A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.

Sufferin’ Succotash

There’s an idea I hear tossed around from time to time among well-meaning Christians which goes something like this:

Christian A is speaking (texting, emailing, whatevering) with Christian B who is in the midst of a painful ordeal, possibly looking for ways out. In a sympathetic effort to console, Christian A says something to the effect that “God wouldn’t want you to suffer like this.”

But frankly, I find this concept puzzling. Why? Well, because I don’t see it reflected in God’s Word. Quite the opposite, actually.

Now before you accuse me of thinking God is a sadist or some grumpy old lightning-bolt thrower, let me state my case clearly: I don’t.

He is, was, and always has been a loving Father who is devoted to what is best for His children. And sometimes what is best for us in the long run (ie-for the next ten zillion years) us difficult or painful right now. In short, sometimes we have to suffer to be prepared for what’s next. God also happens to be the Creator, so his definitions about what is and is not “good” kinda trump ours in every single instance imaginable, but that’s a story for another day.

If I’ve learned nothing else from living half my life for me and the other half for Him, I’ve learned that suffering serves a vital role in the life of a Christian. After all, the Christ suffered, so it follows that if we are to become more Christlike, we will follow His lead.

Or as Paul put it to a young preacher named Timothy several centuries ago:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 2:3, emphasis mine)

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13, emphasis mine)

**Note that persecution = suffering

Again, I do not view God as an angry deity just waiting to catch me in the act of doing wrong. I do, however, understand God’s perspective is so much wider and deeper than mine. Sometimes big benefits in eternity are purchased with a few drops of blood, sweat, and tears for His sake here on earth.

But please note the “for His sake” part of my little soapbox stance. If we suffer for wrongdoing, that’s merely us getting our due. But if we suffer for His Name’s sake, well… one possible solution is to embrace it. Maybe even count ourselves lucky like these guys did:

…and when they [the Sanhedrin – Jewish council] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name.  (Acts 5:40-41, again, emphasis mine)

But what about suffering that has nothing to do with His Name’s sake nor with our wrongdoing?  There’s a topic you and I could spend hours one.

I have learned not to trust my own judgment in discerning when I’ve done wrong because I am diabolically clever at lying to myself. Thus sometimes, my suffering is disciplinary and I need to ask my Father where I erred.

Once unintentional sin is ruled out, I’m left with the raw fact that suffering is a product of living in a fallen world.

And my friends, it’s at precisely these two points where hope comes in.

You see, if disciplinary suffering is lovingly administered by our Father, we can trust that it is for our good even if we don’t understand why.  No matter what mistakes our earthly fathers may have made, God is not earthly.  He made the thing, and believe me when I say we can trust Him with all of it. Even the pain.

As for other reasons for suffering, they may not be what we call “fair” (which is really just a monosyllabic way of saying “I don’t like this”). The crucial point about suffering for a Christian is that our suffering is not purposeless. Every single thing which happens to us, good or bad, is being used by God to mold, refine, and shape us into the Image of God as we were meant to bear it.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:3-5)

Christian or not, we will all endure suffering in some measure. But for a Christian, there is a hope beyond suffering and even a reason to embrace it. This is the good news we ought to be sharing even when we are suffering. Even when we suffer for sharing it.

If you are interested in more Scripture-based thoughts about suffering (and have more time than me), feel free to select “migraine” in the drop-down box beneath the heading on the right side of the page. And let’s pray for each other, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:9)

 

Migraine Chronicles: A Pragmatic Approach to Pain

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

A few days ago, I realized it’s been quite a while since I’ve written a migraine post.  If only I could say it’s been quite a while since I’ve had a migraine… Ah, c’est la vie!

But they have been better. And I have medication that works so there is no room for complaint. Even still, I choose not to complain (much) because of one immensely comforting truth: my life is not about me.

Although I do forget this from time to time and need reminders (which is one of the reasons I write these things down!), life isn’t lived for me. I do not exist for my own comfort or convenience. I am a created thing – a literal jar of clay for the sole use and purposes of the One who created me.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
(2 Corinthians 4:7)

So the trick, then, is not to escape pain but to use it for His glory and for encouraging others. That is why today I thought I’d share two of the most useful tips I’ve learned in my 14 or so years of dealing with chronic migraine.

  1. Find a pain scale chart that you can relate to (or make your own), print it out, and refer to it when diagnosing pain levels.
  2. Once you have a chart, stick to it when describing your pain.

