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Corban University

May 19, 2019

A Journey Through ALS and God’s Word: Kim Ordile (’89) and Tammy Fabian (’92) Share Their Stories

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Psalm 86:11

The Way Back to God

“I fell away from the Lord, and I didn’t know how to come back.”

Tammy Fabian had spent the past few years in rebellion against God and had all but lost touch with her friends and prayer partners from her Christian college days at Corban University (then Western Baptist). She knew she wanted to change, but how? She felt directionless and alone.

“The only thing I knew that could change a rebellious heart was God’s Word,” Tammy says. So she decided to memorize Psalm 119, a chapter known for its revelations about the Word of God—and, incidentally, for being the longest chapter in the Bible.

Soon after beginning her memorization, Tammy almost gave up.

“The first verse is, ‘Blessed is he whose ways are blameless, who walks according to the ways of the Lord.’ I kept thinking, That is not me.” Who did she think she was, memorizing Psalm 119, when she was the last person this chapter could be describing?

But a bit farther down, Tammy read, “Oh, if my ways were blameless in following your decrees, then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.”

This is me, she thought.

So she kept memorizing.

After memorizing all 176 verses of Psalm 119, Tammy decided she wasn’t finished. She turned to James. She wanted more of God’s Word and more of God’s wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (1:5).

As she neared the end of James, Tammy was struck with the need to not only ask for wisdom, but to act on it. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (1:22). So she decided to memorize the Sayings of the Wise from Proverbs 22-24, to learn how to live out wisdom.

Book to book, chapter to chapter, Tammy kept memorizing, each time asking God what he wanted to teach her next—what sin He wanted to uncover, what wound He wanted to heal. She memorized Hosea to learn what her idolatry had done to her. Then she memorized the book of Matthew to learn more about Jesus, her true King.

“I focused on what I felt I needed to be healed in—my shame, my marriage, my sin. If there was a book of the Bible that encapsulated that theme, I would go there and memorize it.”

Eventually Tammy’s desire to experience healing transformed into a desire to know more about God and His ways. “I wanted to be a better leader, so I memorized the book of Joshua. . . . I wanted to know more about the Holy Spirit, so I memorized the book of Acts.”

Every morning, she would spend two hours in the Word, memorizing about 15 new verses and recalling older material. And with each new book she memorized, Tammy gained a deeper understanding of God’s character and His call on her life. By the time God invited her into the story of a woman named Kim Ordile, she was ready to obey Him, whatever the cost.

Through Her Eyes

In October of 2012, Kim Ordile started experiencing symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—better known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It began with the occasional unexpected fall, the unexplainable weakening of her muscles.

“Before my diagnosis with ALS, I fell flat thirty times,” she says. “I have done it all: landed on my knees, on my hands, on my butt, my elbows, my face. . . . I fell on the sidewalk, the street, the boardwalk, at work, at home, at the doctor’s office, and at a restaurant. I kept saying, ‘I can overcome what’s wrong with my muscles.’ Then I finally got smart enough and started using a wheelchair.”

The disease came on, as most do, unexpectedly. How could Kim have imagined, 20 years earlier as she played volleyball for Corban University (then Western Baptist), taught at a school in Portugal for missionary children, and raised her own two children Joseph and Jessa, that she would one day be confined to a wheelchair, unable to do so much as lift a glass of water?

As the disease slowly took over different muscle functions, Kim lost the ability to walk, then the ability to speak and use her hands. But she never lost her caring husband Lou, her sense of humor, or her trust in God.

Kim was also left with one singular way to communicate with the world: through her eyes. Even when the corners of her mouth would no longer rise into a smile, Kim’s eyes could communicate joy. When her mouth couldn’t express her needs or frustrations, her eyes could. And with a special piece of technology, Kim could use her eye movements to form sentences on her computer to express her needs, share her thoughts, and even write a blog.

Through her blog, Kim was able to participate in the world around her—and to let others into her own world as she described what most people couldn’t even imagine.

She described what it was like being unable to speak, comparing it to having duct tape across her mouth. She described the moment when, after round upon round of tests and doctors’ visits, she was finally diagnosed with ALS. “When we left Robert Woods Johnson Hospital at Rutgers, I told Lou we should go out for ice cream because peace filled my heart.” Although devastating, the fact that she finally had an answer, that her symptoms were no longer unexplained, brought relief more than pain.

She wrote about what it was like to rely on a breathing device to get enough oxygen, and her fear of someday suffocating to death when her body refused to breathe on its own. But most of all, she wrote about what God was teaching her through ALS. She learned that she didn’t have to be actively productive for her life to have purpose, that God would always take care of her, and that she could learn to accept with grace the gradual changes manifesting in her body.

As Kim continued writing, her husband Lou began to conceive of something special he could do for his wife: he could try to get her blog published into a book, giving her a unique outlet to her creativity and voice—something tangible, something that could travel farther than she could. He began asking around for someone to talk to. Where would he even begin? He knew little about the publishing business.

One day, Kim’s sister Koni mentioned that her friend Tammy knew something about book publishing, and Lou decided to give Tammy a call. Thus began the friendship between two women who had been hearing from God in two very different ways—and yet hearing the same thing: to listen for God’s voice and to trust Him.

