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!!

 

 

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)

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)

 

 

 

Counting the Cost

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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:28-30)

Anyone who walks through this life with any kind of invisible illness or chronic pain knows what it means to count the cost. In my personal experience with chronic migraine, the ability to assess the risks of known triggers and weigh them against the cost – in my case, a migraine – is critical, especially if you are resolved to actually live and not merely exist until the end should come.

As a relatively handy illustration, I’ll relate a little experience I had on Holy Week this year. I have mentioned before that our small group was able to celebrate the Lord’s Passover under the guidance of a Jewish man and his wife during Holy Week. What I did not mention were the many migraine triggers that accompanied the event.

For one, any kind of stress – even what I call “good stress,” which includes enthusiastic anticipation – is a major trigger for me. Considering that I have longed to be a part of a Passover Seder almost since I read in the Bible that Jesus was a Jew, we can safely say that Trigger #1 was a go.

Then, of course, our small group meets in our home and since we would be having first-time visitors, I took the time to do some extra cleaning (which, in my world, lands the house extremely far from “Better Homes and Gardens” but at least puts us somewhere above “clearly, a natural disaster happened here.”) Getting overheated, particularly with moderate physical activity is a trigger for me. Because it was a fairly hot day and I did not bother to turn down the AC, we definitely had Trigger #2.

For some unexplained reason, I frequently get muscle cramps in my neck and upper back which can cause pain and, naturally enough, sometimes trigger migraines. Well, it must have been my lucky day because Trigger #3 was present as well.

I have at least two known food triggers – wheat, the consumption of which is an absolute guarantee for migraine fun, and alcohol which is only a trigger when there are other factors kind of pushing me towards the edge.

Matzo, of course, is made of wheat yet I did not want to be fussy, so I broke off the smallest pieces I could in order to participate. Knowing that there were plenty of triggers already lining up against me, I had intended to forgo the wine, but since a very helpful young man had already poured about an ounce in each adult glass, I once again chose not to speak up (although I did compromise by only having a sip at each point where a cup is supposed to be consumed during the meal). Ergot – Triggers # 4 and with all the others, #5 joined the party as well.

And yes, the following morning I woke up at around 3:00 a.m. with a doozy of a migraine; the kind that had me attempting a freaky, creeping sort of walk without fully raising my head and choking down the medicine while (very literally) praying that it would stay down long enough to work.

But it was worth it.

Sure, I lost a couple of days, but the heightened sense of communion with the Lord by participating in this very ancient tradition and the deeper understanding of how intentional His every act really is… well, there just aren’t words. For me, it was about knowing my God a little bit better. I had weighed the probable cost and decided to ante up.

Just so, when the Lord began the discussion that we jumped in on the middle of at the beginning of this post, He was trying to make everyone who was listening think for a minute. Understanding that the cost of following Jesus is… well, everything… we can see that it would be somewhat prudent to count the cost.

Following Him means He comes first; it is absolute surrender, and as my pastor said a couple of weeks back, when an army or nation surrenders to a conquering king, they do not set the terms. They accept them.

It is the same with Him, but I assure you that His terms are good. He asks that we give Him all that we are – absolute trust, absolute obedience, absolute surrender. Following Him means understanding that He sometimes withholds things that we are positive we need because He knows what is truly best for us. It means a commitment that extends for eternity and a willingness to be teachable and humble; to have our eyes opened to ugly and uncomfortable truths about ourselves and to feel the sorrow that our sin brings.

It means turning away from all of it – even the ‘pet’ sins that don’t seem that bad to us because He says that they are – and walking with Him no matter how hard things get.

In return, He offers us a life beyond the few brief decades of toil we have on earth; a life that will be free from sickness or sorrow or fear; a life in the glorious presence of God – an eternity to spend time getting to know the Eternal One.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is definitely worth it!

 

 

In His Time

For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
(Luke 11:10)

For years, a friend and I met weekly at 5:30 am and prayed. We prayed for revival, for for our families, for our churches, for our nation. To be honest, there wasn’t much we left out, and we prayed with open Bibles, starting our sessions off with Scripture and peppering it throughout as the Holy Spirit brought it to mind.

Of the many requests we lifted up, a specific one was on my mind today. But before I tell you that, let me back up a bit to the beginning of this school year.

If you’ve been patient enough to keep up with my ramblings for long, you’ll know that this year marked the first that I did not home school all three kids.  Because of the fact that I had to drive the older kids to their school 30 minutes away, I had to disband my little prayer group. The time just didn’t work out anymore. In fact, two hours on the road each day with squeezing in 7th grade academic and extra curricular activities… well, let’s just say that the time didn’t work out for much of anything.

SpecialNeeds022But for years, one of the many requests we continually brought to the Lord was for
provision for renovations to my friend’s house to accommodate their daughter who has spina bifida. But that kind of renovation is costly and was far out of their budget.

In a brief aside, let me tell you that this family has been through it. Besides the spina bifida and other special needs in one daughter, they also have 3 other children – and the youngest had cancer a few years ago when she was  only two. It’s been an unbelievably long and difficult road for them.

