Amy Brooks came to our attention at Sew Powerful because she wrote a story for the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book. I hardly know where to begin in describing this remarkable woman. She is an artist, author, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, independent, determined woman and a very strong Christian. But another part of Amy's identity is that she is differently able, having been born with no arms or legs. That has not stopped her from achieving a very long list of accomplishments, including sewing a Sew Powerful purse. I am in awe. You will be too.
Amy Brooks, A Most Unconventional Life
IN THIS EPISODE
No arms no legs no problem, differently abled, purses, struggles, Amy Brooks, mobility van, engaged to be married, adoption, God, sewing with no arms, author, artist, moving away from home, importance of faith, overcoming challenges
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
Sew Powerful 2021 Spring Summit, https://summit.sewpowerful.org/start-now
Amy’s website, https://amybrooks.org/
Amy’s books, “Unseen Arms” and “Unseen Arms, Reaching Out,” available at https://www.amybrooks.org/shoppe
Amy's Facebook Fan Page, https://www.facebook.com/authoramybrooks
Amy’s YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/c/AmyBee
Arms Around Amy GoFundMe, https://www.tmservices.com/blog/arms-around-amy
Caring Hearts Ministry, https://www.caringheartsmexico.org/
Favorite Scripture, Psalms 139:14
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Amy Brooks
Jan Cancila, Host 00:06
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Amy Brooks came to our attention at Sew Powerful because she wrote and submitted a story that was published in the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book. But Amy Brooks is so much more than a story writer. Today you are going to meet an artist, an author, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, an independent determined woman. Amy is also a very strong Christian. A part of Amy's identity is that she is differently-abled, differently-abled than you and I, but the key word is abled, and boy is Amy abled. I want you to meet Amy Brooks. Hi, Amy, how are you today?
Amy Brooks, Guest 01:15
I'm good. How are you? Thank you for having me.
Oh, we are so excited. We've been looking forward to this for a long time. Why don't we start off; I know many people know your your birth story, but why don't you just give our listeners just a little background about yourself.
So I was born without arms or legs. In the medical world it is called congenital tetraphocomelia. Say that three times.
Yeah, easy for you to say.
Right. I've had a little bit of practice.
So yeah, just kind of means that I was born with four seal limbs. And that's kind of exactly what they look like, I think. And I was abandoned at the hospital by my birth family and then adopted by a loving Christian family who would love me as their own.
And did you have siblings growing up?
I did. So, I have two older brothers and two older sisters. And believe it or not, I was actually closer in age to my nieces and nephews. So yeah, so I kind of grew up more with them. And I was also close to my brothers and sisters, but they more looked out for me and, you know, as their little sister.
Yeah, the baby of the family.
Yeah, we have, we have a baby of the family and, and we looked out for her too. And she's grown up to be a fierce woman.
So, you have to watch out for those young ones, so. Tell us a little bit about, you mentioned your family was a Christian family. Tell us about your faith growing up and what that's meant to you.
Yeah, so like I said, my my family is a strong Christian family, and they leaned on God to raise me, you know, they they were unaware of what to do when I came along. My Mom just kind of knew that I was supposed to be theirs but had no idea what to do with me, you know. And so, they really relied on God to to know how to raise me and to do the best that they could with me. And by doing that, they didn't treat me any differently than my brothers and sisters, you know. They instilled in me the want and drive and the importance of being independent. And so, whatever my brothers and sisters were doing, and my nieces and nephews, I did as well. And yeah, so I've always had that in me to want to be independent. And that was because of my parents.
Well, that's that's fantastic. And so, I'm a Facebook friend, and you recently shared some extremely exciting news. Tell our listeners what happened.
So, I got engaged about two weeks ago, super excited, to my best friend. So, yeah. God was in the beginning of, was in this from the very beginning and I'm just so excited.
Okay, so okay, we have to ask all, for all the details now. Did he get down on one knee?
