Migraine and Forgetfulness

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a migraine post, so today’s the day. My migraine journey is intertwined with my walk with the Lord, so I can’t really write about one without the other.

Things have been better. One of the newer anti-CGRP prevention medications, Emgality, has cut my headache days down to half or less. What’s more, it also helps with the other, non-headache symptoms such as dizziness, brain fog, and the like.

You see, migraine is not just a really bad headache. It’s actually a neurological illness. Because of this, migraine is a full-body experience that begins before there’s even a slight twinge of pain and ends long after the pain has faded into oblivion (often taking your ability to cognate with it!).

It isn’t just the head and brain that are affected, however. The GI system is often in play, and some people experience numbness or tingling on one side of their body or in their limbs. You can click this link to find out more information.

Lately for me, dizziness has been one of the most alarming warnings of an impending migraine attack. It’s getting bad enough that I no longer climb up on stools or high places without good support because I never know when a dizzy spell will strike.

Thankfully, like I said earlier, Emgality has cut my headache days down to about half. It’s also made my rescue meds actually work much of the time (they weren’t even working before), and has decreased the aphasia and some of the brain fog.

However, half of 30 days is still 15. I’m a long way from well, but you’d be surprised how exciting it is to just have those 15 days back! Even if a good portion of them is still occupied with the prodromal or postdromal phase of a migraine, at least I have more functionality than I have in years past.

Recently, I was tested for celiac disease, which meant I had to eat wheat for several days before the blood draw. The addition of wheat to my diet brought back the persistent daily headache, so I am keenly reminded of how unpleasant the constant, nagging pain can be. It made me so much more thankful for where I am now!

My prayer, though, is that if the migraine situation should continue to improve and the attacks become less and less frequent, I pray I will never forget the lesson. I especially pray that I will never forget my utter dependence on God.

We humans do have a tendency to forget Him when things are humming along nicely.

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land … with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

And yet, it’s when things are humming along nicely that we should be praising Him louder, filled to bursting with gratitude.

That’s what He has been working in me lately. Gratitude. Entering His courts with thanksgiving. Setting my mind on Him and not on earthly things – whether good or bad. And again, thanksgiving and gratitude and praise.

For migraine or no, good times or bad, God is good, and He is worthy of all our praise!

Lord and Father, teach our hearts to love You more and more. When things of this life are good, let us set our minds on You and not forget You. When life throws us a curveball or even pelts us with clod of dirt, teach us to set our minds on You still, always giving thanks in every circumstance for the glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savoir, amen.

Wisdom Seeker: Day 1

After a month of bloggy silence, I’m back in action. My plan? To blog through the Proverbs. One brief post a day for the next 31 days. Not a bad way to start the school year, huh? Well, we shall see. Migraine still steals far too many days from me, but I’m giving it a go!

But before I get into today’s meditation, I want to mark this day as an odd one for me. As is my habit for the last 13 years, today – August 1 – is my new year.

But for the first time in that 13 year period, I’m not actually homeschooling anyone. My youngest is entering her 3rd year of private school, and my part-time blonde daughter graduated in May. So it’s a new year in several ways.

Enough about me: on to the Word!

Proverbs 1

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance… The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:5, 7

So let’s begin with the fear of the Lord. What a perfect way to begin a year – or a month, or a day, or even a new moment! That proper fear of the One who made you and who could unmake you, if He chose – that is the beginning of knowledge.

As I read through this first chapter today, I can’t help but note the heavy implication that underlying the pursuit of wisdom is the inclination to be teachable.

Trust a former homeschool mom in this: if a person already believes they know it all, there’s little you can do for them. Any engaged parent can tell you the same. Perhaps for this reason, the last portion of the chapter – verses 20-33 – really grabbed me this morning.

Note the frequency of some form of the word reproof. If we are very honest, not many of us enjoy being reproved. It stings the old pride, doesn’t it? However, by not accepting the reproof of God, we are only managing to be mulish fools, stubbornly set on our own way.

Note the similarity between the words of two of my favorite authors:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.”

C. S. Lewis

Certainly, Solomon says as much, though in different words:

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.

Proverbs 1:29-31

If we reject the fear of God and the wisdom and knowledge that comes of surrendering to Him as the only One who really does know what He is doing, then all that is left is for us to have our own way.

