Speechless – A Migraine Story

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
(Proverbs 11:2)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Most people have some familiarity with migraines as well as the standard symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sounds, and/or odors.

What you may not know is that a migraine is much more than a bad headache and often involves some fairly bizarre neurological symptoms before, during, after, or even occurring entirely apart from the actual onset of pain.

Just for kicks, let’s explore one of them – and how it helped deflate my ego:

Aphasia

In my personal experience, aphasia is a fairly good humbler of pride. As a child, I was frequently told I was smart and by the time I was an adolescent I began to believe it. I particularly liked to think my knowledge base was somewhat broader than it actually was, and because I was also insecure, was threatened when others knew more than me.

In my young adulthood, I also held a fair amount of intellectual smugness, somewhat oddly wedded to a crippling fear that I was not so very bright after all. Often, the resulting product was an arrogantly offensive attitude and included many distinctly unintelligent actions.

When aphasia strikes, however, it is rather difficult to feel oneself to be intellectually superior.

The first (and most extreme) instance of aphasia in my life happened very memorably when my children were very small. I cannot remember whether it was before my episode with meningitis or afterward, but I can very clearly recall the humiliation I felt.

I was hosting a play date for my littles and was talking with some other moms. Suddenly, I realized that the sounds coming from my face bore no resemblance whatsoever to the clear and coherent words I had composed in my mind. In despair, I remember trying to correct my speech only to have more garbled gibberish erupt from my now-red countenance before I finally hit upon the brilliant idea of shutting up.

It took a few heartbeats of silence before the other moms closed their mouths and looked away, probably wondering if I were drunk. It was the longest play date of my life.

I never spoke of this incident until I saw reporter, Serene Branson’s very public episode with aphasia and recognized the look in her eyes. However, it wasn’t until I read an article written to dispel rumors that she’d had a stroke that I learned the term “aphasia” and that it was linked to migraines.

Although my aphasia is rarely that severe (and from the look in the reporter’s eyes, I highly suspect panic set in, making things worse for her at that moment just as they did in my living room years before), it can still be embarrassing to speak in slurred speech, mix up words, or lose them altogether.

It’s also decidedly difficult to feel pompous when you have just asked your daughter to pass the couch at the dinner table. Not to mention those dignity-deflating moments when the name of a relative or close friend fails to roll off the tongue during an introduction…

But of course, my younger self desperately needed humbling, and I daresay I still do. Certainly, aphasia is only one of many tools my Father has used in taking me down a notch or two.

And while discipline is not always pleasant to the erroneous child, there are some delightful byproducts. While I may temporarily lose my ability to speak intelligibly, I have gained the ability to laugh at myself. Because if I am honest, plenty of my random word-swaps or numb-tongue exhibitions are more than mildly entertaining!

No longer do I feel the sting of humiliation when my words become tangled or fail to be in any recognizable tongue. Now, each instance of aphasia (and of the milder sort, there are many) serves as a reminder to keep my pride in check… and also to watch my words.

Have you had any embarrassing migraine moments you’d like to share?  Feel free to comment below. I’ll be unplugging for a few days, but I’ll respond as soon as I get back!!

 

 

Death of an Atheist

Note: If the beginning of this post sounds familiar, you are probably one of the lucky handful who caught me in the midst of a weird glitch wherein a draft by accident… 

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 6:11)

Before I came to know and love the Lord, I was a self-proclaimed atheist… and a pretty angry one at that. If you had asked the late teen/early adulthood version of myself what I thought about Christianity or religion in general, I probably would have answered something to the effect that religion is just a crutch to prop up people who are too weak to face life without it.

Ironically, now that I have come to enjoy a relationship with the living God, I partially agree with my old self on this point. If I have learned nothing else in my forty-odd trips around the sun, I have at least come to realize that I am too weak by far to attempt to live life without God.

The only difference between the Heather who did not recognize this fact and the Heather who now does is that the old me was in denial of very obvious weaknesses (even though said weaknesses resulted in alternating bouts of sobbing, self-loathing, and self-medication with alcohol).

