(First seen on The Young Houston Magazine)
“He, that began a good work in you, will carry it out until the day of completion in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6
“So do not throw away your confidence, for it will be richly rewarded.” – Hebrews 10:35
“Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him.” – Job 13:15
I know a lot of people who have done amazing things, and some who are en route to doing amazing things, and they all have one thing in common: they’re in my age group…
Back in high school, I remember Time Magazine publishing an article that said my generation, the class of 2007 and surrounding age groups, would be the generation to change the world. Talk about pressure! I took that article to heart, and decided that’s exactly what I was going to do. I, along with my fellow superhero classmates, was going to “heal the world we live in and save it for our children” by starting with the “man in the mirror”…or something. So I set out my list of goals, and got on my way to pursuing them, caution be darned. I. WAS. GOING. TO BE. FAMOUS. Everyone knew I was going to be the First Black Female President. Or Oprah. Either/or. And I knew it, too…
…and that’s when life came to a screeching halt.
On my road to becoming a journalist-by-day/backup dancer-for-Janet Jackson/Laker Girl/Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader by night, I discovered (while trying to lose weight for prom) a weird muscle in my abs. Not being fully convinced that my kajillion crunches a day were just developing like this, I asked my doctor. She looked at it and freaked. It was my liver. It hadn’t been draining properly and was so distended that I looked pregnant…and people didn’t fail to ask me if I was. Imagine being an 18-year-old girl who constantly gets asked if she’s pregnant. (Or worse….some thought I was just fat.)
The next few months were a blur. Reportedly, I had doctors tell me a plethora of medical treatments I would have to receive (the biggest being a liver transplant) and limitations I would have to put on physical and social activity. I honestly don’t remember any of this. I think my mind blocked it out because it was so traumatic to think that, instead of moving to LA immediately after high school and becoming a dancer, I might have to do something else. Also, my eyes were yellowing more and more by the day, causing my self-esteem to drop exponentially (if you could put a number value on that sort of thing?). All I know is I graduated high school, and the week before I went off to college in a new state where I only knew 2 other people from high school, I had a drain put in my liver that I had to empty a couple times daily…that proceeded to leak on the first day of class.
That was 2007. A year that should have gone down for me as a year of new beginnings and exciting experiences would forever be marred for me as the Year of the Giant Halt. I remember crying everyday my first semester of college because all I wanted to do was make bad decisions like my classmates. And sure, I made my share, but I was always coddled by friends who would remind people, “Hope is sick.”
My faith never weakened and I stood on every scripture and prayed every prayer and believed every prophesy, whether or not I happened to be speaking to God that week. But I was just so sad.
No one knew. To this day people don’t know how sad and lonely I felt, and after reading this they still won’t because words can’t express that. And I love that. I find that there are some emotions that others don’t need to feel with you. The last thing I needed was a shoulder to cry on; I needed some to stand on. I found some, and they stood on every scripture and prayed every prayer and believed every prophesy with me, whether or not they truly knew if I would survive the disease. For that, I am so very grateful.
I graduated college in 3 ½ years. I remember feeling so played as I left college. Like, OK, I finished. But I’m still sick and I look and feel even worse than when I got here. So what now? I can’t go back home and start dancing because I don’t have enough stamina. What job is going to hire me? I’m a liability and I get tired after 4 hours of sitting still, let alone having to work for 8 hours. I stayed at home a lot during that time, and I learned the Art of Resting. (Seriously, y’all. I could teach a class on how to chill.) I would often feel in my gut that I was very close to getting a liver transplant. Those were the good days. But most days, I would cry myself to sleep, wondering what I was supposed to learn from it all. And then there were days when I would just try to will myself to get out of my own body. If you want to talk about hopelessness, that’s the epitome.
At the end of 2012, the worst year of my entire life, I was in and out of the hospital so many times I can’t even count. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even tell people I was there because it was so normal. I was having to get a blood transfusion every 6 weeks, I was too tired to drive myself anywhere, and I was asking other people to walk my dog because it wore me out so badly. My body was fighting itself, and I had come to terms with the fact that I might never get to change the world because I was going to leave it.
