Showing posts with label Emily Couch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Emily Couch. Show all posts


Living to the Fullest: Can a Kid with Chronic Illness Do it?

Note from Adrian: This is a guest post from Emily Couch. I love hearing Emily's perspective from life, because I can truly relate, as you'll see. 

Emily is a senior theatre major at the University of Alabama. She plans on pursuing a Master's degree in theatre education to use in the urban ministry setting. She has served as a missionary in Rock Hill, SC; Acuña, Mexico; Memphis, TN; Gulf Shores, AL; and Astoria, NY. She is an ENFP personality type who enjoys making every day a memorable one.

You can follow her on Twitter and track her adventures on her personal blog

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When I graduated from high school I had all these big plans for my life, plans detailing where I was going, what I would be doing, who I would be doing it with…I thought my plans were solid. I had worked for years in school to build a solid GPA, had interned at our local hospital to gain valuable medical experience, and had secured scholarships to several universities throughout the country. I had a strong network of family and friends pushing me to be the best I could be, constantly encouraging me that I could do whatever I set my mind to do.

I intended on graduating from college in four years, getting into a top-notch medical school, becoming a trauma surgeon, being a wife and mom, living in the South…I intended on making my dreams a reality. I lived with every intention of securing the American Dream in all of its glory.

I didn’t intend on a wake-up call from God. I didn’t intend to be shaken to my very core and made to question all the things I had been told I could do. I didn’t intend on giving up.

When I was 19 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. [My body attacks my thyroid gland, the main metabolic center and controller of hormones.] The doctors said that it could be regulated with medication, but I was told that it would be a life filled with regular doctor visits, hormone checks, and daily medication. I wasn’t phased. It wasn’t like this was a death sentence – it was a disease, something that could be treated and dealt with. As a future doctor I had no worries. I would take my medicine and be fine.

At least that was the plan.

But things don’t always go according to plan.

My body began shutting down, and it quickly became apparent to my team of doctors that there was more going on than had originally been perceived. I was sent to the Mayo Clinic [in my mind, the place they sent people with no hope] to try and figure out what was going on…to try and figure out how to save my life. I was there for two weeks, and over the course of those two weeks I went through a battery of tests, checking for cancers and diseases with names that tangled my tongue.

We finally got an answer – I am an extremely sick kid. The thing about autoimmunity is that it tends to compound, meaning if you have one disorder there is a good chance you’ll get another. As for me, here’s my list [yes, list] of disorders that I deal with:

1. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

2. Type II diabetes

3. Celiac disease

4. Vitamin D deficiency

5. Major depressive disorder and anxiety

6. SLE [that’s lupus]

7. PFO [that’s a hole in my heart, but it’s been fixed]

8. Stroke victim [caused by the hole in my heart]

9. Cluster migraines

It’s a little intimidating, yes? But I didn’t write this to list off my problems – I wrote this to pose a question: Can a person living with chronic illness truly live life to the fullest?

The answer, put simply, is yes.

I wrote earlier that I didn’t intend on giving up. When I wrote that, you maybe thought I meant I laid down and wallowed in self-pity. Nope. I did get angry with God, but he was teaching me…and I learned. I became angry with God because I thought he was punishing me for something. I gave my life to Christ when I was 18, right after graduating from high school, and I had been living for Him, for His glory.

When I got sick, I found it completely unfair that a loving God could see fit to let me go through something like that. But here’s the thing: he never promised it would be easy. In fact, Jesus promised that we would face adversity, face persecution, face suffering – but he promised that we wouldn’t ever have to go through what we could not bear [1 Corinthians 10:13].

I was told that the stress of going the pre-med route would kill me. I was told that I needed to pick a different direction for my life. I had no Plan B for my life – it was med school or nothing, so hearing those words was incredibly intimidating. I was a 21-year-old college junior who now had literally no direction…but I did have faith.

I took the advice of family, friends, and doctors, and I started doing what I love – theatre. I switched my major and immediately God began opening doors and paving roads. I had no idea what the future held, but I knew one thing for certain – God was guiding my steps, and his plan for my life was better than my own.

Last summer I had the incredible opportunity to serve as a missionary to Gulf Shores, AL. While there, God answered my major question: “What am I supposed to do with my life?” We were holding an afternoon day camp in an inner-city location, and I felt a strong attraction to the middle and high school aged kids. These were kids who were extremely talented and passionate about the things they loved, but who were constantly being told by their families and by society that they would never amount to anything. The arts was a way that God allowed me to connect with these kids – they taught me to rap and step, I shared the Gospel with them through the things they loved.

If you had told me when I graduated from high school that I would end up being a theatre major, attending seminary, moving to New York, and being an inner-city arts minister, I would have laughed at you. But plans change.

I have come to see that all these things I have gone through, all the medical scares and hospital stays and plan changes, they have all happened to show how big God is. When I graduated from high school I was so focused on my plans…I never considered what His plans were. My illness served in a way to make slow down, no, to stop and to ask, “Is this really what life is about?” You have to figure out what living truly is. 

I can promise you that if you are living for you, for yourself, and your goals and your plans, your life will feel incomplete. You will never truly experience life to the fullest. It is only when you completely let go and let God come in and take over that you will discover what living to the fullest means. This life, it’s not about us. It’s about Christ, about living in a manner that brings glory to Him, and about proclaiming His love story to the nations. The victory of the cross drives us, and the power of the Holy Spirit sustains us. Embracing that victory and power, dying to yourself and living in Christ – that is what living life to the fullest is all about. 

I don’t do anything of my own power. I do all things through Christ, for He is the one who strengthens me. I am nothing without him, my life has no meaning apart from him. My diseases do not define me – my relationship with Christ does. My life is a prime example of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, which states that His power is made perfect through weakness. The whole world can see that I am sick; the whole world can also see that God is at work, and he is using a Southern girl with a chronic illness to go forth and share His love story.

Do not let illness or limitation define you. Let the love of Christ define you, and see that living life to the fullest means realizing it is not at all about you but that it is all about him.

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Questions: What struggles often hold you back from living to the fullest? When have your plans drastically changed? How is the direction of your life different than it was a few years ago?

This guest post was part of a guest post series called "Living to the Fullest." Interested in joining in? I'm still looking for submissions! Just write up a post, or even just an idea, and e-mail it my way!
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