By Dawn Graczyk, Sunshine Mom
To those who have donated, prayed, followed, helped—
It is time to express what this trip meant to me and my girls. Normally, what I want to write flows right through my fingertips onto the keyboard. One idea leads to another with great ease and fluency. This time, this topic has me blocked with the question of HOW?
I don’t think it’s possible to capture the immensity of emotion, joy, and blessing that abounded on this trip. There are some things words cannot express, and my attempts will be feeble at best. But I will try.
This trip was conceived from the words, “two, maybe five years, if she stays healthy. After two years things will be very hard.” Two years. A blink. A vapor carried away on a breeze. I knew this, in my heart, but to hear it from a doctor still left me stunned and sorrowful. It was clear that the long awaited treatment or cure would not be in time for my daughter.
Two days, two months, two years; is there a difference if it is not lived fully? Does it benefit us to remain at home, waiting for the climax and conclusion of our story? The meaning, the heart, of a story is in the middle. Here is where we embrace joy and create memories that will last us into the future. These are the pages we will turn to again and again when the finality of the end is too much.
Going Was Not a Question
I was moved to go. It was not a question.
As I spoke with Spreading Sunshine and others, people began to use words like brave and fearless. No. This was neither of those things on my part. I am scared. This is one part of a journey that leaves me unable to breathe if I think too long about the future. I am facing the greatest of nightmares.
A few days before our trip began, the eastern pipeline was hacked. How would we drive up the East Coast without gas?
Partway through our Orlando trip, Marissa needed emergency surgery. Was this a terrible idea after all? We were met with hotel room shortages. Money ran thin. We didn’t believe we would have the money for a rental car, much less find one because there was a rental car shortage, but a donor met that need.
Just days before we were scheduled to fly back to Missouri, COVID began to go crazy again with Missouri at it’s epicenter.
God Turns the Page of Our Story
Had I known the challenges that we would meet on the journey, I don’t know if I could have gone. On more than one occasion when the money ran thin I said to God, “Lord, we aren’t even going to have enough to get home. You are going to have to send a miracle.” Then I would let it go. Whatever we needed, it showed up. God’s provision never failed.
So often, when God sets us on a path, we start looking ahead and asking questions. Why, Lord? How, Father? I am often frustrated by the lack of answers He provides to what I deem imperative questions. I ask. He says go. I ask again. He is silent. On this trip, in two month’s time, I learned that His silence is not cruelty. It is protection.
God knows what is coming. He has written our story and allows us to read just enough every day to keep us reliant on Him, encouraged, and keep reading. If we read ahead, we may give up, toss the book aside, and refuse to move. By keeping some answers, some chapters, closed to us, He protects us.
An Abundance of Kindness
Many say the nation is divided, but we experienced an abundance of kindness. Each stop of the trip provided a miraculous moment that could only have been orchestrated by the Author. We developed friendships that could only have happened with careful and intentional placing and character development. This was, as they say in the South, “a God thang,” and as He worked out the smallest and most unfathomable details, my faith increased.
We learned that true love and friendship is not killed by time or distance and that reuniting is one of the most beautiful gifts. We learned to embrace the time together, rather than focus on how quickly it would end. We shed so many tears saying goodbye. So many tears. How precious it is to me now, knowing that one day we will all be together with no more goodbyes.
This part of our story is over now, but the lessons and memories will never leave. When the future looks scary, I will return to a chapter.
We spoke with and spent time with individuals from every region of the country and many nationalities. We spoke of faith. We knew those of faith by the way they smiled over weariness. It was in the way they treated those around them, their generosity, patience, and desire to love others.
Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.”
We experienced this.
We were taught that regardless of our many differences, we are united by our humanness. From the homeless to the wealthy; atheists to Christians; citizens to migrants: we are all human beings and part of the story of the great Author. When we recognize this, the walls we have put up drop and we experience relationships in entirely new ways. Bonds are formed that cannot be broken and brief encounters are etched in our memory forever, leaving us wondering, Was that an angel? The light of Christ shines. When we become dependent and our security is stripped away, we see the light so much more clearly. When dark days come, our memory of that light will carry us.
So many times I’ve wished I were more docile. I’ve been told I need to shed my stubborn will and independent nature. On this trip, I learned that God had a plan in creating me as He did. The experiences that hurt me were used to mold me into the woman and mother that God, and my family need me to be. I learned that I am OK. I really am OK just as I am. God loves me. I had been chasing this truth, looking for the path that would guarantee this level of love and acceptance. It was always here. I am okay, and I am loved. It’s that simple and that amazing.
Every Moment Counted
I spent time alone with my daughters for the first time since my first son was born. I ran headlong into the waves, holding Anneliese’s hand, crushed by its weight as it hit us. Laughing when we got back up. Rejoicing in an understanding that no matter how many times life knocks us down, we can get back up together.
Oh, how we laughed. There was so much unrestrained joy on this trip. Knowing we had little to no control freed us. There were difficult days when it seemed I cried a lifetime of tears. We argued from time to time as mothers and daughters do. But when it mattered, after the tears were cried, we laughed in the face of adversity.
We stared down the challenge and told life, “You will not crush us.” Once, in a particularly difficult situation, my teenager started laughing uproariously. Seeing I was taken aback, she said, “Mom, it’s like you always say: laugh or cry. I choose to laugh.”
We grabbed every opportunity God offered. We made memories in the big moments, like climbing the scariest neighborhood hill to the Hollywood sign. We made memories in the quieter moments, making sushi, visiting friends, sitting in silence with friends. What we thought were small moments; what people apologized for as “I’m sorry we can’t do more,” were the greatest moments.
Whatever You Offered — God Used It
This part of our story is over now, but the lessons and memories will never leave. When the future looks scary, I will return to a chapter. I will remember myself panicked, praying, “God, I need a miracle.” I will remember myself driving down the mountain pass in the middle of the night, praying and singing hymns to prevent utter panic, and arriving at the bottom with complete confidence that God carried me through on melodies of praise sung for generations. I read my favorite memories again and I cling to my assurance. He will continue to walk with me and provide for me. When it is too hard, He will carry me.
These are just words. As a form of thank you and extension of my love for all who helped, it seems little, but even now, God reminds me of the joy I felt on the trip, when I was able to bless someone else. I hope that those who helped are reading this and feeling a warmness surrounding their hearts that few things can duplicate.
In the end, all I can give you is my gratitude and the knowledge that you were used mightily by God. Whatever you offered, God used it, multiplied it, blessed it.
In the end all I have is
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