Arms Lifted


Back in 2011, when the pain started in my left hip, and then moved to my right hip, I was concerned. I could barely walk, and with each step accompanied by distressing pain, I was forced to sit still for a good portion of my days.

When it spread to my right shoulder, leaving me unable to lift or use my right arm, I was terrified. I couldn't wave. I couldn't throw. I couldn't lift my children. My youngest wasn't even a year old at the time. I couldn't hug them with both arms.

I was living with broken hips and a broken shoulder, but they were not going to heal on their own as most broken bones do.

There was a larger problem that my doctors could not [and still cannot] figure out. I was clotting severely, so much so that the blood wasn't reaching my bones, and my bones were dying. I was also dealing with autoimmunity for the first time in life, and was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome. In a matter of months, I went from a nearly perfect health profile to an absolutely scary one.

I was telling my doctors what I believed the cause was [the Mirena IUD, which was inserted about 6 months earlier], but they refused to acknowledge that because there are no studies to back it up [not because studies disprove this, but because they don't exist - help me to change that HERE]. Although I wasn't even considering a lawsuit at the time, perhaps they feared I would involve them in a legal battle. I saw just about every type of doctor you could imagine. I had countless tubes of blood drawn. But still, they concluded my case as idiopathic, meaning no known cause.

I felt like they weren't listening. I felt like they didn't care.

It was a dark time for me, because I never felt more at odds with myself or the professionals I trusted with my care. My well-being.

I tapped into my faith like never before. I gave it all to God. It was beyond my control.

For the first time in a long time, perhaps forever, I let faith alone guide my decisions.

I had the Mirena IUD removed, and the Avascular Necrosis never spread to my left shoulder, which was unique compared to most cases of Avascular Necrosis that quickly progress from one side to the next [like it did in my hips]. I started scheduling corrective surgeries, one right after the other, every 6 weeks for about 6 months. I needed to get back on my feet. I needed to lift my arm again. I had core decompressions surgeries on both hips and my shoulder. When my left hip collapsed, I had it replaced. Both hips have proved to be too damaged to benefit from core decompression surgery, meaning my right hip will also need to be replaced soon.

But in my shoulder, which was the final joint to become affected, I saw steady improvement. During physical therapy sessions, I could raise my right arm a little higher each time. I could lift things that were a little heavier.

Through all of this, I continued to lean on God. I prayed for healing, patience, understanding. I asked for His continuous guidance.

After six months of being in a wheelchair and heavily relying on aides, I took my first independent steps into my church on a Sunday in August of 2012. Instead of sitting in the back of worship in a wheelchair, I was finally walking up the aisle when the band began to play the most fitting of songs, Never Once. It was a powerful moment, and I felt the Lord's presence perhaps more prominently than ever before.

About a year and half later, I started training as a sound technician during the worship services. During my first night of training the band played Never Once. I smiled inconspicuously, knowing that I was in the right place. On the right path. I faithfully listened, and here I was.

Last week, my husband and I were invited to lead worship in a choir-of-sorts from the stage. I wanted to put it all out there, to lift my arms to Him, and show Him praise.

The night before I wasn't sure if my right shoulder would cooperate. I knew it was drastically improved. But I still can't throw. I have limited mobility and strength. Even at rehearsal earlier in the week, I didn't even attempt to lift my right arm, fearing it wouldn't make it in the air.

That Saturday night, I prayed again. I reflected on how far I'd come and how many of my past prayers had been answered. I even expressed in prayer that I'd already received more than enough of His grace — more than I felt I deserved.

The next morning at church, it became apparent that God wasn't done with me yet. Without pain through three consecutive songs, and for two back-to-back services, my arms were lifted. Both of them. During the services, I relied on God. And I gained the confidence to once again rely on my right shoulder.

Perhaps that ability had been there, and I just didn't know it. Lately, I'd been too comfortable. I was starting to settle. I was returning to making decisions that weren't guided by faith. While I wasn't completely out of the darkness I'd once experienced, I was certainly enjoying the light. And I was beginning to take that for granted.

If I could seek His constant guidance through the darkness, I needed to praise Him and continue to seek Him as I stood in the light.

Though I still seek answers to questions about my health, I've learned to focus more on the answers I've already received.

