Please welcome the resilient and delightful Susan Simpson to the blog.
Rheumatoid arthritis crept into my body around my second wedding anniversary. It was easy to explain away at first. Painful feet–probably the result of the long walks around the city school building of my first teaching assignment. Aching, swollen fingers … a touch of the flu. It wasn’t long until a diagnosis of RA steamrolled the landscape of my life and changed everything.
Back then, I couldn’t fathom the toll disease would take on our marriage. The ups and downs of medications and their side effects, the joy of remissions and the despair of relapses. Basic components of life were compromised: career growth, household upkeep, and relational intimacy. Any sufferer of RA knows these common challenges.
On the other hand, it’s been my experience that suffering strips the varnish from faith so it can shine. I think people who struggle with long-term illnesses are privy to some behind-the-scenes peeks. As a young woman just discovering biologics, rheumatoid factor numbers, and autoimmune chaos, I had no idea of the rare glimpses in store.
Now, I haven’t seen the Lord in some Moses-like encounter. But I have glimpsed him in the people he sends my way—the doctor who probes my aching hands so gently, a nurse whose attitude imparts a “Yes, you can!” strength, the occasional lab tech who adds an I’m-sorry-it-hurts squeeze to the paperwork. And I’ve seen him in my husband. Oh, so many times, my husband has been Jesus in a skin suit.
In our twenties, my husband and I thought RA would be a wrecking ball to ruin our future, and I have to admit that many times we were truly devastated. Then through the dust, we’ve glimpsed God’s faithfulness. In our despair, he’s shared true joy and unexplainable peace.
Our marriage isn’t what I dreamed of as a young girl, and while I can’t speak for my husband, I’ll bet it’s not exactly what he anticipated either. It’s even better.
Have you ever observed the oddity of a man carrying his wife’s purse? I admit to snickering at the sight of a bag-bearing spouse—including the rare fellow who awkwardly shoulders his wife’s purse in order to have both hands free.
Throughout the difficulties my rheumatoid arthritis has presented over the years, I’ve tried to spare my husband the indignity of carrying my purse. He offers to help, but I protest: “Thanks, I’ll carry it,” or “I’ve got it.” Always said a little too sharply, I know. Not being able to carry my own bag is an unwelcome admission of weakness, right up there with being unable to slip on my own socks.
During a recent RA flare it happened. Following a doctor’s visit, I gripped my husband’s arm and walked the slow and painful distance from the car to the house. When I saw it—my purse dangling from his shoulder—the tenderness of his gesture and my own frailty pierced my heart. “I can’t believe you’re carrying my purse…” I managed to squeak.
He began to swing it and sashay along, careful not to jar me. As always, his humor diffused my sorrow and defeated my pride. “Not a big deal,” he smiled. “Does it match my outfit?”
I Can’t Believe This is Happening is a refrain of my life, maybe of everyone’s life, and one sometimes accompanied by tears mixed with laughter. Although I wish circumstances were different, I find myself in a purse-surrendering part of life. And right now my bag-bearing husband doesn’t seem awkward or silly at all.
He seems more like … a hero.
Susan Holt Simpson is a freelance writer living in Kentucky with her husband, three mostly-grown sons, and a geriatric dog. She’s been published by Focus on the Family, Guideposts blog, and her work appears in various short story collections. When Susan’s not writing, you can find her in the garden with either a hoe or a camera in hand. Visit her blog, Sweet Annabelle, or connect on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.