The other day I found myself looking at this picture of me and my good friend JJ. This was taken when I went to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family in 2006. We were confident, vivacious girls in our early twenties, ready to take on the world.
If you had asked us then where we thought we’d be in a few years, I don’t know what we would have said exactly, but I can tell you it would have been full of big dreams and plans. That’s the great thing about college students, at that age anything seems possible. The world, if you will, is the proverbial oyster, yours for the taking.
But what happens if one day you wake up and your dreams fall apart? What happens if you world turns upside down and everything you’re good at is no longer an option? When life itself seems to hang in the balance, will you still know who you are? More than that, will you still choose to serve God?
Hard questions, I know. But I’m asking this because it happened to me.
The Search for True Identity
I believe that in life, beyond questions like who you’ll marry or what career you’ll have, the most important question anyone can ask is the question of identity. I still remember that moment like it was yesterday. That fateful Monday in June 2008 should have seen me celebrating a co-worker’s birthday over lunch, but instead I sat in a cold, quiet hospital room hearing the doctor say 5 words that changed my life forever.
“You have a kidney disease.”
22-years-old and just one year into full-time ministry, this was not something I saw coming, not in the least. But as I watched my body deteriorate over the next week, battling intense pain, fighting to breathe and barely able to walk up a flight of stairs, reality set in hard. Life as I knew it was over. Now what? What will happen when I’m 23… Will I make it to 23?
A question began to emerge deep within. “Who am I?” I didn’t know anymore. And I was worried that no one saw me. Kim was now simply “the sick girl.”
Identity is Not Found in the Person Beside You
A couple months after my first diagnosis, and thanks to a cocktail of medication prescribed by my nephrologist (kidney doctor), I was in remission. But like with life sometimes, just as one thing seems to get under control, other things start to fall spectacularly to pieces. In this case, I’m talking about the slew of side effects from everything I was taking.
Apart from already swelling up with 50 lbs of water due to the disease, the medication caused insomnia, nausea, blurred vision and fatigue. Worse still, my hands shook, my faced swelled up, and to my horror, my hair started to fall out.
The last straw came when I had to cut off 7 inches of my hair, and I remember crying after realizing the unrecognizable person in the mirror was me.
Over the next few months, it got hard to go out. Living in a city like Austin, you’re hard pressed to go anywhere without seeing young, healthy, beautiful twenty-something girls walking around.
Girls who I should have been like, but with whom I now started subconsciously comparing myself to. Her legs aren’t swollen, her skin’s not scarred, her hair’s not falling out… you get the picture.
I worried that I would never be normal, that no guy would ever love me and that I would get sick again. And somehow, even though I knew better, I found myself trying to find the answer in other people. Until one day, I heard God ask a simple question: “What do I say?”
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5
Loving Others Starts With First Being Loved
When it comes to following Christ and sharing His gospel with those around us, the fundamental issue is that we as Christians cannot call others to go to places where we ourselves have not gone. In the same way, we cannot tell others to find themselves in Jesus if we haven’t done so. The reason being is, we cannot love others, if we first don’t know that we are loved. (John 3:16)
I share this part of my story today, not to ask for sympathy or pity, but rather to say that it’s easy to find our identity in something other than Christ. Without even knowing it, I’d been taking my identity in things like how I looked, the instruments I could play, leadership abilities, the list goes on. And it took a kidney disease to make me realize otherwise.
What I am saying is this: You are not defined by what you do, how you look, what you say or what you think. You were created for a specific purpose, and have the capacity by the grace of God to reach many people around you. So no matter what life throws at you, remember this one thing – you are His and you are loved.
Now in remission after surviving 2 relapses, my prayer is that God continues to bring healing to my body. I hope that the man I marry one day will not just accept the scars on my body, but learn to love them as a part of the story that has made me who I am today.
But whether that happens or not, I know this doesn’t define me. We are defined by one thing, and His name is Jesus.
So today, if you’ve never asked yourself before, take some time and ask God who He’s created you to be, and how He wants to use that to reach others around you. And then? Live it!
Kimberly Chung is the National Media Director for Campus Renewal Ministries, a ministry focused on forging partnerships in prayer to build missional communities that transform college campuses with the gospel of Jesus. She is a campus minister to The University of Texas at Austin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org