Great Things

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”
(1 Samuel 7:12)

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While my small group was studying the book of Nehemiah a few weeks ago, a question was asked in the course of study: “What acts or events in your life would you point to as powerful testimonies of God’s greatness?”

Wow. What a great question.

To be honest, this is a question I am finding it necessary to continually revisit and review, especially now. This last year has been particularly trying for reasons I can only guess at.

For starters, we there have been many significant changes to our lifestyle, particularly since the oldest two children are now attending private school for the first time and I am only homeschooling our 7th grader. Other changes are merely the usual ones associated with changing seasons of life and of parenting, while still other potential changes loom on the horizon and can only be imagined for now.

Then, too, there are some pretty wacky physiological changes going in my body on that seem to be linked to chronic migraine and very likely to pre-menopausal hormonal shifts as well. And of course, let us not forget the various stages of adolescence my husband and I are navigating, calling on the Captain of this ship for emergency course corrections as we venture through stormy, unpredictable seas.

Suffice to say that it has been a difficult year. But last night, I had a time where I was able to tearfully confess my own sinful responses to these changes to a dear friend and prayer partner who was faithful to lift me up in the midst of my struggle. Then this morning, for the first time in far too long, I was able to take a walk with my God and talk things over with Him.

And He reminded me of the question, and more importantly, of the answers to it.

Where have I seen evidence of His greatness in my life? So many places…

  • The fact that my husband and I are still married despite a less-than-ideal beginning.
  • God’s provision that has allowed me to stay home with the kids for almost 16 years  – so far.
  • Homeschool. Anything that was done correctly there was all God. I have never been trained as a teacher, did not even finish college, and never even had an inclination or aptitude to teach. But somehow, my kids have learned and learned well. No, not ‘somehow’- by the grace of God.
  • My 8th and 10th graders made an effortless transition to private school, even calling it easier than homeschool and maintaining straight A’s (so far).
  • Having a handful of articles published here and there – again, with no training or degree.
  • Did I mention financial provision? Not only homeschooling on a single income, but His provision for private school and recently for a third vehicle. To God be the glory!
  • That I have managed to complete a novel – the idea and the time to put it in print is all straight from the hand of God. If anything comes of it, that will be Him, too.
  • The ability to praise Him in the midst of pain (OK, I confess – not always, but overall).
  • A small group consisting of people with great diversity in backgrounds, ages, and careers. To hear of God’s work in many different seasons of life and perspectives is an incredible gift!
  • My own unlikely salvation from a highly immoral and highly destructive lifestyle and from the depression which undergirded all.

Those are just a few of my “Ebenezers” – my touchstones to remember that thus far, God has helped me. Of course, there are so many more daily blessings like being able to see, walk, talk, and hear; having fresh water and plentiful food; the table I sit at and the computer on which I type; daffodils; birds; the air I breathe…

I could literally go on forever. And to be honest, I really should.

In the interest of not writing another novel today, I will end by saying that today I am particularly thankful for my the prayers of my friend and for my God who reminded me to look not at what He is not doing now, but at the many wonderful things He has already done. Truly, He has done great things for us!

The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!
(Psalms 126:3-5)

 

 

Migraine Chronicles: A Matter of Focus

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3

I remember just a short time ago when my three-year-old responded to my admonition that he behave with an outburst somewhat, ahem, telling of his personality: “I am being have!”

Oh, wait… that only seemed like a short time ago. In actuality, it was thirteen years ago, and that same little boy is now driving, holds a purple belt in Wado Ryu karate, and is navigating his first boy-girl relationship that is not based primarily on who is ‘It’ in a game of hide-and-go-seek.

My how time flies…  And time has also softened the edges of that memory so that the humor stands out clearly, unencumbered by the emotional barrier of dealing with a defiant toddler.

Often these days, I look back with fondness at the years when my children were small. However, I have to admit that at the time I often felt overwhelmed by the sheer mass of needs that ruled my day, particularly since it was when they were all small that I first began to struggle with chronic migraine.

Yet today even the towering needs of three toddlers seem trifling in the face of the more complex emotional needs of teenagers. And I know that someday, I will even look back on these hormone-fueled clashes with some degree of nostalgia – as well as with a better understanding of which battles were truly important and which only seemed critical at the time.

Hindsight can be so illuminating. pict0460

To be honest, this is the very thing I have to remember when I’m in the middle of a bad migraine cycle. I must remember that time marches on and one day the long, dreary days of pain and fatigue will be mere memory, softened by time and no longer full of sharp spikes and energy-depleting edges.