March 8, 2013, I woke up to try and walk my dog myself. I went to the bathroom and realized I couldn’t pee. I figured I just didn’t need to and I just went out of habit. I noticed my stomach was cramping a bit so I returned to my room and sat on my bed. Then I woke up 3 hours later. Apparently, I had passed out. I was freezing cold so I turned on the heater and put on a sweatshirt. In March. In TEXAS. That’s when I realized I couldn’t breathe. After freaking out 2 of my friends by calling them and telling them that little fact, I called my mother to come get me. She walked in, (side bar – unbeknownst to me, my dad made himself and my mother keys to my apartment about a week before – LOOK AT GOD!), walked my dog while I prayed for strength to get dressed and down the stairs, and we went to the hospital.
Upon arrival, my whole body hurt and I was only breathing 40% by myself. I just remember the ER doctor telling me, “You are very sick.” Again, I don’t remember very much about that week. I do remember this much, though:
The night of March 14, as my family slept in chairs in my room in the ICU, I thought about all the people I knew and loved, and their faces came into my mind. Every single one of them. I prayed, “God. I’m OK if I die. But please just don’t let anyone miss me. I don’t want them to care because I don’t want them to be sad. Let them not be sad, and let them go on and live their happy lives as if I never existed. But I just have one question: why would you give me all these dreams if I was just gonna die young?”
That very night, the first doctor I had ever seen about my liver disease (many of my doctors came by that week…most likely to say ‘goodbye’) came into my room and said, “Well, there’s nothing else we can do. So we can send you home, or we can give you this liver that just came in.” BOOM. I was getting a liver!
At 5:00 a.m. on March 15, 2013, I got a brand spanking new liver. 6 years from being diagnosed. 7 years from developing the disease. SEVEN. The number of completion. DONE.
So what do we learn from all of this? Honestly, I don’t know. I struggle with the fact that I hated being me so much for all those years, and there was no lighting, no giant revelation, no Aesop to show me what the events playing out in my life should teach me. I sometimes feel like I would be way closer to achieving my goals had I not had to go through all of this. It sometimes feels like my peers treat me like I’m younger than they are because they will always have in the back of their minds, “Oh, poor Hope. She’s sick.” I will have to be on medication for the rest of my life, and I have limitations that “normal” 26-year-olds don’t have. And I don’t know why me. Or why not me? I mean, if someone had to have a disease, nothing made me more special than anyone else. But why wasn’t I more special? I mean, I was making moves to change the world!
But I realize this: there are other people my age out there making moves to change the world. I think it’s amazing to see that you don’t have to be 40 to have an impact, and here’s the kicker: you don’t even need a degree! People’s talents, dreams, and desires are fueling them to succeed in life without the help of any experts and against all odds. That’s real life.
One day, before I even got my new liver, I was talking to my mom and she said she realized something: Through all of the health problems I had, I did exactly what I darn well pleased. I could always find the strength to take that dance class or go on that spontaneous trip to Galveston or New Orleans. I could manage to volunteer in just about every ministry in my church. And I got my master’s degree! What she said really struck me: “Your problem started with you having a big liver. But you are a BIG LIVE-R!”
…and I’m not the only one. The more I look around, the more I realize I am surrounded by Big Livers. My closest friends want to be musicians, actors, singers, entrepreneurs, and all-around BAWSES. And they’re all well on their way to doing so. Looking at what I’m surrounded by gives me chills. What if we all make it? I can see a clear picture of all of us at the Grammys, then the Oscars, then the Tonys, then shuffling off to the Emmys, then the Pulitzer Prize awards, just to end up watching one of us get a Nobel Prize.
Your vision gets clearer when you turn 26…you learn to take the building blocks and learning steps from everything that’s happened to you, both good and bad, build a bridge, and get over them. Whatever it was, it doesn’t determine your future. Your life is not over yet. Your history does not have to define your destiny. You are not the sum of your past actions. You are the x factor, in complete control of the decisions you make to multiply yourself.
Push the past to the side and MOVE ON.
I have decided that I want to spend my life honoring and encouraging the potential – not even potential – the already-doing-it-ness of my friends and family who are already moving; the Big Livers. I look at what I went through and I don’t even think much of it now because I see the greatness that surrounds me. I want to dedicate my life to showing everyone how awesome everyone is. And I will. Stay tuned.
That’s NOT all…