My signature has changed.
That may not sound like much, but if you think about it, it’s pretty significant. I have lived with such tremendous pain for several months, that several physical changes have resulted.
Some are (I hope) temporary. Like the long-term dizziness and brain fog I’m experiencing. The fog kept me from reading too much at one time, or even finishing my thoughts completely. My family and friends have begun to finish my sentences for me in conversations. (I actually typed a partial sentence here and couldn’t remember what I meant to say…)
The dizziness keeps me from walking too much, too quickly. Does pain make you dizzy? I guess it does, because drugs or no drugs, my head spins at unexpected times. That is ebbing away this past week, so I hope that the worst of my dizzy days are behind me.
Now for my signature. Chronic pain changes so many things. My strength is gone; stamina too. Holding a pen or pencil is an exercise in pain. When I need to sign a form at a doctor’s office or a charge at a store, I notice how jumpy my signature is. I no longer have the ability to control that pen the way I used to, and I do not recognize my own handwriting. Take notes in church? Forget it. This from the woman who is a writer, who has lived with a callous on the middle finger of her writing hand since high school. Pain has changed nearly everything. Nearly.
On those forms I need to fill out for each new doctor I visit, I must answer myriad questions about what my pain is like. Has your appetite changed? Your sleeping habits? Your temperament? Are you depressed? Talk about writer’s cramp. I could say a lot, but since I can’t hold a pen long, I must be brief.
Nearly everything has changed, as I said. I’ve lost a lot of weight, about which I do not complain. I had been only sleeping 1-2 hours at a time, until the doctor relented and gave me some drugs to help me sleep. Now I can make it until pain wakes me up at 5 or 5:30.
Depressed? Indeed. Wouldn’t you be depressed if you lived with unrelenting pain, 24/7? Depression is something I never thought I’d succumb to, but here I am. I can identify with Job, who lamented the day he was born. He sat in the ashes and scraped his sores, feeling sorry for himself. And who could blame him?
As for the temperament question, I asked friends and family if I had become irritable or if they had noticed my mood changed. No, they all agreed, but you are low in spirit. Again, who could blame me? But I am glad I haven’t given in to beating up on the people I love the most. Nor have I cursed God. Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die,” something he never gave in to.
Job lost everything. First his property, then his family, and finally his health. In all of it, Job never lost his faith. He lamented loudly, cursed the day he was born, wished that God would just end his misery (but never contemplated ending his own life), and debated with his friends over the cause of suffering. Yet he knew, in the depth of his soul, that God is good and that God is his redeemer.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27)
I began learning from Job when I was 15. Then my dad was in an irreversible coma, and we existed in a black wasteland, awaiting word that his body had finally given up. I lamented, naturally, and a family friend told me to read Job. Not many people can tell you that Job saved them, but I believe that God put me right in the middle of Job again and again over the next few years. He strengthened my faith while I watched Job’s tormented cries. He reassured me when I read God’s answer to Job and his friends. I loved seeing Job hang tenaciously on to his faith, despite what his friends said or did, and despite what state his tormented mind and body was in.
I’m reading Job again, which should not surprise those closest to me. This time I’m digging into the footnotes and commentary in the Lutheran Study Bible. Luther said something amazing:
When faith begins, God does not forsake it; He lays the holy cross on our backs to strengthen us and to make faith powerful in us… Where suffering and the cross are found, there the Gospel can show and exercise its power. It is a Word of life. Therefore it must exercise all its power in death. In the absence of dying and death it can do nothing, and no one can become aware that it has such power and is stronger than sin and death.
Again, another footnote from the Lutheran Study Bible, regarding Job 3, provides some encouragement:
Even the most optimistic people will reach despair when overwhelmed by pain and suffering, as the examples of prisoners of war demonstrate. The mind snaps just as bones do. Scripture does not teach that death is a friend to those who suffer–death is always an enemy (1 Cor 15:26), but one overcome by the Lord. Commend those who despair to Jesus, who likewise cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46) and rose from the dead to say, “Peace be with you” (John 20:21).
So just as in my teens I found solace in Job, and agreed with him that “my Redeemer lives,” and in my 20s when I lost a baby and despaired, now in this stage of my life when I am living through the most difficult pain I have ever experienced, I can still say with Job, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Why can I say that? Because I lean on a verse from my other “favorite” book of the Bible, John. “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). I am His, firmly in His grip.
So my signature has changed. Many things have changed for me. Maybe I won’t be able to live the same way I had before this chronic pain has taken over. But one thing I know for sure: my God is good. “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:22-26). I have learned that my suffering is not all about me; this is not my story. It is God’s.