Unplugged

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalms 37:4

For the last couple of weeks, I have spent most of my time unplugged. My family took a brief getaway to the beach, staying in a quiet residential neighborhood with no Wi-Fi.

Although I love many of the bloggers I follow, it was nice to take a holiday from the digital noise and to spend time reflecting on God’s Word surrounded by His creation and my family. Perhaps ironically, one of the most refreshing portions of the vacation included a little bit of conviction.

On the Saturday that we began the 7-hour drive to the nearest beach, the forecast for the 3 full days we planned to stay called for rain. A lot of rain. I confess that I was somewhat dissatisfied. As I expressed my disappointment on that first rainy day, He began to remind me of my own words written just a couple of weeks prior; words that spoke of finding contentment in Christ alone.

While we were at it, He also brought my attention to places in my heart where I had harbored jealousy instead of the satisfaction and gratitude that are appropriate for a daughter of the King of kings.

Grieved at my own hypocrisy, I repented,  thanking Him for His chastisement, and I began to intentionally offer Him thanks, reminding myself and my family of the abundance of His mercy and love manifested in gifts we have done nothing to deserve.

In my heart, I determined to satisfy myself with the Lord alone, yielding even a long-held desire to see a particular stretch of protected dunes sandwiched between high-rise vacation rentals and walk along the boardwalk that threads its way there from the road to the beach.

Yet now that I was truly and fully content in Him alone, He had something to show me.

On Monday morning, I rose around 7:00 to find that the rains had ceased, leaving behind only clouds. My mom and I headed to a nearby trail in the Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge, leaving behind my sleepy teens and my husband who was recovering from a cold.

The weather could not have been more perfect as we walked through the shade of live oaks and around a salt marsh and a lake.BeachNature003

As we walked, I stopped here and there to capture some of my Father’s artistry while at other times I merely savored the beauty.

To my great delight, we found that the trail we followed was intersected by another trail featuring a trek through natural sand dunes dotted by scrubby plants and low-growing vegetation.

GulfShores055Also along this trail was a ruin of some sort; a foundation of some small home and posts of unknown purpose that were gradually being reclaimed by the natural vegetation.

 

 

 

As we walked, the vegetation thinned, giving way to sea oats and the shore. GulfShores057BeachNature016

When I delighted myself in God, He took one small desire of my heart and returned it to me sevenfold. I absolutely adore natural places, and instead of settling for my small, cramped space of untouched dunes, He gave me a four-mile stretch of trail that encompassed even more than I had hoped to see. GulfShores059

Other gifts were more intangible: a genuine smile from my moody 12-year-old, a few moments of silliness from teenagers who are often irritated with one another.

Indeed, I am refreshed.  Sin has been brought to light and addressed, my family enjoyed some time together, and God granted not only the fullness of joy that comes in His presence, but many breathtaking glimpses of His creative genius as well. Oh, how great is my God!

 

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great….

…May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works… I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.   Psalms 104:24-25, 31, 33-34

 

 

Migraine Chronicles: An Open Letter

Although this post is inspired by and dedicated to my young friend,  I offer it to anyone who struggles with chronic pain, migraine or otherwise. 

Dear J.,

One of the most deplorable things about chronic pain of any type is that it can begin to creep into your heart after a time, staining each bright new day with blotches of dreary brown and blunting the edges of enthusiasm until life seems to stretch out into one great, endless weariness.

That is the look I see in the back of your eyes these days. You’ve let the migraines become a part of who you are; accepting the pain and even defining yourself by it. My dear, believe me when I tell you this: that is a luxury you simply cannot afford.

Oh, I know it stinks. Sometimes, I think, it is important to remember that you are not alone. The triptans that are such a miracle for so many are barred to me as well. And like you, I have months that are better and months that are worse. Along the way, I’ve learned some tricks to reducing the headaches and others for simply coping with pain. Over time, I hope to share them with you.

But for today, I just want to address the darkness that now clouds your lovely blue eyes.

Will you believe me if I tell you that there are worse kinds of pain you can have besides the physical sort? It’s true. In many ways – ways that are better discussed in person on a nice long hike with fresh air in our lungs and sunlight filtering through the leaves – you are fortunate to have this particular struggle, even at your age. There are many worse things that could have happened.

While that may seem far-fetched, it is entirely true, and that is where I want to begin. Before we discuss some practical steps you can take to waging serious war against your migraines, really the first and most important battle you can undertake is the one against despair.

