I mentioned yesterday that I’m limping. And that God is teaching me as I limp.
You see, my knee doesn’t bend on its own most of the time now. Over the weekend, the pain was excruciating, but right now it’s just uncomfortable and inconvenient. Because no other joints are flaring up and because I’m not running the low-grade fever I usually have with a flare, odds are good that this issue isn’t due to active disease. Yes, what’s happening is the direct result of rheumatoid arthritis, but my disease is being held at bay with my IV meds. Right now we’re dealing with problems due to damage from previous disease activity.
Let me pause to give a little bit of a rheumatoid arthritis primer:
- It’s an autoimmune disease, as is one other condition I have. In simplest terms, my immune system is an ignorant overachiever.
- Overachiever, because it does what it’s supposed to do – fight off illnesses – and then it goes even further. That’s where the ignorant part comes in. My immune system fights bad stuff…and then ignorantly fights a couple of a good things, which include my thyroid gland and the lining of my joints.
- With RA, you can also have inflamed lungs, heart, and eyes – which I haven’t experienced – as well as a higher rate of serious infections like MRSA and c. diff – which I have experienced, though I've thankfully been infection-free for nine months.
- What most people know about RA, though, is the joint problems. The lining of my joints – called synovium - is attacked by my immune system, and the joint becomes red and swollen and painful. Since that occurs from the inside out, the bones and cartilage in the joint rub against the swollen synovium. That friction results in erosions in bone, deterioration of cartilage, and creation of bone spurs.
When I say that my present knee problem isn’t the result of active disease, I mean that the synovium doesn’t seem to be inflamed. Right now, my immune system isn’t misbehaving. The problem is that previous inflammation has weakened my knee – both the bones and the cartilage – so that the joint is functioning more like a rusty hinge than a fresh one. I'll have an MRI tomorrow to figure out what the (probably surgical) solution will be.
If you look at my knee, you can’t see anything wrong. It’s a little puffy, but you won’t notice that unless you look closely. From the outside, you wouldn’t notice that I’m anything other than a typical 29-year-old mom. You wouldn’t guess that previous damage is impacting my ability to walk right now.
Likewise, when you meet a family member of a person with a disability – for example, a parent – you don’t know what previous damage has occurred. Has a church rejected them? Did a ministry leader elsewhere promise to love their child but fail to follow through? Have they spent the previous week fighting for basic services for their child from a school or insurance company? Did they have their parenting abilities questioned at a previous church when people misunderstood their child’s disability?
Parents at my church have shared stories of each of those situations with me, and they each brought their own damage. Some are so used to the fight that they have trouble trusting that our motives are genuine. Others are hesitant to even trust us with basic information about a disability, choosing not to disclose any information if the disability isn’t physically obvious. And some seem unfriendly until you realize that they’re simply exhausted.
If you aren’t aware that damage could be lurking under the surface of my knee, you might wonder why I stay sitting even when my kids want me to run and play with them.
And if you aren’t aware that damage could be lurking under the surface of their lives, you might get frustrated if a parent is pushy or cryptic or disengaged.
You don’t know their story. But, if you know Jesus, you do know his – the story of a love so powerful that the Father sent his Son to live a sinless life, die a sinner’s death, and rise from the dead. the story of a Savior taking the penalty we deserve so that we can receive the reward he deserves. the story of grace.
You don’t know their story, but you know grace. Show that grace to others, fueled by the power of the One who does knows my story and your story and their stories.