Kim Frey has spent the last 17 years discovering her purpose in life
Peek inside Kim Frey’s life, and you might wonder how she does it all. The mother of five homeschools the four oldest ones, devotes time to her husband, Matt, and finds time to be a friend to others; Kim’s pixie smile and bright blue eyes radiate love to those around her.
Her living room wall is festooned with family pictures. Photobooks chronicling the family’s years together rest on a bookshelf. But look inside another room in Kim’s house, one packed with a wheelchair and other medical devices for getting around, and how she does it all becomes a more perplexing question.
Her World Redefined
Kim grew up in Austin, her childhood and teenage years bustling with activity. Her father helped start Mission: Possible!, a Christian community outreach ministry dedicated to serving under-resourced areas of Austin. Kim spent many Sundays helping Austin’s homeless population. “We grew up with a different perspective,” she says. “It’s not hard for me to love people that are very different—that’s all I ever knew.”
When she wasn’t involved with church activities, Kim played on soccer fields and basketball courts, played volleyball, ran track, and cheered for Anderson High School. She loved running, six miles every day. Kim’s world revolved around physical activity and service. But in 1999, Kim’s world stopped spinning.
It began with a few sore joints—doctors thought she exercised too much. They gave her steroid injections, but the pain didn’t go away. It got worse: Her joints stiffened, swelled, turned red, and became warm. Finally, after visiting six doctors who poked, prodded, and scanned every inch of her body, nineteen-year-old Kim had a diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks joint tissue. It can affect muscles, organs, and nerves. Kim’s rheumatologist laid out the future: In addition to the joint swelling, pain, and inflammation, she would experience increasing pain and need corrective surgery as RA destroyed various joints and bones. “I was pretty optimistic at first,” Kim remembers. “I thought, ‘I’ll beat the odds.’”
But soon, Kim’s RA forced her to use a wheelchair. “My spirits got kicked when I was in a wheelchair and a nurse came to my dorm room to dress me,” she says. “Doctors also put me on chemotherapy”—to suppress her immune system—“and I lost my hair and was sick four days out of seven.”
No more running. No more sports. Even walking across the sprawling campus at Texas State University to get to classes was out of the picture. So was serving consistently in the church. How was she going to get her life back?
“It was kind of like the stages of death. Who I was before was gone. I couldn’t physically do anything, and before, that’s where I found my identity,” Kim explains. “If you don’t have health and you’re sick all of the time and you’re miserable so you can’t even be a good friend to people—who are you?”
Kim had to redefine herself. She switched majors from communications to elementary education and special education—the communications field would have placed more demands on her body. She also began serving with Campus Crusade for Christ, a Christian on-campus ministry. That’s where she met an amazing man.
“When Matt met me, my hair was falling out [from the chemotherapy]. I was a mess. He loved me for me, not for the things I could or could not do,” Kim says. “He went to my doctor’s office before we got married and said, ‘Tell me the way this is going to happen because I want to be there for her.’”
What’s happened since that day has been a journey of love, perseverance, and yes, pain.
A Road Hard Traveled
In 2004, four years after getting married, Kim and Matt had their first son, Jaden. That same year, Kim was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue. Lupus causes Kim to feel like she has the flu. Her RA is constant, but thankfully, lupus flares only a few times a year.
A year later, they moved to Georgetown, where Isaac, Liam, Niles, and a daughter, Hadalin, were born. After Hadalin’s birth, in 2011, Kim started surgeries to fix some of the damage done by RA. “My spine, both shoulders, both wrists, both knees, both hips, and both ankles are bone-on-bone,” she explains. “So when I take a step, it’s grinding every time I move.”
So far, she’s had a wrist fusion, finger surgery, bones in her right foot replaced with metal rods, a knee replacement, and a hip replacement. More surgeries loom on the horizon, but she has to balance them with other conditions. In 2013, Kim was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease, celiac disease, a pituitary adenoma, and osteoporosis.
These physical challenges have given Kim deeper understanding of herself, her faith, and what it truly means to depend on God.
“I think that God uses the weak. I look at all the people God used in the Bible—the blind, the small man, and the people who shouldn’t be able to do things. He wants to show his power through that.” Kim relies on a verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9: “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.” She explains, “I’m a pretty-stinkin’ weak person. I kind of see it as privilege that I’m not able to conquer things on my own anymore because I know I can’t. I know that I have to depend on God.”
A myriad of medical challenges shapes Kim’s daily life. Tasks such as moving a load of laundry can take Kim thirty minutes, but they get done. Going to the grocery store may mean a family trip in the big van or ordering food online, depending on how mobile Kim is that day. Friends and family sometimes get groceries, too. And little things, like opening jars or cans, require someone else’s hands.
Doing “Mom” things means that while her kids play at the park, Kim watches from a park bench. Even pushing her daughter on the swing could break one of Kim’s frail bones. “As a mom, I want to take care of my kids, but ‘care’ looks different for us,” she says. “I love them and they know I love them, and that’s what matters.”
In 2012, Matt and Kim made the decision to homeschool their children. Kim knew she couldn’t be the kind of mom that went to all the school events—her body wouldn’t let her.
“Homeschooling ended up being good because not only do I get to spend time with my kids, it gave me a purpose,” Kim explains. “Whereas if you take them away and I’m left here with my broken body that I’m not happy with, then I just sulk in my misery. I have to get up because people are dependent on me, and I do it because I love them. I love them more than I love me.”
Love Along the Way
That’s what Kim wants her life to be about—love. Love is meeting the needs of people different from herself. It’s the special man who met her at the beginning of her new journey and wanted to be part of it. Love is five voices laughing in the backyard. It’s also a soon-to-be finished, handicapped-accessible house sitting on seven acres that Kim can’t wait to move into.
Love is trusting God even when the journey’s tough. For the past year, Kim’s chronicled her life’s journey through her Tumblr blog, Beauty Through Scars. It’s a place to share her hopes and fears, and it’s helped crystallize her purpose.
“I’ve changed my view on what I think is my purpose in life. I used to think it was about what I did. What I’ve realized, for me, is that God is not interested in the end destination—it’s the journey. I cannot control the things that have been thrown at me,” Kim says. “I’m not promised tomorrow, but I am promised that I will never be alone. I can have peace knowing that there is a bigger picture than just myself. So each day I can wake up and know that I have a purpose.”
Follow Kim’s journey at beautythroughscars.tumblr.com.