Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When I grow up, I want to be...

This year God has been teaching me two things: complete dependence on Him, and, in that dependence, how to find true joy. He’s been showing me that we were created to be happy, because in Him is fullness of joy. Here on this earth that joy will never be pure and complete, and we will face many trials and times of suffering, but even in the midst of those times, He will provide joy, if we wait on Him.

This is a bit of the story of my journey. I know it’s long, so if you don’t have time to read it all, please at least read the last part.

I started grieving in the summer of 2007. The loss had come a long time before that, but I’d never fully accepted it.

The life I was grieving was my own.

Each time I waited for test results, waited for a doctor appointment… each time I writhed in pain or was too tired to hardly hold up my own head, I wondered what it would be like to get the news that I was dying. I thought about what it would be like to know I had only a few months to live, or a few years. I hoped it would be long enough to finish a few books, to leave a legacy behind. I planned what I would say to my friends, how I would tell them. I even planned what to write on my blog.

Even more, I thought about how it would be to get the other answer--the one that told me what was wrong and how it would be fixed. I didn’t have to think much about what I would do when I got that answer, because I knew. I’d been planning my life since I was little, dreaming about what I would be when I grew up, just like all kids.

But the thing I didn’t think about was what I would do if neither of those happened. I didn’t think about what would happen if the answer wasn’t death, or really even life, but something in between. How do you plan for something that isn’t a “yes” or a “no”…something that’s not even really a “wait,” but is just, well… an “is.”

And yet, it’s something we should all be planning for, something we all should know will happen. Because the day will come for all of us when God says, “You don’t get to live according to your plans. You get to live My plans.”
Once I grew past the stage of wanting to be a pink and purple kitty cat, my childhood dreams for my future never changed a lot. All through my school years I had the same answer to that perpetual question of what I wanted to be when I grew up: A stay-at-home homeschool mom and a missionary, preferably to Mexico. The number of kids I wanted did change, rather drastically. As I matured, I realized my childhood visions of a dozen kids might be just a tad lofty. I adjusted it to the more reasonable number of six, and later even less, saying, “I’d be happy with at least four.”

I’ve always loved kids, and kids have always loved me. My mom calls me “the kid magnet.” Seriously, I can spend a total of 60 seconds with a youngster and the next time he spots me he’ll start screaming, “Amy!!” and jumping up and down excitedly. I pictured myself as the ultimate involved, imaginative Mom, with enough discipline to keep everyone happy, but with lots of adventures and fun. I figured I’d be married in my early twenties, start our family a year or two later, and after everything was settled down several years after that, perhaps be called to the foreign mission field.

You may wonder why writing didn’t play a role in what I wanted to be, and that’s because being a writer has never been something I want to attain someday. It something I am. I’ve always been a writer and I always will be one. A novelist, however, now that’s something I attain to be!

So I went happily through my young life, picturing my adult self as a wife, mom, writer, and missionary. In my senior year of high school, my hopes shifted slightly to accommodate a new love of figure skating, and a growing love of American Sign Language. My next-oldest sister and I began taking ice skating lessons. Though we were comparatively old to be learning that skill, and we both were beginning to struggle with our health, we threw ourselves completely into it and joined the group of “rink rats.” We were on the ice at least four days a week, practicing and soon entering competitions and working as assistant skating teachers. We even got to do some informal mentoring of the younger skaters in our social group.

Now my goals included becoming a figure skating coach, preferably with a lot of Deaf clients. Despite growing pain and fatigue levels, I made it farther than any of the coaches and parents expected. After four years of skating, I was able to do one of the lowest sit spins at the rink (though my camel spin, on the other hand, looked horrid! lol), could land all my single jumps, and was working on my axel and double sal cow jumps. Then, slowly, skating got too expensive and time consuming, and too painful.

Besides, God was drawing me toward another focus. Two summers in a row I attended ASL camp in Tennessee at the Bill Rice Ranch, a Christian Deaf ministry. It was there God began letting me know He had plans for me as a sign language interpreter.

