Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: War and Peace (not about the book) (07/07/11)
TITLE: Aunt Amanda
By Beth Muehlhausen
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I rummage through crumpled handwritten papers lying haphazardly in a saggy, corrugated box. This is the third such box of Aunt Amanda’s writings I’ve explored.
Amanda was born with eyes that refused to focus together, an indication of inner warring that would magnify throughout her lifetime. As years passed, emotional grenades consistently forced her to seek shelter in isolated inner foxholes. Odd behaviors – especially disorganized, self-centered, blurted conversation – enabled others to label her as egocentric and queer. People either shunned her or forced a polite-but-reluctant tolerance.
“Everyone’s so busy. No one has time for me,” she lamented, feeling unworthy, rejected, and exhausted by ongoing internal and external battles.
Aunt Amanda evidently left behind an overwhelming volume of materials; how many more dusty-musty, entombed journals and letters still lie hidden in overstuffed closets?
Life became a bittersweet process as Amanda sought good news beyond her known boundaries. While others categorized her as socially inept, she couldn’t make sense of her own isolation. Surely there must be an explanation somewhere, if only she could find it.
Amanda’s clear, deep observations of life and growth, often captured from a safe place behind a camera lens (where she didn't need depth perception), reflected innate brilliance verified by verbal IQ tests, an undergraduate degree, and a master’s degree. However, her photos, although recognized by judges in a local guild, couldn’t breech relational intolerances. Even her photo colleagues thought her weird and muttered unanswerable questions. “How can someone so talented also be so strange? Why doesn’t she just try to get along with us?”
I discover an essay written after Aunt Amanda visited Alcatraz . “I am a prisoner of war living in my own solitary confinement,” she says. Amanda is a rock. An island. An outcast. An untouchable.
Eventually a counselor provided an inkling of understanding. “You are intelligent despite an illusive brain dysfunction,” she explained to Amanda. Still, that label didn’t provide acceptance from potential employers, friends, or disability claims representatives.
Turmoil and conflict increased over time until her physical body repeatedly broke down. First severe food and environmental allergies cornered her, and then repeated bouts with cancer. Was there no end to the fight?
In my hands lies a paper with painfully scrawled words. They bear Amanda’s definition of herself: “I am worthless.” I cringe. It is too late to tell her otherwise.
Good news proclaimed with unexpected power surprised Amanda with grace and a gift beyond measure: the mysterious and yet tangible peace of God. His presence within her grew, redefining her as His child worthy of self-acceptance. Amanda began authoring a column in her church newsletter where she shared a new measure of inner stillness and calm.
Divine wisdom emerges in my hands from Aunt Amanda’s pen:
“The bitterness of our own unique wars serves to teach us to search deep within for peace in our souls. The marvelous good news – God come to earth in human flesh to restore us to Himself – takes root in the most bloody, war-torn hearts. There it permeates a person’s whole being with power: the very peace of God. A life of despair founded in personal lack and misunderstanding only creates turmoil that spreads like wildfire, destroying everything in its path. The answer to such rampant fear and anxiety is the person of Jesus Christ, come in the form of His Holy Spirit to indwell the imperfect, confused, and worthless believer with peace.”
The battle for acceptance, security, and even life itself finally became a quest for God’s presence.
These scrambled papers magnify the gamut of human experience, but with so many dead ends. Just last week I talked with a psychologist who finally shed some light on a diagnosis for Aunt Amanda. Why couldn’t we have known earlier?
Amanda passed away quietly in a hospital bed as morphine’s pawn, her body swollen with toxins resulting from liver cancer. A disciple of Jesus who understood the scope of life’s war zones, as well as the Lord’s peace that passes understanding, held her hand.
I realize Aunt Amanda’s story reveals a redeemed struggle that could not have been written except for pain that led to the ownership of hope. She was a saint worthy of recognition and acceptance who can help others reconcile their pain.
Her story must be shared; I will see to it.
Author’s note: Amanda (name and miscellaneous details in the above story have been changed), a non-fictional person, lived her entire life of 66 years without knowing why she was radically different from most people and unable to fit in socially. Upon her death, volumes of written materials were discovered that told her story from the inside-out. At this same time, a psychologist documented a posthumous diagnosis: Asperger’s Syndrome (higher level autism). At the time of the writing of this challenge entry, memoirs recovered after Amanda’s death are currently being collated into a book format so that others like her, and their families, can gain insight from one who has “been there.”
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