In 1983, when my mom found out she was pregnant, the decision to keep the baby or not was not an easy one. A close relative was the first to suggest she abort and move on with her life, and my mom’s boyfriend said he’d go along with whatever she decided. She was 19. She was pro-choice. She was unwed. She was a college student working at a fast food restaurant… and she was a woman with a strong heart. She decided to keep the baby. My mom and dad got married, and I was born that October. They had no idea before my birth that I had any disability, and due to the rarity of the defect, the doctors had no idea what they were dealing with. I had “stork bites” (blood vessels close to the surface) on my face, and those combined with the disfigurement of my arms caused the doctors to give my young parents the grim diagnosis: I was blind, mentally challenged, I would never walk or be independent, the list went on. We’re not sure what all they said, because my mom says she just sort of tuned out at a certain point. Understandable. I was sent to the NICU at a bigger hospital the next day, where they correctly diagnosed me with AMC, and assured my parents that I could lead a relatively normal life. (For more about AMC, click here.) My parents did their best to treat me like any other child. I learned to write with my feet, ride a bike without training wheels, I attended a regular private Christian school, and learned to adapt to my surroundings quickly. While I always had friends, I was also very shy and afraid of rejection, so my circle of friends was pretty small. By the time I was in junior high, my shyness had morphed into a serious lack of self-esteem, and I struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. From the outside, I looked like a happy-go-lucky sweet little church girl, but on the inside, I was a mess. I know none of my readers can relate. ;)
High school for me was a time of just hanging on. I knew college would be better, so if I could just make it out of high school alive, life had to improve. I didn’t fit in. My physical limitations kept me from doing my hair the “cool” way and wearing the “cool” clothes. I was a band geek. My parents had me driving this:
The popularity gods had conspired against me. I was doomed to be an outcast. But, I knew if I could make it through, I could find other outcasts like me to fit in with in college. I pretty much did. Their influence was some for the better (when it came to my self-confidence), more for the worse (when it came to my morals and behavior). I was so wrapped up in the thought that these people liked having me around that I began compromising the beliefs I had cherished since childhood. Again, I’m sure that none of my readers can relate. I was beginning to come out of this wilder phase of my life when I fell in love with a wonderful man. He knew about my previous wildness, and my devoutness previous to that. He knew every dirty little secret I could think to tell him, and nothing budged him. His love for me was unshakable. In that way especially, my husband shows me a great example of my Father’s love and acceptance. After meeting at Dairy Queen, we were married a year and a half later on a beach in the Dominican Republic:
Less than a year later, we were excited to confirm that we would be having a baby. Adam and I were not worried about how I would manage. Adam isn’t the type to worry about me in that way, and I was confident that I would figure things out. But when others started asking questions, I began to feel some stress. I started to fear that I might have created a life that I was incapable of sustaining. After Ethan was born, though, I started to realize that my (and their) fears had been unfounded. God had already provided me with the creativity to work around most things, and a wonderful husband to help me with the few things I couldn’t do on my own. When Ethan was 8 months old, I was checking out CNN.com one morning, and saw that they were asking for people to upload stories of how families cope with disabilities. My first thought was, My story is pretty interesting… I could upload a video… but then my insecurity immediately told me I was nuts. I’ve spent my whole life trying to show people that I’m NOT disabled. I purposely wore long-sleeved t-shirts to certain events so people wouldn’t notice my arms. I would wait until a grocery aisle was cleared of people before I grabbed something down with my foot to avoid stares (actually, I still do this). “So, really?!” my insecurity said, “you want to put your nasty arms on CNN.com?” Do you know what I finally decided after a couple days’ worth of thinking? My arms are my arms, whether I like them or not, and hiding them is just ridiculous. They’re attached. They’re not going to go away. And if my story can encourage somebody, then I’m going to tell it, even if it makes me uncomfortable. So, the next day, I set up the tripod and video recorded our morning, edited it and uploaded it before I could rethink it. Later, I got a call from a CNN producer who had a few questions, and the next day, when I pulled up CNN.com, I saw this:
We got our picture with the Pope! Since that time, I’ve had many other opportunities to encourage others just by telling my story, as imperfect as it is. And what is that story? It is not one of conquering all obstacles. There are many, many obstacles that I cannot conquer… I just don’t post those moments on YouTube. My story is not that of a girl who’s overcome all odds to achieve greatness. Sure, I’ve had some odds to compete with, but for all intents and purposes, I’m a stay-at-home mom who hasn’t completed college. As accomplishments go, I’ve hardly achieved anything spectacular. However. What I have found in my life is a measure of “Letting Go,” and self-acceptance. We all have things about ourselves we’d like to hide. There are things we’re ashamed of and we’d rather pretend aren’t there. But what I found, in my blatant disregard for my insecurity, was that the very ugliness I hated so much was right where God’s purpose for me was planted. I was happy to let Him use my writing or musical talents for His glory, but it took a long time for me to surrender my weakness to Him… turns out that’s where His power works best. We say God loves us, and we tell others that God loves them, but do we really believe it? Do you believe that God’s love is bigger than even the ugliest flaw (be it character, physical, etc.)? If we keep things from Him, He can neither heal them, nor use them to heal others. So take some time to search your heart… be honest with yourself about what you find there. And then, be honest with your loving Heavenly Father. Give Him your weakness and see what His power can do.