Pain Chronicles: In All Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

If living with chronic pain has taught me nothing else, at least I have learned to give thanks to God despite it.

Does this mean that I always feel thankful? No.

I wish I could say that my heart was eternally brimming with gratitude and thanksgiving poured in a continual fountain from my lips, but to say so would be a grave deceit.

Yet make no mistake: the fault is not in my God, but in me. 

I freely confess that I am not always thankful. I particularly struggle in the prodrome phase of migraine, which in my case resembles nothing less than a mild-t0-moderate psychotic break. In fact, so peculiar is the flavor of despair and/or rage during a prodrome that my husband and children have been able to accurately predict my migraines for years now.

More often than not, I feel shame rather than thanksgiving for that fact.

When another prodrome has mellowed into mere pain, sometimes I find myself falling prey to self-loathing, wishing that I were a better example for the children or less of a burden on my husband or any number of other things.

However…

All of this – the good and the bad – serves only to remind me that the enemy of our souls desires to use every single circumstance as a wedge to drive us further from God and from each other.

But on the flip side, God can and will use each circumstance for good and for His glory if we will surrender it to Him.

So today, I publicly surrender. I am choosing to look past both discomfort and my emotional response to it and praise God for the valuable lessons I have learned and for those I am still learning in the school of pain.

I am thankful for my weakness because it forces me to rely more on my God.

I am thankful for for crazy mood swings because they remind me that my salvation does not depend on how I feel but on what my Lord has done.

I am thankful that having an invisible illness tends to make me weigh the motives of others with greater compassion. Perhaps that rude lady in the grocery store is dealing with a migraine prodrome, or perhaps the man who cut me off on the interstate had an ocular migraine and very literally did not see me, or perhaps the person who jostled me as I walked did so because some joint pain caused them to stumble, or…

I am thankful for my family, who put up with me when I’m not sure I would put up with myself.

I am thankful that my God is bigger than pain, particularly since in the mix of arthritis, back and neck issues, migraine, and stomach trouble from too many years of carelessness with NSAIDs there are very few days where nothing hurts.

I am thankful for a husband who is patient and kind – even when I am not.

I am thankful that my Lord Jesus chose to experience both the physical and emotional aspects of pain by walking in His creation as a man. Let that sink in a minute. Lord, every time we feel pain or suffer, remind us that You have shared in that experience by Your own deliberate choice and praise You for Your compassion.

I am thankful He chose to pay in full the cost of my sin even though I did not deserve it and even though I continue not to deserve it.

I am thankful that because He did, I am not a slave to either pain or any emotion generated by it, and I am equally thankful that He is patient with me when I forget that I am a free woman and drag around my rusty old chains once more.

I am thankful that He does not need me, but that He still allows me to participate in spreading the word of His goodness and glory even though I have often made a mess of things in my silly little attempts.

Even in the midst of circumstances that tempt me to knuckle under to despair, I intentionally (and maybe even defiantly!) give thanks, because despite the unpredictable flux of my mental state, the Rock of Ages is steadfast and His love endures forever!

 

The Changeless Word

 As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Today, I am thankful for the Word of God–both the living Word that is alive and active and sharper than any two-edged sword as well as the Word who was with God in the beginning; the Word who came to pay the redemption fee for my bond. I am thankful that, despite widespread criticism and unbelief, this Word that proclaims His astonishing and sacrificial love remains untarnished and undiminished though all human wisdom will wax and wane and eventually pass away.

Trends come and go as swiftly as a leaf born upon a flood-swollen river, people rise into prominence only to decline and be forgotten within a brief span of years, world power shifts and geographical boundaries fluctuate. Today’s latest gadget occupies an ignoble spot in tomorrow’s trash heap. Physical and emotional pain both surge and diminish. Scientific discoveries are lauded with great pride this month and then discredited in the next as new discoveries are made. The wisdom of man, always so promising, always so apparently wonderful in its day, is only waiting to become the butt of tomorrow’s joke, held up in disdain by the people of tomorrow as evidence of the foolishness of our past.

