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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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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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

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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Not That This Isn’t Fun…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10

Life is tough. There’s just no way around it.

As I tap these words out, I am on the 23rd consecutive day of a headache (save a few hours’ break here and there) that has ranged in intensity from just annoying to someone please choke me out.

Still, even with the headache, I am incredibly grateful for the gift f this time: time to pause and breathe after the whirlwind of nonstop parenting and educating chaos that is homeschool; time to get my bearings and figure out if I have what it takes to make it as an author; time to come up with Plan B if I don’t.

Even still, life is tough. Not having the kids around 24/7 does not diminish their presence in my mind. They each have junk to wade through, and wading through modern teen junk is a sticky business. However, raising them, I am forced to think back to when I was a teenager <shudder> and remind myself that it could be much worse.

Yet thinking back also reminds me of the microcosm that is their worldview right now; a fact which was brought very clearly to the forefront in a conversation with my 16-year-old yesterday.  I mentioned a question he had asked me recently, and he replied, “That wasn’t recently. That was my sophomore year.”

I credit God alone that I held my tongue, but all I could think was, “Dearest son, do you mean waaaaaay back 2 1/2 months ago to your sophomore year?”

Oddly enough, in my mind, May still qualifies as “recently.”

And those are the small, nagging, daily problems: the relentlessness of pain, the thorniness of relationships… There are much bigger problems afoot. Loved ones with dementia, the burden on their caretakers, unsaved friends and family members who are literally destroying themselves from the inside out. Disease. Heartbreak. Cruelty. Suffering.

Then, too, there is the constant ache for friends who are suffering their own dilemmas and trials. Beyond that, my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being tortured, imprisoned, brutalized, cast out, and killed for proclaiming faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

And the illogic. Don’t even get me started about the utter rejection of absolute truth, logic, or reason. I agree fully with Malcom Muggeridge when he said, “We have educated ourselves into imbecility.”

No doubt. We’ve reasoned ourselves right past rationality and into a highly amorphous state of emotionalism. As another friend pointed out, we’ve gone from hieroglyphics straight through the high works of prose and poetry all the way back to emojis.

We have embraced separation of God and… well, everything and flung our liberty in His face with wild abandon only to find that in reality, we have merely come full circle. We’ve followed our hearts only to find that the triumphant footsteps we have been walking in are our own.

What a weary business modern life has become!

I have to wonder if this future was in the mind of the Lord when He had His last, private discourse with the Twelve … or rather, the Eleven. Judas had already departed and was bartering the Messiah’s life for a small sack of silver.

At any rate, I have been reading John 15-16 repeatedly for the last several days and noted that Jesus emphasized the need for the disciples to remain, to obey, and to love. Remain in Me… if you keep my commands, you will remain in Me… love one another, but above all else remain in Me, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. 

I paraphrase, but read John 15 a few times. He repeats the word “abide” ten times in the first ten verses alone. (“Abide,” by the way, means to remain or continue). Emphasis is put on loving God, loving each other, and keeping His commands – and once He has reiterated his reiteration, He warns them of trouble.

The latter part of chapter 15 and much of 16 speaks much of persecution and sorrow, but also of joy. Living for Truth is tough, much tougher than going along with the societal current. Naturally, it is easy to become weary and discouraged.

But any careful reader of the Word will know that persecution and rejection were always part of the package. The Lord Himself warns them multiple times, even right up to moments before He is taken into custody… and through them, He warns us.

But please note that He first assures them of His love and their need to remain in it.

There is hope, but it is not here on this earth. Our hope is in remaining steadfast through the birthpains of life in the tangled mess of sorrow, joy, anguish, grief, suffering, and peace that is our lot, because someday it will all be worth it.

There is trial, but there is beauty even in the trial.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away…

…When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16:1, 21-22

 

Splinter

For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
(Acts 9:16)

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.
(2 Corinthians 12:7)

During my struggle with migraine, I have been blessed by the prayers of many fellow sojourners for healing. Some of them, very well-meaning and wonderful people, have told me emphatically that it is not God’s will that we suffer with such maladies, but that He would have us be free from them in order that our ministry might be effective.

Respectfully and without a trace of acrimony, I very heartily disagree.

You see, more than once when I have prayed to see the end of migraine, God has brought 2 Corinthians 12 to mind, particularly verses 7-10. In this passage, as in the book of Job, God has repeatedly reminded me that sometimes His work in the midst of affliction is what brings Him glory.

And in truth, He does not need me to be particularly efficient or even functional to accomplish His work. To the contrary, my weakness and inability provide a background that prominently displays His glory.

While I have to admit that I would love to be entirely free of migraine and all its myriad accoutrements, I also know that the ability to praise God despite them honors Him for who He is and not merely for what He does.

Do I believe that God is able to remove pain from my life? Yes, absolutely; I have no doubt that He can.

However, I also know that He knows what He is doing, and what He is doing often necessitates putting me in situations that I would avoid if given the chance. In the same way, if someone told me that eating a certain fruit every day would give me the body of a 25-year-old Olympic gymnast, well… Suffice to say that I would buy them by the truckload.

But I tend to learn best from hands-on experience.

Though I may understand the principal of a thing – how it works or how it is done – I never fully grasp it until I have experienced it myself. Just so, experiencing pain helps me to better understand how intensely my Lord suffered for me. Having a weakness of my own gives me a more complete understanding of how little God actually needs me to accomplish His will.

