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

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.

Happy Labor Day!

We survived our weekend and spent our whole Labor Day in bed! We only awoke to pick up our puppy, eat and watch Bernie. Naps were the name of our game.

We spent Saturday and Sunday with our youth in New Braunfels floating the Comal River and watching 7th graders get sunburned at Schlitterbahn. I came up with my three favorite perks of traveling with youth:

1. Asking (making) the girls brush your hair and give you back scratches. (thanks, Alexis and Kourtney)

2. Group sing alongs to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rap. (mainly feeling relieved that this beloved song hasn’t been passed over by the new generation)

3. Observing love triangles. 

It was a tiring two days but well worth the sleep deprivation. Thankful for two days away, time to build relationships with our youth, wonderful parent sponsors, watching young people be kind to one another and having fun, a chance to wear my polka-dot suit, and of course safety. But mostly, finding this gem of a water tower!

Walker: I’ve got everything I need.

Katelyn: Your wife and an inter-tube?

Walker: Yes, but most importantly the river.

Hoping all our friends and family had everything they needed this weekend!

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.

World Changers Lubbock

We are currently in Nashville, but I wanted to post some pics of our wonderful experience in Lubbock last week with World Changers. 27 of us made the 10-hour trek to west TX for four full days of manual labor. We put new roofs on houses for 7 residents desperately in need of renovations.

Our church group was split into different crews with the other 3 churches present. I joined the Joint Clamps and Walker the Shingle Bells. The hours between 7am and 4pm (Tues-Fri) were spent scraping off old shingles, decking, felting and laying new shingles to provide the homeowner better protection. We not only got to spend time on their roofs, but we got to have conversations with the residents and play with the children. Nothing like loving on people!

On Wednesday night we got to visit with Phillip and Loren (Walker’s best friend) and their tiny tot, Henry! Even more fun ensued the next night at Joyland, a local amusement park! It was an exhausting week, but how awesome to see 4 churches from TX, NM and MO come together to help make life a little better for 7 families. And the best part is that most of the work was done by teenagers!

 

 

Above picture explanation: Walker and I were having a conversation on the border of the girls side and boys side of the sleeping quarters. The youth minister of the church in Lubbock literally pulled a gate down right in the middle of us. And there it stayed the whole week.

Mom, I spent a minimum of 36 hours in complete sunlight and came home with zero sunburn. Take pride.

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.

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.

Sunday Funday

Sunday we took the youth to Conroe for a day at Incredible Pizza. For Tucsonans, think Golf n’ Stuff on steroids. For everyone else, think unlimited buffet, arcade, ice skating, bumper cars, laser tag and tickets, tickets, tickets! I’ll be honest. I was dreading it. Now, I’ll be even more honest. It was awesome!

I got to introduce Walker to my favorite childhood games, and he was pretty impressed with my skillz. Apparently he never had this experience, nor did he ever win many tickets at Chuck-E-Cheese, so he went all out. Our combined ticket total: 2,085.

Mom, I did you proud in SkiBall.

It doesn’t matter your age, this makes anyone feel on top of the world.

Hoping each of you had your own Sunday Funday. Happy Monday!