Saturday, July 13, 2013

Color Splash

      It's amazing how God works, isn't it. Every brush stroke onto the canvas of our lives is put in place by the Master Artist's perfect hand. No brush hair goes astray, no paint spills or splatters unless He means for it.
      It's been almost 4 years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Four years of learning to balance my disease, literally and figuratively. Four years of the unknown. Four years of my faith being fine-tuned to total dependence on the Father. It's been almost 3 years that I've gone without a blip. Yes, I have symptoms, but a flare-up hasn't made its way into my life for three. Blissful. Years. My brain has gone from three or four lesions (can't remember....because I have MS) to one, very small, and very inactive lesion. I am THISCLOSE to remission. I've kicked this beast in the butt, haven't I? But MS has its ways of reminding me.... And God has His ways of reminding me....
      Two years ago I set out on an adventure, one known as nontraditionalism. In other words, I went back to college. With a borrowed book bag and a fresh new pack of number 2 pencils, I waltzed my way into Dalton State College ready to fulfill my dream of becoming an English degree-holder. I made straight A's that first year. At the beginning of that second year I achieved another one of my dreams: to become a makeup artist for MAC cosmetics. It was no secret when I walked into MAC that I wanted a job as an artist there; I'd been filling out applications for seven years! It is, after all, the highest honor in all of makeupdom. MAC is the coup de grace of makeup, application, and makeup artistry. When I was hired on July 25, 2012 as a permanent MAC Artist, I made no secret about it and posted my fortune for all of the world to see.....on Facebook.       
       MAC took me to new heights concerning my artistry; I added  to my 13 years of experience and my love for the makeup arts soared to another level, as did my skill. I was sent to Nashville with two fellow new-hires for extensive training where the three of us received one certification. Shortly thereafter we received two more, one of which gave us each the title of Certified MAC Artist. I was thriving and in my element. My dream had come true.
      While in Nashville I received a phone call from my daughter's school principal. Just a side note here, it's also no big secret that I want to be a teacher....and teach at CHS. The principal asked me if I'd be interested in a job at CHS....teaching drama....to 6th graders. It would be a temporary position but it would get my foot in the door; she had remembered my enthusiasm concerning the fine arts when we first elected to send Lilli to CHS for kindergarten four years before. I had told her, "I love the arts and will do anything I can to help CHS."
      I'll never forget standing in the foyer of the hotel room in Nashville, wearing my MAC black and jewelry, my hair perfect, tears streaming down my made up face. She said she'd work around my school and MAC schedules, that I should just tell her the days and times I could teach.
      Again, my dreams were all coming true and as usual, God was clearly the center of it all. 
      I was so grateful to Him. Jordan had been out of a job for eight months; God had been providing left and right and we never went without. Our ministry was also thriving. And here I was, standing in the middle of His presence as He showered my family and me with yet another blessing.
      As the fall progressed so did my jobs and my education. I am one of those people who tends to think she can do more than the average bear. I am of the mindset "I've given birth, I can conquer the world." I don't allow MS to control me. NOTHING holds me back from success.
      By Christmas I was exhausted. I couldn't handle much more. I was getting behind in my classes and working until sometimes midnight at MAC for holiday hours, then getting up at 5am the next morning for school. I was working tirelessly for MAC, CHS, or DSC every moment of every single day. Finally my break between semesters came, but I was still overwhelmed.
      I was having migraines and missing classes; I was staying sick and I gained the 15 pounds I'd lost the spring before. I was also missing time with my husband and my daughter; that in and of itself will take an astronomical toll on any woman. I was crying at work just from being away from them. Being a wife and a mother are a calling from God, and it's not a calling I take lightly. Finally, my body gave up. I was lying in bed when I woke up at 5am one winter morning, sweaty, hot, nauseated, numb, unable to talk, and in severe chest pain. I thought I was having a heart attack. I made it to the toilet to vomit when I fell on the floor because I was too weak to hold myself up let alone wake Jordan. I finally made it back to bed, then got up two hours later and went to school. I called Jordan when the same episode happened again, and he demanded I get to the ER.....but I had a French test I had to finish. He would have to wait. (I thought he was gonna kill me himself after that!) After my test, I drove myself to the ER where they hooked me up to wires and an IV. Eight hours later the doctor came in to my room, told me I was doing too much and that I had exhausted myself and that I also wasn't taking care of myself so my potassium and fluid levels had dropped. I was dehydrated and went through almost two bags of fluid. Seriously? I thought you had to be a movie star to go to the hospital for "exhaustion."