I do not lift my arms to Him simply because I can. I lift them with purpose — the purpose He gives me.

"So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands."
-- Psalm 63:4

The Magic Kingdom in One Day (with toddlers)

The Magic Kingdom in one day? *GASP*

With toddlers? *DOUBLE GASP*

I'm here to tell you that it's not only possible, it can be enjoyable, too.

Our family of five [children ages 3, 5 and 13] set out for Florida the week after school let out [for us, this is the second week in June]. We had plenty of other things planned, but while our daughter's [age 5] world still revolved around Disney princesses, we couldn't pass up going to the Magic Kingdom. We decided on just one day at Disney, which for a family of five is about $500.00. Our youngest [3] still takes daily naps [and, sometimes, still poops his pants], so we weren't ready yet for the full Walt Disney World experience.

We started by deciding which day of the week we would go. Disney is always going to be busy. But their website indicated that Monday, Thursday and Saturday were the busiest days of the week in the Magic Kingdom. So, we went on Wednesday. We didn't have another day to compare it to, but I'd say our choice to go in the middle of the week was a good one. Most of the lines we waited in were about 30 minutes. The longest line we waited in was one hour.

Leading up to our trip, I packed everything separately that we would need for our day at the park. Doing this ahead of time, and with careful thought was key to our success. Here is a list of everything we took to the Magic Kingdom in a book bag:

  • Two small ponchos

  • Small first aid kit

  • Stroller hooks [1 large for stroller to hang book bag, 1 small to hang water bottles on the book bag loop]

  • Two Brita water bottles with filter [we filled up at water fountains]

  • Ziplock bag w/ pin backs

  • notebooks and pens [for character signatures]

  • Sunscreen

  • Jackery Bar portable charger [charges up three iPhones fully]

  • Snacks/Sandwiches

  • Glow sticks/necklaces

  • Phone charger(s)/charging station

  • Change of clothes for the kids

  • diapers/wipes

  • Lanyards for Disney pins [one for each child]

  • We definitely wanted our daughter to experience the Bippidi Boppidi Boutique. But we didn't necessarily want to use precious park time to make this happen. So, we made reservations at the Bippidi Boppidi Boutique in Downtown Disney for Tuesday night [the night before we visited the Magic Kingdom]. There are two boutiques you can make reservations at: One in Downtown Disney, and another in Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom. For the Downtown Disney location, you don't have to have a ticket [and parking is free]. It's mostly shops and restaurants with a couple of small rides.

    We had dinner at T-Rex. We were never able to make reservations ahead of time [because they were filled], so we went straight there and put our names on the wait list. We had about 45 minutes until our table would be ready, so the kids rode the carousel, the train ride, and played with Legos at the Lego store until it was time to eat.

    After dinner, we headed over to the Bippidi Boppidi Boutique, where our daughter [5] and youngest son [3] had reservations. The 13-year-old was completely uninterested in this, but I think he secretly found delight in his younger siblings' experience. We got the Knight Package [$18.95] for our son, which included a thick foam sword and shield and a cool hairdo. We did the Crown Package [$59.95] for our daughter, which included a princess hairstyle and make-up, a princess sash and tote, and she got her nails did. We took a Cinderella dress with us to save money, but once she saw all of the dresses in the store, she had to have one. And we were slightly expecting that anyhow. The fit of that dress was much better though. And just FYI - Elsa dresses are only available in the Boutique [with a package], but not for sale in the store.

    We purchased Disney's Memory Maker package [$149.00]. I was really on the fence about purchasing this, but decided to go for it, because I knew I'd end up buying enough photos of us that would add up to at least $150.00. This was an excellent choice. They documented their entire experience at the Bippidi Boppidi Boutique, and there was a portrait center in Downtown Disney where they had extra photos taken. All of our photos were included for free because of the Memory Maker package. In fact, I felt like we were getting special treatment and extra photos when we mentioned we purchased it [but maybe they actually make everyone feel that special, and I was just hoping we were extra special].

    After the boutique, our daughter could not stop looking at herself in the mirror for the rest of the night, until eventually she laid her princess head down and fell asleep, tiara and all. This worked out well, because she was all dolled up and ready for the Magic Kingdom the next morning.