Although now the battle against pain is furious and intense; although now pain may color the days in  browns and grays like a typical overcast Tennessee winter, it will not always be this way.

Here in Tennessee, spring has already made an early incursion, and on its heels color slowly seeps back into the landscape until the days are once more awash in lush greens and deep blues with every imaginable shade and combination of reds and yellows mixed in.

Even so, at least for those of us who are in Christ, the pain-filled days are merely the winter of our time of exile here on earth. But spring is coming.

And for those who do not know our God, the invitation remains open to you as well. Come, cast your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.

For there will come a day when, just as we look back on the previous trials of our lives, we will look back on all of this life through eyes of experience, and though it is difficult now, it will be but a little moment in the vastness of Eternity.  Then we will remember the days of weariness and toil and be glad of the lessons we learned in the midst of them. Then, too, we will be fully aware of the glory of God which we once overlooked while keeping our eyes locked on the next step of the tiresome path at our feet.

But we do have another option.

Instead of keeping our eyes downcast now, fixed on these earthly problems of pain, why not set our thoughts on the things above?  Through His power at work within us, we truly can shift our focus from this small, shrinking self and onto the eternal nature of our glorious King with full assurance that all of this – even the most agonizing moments – will be used for good in His perfect and eternal purpose.

As a matter of focus, we can learn even now to see slivers of beauty peeping through the links of affliction, for even in pain, our King has walked before us and knows the way.

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Out of the Dark

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalms 139:11-12)

 

To me, it is infinitely liberating and even comforting to know that my God knows about even my darkest and most secret thoughts. Does that seem strange to you?

In all honesty, I think that may be what David was referring to when he penned Psalm 139. Although when a body walks through dark and hideous places, it is also very reassuring to know that you are not alone, I do believe that David was referring to hidden sin in this psalm.

Perhaps not, but take a glance at the first couple of verses:

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
(Psalms 139:1-4)

As it goes on. Just before the opening verses, David discusses being unable to flee from the presence of God, even being found by Him in Sheol. The idea I get when I read these words is that absolutely nothing is hidden from God or unknown by Him.

And that comforts me.

Lately, I have been struggling through what may well be explained by hormones or by chemical changes in the brain due to a difficult past or to years of hard-to-treat migraines or any number of other reasons I could conjecture. But it doesn’t matter. Sin is still sin, no matter what excuses I may have for it.

While I don’t know what the cause of this murky madness is, I do know that at the darkest points, the ones that relentlessly occur for up to 72 hours before a migraine, I often feel abandoned by all my loved ones and by God. At such times, I am nearly suffocated by a spiritual darkness that seems impenetrable, and to my shame, I am subject to doubt the very goodness of God.

But He knows. He knows of my doubt; He knows the incredible distress such mistrust brings, and He knows my most angry and defiant thoughts that come of it.

And yet, He does not give up on me. Despite my insanity, He is still there. His right hand still holds me fast. I know this because, inevitably, the pain will begin and after some painful hours of fuzzy thinking, I see Him again. I trust Him again. I’ve passed through the dark valley of my own sinful bent towards unbelief and come out into the light of His presence once more.

And He is always there to welcome me back.

He remembers that I am dust, and He has mercy on me even when I do not deserve it. In truth, I have never deserved His mercy. I think, sometimes, that’s what makes it Grace.

And oddly, in a lot of ways these times of private horror make me appreciate and love His majesty even more. Praise be to the Most High, for He has done great things for us!

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.
(Psalms 126:2-3)

 

Migraine Chronicles: Another Letter

Hey J.,

I missed Monday this week, but I didn’t want to entirely miss this… Last week, I talked to you about refocusing on praise rather than on your circumstances.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about why.

If you are anything like me, you have probably entertained the idea that the whole chronic migraine issue just isn’t fair. Other people can eat whatever they want, do whatever activities they want; heck, many can even go for a hike or a run in hot, sunny weather. It doesn’t seem at all fair, does it?

But here’s a funny little secret that I have learned: When we humans say that something isn’t fair, what we really mean is that we don’t like it.

In fact, I doubt any of us would enjoy “fair” if it were put into practice. If fairness were to rule the day, then Jesus would never have given Himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice and we would all pay the eternal price of our sins. That would be fair, but I would not look forward to it.