He did. You know, and he actually prayed over us first before he asked and and just prayed that God would hold him accountable and that he was very committed to us. And and then he knelt down and asked me, at a little park nearby, oh, on a bridge over a little creek, so.
Oh my gosh, that sounds so romantic. And were you surprised, or did you know this was coming?
I kind of knew it was coming. Yeah, he he doesn't live in the area, so I don't get to see him in person as often as I'd like. And so, he had a trip planned up here to see me and we kind of, I kind of knew that it was going to happen, but I didn't know how or anything like that. So, yeah.
And and so have you been making wedding plans?
Yes, extreme, extremely. Because it's happening this September, so.
Oh my gosh. Oh, very soon. Oh, how wonderful.
Yes, very soon. So yeah, I'm definitely in wedding planning mode.
Well, that's great. And where do you live, Amy?
I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Mm hmm. And after the wedding, where will you stay in the Pittsburgh area?
No, I'm leaving the area. So yeah.
Oh, my gosh. And so, you've been living with your parents, of course, since birth? And now this is going to be different, isn't it?
A complete change, a complete change, yeah. And it was really hard to make the decision, but I think it's the right decision. And my family took it extremely hard, that I won't be here anymore. But I think over time, they've kind of come to realize what I have, and that God was in this from the beginning and had this planned. And they love my fiancé very much and they see how good he is with me and how well he protects me and takes care of me. So, I think they're just really excited for me as well.
Well, and I can imagine, maybe in your situation, parents might be a little bit more protective but...
But yeah. But you know, they're usually like that when their daughters get married anyway.
So you just got engaged, but how did COVID and the lockdown and all of that, how did that affect you over the last year?
Oh, it was really hard, actually. And my parents are in their 80s. So, it was really hard on us as a family, you know, making sure that they were safe. And I had a lot of health issues and personal things going on, as well as the rest of my, you know, other family members were going through a lot of things besides COVID. And so, it was just really, a a tough year, all around. And so that kind of makes this engagement even more special because I know where I was a year ago, and how hard things were and how dark they felt, you know. And, you know, God has just been showing me that He's in every little detail, so.
That's wonderful. I think we would be remiss if we don't mention your fiancé’s name. We've got to give him a shout out. What is his name?
His name's Michael.
Michael. Hello, Michael. You better be good to our girl Amy.
He is super good to me.
Amy, a lot of people know you because they they watch your YouTube channel. Tell us about some of some of the videos that are on your YouTube channel. You have a specific little series too, right?
Yeah. So, my series is called ‘How Does She Do It?’ And you know, people are always asking, well, how do you do this? And how do you do that? And a friend of mine suggested that I start making YouTube videos about it. And to be honest, at first, I was really totally against it, because I hate being on camera. And you know, just being in front of crowds, which is ironic because I am a motivational speaker. But, you know, after praying about it and everything I decided to give it a try. And I figured, well, I'll be the one editing it anyway. So, I can, you know, make it however I want to, you know. And yeah, so I just started thinking of things that people will always ask me how I do. And I show them how I'm able to do those things in short little videos.
Well, and because we are Sew Powerful that you have a two-part video segment where you show how you use your sewing machine.
When I saw you threading that sewing machine. Oh my gosh. I mean, I have trouble threading my sewing machine with 10 fingers and two arms. But could you describe how you thread your sewing machine?
Like each step or just generically?
Well, I mean, with what what body parts do you use?
Yeah. I use my mouth, mostly. I use my mouth for mostly everything. And I do have, like I said, little extensions of arms. And so I use those for things too, everything is all upper body.
I was so impressed. I mean, it looked like you were using your forehead, your, and you use your tongue a lot too.
Yes, I do.
Oh my gosh. And I saw that you had a Baby Lock machine. Is Baby Lock aware of what you're doing?
I believe so. I think they may have showed my video on their Facebook page a few years back.
Okay. All right. So, you have your YouTube channel. You've been on TV a few times. Tell us about that.