Through it all, the true wisdom of the Eternal is not dimmed either by time nor by the fickleness of human understanding.  The message of the cross may appear to be foolishness to some, but to those of us who are being saved, it is joy inexpressible and irrefutable evidence of the redeeming, powerful, saving love of our God and King. The more I read and understand how complex and deep is the wisdom of God found in the Bible, the more I am in awe that such an intricate and involved plan spanning the entire age of man has such an incredibly simple overarching theme.  The more I learn and delve into the depths of this ancient and ageless Truth, the more I am humbled by my own folly and the inexpressible silliness of my nature.

I am thankful that, in a world of constantly shifting virtues and mores, God has left His changeless Word to act as a plumb line for those who, with humble and contrite hearts, are wiling to test themselves against it. I am grateful that He has opened my once hardened and embittered heart to the very Word of life and light and love. I cannot express the thanks I have that His Word continues to breathe new life into a heart so careless, so reckless, so addicted to sin, and so prone to wander as mine.  And I am thankful that I have free access to this Word anytime I wish… so thankful that I find myself drawn to read it and cherish it more and more.

It is my sincere prayer that all of us who follow the teachings of the Lord would treasure His word, storing it up in our hearts, loving to read it again and again, and being changed more and more into His likeness. I echo Paul’s prayer, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19)”

Amen.

Forty

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Psalms 73:23-26

I enjoy being forty. I know that sounds crazy, especially in our youth-worshiping culture where Botox and hair dye have all but become rites of passage for women, but it is absolutely true. It isn’t that I’m excited about all the changes in my body or all the gray in my hair… that is, “excited” is not precisely the word I would use. However, I can honestly say that I am grateful for this time of my life, even thankful for some of the more negative effects of age.

I do have my share of age-related maladies, but I will spare you the list. My reason for writing today is not to gripe about the miseries of age, but to offer praise to my God. I also desire to give you a peek inside the growing portion of my heart that is no longer upset by the obliteration of my youth; the part that welcomes the autumn years.

Day by day, with each new wrinkle and each handful of hair I clean from my hairbrush, I am able to praise the Giver of all good gifts for what He is doing in my heart and my flesh.  In this, my day, the sun has passed its zenith. Lord willing, it will have slow descent before the sunset of my life, but be it swift or slow, I will praise Him for the process. As I look back at my fading youth, I do not feel sorrow nor a sense of loss; I feel a rising hope and a certainty of renewal. I look forward to see what colors the Lord will paint into the close of my day; what glory will be revealed before my light winks out here only to rise in the morning of eternal joy at His side.

You see, for me there is something in the aging process that is liberating. To know that I can never recapture the looks of my youth is not cause for despair. It is a fading of vanity, a chance to say a graceful farewell to that part of my life and welcome with joy a new season. As my rebelling body requires me to abstain from more and more favorite foods, I feel the allure of this world’s pleasures weakening and slipping away.  And so, when I wake stiff and sore or find a new gray hair in the mirror, it is not decay I see and feel; is it the loosening of bonds. It is the birth pains that will lead to joy. It is freedom.

More importantly, it is a chance to let God be master of my life. As each passing year slips away, with each new reminder that youth is a thing of the past, I am reminded that this world–the physical, material world I can see and touch–will not endure. All of it changes, some parts quickly, some more slowly, but all things are subject  to the relentless onslaught of Time. … all, that is, but what He is doing within me; reshaping me into His image; refining and pruning away what is useless so that when my time comes to fly away from this old clay pot and be clothed in what is eternal, I will be ready. He is preparing my heart for an eternity of praise by teaching me to find joy and praise even in the unappealing process of growing old.

This is why I am so thankful as I age. For with each passing year, I grow closer to my King, walk more fully in His presence. Each new sign of age is a blessing, for it reminds me of what is important–and of what is not. It is a continual reminder that, while the outer self is wasting away, the inner self is being renewed day by day. So I am deeply, truly thankful for the decline of my youth.  It frees me more and more to focus less on myself and more on the goodness and wonder of my God!

So my brothers and sisters, let’s make an effort today not to complain about those pesky thorns of age, but to thank God for the opportunity for our preoccupation with ourselves to decrease and request that our fascination of Him will increase. How do you feel about each new decade?