This has given me a good long pause for consideration this evening and its taken quite some time to clearly formulate what I want to say. To explain a little before I go any further, these photos are of my hands. They are just two of many and they show certain symptoms that led to me going to see a rheumatology specialist this week. I turned up on Tuesday expecting in all honesty to leave without a diagnosis of any kind as I have heard that rheumatological problems are hard to diagnose. However, I showed the doctor my many photos and explained my symptoms (constant pain in my hands and feet, random bruising, ulcers, dry eyes, dry skin, reddening of my skin around joints, cold nose) and he did an examination and then told me straight away that I have Palindromic Rheumatism in my hands and feet (a form of arthritis which for some can be mild but which in my case is chronic), as well as secondary Raynauds disease. The rheumatism may turn into rheumatoid arthritis and I might have other autoimmune diseases such a lupus, all of which he went on to take more blood tests for.
I was calm, I was polite, we talked treatment options through, and I led him to believe that this is something I can take in my stride.
I left. I cried. I got in the car. I cried. I drove home. I cried some more. I then spent the rest of the day trying to digest it all, whilst feeling rather sorry for myself.
But nevertheless, despite my upset at the diagnosis, despite being about forty years younger than anyone else in that Rheumatology waiting room, I still found myself feeling thankful for many things and thankfully (!) feeling sorry for myself did not last very long.
I think very often “thankfulness” is something that focuses entirely on the good, the good things in our lives; the people we love, the jobs we have etc. But if this is the case then thankfulness can be hard to attain-if everything has to be great for thankfulness to exist then quite frankly none of us are ever going to thankful! For me thankfulness embodies both pain and joy, they are intertwined together and so very often exist in parallel. In the same way that its impossible to simply forgive and forget (honestly who made up that phrase?), (I mean the forgetting part, not the forgiving part!), its impossible to be thankful without experiencing pain in some way because its the pain that propels us to the thankfulness. In the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 5 v 18 says:
“Be thankful in all things”.
Now I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember, in fact, thats not entirely true-I became a Christian when I was just five years old and I can remember the exact moment at which it happened. Nevertheless, thats 29 years of my life which I have spent following God. Yet up until very recently this was a verse that completely baffled me. It actually made my brain hurt-“be thankful in all things”?? I don’t know about you, but if you are an ordinary human being like me, then you will have found yourself in some very unthankful situations throughout your life. In these last 29 years God has kindly placed people around me who have shared their wisdom and greater understanding of God with me and these moments have been pure joy for me. However, very occasionally I feel like God has a private moment with me, when just one on one, He reveals something to me. I can’t for the life of me remember what I was doing or where I was but one day a couple of years ago, as I was rather grumpily ruminating on that verse from Thessalonians, it was like I was struck by a bolt of lightening. Suddenly the reason I can be thankful in all situations became so clear:
- Because I know God. He is part of my every waking moment and without Him I honestly don’t know how I would even get through the day. So even when things are bad I still have Him beside, I still have His love, I still have His grace.
- Because something good always comes from pain. Where there is pain we always see love rise up to take the situation on. It may not happen immediately, sometimes it can take a very long time indeed, but its always there. And even if we cant see the good rising out of pain ourselves, then we can normally look around us and find something, however, small to be thankful for.
I am thankful that I was able to show my GP the bruising on my finger because it happens so sporadically that I could never make an appointment around it appearing. I just happened to be going to the doctors for a completely separate reason that day and in the morning the bruising appeared. If it were not for this moment I still would be in pain but with no understanding of why and no closer to the truth.
I am also thankful my appointment came through quickly and that I can start treatment soon because treatment is most effective the earlier you start it.
I am thankful for my family and friends who have been so kind and so supportive despite having their own pain and problems. They have shown me love and kindness and what better experience is there?
Most significantly I have felt thankful that this problem is happening to me and not one of my children. Through the articles I have been writing recently you cans see so many children suffering in the world, through starvation, through lack of water, through human trafficking, through violence and rape. I think these issues pull at anyones heart strings, but once you become a mother they cut into your core in a much deeper way. I cannot imagine what it must be like to know your child has been raped, maybe to even have seen it, and to be unable to stop it. I am so thankful that even though my hands are cold and sore and writing this evening is painful, my children are springing around the sitting room right now like little fawns, completely delighted with life.
Finally I am thankful for our healthcare. I cannot fault the NHS treatment I have received, it was brilliant. We looked at the Sustainable Development Goal 3 a couple of weeks ago which is that every human has a right to good health and well being. Yet the majority of people live in countries where they are denied health services or where the health service is so poor it cannot help them. Our hospital is enormous! And whilst at the time I was huffing and puffing about the lack of parking and how busy it was, when I took a moment, I was amazed by how many services such a big hospital is able to provide us with and the reason there are no spaces is because of the vast amount of people being treated.
So whilst something pretty rubbish may have happened to you this week, or in the last month, or even this year, allow yourself to feel this pain and become familiar with it. Don’t do what I did and pretend that you can take it in your stride. Feel it, live with it and then look around and see what good has been in it all, what positive moments you have had and what people came to your aid.
Finally, please click on to Stories and read some of those stories that are taking place in the world around us. I don’t want to be that annoying activist who keeps shouting out “There are children in Africa starving”, as people around me begin to glaze over, but I do want to highlight real issues out there that give us all so much to be so thankful for.