The Long Haul

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9

I thought I’d steal a few precious minutes to give an update from my little corner of the South. A quick note to my Facebook followers before I dive in: Even if this article posts to Facebook, I am taking a break from Zuckerberg’s social media platforms for a time. So if you have a comment to share, please share it here on WordPress… or better yet, consider helping support this writing ministry by visiting my Patreon page! Become a Patron!

I’ll be offering extras for my Patreon supporters, building in more as I go, but this blog will remain free (and sparse so long as our family’s needs require me to work outside the home!)

It’s been an interesting year. I’ve been working part-time at my kids’ school teaching cell phone photography to middle school students – a feat roughly equivalent to swallowing live eels while guiding two dogs, eighteen kittens, and a chicken safely through New York City using a homemade map and the Force.

And while it must be admitted that middle schoolers spend more energy attempting to circumnavigate the school’s network restrictions than taking photos with their phones, it can still be fun to see the photos they do take and hear their thoughts.

Then a week before Christmas break, I came down with the Bane of 2020 – COVID 19. My symptoms were mild and I recovered at home over the break. But a couple weeks after I began feeling better, the body aches and fatigue came crashing back. And again a couple weeks after that… and again… and again…

So here I am in mid-March wrestling with unpleasant facts: Not only am I blessed with the invisible illness of ME/CFS, I also get a free – and equally invisible – membership to the COVID Long Haulers’ Club.

Not fun. Incredibly humbling. But nonetheless, I am blessed.

I admit, this blessing doesn’t really feel like one. If given a menu of blessings, it isn’t one I would have selected. And it doesn’t go particularly well with the 70% pay reduction our family tasted in 2020, nor with the 2-car, 4-driver dynamic we’ve been noshing on since last fall, nor with any of the banquet of bland fiscal fare we’ve been sampling in the last 18 or so months. But it’s a blessing still.

I don’t know when, I don’t know why, and I absolutely don’t know how, but I do know the Lord will use this newest struggle in some way for the comfort of His people. Perhaps in some way I will be able to speak to those who share in this weird and unpredictable cycle of flu-like aching and exhaustion and point them to the comfort I have in Christ.

Or maybe the Lord simply wants to make His power abundantly known in my profound weakness.

I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I committed myself years ago to walk the narrow, difficult path that leads to life. Whether this current dark valley is a brief foray of reduced visibility or just the beginnings of another steep descent into utter blackness, I have no way of knowing. The road curves just ahead and I have only enough Light for the path beneath my feet.

Still, no matter where this Way leads and no matter how short or long the journey, I know I never walk alone. The Lord Yeshua is with me. Regardless of the personal cost, with Him as my Guide I am in it for the long haul.

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)

 

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.