So when you think about it, unfairness itself is something to be grateful about. You and I, we have sinned. Although I can’t speak for you, I daily fail to put God first in everything, often by falling into self-pity. And that is just one single area – there are many, many more.

The truth is that we have fallen far short of the glory of God, and we actually do deserve pain and suffering, both now and in eternity.

But Jesus did not. He endured hunger, thirst, fatigue, and even torture, betrayal, and a shameful, horrible death at the hands of the very people He came to save. He did not deserve it, but out of love, He did it anyway. For you. For me. For any of us who will accept His Lordship with gratitude.

 

So when you are in pain, try to fix your mind on Jesus and remember that the unfair price He paid is something for which we can be forever thankful. And remember that I am trying the very same tactic, though not always with success.

Be encouraged that even in suffering, you are never alone, for our Lord suffered, too.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
(Hebrews 12:3-4)

Love always,
Ms. Heather

A Prayer for the Church

 

Our Lord who is our Portion, we truly have no good apart from You. You are the Giver of all good gifts, our Refuge and Strength, and Your grace alone is sufficient for us. Forever, You are faithful, holy, and just, and in You we find satisfaction.

Yet… we are a fickle people. We confess that we often try to find pleasure or fulfillment in things that seem to satisfy but are only temporary. Too often, we look to hobbies, entertainment, or even other people to placate us in our whims. Too often, we grow impatient or restless when You call upon us to wait on Your timing, and we endeavor to accomplish Your work through our own means or strength. In brief, too often, Lord, we fall short of believing that You are enough.

Still, You are enough. If we belong to You, then we can trust You no matter what our circumstances may appear to be. Just as You had a plan for Joseph in the actions of his traitorous brothers and even in his undeserved imprisonment, sometimes what seems impossible or horrible to us is merely a part of Your plan to bring glory to Your name.

God, forgive us for our unbelief! Forgive our mistrust of Your motives and ways, and teach us not to look for pleasure and contentment apart from You. Forgive, too, our self-focus as we concern ourselves with the gratification of our desires rather than with Your good pleasure.

Replace our self-focus with Christ-focus and restore us to a right relationship with You. May we become less in our estimation as You become greater. As the psalmist wrote, “you make known to us the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore,” (Psalm 16:11).  Let these words become reality for us, Lord, and may we become a people passionate to exalt the reputation of our mighty God. All this we ask for the sake of Your Son and in His name, amen.

 

Migraine Chronicles: An Open Letter

Although this post is inspired by and dedicated to my young friend,  I offer it to anyone who struggles with chronic pain, migraine or otherwise. 

Dear J.,

One of the most deplorable things about chronic pain of any type is that it can begin to creep into your heart after a time, staining each bright new day with blotches of dreary brown and blunting the edges of enthusiasm until life seems to stretch out into one great, endless weariness.

That is the look I see in the back of your eyes these days. You’ve let the migraines become a part of who you are; accepting the pain and even defining yourself by it. My dear, believe me when I tell you this: that is a luxury you simply cannot afford.

Oh, I know it stinks. Sometimes, I think, it is important to remember that you are not alone. The triptans that are such a miracle for so many are barred to me as well. And like you, I have months that are better and months that are worse. Along the way, I’ve learned some tricks to reducing the headaches and others for simply coping with pain. Over time, I hope to share them with you.

But for today, I just want to address the darkness that now clouds your lovely blue eyes.

Will you believe me if I tell you that there are worse kinds of pain you can have besides the physical sort? It’s true. In many ways – ways that are better discussed in person on a nice long hike with fresh air in our lungs and sunlight filtering through the leaves – you are fortunate to have this particular struggle, even at your age. There are many worse things that could have happened.

While that may seem far-fetched, it is entirely true, and that is where I want to begin. Before we discuss some practical steps you can take to waging serious war against your migraines, really the first and most important battle you can undertake is the one against despair.

You simply cannot let the enemy of your soul win the field on that one.

Trust me if I say I know what I am talking about here. Physical pain has not been my only opponent on the battlefield, and so I have at least a year or two (or is that a decade or two?) of experience from which to pull. What I advise you today is pragmatic and workable, though it may seem foolish to you at first.

My challenge to you today is to praise God anyway – and not just today, but every single day this week, maybe even many times each day. All day long, if you must.

That’s the first step; that’s the challenge. Yet I do not leave you to build without tools. Interestingly enough, neither did God! One of the first steps in learning to praise God even in the midst of trials, hardship, and suffering is to understand that you are not alone in it.