You simply cannot let the enemy of your soul win the field on that one.

Trust me if I say I know what I am talking about here. Physical pain has not been my only opponent on the battlefield, and so I have at least a year or two (or is that a decade or two?) of experience from which to pull. What I advise you today is pragmatic and workable, though it may seem foolish to you at first.

My challenge to you today is to praise God anyway – and not just today, but every single day this week, maybe even many times each day. All day long, if you must.

That’s the first step; that’s the challenge. Yet I do not leave you to build without tools. Interestingly enough, neither did God! One of the first steps in learning to praise God even in the midst of trials, hardship, and suffering is to understand that you are not alone in it.

Remember that He submitted to pain, Himself, and so He can and does understand. That is a small part of a great truth you can find in Hebrews 4:15-16:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:15-16

So grab a pen and a few note cards. This is a full-on homework assignment and one I suggest you take seriously. If you recall your most recent visit to my house, you will see that I am not speaking hypocritically.  From long experience, I have simply learned that the most effective weapon in battling the darkness is the Sword of the Lord, which is the Word of God (see Ephesians 6:17).

When you cannot think of your own words of praise, borrow someone else’s! Sometimes, too, it is helpful to realize that the road of difficulty is not as lonely as the enemy would have you believe.

Not all at once, maybe, but over the next few days look up the following passages, write them on note cards or post-it notes, and stick them up wherever you are most likely to see them. Then stop and read them aloud as often as it takes.

  • Psalm 8:1-4
  • Psalm 16:5-8, 11
  • Psalm 23
  • Psalm 34:1-4
  • Psalm 43:3-5
  • Psalm 73:25-26
  • Psalm 103:1-5
  • Lamentations 3:17-26
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
  • Philippians 4:4, 6-8

And don’t forget, I could literally go on all day… but I thought we’d start with just a few. 😉

With great affection,

Ms. Heather

PS-Anyone else out there, feel free to chime in. What Scriptures help you to deal with black moods or times of difficulty?

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer of Repentance: Great is Your Faithfulness

“O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules…

O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy.

O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act…”
(Daniel 9:4b -5, 18-19a)

Most High God, Creator of all things both visible and unseen, Refuge for Your people and wise and just Judge, You alone are good. To You belongs all manner of praise and honor. You are faithful and Your lovingkindness is without end. I rejoice in You today, for no matter what circumstances may lie in my future, You are enough and Your grace is sufficient for me.

But Lord my Strength, I also weep before You today for my weakness and the weakness of my people. I come to the Throne of Grace empty-handed, for I have nothing to offer the Almighty but my confession. Even my most noble deeds are stained and soiled by selfishness and pride.  To my shame, my mouth utters complaints that expose my unbelief and do not magnify the incredible benevolence of my God.

And my nation, O King of kings; my nation is reeling and staggering from the effects of a huge and horrible malignancy. My countrymen are consumed by our own sin. Like lepers, we can see the ravages of decay yet we are numb to the pain. Sadly, we are even in denial of the extent of the damage, for we have called what is evil, “good” and what is good, “evil” and reviled and ridiculed those who reject confusion and embrace purity and truth.

As a nation, our faces no longer burn with shame but instead we delight in debauchery and make it a source of entertainment, casually exploiting others for that which does not satisfy but only increases a peculiar, wasting hunger. We have cast off all inhibitions, even rejecting common sense and reason in favor of feelings and perceptions.

With pride grown grotesquely bloated, we have believed our foolishness to be evidence of our great intellect and mocked the very God who gave us life. We have exchanged Your truth for a lie and we worship our selves along with our own mad notions rather than the Creator of life.

What was formed in hopes of a “more perfect Union” has become a disunion. My race, the human race, has become impulsive in our fears and prejudices and have divided ourselves up into groups bordered by nothing more than economic and cosmetic differences. We seem to live fueled by rage, harboring grudges and licking our wounds instead of extending kindness and forgiveness. Rather than bear with others patiently, we jostle and jockey for positions as silly as being the first in line at the next streetlight.

We have attempted to rationalize evil by sanitizing the words we use to speak of it and have attempted to escape the consequences of our deeds by eliminating or ignoring them. Just as Israel did, we have sacrificed our children to worship prosperity, prostituting ourselves to the gods of wealth, convenience, entertainment, and comfort.

