I’ve written about hands a couple of times recently. First I wrote about Mom’s hands, and then I wrote about volunteers’ hands. Today I’m writing about my own hands. I’m developing arthritis, and my hands are hurting this morning. My hands don’t look like Mom’s yet, but I can see some changes. The tips of two fingers lean slightly to the left, and the end joint on another finger is noticeably enlarged. I can no get my wedding ring past an enlarged knuckle, and my thumbs don’t work right. The joints where the thumb joins the hand is often painful enough that I can’t open lids, and this morning when David and I took a stroll around the property with our coffee, I had trouble finding a way to hold my cup that didn’t hurt. It’s nothing I can’t handle with over-the-counter pain relievers, though, and it’s not the first time I’ve had trouble with my hands.
I’ve always used my hands a lot. I’ve played the piano since childhood, and I type. I took typing in high
school so I’d be able to type papers in college, but I was too good at it, and it became a career. After a year, I dropped out of college to work for a while. When I applied for my first office job, because I was a woman and because women had not yet been liberated, I was given a typing test and a shorthand test. (If you’re too young to know what shorthand is, Google it.) I was fast and accurate and was placed in the steno pool. Later, when the boss’s secretary left to have a baby, I became an executive assistant.
Day after day, I pounded the keys of my IBM Selectric, and the thumb joint of my right hand, the same one that hurts this morning, began to ache. A lump appeared at the site of the ache, and the doctor told me it was a ganglion cyst. He said that at one time the preferred treatment for ganglions was to lay the patient’s hand flat on a table and slam the cyst with a heavy book. He opted for the more modern treatment of draining it with a needle. I think the book might have been less painful.
As office machines evolved, so did the problems they caused. A few years later I had surgery on the same hand to relieve carpal tunnel syndrome and to remove several more cysts that had wound themselves around the bones and tendons making movement difficult. The treatment was successful, and I returned to life as usual – for a while.
Sometime after the surgery, I started attending a small start-up church that met in a school cafeteria. We had an adult Bible study class before the worship service, and our teacher started every session with a getting-to-know-you /thought question. One morning he asked what we feared most. When it was my turn to respond, I said I feared losing my sight and/or the use of my hands since everything I did involved one or both. I typed, I played the piano, I did lots of needle crafts, I read. What would I be if I couldn’t do those things?
There are those who don’t believe God takes an active part in our lives, but I’m not one of those people. I think He moves in lots of ways and for lots of reasons, and I think He has a strong sense of irony or a strange sense of humor. A couple of years after that class meeting, the church had moved into its own building, and I had become the church pianist. And then I started to have trouble with my hand again.
The first thing I noticed was that the letter “L” was frequently missing from anything I typed. If you’re familiar with touch typing, you know that the 3rd finger, right hand is in charge of that letter. One of the cysts that was removed was at the base of that finger, and scar tissue had caused it to be stiff and unresponsive at times. Those symptoms also made for some interesting sessions at the piano, especially when a piece of music called for manual dexterity. There was pain, too, beginning at the wrist, radiating up to the elbow and on up to the shoulder. Neurological tests didn’t show any nerve involvement, so instead of surgery, the doctor put me in a wrist brace. I muddled through at work, typing one-handed on small jobs and removing the brace for bigger ones, but playing the piano was just too painful.
If you’re with me on the God involvement thing, you won’t think it was a coincidence that a graduate piano student from a nearby university started attending the church about that time. She easily took over my duties at the piano, and I sat in the congregations, often fighting back tears and feeling like I had been benched. I felt like I had offered what I had to give, and it had been rejected.
Pity parties get boring real quick, though. There are no party hats or streamers, and the food sucks. After I
felt sorry for myself for a little while, I looked around to see what else I could do. The kids’ Sunday School class was growing, and it included way to large an age span. We needed to split the class, but nobody wanted to take on the “youth.” One of them was mine anyway, so I figured I could handle an extra dose or two of pre-pubescent hormonal angst once a week. I taught the class, and I don’t know how the kids felt about it, but I had fun. I looked for inventive ways to keep their attention and get them involved in the church as a whole. We worked on making a movie of “The Parable of the Talents.” I don’t think we ever finished it, but we had some lively filming sessions. We also started a clown ministry and performed several skits for the rest of the church. My favorite was The Good Samaritan in which a gang of clowns ran wild and beat up a poor traveler with balloons. Then the Good Samaritan paid the innkeeper with my American Express card.
It’s said that God’s timing is perfect, and by the time our piano student graduated and went back home, my hand was back to normal, and I was able to slip back into my piano playing role. But I didn’t slip back into my doubts and fears. Through my experience I had learned that I could be useful in ways I didn’t expect. I more fully understood the truth of what before had been only a cliché: God is more interested in your availability than your ability. And I had more faith in Romans 8:28:
And we know that God causes everything to work togetherfor the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.
Now my hands are hurting again, and this time I don’t think surgery or a brace will help, but I’m not worried. I don’t do needlework anymore; I have a hand tremor and bifocals that make close work more trouble than it’s worth. I don’t play the piano much either, but I still type a lot. If my arthritis progresses to the point that I have to give that up, there are voice activated programs and all sorts of voice recorders that can save my thoughts for posterity. As long as I have things to say, I can find ways to say them. And as long as He has things for me to do, I’ll keep doing them until He takes me out of the game.