That may sound simplistic, but especially considering the cognitive issues associated with migraine, it is a must. This is not just for your benefit but for the benefit of your family, your doctor, and basically anyone who’s afflicted by insane prodromal rages or the memory muddles I call migraine brain… or is that just my poor family?

From what I’ve seen, the two most common pitfalls associated with describing pain levels are a tendency to downplay the pain or a tendency to exaggerate it. It is at precisely this point where honesty and integrity are crucial.

Now my countrymen have a penchant for exaggeration. We don’t want 100% effort, we want 110%. We don’t have pain that’s a 10 on the scale of 1 to 10, we have a an 11. When we need something done, we need it done yesterday.

Or to rephrase: we deal in fictitious scenarios and impossibilities which render all useful terms meaningless. In short, we can be just plain silly.

If I’ve learned nothing else from my life with chronic migraine, I’ve learned to be honest and reasonable about pain.

Admittedly, chronic migraine can make the process dicey because of the cognitive issues involved during the prodromal and attack phases.  Another complication is when there are other types of pain. For me, the pain of arthritis in a joint does not present the same challenges as, say a Level 5 migraine. An additional muddling comes when there are no breaks in the pain and thus an 8 can sneak up on you while you’ve been studiously ignoring a milder level (which I am thankful to say is not currently true for me).

On the flip side, don’t cave into the temptation to exaggerate your pain. If the scale you choose is 1 – 10, stick with those numbers (or a zero for no pain at all). Resist the claim that your pain is a 12 if 10 means pain that renders you unconscious. Even if you could get to a 12, you’d be unconscious and wouldn’t know it!

Here’s where the importance of having a pain scale that helps define each level in a way meaningful to you, even if it means you have to tweak an existing one. With migraine, I’ve had pain which made me lose consciousness and pain which woke me from sleep. And of course, with migraine there are other factors to consider like cognition, nausea and/or vomiting, etc.

In my case, the smiley face pain scale so popular in hospitals does little but make me wonder what on earth that bald little guy is grinning or grimacing at.  Also, I don’t tend to cry because of physical pain; it’s the emotional sort which makes the salt water flow.

There are several others. Some humorous like the one below, others detailed. If you struggle with chronic pain, migraine or otherwise, I encourage you to find one that makes sense to you. Then use it. Your people will be glad.

 

 

Happy Easter From Us Fools

If you haven’t ‘met’ him already, allow me to introduce you to Bill Sweeney – a dear man who has lived for over 2 decades with ALS. Wherever you stand with Christ – belief, unbelief, indifference – I hope you will take the time today to read Bill’s words. Feel free to skip over my intro to the link!

Like me, the old Bill would have smirked that this year’s Easter Sunday coincides with April Fools Day. Also like me, the present Bill would have everyone know the same “foolish” hope we share – a hope beyond ALS, beyond pain, beyond the grave.

This year, will you contemplate Bill’s unshakable hope? I honestly pray you will join our merry troupe of fools. There are many of us scattered across the globe and bound together by the same unshakable hope.

He is risen!

https://unshakablehope.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/are-you-a-fool-like-me/

Rejoicing in Hope

I love the photo above. It was taken roughly a year ago in March of 2017 during one of the two weekends of winter we had last year in Middle Tennessee.

Despite having been taken at the end of the winter that really wasn’t, I still enjoy the hope portrayed by this image. In part, it reminds me of  winters of the soul I have endured.

Yet even in the gloomiest and most frigid seasons in my life – actually, even if my entire life was spent in the icy clutches of physical pain and emotional distress – there is something growing beneath the surface.

Hope.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

No matter how much other reading I have done the last couple of weeks, the Lord keeps bringing me back to Romans 5 and the idea of rejoicing in suffering.

So today, I did just that.

It’s a beautiful spring day and I took a walk with my Father and my two dogs. Normally at such times, I will offer up prayers of supplication. And for the first 5 or 6 minutes, I did. But the verse kept playing like a broken record in my mind (for you young ‘uns, that’s roughly the equivalent of an mp3 file which didn’t download correctly).

So I stopped my requests and simply rejoiced.

As the occasional pounding behind my left eye grew more regular, I rejoiced that migraines have slowed me down enough to pay attention to what is important in life.

With each step, an ache set up in my left foot and my shoe seemed to tighten as it swelled, so I rejoiced that I can still walk anyway.

In fact, I was able to praise my Father from the heart and mean it for all my little grievances.