But back to the end of our prayer meetings. . .

This school year was rough on me. Not only was I in a bit of mourning over certain home school plans I had, I was also dealing with an unexpected exacerbation of migraines, thyroid issues, unbelievable fatigue, typical teenager-y stuff, and a seventh grade daughter still home schooling (and after managing my third seventh grader in home school, I will say it is not my favorite age or stage of life).

Oh, and my own stage of life issues. As if the migraine-fatigue isn’t enough…

Basically, by the time the school year was nearing the half-way point, I was over it. All of it. I was frustrated with God and I let Him know. I complained to God that He was not answering my prayers (which, by the way, were more along the lines of please help me with migraines so I can function or help my kids to love God and each other prayers, not I would really like a manicure prayers). I reminded God of the promise I began this post with among others. In short, I had a temper tantrum and pouted.

Then today…

Things are getting better. I’ve had my sulk and moved on, and my Father is so patient with me. He has been reminding me of, well of many things. Some of them I share here as time allows. Others will probably find their way here or into an article somewhere eventually.  But those are stories for another time.

Today at my friend’s house, there were plumbers and HVAC guys doing some work, and another man came to measure the special need child’s reach from her wheelchair in order to begin installing a shower with a movable head and a shower chair. Once done, she can begin to become more independent in her hygiene, which is a pretty important detail for a middle school aged girl.

The renovations are underway. God is providing, just as we had asked Him to do so many times, and He is providing through a ministry known as Tucker’s House. I was so excited for her, but I was humbled by my impatience as well.

Just talking about it reminded me that God does hear our prayers. He does give us what we need. He does provide. He just doesn’t always do it according to our timeline. 

Oh, and guess what? Now that my son has his license and we were able to acquire a vehicle, Lord willing, we will be able to start our prayer meetings again.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
Psalms 116:7

 

Drink Up

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
John 18:11

God always answers prayer. However, His answer is not always something my flesh wants to hear, because sometimes His answer is “no.”

To me, it is a telling thing that the very Son of God Himself presented at least one request to the Father which was answered in the negative. Earlier on the night of His betrayal and subsequent trial and execution, Yeshua prayed in a place called Gethsemane. Perhaps the feast of Passover was fresh in His mind as He asked the Father whether He, too, might not be passed over:

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
(Mark 14:35-36)

Of course, we know what the answer was.

And at some point later that evening – a point after Judas’s betrayal and Peter’s somewhat bizarre attempt to protect the honor of his Master by slicing off the ear of the high priest’s servant – Jesus spoke the words first highlighted above: “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

It was Tuesday morning when I read John 18; the middle point of three days of outrageous and inexplicable fatigue coupled with a slightly elevated temperature and (of course) a good, old-fashioned migraine.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

I don’t know about you, but I have spent a good deal of time asking God to remove painful circumstances. Whether it is physical pain from migraines, arthritis, or the like or the emotional pain of dealing with the mild psychosis that seems to afflict most children between the ages of 12 and 18, I have presented many requests on my own behalf and on behalf of my loved ones that we might be spared from suffering.

But sometimes the pain is God’s will for us.

Sometimes, it is through the pain that He is most glorified and that the most good is done.

Now of course, the Son of God’s case is very different. Although He desired not to endure the horrifying agony of crucifixion along with what was likely a much more excruciating separation from the Father when He bore the sins of the world, He was willing to drink the brimful cup of God’s wrath to the very dregs in order to glorify the Name above all names and to redeem the rebellious creatures He made in His own image and loves even in their rebellion.

My Lord and Savior knew that the pain had a purpose, and even though He asked if there was any other way, once He was certain of the answer He was ready to accept God’s will even though it was more than a little unpleasant.

“Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Naturally, no one will be redeemed through my own suffering. I am certainly not a spotless Lamb capable of paying for the sins of the world (although He has offered the cloak of His righteousness to me that I may cover my shame before God in His own garment – praise Him!).

Although I cannot see what benefit my own pain or the pain of my children and loved ones may bring to others, I can trust my Father to know what is best.  Certainly, God has already used some of my past suffering to encourage others, and so I can walk in confidence, knowing that He will work all things to the good of those who love Him.

And I do. I love Him.

While I would love to spare my three youngsters even a single step on the path of suffering, I also know that I have learned many lessons through pain that would have never struck home had I been spared difficulty.

So today, while I may ask that myself, my young friends, and my adult friends might be spared from migraine, emotional anguish, cancer, the consequences of sin, and other forms of suffering, I ask with a willingness to accept what the Lord sees fit to allow.

Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? If it be for His glory and for the spiritual growth and health of those He loves, of course I shall.

After all, if He did not spare His only beloved Son from following a path of torment and suffering, why should He spare me? For I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Yeshua did not and suffered anyway. For you. For me.

May all my pride be humbled before this understanding of the Servant King, and may His honor be forever displayed in every facet of my life.

Bottoms up!cup021