Yeah, a few local news stations, a local Christian station called Cornerstone. I've been on 100 Huntley Street in Canada, and also a show called Born Different where they just showcase the, you know, differences, how people are born different and how they've overcome things, so yeah.
And so, you've written a book about your life experience, well you've written two books about your life experiences. Is that right, two?
Two. So, tell us about the books, tell us where we can get them. Tell us everything about it.
Yeah, so they're both my autobiography. The first one is called “Unseen Arms”. And the second one is “Unseen Arms Reaching Out”. And the first one is about my life from birth up until about the time I graduated from high school. And then the second one is, you know, after high school and beyond, and shares a little bit about my motivational speaking and things like that, and my adult, and more of my adult life. So, the books are available on my website, amybrooks.org, where I will personally sign them for you. They're also available on Amazon. But I do better when you order them directly from me. And also, like I said, you get them signed from me, so.
Oh, that would be fantastic. Okay, and now, you have some hobbies. You consider yourself as an artist. So, tell us a little bit about your artistic hobbies.
Well, I've loved to be artistic ever since I can remember. I used to start out with, you know, lots of crafty things. And I remember making those, painting those Plaster of Paris houses that you see at Christmas time and ornaments and things like that. And that grew into, you know, drawing a little bit here and there, and an art, an art called Paper Tole (I'm not sure if you've ever heard of Paper Tole) where they, you take multiple copies of one photo, and you cut out all of the little intricate pieces of that photo using an x-acto knife, which I would hold in my mouth, and then you layer all those little tiny pieces on top of one base layer with silicone in between all of the layers and that creates this multi-layered effect. And yes, so sewing is my latest passion. I'd had no idea that I had the skill, to be honest. But I love it and I've been doing it probably for about four, four years, maybe now? Yeah.
Well, one of the things that you sewed, and I alluded to it earlier, was you made a purse for Sew Powerful. You downloaded the free purse pattern from the sewpowerful.org website and followed the directions. And then you submitted a story about that experience, and it was published in the second edition of the “We Are Sew Powerful” book. And the, what was the name of your, do you remember the name of your story?
I don't, actually.
It was ‘A Sew Powerful Purse Made in a Most Unconventional Way’. So yeah, so that that sort of sums up your life story, I think.
It does. I think it does.
Yeah, pretty pretty unconventional. So, you made the Sew Powerful purse, but you've gone on and made other custom handbags, right?
I have, yeah.
Tell us about that.
Well, so like I said, when I when I started off sewing, the reason I started sewing was because purses are hard for me to find that I can use for myself with, you know, zippers and snaps and things like that. I really just wanted a small purse that I could carry my cell phone in and be able to get in and out quickly and they don't make things like that with the right size straps, and you know all that. And so, I decided that I wanted to make my own and it just kind of grew from there. And I was sewing all kinds of things at the time, quilt, a quilt and everything and I just fell in love with purse making and so I've been I've been making all different kinds of purses and bags and commissions for for people who've been interested in them. And I've been so busy with commissions that I've that I've I've had orders for the last two years, so.
Oh my gosh, that's fantastic. So, so these are made to order and each each bag takes a couple of weeks for you to complete. Is that right?
At least. It depends on on the bag. Some of the smaller bags I can do in a few days. But yeah, so obviously things take me a lot longer to do and I do, you know, 99% of it myself. My Mom may help me birth the bag at the end or, you know, fold something in for me but I do all of it myself.
Wow. That is that is amazing. And you put a little logo on that you sew into each bag. Tell us about your logo.
Yeah. So, I named it ‘Stitched with a Kiss’. I thought that was pretty clever because I use my mouth to to make everything. So, a cute little play on words, I guess.
Yeah, I guess so. That's great. Now, a while back, there was a GoFundMe fund. And the purpose, tell us about that and what the purpose was and what the result happened.