Trust Exercise

When Tammy Fabian picked up the phone that afternoon, she couldn’t have imagined the journey God would take her on. In the midst of her extensive Scripture memorization, she had decided to start her own publishing company called Time in the Desert, with the eventual dream of writing her own book about the wisdom she had found in Proverbs. She had been saving her funds for this purpose, knowing how expensive her book would be.

Through her long-time friend Koni, Tammy had learned of Kim’s battle with ALS and had even prayed for her on multiple occasions. They’d only met in person once, briefly, back in 1990 at a car wash fundraiser for the Western Baptist volleyball team. When Tammy got the call from Lou, she was happy to offer publishing advice.

“There was no purpose to the call except to tell them how to find a publisher, how to fill out a book proposal, just some of those basic tools.” But as the two-hour conversation progressed, Tammy began to feel that there was something else she was supposed to say. In the last ten minutes, she finally said, “If you want, I can publish your book.”

Before she had begun memorizing Scripture, Tammy probably wouldn’t have given that answer. But over the past few years, she had become more attuned to God’s voice. This time, she heard him telling her that if He wanted her to publish her own book, it would happen in His timing. But for now, He was asking her to give it up—to give up her timeline and her carefully saved funds, so that He could use the voice of a woman who could no longer speak for herself.

So Tammy flew to South Carolina to meet with Lou and Kim. Each interaction she had with the couple confirmed in Tammy’s heart that she was following God’s will. “You know you’re in the presence of someone who’s joyful even though she can’t speak, because her smile just lights up the room,” Tammy says. “She radiates a side of Jesus that people don’t typically see. They rely on their ears and their mouth. She can’t do that. She just emanates it with her eyes alone.”

Tammy began working with Kim to arrange 40 of her posts into a 40-day devotional book (the number ‘40’ selected because of its spiritual significance for strength and healing). It would be called “Rise Up and Walk,” and it would be an encouraging yet raw look at Kim’s walk with the Lord through her experience with ALS.

Together, Kim and Tammy began collaborating in a partnership that was more than that between an author and an editor. Rather, it became a trust exercise as Kim handed over her personal thoughts and writings, trusting Tammy to stay true to her voice and intention. At each step, where other authors might have clamored to see edits or make their own adjustments, Kim simply told Tammy, “I trust you.”

Indeed, Kim’s constant trust—not just in her editor and publisher but also in the Lord—is a constant theme throughout her blog. She writes, “The ALS journey the Lord has taken me on is rather unique. . . . For the last two years I have learned to talk to the Lord directly from my heart. He not only understands what I am saying, but he knows how I feel. He understands and identifies with me. I am not lonely because the best Counselor is with me twenty-four hours a day. And he holds my hand.”

Although she shares many of her fears and frustrations in the book as well—such as the frustration at having to sit idle during a big move as her family loaded boxes into the moving van—the underlying current in Kim’s honest reflections is an ongoing, active trust in God’s will for her life. This is the encouragement she hopes others gain from her book, especially those whose lives have been touched by ALS.

As Tammy has seen the ways God has already worked through Kim’s book—including a generous donor who provided the funds for 600 books to be distributed to ALS centers across the country—she reflects that the strength and certainty she’s felt throughout the process have stemmed largely from her Scripture memorization.

Tammy remembers one particular passage she was memorizing around the same time she received that first phone call from Lou.

She was in chapter 22 of Genesis, and she happened to be at Lake Tahoe. “I memorize best when God places me in a scene that I relate to differently.” Tammy vividly remembers taking a walk with her cup of coffee along a path by the lake. She came to a bench, sat down, and began memorizing.

When she got to verse 13, she found herself tripping over the words: “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns.” The consonants jarred together, and “for some reason I couldn’t say ‘thicket.’” As she repeated the verse over and over, trying to get the rhythm down, she heard a rustling in the blueberry bushes and looked up. “There can’t be a ram in there!” she laughed to herself. What came out instead was a bear.

The bear scampered off, and Tammy was left with a new understanding of what had been so tricky about verse 13.

“Why would Abraham look up?” she thought to herself. “Because he heard a sound.”

That moment became etched in her mind, as well as the lessons she would take from it. Why would God ask her to give up her dream of publishing her own book? Because he had something even better in store for her—a ram caught in a thicket, waiting for Tammy to simply look up.

Why would God allow Kim Ordile, a vibrant, giving woman, to suffer from an incurable, all-encompassing disease? Because He had something even better in store for her—a rich inner life marked by humility, trust, and surprising joy—an inner life that would be shared with others and would in turn encourage them to trust God in even the most challenging experiences and “Rise Up and Walk.”

Kim’s book “Rise Up and Walk” is available on Amazon as well as through Time in the Desert (available with the friends & family discount!). You can also read more of Kim’s personal blog. Both Tammy Fabian and Kim Ordile graduated from Western Baptist College—Tammy in 1992 with a degree in psychology, and Kim in 1989 with a degree in elementary education.

Written by Amelia Rodriguez, Senior Writer