Victim

Love is patient and kind…
(1 Corinthians 13:4a)

I have the very greatest prayer partners on the face of the planet. No joke.

Just this morning, two of us carried our coffee mugs down to the basement where we proceeded with a pre-dawn outcry before the Throne of Grace on behalf of our families, our friends, our nation, and our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ worldwide.

While one of our members could not make it this particular day, these ladies are my go-to warriors, my trenchmates on the front line, my confidants.  With them, I confess sin with unabashed candor, knowing that they will join me in lifting up a broken and contrite heart as well as in the celebration when a particular sin has been vanquished.

We laugh and cry, we make pleas for the salvation of friends and loved ones who walk in hopelessness, we praise our God that He provides us with enough difficulties along the way that we never forget our incredible need of Him. Together, we pray that we will not only be partakers of grace, but givers of it as well; that merit for any good deeds will be credited to His account and not to ours.

This morning, one friend and I chatted for quite a while after we had knocked fervently at the pearly gates. As our small group is doing a Scripture-based study on marriage, we were thinking back to our selfishness with our spouses early on in our marriage and discussing areas where we may still owe these dear men an apology.

And it got me thinking…

If you have perused this blog for long, you’ll know from a past post that my marriage did not begin with a typical “love and courtship” type of relationship. We did the commitment thing first and worked on the love part along the way.

Through it all, that vow about “in sickness and in health” has been well-tested for my longsuffering husband. He has stuck with me through babies, routine illnesses, meningitis, a surprise baby on the tail end of recovery, and chronic migraine.  Years of chronic migraine.

In fact, I had one yesterday (first in 2 weeks, though, so celebrate with me!!). In the midst of it, I had a tutoring/study skill coaching session with one of my part-time daugthers who also struggles with migraines. After some meds and a nap, I composed a quick email to her dad (my adopted brother/sensei/co-small-group-leader)… and subsequently had to compose another quick email to clarify my muddy thoughts from the first one.

It is very likely that I was unsuccessful. However, at the end, I recall typing out, “Thank you for your patience!”

Since then, I have been thinking about those words, especially in the context of my early-morning discussion on marriage.

For anyone who deals with any type of debilitating or life-altering medical condition or chronic pain, patience can quickly run short. In the fog of fatigue or the pestilent gnawing of pain, it can be difficult to answer your children softly or speak with respect and love to your spouse.

On days in which the old gray matter is sluggish and each thought seems to be extracted with great effort as if wrested from some glutinous quagmire and even basic tasks loom to towering heights of impossibility, a body needs an extra measure of patience just to exist. In such situations, it can be tempting to see oneself as a bit of a victim of circumstance.

Yet in reality, it is my husband who has been the victim here.

When I am annoyed with my own inability to string a handful of words together, how much more patience must it require for the man who listens and struggles to comprehend my disconnected (and often repeated) words?

If fatigue leaves me feeling frustrated with of piles of unfinished tasks, how much more frustrating for him to watch me fight a battle we both know I cannot win? If it is a great feat of composure for me to handle my teenagers’ vitrolic responses delicately when I feel that gentle stabbing behind my left eye, how much more patience it must require for them to respond to me when I am (quite literally) out of my mind – or for my Man to listen to  the lot of us?

So to my Man, if you read this, I have to say:
Thank you so much for your years and years and YEARS of unswerving, unwavering patience and for your example of uncompromising, Biblical love!

Ah, Lord! Forgive me for my self-pity and thank You for an amazing husband who is also an incredible father. May I learn to count the cost of my words as well as he does and spend them as carefully. Let the word of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight! Amen!

… love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4b-7)

 

 

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Impetus

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
(Lamentations 3:24)

When our small church was unable to meet corporately last Sunday due to a scheduling conflict in the elementary school where we meet, some of our friends and family decided to move our worship outdoors. Because of the unusual opportunity and the beautiful weather, we met to hike a portion of the Fiery Gizzard Trail in South Cumberland State Park.