Yeah, so the purpose of the GoFundMe was for me to get a new van, one that hopefully, I would be able to drive myself. And obviously, those those modifications cost quite a bit of money. And a van that is handicap modified in the first place is very expensive. And like I said, my parents are in their 80s and on a fixed income, and it's not something that we could really afford. So, an organization called Caring Hearts headed up that GoFundMe for for me and my family. And we raised enough money to get a van, albeit it wasn't modified for me to be able to drive. But it was definitely a blessing for us because our other van had been extremely old and had a ramp in it that was 25 years old that followed me for most of my life, and, and they don't even make them like that anymore. So, it's been a blessing and it's been extremely easy for me to get in and for my parents to strap me down and things like that. So yeah, it's been a huge blessing.
Oh, that's fantastic. And, Amy, what goals, or what are you looking forward to, that's coming up in in your life? I presume your marriage is one of those, right?
Yeah. So, talk about that a little bit.
What are you looking forward to?
I think keeping my own house, or my own place is going to be a big deal. And I'm almost 40. And so, I've lived in the same house with my parents for my whole life. And, yeah, we live in a little community. So, I have been, you know, in two different bedrooms of this house for my whole life. And now I'm about to not only step out of this house, but outside of the state, you know.
Away from my whole family who has been my rock, you know, this whole time. And so, my whole life is about to change. And I'm looking forward to the adventures that I'll have with my goal, and all of the things that God has in store for us as a couple in this new chapter of our life.
That's wonderful. Well, you know, this podcast is going to drop on the same day as the opening of the Sew Powerful Spring Summit. And the name of the summit this year is ‘Gifts and Callings’. And so the speakers that we have at the Summit have been asked to answer 10 different questions as part of their presentation. And so, I'm going to just ask you to answer five. So, I'm not gonna give you the whole list. So one of the questions that that the speakers are going to be answering is, what do you think the key is to finding your purpose in Christ?
This is a hard one.
I think, to be honest, every Christian's purpose, if you love the Lord, is to share His love with others, no matter what else you do. But I think that He places in each of us a desire and abilities and talents, and whatever those are, if we use them to glorify Him is our gift back to Him. And He's definitely gifted me artistically. And I hope that I'm giving that back to Him with my life and the things that I do with my art and my artistic abilities.
For a hard question, you sure gave a great answer. Thank you for that. The next question is, how do you balance your dreams with that of your everyday responsibilities? And you mentioned earlier that things take longer for you. And, you know, you're you're not asking your Mom to get get the ironing board and set it up because I want to sew, you're doing all those things on your own, correct?
Yeah. So how do you balance your dreams and your goals with your everyday responsibilities?
So as far as, you know, just everyday responsibilities as far as making sure the place is clean and, you know, I'm doing my every everyday little things. Yeah, it's really hard, to be honest, because I only have a limited amount of energy in a day. And so, there are definitely times when my Mom will be like, Amy, just let me help you. Let me set up something for you so that you can use that energy otherwise, you know, for the things that that matter. And so, there are times when I will let her help me. And it's, other times I let other responsibilities go for the day. And it's just, it is a balancing act, like you said, and it's a tough one. And some days things don't get cleaned up. And other days they do and the purses go by the wayside, you know. And it does take me longer to do things. Thankfully, the people who I make purses for give me grace, and wait for me to do those things. And yeah, I'm not really sure how else to answer that. It is definitely a balancing act.
Absolutely. What encouragement would you provide to someone who's struggling right now? They're trying to find what their calling is. How would you encourage them?
Yeah, like I said before, I think that God gives us certain talents and abilities and desires for a reason, you know? And when we, when we know what those are, I mean, even if you don't know what they are, ask somebody what they think you're good at, what what what do they feel that you're that you're good at? And I think that's where your calling is. Maybe you're just someone who encourages well, you know? And maybe you're someone who serves well. Yeah, I mean, I think it's what He's made us to do is what our purpose and our calling is.
Alright. And do you have certain scriptures or Bible verses that are particularly meaningful to you, Amy?
