I Played Basketball: No More Sitting on the Sidelines

I played basketball the other day when my boys and I were at my sister’s caring for my three nephews. It was a beautiful day and we were all outside enjoying what was left of the summer vacation. The three basketballs, along with a variety of other toys, made it out of the pole barn. I started bouncing the balls and shooting hoops. Before long, my boys and nephews joined in.

English: Typical backyard basketball hoop.

English: Typical backyard basketball hoop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of you may be asking, “So, what’s the big deal?” To me, it was one of the best days of my life. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do any kind of activity like this without being in pain. I know my nephews, and especially my boys, were surprised. I grew accustomed to just sitting on the sidelines watching.   In the past, it wasn’t just the physical pain holding me back from taking part, but the fear of being inadequate.

I let my physical disability define who I was as a person, which in turn held me back in a lot of different ways.

Until recently, I was stuck in a place with misconceptions about who I am, and how others perceive me. I found myself afraid to try new things for the fear of failure and became used to “not doing.” I have made poor choices because I had the mindset, I couldn’t do any better. I chose to settle. I felt if I was perfect in other ways, it would make up for my disability.

This article is a sneak peek into some of the content that will be in the book I’m currently writing. I don’t write this article to get your pity or sympathy. I tell you this to give you hope and a better understanding of what God does. He has a plan and purpose for your life.

Scripture in Proverbs 16:3-4 says this: “Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place. God made everything with a place and purpose.”

When I was eight years old, my parents and I received a diagnosis. It was a diagnosis that physically and emotionally affected my family and me. I went from being a tomboy, playing with my sisters and participating in little league and gymnastics, to a little girl who sat on the sidelines.  My parents, feeling helpless and following the doctors recommendations, limited my activity and wished they could take my place.  My two sisters were very supportive and always chose activities they knew I could do. (My mom was expecting one more sister.)

The diagnosis of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), known today as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), came as quite a shock to my parents. One in 1,000 children are diagnosed with JIA, the most common form of juvenile arthritis. Being too young to understand what it was, I accepted it and did what my parents and doctor told me. My parents and I didn’t understand what effects this disorder would have on me for the rest of my life.

With little known at the time about juvenile arthritis, I was placed on a treatment plan of medication, physical therapy and low activity. This was the same plan an adult with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) would be placed on. With my research, I have learned that it is very different from adult RA. My parents were told by the doctor to limit my activity to protect and decrease inflammation to my joints. Today, experts say that, though you still have to find a healthy balance of activity, the more active you are, the more likelihood of fighting the disease. There is no cure for arthritis, but the flare-ups and damage from inflammation can decrease or go in remission.

JIA is an autoimmune disease where the white blood cells can’t tell the difference between the body’s own healthy cells and germs like bacteria and viruses. The immune system, which is supposed to protect the body from these harmful invaders, instead releases chemicals that can damage healthy tissues and cause inflammation and pain in joints (KidsHealth.org).

Over my teenage years the JIA deformed my hands into almost complete fists. Although, it involved other joints, my hands were the most visibly affected. I was already a quiet, shy girl when I was diagnosed, but I became self-conscious because of the difference in my hands, combined with the normal feelings of puberty. I had my small group of friends, which included my twin sister. I was still able to use my hands, but not able to do a lot of the activities other kids were doing. This is when I picked up my love for reading–definitely an activity that wasn’t too physical.

When I graduated high school, I went to college, with help from my parents and qualified for financial aid as a work study. I also received assistance from the state because of my JIA. Five years later, I earned my Bachelors of Business Administration (BBA), with a minor in Psychology.

At 21, right after getting my BBA, I had joint implants and fusion surgery on one hand at a time. Some of my fingers were too small for the plastic implants, so the other fingers were fused into a functional position. The fingers with implants required physical therapy to be able to bend as a normal finger. About a year later, I was ready to start looking for my first job.

I was excited!

I landed the perfect job, got married, had kids (14 and 10 now) and got divorced. During this time, my JIA got worse, and I went on disability, when I was expecting my first son. I was able to raise him and his brother and not have to rely on childcare. This was wonderful! Although I was hard on myself for not being able to do more physical things with my boys, they always seemed to understand and never held it against me.

A few years ago, with my boys older, I lost my sense of purpose. My JIA mainly affected my ankles, making it hard to be on my feet or walk long distances. By the time evening rolled around, I was barely able to walk without assistance from a cane. It was even discussed with my rheumatologist the possibility of ankle surgery. I was told this type of surgery should be done as a last resort because of my young age.

My lack of activity, relationship issues, and low self-worth had brought me to my lowest point. I knew these reasons were factors in my weight gain, which contributed to the pain in my ankles.

A year ago, I made a commitment to begin my healthy journey. For more details, please read my last article, My Healthy Journey. Being closer to God has given me the ability to stay on track on this healthy journey. My weight-loss has made a drastic difference. It is because of this weight-loss I was able to play basketball the other day.

When I joined a new church, I started to find my new purpose and identity. God gave me a friend who reached out and told me it was okay not to be perfect. My past is in the past, learn from it, and move forward. Learning to have faith in God, and finding my God-given gifts has opened up new doors and closed others. I now sing on my church’s praise and worship team and I am a writer. I’m also teaching in the children’s ministry. I do all this for the glory of God.

I’m losing my feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and inadequacy.

This young girl, now a 44 year old woman, has finally figured one thing out: God made me who I am for a reason, disability and all. Do I wish I didn’t have JIA? Sometimes. Would I be a different person today if I didn’t have JIA? Yes. If I didn’t have JIA would I still be writing this blog? Probably not. My disability, no matter how hard it’s been, has made me who I am. It has actually given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I am grateful for so many things.

I’ve also found out, with the help of social media, that old classmates, either didn’t know I had JIA, or it didn’t change their opinion of me one way or another. One person said he remembers me being quiet, but kind, and a good friend to talk to. That made my day!

Taken at a park in Madison, Wisconsin

Taken at a park in Madison, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know all of God’s plan for me. I do know I’ve found the good in the bad. It has been such a revelation to look back and see how God has worked in my life, even when I didn’t know it. With God by my side, I can do anything; it’s never too late. NO MORE sitting on the sidelines. I’M DOING!

Stay tuned …




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