The old me held a firm belief that life was all about what you could get out of it. Yet each attempt I made to seize the proverbial day left me with nothing more than double fistfuls of wishful thinking and palms slashed with bloody furrows from clinging to the shards of shattered delusions.

Perhaps the realization that disturbed me most profoundly in my old life was that the more I lived for myself, filling myself with what I thought was good and fun, the emptier I seemed to become until the inner void was so great that I was certain I would implode.

I had become a person wandering on an endless search with no goal, traveling at great speed yet without direction or purpose. My life was a confusion of restless and increasingly frantic, but futile, activity. I was locked in what seemed to be a perpetual circle, forever following my own footsteps.

“What we all dread most,” said the priest in a low voice, “is a maze with no centre. That is why atheism is only a nightmare.” – G. K. Chesterton, from “The Head of Caesar,” a Father Brown mystery

Yet all the time, God was there waiting patiently for the day when I, footsore and disillusioned, would finally grasp the extremity of my need. But when I first realized that each broad and inviting path I took only led me back to a trackless wilderness, I became convinced that the answers lay beneath my feet, as if some clue to joy could be unearthed like buried treasure.

As I delved deeper and ever deeper, my subterranean quest did not diminish my need but merely increased my darkness. It was there, knee-deep in muck and covered in grime, that I finally saw my folly. Suffocated by despair, I collapsed.

The God I had once laughingly dismissed as a crutch found me where I had fallen, miserably entombed in the pit I had dug, lifeless and caked in mud. The sudden Light of his presence woke me and I cringed in anticipation of the wrath and contempt I deserved from Him. But He did the unexpected.

Rather than move on by, as I would have done, the One I had once scorned knelt beside me in the mire. Lifting my lifeless form, He carried me out of the grave and washed me clean. He removed my shabby tatters and covered my shame with His own spotless garment of righteousness. And He took my stone-cold heart and kneaded it until it became a living thing, responsive to His love.

Then He hefted the full burden of my degradation onto His own shoulders and bore it because I could not. In those moments of His tender care and mercy, I finally realized what He already knew. I had been broken, lame, and dead long before that moment of despair. I just needed to see it.

To me, God became so much more than just a crutch – He became my reason to breathe, my motivation to wake. My life.

Oh, I can do things apart from Him. I can fail. I can be hateful. I can be selfish and stingy and all sorts of nasty. But I cannot be good apart from Him, for only God is good. I cannot be righteous – I can only wear His righteousness. Every moment, every hour, for every action and word, I need Him.

Yes, He is the One I lean on so that I can stand, but He is so much more. He is my Savior and gives my life purpose and meaning; the color to my world; my Master, Guide, Comforter, and King. May my lips always praise Him and may I never again try to venture out on my own!

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie!

(Psalms 40:2-4)

In the Furnace

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Isaiah 48:10-11

I have yet to develop a desire for affliction. To this day, I can guarantee that the words, “I sure hope to be hit by a killer migraine today,” or “Boy, what I wouldn’t give to engage in battle with cancer,” have never once crossed my lips.

Affliction of any sort is unpleasant. Unpleasant, but not unprofitable.

In fact, I would venture to say that my faith in God has grown more through times of discomfort than times of ease.  That is not to say that my faith has been unshaken – far from it! In truth, my faith has been shaken, stirred, turned inside-out, boiled, numbed, seared, battered, and even left for dead.  But it has not been destroyed.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
(2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

Oh, I will admit that I have had my moments of doubt; wondering how a God who loves so deeply could stand to watch so much pain. But then… He not only watches pain, He participated in it.

With an infinite God, there is also an infinite capacity to suffer, and the agony He suffered on the cross was far more that mere physical pain. It was an agony of the soul; a tearing apart of a blessed Unity when the Man, Yeshua, took upon His human shoulders the burden of countless sins He did not commit.

When viewed from the proper perspective, my own misery seems puny in comparison.