The plan was to take a 9-mile loop that included a stop at a scenic overlook about half-way. However, due to a, um… slight disagreement about the direction to take after our  stop, we wound up hiking down a steep gorge and back up again. Meanwhile, my intuition, which has been honed by playing, “Hey, guys, let’s see if we can get lost in the woods” with my cousins when we were children, dogged each step with a cerainty that we were headed the wrong way.

As we took the rough stone steps, I recall thinking that our navigator may be in some slight danger of mutiny if we had, in fact, taken a wrong turning. Not until we had climbed to the bottom of the  ravine and back up the other side did we all stop and look at one another with the absolute certainty that we were not on the 4.5 mile loop back to our cars, but on the 8-mile stretch that headed to the trail’s southern end in another town.

Frustrated with himself (and possibly nervous about the possibility of violent mutiny), our navigator took off back towards the way we had come, as, with a few scattered murmurs, the rest of us collected ourselves and followed him.

It was absolutely glorious.  

There is not much I love more than hiking, and this particular trail is on my personal top Mom01110 list. Each step of the way back, I brought up the rear with my mom (who turns 66 today – happy birthday, Mama!). She had tweaked her knee somewhere in all the elevation change and had to take it a little slower. This was fine by me since it afforded an opportunity to drink in all the splendor of my Father’s handiwork.

All told, we hiked approximately 14.25 miles and by doing so answered the question of about how long we would need to plan to hike the Fiery Gizzard end-to-end (13 miles). It’s easily doable in a day, even leaving time for my beloved Nikon if we start early.

And as is my habit, the whole trek got me thinking about my walk with the Lord.

Some of our number who are not as giddily in love with the forests and hills as I found the last leg of our trek to be sheer misery. A fair amount of complaints were vocalized, as were several wistful wishes for extra water or a nice, juicy steak.

But for me, even the accidental detour was delightful. Even through the discomfort of thirst and the annoyance of arthritic feet, I enjoyed the quiet beauty of the woods, the surprising red-orange of occasional mushrooms, the steady plashing of the streams. In my experience, I have found that focusing on trouble only makes it that much harder to bear.

The difference, however, was not only focus but motive. 

True, I chose to concentrate on the scenery rather than ponder hunger or the pain of sore feet. But the bigger reason for the disconnect in our various experiences is that I love hiking for hiking’s sake. A short jaunt into the woods, particularly after a long drive, leaves me feeling cheated, so an entire day spent reveling in the Master’s artistry was a rare and wonderful pleasure.

Likewise, my walk with the Lord – and for that matter, all my relationships – are affected by motive. If my motivation for following God’s trail is solely what I can get out of it, be it blessings, comfort, peace, provision, or anything else, then I stand to be disappointed when things take a wrong turning.

However, following my Messiah for His own sake – well, that, my friends is where joy in the journey is found; not merely joy because of circumstances but even joy despite them. There – in Him – is true and lasting peace.

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)

Adventures in Migrania

Today is Day 7 of yet another experiment with yours truly serving as both research analyst and guinea pig.

While I wait on my April appointment with a headache specialist, some friends convinced me to try (another) dietary approach to dealing with the fatigue and pain associated with chronic migraine. So it is that I find myself trying out a diet that flies in the face of everything I have ever associated with healthy eating: I am on a ketogenic diet.

Today is only the seventh day, and so I do not yet know if it will actually help the headache situation or not. However, the last seven days have been the best I’ve had in weeks.

I was told both by my friends and through all my research that I should expect to feel perfectly lousy for the first few days.  Dutifully, I blocked out a couple of days on the schedule and began the diet last Wednesday fully expecting to wake up on Thursday or Friday with the so-called “keto flu.”

But I didn’t. If anything, those two days were better than average for me. Who knew?

So far, seven days into eating extremely minimal carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and high fat content, I find I am still feeling better than usual. Admittedly, I was exhausted and a little sluggish yesterday, but I strongly suspect that it has more to do with an enormous energy expenditure plus inadequate consumption the day before. Besides feeling lethargic, I was also hungry all day which lends credence to my theory.