Though I’d been playing around with sign language since elementary school, and more recently pursuing it more strongly, the thought of being an interpreter when I grew up had never crossed my mind. And yet, it fit so perfectly. I love languages, cultures, and people. I have a deep empathy with others, am not shy, and experience little to no stage fright. Perhaps the Deaf and interpreting community was to be my mission field. And though no husband was in sight yet, interpreting was something that could easily be adapted to being a stay at home mom. I could work one or two nights a week while my husband was home with the kids, or I could just accept special assignments like weekend Homeschooling workshops.

Still, if I had not known so clearly that this was the path God wanted for me, I would have given up so many times. The two year interpreter training program is stretching into four years, as I’ve been faced with learning disabilities and visual struggles, and one health problem after another. But there was always the bright future ahead. A future after the training program, when I would finally have a basic set of skills to build on, and I could go conquer the world. Perhaps I would meet the right guy shortly after I was done with school, and I could work as an interpreter for a bit before turning my focus to a family. I would be happy and healthy and my own energetic, happy-go-lucky self as an interpreter, wife, and mom. I could be a missionary here at home, or go work with foreign Deaf missions. And in between all that, I could write all those novels building up in my head.

And then…

Then came that answer, the diagnoses after all the tests and all the doctors. Fibromyalgia. It was a long word, and one I understood too well, since my oldest sister lived it every day. It was the answer that wasn’t a yes and wasn’t a no. It wasn’t death and heaven, and it wasn’t health. Instead, it meant a life of constant pain and fatigue, a life of sudden boughts of cognitive dysfunction, IBS, and innumerable other symptoms. A life with an illness that doesn’t kill you, but yet doesn’t get better or go away.

It meant a life that didn’t match my life. Suddenly my brain doesn’t always work well enough to understand English clearly, much less translate it into a whole second language system. Suddenly I’m so fatigued I can hardly think of any words, much less write amazing fiction stories. My pain levels teeter so high I can hardly load the dishwasher, sign for more than a few minutes, or hold a pen long enough to write a thank you note.

The thought of working full time and then returning home to an evening of housework and socializing suddenly is impossible. Thinking of caring full time for children is overwhelming. Life becomes defined by four letters: PACE. Pacing is the single most important thing to managing my symptoms enough that I can live…at least a little. I must work a little, and rest a lot. Before I do anything, I must think how it will affect me, and if it’s worth it…which is certainly challenged by the fact that how it affects me changes daily or even hourly.

“Why?” I cry out to God. “Why do you give me all these talents, skills, and dreams in one hand, and then fill the other hand with…this? How can I grow up to be the successful person You want me to be, if I’m to be sick, forever?”

Slowly, as I learn to accept my disability and learn how to live life as fully as I can with my limitations, I begin to see. Still, only as in a mirror dimly, but I see in my reflection how God uses my life--not the one I dreamed of, but the one I have--to bring Him glory, to reach people that other life would never have touched, and to trust Him and depend on Him completely.

As I do that, I see bits of those talents He’s given me can still be accessed. I grasp a little energy to write with, and times of less pain to interpret a while. As I learn to pace, those times grow. Perhaps someday I’ll even gain the strength to care for a family. I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know one thing.

God is enough. In Him is fulfillment, and in Him is fullness of joy. Despite this earth, with its emotional and physical pain, we were created to have joy. Though it won’t come completely until we reach heaven, for now it is enough.

Today, on my twenty-seventh birthday, when my life is so different from how I dreamed it, I know what I’m going to be.

When I grow up, I’m going to be happy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The last two weeks have been wonderful, not just because they were fun and exciting and different, but because I was doing what I was created to do. There’s nothing quite as exciting and filling as taking small steps toward fulfilling God’s purpose in our lives.

Two weekends ago I joined my church’s young adult group on a retreat to the beach. This group has been my primary church family for over a year now. I was drawn to them because they are drawn to God. Unlike many youth groups that are focused on who’s going out with whom, or light games, this group is focused on God and on how we can support each other in our pursuit of Him. It’s a great mix of young adult ages, and meets less than five minutes from my house (when you live in the country, that’s pretty remarkable).

