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.
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.