I suppose a 14-mile hike fueled by a couple of boiled eggs and a handful of nuts will do that to a body.

At any rate, my first week has been promising. I haven’t had significant head pain since the day before and the first day of beginning ketogenic dining. With the exception of last Thursday and yesterday, I have not suffered the debilitating fatigue that has long been a marker of my days.

And honestly, Thursday’s crash could easily have been due to the 48-hour migraine that preceded it and I’ve already mentioned the possible cause of yesterday’s listlessness.  However, during the hike, my energy never flagged and I enjoyed every single minute of the trek.

If this works, I plan to make it a lifestyle and not just a “diet.” I’m certain I will “cheat” here or there down the road, but in all honesty, any food that becomes associated in my mind with pain becomes less desirable anyway.

For instance, I know that wheat is a killer for me. After enduring weeks of ocular migraine, a constant underlying headache, and increased severity of “full-blown” migraines following each intentional cheat or unintentional wheat consumption, I do not miss cookies or cake. I’d rather have less pain, thanks.

That being said, if there is something as simple as a dietary change, no matter how radical it may be, that could help me get off the meds and gain some of my life back, I’m in for the long haul. I’ve counted the cost and decided that even if I have to give up sweets forever, I am resolved to focus on thankfulness for all the years I enjoyed them rather than indulge in self-pity for whatever time I cannot.

As I type those words, I cannot help but note that my attitude towards following Christ ought to reflect the same principle. If obeying Him and drawing close to Him means giving up anything at all, no matter how much temporal pleasure it may bring, it is worth it. I will follow Him, no matter what the cost because He is worthy.

There, too, I have counted the cost… and both the cost and reward in Him are so much higher than mere physical well-being.

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
(Luke 14:27-28)

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Liebster Award – Passing it On

liebster-logoWell, before my week gets a little bit crazy and probably a lot weird thanks to a new culinary adventure I will be embarking on (more than that later),  I thought I’d take a few moments and indulge in a little fun… especially since my youngest turned 13 today and fun is certainly one way to keep me from an overdose of nostalgia about when they were all babies.

The multi-talented Mitch Teemley nominated me for a Liebster Award recently, and I am excited to pass on my own nominations to you!  If you haven’t heard of this award, just know that it is a great way to get the word out about other bloggers you know and a nomination is a pretty sweet vote of confidence from a fellow blogger.

Mitch, please accept my gratitude for your nomination <insert curtsey here>.

I definitely recommend checking out his wonderful blog, The Power of Story, (and also his upcoming film, Over the Rhine)!

Of course, there are some rules, but they are just as fun. ;

RULES:

  • Thank the nominator (Thanks again!)
  • Answer the questions
  • Nominate others (though none of you are under any obligation to participate!)

So. First for my nominations. These are all blogs either of personal friends or blogs I have read some great content on and deserve more traffic (in my opinion):

Detective Gluck

You Can Trust Him

Theological Jon

The First Gleam of Dawn

Unto Christ’s Fullness

God’s Grace – God’s Glory!

Scott’s Blog – Jesus Be With You

Laura Bennett

Lilka Raphael – Author and Photographer

Lastly, the questions:

1. If you could be any animal on earth, what would it be and why?  A swallow. I adore watching them swoop and dive like little feathered masters of the air. What it must feel like to fly that way!

2. If you had to write the soundtrack of your life, what would be the first three songs?  Eh… I’m too tired to decide. Probably something like

3. If your death was imminent, what would you choose as your last meal?   The Bread of Life and Living Water – kind of like an appetizer before the great feast.

4. What movie that has not yet been made would you pay good money to see?   Yeah… not so sure. I like movies but I am cheap and would still prefer a good book or a nice, long hike.

5. What was your favorite age to be and why?  Maybe 30 ?? All three kids were babies and every day had built-in entertainment.

