When I met my husband in the late summer of 1999 I knew him to be a high school music teacher who had, only days before, relocated back to his hometown. When I agreed to meet him at a local family restaurant for what would be our first date, however, I arrived to find him in the kitchen of said restaurant, piping someone’s name in icing onto a sheet cake. So when he finished icing the cake and sat down in a booth with me he explained that he had worked at the restaurant years before and still knew the management staff, and so now that he was back in town he was working there. He wasn’t on shift that day, but the cake needed to be done quickly so he offered to take care of it.
The high school music teacher I knew him to be when we met never actually materialized again. Over the next few years he transitioned from restaurant work and ended up joining the U.S. Navy to serve as an enlisted musician for several years, then went on to work in the public affairs department for the unit, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, he applied for and was accepted into a nursing school program. At present he is finishing his last active duty assignment with the Navy as an advanced practice nurse.
The whole nursing school thing, from my perspective, hit like a fly ball to the head out of left field. We had two kids who had only just started kindergarten and first grade at the time, and we were trying for a third. Our oldest child had been diagnosed with autism and her brother was showing symptoms as well. My father had been diagnosed with a genetic form of Alzheimer’s a few years before. We had bought a house and were paying a mortgage. But yeah, let’s throw a career change in there too. I was not excited, and I said no. In hindsight, I realize now that it wasn’t my place to give or refuse consent to something my husband felt God calling him to do, but in my defense I was still reeling from the strange cocktail of hormones and responsibilities God had mixed for me over the last few years. But after a few months of standing my ground, God changed my heart, and Eric began nursing school only a few days after our youngest son was born.
I suspect that any hospital nurse would tell you that there are a lot of good days and a lot of bad days, and that each day has a bit of both. I don’t remember what day it was, or what sort of patient care inspired it. But I remember the day that Eric came home from work, exhausted and smiling, and told me, “This is it. This is what I was meant to do.” And I felt that. He had busted his butt all day doing a lot of jobs that probably felt menial and below his paygrade, but he had done that work to help someone else recover from something, to stay alive and maybe appreciate being alive a little more.
I could feel that feeling with him, but only by proxy. As a stay at home mom, as a homemaker, even as a graduate student, I had not experienced that. I feel a bit guilty admitting that even now, but the fact is that I loved my husband, I loved my kids, but I did not love taking care of them. I could look at the work I did as a wife and mother and appreciate it, and I could look at the studying I was doing as having the potential to lead to something bigger, but I knew that there was something more that I was meant for, and that I longed for, that I hadn’t yet found. I was overjoyed that my husband had found that for himself, but also incredibly jealous, because without really knowing what it looked like, I too had coveted that sense of completeness, of assurance that I was doing all of the things I was put on this earth for. And now, there was my husband, wearing a smile and emitting a warmth of heart that I knew only showed when he got that real agape experience, the one where God says, “Yes, child, you are exactly where and who I designed you to be.”
For me it was kind of like heartburn. Damn it, God. When’s it gonna be my turn?
The first time I joined Hopewriters, an online-based writers’ group that uses coaching and a variety of forms of collaboration and guidance to teach and facilitate mostly faith-based writers in getting their words published and out into the world, was in 2018, I think. But that was not the right time. I can’t count how many times a writing coach or a more experienced member told me, “Don’t do all the things at once! You don’t have to!” but I tried to do that anyway. You see, I had opened up to a friend about having kept a diary pretty consistently ever since I was about six years old, and that at some point in time I got it in my head that one of the reasons I was keeping that diary was because I was going to use it publish my life story someday. Actually, I told that friend that, because the idea had stuck with me for a lifetime, I had surmised that God was calling me to do it. My friend’s response was, “Well, if God wants you to do it, then I guess you better do it.”
Less than a year later that friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’m not joking.
Ok, God. I get it. Do it now.
Dramatic, I know, but the signs kept coming from there. Not long after that my mother called me and asked me to watch a 60 Minutes presentation about a large extended family in Columbia, South America who carried a dominantly-inherited gene mutation that produced young onset Alzheimer’s in all its carriers – the same sort of gene mutation that had been found in the genetic sample my father had provided before his death from Alzheimer’s in 2013. That wasn’t new information, but the information on the research the Columbian family participated in, including drug trials in the hopes of finding the right compound to treat, or even cure, all forms of Alzheimer’s, was new to me. And those same trials were offered at a number of other locations around the world, including one hospital less than an hour from my home. I was enrolled within months. Then, after my enrollment was complete, they offered to provide me with free genetic testing to determine if I also carried the gene mutation my father had.
That decision took some time. Eventually, I opted in and got tested. Which is how I learned that I have Alzheimer’s disease.
After a period of some pretty ugly grieving, which hasn’t actually ended now that I think about it, I knew I needed to move forward and figure out how this changed how I live, moment to moment and year to year. It’s a difficult, ongoing process, and it involves a lot of invisible mental and emotional perspective shifting that God continues to guide me through. But there were some concrete, intentional steps that came with it as well.
In January 2022 I rejoined Hopewriters. I wasn’t entirely excited about jumping back into all the things again, but I knew that I needed the accountability to write my memoir, and that there were hoops I would need to jump through to get it published. So now, because time keeps on ticking ticking into the future, I was going to suck it up and start my hoop-jumping. I only have so much time left with my memories, and some of them are getting foggy even now, so this is my only chance. I am slogging through manuscript writing, blog writing, social media writing, and subscriber-gathering, much to my chagrin. Last November I was offered and eventually signed a contract to be a part of the first cohort of authors to publish with Hope Books, and now I have the privilege to speak and work regularly with the rest of the authors within the cohort, along with wonderful developing editors as well. But I’m not writing this as an announcement or a promotion or anything like that.
I’m telling you this because this morning, February 1, 2023, after I dropped off my son, who is almost 18 now, at school, I drove home listening to Ariel Curry and Liz Morrow’s new podcast, Hungry Authors, and as I listened, I had a thought.
This is it. This is what I was meant to do.
I don’t mean writing a memoir, or writing anything at all, although that seems to have been the final magic ingredient. I mean all of it – this book, this group, this house, these kids and dogs and cats and husband. This Jesus. This, all this, is why God put me here. It’s a feeling that’s so good it hurts.