What remains when all else is lost

What remains when all else is lost

Written on 01/11/2020
Kara Swanson

Written by Kara Swanson

I grew up as a missionary kid in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Raised with a unique vantage point between the bustle of the United States and the untamed tropics of a majority world country, I could see the nuances of both worlds, but belonged in neither. I wasn’t sure who I was meant to be in the midst of these colliding cultures.

I started writing as a way to process the many moves, diverse cultures, and new friends. I loved writing fantasy most of all. Not only was it a place to use my wild imagination, but it also gave me a way to explain the unexplainable.

I felt like one of my fictional characters— a young girl trying to decide where she stood between these worlds. I wasn’t certain how to use the elements of my experience to connect with others. I was oddly isolated.

And then I became sick. Very, very sick.

When I was 17, we moved back to the United States. There, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I’d been symptomatic for some time, and we discovered I’d had Lyme for five years. Even after diagnosis, my illness grew worse, and during my senior year of high school I was practically bedridden. I tried attending college, but battled crippling fatigue and pain. After only three weeks I called my parents in tears and told them I had to come home. I couldn’t keep up with classes. The illness was tearing me apart.

I returned home to focus on recovering. I would not have chosen the prolonged health journey, but with so much stripped away it forced me to ask myself who I truly was and where my worth was found. What was my foundation when even my own mind seemed to turn against me? When it felt like I was drowning—and the more I strove for the surface, the deeper I sunk?

If I wasn’t Kara the missionary kid, or Kara the writer, the daughter, the friend—who was I? If I never got out of bed again, never lifted a pencil or said anything worth remembering, beneath all of those hopes and dreams…what remained? 

Who was I when I had nothing left but a heart beating for the One who made it? The answer I found in those moments has become a source of iron-strong hope. I am Kara, daughter of the greatest Storyteller, and even in my weakness, His strength is perfect. Even when those words feel hollow, I remind myself of them. Again and again. That truth is my lifeline, pulling me to the surface.

And with that knowledge, when I began to write again I suddenly found I had more to say than ever. As I poured my raw soul on the page, people began to resonate. When I let Christ be my lifeline, the holder of my heart…then He began to fit pieces together so I could support others.

Having a chronic illness has given me an overwhelming sense of empathy for those fighting battles of their own every day, desperate to keep their heads above water. Being ill has given me a greater depth of perspective and understanding. A friend of mine once said: “God gave you the gift of writing and crazy imagination because He knew you would struggle with something that wouldn’t allow you to do much else other than write.”

This continues to blow my mind. The reminder that He was taking care of me from the very beginning…and giving me gifts to make a difference. Giving me ways to see past my own shadows. Many people with Lyme struggle to even put words in a sentence, let alone write a novel. The fact that I can do so is a miracle in itself.

During one of my most crippling seasons of Lyme, I wrote a novella called The Girl Who Could See. This story was a song of hope, bringing together everything I’d learned. And that little story I wrote while nearly bedridden has opened doors I never could have imagined.

Through that book, I connected with a writing community where I’ve found some of my dearest friends and have been able to coach and work with countless young writers through the Young Writers Workshop alongside Brett Harris. The journey that kicked off with The Girl Who Could See has led me to sign my first publishing contract for a Peter Pan retelling called Dust.

By far the most amazing and humbling aspect of my journey has been that I get to remind others who, like me, may feel like they’ve never belonged, that it’s okay.

We are not defined by our limitations. We are not defined by the voices that whisper, “You don’t fit in here.”

The hope that tethers my soul when my body is in too much pain to get out of bed is not found in what I can do, but in what has been done for me. I am valued because I believe in a God who calls me His own. And because of Him, even at my most frail, He allows my words to touch hearts. With Him, I belong. Even in my weakness, His strength is made perfect.

And perhaps that is the greatest story of all.