      After a while spring came, but I thought it never would. In April I dropped from 20 hours a week at MAC to 15 hours a week. 20 hours a week doesn't sound like much but on top of everything else I was doing, it was torture. MAC is also a very high pressure job: there are numbers to meet, there's the look we have, the constant demand to be artistic (which is tough if you're tired), grumpy customers and happy customers, and also behind the scenes work. I also had tri-monthly training and projects on the side. Teaching can be tasking as well: there are papers to grade and lessons to prepare for...did I mention my students were 11 and 12? They're a blast but also a mess! Then piled on top of this was my school work. By semester's end I'd gone from Dean's List to, well, my own private, er....other list. I had one A, two B's, and one C. FACE. PALM. I was crumbling to dust under the pressure.
      Finally I talked with my MAC boss. I was going to have to drop from my 15 hour position as a permanent artist to a freelance/on-call position. This meant that they would only call me when they needed me. I was getting a much needed break, and my boss was very understanding.
      School ended and summer began. But as we all know, summer heat, particularly the Georgia summer heat, is not an MSer's BFF. Not only this, but several very stressful events have unfolded over the past few weeks all at once. As Jordan and I have been moving forward in our ministry, the devil and his evil minions have been moving forward on us, too. We left our home church of ten years as a family, and over 100 years as an extended family. Only weeks ago, I was deeply hurt by a dear friend of many years and we have moved on and away from our relationship. This was like a death for my family and me, and I'm still dealing with the overall effects of it. Shortly after this our family cat Otis died, and my health has been steadily declining, although I've kept that to myself. Only my family sees what I go through when MS takes over, and even then I sometimes remain quiet so as not to stress or worry them.
      Basically, God is doing a steady "cutting off" of sorts with relationships and circumstances in our lives. We know He's taking our ministry to the next level, and we're more than grateful. However, it can be a very painful process when one gives up everything and says, "Here am I, Lord. Send me." I won't lie, sometimes I feel like giving up, but we focus on God rather than any pain. We consider these trials pure joy just as James says, and we know the end will bring glory to God.
      My boss had called me with an opportunity to work at the end of July and I wrote it into my schedule. But as the heat and summer progressed, so did my symptoms.
      I went up to MAC a couple of weeks ago to get some paper work from my boss. While there, we discussed how much I'd be able to work in the coming months. With permanent artists moving on and changes within the MAC team, she needed to know she could count on me for on-call hours. I'd also already signed up for my fall semester with six classes, three of them upper division English. I promised Saturdays and holidays but there was no way I could work during the week. After a week or so of wracking my brain for answers, I decided the best thing for me to do would be to only work holidays.
       Then I prayed.
      God, you've gotta show me something. I'm making myself sick over this. I didn't want to leave my job at MAC but staying wasn't looking too promising for me or my health. I had been in the bed for over a week just from the stress of deciding what to do on top of the heat of every day. How was I going to make this work? For three days last week I laid in the bed and cried and slept; I hardly ate and my nerves were completely shot giving my body a foreign feeling that I only have when I'm having a blip. My mind wasn't functioning to capacity and neither was my body. I won't detail everything; it's humiliating and there are some things about this disease that I don't publicize. Bottom line, I just couldn't get it together. I was a roller coaster of cars flying off of the tracks, their passengers unbuckled and barely holding on for life.
      Then God showed His sweet face.
      I had posted an article on my Facebook page concerning MS a couple of weeks ago. On Wednesday I was praying and had finally calmed down long enough to respond to some emails and messages on Messenger, and comments on Facebook. On this particular post was a comment from a gal I'd known for years, Lisa Hughes, that led me to believe she had MS. So I asked her, "Do you have MS, Lisa?" And she replied, "Yes."  I had no idea. The next thing I knew, I had an inbox message from her saying that she was diagnosed 13 years ago, but hadn't had a flare up in 5 years. She is now in remission. Now folks, I don't know if you remember this, but the ultimate goal for an MSer is either a cure or remission. It's kind of a really big deal to even meet someone in remission. I told her just a tiny bit of what I was going through...that I was tired and stressed. We talked back and forth for a few minutes about the disease and our struggles with it. It's nice to talk with someone every now and then who understands this MonSter. I had been so sick all week and wasn't used to it; I felt like I was spiraling out of control. Then Lisa said something that struck a chord in the depths of my heart: "I had been getting weaker and weaker, emotionally and physically....finally my body starting shutting down....and GOD SAT ME DOWN."