Not only because each ache and pain reminds me of the intense joy I will feel once this old body has finally worn down and been traded in for something better. But also because my God is using the time right now for His glory.

…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
(Romans 5:2b-3a)

Today, He had me back up a little and remember that my rejoicing is based in His glory.

His, not mine.

It is because of my physical issues that I am able to meet weekly with one of my part-time daughters, a teen who suffers from chronic migraine and has need of help in her home schooling.

Because of my suffering, I am available when another part-time daughter, also a teen, needs to talk due to family crisis. Or to help her mom when she’s trying to juggle her own reactions to the crisis, plus be a mom, plus keep her job, plus…

And you know what? I can rejoice because God does not need my efforts to provide financially for my family. He is fully capable of taking care of our needs, and He has never let us down.

So today, I took a couple of hours and laid down my guilt over the smallness of my financial contribution, the anxiety over rising tuition and a 20-year-old home in which everything is deciding to break, my frustration over the difficulties in parenting teens, and my weariness with pain.

I laid them all before the Throne of Grace and worshiped.

Because my God is good.

Because He has blessed me with these difficulties so I will never forget my need of Him.

Because my Lord Yeshua (Jesus) suffered pain on my behalf and overcame.

Because He can do amazing things and He doesn’t need me to do them.

And yet, He has given me the privilege of being a part of it all.

The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out…
…Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
(Proverbs 30:1, 5)

 

When Life Is Not a Box of Chocolates: A Migraine Story

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Once again, it’s confession time here on RTR… It has been some time since I’ve written a migraine post – in part because I have been struggling through a period of loathing migraine.

In some seasons, I embrace this part of my life as a gift – a useful pruning, a thorn in my flesh to keep me from becoming arrogant. A tool in the hands of the Potter as He shapes me.

In other seasons… well, let’s just say I can be a vine who talks back, clutching the discarded branches in resentful hands and questioning the Vinedresser’s skillful trimming. Such is the heart prone to wander…

There were a few weeks in which the severity (if not the frequency) was somewhat reduced. Yet one of the most vexing things about dealing with a chronic “invisible” illness is the residual symptoms. Even on days where the headache is mild, there is an ever-present fatigue. Some days it, like the headache, is pretty ignorable. Other days, I can barely function.

Last night, a mild migraine-like headache decided to roar into full throttle around 2 am. Because I am limited in the types of medication I can take, I had hoped to sleep it off but ended up fumbling for one medication around 2:15 and searching for another an hour later.

The crummy thing about migraine is the confusion which hallmarks each attack. I do not always know when the line between “ignore” and “take medicine” has been crossed. And this bleeds over into all sorts of other areas – like my hip problem which I ignored for over a decade before it, too, kept me awake nights.

But I am not here to complain. I’m really not. Today, after a pretty rough night and cancellations of highly-anticipated activities, I have been able to recover. In the past two days, I’ve slept a ridiculous amount even with last night’s interruption. And now after a nap and on the hangover (or postdrome) side of my latest migraine adventure, I feel wrung out and limp.

It is easy to feel useless when dealing with any chronic disease. It is so simple to look at all the great and wonderful things others do with their lives – homeschool moms who balance educating their kids with a career, ladies my age who have opened a business of their own, published authors, successful women. Supermoms who can raise their kids with one hand and serve at church while working full-time with the other.

It can be easy to compare…and to despair.

Another temptation is to watch my man come home exhausted after another 80 or more hour work week and feel it is my fault. If I could only bring home an income. If I could write a book worth publishing or if I had just finished college, maybe he wouldn’t feel such pressure to provide for us. For me.

But even in the aftermath of a pretty nasty neurological storm, I am thankful for my God. I am reminded my value is not in any worldly success – not even in what I do for the Lord. My value is in Him. 

He is my reward and my impetus for continuing. He and He alone comforts me – but He does not comfort me so I can feel cherished and complacent in my war against a stupid and frustrating illness.

No, He comforts me so I can comfort others.

So today, child of God, if there is any reason you feel despondent, alone, useless, or afraid, know you are not alone. Even if you do not know God, even if you have rejected His Son, Yeshua, or even mocked the very idea of His existence, there is hope.

No matter what, you are still not alone, and your rejection of Him does not guarantee His rejection of you. In God’s bewildering grace, there is always a chance for repentance. There is always a chance to turn to Him.

And He longs for you to come to Him. If you will surrender to Him, He will comfort you. And He will bring purpose to your affliction and give you an eternal hope so you may endure this life even if it grows more unendurable by the day.