We have dressed ourselves in the garments of our success, yet we cannot see that they are mere tatters, soiled by the stench of our own putrefaction.

In all this and so much more, we have sinned and fallen far short of Your grace. And yet, Lord, I do not believe the sickness and folly of this nation in which I sojourn is beyond hope. Your grace is sufficient even for this great burden of guilt.

In 2 Chronicles 7:14, You declared to Israel:

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

I believe You, my Lord.

I repent of my own wickedness, of my critical and unforgiving nature, of my careless words and my unbelief. On behalf of the waywardness and wickedness of my nation, I repent as well and plead with You on behalf of those who have been blinded and hardened by the deceit of our ancient enemy.

As I lift up my supplication to You, I know I do not pray alone. Even so, O Lord, hear the cry of Your people! Oh Lord, forgive! Oh Lord, save!

Send Your Holy Spirit in full force, piercing the hearts of this nation, healing the blindness and opening many eyes to see Your Truth, replacing numb and stony hearts with vulnerable hearts of flesh that ache with the pain of contrition.

Bring about a flood of compassion for others, of mercy and tenderness for those who hurt, of zeal for Your Kingdom, and of hunger for Your truth.

Teach our hearts to forgive the little slights we have endured because of the immensity of what You have forgiven us. What a gift You offer in Jesus! May the eyes of many, many enslaved souls be open to see the wonder of His sacrifice and the riches of Your grace. How astonishing that we who deserve dishonor, contempt, and death have been offered forgiveness, mercy, and everlasting life!

Then, O Lord, as many come before the Throne of Grace in true repentance, replace our leper’s rags with garments of praise. Place a new song in our mouths and teach us to magnify Your name together, opening our lips in praise for the marvel of our Salvation and for love of our Savior.

No matter what the future holds for our nation, may it be that we soon see an influx of new sheep to Your flock, and may we welcome them with tears and shouts of joy.

For those who are in Christ already, we ask that You increase our thirst for You, O Living Water. We confess our distraction and our spiritual lethargy and ask You to renew the joy of our salvation. Renew our passion and our fervor for Your Kingdom.

Fount of Living Water, fill Your people to overflowing, drowning out the chattering lies of our enemy in a thunderous cascade of Your righteousness. Help us to hear only Your voice, our Good Shepherd, and compel us to obey swiftly with eager diligence.

As a nation, I pray that You will humble our hearts and bring us to our knees in gratitude for the work that Jesus has completed on the cross. Turn our mocking into shouts of adoration and praise. Let us magnify You, our God! Restore that which is broken, cut away the festering disease, and heal our land.

And then, O Gracious Redeemer, restore us to Yourself that we may be fully restored. Even if we should wait weeks, years, decades — even lifetimes — remind us that Your timing that is perfect. May we never doubt Your goodness nor waver in trust, for what You have begun You will surely bring to pass.

Great is Your faithfulness;  even when we falter in unbelief, You are steadfast and Your mercies are new each morning. O Lord, give strength to Your people! Amen.

sunrise003

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
Lamentations 3:21-24

 

Yours: Psalm 119:89-96

Psalms 119:89-96

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. I am yours; save me…

This may be one of my favorite stanzas so far. We have commiserated with the psalmist through trials and as he teetered on the edge of despair. Now, it seems, he is once again able to praise our magnificent God.  He seems to  comfort himself by the absolute unchangeable nature of God, finding solace in the reminder of the Almighty’s sovereignty.

However, the persecution or trouble is not ended, for he writes, “The wicked lie in wait to destroy  me…”  It is not an end to his problems that prompted this outburst of praise, then. So what has changed?

If David was anything like me,  the only change was probably one of perspective. While I have never endured the sort of trials David did — fleeing through the wilderness while being pursued by a murderous king or being chased out of my kingdom by my own vengeful offspring — I have had times of both physical and spiritual torment. I have felt very, very alone and wondered if my God would ever rescue me.

At such times, my faith is sorely tested and I cling to a knowing that He is good much as a shipwrecked man must cling to some bit of wreckage in order to stay afloat in the raging sea.

It is tempting in these dark moments to think God doesn’t hear, doesn’t care… but much like David, I remember that His word really is firmly fixed in the heavens; His faithfulness truly does endure to all generations. He is the supreme being, the only One who can cause the earth to continue, or with a word, to cease to exist.