    Another thing we wanted to do was the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Walt Disney World Speedway. The oldest [13] did the junior ride along experience, and my husband did the ride along experience [you have to be at least 14 for this]. This included 3 laps in a NASCAR race car. For this, you do have to have a ticket to the Magic Kingdom. But still knowing our park time was precious, we booked it for the earliest possible time, 9:30 a.m. To get to the racetrack, there was a race way shuttle that picked us up from the Lost and Found building outside of the Magic Kingdom gates. We were picked up by 9 a.m. and they were riding by 9:30 a.m. The shuttle had us back to the entrance by 10:30 a.m. The photos taken here were, unfortunately, not included in the Memory Maker package. There were photos with plaques and videos offered to us for sale after the rides. I would have purchased the plaques, but didn't want to carry them around all day since we already had plenty of cargo. I was told that they are a separate company from WDW, but just located on their property.

    Using the MyDisney app, we made reservations at Tony's Town Square Restaurant for 11:00 a.m. This gave us enough time to meet TinkerBell and Mickey Mouse, who are housed in the same building. We also had some extra time to step out into the Town Square to meet Pluto. At Tony's, I ordered a Margherita Pizza, and I kid you not, it was the best pizza I've ever had! The whole family agreed that the food was reasonably priced and delicious (and kid-friendly). I've been craving more of their pizza since we left there.

    After lunch, our FastPasses were ready to kick into full gear. We were each given three FastPasses to use. We chose our fast pass experiences [and times] using the MyDisney app. We did not purchase Magic Bands, because our admission cards worked just as well [that is what you use to scan your FastPass if you don't have a Magic Band]. You have a one-hour timeframe in which to use each Fast Pass. If you show up five minutes early, or five minutes late, your FastPass will not register [I saw this happen to others]. We weren't sure if we wanted to split up, so we all used the same times and locations for our FastPasses.

    We used one FastPass early in the afternoon to meet Cinderella and Rapunzel at the Princess Hall. With our FastPass, it took about 15 minutes. The regular waiting time was one hour, so I felt like this was an excellent choice. We would have used a FastPass to meet Anna and Elsa, but I was never given that option, so if anyone knows the secret to getting a Fast Pass to see them, do tell! I never did see anyone go to see them using a Fast Pass, so perhaps that's not an option yet. Those girls sure are exclusive, huh?

    We used another FastPass to meet Ariel and we basically walked right in to see her. The regular wait was about 30 minutes, so we probably would have been better off using this Fast Pass for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or the Dumbo ride [which was about a 45-minute wait].

    We used the last FastPass for Ariel's Journey Under the Sea ride. We waited about 10 minutes with our FastPass, and the regular line was about a 45-minute wait. I felt pretty good about our use of the FastPass for that one.

    We stayed in FantasyLand for majority of the day. That's also where we chose all of our FastPasses, so we wouldn't be too far from our time-sensitive destinations. By about 3 p.m., we headed to Tomorrowland. We rode the Tomorrowland Speedway [which would have been another good option for the Fast Pass]. Then, my husband and oldest son rode Space Mountain, while the "littles" and I danced with the Incredibles. Shortly after, the youngest took a quick power nap in the shade while my daughter had some ice cream.

    By 6 p.m., we were heading over to Frontierland and Adventureland. By this point, we got very picky about the rides we went on. We only rode Jungle Cruise in Adventureland, and Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland. Either of those also would have been an excellent pick for the FastPass. We waited about one-hour in line for each.

    We didn't make any dinner reservations. We needed some freedom to go and do as we pleased after most of our morning and early afternoon was reserved activities. We actually packed up snacks and sandwiches in a lunch bag and scarfed those down as we kept moving. I really don't know if we were allowed to bring in sandwiches, but we were much too hungry to care.

    We snuck back over to Fantasyland for a bit. Throughout the day, each time we saw a Disney photographer, we took a photo and added it to our MemoryMaker account using a card that they scanned. I had hoped by this point [about 8 p.m.] that the line for Anna and Elsa had gone down some. But it was a 120-minute wait, so we never did meet them. There was no way the "littles" were going to wait in a 2-hour line to do anything. That was a bit of bummer, but we didn't let it get us down.

