reminds me of my dad. Thanks for being you, because I think every person who knows you is glad you were born! Opal and I love you! Happy Birthday!

Lizzie’s surgery went well! She has an extremely rare form of liver cancer that only 25 people in the U.S. get each year. Her survival rate was low. The chemo did not work, thus the surgery. The doctor removed a lymph node by her heart, one by her esophagus, 2 from her diaphragm, 2 by her bile duct, 4 more they were surprised to find and 1/3 of her liver. The doctor says he was able to remove all of the cancer he could see. They will have to wait for test results to see if they actually indeed did remove it all, and then to see if it comes back. But, the doctor was confident! The surgery went better than we were expecting! We are hopeful! (I am not a doctor, so if I misunderstood any of this information, I will re-update you. Thank you to our family and friend who have been so supportive of Lizzie even though you’ve never met her!)

Relay for Life- Team Lizzie

Hey friends and family! You’ve heard me talk about Lizzie both here and here. The success of this post is a long shot…because it has to do with fundraising. I’ve never been good at fundraising. (Although I am good at raising fun.)  Asking people for money is just about the worst.

I dont’ think there is one of you reading this post that has not been affected by cancer in some way or another. We started a Relay for Life team in honor of Lizzie, and it will be May 4 from 7pm-7am. We will all take turns walking around a track for the full 12 hours. The money we raise goes to the American Cancer Society in order to help support people just like Lizzie and all the people you have known with cancer.

Here’s how you can help: 1. Join our team, fundraise $100 and walk with us! 2. Donate to our team here.  3. Spread the word. 4. Come to the team meeting at the church on Tuesday at 5:30. 5. Ask me any questions about how you can help.

I know money is tight for lots 0′ people right now, but I wouldn’t be doing my job as team captain if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone and ask!

Also, Lizzie is expecting some crucial test results today. She finds out today whether her chemo has been working. Please say a prayer or think a good thought for her. Please.

Here’s the stunning little lady at prom.