Fourteen years ago, I had purpose in my life: I was a healthy, forty-something woman who loved jogging, gardening, and canoeing; I served in the church women’s group, and ran interference while my husband co-chaired a Bible study.
Then, anfechtung! Poet Robert Nicholson describes it as “a trial sent by God to test a man…. Doubt, turmoil, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation all rolled into one.”
It began in 1996, with a rash. A doctor diagnosed dermatitis herpetiformis (celiac disease of the skin), prescribing medication with a warning to follow up with my family physician. I soon “itched” my way in to see my doctor who didn’t read his partner’s findings and diagnosed stress. He upped the medication dosages and prescribed a neuroleptic sedative with dangerous side effects.
By Easter, my tongue wouldn’t stay in my mouth, my head turned involuntarily to the left, my hands trembled, and my speech sounded like I was drunk. I visited the emergency department on numerous occasions because of chest pain, only to be told it was an anxiety attack. Having faith in medicine and my physician, I kept taking the drugs.
I was eventually told it was tardive dyskinesia, a result of the sedative – listed in the medical dictionary as “abnormal or disordered movements of the extra pyramidal system.” It was terrible to endure the constant twitching, and I was horrible to look at. In stores, people stared; at church, friends wondered what was wrong. I was finally referred to a dermatologist who confirmed the first doctor’s diagnosis, dermatitis herpetiformis. Within days of beginning a gluten-free diet and new medication, most of the horrible rash was gone.
However, changes to my face and body remained. I tripped a lot, misjudged stairs, and my handwriting – in which I used to take such pride – was like a child’s shaky, slanting scrawl. I had to leave my job as a nurse in a specialist’s office. I became a recluse and stopped answering the phone, alienating myself from those who wanted to support me.
The biggest sense of loss was my occupation, for I’d found self-worth in a job well done. Tardive dyskinesia also took away my pride in my looks and volunteer service in church.
The road to forgiveness
I was angry at the Lord. A person had caused my condition, I had lost a wonderful job, and prayers for healing went unanswered. What have I done to deserve this? I cried out to the Lord. Please give me a sense of purpose.
After one of these pity parties, the Bible on my lap fell open to a well-loved verse: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). The first step to healing was forgiveness of the doctor who prescribed the wrong drug without explaining its contraindications. I also felt that God was telling me that I had been putting my occupation before him.
The Lord didn’t heal me physically, but he was there all along. One of the biggest blessings was prayer. I had isolated myself, but God was with me when the pain became unbearable.
A second misadventure
About two years later, I fell and landed on my head. So started severe pain in my neck and face. Again, driving became impossible, church attendance slipped, and I spent more and more time in bed.
Unfortunately, this was another “medical misadventure,” and I spent yet more time, like Job of the Bible, in a “schoolroom of pain.” For a year, I received electric shocks down my neck and into both arms from an implant before the doctors were convinced to remove it.
Each time I had to wait for surgery, my husband and I asked our church to pray for earlier appointments. That community never seemed to tire of praying, and their encouragement kept me sane. When my husband stood in church to thank the congregation for praying, they would burst out in applause.
Eight years following the second medical misadventure, an anaesthetist correctly diagnosed the real problem: a trapped nerve in my neck! I waited three months for more surgery. It was horribly painful, but after more waiting and a second attempt, the procedure was successful. I started to feel alive again.
Glimmers of hope
I still couldn’t sing in church because I would bite my tongue, but I found myself praying more, reading, and writing to missionaries. Previously, I had enjoyed sending cards to missionaries at Christmas and Easter; now, the Lord showed me I could regularly write and pray from home. My pastor suggested I submit poems on the church blog. To date, I have more than 380 poems on the site – most about the blessings of the Lord. The Lord had given me purpose again, not in the forefront of ministry, but through writing.
My physical trials continue. Last spring, I’d just recovered from a life-threatening blood disorder caused by the drugs I was taking, when my car was rear-ended at a stop sign. All my shopping landed in the front seat with me, and I experienced sharp pain from my right foot up into my lower back. I’d been so excited to travel to England to see my elderly brother and other relatives – now the trip had to be cancelled. I cried as we unpacked, but I remembered Hebrews 13:6: “We can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” (NLT).
The pain increased as the weeks went by, and I ended up needing surgery again. This time, I wasn’t going to become
I’m daily learning to live with an eternal perspective. When I start to worry, I speak Scripture out loud and cast all my cares upon the Lord.angry at God or the world. My husband, who prays with me and has done most of the cooking and housework without complaint, is an example to me of Christian behaviour.
Romans 12:2 says: “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” I have been in God’s schoolroom more than once, and I am determined, with his help, to change.