Twenty-one-year-old singer/songwriter and author Paige Armstrong Omartian knows that life is precious because she almost lost hers to bone cancer at age 10. Sharing her story and what she’s learned is at the heart of her new call-to-faith-and-action memoir, “Wake Up, Generation.”
Paige first discovered she had a problem while playing Helen Keller in a community theater production of “The Miracle Worker.” What began as soreness in her right leg grew so excruciating that she couldn’t sleep at night. Tests revealed a cancerous tumor below Paige’s right knee. The diagnosis was Ewings Sarcoma.
Chemotherapy, a permanent IV line in her chest, and hair loss followed. The chemo was especially difficult. As Paige recalls in her book, the side effects included “profound nausea, acid reflux, vomiting, raging bone pain…shattering migraines, bruising, fevers, [and] stomach cramps” just to name a few.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Paige also endured the spiritual torment of wondering what she did to deserve this. She writes, “I had never felt pain so deep. I could only reason that God was punishing me and had purposefully turned everything against me…but I didn’t know why.”
Paige found comfort after she started writing her thoughts in a journal, and realized there was a musical “flow” to the words – “words full of pain and confusion, but words guided to hope.”
Hope was needed as Paige faced surgery to replace the bone in her leg that the tumor had seized. It arrived when she was being wheeled into the operating room. She writes, “I was brought into a strange presence that I had never felt before. It was as if Jesus was truly there, holding me…Not in a clingy, over-protective way, but in a strong, safe, and all-knowing way. One that enveloped me in love and the sweetest peace I had ever known…This day marked a change in my battle. Suddenly I wasn’t fighting God’s scheme against me. I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death, with my Savior lovingly holding my hand.”
The days that followed were still a struggle, but Paige faced them with faith, humor, and the confidence that God had a purpose for her life. That purpose started to be revealed when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked her what wish they could help her fulfill. She chose to record a CD in Nashville. After being declared cancer-free in 2002, she traveled from her Pennsylvania home to Music City to record two songs with top industry professionals who treated her like one of the stars they were used to working with.
As Paige’s CD got spread around, she was asked to share her songs and story all over the United States. She was even asked to record some new songs to include on a Christmas CD that would benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That CD included songs from artists like Stevie Wonder and Martina McBride. Pretty good company for a girl who was facing death a short time earlier.
Through all the attention, Paige never forgot that God got her through her ordeal with the help of talented and compassionate doctors and nurses. Even on a national stage like “The Today Show,” she always mentioned God.
In addition to health, Paige also found wisdom. She writes, “[God] took my pain and exchanged it for purpose. Even if I could go back and take away my battle with cancer, as horrible as it was, I wouldn’t. God has used that circumstance to unleash my purpose and instill a passion in me that I’m devoted to living out.”
And what is that passion? Telling young people to “Wake Up!”
One of Paige’s greatest frustrations is seeing young people – tweens or teens or young adults – wasting their lives, as if they have no God-given purpose. The word she really hates is “bored.” As she documents in “Wake Up, Generation,” the notion of boredom lures young people into getting themselves into all kinds of trouble, usually having to do with drugs or sex.
Paige writes, “In past generations…young people were held to a much higher standard. They were expected to carry themselves in a respectable way, honor their elders, learn a trade, and do the work of an adult. As Alex and Brett Harris pointed out in their book ‘Do Hard Things,’ the word ‘teenager’ didn’t even exist until it was published in Reader’s Digest in 1941. The word ‘teenager’ has robbed us of the ‘adult’ in young adult. It now comes with the connotation of being troubled, aimless, wild, and even hopeless.”
Paige continues, “As young people, we have a tendency to think that we’re not only invincible, but have all the time in the world…We need to open our eyes…We’ve been sleepwalking in apathy, passive in our motivations, blinded to the incredible adventure that God wants to breathe into our lives…Wake up!…Leave your old ways behind. Christ will guide you…You don’t have a second to waste.”
Though she doesn’t really need them, Paige gets reminders of how precious life is when she visits the hospital for checkups. She sees, “patients attached to tubes and IV poles…with scared, half-conscious faces, wondering what was happening to them. I couldn’t help but ask this: Why do we have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death before we realize our lives are so precious?”
In a nutshell, that captures the message of “Wake Up, Generation:” our lives are precious and we need to follow God’s lead so we can discover and work toward our individual purpose. That’s why Paige fills the book not only with her own story, but with those of others who found healing after brokenness – and purpose after being directionless. She also ends most of her chapters with an “Action Challenge.” It’s the way she hopes to encourage readers to make a “tangible change” in their lives. The Challenges ask young people to take an honest look at the culture around them as well as their own beliefs and behaviors. Then she offers some Christ-centered advice on how to improve yourself.
Because of her struggles, Paige – who is now healthy and married – has the wisdom of someone much older than a typical 21-year-old. Thank God for that, though, because it enables her to be a prophetic voice to the current generation of young people – and the next generation as well. If you have or know any tweens, teens, or even college students, buy them “Wake Up, Generation” so they hear some messages they desperately need, but that they might dismiss if they came from an older person. And if, like me, you’re an older person yourself, you can read it too. In addition to being an engaging story, it offers insights that people of every age need to remember.