It is for this reason that His law is and must be my delight, for without it, how could I stand? On those bleak and dreary days of adversity, I find it most helpful to turn my thoughts away from myself to the goodness of my God.

It is for this reason that I am working on adding this psalm to the other verses, passages, and chapters of Scripture already tucked into my memory. I not only never want to forget His precepts, I want to know them as well as I know the lines of my own hands.

Sometimes in the darkness words of devotion fail me utterly. At such times I find I can whisper those precious praises contained in the Scriptures. Reciting the adoring words written by others or remembering the promises of God lovingly tucked into His word — even recalling the rightness of my Father’s loving chastisement — these things called up from memory breathe new life into my faith when it falters.

Even now in the midst of a continuing physical trial, I cry out to my Maker, “I am Yours; save me!” And I know He will.

My God, save me from my tendency to doubt, save me from the wicked in this world, save me from the wickedness within my own heart. You have saved me once and for all with the blood of my Lord Jesus; continue to save me daily lest I forget You and drift away. Save me from my indolence and my faithlessness. Save me from my own, wrong motives. I am entirely Yours. Save me and do with me as You will.

In Appreciation of Pain, Part Three

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, 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 5:2-5

(Earlier, I wrote about two other lessons I learned that make me thankful for the decade I spent struggling through chronic migraine. If you would like to read them, you can find them here and here.)

The third,  but perhaps the most purely delightful, lesson I took away from those years of suffering was in learning to praise my God even when shrouded in pain. While those words are easy to write now, it is critical to note that my gratitude for the suffering did not begin after I  had exited the dark valley of daily pain– I began to express thanksgiving and praise aloud to God even while striving to function through the throes of migraines.

Those years were truly dark ones in all senses of the word, some points of which I have already outlined in my previous posts. Implacable pain was only one of the reasons for the gloom, but it was a pushy, domineering one. I could not escape the grip of pain for long. Medications would work for a few weeks, but they had their own side effects besides losing efficacy over fairly short periods of time.  I began to dread waking, knowing that all that waited for me was an awareness of pain.  My mind also seemed to be failing as I struggled to recall familiar words like “toaster” and “laundry” or my children’s names. I was perpetually, relentlessly tired, almost a zombie trudging mindlessly through each day. Because of the intensity and long-term quality of the affliction, I found myself frequently succumbing depression.

I remember clearly the first time when, in the clutches of a migraine so fierce that I dared not twitch a finger for fear of the repercussions, I was compelled to whisper oh, so quietly my adoration of God and praise that He was allowing me to be broken and reshaped by such pain, allowing me to participate in some minute way in the sufferings of my Lord Yeshua. It was the first toddling steps of a shaky practice that I began to form, a routine of murmuring blessing or praise even. or rather, especially in the depth of affliction or when despair constricted and stifled my heart. It was some time and many stops and starts before the practice began to be a habit.  It is still not a solid habit, I am sorry to say, but I now remember more often than I forget.

Slowly, strangely, the leaden fog of despair was rent and began to dissipate as surely as mist in the sun.  I began to understand the truth behind yet another quote from Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “True joy is not the absence of pain but the sanctifying, sustaining presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the pain.” I understood because I had begun to learn to recognize His Presence always, even when veiled by my own pain.

Through this moment and countless others like it, I learned to acknowledge the glory and worthiness of my King despite what I may be feeling. Though my body was wracked with exhaustion and tormented by ruthless headaches, I learned to be thankful that He was greater than my pain.

What’s more, I learned that He is worth praising no matter what my circumstances are. Even the worst of my pain can never amount to the humiliation and rejection my Lord experienced when He literally became sin on that cross as ransom for billions of undeserving, debauched human lives like my own. Even the temptation to despair can be overcome when I focus less on myself and more on the majesty and undeserved compassion of my Lord and my God.

So all in all, I am thankful for the trials God has sent my way. I am thankful for pain so persistent and intense that I was forced to the end of myself… and most gloriously of all, I am thankful that I found Him waiting for me there.

It is my sincere prayer that you will know that He is there with you in your dark valleys as well, and knowing that, you will unabashedly sing His praises into the cold and uncaring darkness. Hang in there, my dear, no matter how long it takes. He is there, even when you do not see Him. And His grace truly is sufficient for whatever trial you face.