We celebrated another wedding anniversary recently and as I dusted off our wedding album to reminisce, I smiled, flipping through the photos.
‘Oh My Gosh!’ I thought, ‘My hands were so pretty and so straight once.’
Six years after that photo was taken I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. A crippling auto immune disease triggered at the birth of our first son and ten years later, ravaging through me like an eighteen wheeler squashing a bug, following the birth of our second.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t have time to stay in bed and it really didn’t matter, staying in bed hurt just as much as being up. Painful nights without sleep and miserable exhausting days were measured on a pain scale of bad and horrible, making the bad days seem good.
My family needed me and with two active growing boys to care for, prayer and pills became my constant companion. Pain pills, steroids, low dose cancer drugs and weekly injections all kept me in function mode. My continuous prayers went from begging God for healing to demanding my body stop its destructive storm, and everything in between.
As the disease progressed the cartilage and fluid cushion between joints eroded. Fingers and toes began to drift, tendons shifted and bones fused. Slowly I was forced to give up activities I enjoyed; skating, tennis, playing guitar, clarinet and keyboards, hiking, wearing sexy shoes, doing my nails and many more.
The day I went to have my wedding ring cut in half to remove it from my swollen, misshapen finger was the culmination of how much rheumatoid arthritis had stolen. I cried tears of bitter resignation.
Since then, I have made drastic changes which positively affected my health: our family moved to a warm climate, I renovated my eating habits, began light daily exercise and the practice of stress release through prayer, meditative scripture reading and writing, laughing often, letting go of offense, forgiving, listening to my body, pacing myself instead of pushing, saying ‘No’ when necessary, asking for help when needed and giving myself permission to have fun.
Over the span of several years, I gradually reduced the amount of medications and have been off all drugs for a decade. But until God heals me completely, the joint damage remains.
As I looked at that picture of my normal hands, a stark reminder of what once was, I realized I rarely think of it now. I’ve adjusted, adapted and moved on.
My hands aren’t pretty. I know that. They are crooked and disfigured. But they still function, awkwardly managing to do what needs to be done.
They can still plant a seed or cut a flower in the garden, sew a stray button back on, slice an onion in the kitchen, butter toast, throw a load of laundry in the machine, reach for another person needing prayer, comfort or hugs, type this blog (two fingers at a time) and perform so many necessary tasks.
I’m far from the young girl in that picture now. I can’t go back there nor do I want to. Those days are gone and as the years roll by I am learning to be thankful for what is. Today. Right now.
I am learning to trust God in all things – understood or not, healed or not – big or small.
I’m grateful I still have hands. Crooked as they are, they belong to God. I will use them to bring help, blessing and hope to others as long as I can. And I will raise them in worship and surrender to Him as long as He gives me breath.
Whether I’m healed on this side of eternity and in spite of the affliction and problems of this life, I choose to proclaim with Job of old:
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that as the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God, whom I will see for myself, and whom my own eyes will behold, and not another.” Job 19:25-27