No, true faith and trust in God is not consumed in the heat of the furnace of affliction.   Instead, it is refined; for as the blistering heat reveals weakness and impurity in all forms, they can be gradually separated and removed. Bit by bit, trial by trial, the faith I have in God is slowly but certainly becoming less about what He does for me and more about Him. 

One lesson I am learning through pain is that He will not yield His glory to another, not even if that “another” is me.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that while I have enjoyed many times of sweet and gentle communion with my God, they are often sweeter and more delightful because of the painful trials.

Yet what I am discovering is that the things my Lord allows to be devoured by fire are the very things that hinder me in my walk with Him. The cords of self-righteousness, self-importance, selfishness…. actually a whole lot of “self” is burned until there’s nothing more than ash.

And when all is said and done, what survives the flames will be whatever brings Him glory.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”
(Daniel 3:24-25)

In Need

If you have ever been moderately involved in Christian circles, I am pretty sure you have already heard Philippians 4:13:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:13)

In my walk,  I have heard this verse quoted for encouragement or inspiration in countless situations, and it really is inspiring. It’s great to think that all things can be done through Christ, even wonderful to recognize that He is the sole source of our ability.

However, what I find a little bit funny is how I have not heard the verse used: I have never heard it used as Paul originally penned it.  As our pastor pointed out recently, the original context was about being content whether his means were meager or abundant.  Look back a couple of verses to see what I mean:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
(Philippians 4:11-13)

While I am not saying that the only thing one can accomplish through Christ is Plenty010contentment, I do think it worthy of note that contentment ought to be clearly present in the Christian life. Whether the abundance or the need in our lives is financial, situational, or something else, we who bear the Lord’s name ought to find our satisfaction in Him alone.

By our contentment, we honor Him, showing our trust for Him in all circumstances because ultimately He is what we need. As Psalm 16:11 states, it is in His presence that we find the fullness of joy, therefore we can be content.

Another passage that has been similarly stretched until it is nearly unrecognizable from its original meaning is a portion of Matthew 19:26:

… with God all things are possible.”

Also true. All things are possible with God. However I think the context of this little snippet is of utmost importance:

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  (Matthew 19:23-26)

These days, it is not popular to talk about sin. In America in particular, rather than dealing in honest confessions of sin, many of us have soothed our consciences by talking about lifestyles or choices, by  blame-shifting or renaming (ie -calling gossip a “prayer request” complete with juicy and unnecessary details).

Rarely do we hear tearful confessions of sinful thoughts or contrition for smug self-righteousness. Even more rarely do we recognize it in ourselves.

Ironically enough, by this sort of blindness we nicely illustrate the words of Yeshua: “With man this is impossible,” because we seem to find it impossible even to notice our crimes.

My country is among the wealthiest, and so in many ways this verse applies very specifically (and uncomfortably) to us. So great is our wealth and privilege that we often fail to see our need for God in the little things, like daily meals or the grace we need to respond to others with kindness and humility. Too often, we trust in our salaries or the supermarket; too often we revel in our entertainments when we ought to be humbly finding delight the presence of the Most High.

I am no different. But for the very reason that I do see my tendency to sin and how prone I am to selfishness,, I am thankful that it with God it is possible for me to be saved. Because of His great love, offered while I was still in my sin, my strong desire is to humble myself enough to recognize and forsake sin so that I may honor the One who forsook His honor for me.

Despite our riches – and really because of them – we all need the Christ desperately. We can never enter the Kingdom of God apart from Him, for He is the Way. Certainly, we can never buy our way in. There are no first-class arrangements for the narrow path that leads to life; neither movies to pass the time nor comfortable seats. There is hardship, difficulty, sacrifice, and persecution.

But you know what? It will be worth it. And with Him, it is possible for us to let go of our riches and trust ourselves to the grace and care of the King of kings instead.

Blogger Brandon Adams also shares some insight into three other Scriptures – including my number one “Christian-ese” pet peeve. Follow this link to his article. 

Morning Meanderings

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job 2:10a

Today as I walked with my Father in the cool of the morning, my heart was filled with adoration for Him and gratitude for all He has done and continues to do all around me. Tennessee is so beautiful in spring, and I was acutely aware that living in such a gorgeous place is a blessing – one for which I am very thankful.