Even still, I do not worship Him today because of the comfort He gives nor the hope I have, but because He is worthy. Even when I have nothing of worth to offer Him.

 

 

You Keep Using That Word…

Among my (admittedly many) favorite quotes from the movie, The Princess Bride, the sword-wielding Spaniard’s response to the rotund little Sicilian’s exclamation, “Inconceivable!” ranks pretty near the top:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

– Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Which reminds me…

This coming Sunday marks the official beginning of Advent, which is probably my second favorite season in all of Christendom; surpassed only by the culmination of Lent on Resurrection Sunday. In many ways, the two seasons are inseparable to me.

Almost annually, I find myself saying something to the effect that I cannot gaze upon the Babe in the manger and fail to see the shadow of the Cross. Nor can I separate my thoughts from the helpless child of the First Advent without eagerly anticipating with fierce joy and dread reverence the future return of the King of kings.

One of my personal traditions during Advent is to reflect on the many Messianic prophesies of the Savior and upon the events and people recounted in the story of His birth.

Which brings me back to Inigo Montoya… sort of.

When I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often wonder if she might respond similarly to our fictional fencing friend if she heard the ways we tend to use the word blessed in the Christian community.

What do I mean? In answer, let’s take a peek at an early portion of the Nativity from Scripture:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
(Luke 1:41-42)

When Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, heard Mary, she exclaimed to her young relative, “Blessed are you among women…!”

And so Mary was, without a doubt, eternally blessed to be the mother of the Son of Man. And yet…

Take a moment and mull over the temporal implications of her blessing.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
(Matthew 1:18)

From a social standpoint, Mary’s obedience to God in this matter of motherhood was nothing short of annihilation for the reputations of both herself and her family.

An unmarried woman showing up pregnant was simply not acceptable in her culture. If no one believed her story about an angelic messenger and the Holy Spirit and the miraculous virginal conception (and honestly, would you believe your daughter or friend?), well then she was in serious danger of a grisly and uncomfortable death by stoning.

From a socially acceptable standpoint, her best bet was to appeal to her betrothed and ask him to claim the child as his own. Of course, she would be asking him to discredit himself as a Torah-observant Jew and a citizen in good standing, not to mention critically injuring both his reputation and his business… and his ability to care for her and the Child.

This scenario leaves only the ticklish business of convincing her future husband that the pregnancy is an actual miracle; a pregnancy without promiscuity, if you will.

Evidently, however, Joseph did not initially embrace the joyous news:

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
(Matthew 1:19)

Once Joseph received his own angelic visitor and was convinced that his bride-to-be was honest in her claims to virginity, the social stigma would have still remained and made life in their community less pleasant. I have to wonder if they were not somewhat relieved to take the journey to Bethlehem and so escape being the prime source of juicy gossip around the town well…

At any rate, we’ve only touched on the social ramifications of this blessing. There were many others.

Besides the likely scenario of being ostracized by her community, Mary, who was blessed among women, relaxed in the comfort of a well-stocked minivan as her husband drove the couple-hour trip to Bethlehem where they promptly checked into the region’s most renowned birthing center.

No, wait… actually, she endured a long and likely strenuous trek of approximately 150 km (96 miles) during the awkward third trimester of her pregnancy. Fun. Then she gave birth surrounded by the aroma of manure and livestock, laying her newborn Son in the animals’ feeding trough so she could recover from her labor. Many years later, she was blessed by watching her firstborn tortured, maimed, and crucified for crimes that He did not commit.

Nonetheless, she was blessed.

When we use the word, “blessed,” it bears reminding that not all blessings are comfortable or convenient in the short-term. In Christ, we are truly, eternally blessed, and because of this some of our blessings may temporarily seem more like curses.

Nonetheless, every blessing is a blessing because it is preparing us for eternity with the Lord we love.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… ”
(Matthew 5:10-12a)

And so, in light of Monday’s public proclamation of my intention to honestly give thanks to God in all circumstances, I want to share one of my blessings with you.

I am blessed with chronic pain from both migraine and arthritis in various joints, though I am still in my 40s.

Naturally, I am not precisely excited and thrilled with this blessing, but I do know my God will use it for His glory… as long as I cooperate with Him. And I will.

I trust Him, even in pain. If nothing else, it certainly makes the “friendship with the world” James warns us against less appealing!

And besides, my Father really does know what is best.