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'God is still right beside me': A faith walk with MS
By Ryan Miller

December 1998 should have culminated in celebration for Kim Kulp Birk ’98. She finished her final term of student teaching – the last step to her degree – and could anticipate finding an elementary school teaching job while she planned for her wedding to Scott Birk, just six months away.

But she was experiencing tingling in her legs that would not subside. And though doctors – despite nearly a half dozen MRIs, a spinal tap and myriad other tests – had not been able to pinpoint the source of the chronic fatigue that made her limbs drag like a wheel-less barrow, she still awaited the results of one final test.

The results returned: multiple sclerosis.

Instead of an anticipated sense of accomplishment, victory, Birk experienced hopelessness.

But three years later, Birk is sharing a first-grade teaching position at Woodview Elementary in Nappanee, Ind., and singing praises to God for every step she takes.

“I told God if I have to give all this up (sports, exercising, etc.), you’re going to give me something,” Birk said. “I love to sing but I never had the confidence. Now I sing solos – and they are more enjoyable than exercising.”

Now she considers her voice a part of her ministry, singing songs like a familiar Ginny Owens number.

“Despite all the pain and trials, God has always been picking me up,” she said.

Birk first noticed the symptoms of MS during an education course, taught by then Professor of Education Anita Stalter, now academic dean, in the spring of 1998. Sitting in class, her legs felt like they were on fire, and stayed that way for days. The symptoms worsened in Professor of Bible, Religion and Philosophy Keith Graber Miller’s Christian Ethics class in May. She tired quickly, but it was not because of the professors’ lecturing, and her legs continued to fall asleep and not wake up for days.

Birk’s uncle, a nearby orthopedist, quickly started her on a battery of tests with a neurologist colleague that eventually led to the December diagnosis.

“I was even angry at God – ‘Why did you let this happen to me? I’m only 22! I thought you wanted me to be a teacher. I thought you wanted me to have a family,’” she said.

Depression and uncertainty followed. She thought her life and her career would stall. She says she finally spoke straight to God: “If you want me to teach, you’re going to have to give me a job I can handle.”

When the principal at Woodview Elementary called to offer her the half-time job-sharing position, Birk screamed joyfully into the phone. But despite a nearly ideal teaching situation, that first year, as Stalter warned her, was full of hard work, not to mention a relapse of MS symptoms the week before school started.

“I guess God got me up in the morning and pushed me out the door. I don’t know how else I got through that,” Birk said. “It didn’t ruin my life. It has helped me get through life.

“MS, I can say now, has been a blessing. I look at life differently. I enjoy every single day. I get up and don’t take life for granted,” she continued. “God gives life to reach people and make a difference. There are people out there that are depressed and down and have struggles. I know how they feel.”

Those feelings led Birk to become a Stephen minister at her church, Yellow Creek Mennonite.

Birk keeps a plaque in her living room with an inscription that reads, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle.” She received it while in grade school as a gift from a relative and carried it with her through college, but said she did not understand its message until the last few years.

“I still cry and get down and frustrated with my MS, but it doesn’t take as long to get out of the hole,” Birk said. “It is OK to feel hopeless, but
God is still right beside me. Whatever is going to happen, God is going to be there and I don’t have to worry.”

Return to December Bulletin contents
About this issue – Stretching our hands toward hope - Editor Rachel Lapp
The end is the beginning – “A contagion of hope”
- President Shirley H. Showalter
Finding hope in the cemetery
- Don Blosser, professor of Bible
'Last hope' brings new life (times three)
- Ryan Miller interviews Jenny Jenkins, assistant professor of Biology
Hope in the final act: It's our scene
- Alan '62 and Eleanor '57 Kreider
'God is still right beside me': A faith walk with MS
- Ryan Miller interviews Kim Kulp Birk '98

In search of hope
- Brian R. Hook '93
Alumni in New York City reflect on 9-11
- Mervin Horst '84, Malinda E. Berry '96

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