Walking through the neighborhood, exulting in God and in the beauty of His creation, my thoughts roamed to the various stages and seasons of life. No wonder, for even as I type these words, a friend and neighbor is in the hospital in labor with twins. Though her labor will truly be just that – hard work and travail – and though the future remains unclear, still we all look forward to the joy of two new lives.

On the same street, another friend battles physical and emotional pain from a diagnosis of cancer and from complications from surgery. For this family, the road ahead is not so sunny, for his battle will be a battle against death and despair. Yet even here, there is the possibility of new life, for it is sometimes in anguish and suffering that we find a keener, sweeter appreciation for what our Lord suffered on our behalf.

Nearby, another precious friend recovers from a recent heart attack and stroke and still greets each new day with a smile. Though her nine and a half decades have left her body frail, her spirit has grown strong under the loving care of her heavenly Father, and she shares the joy He brings with all who are around her. For her, the road is nearing its end and she rejoices in her brief stay on earth and in the promise of eternity with her mighty King.

Another house in the neighborhood stands quieter than in previous years. In it, yet another friend has already finished her race, leaving behind both sorrow for her loss and a lifetime of delightful memories for her husband, children, and grandchildren.

As I walked and prayed, traces of what (I hope) is a waning migraine flared and receded. Spikes of pain shot through the ball of my foot, reminding me that with arthritis, every walk has its price.

The cool air wafted around my bare arms, and the birds lilted and trilled their various songs from the trees above as they darted about preparing nests or feeding their young. The fragrance of honeysuckle was swallowed by the pungent odor of a dead skunk. There, too, one death serves as a continuance of life for a pair of black vultures.

Over by the laNestingGoose008ke, a family of geese honked a warning and a great blue heron winged his way toward some other destination.

All around me is life and death; all around are reminders of the beginning of the race and the finish plus all the long miles in between. Life mingling both the bitter and the sweet, the poignant and the mundane; and death bringing a finality to all.

And yet…

For those who are in Christ, even death is a victory. Even suffering can be sweet. There is nothing wasted; nothing broken that cannot be restored; no error or tragedy that cannot be redeemed. Through the work of the Messiah, even the most heinous sin can be forgiven, and in Him, there is a gleam of light even in the darkest and most terrible regions of the path.

Today, I am thankful for my life in its entirety; for migraines and for seasons of respite from them, for suffering and blessing, for triumph and tragedy, for times of repose and seasons of toil, for all that is bright and beautiful and for the times of darkness that bring a greater hunger for and appreciation of the Light.

Today, I am thankful for the entire journey.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:55, 57-58

 

My Mind is Set

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
(Romans 8:5-6)

In a candid moment, I might tell you that I am often tempted to self-pity. In truth, I have indulged in it far too often.  Of course, it could be argued that I have a good excuse to do so, for my peculiar set of issues includes migraines, arthritis in my spine and big toe joints, muscle spasms in my neck and upper spine… well, it can be a lot. Suffice to say that most days it is not so much a question of if pain is present but to what extent.

But I have learned that even the best excuses do not negate sin when it is present. When I have chosen to feel sorry for my poor little self, my Father has brought it to my attention that the root of my self-pity is self-focus. Self-focus is, of course, just a tidier-sounding name for idolatry. In short, it is sin.

In dealing with chronic pain, one thing I have learned above all else is that when my focus is on myself, my circumstances, or even the pain, it overwhelms me. I feel a bit like Peter who asked the Lord if he could join Him walking across the water – and he did! At least, he did until he took a look at the storm all around him. Then poor Peter began to sink (see Matthew 14:28-31).

When I take my eyes off the Lord and fix them on my problems, I also begin to sink into despair or self-pity. In my case, the words of Romans 8:6 are very literal – if my mind is set on my malfunctioning flesh, it leads to death of joy, of peace, of patience, and other such things.

However, if I can set my mind on the Author and Perfecter of my faith, the One who endured so much in order to set my mind free from sin, I find that my self-pity is replaced by reverence and awe. My joy is renewed. My hope is restored.