6. What is the one book that has most inspired your writing and/or life?  The Bible is definitely tops. The first time I read it all the way through, I came out a different person on the other side. Outside of the Bible, maybe G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters… 

7. If you could live anywhere you please, without that pesky restraint called money, where would it be and why?  Somewhere with a gorgeous view of either the mountains (Smokies, Rockies… not too picky) and/or a gorgeous view of a natural beach with no condos/other houses in sight… but maybe a few live oaks. Why? because I love, love, love to see the beauty of creation and the wonder of the creatures my Father has populated it with. But I do not love crowds, concrete, and exhaust fumes.

 

Remain

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5)

I am a firm believer that every single trial we have in life is allowed by God in order to test our mettle, usually with the aim of showing us where our fortitude or character is a little bit lacking.

I mean, if we are honest, any one of us can be immeasurably bold, incredibly courageous, and are capable of great gallantry… theoretically.  It’s that sticky place where heroic imaginings meet with a leaky fridge or an explosion of teenage drama over a five-minute departure time that we sometimes find our integrity falling a bit short.

Or pain. In my case, I have to confess that a month or two of near-constant headaches will quickly shred any guise of righteousness I may have concocted in my mind and lay my weaknesses rather painfully bare.

Strange though it may seem, I see this as a good thing.

In a recent reading of John 15,  the Lord’s discourse grabbed my attention in a new way, and I have been thinking about it since.

Really, there is so much packed into this one passage that I could go on forever (don’t worry – I won’t; at least not today…), but the what stood out to me was the emphasis Jesus put on abiding, bearing fruit, and loving before He launched into a sort of warning about the persecution and difficulties that lay ahead for the disciples.

In the illustration of the vine and branches, the Lord makes twelve references to abiding or remaining in the first eleven verses.

Now I know that the Lord did not begin this agricultural analogy to His disciples by announcing, “Verse 1 of Chapter 15 begins, ‘I am the true vine…'”

I also know that He was most likely speaking to them in Aramaic or Hebrew and not in either English (my translation) or Greek (the language the text was translated from).

However, in any language if a speaker repeats the same concept multiple times in a brief span, that speaker kinda wants the listener to hear it. It’s worthy of note the other concept He reiterates is love: loving each other, remaining in His love, etc.

As I have mulled all this over while simultaneously dealing with the afore-mentioned month or two of head pain along with the inevitable adolescent ire, and yes, even the leaky fridge, it has been driven into even my somewhat thick and murky consciousness that the one way we are going to endure hardships, difficulties, and trials is to love each other well.

And the only way we can love each other well is by remaining in Him.

While that may seem self-evident, the lesson my Father has been hammering home here lately is that “remaining in Him” is more than an hour or two of pre-dawn Bible study and prayer. It is an all day,play-by-play reliance on Him to provide me with the ability to do what I cannot do on my own.

As an example, take the watermelon vine in the photo above. That yellow flower and the other little buds each hold the promise of delectable, mature fruit to come. Yet if at any time the flower or the ripening fruit becomes severed from the vine, there will be no scrumptious melon but only decay.

Also, there is absolutely no way to attach the melon to the vine for a few moments or hours. Even if there were, such partial nourishment would never be enough to sustain a truly juicy melon through the scorching Tennessee summer. The fruit would certainly wither.

Even so, a few minutes or an hour alone with God in the morning is not enough to sustain me through yet another day of pain, be it the physical pain of migraine or the emotional frustrations of navigating through the volatile Land of Adolescence as a parent.

No, I need much more than a brief connection. If I am to love my family well and endure the pain of life, I will have to remain connected with Him every single second – for there is not a single second of the day in which I do not need a greater strength and a fiercer love than the shriveled parody I can conjure on my own.

And that is where true joy begins…

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
John 15:11

A Prayer of God’s Splendor

El Shaddai, my Almighty God who has created the heavens and earth and all that are within them, today I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s eclipse. I am utterly in awe of Your sovereignty and power. In Genesis 1:14-15, Your word tells us that You created the sun, moon, and all the stars and put them in their place, and that they would be “for signs and seasons, and for days and years.”