Perhaps this is why Paul wrote that his “thorn” was to keep him from becoming conceited. Personally, I am embarrassingly susceptible to swollen pride if I were allowed any credit for what God has done through me. As it is, I can only marvel because I am keenly aware of what is done by Him despite my weakness.

Pain, though unpleasant, is an excellent tutor.

In the original Greek, the word translated as “thorn” in the ESV is only used this once in the text of the New Covenant. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, it could be translated as “a sharp stake or splinter.”

The idea of a splinter resonates well with my experience of chronic migraine; specifically, the maddening type of invisible splinter inflicted by a thistle or nettle. You can’t see it, but you certainly know it’s there. (Perhaps this is on my mind because of a recent gloveless and rather silly attempt to rid my garden of an infestation of these wicked little plants…)

But the thistle is not without purpose. With its habit of propagating in neglected areas, it Goldfinch004can draw attention to fields or fencerows in need of a little TLC. And though its needles are most unpleasant, its flowers do provide nectar for a wide variety of bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds, and its seeds are a favorite of many species of birds, including the stunning goldfinch.

Even so, my own pain is not purposeless. I fully believe God can and will heal me if it best serves His plan. However, I also know that He will not until He is finished pruning away my pride, my self-reliance, even my lack of faith and providing hope for others in the meantime.

 

I am not advocating that we never pray for healing for self or others, only that we do not allow it destroy our faith if His answer is, “No.”

Instead, while you pray for healing, also ask God to reveal any areas of your heart that may need a little TLC and trust Him to be enough. We can truly rejoice that no experience of our lives lies beyond His power to redeem. Not even our pain.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

Blinded: A Migraine Lesson

Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
(John 9:40-41)

In my last migraine post, I shared a bit about how one of the weirder migraine-associated symptoms (aphasia) has affected me and how God has used that particular bit of unpleasantness to pare down my pride.

And no, the irony that most of the time aphasia is associated with damage to a part of the brain is not lost on me. Like I said, it has been an effective humbler…

But these temporary bouts of aphasia are not the only oddities that migraine has brought into my life, nor are they the only symptoms that carry an embedded spiritual lesson. Let’s check out another one:

Ocular Migraine

While some degree of aphasia precedes almost 90% of my migraine attacks, ocular migraines are much less frequent. However, if my first bouts of difficulty speaking were disconcerting and embarrassing, my first ocular migraine was downright scary, not the least because I was driving with my three small children.

When they were all toddlers, it seemed we were forever driving to the pediatrician. Most of these trips were unremarkable, but there is one that stands out clearly in my mind mainly because “clearly” did not at all describe my visual ability.

I was on the interstate en route to the pediatric clinic when a jagged, roughly circular line of black and white appeared in the left of my visual field. It’s rather difficult to describe, but imagine a scintillating border of alternating, diagonal black and white stripes. Inside that flashing border is… nothing. Nothing at all.

At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that there was some kind of funky hole in my vision – and that hole made it impossible to see if there was anyone in my left rear view mirror or in the lane beside me. Forget my vehicular blind spot – I had almost an entire blind side. 

By the grace of God, I made it to the pediatrician where I  had difficulty signing in because the left side of the page kept disappearing into this mysterious visual void. After unsuccessfully trying to tilt my head in a manner that brought the entire page into view, I finally told the receptionist what was going on.

To my horror, the nurses clustered around me, bringing me juice, getting me a chair, and in other ways causing what all young moms dread: a scene. Finally, one of the nurses or doctors asked if I had migraines, and when I replied in the affirmative, she reassured me that this was “normal” for migraine sufferers (a term that has only ever been applied to me with the addition of “normal for…“).

Since then, I have had a handful of these somewhat bizarre events, though now I know to just wait it out for 30 or 45 minutes. However, dealing with these unannounced blind spots got me thinking about a different kind of blind spot.

As I journey down the narrow path of sanctification, I have often asked the Lord not to allow me to be unaware of sin but to expose it. Lately, He has shown me blind spots in my relationships; places where I have areas where I have harbored resentment, allowing this ugliness to taint both my words and actions. Doing good works, maybe, but with sullenness rather than the cheerful gratitude which befits a daughter of the King. In other spots, rather than rejoicing in the success or blessings of my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have nursed a small and secret envy.

Rather than keeping my eyes on the Author and Perfecter of my faith as I ought to be doing, these blind spots of jealousy or bitterness have grown in an increasingly hungry arc across my view of certain friends or family members, blinding me to several of their very excellent attributes. Such blindness leaves ragged holes in what should be relationships alive with genuine warmth and closeness.

But my Father is good, and I am thankful that He does not leave me to grope about in the darkness of my own animosity. Instead, He chastises me,  revealing the full extent of the sin-taint by exposing it in the brilliant light of His own holiness and perfect love. When my sin is brought thus into focus, I feel a keen grief that leads to repentance.

Then by His redemptive power and loving mercy, He restores the sight of this old sinner, bringing His healing into the rifts of my relationships as well. Once I can see clearly,  love for my brethren and appreciation for their gifts is also revived.

So what are your blind spots? May He who gives sight to the blind cause us to recognize and repent of our sin so that we may be brought into a right relationship with Him and others.