Rather than worrying about my own suffering, fixing my mind on the Spirit of God reminds me to see instead the suffering of those around me. Often, their suffering is far greater than my own, particularly if they do not share the hope I have in Christ and the undercurrent of joy in Him that is pervasive even in my darkest moments.

Gracious Father, today I publicly repent of idolatry of self. Please forgive me for every time past that I have failed to trust You in the midst of pain or difficulty, displaying a fixation on the problems rather than setting my mind on Your Spirit. You are enough for me; help me not to forget it in a time of testing. Fix my mind firmly on You, increasing my faith and giving me unwavering trust in Your name and ways. Use me – pain and all – for Your glory and let the life and peace of the Holy Spirit shine brightly through me to help those around mesunrise003, amen. 

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)

 

 

 

Bringing the Lion to Bay

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:12-14

A few of days ago, I wrote down a few thoughts that had been, at least in part, provoked by a news story concerning a 50-year-old teacher who disappeared for over a month with a 15-year-old student. But there was another element to this story that provided food for thought besides the conundrum of how to raise children who are cautious but not callous, innocent but not ignorant, and prudent but not paranoid.

Close to Home

You see, the story hit very close to home, both literally and figuratively. The town they disappeared from is close enough that some of our friends and acquaintances have connections with one or more of the families involved. For that reason, I will not bring their names into this post.  I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to name call, finger point, or cast judgement on either party or on their family members. This situation has been confusing and painful enough for everyone involved, and I do not wish to add to their troubles.

Yet, the story still gives me pause, mainly because the teacher cannot be conveniently passed off as a warped, perverse monster who had a habit of preying on innocent children. From what I have heard, he was a family man. A husband, father, and grandfather; even thought of as a Godly man by those who knew him, as well as being a self-proclaimed “Jesus freak,” on his Instagram site.

In truth, this messy event is not an opportunity to look down on a fallen brother in scorn, but a solemn warning to mind my own walk and prayerfully search my heart daily. Because if I am brutally honest, I know I am not immune to falling – perhaps not in the same way, but sin is sin regardless of the ‘style.’

Behind Enemy Lines

It is important to remember that we who are in Christ are, as C. S. Lewis said, an invading force for our Homeland, currently encamped in enemy-occupied territory. What we need never forget even for one instant, is that there is a lion in the camp…

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your Lion001adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8)

As long as we draw breath in this world, we need not forget that we are immersed in a spiritual battle. Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not is irrelevant. In Christ or without Him, a battle is waged every hour of every day and the spoil is not counted in such fluctuating value as dollars, pounds, or Euros but rather measured for eternity in human souls.

Frankly, for those of us who have accepted the Lordship of the Most High, the intensity of the battles waged does not decrease. Rather, our enemy ramps up the attack, furious at having our ruination redeemed. Often, it is not at those already caught up in crime that Satan launches his most earnest and insidious attacks but at the vocal and high-profile believer.

 

You see, what the father of lies wants to do most is discredit the name of Yeshua and to call into question the character of the Almighty and of His followers.  If misery loves company as the old cliche claims, then the devil is the most miserable of beings and longs would love nothing more than to drag as many of the creatures who are made in God’s image down with him in the end.

The Word of God is full of warnings against falling away (see Hebrews 2:1, 3:12, 2 Peter 3:17, et al), but it is also full of hope. As members of the Body of Christ, we are not without hope, and what’s more, we are not alone.

What Can I Do?

Humbling ourselves, being honest and open with our struggles, and praying for one another – not just for material and physical needs, but most importantly for spiritual needs; for restoration of the fallen and victory over sin – these are some of the ways we can come together in Christ and stand against the devil’s schemes.

When one of us falls, we should pray fervently that he or she is restored and be willing to extend forgiveness. When we, ourselves, fall we should confess and repent, submitting ourselves to God’s discipline and purpose. Unified under the Lordship of Christ, we can bring that old lion to bay.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
(James 5:16a)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(James 4:7-8)