      I lost it. I couldn't even think as I heard my voice cry out in utter pain. I told her, "That's where I am and I'm so close remission! I can't go back now!" Then she told me she understood me. Then she told me her story.
      Lisa's lifelong dream was to be a teacher; as a child she taught her baby dolls. Ironically, this is something I did, too. She fulfilled her dream of teaching and was happy. Out of nowhere she started having problems with her vision, just as I have, a condition called optic neuritis. It can cause horrible migraines among other vision problems and can, at times, be impossible to deal with. But Lisa was persistent and wanted to remain at her post. God, on the other hand, said, "No. Not now." She finally caved to the beast and went to the doctor, where she begged and begged to go back to work. Her doctor, feeling cornered, finally said, "Okay. Go back to work. Enjoy it......................But I thought you wanted to walk the floor with your grandchildren one day....and I thought you wanted to walk down the aisle when your daughter gets married....I really thought you wanted to travel and enjoy time with your husband......  If you go back to work without healing or remission, you have a max of 5 years to walk and be healthy."
      FIVE. YEARS. 
      I thought about Jordan and that wife I want to be for him...the one he deserves. I thought about the running we want to do together....the 5k he encourages me to run, and the simple wish he has to run it with me beside him, no matter how slow I go. Gosh, that man loves me. I thought about being the lover and mate he deserves. I thought about Lilli....about being there for her for all of her activities, her life in general. I thought about having another baby, about holding my grandchildren, about walking across the stage to get my diploma in two years.
      I thought about walking.
      I thought about the time I'd missed with them. 
     What would they do with me in the bed or a wheelchair because I had this selfish need to accomplish every dream in the world I have in my blonde head? Because when it came right down to it, I was trying to prove to everyone in the world that MS wouldn't get the better of me. I was trying to prove to myself that MS wouldn't get the better of me.....that I'm strong and I can do this....  I left out one thing: GOD.
      What will happen to me if I relapse?
      I'll have nothing. I'll be nothing. I won't graduate. I won't work. I won't even be able to function enough to paint or write in my own home. This isn't about achieving my dreams; I lost my always-perfect-Jesus-vision and ran for "ooh, momentarily shiny!" It all became about me. That's not why I'm here, folks. I completely missed the mark. I suddenly felt like Peter on the stormy waters with Jesus. Peter knew He could walk on the water as long as He kept his eyes on his Savior. But the moment he took his eyes off of Jesus and tried to walk on his own, he began to sink. I'd taken my eyes off of the One who was allowing me to walk, and I was sinking.
      At that instant I called Jordan crying beyond my control from sheer happiness; I told him everything Lisa had said. "Wow....I think you've got your answer from God, Brandi." He'd been telling me for weeks; so had my parents. I then emailed my boss and resigned my position at MAC altogether. And an overwhelming peace that I'd been missing flooded my entire being, body and soul. My appetite was instantly back and all other functioning was in order. I could see, I wasn't crying from stress and fear, but from James' pure joy that can only come from the Lord.
      While it hurt to leave my MAC family and team, it hurt worse to not be in God's will for my life. My plans are to totally concentrate on school until I graduate. I have my own freelance makeup work I still plan to do, but I can schedule it how I feel and it's not demanding or stressful. But no matter what, my plans are back on track with God's rather than my own. Jeremiah 29:11 became more real to me this week than it has in a long time.
      What's the point to my story? So ya quit your job, who cares? It's like this, friends: God has sat me down before to get my attention, and I'd rather Him not have to do that again. I've always known that He wants what's best for me, but in light of Lisa's words, I now see it differently.  God has a plan for all of our lives. He not only wants the very best for us, but He wants the very best to benefit us for years and even generations to come. There's more to the plan than just Him handing us a blessing. He intricately weaves thousands of pieces of the blessing together to form the larger work of art that is us. Every person we meet, every circumstance we face, every word we speak, and everything we learn...from slumber to playtime, God is creating a masterpiece of our lives with each piece of who we are individually that will shine His glory and wonders, and spread His love and words. It's not about us. It's not about me. It's about Him.
         It's amazing how God works, isn't it. While I enjoyed my time at MAC and my teaching at CHS, I know what God wants for my life, and I knew it from the beginning; it never changed. All of this was a part of the bigger picture. He taught me so much through both experiences that have prepared me for the teacher and leader I'll one day be. And the opportunities to minister to others were always abundant. Oh, what people will say and ask while sitting in a makeup chair. Even now I'm fulfilling His plan for me, but in ways I may not be able to see just yet.  I'm meant to be a teacher and a singer; of these I'm sure. What all that entails, well, I still don't know for certain. But every day God shows me something new; a new color I didn't see before, a new stroke painted with a new brush....and every day I'm reminded of His sufficient grace in all of it.
