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The mood in the room was somber. There was a good crowd for dinner; patients and loved ones gathered to hear Dr. Rosenberg talk about the latest research into the dreadful disease, Multiple Sclerosis. The good doctor had an uplifting manner and a matter of fact way of speaking. He talked about new drugs, new findings and gave the audience a sense of hope that new solutions for their symptoms were on the horizon.

I have gone to a number of meetings like this with my wife Joyce over the years. She has late onset M.S. and like so many in the room, has a variety of symptoms. She has good days and bad. Some of these meetings are very technical, with medical terms thrown around like a basketball on a court. Others, like this one with Dr. Rosenberg, are more down to earth, more real. These are the matter of fact talks that face reality head-on. M.S is a dreadful disease and at this time, there is no cure.

As I ate my delicious Italian dinner provided by one of the drug companies that makes a popular M.S. medicine, I found Dr. Rosenberg to be a folksy hero to many of the people in the room. He provided answers, solutions, and workarounds that made life better for so many patients in the San Diego area. As he finished his talk, he introduced the next speaker. I figured, like usual, it would be another doctor or healthcare provider. I wasn’t ready for the smiling young woman who walked to the front of the room.

She was blond, with hair in pigtails, and an engaging smile. She walked down the center aisle, making eye contact with everyone. She then broke out in song, singing lyrics from a country song, with a magnificent voice and a deep southern accent. The chorus went like this . . .

Wish I could roll out of town like a run-away train
I’ll do as I dare, let them call me insane
I’ll never sit on the sidelines of life, I’ll dance every dance
If I just had the chance

Julie Roberts then told her story in condensed form. She was an upcoming country music star. Record deals, live concerts, television appearances and even a movie deal. On stage with Reba and Blake Sheldon. Lights, camera, action. Then it happened.

During a concert, her vision went blurry.

Both hands then went numb.

Something was wrong.

Really wrong.

For months/years afterward, she was in denial.

She hoped the symptoms were gone

That they wouldn’t come back.

But they happened again.

Diagnosis: M. S.

Suddenly, her future was uncertain. The giant Hollywood door that was just about to be opened, was slammed shut. Record deals involving live concerts were canceled. Producers and agents stopped calling. Her vision and daily life were challenged.

She retreated to the refuge of Mama’s house and simply asked God; why?

The answer was slow in coming. The days got darker, the symptoms got worse.

Why did God close the door on so many good things?

Questions, anger, fear and a whole lot of tears followed.

But one thing that Julie found in those dark times was simple.

When God closes one door, he usually opens another.

Julie eventually found herself on a different stage.

Here in a restaurant in San Marcos California, two thousand miles from her home in South Carolina was a beautiful woman sharing a message of hope to an audience of people with symptoms just like hers. Many in the room with similar talents and visions affected by a dreadful, progressive disease. She shared her journey and some treatment options that helped her. While she still has a music career, she now has a voice to a whole different audience.

It’s easy to get down when things are taken away. It’s hard to be positive when you hurt and when your mobility is taken away.

Julie was the last person I expected to see at this meeting.

I expected doctors, nurses, and drug manufacturers.

I didn’t expect a twangy country girl in pigtails.

I expected another boring Powerpoint.

I expected fifty bullet points.

I expected to nod off.

Instead, I heard a song with lyrics that would affect my life, sung by a beautiful woman with an engaging smile and a silky voice.

God spoke to me through her words . . .

I’ll do as I dare, let them call me insane
I’ll never sit on the sidelines of life, I’ll dance every dance
If I just had the chance

I don’t have M.S. but her message rang true.

If I just had the chance.

The morning after I heard her talk, I found myself on an early morning photo shoot in La Jolla by the Scripps Pier. This is an iconic location favored by many photographers. The beach is long and flat, ideal for walking. Surfers love it for long sets of waves.

On this morning though, something was different.It was in the thirties and very cold on my hands yet there were over a dozen surfers in the water. The tide was way out. I had never seen it like this before. I felt like I could almost walk to the end of the pier on the sand. Many days the beach is covered with water when the tide is up. You can’t get past the pier. With the coastal hills jutting out, you are very limited how far you can go.

But on this cold morning, you could walk for miles down the coast. Parts of the beach that were usually under water were now walkable. Tide pools were opened up. Cliffs and caves now accessible. Things I had never seen before were now within a short walk.

If I just had the chance.

Now was my chance. I took advantage and walked down to coast into the Scripps Marine Preserve.

I saw so many beautiful things that had eluded me before.

The tide had gone out and opened up opportunities.

Yet I knew that it wouldn’t last for long.

The tide would come back in.

If I just had the chance.

In our lives, the surf goes in and out. Opportunities are presented, while others are taken away.

God opens doors and closes others.

When possibilities are presented.

Don’t sit on the sidelines.

Take the chance.

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