The retreat’s theme was glorifying God in our relationships, specifically relationships with our parents, significant others, peers, and God. After each sermon, we had a time in small groups to share what those truths meant personally. In between gatherings, we had time of fellowship, getting to know each other better and just having fun, surrounded by the sand, waves, and skies that delighted in showing off their Creator’s glory.

I had three days at home after the weekend retreat, resting, preparing to leave again, and continuing with my interpreting practice. On Thursday I flew to Detroit for the FaithWriters second writers conference. The flight there was a bit crazy, with several flight changes. I ended up having to fly all the way to Philadelphia and then back to Detroit, arriving about three hours later than planned. I was thankful I’d come in early, giving myself ample time to get there and to rest. I was glad, too, that I’d decided to buy a cane for the occasion. The flight and fatigue amplified my balance problems, so it was nice to have something to hang onto, plus it gave those around me a visual clue that I’m not quite as hardy as my age and appearance would indicate. Airline workers were quick to help with my bags and make sure there were electric carts to take me to my next location within the huge airports.

The conference itself was wonderful, of course. FaithWriters has been my second family for over four years now. The wonderful people there have come along side me through the message boards, instant messages, email, phone and texts, and now FaceBook, not only building my writing skills, but encouraging me physically and spiritually. It’s been an honor to be able to give a little back by helping coordinate the writing conferences every year.

It was great actually getting real hugs (rather than cyber hugs) from dear friends like Shari, Joanne, Laury, and Deb, and meeting many other friends like Josh and Vonnie for the first time. Though we didn’t get much sleep, it was fun to lay awake all night and chat in the dark with my roommate Karlene, getting to know her better. It was good to know Shari, one of my first FW friends, and I haven’t lost our connection. She might as well be a blood sister, the way we can finish each others sentences, and almost unfailingly answer the exact same things on games, or at least know for sure what the other one’s answer was!

There were a few writers there who are close to my age, too. Sara is so bouncy and bubbly and joyful, literally jumping up and down and clapping her hands half of the time. I just wanted to take her home with me. Leah, I actually could take home with me, almost! She also lives in Washington several hours north of me, and we determined that we’ll definitely not wait for the next conference before getting together again. It was sweet how many people would stop me and check to see how I was feeling, or be sure to make sure I had a chair--taking care of me without babying me. The workshops were full of great information, too, and I came home with many ideas for furthering my writing career. After the workshops, we played games late into the night, giving us a chance to get to know each other better. I got a little closer to a few people I hadn’t gotten a chance to know much, like Di, Peej, Allison, and Chely, and so many others. I arrived back home Sunday night, had a day of rest and then, with little time to miss my friends, jumped right into volunteering as a student interpreter for a drama group. On Wednesday I worked a full 8 hour day, and though I was very tired and in pain by the end of it, I made it through that and interpreting the next two half days. The drama was great fun, as that is one of my passions, and nice because it’s scripted and practiced, so easier to interpret (though I had a terrible time finding a teammate to help). I also interpreted for rehearsals and director’s instructions, and found that it wasn’t scary at all, especially in this low risk setting. In fact, I can do this, really do this! Of course I made plenty of mistakes, and learned a lot, but my clients were able to understand the information and interact with each other. It built my confidence a lot, and was a wonderful opportunity. I’ll hopefully get to work with this group again in the future.

I thank all of you who prayed and encouraged me through these busy weeks. It’s a testament to God that my body held up and I was able to accomplish everything. I had to be careful to rest as much as possible (and even skipped one of the writing workshops to lay down) but got through successfully and don’t seem to be crashing now too much. I know it helped that I’ve been able to rest and store up spoons earlier this summer.

Now things are quieter, and I suddenly have more time to miss my FaithWriter friends, and go back to the more boring interpreting homework assignments. At least I get to see my church friends tomorrow, and have plenty of writing projects to keep me busy, when I’m not resting or signing.