“Do you use Avon?” she asked.
Her question caught me off guard so I didn’t have an answered prepared. However, I knew that my teenage friend Chloe wasn’t going to settle for half an answer. Her sister sells Avon so this was too important.
“I have really sensitive skin,” I said.
“So, I don’t want to change from what I’m using that works for me.”
I could see where this was heading and tried unsuccessfully to change the subject. Chloe wasn’t going to let that happen though. She could cross examine a mime.
“Why is your skin sensitive?”
I stalled but finally spit out, “I have lupus.”
I knew what her next question would be.
Here we go I thought knowing that my inquisitive friend wasn’t going to stop—and so began my careful attempt to explain something medical science still barely understands.
The irony was it was the third time I’d been asked a similar question in two days by folks as curious as Chloe. I felt like the three strike rule had hit. One, two, three and I was out of my safe zone overexposed.
It’s not that I mind being asked. I know folks wonder why I have to be careful about so many things. I also know they care but trying to describe how it affects my life is like trying to explain how autism impacts my kids. It takes more time than it’s worth. Describing the “in obvious” is like trying to explain air. You can offer the formulaic answer but it still falls short.
I did my best with Chloe. When she’d exhausted her list of questions she was kind to say, “Well you don’t look sick—you look great. I’d never know.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I try.”
I thought we were finally done but as I turned to walk away she said,
“What do you think God wants you to learn from all this.”
She floored me with that one. Wow I thought—now here’s a good question. I love this girl. She sees the world from a different perspective than the majority of her peers.
As I turned to answer I put my hand in my pocket and felt the penny I’d found early in the day. I rolled it around in my hand searching for the most important lesson I could share. There’ve been so many things I’ve learned on the penny-lined road I’ve traveled since being diagnosed. How do I sum it up?
I finally answered her by saying,
“I’ve learned that how I feel or look isn’t actually who I am. On a good day when I might look and feel like I can conquer the world that doesn’t mean I can. Likewise on a bad day when I feel like it’s all I can do to get here and hang out with you guys that’s not the truth either.”
She looked at me funny.
“I’m the same person both days. My circumstances don’t change that. Physically one day might be more challenging than the other but nothing about how God created me is different. I’m still created in His image to do good works either day. I’ve learned that means either state can be transcended.”
“What does transcended mean?”
I laughed. “It’s a fancy way of saying risen above. What I’m saying, not very well, is that God’s teaching me that the circumstances of my life don’t dictate who I am. In fact, they dictate only as much as I let them. It doesn’t mean I don’t have limitations but it means I can in some creative way rise above them.”
“That’s cool,” she said.
“Do you think you had to get sick to learn that?”
“I hope I can learn it some other way,” she said.
She hugged me and off we went to frost cupcakes.
I’ve joked in the last year that the gift I got for my 2012 birthday was lupus. Not the worst thing a girl could get but not what I was expecting. But elbow deep in frosting with Chloe I realized that what makes that joke funny is the truth in it.
It is a gift—one that every day invites me to rise above my circumstances and focus on who I am and what God created me to do. This is far more compelling than how I feel and certainly a lot more interesting.
To Chloe and everyone else who’s helped me figure that out thank you! Your friendship and prayer have helped me unwrap a priceless gift. One that I plan to hang onto—Lord willing, and I believe He is.