    We rode a few more quick rides in Fantasyland, and then headed back to the Town Center to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade at 9 p.m. The kids were exhausted at this point [we were, too], but the smiles on their faces gave us enough energy to stick it out. We got a perfect spot on the curb of the main circle in the Town Center. This got the kids up close and personal with the parade characters, and it was close to the park exit. One of Cinderella's mouses came over and bowed to our daughter, who was still dressed up as Cinderella. She clearly felt very special by this gesture.

    We took the ferry back to the parking lot, and drove off as the fireworks blasted over top of the trees.

    A 13-hour day had never gone by faster, or been more magical. From just one night at Downtown Disney, and one day in Magic Kingdom, we ended up with about 105 cherished, captured moments [many that included ALL of us, and we didn't have to lug a camera around]. Then, there's the countless memories housed in our brains. With exception of one [maybe two] of our FastPass choices, and the fact that we probably won't do the Richard Petty Driving Experience again [been there, done that, but we'd consider it], I'd do it all the same again.

    Oh, and in case you were wondering, our 3-year-old didn't even poop his pants while we were there. Yep, it's magical.

    Nine Lovely Days


    I graduated college on a Friday in June of 2002. That following Monday, I did what everyone else in my family (five generations back to be exact) had done. I got a job at the local shipyard. I was a young mother at the time — my son was almost two years old, which meant there was no time for a graduation trip or time off before entering the "real world."

    Twelve years had passed, and I still hadn't managed to take a full week off of work.

    So much had changed from then to now. I got divorced. I got a new job. I got remarried. I had two more children. I had four surgeries. Since I was only actually paid for four weeks of maternity leave (but needed six), and I chose not to take disability leave after my surgeries (using vacation instead). I struggled to accrue enough time off for any type of extended vacation.

    But this month, that changed.

    We finally did it. Our family of five managed a vacation that lasted nine whole days.

    Nine lovely days.

    About a month prior, I had a cortisone injection in my hip joint. I'd hoped it would last, but it didn't. Still, despite the pain, I went. I was beyond determined to make this trip happen. I needed it. We all needed it.

    We were going to Florida. And even if my family had to wheel me in a chair (which they didn't), we were going to Disney World.

    We started planning at the start of the new year. We even made an agenda for our trip, which was really more of an outline of options than a 'must-do' list.

    I stared at the agenda, updating it constantly right up until the day before we left, and daydreaming about how some it would play out.

    Two days of driving. Three days with my best friend and her family. Several days at the resort, swimming and doing other activities. One day at Downtown Disney. One day at LegoLand. And one very full day at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

    On the road, the kids (ages 3, 5 and 13) cooperated much better than anticipated, with no major meltdowns along the way. Spending time with my best friend and her family was instant Chicken Soup for my Soul.

    The Magic Kingdom was as magical as I remembered it as a child, and if you are interested, I go into [a lot] more detail about that day in another post: The Magic Kingdom in One Day (with toddlers).

    I can safely say that it was far better than any daydream I conjured up.

    I didn't daydream the moment when my daughter, who was dressed as Cinderella, got Cinderella's autograph in her book, and walked away hugging the book to her heart while letting out a happy sigh that brought tears to my eyes. That was real.

    I didn't daydream my youngest son constantly climbing up and zipping down the water slide at LegoLand with a boisterous laughter that seemed to be volumes above the dozens of other children playing in the area. That was real.

    I didn't daydream my oldest son grabbing for my hand in public as we walked from the arcade to the ice cream parlor. That's something he hasn't done in years, but something I sorely missed. That was real.

    I didn't daydream my daughter practicing a song she titled, "I love you," before performing it for my oldest son. Or how she would learn to swim all by herself for the first time. Or how our youngest would do 180s from the side of the pool, only taking breaks to eat watermelon or to hug his [stuffed] baby lion. Or how my husband and I could do more laughing than stressing, and talk about things other than what we needed to accomplish the next day and who needed to take the kids where at what time.

    We all only needed to be with each other. Having fun. Spending undistracted time together. Making unforgettable memories. And even relaxing some.

    For nine lovely days.

    I'm so glad I didn't let my pain hold me back.

    Long vacations may not have been a thing of my past, but they are certainly a thing of our future.


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