Julie Johnson ’12, M.A.’13 thought she was going to be an Olympic gymnast, but that changed when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the second grade. Trading cartwheels for tiny chalkboards sparked a love for teaching.
At eight years old Julie was known for playing school with her younger sister. “That brought me the biggest joy,” says Julie. “I would take my sister out of whatever she was doing, sit her in a desk, and pull up the chalkboard. As I tried to teach her my math, she would dutifully sit there and pretend to copy things off the board.”
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Julie is in the accelerated graduate program at Wheaton and plans on earning a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in elementary education. “I love being able to focus on the social and emotional aspect of education,” she says.
This summer, Julie interned with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where she created and implemented individualized treatment for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD). “It was my dream-come-true job,” she says.
Hoping to teach second or third graders after college, Julie volunteered at a public school in Ohio before attending Wheaton. “I was able to get a flavor for what I’m getting into,” she says. “I’ve tasted it, been there, and I want to go back.” Toward that end, Julie takes a full course load every semester, while working her way through college. At one point, she found herself juggling odd jobs that included working as a swim instructor/assistant head coach for Great White Sharks, as a lifeguard at Wheaton’s indoor pool, as a private swim instructor, and as a babysitter for 12 different families.
With a full plate, the continual battle with rheumatoid arthritis leaves her in physical pain more often than not. Due to her illness, she has suffered broken bones and swollen joints, but the worst moment came in the summer of 2009 when she injured her chest muscle, making even breathing difficult. It took several months for her condition to improve, and during that time she says, “I wrestled with God, but I could hear Him saying, ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’”
Julie was able to use even this difficult experience to give strength to others. Working as a Passage leader at HoneyRock last summer, she connected with one young lady who was struggling with a health issue. “We built a strong relationship just bonding over the fact that ‘yes, our bodies are broken, but that doesn’t hold us back,’” she says, adding that the young girl returned to Wheaton “knowing she has a community of girls loving and praying for her as she’s walking the road of disability.”
Choosing purposefully to be a victor and not a victim of her circumstances, Julie says, “I realize that this is my mission field—speaking to people who are faced with being restrained by their body, and helping them come to terms with what it means to suffer for the Cross and still give glory to God.”
by Monica M. Jones