And if I’ve learned nothing else in my 45 trips around the sun, I’ve learned that my own way is all too often misinformed by my tricky emotions or selfish inclinations. To be honest, I’ve had my fill of my own way, and I’d rather not, thanks. I’ll take the Way of the Lord instead.

Before I go, I need to note that some may point out the last verse of Proverbs 1 as contradictory to the truth:

“…but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Proverbs 1:33

I’ve heard the argument. What about those who are martyred for the cause of Christ? Or what about Christians who are poor, who are sick and don’t get well, who suffer horribly through their lives?

A slick person could even point to my chronic migraine as a situation which gives lie to that promise. So what gives?

Perspective.

For those of you who haven’t yet tasted and seen that my Lord is good, I can only offer you my perspective. You see, the promises of security and safety are not necessarily applied to the 80-odd years spent on this ball of rock in a constantly aging body of animated meat.

The promise for those who trust in the Lord – in the sufficiency of the sacrifice of His Son, Yeshua and in the new life offered through His death and resurrection- that promise is not just for a handful of decades.

It’s forever. For eternity. Time so long that the worst of your troubles today will only be recalled as a dim and distant memory before you’re even a fraction of the way in.

It’s eternity with Him, and His presence is what makes it good. Because He is good. And this girl? Well, I love this creation and all my people, but I honestly can’t wait to begin my real life after this bag of bones has returned to dust…

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16:11

Ebb and Flow: A Migraine Story

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Psalm 34:8

I haven’t written a migraine post since this year began, and since I’m on a brief hiatus and am actually typing these words several days before you read them, I thought now would make a good time for an update.

I’ve been on Ajovy, one of the new anti-CGRP migraine prevention meds, since mid-December. I’ve also weaned off of amitriptyline and divalproex, two of my other preventatives (which weren’t really preventing anything except weight loss and… um, other things I’ll spare you from). I’ve also had a single treatment of Botox.

And things have been… OK.

February was amazing. I only had 11 headache days, not a single one of which went above a 4 on my pain scale of choice – at least after I took the rescue meds. In fact, the rescue meds actually worked and completely knocked out the oncoming migraine. I thought we’d found the combo for sure.

Then March came in like a lion, so to speak, and it hasn’t been as lovely. With a day and a half to go in the month, my current count is 22 days affected by headaches, some of which were full-blown migraines ranking between 6 and 8 with rescue meds, many of which lasted for more than a single day.

So much for the winning combo. But it’s still better than 30 headache days, so I’ll claim it as a victory nonetheless.

But you know what? God is still good. He is still sovereign, and I refuse to let mere pain make me forget that. Even without migraines, pain is just a thing I deal with. It’s a part of my life; an expectation. A back injury at the age of 12 and early onset of arthritis-like changes in my 20s ensured that.

And with migraine, well. It’s just a thing. Avoid what triggers I can, deal with what I can’t avoid.

As an aside, it cracks me up when I’m asked how many times I went to the emergency room for my migraines. Why on earth would I do that? I know what the pain is, and I know how little can be done for it. I already have the ER treatments in my medicine cabinet, so the last thing I want to do is be add being poked and prodded amid the craziness of a hospital ER to my misery. Heck, I didn’t even go to the ER for meningitis until the third day of zero food or fluids…

But back to my point.

Pain is transient. Not fun, but not worth getting worked up over.

You see, my hope does not lie in a pain-free existence on earth, nor is my joy found only on low-pain days. I’ve tasted small sips from the Fount of Living Water and seen that He is good. More than anything, I long to drink deeply of this Living Water and be fully refreshed, and I know I will be someday.

Pain will end. Suffering will cease. But not just because my body dies. It ends because now – while I labor on in this broken body on earth – I have surrendered myself to the Lordship of Christ over my life. He is my King. He is my Master, and I am no longer my own. I belong, completely and utterly, to Him.

In my little life, I’ve had a sip from the cup of God’s wrath and from the cup of Living Water. One is bitter; one is sweet. Both are enduring. The amazing thing is that He sets before each of us both cups. We get to choose the one we drink from.

As for me, I choose to serve the Lord. Even in pain.

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/