Yeah, so I love Psalms 139:14. It says, I praise you because I'm fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. I know that full well. And that's been my life verse because God doesn't make mistakes. He knew exactly who I would be. He knew exactly who you would be. He doesn't make mistakes. And, you know, I've always believed that about myself. To be honest, since meeting Michael, I didn't realize how much I still struggled with that. Him loving me and wanting me actually made me see how much I do still struggle with feeling like I'm worthy of that love. And so, he's helping me to grow in that way. And but yeah, like I said, He doesn't make mistakes. And He's using my life to bless others, by being the way that I am and just living my life before people, you know. And I wouldn't change that.
Well, and you're blessing us just by by your words of encouragement today. So that's wonderful. Okay, here's the final essay question for you. What inner struggles have you had to overcome to fully step into your life as you're living it now? And, you know, I started not to ask this question of you because your outer struggles are the ones that are obvious to us. But I'm sure, like everyone else, you have inner struggles that (you sort of alluded to that maybe a little bit earlier) but talk to us about inner struggles?
Yeah. So, I mean, you said you see my outer struggles. To me, honestly, they're not struggles. I was born like this so I don't know any different. Those I see who have come home from battle who have lost their limbs, and they've had them once before, those are the true heroes because they had something and they lost something that they had and they have to relearn and start a new life completely different. I was born like this, so I don't know any different. And yes, I do things differently and they may be hard, but it's all I know. And like I said, I would say that my struggles are more mentally and and inwardly. And like I just said, I didn't realize how much I struggled with the fact that I'm worthy, and even though I tell everybody else that they are, you know. And I've been hurt like any other person, by people in my life and, or health struggles, you know, things like that. Those are times when I have been at my lowest. And I've really had to say, do I really trust you God? Or don't I, you know? Because people think that I trust Him so much because of my physical disabilities, but the real trust comes in when I don't know what the answer or the outcome is going to be with my health or with a relationship, you know. So, yeah.
So Amy, if our listeners want to go to your website and see the purses or, and the other thing we didn't talk about is your speaking engagements. Tell us a little bit about that.
Yeah, so I haven't done any for a while. This is actually the first time I've spoken in quite a while or had any kind of interview or anything like that, since the pandemic, since before the pandemic. But yeah, I have been all over the place. Like I said, Canada, I've been to North Carolina, and, you know, the tri-state area around me, all over Pennsylvania. And I'm hoping to continue that. That's something that Michael and I are both looking forward to in our journey together and to being able to travel and and share my story and how much God loves them and doesn't make mistakes.
Absolutely. So tell us, what is your website?
My website is amybrooks.org.
Okay. And that's where we can find the purses, the speaking engagement, the books.
Anything else there? You have a blog on there?
Not a blog, but I do share some of the places that I've been on video.
Some of the other interviews that I've done, are there and you can find my YouTube channel from there as well.
Okay. All right. Very good. And, Amy, this has just been such an honor to talk with you and you're so easy to talk with. It feels like I've known you forever.
Aw, thank you.
I mean this was just like, I forgot that we're recording this. It just feels like two people who maybe know each other. So, any last words that you'd like to give a shout out to the Sew Powerful listeners who are thinking about making purses to help the girls in Zambia?
Oh, absolutely do it. I love to be able to give back but it's so hard for me to give back. I can't be there physically for people in a lot of ways. And this was an opportunity that I had, that I, something that I was actually able to do to give back. And I think the girls deserve that dignity. And and to be given the opportunity to make make something of themselves and and to find their purpose in life as well. And I was just glad to be a small part of it. And I wish that I had more time to make more purses, because I absolutely would, I loved doing it. So, I think you should definitely do it. It's it's very rewarding.
Well, thank you very much for your time today. It's been an honor to meet you and talk with you. And please check out amybrooks.org, and check that out. And if you're going to buy the book, buy it from her website and help Amy out right there. So, all right. Well, hopefully we'll talk again soon. And thank you again for your time.
Thank you so much for having me.
You're welcome. Bye bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEW POWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. it's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.