One of the most precious things that can come from having a chronic illness is the people it brings into your life.
Last January (2017) I finally decided to join the Facebook page for Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2).
Whenever you receive a diagnosis, medical professionals, family, and friends often encourage you to find a support group or an outlet where you can relate to others.
But—for me, it was too much to handle after my diagnosis.
I was afraid to get caught up in what might happen to me and figured that I should wait.
Eventually, though, I decided that my need to connect with people who understood what I was going through was greater than my apprehension.
As I scrolled through the page, the following comment caught my attention:
“…we have about 4 days to take our daughter Andrea to Disney World, any recommendation on where to stay that is affordable?”
Upon seeing that post by Christine, a sweet mom from South Africa whose 12-year-old daughter has NF2, I immediately turned to my husband and said, “we have to do something.”
At the time, my husband was working as an engineer at Walt Disney World, which meant we had free tickets and connections.
After exchanging a few messages with Christine, she agreed to let us help make their trip a bit more magical.
The next day, we called our parents to let them know about our plan to host this family.
We explained that they were bringing their daughter to America since she was unable to receive proper treatment in South Africa and that they wanted to include Disney World as part of their trip.
Our family immediately jumped on board, and our plan spiraled from there.
Suddenly, my life had a whole new meaning: we were going to give this family the trip of a lifetime.
A few months later, the Pelzer family arrived.
Little did they know, earlier that morning my husband and a friend had snuck into their hotel room to decorate it.
Along with a welcome package, we wrote a card informing them of all the things their Disney vacation included.
Thanks to our amazing family, some incredible friends, and a lot of Disney magic, we were able to surprise them with a 4-night stay at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, park tickets, meal-plans, and unlimited photo passes [with a few extra surprises throughout their trip]—all for FREE!
On the third day of their vacation, we had planned a special surprise at Magic Kingdom for Andrea.
With the help of some of my husband’s wonderful co-workers, we received a VIP experience throughout the park—complete with unlimited fast passes, skipping the lines to meet ALL of the Disney Princesses, free ice cream, and front row seats for the parade.
As we hugged them goodbye on their last day, I couldn’t help but feel like crying.
After spending the past few months planning this trip for a family we had never met from a country we had never been to, it was over.
In such a short time, they had become so dear to us.
We bonded over mutual health problems and our love for Disney—it’s amazing how quickly they started to feel like family. It also helped me to realize how important it is to connect with people who can genuinely share your experiences.
Driving away that day, my husband and I were both in awe of God’s plan. Our idea to help this family had turned into an even greater gift for us.
A powerful tactic for coping with an illness is using it to help someone else.
For me, planning that family’s Disney vacation gave my condition more purpose than I could ever have imagined.
It gave us a chance to connect with an incredible family facing the same struggle we are and gave us a glimpse of how much God can use my diagnosis.
[It’s also the reason we decided to make South Africa the first destination of our international travel!]
So as we begin 2018, I encourage you, whether you have a chronic illness or not, look for the opportunities where you can use whatever pain, struggle, or hardships you’ve experienced as a chance to bless someone else.
You never know what might happen when you turn the bitter parts of your life into metaphorical lemonade.
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