Remember that He submitted to pain, Himself, and so He can and does understand. That is a small part of a great truth you can find in Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16

So grab a pen and a few note cards. This is a full-on homework assignment and one I suggest you take seriously. If you recall your most recent visit to my house, you will see that I am not speaking hypocritically.  From long experience, I have simply learned that the most effective weapon in battling the darkness is the Sword of the Lord, which is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:17).

When you cannot think of your own words of praise, borrow someone else’s! Sometimes, too, it is helpful to realize that the road of difficulty is not as lonely as the enemy would have you believe.

Not all at once, maybe, but over the next few days look up the following passages, write them on note cards or post-it notes, and stick them up wherever you are most likely to see them. Then stop and read them aloud as often as it takes.

  • Psalm 8:1-4
  • Psalm 16:5-8, 11
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 34:1-4
  • Psalm 43:3-5
  • Psalm 73:25-26
  • Psalm 103:1-5
  • Lamentations 3:17-26
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  • Philippians 4:4, 6-8

And don’t forget, I could literally go on all day… but I thought we’d start with just a few. 😉

With great affection,

Ms. Heather

PS-Anyone else out there, feel free to chime in. What Scriptures help you to deal with black moods or times of difficulty?

 

 

 

 

 

An Oops -Lovely Blog Award

one-lovely-blog-award-badge1 An embarrassingly long time ago, or at the end of September (whichever you prefer to go with), I was nominated for this award by Lene in Japan on her wonderful blog, Wrestling with Faith- Dancing With Jesus.

Because I am absolutely horrible at completing these sorts of things, I thanked her warmly and then promptly forgot. I also confess that I feel a bit silly whether I participate or not. Like I always told my former judo sensei: I enjoy praise, but I think I handle criticism better. Funny, maybe, but entirely true! However it was, some quirk of memory brought it to mind today and I thought that – just maybe – I should actually do what I’m supposed to do for politeness’ sake. Oops. (Sorry Lene!)

Disclaimer: If I nominate your blog, you are under no obligation to follow the rules. I am only following them on a stretched technicality and very belatedly, so believe me that you will not hurt even one of my feelings.

Another disclaimer: If I do not nominate your blog, I still love it if I am following it. Otherwise, I would not have followed it in the first place. Honestly. Basically, I chose fifteen at total random and not my fifteen favorites. 🙂  Aaaannnd… if you’ve already been nominated, I apologize again, but consider it a thumb’s up from me. Besides, some days I barely have enough time to work on my own blog…

The Rules (Copied and pasted shamelessly from Lene’s blog):

Thank the lovely person who nominated your blog and follow them. YES FOLLOW me… actually even better: Follow Jesus!

Display the award logo and add this set of rules to your post so that your nominees will know what to do (sounds sensible, right?)

Nominate 15 other lovely blogs listing them in your post and notifying them via a link in one of their blog posts (or as I chose – link to their blog while listing them).

List 7 interesting facts about yourself to the post (not really sure what would count as “interesting” but I’ll give it a go)

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Fifteen Good Ones:

The Power of Story   /  INSPIRATION with an ATTITUDE  /  Detective Gluck  /  Jonathan Camac  /  Preacher Keith’s Blog  /  The Light Breaks Through  /  Shattered in Him  /  Beauty Beyond Bones  /  Mack Marie  / Life Less Ordinary  / The Bottom of a Bottle /  Julian for Jesus  /  Laura Bennett  /  In the Desert With Jesus  /  A Homeschool Mom Blog

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Seven Potentially Interesting Facts About Me (but no promises made):

  1. I have never been bitten by an octopus.  However, a friend of mine has.
  2. As of this date, I have about three chapters to go in  revising my first novel. I say “about three” because there may be an ax applied to some of the last bits…
  3. I have several children that I consider to be “mine,” although I have only given birth to three of them. If I were rich beyond belief and none of their parents minded, I would gladly adopt them all, but alas, their parents do care and homeschooling doesn’t pay super well.
  4. I have homeschooled all three of my children until this school year when my oldest 2 started going to a private school and my youngest is considering it. Weirdly, it feels a little like being fired…
  5. Because of #4, if I ever say, “This year,” I mean “This school year,” or “The year that started in August and ends in July.”
  6. I have strange hobbies, like trying to learn Hebrew or feeling compelled to research every strange insect or unusual bird that I run across, especially if I can manage to photograph them.
  7. Um…  I can’t really think of anything else, so I hope six will be enough.