       I've been watching my Master as He creates the work of art that is me. I'm only 31 so my design by His hand isn't exactly finished. Something new is put into place every single day. Over the past 31 years He has made me His constant daily project. He never puts down the brush, never runs out of paint....and always uses new colors. Bold, bright, and daring colors that surpass any we see in the rainbow. I'm in awe of the work in His hand....

   "...All good things....came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy."
  -Norman Maclean
     

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Difference Between Sugar and Salt

        Every year we see hundreds of summer photos taken by our friends and posted onto the nearest social networking website. While I must admit my greenness at viewing your wet-n-wild family getaway, I thoroughly enjoy seeing your family enjoy vacationing.
       Through this abundance of never ending salt watery filmography, the rest of us, from our humble and not so Caribbeanesque but certainly local abodes, get glimpses of your vacations to the beach with the following captions: Baby's First Time In the Ocean! King Crab Leg Dinner! Check Out My Sand Castle! I'm A Little Sunburned. (Insert sad face here.) I Caught A Shark! DISNEY WORLD!  Then we see photos of couples, their pink cheeks pressed together in the obligatory " we took this ourselves because we're just that talented and awesome" shot. And for 15 years, it never fails, we've all received the Christmas card of the khaki-and-white beach family.
        Don't be ashamed. We've all participated in the capturing of at least one or more of these photos, and we continue to do so. They speak volumes about our families, and the stress relief vacation offers is captured in our eyes. However overdone, we never get enough of these types of vacation photographs, etched eternally into our photo books and memories. 
       While they're all fun and each somehow different from the exact same one Instagrammed right before yours, there is one that isn't quite making the cut in my
book:  the "toes-in-the-sand.....and also, check-out-my-crotch" shot.  
      The point of the "toes in the sand" photograph is to capture the essence of the beach: the first time one walks onto the sand after a long day of driving from North Georgia; the softness of the white earth slipping between her toes but sticking to her ankles as her heels spray the fine shimmery particles behind her; the smell of the salty ocean breeze as it whips her hair around her face and neck in a constant temperature battle with the fiery sun above, both tingling the skin and urging her to jump into the water for cooling. The water. The blue-green waves wrestle one another in attempt to engulf her ankles where she stands: on the sand. It glistens like a sea of unburied treasure, reflecting the light of God's first creation as the wonder of it all pulls the heart of every living thing to it. 
      If I close my eyes I'm almost there......almost.......
      But if I open my eyes I see your dang bikini-bottomed crotch and thighs, and this only reminds me of how hot and sticky it is. I've gotta lug all of my crap out there in the heat of the desert. Did I get the SPF 187? Did I get the umbrella? What about all of the towels? Shoot, I forgot the flippin' cooler so now I'm gonna have to walk back to the condo. Gah! Are you kidding me?! Sand is already rubbing my thighs raw and crap....is that a sand spur stuck between my shoe and my big toe?! CUSS!!! 
      See, a close up of your bikini bottom is between you, Jesus, and your husband if you have one. Think of it like this: when you post a photo of your toes in the sweet summer sand prefaced by your baby-maker (which has absolutely nothing to do with the price of tea in China let alone the ocean) you're misplacing the focus of the beach experience. No one that looks at your photo is thinking of your toes in the sand; and every male that "likes" your photo is definitely not looking at your fresh pedicure.......unless he's gay. 
       Hot pink bottom line, scenery, families, and other body parts considered bathing suitable for viewing should make the Summer Vacay memory book share. However, the view down undie might ought to be saved for the hubby. 
       With all of the vulgarity seen on social sites, television, and in other media, it is a constant struggle for women, especially teen girls, to hold the force pushing their boundaries. However, ladies, there is a simple answer for us: be the difference. The Bible tells us that as Christ-followers we are called out and set apart. As women of God we should be the example to an otherwise dying world. Even in imagination, you belong to your husband. Don't sacrifice your body for the two minute thrill of seeing a boy press the heart button on a snapshot of what doesn't belong to him.
       Be the Proverbs 31 young woman whose husband and children praise her and respect her. Be the woman the Creator of the beach created you to be, as different and unique as every wave that washes ashore. Be the difference between the sugary sand and the salty water. Don't be another Instagram beach photo exactly like the one before it.