I just got home from vacation. My little family was able to spend 10 non-stop days together. It was so amazing. The nice thing about being a photographer is I get to take my camera with me. Sometimes I set up sessions and pay for our trip with the money I earn. This time however, we started our vacation in Las Vegas, the home of my in-laws. And, this time, the money I earned went directly to a fund for my sister in law, Erika.
I haven't really had a chance to write out my feelings about my experience serving her in this way. And even now as I type this, I am overcome with emotion I honestly didn't realize I was feeling. I will try my best to be coherent.
Erika has been sick for a really long time. She was born with epilepsy, and because of the heavy amounts of drugs the doctors put her on, it damaged her liver beyond repair when she was just 7. She was lucky enough to receive a liver transplant (donated by a young man who died in a motorcycle accident) when she was 8. Her family sacrificed tremendously to see to it that their little girl lived and healed. And all through it, Erika smiled, and was so brave. Her outlook on life was never "why me?" or "poor me." She always stayed positive. Even when it was really, really hard. At some point during this time, (this was in the 80's) she received a blood transfusion that was tainted with Hepatitis C, and she contracted this horrible disease. So, they had to work extra hard to keep her liver from failing. The doctors expected her liver to last maybe 10 years.
Here she is, about to have her 36th birthday, (which is something that the doctors never quite expected) and she again is in need of medical intervention. Not only is her liver failing her, her kidneys are as well. She also was recently diagnosed with Pancreatitis, and she has bouts of infection which land her in the hospital every now and then. But lately, it seems to be more frequent. Because her liver is failing her, she is retaining a lot of fluid in her tummy. So much so that she looks about 10 months pregnant. I can only imagine that she feels embarrassed at the thought that people think she might be expecting... though she's never said anything to me about it. She remains positive and kind through all of this. She does nothing but serve others, and loves the Lord with all of her heart. She has learned to trust in His miracles.
I honestly didn't realize how severe her situation was, but I wanted to help. There is a medicine that has no side effects and doesn't hurt her liver that helps control her seizures. Her insurance doesn't cover it. Each bottle costs $150. I talked to my husband, and we agreed to buy a bottle for her, even though my mother in law worried about our finances. But what more could I do? We didn't always have an extra $150 lying around. So, I came up with an idea. We had a vacation coming up, and we could start out in Las Vegas, and I could do some photo sessions and all the money could go to getting Erika more medicine. So, Kathy, my mother in law, tried her hardest to spread the word, and a dear friend of hers sent out a mass email to everyone she knew trying to raise awareness for our cause. People who didn't even know Erika were so moved at her situation that they sent money even if they didn't need photo sessions. And some signed up for sessions. I personally was able to earn $375 for her medicine... Something that made me so happy.
I cannot express to you the awe I was in when I found out that so many people stepped up to help her. Even the families that I met, some knew her better than others, and some didn't even know her at all, except for the updates that they sometimes got through those emails. The hearts of these people overwhelmed me. So much love. So much kindness. So much generosity. So much concern.
I didn't do hard labor as a way of service. There were no trees to chop down, or firewood to cut. There were no yards to rake or fences to put up, or roofs that needed new shingles. I only had a camera and a willingness to do something good for someone who needed it. And I have to tell you that serving Erika in this way, helped me tremendously.
So often, I get caught up in worldly things. Things that are trivial but which seem important. In so doing this, I feel farther away from God. It's harder for me to see His hand in this world. Through this tiny act of service, the heavens seemed to open and my heart was so touched by sacrificing a little of my time to help someone else. And because of that, I was able to actually take a moment and breathe in His love for me. And not only that, but see the goodness in so many people. Some who wanted to stay anonymous, and others who could "only give a little." The outpouring of love was incredible.
I will be posting photos in the near future of the people I was able to meet and photograph, but until then, I just want to say this, if there is anything that I have learned from Erika it is to trust in the Lord, and treat others with kindness and grace. To try to feel of God's love for you every day... and I suggest starting with serving those around you.