Even though I was unable to see the total eclipse yesterday, the sheer knowledge of all the factors that had to be in place for an eclipse to occur at all is awe-inspiring. You did this, Lord!  You put this universe in motion and the heavens truly do declare Your glory and the sky above proclaim Your handiword, just as Psalm 19 states so well. Somehow, in the midst of a 99% eclipse, the wonder of Your power and plan gripped me. Yet even on a “normal” day, the heavens still proclaim You just as loudly. How I love to look up into the sky for that very reason!

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.
Psalms 19:1-2

Today, I ask that You will tune my heart and the hearts of my family to hear this heavenly praise and join it. As we think of yesterday’s solara eclipse, remind us of that eclipse so many centuries ago that occured right as Your Son gave up his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Not only that, but we ask You to reveal us of the things we allow to eclipse Your glory in our lives – family, money, career, entertainment – so many things! Forgive us for ever allowing anything at all to come between You and ourselves. Lord, remind us always that our eyes are to be set on Your glory and that our contentment, joy, and peace is found in You alone. Remind us also that even in our darkest hour, Your Light is never extinguished but only hidden for a time. Oh God, let Your Light shine brightly and boldly in us! Make us into blazing beacons for Your glory in this world, in the Name that is above all names, amen.

Psalms 19:7-14
The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

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Uneclipsed

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

A mere 40 miles to the north or northeast of my house lies the path of totality for the solar eclipse this coming Monday afternoon. Being a bit of a natural phenomenon junkie, it might seem strange that I am not planning on packing up my crew and hitting the road to get inside that swath of real estate in which I could view the first total eclipse to happen in Tennessee in my lifetime.

But I am not.

While I confess that I would dearly, dearly love to see the sun in total eclipse, I also have a healthy respect for Nashville traffic. I know without a doubt that Nashville will have no shortage of traffic on eclipse day.

Just yesterday, I did have some hearty laughs with my friends who are making the trek. We imagined ourselves all stranded on one of the interstates in a gridlock of cars, the pre-eclipse August sun baking its way into our patience, and her spending more time looking to be certain that her youngest two children’s eyes were properly covered by the protective lenses than actually seeing the big event itself.

We laughed ourselves even sillier as we imagined putting their 6 kids and my 3 to work on a couple of preposterous inventions we came up with to protect the eyes of small children who had not been able to acquire the NASA-approved filtered lenses, hawking them on the sides of packed-out streets and parks in hopes of redeeming the hours lost to traveling north – or even find some way to turn the thing around should we be caught in a traffic jam a mile or two south of the path of totality and miss the thing entirely.

To be fair, I had been up since 4 that morning and they had just returned from a long road trip. But it was certainly funny at the time…. though you probably had to be there.

Anyway, all this eclipse talk and planning got me thinking about God. I admit that I did think of Joel 2:31 (The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes), but even beyond that, my mind strayed to the types of things that eclipse God’s glory in my own life.

Pain. That’s one for sure.

By His grace, I have been able to find purpose, hope, and even joy in the middle of chronic migraine and other assorted physical delights. Yet I have to admit that at times, weeks of relentless pain can seem to cast a pall over all of life, even seeming to grow so large as to hide the radiance of the Almighty in my days.

Then, of course, there is family strife – which is just another type of pain. Difficult circumstances. Riots and wars. Woe.

But not only hardship – sometimes the temptations and comforts of life in America can can loom large and I find myself quite suddenly walking in their shadow instead of walking in the Light.

Yet in each instance, whether trial or ease, I find that His glory has never actually changed. It only seems to be so because for that fateful instant, I have taken my eyes off Him. I have either allowed some promised pleasure or some dreadful difficulty snare my attention and come between me and my King.

How I wish that these spiritual eclipses were as infrequent as the solar variety! Even still, I take heart in knowing that they, too, are really nothing more than natural phenomena – simply a part of the process of sanctification as my Lord patiently allows me to see the transient nature of whatever it is that I have allowed to dominate my mind.

Whether it is pain or pleasure, I am thankful that the shadow always passes, revealing once more the steady and unfading Glory of the Lord.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Psalms 19:1

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