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.

 

 

Finding Purpose in Pain

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:6-7)

It’s been a while since I’ve jotted out a migraine post. In fact, I realized my last one was in early September when I wrote about my latest dietary experiment.  In fact, today is  my 49th consecutive day on the ketogenic diet.

So how’s it going? Well… not bad. My first two weeks were like a dream. I had more energy and fewer headaches than normal, and what headaches I did have were extremely minor. In short, I felt well for several days all in a row – something that has not happened since… honestly, I don’t know. Ask my husband. He pays more attention than I do.  For me, it was enough to actually feel like doing things rather than merely muscling through the day until bedtime.

Unfortunately, subsequent weeks were not as remarkable. It is possible I had a touch of the virus that went around our house, but my usual crazy fatigue was an unwelcome visitor during the last weeks of September. October did not begin well, either, and last Saturday saw the blessed end of a 6-day-long, slowly building migraine that left me feeling perfectly wretched.

But that is all over, this week is looking promising, and I am feeling as wonderful as my first days on the diet. Hurrah! I have sworn to give it at least two more weeks before ‘cheating,’ and my cheat will be minor – a signature coffee beverage from a friend’s newly opened coffee shop.  (By the way, this is a shameless plug for the Fainting Goat aimed at my local readers…)

Now on the other side of the month-long energy drain and the resurgence of headache issues, I can honestly say that this whole experience – from the meningitis when my middle child was a few months old all the way through today – the ups and downs and all the in-betweens has been good.

I mean it. Despite the unpleasantness, it is really, truly good.

Not to sound like a nutcase, but I am thankful for the pain. Even today as I sit writing with a clear head and an inexplicably aching hip, I can rejoice in my suffering.  Admittedly, a large part of that rejoicing comes from the fact that some of it is past… but also because in the midst of it all, God reminds me to give thanks in ALL circumstances – including the less enjoyable ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For one thing, as this morning’s reading in Isaiah 53 has reminded me, I do not deserve health, wealth, or prosperity. For countless past acts of rebellion against my Creator as well as for a continuing propensity to wander astray like some doltish sheep drifting mindlessly after what looks like a mouthful of greener grass far away from the Shepherd’s safe pasture, I deserve death.

But my gracious and incredible God gives me Life instead. And just so the spiritual ledger is not out of balance, He paid the penalty of my crimes with His own blood.

What’s more, He continually offers purpose in my pain. Though last week was discouraging and left me feeling physically spent and emotionally defeated, this week starts fresh, beginning with absolutely priceless time spent with a young lady, one of my part-time daughters, who also struggles with chronic migraine.

Because I can relate, she can speak freely and be understood – which I must say, is no small thing for those who struggle with an “invisible” disease. And because I love her, I am delighted to participate in the suffering so that I can encourage her as she fights through it and remind her that God is still good even when life looks bleak.

After all, if He did not spare His own sinless and perfect Son, the Radiance of His glory and the exact Imprint of His nature;  if the King of kings was not spared physical and emotional pain, why should I be? For I have sinned and fallen far short of God’s perfection, but by His grace I can share in my Lord’s sufferings – because even pain, when surrendered to Him, can be used for something glorious.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

 

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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)

 

 

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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